While I had known I was transgender long before I identified with the term, the same cannot be said of my asexuality. For the former, there was the constant longing to be a girl, the disdain I faced everyday in the mirror, the fascination for any media that blurred gender lines, and many more. For the latter, there was… nothing. Less than nothing; a lack of something I didn’t know other people didn’t lack (my apologies for the triple negative).
Looking back, I can spot the signs. I’m aware my judgment is probably clouded by hindsight bias, but these little breadcrumbs remain meaningful regardless.
My first exposure to sexuality was around fourth grade. Due to having skipped a year and having my birthday at the limit of the cut-off for the school year, I was the youngest in my class by a year and a half. While everyone was eleven, I was nine. While everyone was going through puberty and discovering their sexuality, I remained oblivious. For two years, I was teased at school for not understanding what sex was. The other students would constantly ask me probing questions, then laugh it out when I would turn up confused. They would leave without ever explaining why I was the butt of the joke.
While I attribute this bullying more to the age discrepancy than my lack of sexuality, it had a profound impact on how I tackled the topic later on. It made me doubt myself, and was a huge hit on my self-confidence as I constantly felt inferior to everyone around me. I closed myself off emotionally, and learned to dismiss anything related to sexuality as a form of defence mechanism. It was easier to ignore the constant passing remarks than ask for explanations.
I got out of this situation two years later by changing schools and taking back a year, not for academic reasons, but to be more in line with my age group. That made a world of a difference. I could then slowly rebuild my confidence in myself. My friend at the time was what I now recognize as aromantic. While in their company I never had to think about sex nor relationships. I felt safe around them. Again, with hindsight that might have been why I sought out a person like them as a friend since I closed myself off from those who put more importance on their boyfriend/girlfriend/dating life.
This isn’t a freudian study of my childhood, however, so moving on.
In high school, I was still oblivious to sex jokes. I would take everything at face value, and it would take me a moment after everyone started laughing to realize there was an innuendo hidden in-between the lines. I wasn’t as insecure anymore, so I ignored it the best I could. People would laugh without me getting it, and then laugh even harder because I wasn’t getting it. I let them have at it, sometimes laughing along at my expense. I was numb to it all by then.
Sometimes, I would try to fit in. When one of my friends mentioned he had a crush on someone, and another friend teased him with it, the topic of who I would go out with in an ideal world came up. I didn’t have a crush at the time, so I pointed out the most aesthetically pleasing person in our class, much to my friends’ confusion. They tried to tease me with it, but I wasn’t shy nor nervous about it, as opposed to them. I didn’t have the same emotional attachment as they did. Since I wasn’t reacting like they were expecting, they quickly lost interest.
A girl asked me out at some point. I said yes, because she was my friend, because I enjoyed her company, and because it was the socially acceptable thing to do. I was her partner, but I had a difficult time seeing her as anything but a good friend. I played along for a month, but I was growing more and more uncomfortable with the expectations placed upon our relationship, and so I broke off with the awful excuse of “It’s not you it’s me”. All the cringy cliches. We remained friends afterwards, however, and I always valued our friendship a lot more than our short-lived romance.
At the same time, a boy hit on me. He was in competition with my at-the-time girlfriend, and would ask to kiss me even with her around. He got her permission a few times as she didn’t feel threaten by him. My girlfriend was fine with it, probably because I gave the boy nothing but the bare minimum of attention. I agreed as well, mostly because I was exploring with my likes and dislikes just as he was. It was an odd situation to be in, though, that’s for sure. And it made one thing clear: I didn’t care more for boys than girls.
My college years went by without a hitch. I didn’t have any romantic relationship then, nor did I want one, and I had grown aware enough of sexual jokes to no longer be oblivious to them. I was still slow, granted, but the laughs at my expense had grown old and my friends more often than not moved on in the discussion instead of pointing out my lack. It was a comfortable time, until university came and I became more proactive in learning everything I could about the LGBT community.
I distinctly remember the first time I used the term “asexual” in a discussion to describe my own experience. It was at a workshop on asexuality offered by the Pride community of my university. I had only just admitted to myself I might be ace, and I was seeking some form of validation to prove I wasn’t making stuff up. The workshop covered topics such as squishes, how to ask for physical intimacy, definition of terms, romance and sexuality and the lack thereof, and more.
I kept quiet, too shy to speak up, although I found myself nodding more and more as the workshop progressed, agreeing with everything that was being said. A smile slowly grew on my lips until I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt giddy.
This was me. This was how I felt. This was what I wanted.
As the workshop wrapped up, the speaker encouraged the students to share their experience. One of the topic that had been brought up was how asexuality manifests in different aspects of one’s life, from religious context to cultural customs. During a lull in the discussion, I raised my hand, turning red from having every eyes on me. I still felt insecure identifying as a transwoman and as an asexual, so speaking for both felt like I was taking out of my hat.
Still, I spoke up. I said asexuality could result from the confusion when a transperson explores their sexuality. Before transition, that person might not feel at ease having sex due to being forced into a gender role that felt foreign. While they might be aroused by porn and fantasies, they might be completely turned off the moment they picture themself in their current body having sex with anyone.
It was a minor thing, a small contribution, but I remember leaving that workshop feeling validated, like I belonged.
Later that year, I transitioned. That deserves a whole article to itself, but suffice to say that it was one long liminal space during which time I read a lot about all kinds of relationships.
I came out to my family, one member at a time. There were a lot of opportunities during my transition to talk about LGBT issues, and so it wasn’t difficult to bring up the fact that I didn’t feel any attraction to anyone, nor did I feel ready for sex. Most people I told that to were dismissive, saying that my feelings might change after I settled into the role that fit me best, or it would change after I had sex with someone I trusted, or it would change once I would meet The One, or it would change after some therapy.
It would change.
I hoped it would. It would make me feel normal. It would be another source of validation from my family and from society at large. It would make my dating life so much easier.
Once I was ready to start a relationship, I used the asexual label as a form of emotional protection. I was still doubting myself, and I still had hopes that after finding The One, after having sex, after changing so much, I would change some more. I would get over it.
I decided to go all out. Transitioning made me more confident than ever, and this showed. I took the lead the moment I started dating.
I made an account on HER, a dating app for queer women. During my transition, I had come to accept I was more at ease around women than men, so I tentatively labelled myself as homoromantic even though the term sounded a bit hollow. I had also accepted I wouldn’t be able to satisfy the sexual needs of most people, and as such had welcome polyamory as one possible solution. Thus, I selected the ‘open’ relationship option in the app and started chatting with everyone who swiped me.
I met a few people through the app, so much so that I deleted the app after two weeks in favour of maintaining the friendships I made through it. One of them became my girlfriend within a few months of hanging out together. We were comfortable around each other, slept over at the other’s place, and we both understood the meaning of a lack of attraction since she was demisexual.
One day I pushed to do something sexual together. I had the expectation that it was something I should be able to do since everyone else was doing it (bandwagon fallacy). Call it internalized ace-phobia or what have you; I wouldn’t be satisfied with myself unless I at least tried this much.
My girlfriend, to her credit, asked me multiple times if I was sure. She didn’t want me to rush into this, and was ready to wait a long while for me to go at a pace I was comfortable with. She knew where I was coming from; it was a frequent topic of discussion between us. I told her I wanted to do this.
And to the surprise of absolutely no-one, I freaked out. We both ended up hurt. Me, because I’d been triggered; her, because she felt responsible for letting me go this far, even though I had been the one to ask for it. The fact that I pulled away from her the following week to sort my feelings out also hit her pretty hard, as she probably thought she wasn’t good enough. More insecurities, a bigger mess.
We tried another time. This time I didn’t freak out as much (though I still did). After a later third failure, I called it quit.
It took me several weeks after we broke off to let go of the standard I had held myself up to, a standard I knew for sure didn’t fit me. I won’t say it was freeing to shift my expectations towards a future without sex, as I had placed a lot of hope on— if not enjoying it— being able to do the act; being able to push through and do the chores, as it was. It was a bit naive, I’ll admit. There was this need for validation, for trials (self-imposed or otherwise) to prove I fit in one box or another. Although I had failed to live up to my expectations, I did figure myself out a lot more. That knowledge was comforting. The whole experience allowed me to break free from my expectations towards myself. I just wish I didn’t have to drag someone else into that mess with me.
From there, I did a lot of soul-searching. My worldview shifted over a few months. I discovered that it wasn’t femininity that appealed to me in a person, but their capacity for empathy, caring and rapports, which I generally found much more in women than men. However, I did meet some men with whom I had a connection, such that the term homoromantic didn’t really fit anymore. Greyromantic or queerromantic fit better, when I do care to think about romance instead of queerplatonic relationships. The line is still blurry on that front.
I am secure in my asexuality nowadays. To anyone who tells me it will change when this or that condition is met, I now tell them it’s as likely to happen as someone who enjoys vanilla sex to develop masochistic tastes. Not impossible, not even unlikely, but not something I feel any desire to explore.