By Claire Dwyer ‘20
It’s exhausting never seeing yourself represented in TV or movies. Never having ads catering to you, which are important or memorable, like a silly cartoon animal or a seductive woman selling a particular shade of lipstick. I don’t think allosexual people realize what it is like to look at the world and feel like everyone is part of an exclusive club you don’t completely understand. It’s funny how much of our identities, and how we shape our behavior and beliefs, comes either directly or indirectly from the media.
But when you’re asexual, being creative with your identity comes with the territory. The script isn’t written for us, at all. We the people are creating the narrative of “aceness.” People in our country aren’t assumed to share very much in this day and age. Our country’s media is trying to catch up to the extraordinary diversity of its viewership; and TV, movies, and advertising still aren’t diverse enough. But sexual attraction? I think our society looks at extremely potent sexual attraction as an element of humanity so basic that it must be common to all people and identities. And that is why we get the Burger King models dressed in bikinis, squeezing sponges over dirty cars.
But this isn’t true for aces. And society, in whatever form that might be, makes it abundantly clear that sexual attraction, romantic relationships, and the act of sex in general are integral to a normal, social, and healthy adult life. No wonder ace folks sometimes grow up believing that their sexual orientation isn’t normal or healthy. We oftentimes don’t fit the stereotypical version of the “American dream,” the media version of what a “relationship” should look like, or even the queer community’s vision of the “appropriate” way to be queer. This is at the root of our oppression, that we are seen to be broken and then sometimes rejected by acephobes in the very community which is supposed to protect and love us, in the context of a world which feels like it doesn’t always view us as fully “human.”
I hate that the beginning of my journey with “aceness” stems from this fear of lack of acceptance, and the feelings of shame I like to pretend I never felt. It’s strange to imagine that just a year ago, I never could have handled writing this article, because my journey towards self-acceptance in regards to my queer identity was still very much in its infancy. But I am lucky, in that I have always been a little bit different socially. I never quite fit the mold of what I was “supposed” to be for each particular stage of life, being strangely intellectual from a very young age and thus not going through the same exact developmental stages as my peers.
So when I began the process of coming out, I wasn’t really alienating myself from anything, because I was already looked at as “different.” It was kind of like adding one more thing to the list. Some people’s journey is longer, or more arduous than mine. Some people don’t experience any self-doubt at all. Aces have a variety of personality types and interests. We aren’t all scholarly introverts like I am. But the most important thing to realize is that every ace’s journey is beautiful. And everyone’s journey is their own.
I am a bi, ace-spectrum woman. I didn’t grow up thinking that I was “gay,” or that I had a sexual orientation which was different from that of everyone I saw in my favorite TV shows, or read about in books. I grew up thinking, in the back of my mind, that something was wrong with me.
Of course, no one ever explained to me the difference between an asexual and allosexual person, or the ace spectrum, upon which I am still not sure exactly where I fall. Even in kids’ cartoons, sex and romantic love are portrayed as the be all and end all of life. Characters and individuals who fall outside those bounds always have something “wrong” with them. They’re never sociable, well-adjusted scholars with a love for books, language learning, and fine dining. I’m aware that now, there’s some character on Bojack Horseman who is asexual, though I’ve never seen this show myself. But we cannot subsist on Bojack Horseman alone.
There is an immense diversity of asexual people in this world. We range from high to low libido, just like anyone else of a different sexual identity. Not all asexuals are sex-repulsed, not all asexuals are aromantic, not all aromantics are asexual. However, if I get into all the peculiarities of ace identity here, that could take up the whole article.
The information on us, though not prodigious, does exist online if you’re curious. In order to really learn about other aces, I had to join online forums and groups, as many of us in the queer community are wont to do. When you’re not seeing yourself represented in daily life, searching for online alternatives is a normal and healthy way to build community. I think dealing with people’s assumptions about asexuals is the hardest part of being “out” for me. My sexual orientation doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be a good partner for an allosexual person. Every asexual is different. Meet us halfway, and just like any other person with whom you might enter a relationship, communication and mutual respect is key.
Each individual ace person at the Claremont Colleges has a different experience of their sexuality. However, a fellow ace student put into eloquent words something I think many of us aces have felt at some point or another.
She was talking about a date which she’d realized might not be right for her: “The day before, I canceled, even though I rarely cancel plans, because I really didn’t want to go anymore. I felt terrible and confused because I was getting along well with him and I eagerly anticipated his responses, but now that he complimented me beyond mere respect and introduced the prospect of an actual date, I realized I didn’t want to go on one anymore. I realized that I liked the concept of dating, but when I pictured myself in an actual relationship, I didn’t feel comfortable.”
That feeling resonated with me so strongly, and made me think of a lot of us on the ace and aro spectrums here at the Claremont Colleges. No matter how we talk about our asexuality (or aromanticism), where we fall on the ace/aro spectrum, or how we decide to express our identity, knowing that other people feel the same way that we do means a great deal. I know that the first time I encountered the ace/aro club at the Claremont Colleges, I felt so extremely relieved. Finally, here was this group of funny, wonderful human beings who made me feel validated, and so much less alone.
We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re claiming the space and respect we deserve in the queer community. That’s what Asexual Awareness Week is all about.
In the words of the same ace student, “If you know an experience/situation will hurt you or cause you to be extremely uncomfortable, you shouldn’t have to force yourself to go through it, especially if it is not mandatory.”
We as aces are done with feeling broken, done with feeling pressured into “normalcy.” Just like anyone else, our sexual orientation does not reflect our attitude toward sex or relationships, and we do not need to be “fixed.” In honor of Asexual Awareness Week, I am therefore imploring the queer groups on campus to recognize us, to respect us, and to welcome us.