The thing about coming out is that it doesn’t happen all at once. It happens in stages. When I first said I was into girls out loud with any confidence, I was eighteen standing on a beach in Monterey after a rugby tournament. Before that I had known I was into women for about a year but had no idea what to do with that information. I had just moved to Sacramento for college and was on my own for the first time in my life. It had taken me joining a women’s rugby club and meeting people my age who were gay that led to me being more comfortable with how I felt. Coming out at that time was easy because I was so isolated, far away from my family. It’s easier to deflect prying personal questions over the phone than face-to-face.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I came out a second time, and told my family. After college I moved to the East Bay, just outside of San Francisco. I got an internship for a gaming website which didn’t pay, but was really exciting. One day I was called away from my interning duties and asked to write something about one of my favorite video game franchises, Mass Effect. There’d been an article criticizing a recent promotional campaign getting people to vote on what the box art for the female version of the protagonist should look like in the sequel. Since the article had been written by a queer woman, I was asked if I wanted to write an article in response to it. It was my first opportunity to write an editorial piece — but writing it also meant I would have to reveal who I was in a very public forum for the first time. I made the decision to write the piece drawing from my own perspective and the day the article was published I called my parents and came out to them. They’ve been divorced nearly my entire life so that was two phone calls and a double dose of anxiety. Even over the phone it was terrifying, but it was a huge relief.
At the time, I felt like that was it. I was out, and from that moment on things would be easier, no challenges, no roadblocks, nothing to hold me back. For a long time that was true. I felt more confident writing things from my point of view as a gay woman and felt a general comfort existing in the world. But in my late twenties that I realized something was still not quite complete. Although I was content with who I was, something was off, a thing in the back of my mind I couldn’t put a face to yet. The things I should have an interest in didn’t interest me. I tried dating apps for a while and never met anyone I truly connected with; I didn’t like going to nightclubs at all either. My sexual experiences ranged from good to bad just as much as anyone else’s but things were always slightly off. Nothing stuck.
I’d known about asexuality well before I identified as ace but I had never considered it for myself because I just thought I was too awkward or shy when it came to dating. I attributed my aversion to nightclubs and casual hookups to my social anxiety. Why else would meeting attractive strangers in dark rooms with strobe lights and deafening music not appeal to me? My foray into dating sites and apps was never really that successful either. No matter how nice someone was things didn’t click and most apps just felt like an extension of club culture. The whole idea of dating felt like a chore, and in a way, it still does. I also thought that my insecurities might be the product of sexual abuse I experienced when I was around the age of two. These things plagued my mind for years leading up to my thirties.
One thing that helped me come to terms with my ace identity was delving into the experiences of other asexual people online. Although I had known what it was, I hadn’t truly taken the time to listen to the experiences of people who were asexual and why they identified that way until I was questioning things about myself. Once I did, I realized many of the aspects of being asexual applied to me. There is also a website, asexuality.org, created specifically to educate people on the topic. If you still don’t understand it or may be questioning if you fall into the asexual category, I would highly recommend checking that website out. By educating myself with their resources and listening to other people’s stories I found online, things fell into place. I slowly began to realize that while I initially identified as asexual, what I was feeling was more inline with being demisexual.
“Demisexuality is feeling no sexual attraction towards other people unless a strong emotional bond has been established. This is often included in or paired with the graysexual category because demisexual people may essentially feel like they’re asexual when they don’t have that bond with anyone, and the bond typically takes a long time to establish.”
There are some who do not see graysexual/demisexual people as a part of the asexual community but I certainly don’t agree with that sentiment. Sexuality being a spectrum, we can’t expect people to fall into one neat category all of the time.
I wish these resources had been available to me growing up. The internet was barely a thing when I was going through middle school and high school. The idea of going online was a luxury and there certainly weren’t an abundance of articles or video content explaining what being asexual was at that time. As a closeted kid there was barely any representation of queer characters on television or movies that I could identify with growing up. Stumbling across Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns felt like striking gold. These days you can watch compilation videos of the entire queer story arc of a show or binge watch an entire series in a day. Having had to scour and scrape for any drop of queer representation I could I’m grateful that a new generation has a broader range of sources for media and resources. Many of the things I’ve found helpful lately are short films and documentaries made by asexual people, explaining what it is and what their experiences are. Mainstream queer media isn’t necessarily delivering the goods when it comes to representing asexuality.
“Sex sells” is still a predominant adage in how things are marketed in the media. Once kids reach a certain age, things start to shift from stories of adolescence into stories about teenagers losing their virginity or aspiring to. I remember watching countless shows and movies growing up where having sex was the primary goal of the protagonist or at least a motivating factor in what they did throughout the story. I grew up with five boys during puberty — the year American Pie came out was particularly grueling.
It was difficult to escape discussions of sex even at church. During youth group one night our youth pastor delivered a candid speech about sex, saying how great it was and that we should all wait until we were married to have it. This idea of abstinence was another thing I drew upon to justify why I wasn’t asexual before I came to terms with it. Abstinence and celibacy are often falsely equated with ace identities because many people believe asexuality is anything that does not include having sex. In reality concepts of abstinence and celibacy are a conscience choice, whereas identifying on the asexual spectrum is more about your desires. Desires that are an essential part of who you are.
An ideal pop culture representation of someone who identifies on the asexual spectrum should entail an honest conversation about how that looks in an adult setting, whether it be through a romantic relationship or a platonic friendship. While there are asexual people like myself who identify as Demisexual, and therefore still feel a form of sexual attraction, there are many asexual people who have no desire for sex or romantic relationships, additionally identifying as aromatic. Often, those who express lack of sexual/romantic interest are treated as if they have a mental illness, so portraying those characters that way won’t help things. Many problematic story lines involving people within the LGBTQIA community have used the depiction of queerness as a mental disorder as a plot device. This is something we’ve recently seen recede a bit in the past few decades, but it has not entirely disappeared. There are few moments in media that have resonated with me as an asexual person over the past few years.
To date, my favorite step taken toward asexual representation in major media came from the science fiction role playing video game, The Outer Worlds, released in 2019. Parvati Holcomb is the first non-playable character you can invite to accompany you through the story. Her personal quest includes her having a crush on a mechanic in one of the space stations you visit. It is up to you to help her pursue this person, and if you do Parvati gets very candid about how people have treated her due to her asexuality. While she never says it out right it is very apparent that is what she is talking about and seeing that kind of representation was very rewarding. Your character is also a bit asexual by default, being that you can participate in many side quests with your companions but you can’t romance any of them. Outside of games there are only a few examples from television I think that are equally as meaningful, and no, one of those moments does not include Jughead on Riverdale.
In episode seven of the third season of One Day at a Time Elena and her partner Syd hatch a plan to get a hotel room so they can have sex. When Elena finds out that Syd has already had sex, she freaks out a bit and starts going off about her insecurities. When Syd goes to comfort her, they say “We can do it next month, next year. We can never do it if that’s what you want. No matter what happens, I love you”. If you’re looking for an example of how to speak to an asexual audience even when your characters aren’t ace, this kind of dialog is important. Sending the message that you can be loved without having sex with someone you’re in a relationship is an important message to send especially to a younger audience. There can be a lot of peer pressure on kids to have sex as they go into their teenage years which can put them in very harmful situations if they rush into things before they’re ready and trust the wrong people. It was nice to watch a scene where a character who had already had sexual experience was conscious of another character’s apprehension and did not put pressure on them.
Sex Education, a show that predominantly portrays intense sexual relationships, managed to include a meaningful asexual storyline in its most reason season. When Jackson, the most popular boy in school, is cast as Romeo in the school play, Florence, who plays Juliet, is feeling pressure from her cast mates to put the moves on him. She seeks help from Otis, the main character, who dispenses sex tips for a nominal fee. Florence tells him that she got involved with the play because she thought it was all about love but in reality, it is all about sex and she doesn’t want to have sex.
Otis tells her to go at her own pace and maybe she just hasn’t found the right person yet. This advice falls flat for Florence and after more run-ins with her castmates prodding her to try and sleep with her co-star she seeks out help from Otis’s mom, Jean Milburn, a sexual therapist played by Gillian Anderson. When Florence tells Jean that she feels broken because she does not want to have sex Jean takes the opportunity to educate her, and in turn the viewers, about what asexuality is noting that it is a valid sexual identity. Jean also goes on to deliver a line that helps Florence come to terms with her asexuality and also serves as an example of what messages should be sent about sex in general. “Sex doesn’t make us whole. And so, how could you ever be broken?”
Regardless of how asexual people realize who they are, their experience is no less valid than any other coming out story. Every asexual person has a moment when the recognition sets in. When they finally see who they are and the piece to the jigsaw puzzle they’ve been missing their entire life finds its place.
For me that moment was almost three years ago, right after I’d turned thirty years old. I was walking along an elevated sidewalk overlooking the Las Vegas strip holding a giant alcoholic slushie. It was my second year attending ClexaCon and I had been lucky enough to find two friends to room with that year, whom I’d met through the convention. We had found a bartender who poured quite generously and made our way around town laughing and sharing in the feeling of bliss that comes from having spent a day celebrating the queerest shit that made us happy. It is a memory I hold very dear especially now, in these uncertain times of self-isolation.
We had been discussing our experiences at the convention as well as things we were excited about on television and film coming out later that year. Earlier at the convention, we had befriended a girl who we’d met in line waiting for something. She was cute and she and I had arranged to meet up for breakfast that morning which had been nice. My friends and I discussed it on our walk and it was pretty clear I kind of liked her as well, which led to some discussion of me seeing her again during the convention. It honestly was the furthest thing from my mind in that moment and it got me thinking.
This is what people are supposed to do right? Hit it off with someone they meet on vacation and hook up? She was cute and nice so maybe I should pursue it more, right? None of that seemed very important to me at all because it wasn’t what I wanted. That was when I uttered out loud, words I had been silently repeating in the back of my mind for nearly a year.
“I think I’m Asexual”
There was a short pause as my friends let the news settle. It didn’t take long for them to express their support and the fact that it was just something about me they accepted felt incredible. We stood in that spot for a bit longer, admiring the sight of the busy streets of Las Vegas at dusk.
I closed my eyes, and for the first time in my life, I was completely myself.