This guest post was originally written by Anne.
Let me start by pointing out that I have a crapload of privilege. I’m white. I’m American. I’m of comfortable socio-economic class. I’m a citizen of my country and a native English speaker and I’m binary and cisgender and right handed and have matching romantic and sexual orientations. I’m well educated. I’m currently able-bodied and neurotypical. I am, like I said, privileged as fuck. I readily acknowledge that and I do my best to keep it in mind when I interact with people so as not to deny my privilege or oppress others. I’m not perfect, but I try.
But there are privileges I don’t have. Male privilege. Religious privilege. Sexual privilege, most especially heterosexual privilege. That last is what I want to highlight right now. I am not heterosexual. I am, as point of fact, asexual and, more specifically, an aromantic asexual. I do not have heterosexual privilege and I hope that would be obvious to most people. If I had heterosexual privilege, I’d call myself heterosexual. That’s not the label that fits me. Asexual is. And I will defend the fact that this means I lose privilege, that this puts me at a social disadvantage that this, yes, means I am oppressed.
Permit me to divert momentarily from privilege and recount my coming out process. Specifically, my coming out to my family. I told my father in an email that I was aromantic. He responded by telling me that I was being presumptuous and that one is never old enough to proclaim that one can’t fall in love with someone. Basically, that I couldn’t be right about myself, and, furthermore, that no one could actually be aromantic and we were all just pretentious and would find the right person. I came out to my mother as asexual over Christmas vacation and, while I think she believed me in the end, it took explaining and arguing to get the point across and she still thinks that one day I’ll change my mind and have sex and pass on her genes. My brother I didn’t come out to directly, but he knows I’m asexual and has several times implied that it’s because of some flaw in my personality or character. I think he intends it as some kind of joke, but it’s not funny.
Now that I’ve said that allow me to also say that I consider myself hugely lucky. My family accepts me. They haven’t threatened to kick me out of the house or told me that there’s something seriously wrong with me or told me I should see a therapist so that I can be “normal”. They’re far more concerned about my grades and my finances and whether or not I keep my room clean than they are about my sexuality. I am, like I said, lucky.
Lucky, though, is different from privileged. I am not privileged. What I am is invisible. Being invisible is hard. Being invisible means having to attach a 101 explanation to every coming out. Being invisible means finding almost no examples of someone like you in popular media. Being invisible means not being anyone’s target market. Being invisible means being told that you shouldn’t label yourself, that you can’t know, that you’re limiting your potential. Being invisible means that any mention of your orientation at all is cause for celebration, even if that mention is negative or even downright incorrect. Being invisible means thinking yourself alone in the universe, damaged in some way you can’t understand, with no one to tell you otherwise unless you stumble upon one of a handful of resources available to you. Being invisible is not privilege.
I’m lucky, because I was able to grow up without caring what anyone thought of me. From a very young age I have lived primarily in my own world, oblivious to many social norms and not caring about many others. I don’t shave my legs or, for that matter, anything else. I don’t wear so-called fashionable clothing. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t think men should be taller than me. I am perfectly content to sit in the back of the room and read a book and not talk to anyone. I make friends with teachers and librarians and for the most part ignore my peers, both because talking to them is hugely stressful and because I simply don’t want to. The thing I hear most often when people describe me is some variation on, “confident enough in herself to avoid succumbing to peer pressure.” Thus I was able to escape a lot of the questioning and self-hatred and fear that comes with growing up asexual in a world that doesn’t like to admit that you exist. I didn’t think that I was broken, I didn’t keep expecting to grow into sexual attraction, I didn’t even really want to be sexual.
I’m also unusual. So many more people had to go through part of their live thinking there was something wrong, that they were broken beyond repair, that they were utterly alone. The suicide rate among asexuals has not, I believe, been accurately documented, but informal polls put the number of aces who have considered it at really quite high. That shouldn’t be surprising. We live in a society that tells us that there’s something wrong with us because we don’t feel this thing called sexual attraction. We live in a society where corrective rape is a real threat, where doctors don’t necessarily believe us, where one of the most common reactions to coming out is, “they can give you something to fix that.” We live in a world that either doesn’t acknowledge our existence or thinks that we need to be fixed, often forcibly. And that? That is not privilege.