Writing From Factor X

August 13, 2011

Building A Path

Filed under: Asexual Community — Sciatrix @ 9:54 pm
Tags: , ,

A little while ago, I got my internet back after moving. I checked Queer Secrets, as you do, and I stumbled across this. It hit me pretty hard at the time, which I mentioned in a couple of spaces. I didn’t take the time to elaborate then on why it hit me, though, and I’d like to do that now. So the explanation goes like this:

I am often gut-wrenchingly terrified when I think about the future.

I am a person who takes solace from tradition, at least when that tradition isn’t harming anyone. I like to know that other people have walked the same paths before me and I like to know that they came out fine in the end. I like to know that happy endings exist, that what I’m trying to do has precedent, that it has worked in the past. I draw strength from my ancestors, from my elders, from those who came before me.

No one seems to have come before, here. Oh, I don’t mean that no one like me has ever existed–I don’t think asexuality is a new thing even if the identity itself is only about ten years old. But I mean that we have no role models, really. We don’t have older asexuals saying “this is what it was like for me, and I turned out fine.” The last time I talked about this, a friend of mine mentioned that she had considered naming me as an asexual role model. I love the compliment, but I’m twenty years old and I haven’t managed to figure out anything yet and I think I might have my relationships figured out a little bit but I have to figure out how to move to another continent before I’ll really believe it and–well, I don’t view myself as someone who’s really figured out how to make this work in the long term quite yet.

And there’s another fear. If our relationships–no matter what they eventually come to look like–fail to pan out, what then? If we manage to construct something that works, knowing what the odds are, what if it doesn’t work? What if they end–or actually, more realistically, when they inevitably end (as they will for some people) how do we negotiate that?

(I’m just coming off an end to a relationship that I don’t quite have words to describe, except ouch. I’m not even sure how to talk about it, not sure how to explain the depth of my feeling or what those feelings are or what words to use. It’s hard enough to talk about relationships that blur the lines when they’re going well–talking about them when they fail is infinitely worse, I think. And overlaying all that confusion and hurt and upset is the fact that I am pretty sure that discussing the whole thing in public spaces would result in being dismissed and told that my feelings were nothing, because this relationship was a friendship, not romantic.)

To me, it feels like this: straight people have got this road well travelled to walk their lives down. It’s a wide road, well paved and well maintained, and it’s mostly flat and easy to walk down. Many people have walked down it, many people have used it, and mostly people have a good idea as to where that road ends up. (Or the places it can end up, really.)

And other queer people have got a different road for their lives. It’s not as wide, and it’s got dirt instead of pavement and a lot more hills and rocky places, but people have gone over it enough now that it’s easy to see from a distance. And people who use that road change it as they walk down it; there are people trying to fix the rocky places and keeping plants from growing in it. With every person who walks down the path, it becomes more solid, more strongly defined, easier to see.

We have a goat track up the side of a mountain. A very few people have gone up it, but not enough to widen it much. Branches are growing across the trail and sometimes sharp rocks stick out of the ground and sometimes the trail vanishes altogether and we have to try to guess where it goes.

I desperately want–I want it to be twenty years in the future, really. I want to know where I’m going. I want to know the path I’m trying to walk doesn’t fall off a cliff somewhere. I want a lot of things, but most of them boil down to a degree of certainty, and I’ll never have that.

So I’m scared of being alone,  too. I’m scared of a lot of things about being asexual.

The thing is–and, o anonymous writer, thank you–I’m still asexual, too. I have occasionally been tempted to recant–to try to pass for something I’m not my whole life, to pretend just hard enough to take the safer road, the one that’s proven to work. Most of the time it works, anyway, for most of the people.

Except trying to do that wouldn’t change who–and what–I am. Standing up, then, and saying “I’m scared, but I’m not stopping”–that’s a powerful image for me. “I’m scared, but I’m doing this anyway.” “I’m scared, but I believe in this.”

And I do believe in what I’m doing.

So I stand up and I talk and I come out over and over again and I say what I am, I talk to my community and I wail about my fears and my anger and above all I speak. I try to take the first halting steps down a path I can live with, try to clear away the debris as best I can and leave it a little wider for the next traveller.

One day, I hope our roads will be wider and easier to walk down. If not for us, than for the children who will follow.


  1. Oh hey you’re back 😀 I’m sorry to hear you had a rough breakup, though.

    That secret also hit home for me. Because, yeah, I don’t like the thought of living and dying alone, but… what am I supposed to do about it? Trying to pretend to be straight is not an option.

    For me it’s especially confusing because my experience, growing up, was not that something was different about me; I spent 20+ years (or however many since I knew about sexual orientations and whatnot) convinced I was heterosexual (and heteroromantic, except I didn’t think that was a thing). So, I spent most of my late teens thinking “yeah, I guess I would like to get married eventually.” And then I slowly had one of those “you keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” and realized that I was asexual and (grey?)aromantic and that, to most people, marriage is different from the concept I had in mind… most people want to be sexually desired by their spouse, and romantically desired, too. So… I kind of want something at the end/along the way of one of the other paths… but for completely different reasons. And I also don’t want what’s on those paths, if I ever got so lucky as to get it, get in the way of walking this path, too.

    I like to gripe a lot about being tired of feeling like I have to reinvent human relationships from scratch. I know that’s a gross exaggeration, but sometimes it feels that way.

    Comment by Aydan — August 14, 2011 @ 6:50 am | Reply

    • Oh yes. I mean, it’s a sad thing when you think of stuffing yourself into a box that completely fails to fit as the safe option, you know?

      I had a very, very different experience–I knew more or less what I was when I was fourteen, so I grew up more or less going “okay, I’m aromantic asexual, I can live with that.” It’s just that I had certain assumptions based on that about my future which got into my head: one day I’ll write the post about the nasty subconscious assumptions about myself that I developed, knowing that I didn’t fit well into the romantic relationships paradigm but not actually talking about what that meant for me and my future.

      And yeah. It does feel like that sometimes–for me too.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 14, 2011 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

  2. Oh, boy, I agree with everything you wrote here. I’d feel a whole lot better about being ace if someone, anyone, could tell me where the path will lead. Or even where it could lead. I’m 25, asexual, and don’t know what my personal life should (or can) look like. I grew up in a culture that assumed marriage or a long term relationship for everyone. I don’t remember more than a handful of single adults in my life when I was child. I can’t recall any other relationship model than married monogamy. I’m scared because I don’t want to end up feeling like I’ve made the wrong choices. I’m ace, but I’m pretty sure I could do the whole marriage/sexual relationship thing, but it would involve me lying to myself and others and I think that is unethical and would make me even more unhappy. I won’t do it, but I sometimes fantasize about being sexual, so relationships won’t be difficult and scary.

    I think, as the first generation of out asexuals, we have to start from scratch. Part of the problem is our low numbers- gay folks had more of a community in the 70s/80s than we do now. Gay folks were also more known, though they faced more overt discrimination than aces do. We just get erased. I had an incident in class just this week when the prof, talking about sexual orientation, gave the wrong definition of asexuality and then, later in class, failed to include us in a list of orientations she included on the board. I couldn’t speak up about it either, for whatever reason, mainly my fear of a prof who doesn’t like criticism. And I have to take human sexuality next quarter. I’m depressed just thinking about it, since my grad school’s track record with asexuality is very bad so far.

    Sciatrix, I’m sorry to hear about your breakup. I’m happy to see you posting again though- I love your blog, it makes me feel like I belong somewhere.

    Comment by KJ — August 14, 2011 @ 10:15 am | Reply

    • I grew up in a family with similar values, myself. It was assumed that eventually you’d get married, and if you didn’t–or you didn’t stay married–you were sort of expected to put all of yourself into your blood family and at the same time, distantly pitied for not having a family of your own. No one seemed to have support networks of any sort outside of family when I was growing up, and in a lot of ways those support networks were varying levels of broken.

      The erasure can be so, so disheartening. And then if you do speak up, half the time nothing happens and half the rest you just get told that you don’t exist. It’s exhausting to be told over and over again that your experiences are unreal or impossible, that no one like you exists, that you are excluded from the sum total of human experience. In some ways it’s more disheartening I feel than the outright hatred is–at least you can band together as a community around the hatred. Erasure just makes me feel like there’s no one to band together with in the first place, even when I know that’s not true.

      Thank you so much for the compliment–things like that are really important for me to hear. And I am so glad to hear that you feel like you belong on my blog, because it tells me that my efforts to try to make this a safe space are working.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 16, 2011 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

  3. Yes, this, all of it.

    The path metaphor is familiar to me – I’m Pagan as well as asexual. And I swear, sometimes it’s like the gods are laughing at me, pointing a finger and saying “no help for you! You get to figure it all out on your own.”

    In a way, I’m lucky; I’m asexual and aromantic and generally require very little in the way of social interaction. I think I’ve hit a balance that I can live with in my life right now (although if I get a job and have to move that will all change), and there’s precedent in the half of my family I care about so they aren’t too confused by my general lack of romantic entanglements. (I had a great-aunt, who I’m actually named after, who didn’t want to have children. “Oh, we can work that out later,” her fiance told her, and she never got married. I think they class me with her.) But you know, the only person I’ve talked with about my asexuality is my sister, who’s asexual but strongly romantic and is working on a poly thing, so it’s not like we’re doing the same sort of thing here. And I’m not out to anyone else, and I don’t know what might happen if I was. And I’m still afraid of moving, even though if I want a job in my field I’m going to have to.

    It’s a hard path to walk, surely. But it’s not like we have a choice – even that big wide road is hard when you don’t belong on it.

    Comment by Jenavira — August 14, 2011 @ 11:28 am | Reply

    • Oh man, I totally get that “no help for you!” feeling. It’s frustrating.

      I think I meant to mention above, I’m another one of those people who seriously did not grow up with any other models–it all seemed to be either heterosexual marriage or rely heavily on your family and put up with being pitied by the married ones, and neither of those seemed appealing at all. None of the adults I grew up with seemed to have friends. And for me in particular, relying on my family seemed like a bad plan, since I am the ideological black sheep and there are so many ways in which I don’t quite fit in with them. I love them and they love me, but I don’t think I could rely on them as my sole source of support.

      And yes on the wide road being hard when you don’t actually belong on it. And that’s the thing–there’s a reason I’m on that goat track and not trying desperately to pass for something, anything else. There are some things that are worse then trying to force yourself to be something you aren’t for the rest of your life, but not that many.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 16, 2011 @ 9:48 pm | Reply

  4. This post resonates a lot with me, and you can bet I nodded vigorously… In any case, like KJ I grew up in a place where marriage was literally the only model – I have a cousin who is single and nearing thirty, and my mother routinely uses her relationship status as a “watch out, don’t neglect your personal life” story. Thing is, I… have never been able to honestly see myself in a happy marriage with picket fence and dog and two point five children. That isn’t to say that I’m all for bulldozing a path straight down the overgrown ankle-twisting goat path of asexuality but yeah, I’d rather stick with this one than try and fit in on a superhighway that confuses me. I think that’s the big appeal of communities – there are people there who have gone through what you’re going through (or very close) and that’s reassuring. At the very least you know that it’s doable.

    Comment by veerserif — August 14, 2011 @ 12:08 pm | Reply

    • I was never able to see myself in a marriage like that, either–and I mean, seriously, never, not once even before I figured out roughly what I was. Even when I toy with the idea of recanting, of turning and running and trying to pass, I have a horrible time trying to wrap my mind around what I’d be like in such a situation.

      And oh yes, I find communities so reassuring for that reason. If no one else has gone before you, at least you can know you’re not the only one trying to stagger up the ankle-twisting goat path, right? And that other people are following behind you with the machetes and the trail markers, and if you all fall off a cliff at least you’ll have each other together at the bottom.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 16, 2011 @ 9:52 pm | Reply

  5. I barely know you, but I still consider you one of my asexual role models. I understand that you don’t have everything all figured out yet, but who does? I feel like you’re out there thinking about things and reorganizing our whole stupid gender/sexuality system and making things work the way you want to, and I’m sitting here reading a gazillion blog posts on asexuality, hoping that someone will tell me what to do with my life. My goal in life is to be half as confident as you are.

    I don’t mean to put too much pressure on you or make you think that you have to carry the whole ace community or anything, because of course you don’t. But when you’re talking about someone who’s going down the path, cleaning up the broken rocks and branches and rebuilding where it’s all overgrown and you can’t even see it, I think of you (and a few other particular aces) as the ones who are fixing it, the people I would like to follow because even if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going somewhere.

    And I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I’ve been thinking about coming out to my parents and I’m terrified, even though I think they’ll be okay with it, because once I say it to them, it will be a Thing and I don’t know if I’m ready for that and sometimes I want to just delete my blog and my tumblr and all my ace bookmarks and pretend to be a slightly eccentric (and celibate) straight person. But then I read something like this and it makes me want to stay on the path, to do everything I can to make it better for the next person, to be a role model for somebody else.

    So thank you. This is kind of rambling, but really I just wanted to say that you’re awesome and if it weren’t for people like you, I probably would have given up already. And I’m sorry you’re having relationship problems, but I’m glad you’re back and I hope you feel better.

    Comment by Emerald Girl — August 14, 2011 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

    • I… thank you for this comment, and the compliments in it. I don’t really have words to respond, except for thanks. It means a lot to me to see responses like this.

      I’m sorry you’re terrified about coming out to your parents–it took me years before I was comfortable coming out to mine, and more years before I was actually comfortable enough to talk about things. It’s scary! I hope you feel comfortable talking to them soon.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 16, 2011 @ 11:42 pm | Reply

  6. Hmm. I know what you mean, and I love your path metaphor. I’ll be thirty come November, and well. That path? It seems less clear now than ten years ago, actually, because then I thought I might still actually meet someone.
    Currently I identify as ace and something in the grayromantic spectrum. I doubt that there is ‘the one’ for me anywhere. I get the creeps when I think about being married traditionally. It’s just my luck that I want children, and don’t want to be a single parent either.
    Catch-22. I’ve resigned myself to staying alone, so that I don’t hope too much for a solution for my dilemma.
    I only have one comfort of sorts: I know a couple of older people who were married, had children and now that they are 70+, they are widowed and all alone. Best to form lasting friendships before that happens, I guess.

    Comment by Carmilla DeWinter — August 14, 2011 @ 2:50 pm | Reply

    • I am glad you liked the metaphor! It’s been lurking in the back of my mind for a while.

      Yeah, the question of whether I want to be a parent is… hard for me. Part of me is not sure I want children for a variety of reasons just to start with, and another part of me is going “well, the career you want is very time-consuming and you are likely to be living alone for most of your life, why are you even thinking about this when it’s so unlikely to even be able to happen?” And then at the same time, that’s a decision about my life I’d like to be able to make without being influenced by feelings of not being able to have it anyway.

      And yeah, at least hopefully alternate support models might not be quite so dependent on one single person.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 16, 2011 @ 10:39 pm | Reply

  7. The future terrifies me, fullstop. I mean, I decided what course to do at uni pretty much only because I had a deadline to meet – and life doesn’t have clearly stated deadlines.

    I keep catching myself thinking things like “When I have kids, I won’t bring them up like THAT.” – and then rethinking it, and realising that I don’t actually want to have kids, or get married. The thoughts are purely brought on by society’s default. And then I tie myself in knots with it all. I’m good at knots, I am.

    I love the path metaphor. I might even try drawing something around the idea…when I’m done twisting my brain in knots of course 😉

    Comment by confusedashell — August 15, 2011 @ 11:55 am | Reply

    • Oh man, I wish life did have deadlines. I suppose “what on earth are you going to do when you graduate” qualifies as a deadline.

      I tend to go the other way–assuming not that of course I’ll fit into society’s default, but rather that of course I won’t fit and am therefore not entitled to anything more than a job I can lose myself in. I still come out in knots, but they’re knots that come from twisting in a rather different direction.

      I’m glad you liked the metaphor! If you do end up drawing something, I would be very excited to see it!

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 16, 2011 @ 10:42 pm | Reply

  8. Well, if it helps–the fear of being alone doesn’t go away (I’m 33), but it does fade into a sort of nagging ache. Yeah, it sucks, but I figure all minority orientations have their Issues: gay folk get told they’re sick, bi folk get told to pick a side, aces get told that we’re going to die alone.

    What helped me to stop fretting over the whole DYING ALONE OMG thing was realizing that that fear wasn’t internal but external: society’s never-ending drumbeat that adulthood means Finding Someone, and not Finding Someone means Dying Alone.

    Other observations as I speed through my thirties with hymen intact: my parents have entirely stopped bugging me. And, though I still have to fend off the occasional advance, I’ve gotten much better at recognizing them.

    Comment by Nightsky — August 15, 2011 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

    • It does help to be told that at least it does fade a bit with time. Thank you for bringing that up. And yeah, it sucks that we all have our crosses to bear–but that’s why talking about it helps, you know? Maybe in twenty years the crosses will get smaller.

      My parents actually haven’t bothered me about finding someone for something like three years now; I think the concentrated effort I put into seeming as unassailably asexual as possible in high school got through to them at some point. They were much worse about my gender presentation, but I think they’re finally beginning to come around.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 16, 2011 @ 11:44 pm | Reply

  9. I really like this metaphor. And I guess for some of us sometimes the trail crosses over with others, but the easy spots veer back off into the unpaved stretches at unexpected times or for longer than we’d want. (Actually … I guess that’s the way I feel about my gender, too. All the neutrois things, like all the ace things, are kind of being written and done … now.)

    From what I’ve seen of the ace community as a whole… lots of people don’t even have the words to describe their relationships. Like coming up and your path takes a header into a river, and no one has ever seen a river before and when did people start traveling by water, anyway? I really hope that no-one’s path ends in a cliff. At the very least, I’d like to think that we can create enough of a community to have some kind of support for people. But having to chop down trees and carve boats out of them isn’t easy, either.

    I used to actually not be able to imagine the future. I couldn’t picture anything other than working, and staying in touch with a few specific friends, and I tried not to let it bother me … well, I tried not to think about it at all. And I imagine it’s like that for a lot of people in the ace community. It’s hard not to have any idea what’s coming. Maybe, at the least, there’ll be enough of us so that ace people can have other aces to talk to. I know I’ve met some very nice people through blogging (which, I have to admit, was inspired by you). Maybe enough of us together can open-source some new relationship models and hints and guides in time for us to still be able to use them.

    Comment by ace eccentric — August 16, 2011 @ 1:17 am | Reply

    • Just wanted to say I liked the way you expanded on Sciatrix’s path metaphor. It made me smile 😀

      Comment by Aydan — August 17, 2011 @ 8:05 am | Reply

    • I am glad you like the metaphor! And yeah, I can think of other things it could apply to, actually.

      I had a pretty similar view of my future growing up, actually. One of these days I’ll tell the story of the time I was asked, at age sixteen, to plot out my future career and personal life. It’s not a happy story. I must have spent years carefully not thinking of anything outside my personal life after college (college being the last age I figured people could lean on friends as opposed to romantic partners), because actually contemplating the future of my personal life was terrifying. The fact that my parents are both sort of crap at having personal lives outside their jobs didn’t really help, either.

      I also love the idea of open-source relationship models–use the power of communities for good to figure things out!

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 17, 2011 @ 8:09 am | Reply

  10. I wanted to thank you for this post, it hit home and set off a lot of thoughts. The road metaphor is a good one. So yeah, thank you.

    Comment by teximon — August 18, 2011 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  11. I just have to say, wow! This post is really poignant, and it really resonates with me. That road metaphor is pretty darn powerful.

    I’ve only started coming out as asexual in the past ten-ish months, but the thing I’ve noticed is that I always try to present my asexuality as a solely positive thing. I want people to know how comfortable and at home I feel as an asexual; how happy I am being a part of asexual communities; how inspired and encouraged my involvement makes me feel. All of that is quite true, but I consistently seem to steer clear of any possible negative aspects of this orientation.

    Of course it scares me sometimes. The future is a big unknown, and it scares me a freaking ton. I frequently wish I could call myself ten years in the future so I could point me in the right direction. Like you, I do toy with the idea of “recanting” once in a while, simply because it might make that part of my life a little easier. But that would involve having to pretend to be someone I’m not and, ultimately, I don’t think that would be easier at all.

    I think everyone gets scared sometimes, and feels uncertain, regardless of orientation, relationship status, career choice, etc. But I believe it’s important that we keep talking about it. That way we can at least lessen some of that fear of being alone.

    Comment by Emily — August 31, 2011 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

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