Writing From Factor X

May 1, 2011

Edging Out Of The Closet

This post was originally written for the Carnival of Aces.

When I first identified as asexual, I swore I’d never be out.

Okay, so obviously that’s changed considerably in the intervening years. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I identified as asexual for about three and a half years before I felt brave enough to come out to anyone. I admire anyone who is brave enough to come out in high school; I’ll tell you right now that I wasn’t one of them, despite the fact that I was pretty sure what I was and even had the words before I’d finished my freshman year of high school.

I was terrified to explain, you see.

I’d spent quite a bit of time watching discussions about asexuality online after I thought “oh, that’s me,” and I hadn’t failed to notice that claiming asexuality in those spaces didn’t exactly get you friendly, polite reactions. And okay, it’s not like I particularly trusted anyone with that information. My parents weren’t overtly homophobic–but they reacted to any hint of queerness with giggling discomfort, and that seemed like a bad omen. As for my friends, well, I moved a few months after I started identifying myself as asexual, and there was no one at my new high school that I trusted not to react badly.

Also, I was pretty sure that no one would believe me. When I found out about asexuality for the first time, I was fourteen–and I was already accustomed to being told that no, eventually I would totally change my mind and want to marry a boy some day. (I even believed it some of the time. Not that I was actually changing my mind for the moment, but that I would eventually.) To add insult to injury, by that point my mother had spent years insisting that I definitely had a secret crush on one of my two male best friends, despite the fact that I hadn’t seen either of them since I was ten. I was pretty sure that if I couldn’t even get people to listen when I said I wasn’t interested in a specific person, they weren’t going to listen when I said I wasn’t interested in anyone.

So I decided coming out wasn’t worth it. But the idea of trying to hide, of feigning crushes on boys or trying to feign an actual relationship, seemed anathema. I don’t lie if I have any choice at all, and I certainly don’t lie if there’s a chance of hurting anyone as a result, and in any case I’m quite bad at lying to begin with. So I figured that if I pretended that being myself was just a subset of me being a bit weird, that if it was just an individual idiosyncrasy, I’d fit better–or at least I wouldn’t stand out quite so much.

At this point another fact about me needs to be mentioned: although I’m a cis woman, my gender presentation is not exactly femme. And in fact, as I was easing into identifying as asexual to myself, I was also easing into the kind of gender presentation that made me feel most comfortable. I cut my hair shorter and shorter, despite my parents’ increasing objections and nagging. I wore baggy T-shirts a lot. My gender presentation was ambiguous enough that it wasn’t unusual for people to assume I was a boy or to try to guess my gender while talking to me.

It’s perhaps not surprising in that light that a lot of people started to assume I was gay. I must have been asked up front about my sexual orientation dozens of times before I came out with varying levels of politeness and tact. In middle school, before I even knew what I was, I think it was mostly an attempt to hurt me; by high school the questions tended to be more polite, but I still found them annoying. My parents sat down with me and attempted to coax me into confessing my possible gayness several times, alternating between “if you are gay, we’ll support you” and “if you don’t act more girly, a lesbian might hit on you, and that would be terrible!” The mixed messages that came out of those talks weren’t precisely encouraging.

I am not good at passing for straight, is what I am saying. And the net result of all the questioning is that I started to get aggravated. For me, saying “I’m just not interested” and leaving it at that doesn’t seem to be an option, at least not for people I spend any length of time with. Besides, as all this was going on I was starting to feel more secure in my orientation itself, and I was starting to think more about what being asexual meant to me. There were times when I really wanted to talk to someone about what being asexual meant to me, and anyway I was sick of not sharing all of myself with people I cared about. Also, I was really getting tired of the thinly-veiled attempts to figure out whether I was secretly a lesbian.

So in the summer after my senior year, I decided that when I went to college I was going to be out, at least to my friends, if only to make the “are you really gay?” questions stop happening. And in the fall, a few weeks after meeting the people I ended up being friends with, I came out in meatspace for the first time. All at once, so I didn’t have to hunt people down later. I remember being prickly and sharp and making it very clear that this was not a subject open to debate, and I remember being absolutely blindsided by the immediate reaction of one person, who exclaimed “Man, that’s awesome, now I know someone from every sexual orientation!” That experience went well, although not all of the later ones did.

Coming out didn’t solve everything, though. It didn’t necessarily let me talk more about what my asexuality meant to me. It didn’t solve all of the misconceptions people, including friends who knew me well, had about who I was and what I wanted out of life. And it didn’t stop me feeling terrified every time I did try to mention asexuality. So eventually, after a year or so had passed, I resolved to actually talk more about asexuality and be more open about what I was–not just coming out, but discussing my sexuality past that point and sharing some of the things going on inside my head with the people I care about.

I told a friend why Mercedes’ Lackey’s Oathbound books were so important to me, and I talked about what the publication of Guardian of the Dead meant to me when it came out for the first time and I bought it. I lent it round to everyone I knew, too.

I came out in the middle of a class to explain my asexual perspective on the discussion topic, and then brought up asexual perspectives later on over the course of that semester. (Another person came out right back to me. It was exhilarating once I got past the fear.)

A year ago, I finally bought a black ring. I was so nervous about it that I waited to purchase one until I made a solitary out-of-state road trip, and then bought one from a rock shop on my way home. I went through several before I got the one I have now.

I started this blog, and a few months later I mentioned that I was writing it to my friends. I don’t think any of them reads it now, but I know that two of them have looked at it.

A month ago I finally got around to explaining the joke about the name of the show “Ace of Cakes.”

I’m not to the point where I want to be yet, but I’m getting there. And even though it’s scary for me to keep talking, I’m glad I started. For me, being able to share all of who I am with people I care about is worth it.

3 Comments »

  1. […] I told the story of the process I went through before I decided to come out at […]

    Pingback by A Carnival of Aces Round-Up: Coming Out « Writing From Factor X — May 1, 2011 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

  2. The first line of this post made me smile a little, because I recently found a journal entry from when I first discovered AVEN, and one of the big things I seem to have said to myself was “I’m never going to tell anyone.”

    I’m sorry you had to deal with so many people asking you about your orientation in school. I think I am just oblivious enough that I didn’t realize people assumed I was gay until one of my friends said “But I thought you were a lesbian!” in response to some comment I made about a male actor.

    I talked about this assumption once with someone — that if you don’t “act straight,” you must be gay. I thought it was an assumption that sexuality is a binary, with only two options, and she thought it was a symptom of gay people being desexualized in the media to a point where people would assume someone not displaying sexual tendencies would fit into a popular idea of “gay.” And, after she mentioned it, I think it might be a combination of the two, along with a lot of other stuff, of course.

    I’m glad that you have friends who’ve accepted you. I think having some people offline who know about you can be a great comfort, if you’re a person inclined to come out. I hope in the future, there’s more (positive) literary examples of asexuality for people to find.

    Comment by ace eccentric — May 1, 2011 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

    • Hee, I’m glad it made you smile. 🙂

      Eh, at the time it was mostly annoying, not painful. And I’m actually pretty oblivious most of the time, too–the only things I tend to pick up on are the really blunt things, like the time a girl I sort of knew asked me if I had a girlfriend five minutes into the conversation or the person who straight-up asked me out of the blue. It’s possible I was missing more because it flew over my head.

      I always figured it was a consequence of a mixture of those two things–after all, my middle school and first high school were in the middle of the Bible Belt and my high school was in the Southeast. It’s possible people assumed I was just closeted because I was afraid of social backlash for coming out, and my disinterest in dating was a product of that–but that they cued into me as possibly-queer in the first place because of the short hair. I don’t think it was only the binary that got people thinking “gay”, but more not realizing that asexuality existed and finding “gay” the most logical option–after all, I don’t think anyone would have pegged me as bi, either. I suspect people more noticed the total lack of interest in guys and assumed there must be interest in girls there instead, particularly since I had much more of a reason to hide same-gender interest than opposite-gender interest.

      And I agree with you about having at least some people offline who know being a great comfort. Like I said, I love being able to share all of me when I have the chance. I’ve spent too long hiding bits of myself to be really comfortable with doing that. Not just my sexuality, either; I’m used to hiding things about my atheism and my autism, neither of which are exactly well-recieved by a lot of people. So it feels really good to be able to relax and let all or at least most of myself out and stop hiding, at least for a little while.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 4, 2011 @ 1:23 pm | Reply


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