It Turns Out Asexual People Have Problems, Too

“I wish I was asexual, too! My love life sucks right now. Things must be so much easier for you!”

It’s a staple of online spaces using tagging systems, most notably twitter and tumblr, as people venting about their personal lives gets dumped into asexual tags, usually unintentionally. And on the internet, it often leaves allosexual people backpedaling in startled embarrassment as angry asexual people yell at them. Let’s talk about why. 

I encounter this phrase a lot in real life, usually from either friends who want to vent to me about their love lives or from people who are trying to say something positive about my orientation. It’s certainly better than prurient queries on my masturbation habits or personal health history, but it’s definitely not something I enjoy hearing, either.

I think it’s understandable for people who are going through a shitty phase in their love life to wish that the thing currently causing them pain was magically *poof*, gone from existence. And it’s certainly a nice fantasy to wish that you don’t have to deal with other people hurting you, or to take a break from the confusing expectations of dating for a while.

The thing is, this is actually a phrase I find really insulting and fairly hurtful to hear. For one thing, it’s telling me I don’t have any issues that stem from my own love life. Which… often, isn’t actually true. Long distance relationships, for example, have their own stresses, and sometimes I want to vent about that. And god knows I’ve written enough about my frustration and confusion with romantic relationships and the expectations thereof over at Writing From Factor X.

I think this thing comes from the idea that asexuality is sort of like being allosexual, but with everything that could possibly be connected to sexuality–including dating, seeking emotional intimacy, body image issues, and heteronormative expectations–neatly excised from your life like a cookie-cutter chunk, leaving only clean edges around your work and school and casual acquaintances behind. The trouble is that asexuality–and life!–doesn’t really work that way.

I’m not interested in looking sexy to attract a partner, but I’m still a woman and I still deal with internalized societal expectations of what a woman’s body should look like. I’m not great at the whole dating thing, but I’m still a human being and I crave emotional intimacy. If I don’t date, I have to figure out how to get those connections through an alternate way, and if I do date, I have to figure out how to either connect to other asexual people (difficult) or negotiate expectations that romantic relationships be sexual relationships, too.

Life has a habit of making things messy around the edges. And comments like this utterly fail to get that, and dismiss and erase my reality in what is ultimately a very hurtful way.

It’s hard to know how to respond to this exclamation. On tumblr, people usually get angry after hearing one too many iterations of the same phrase dumped on their community by strangers, and I expect something similar might happen on twitter. It’s easy to get mad at strangers, especially in the relative anonymity of the internet. On the other hand, I actually run across this one much more often from people I happen to know and like already. It’s pretty hard to be listening to your friend complain about their troubles, trying to be supportive like a good friend, and suddenly get slapped in the face with an unintentional insult about your own problems.

I never quite know what to say. On the one hand, I’m usually flinching a bit and re-adjusting my ideas on how much I can ask for support from that person. See, I’ve tried to reach out later to people who have expressed this opinion when I need support in the past. Inevitably I have to spend a lot of (exhausting) time explaining that yes, I have problems and yes, they hurt my feelings and make me feel crappy, even though I’m asexual! Also inevitably, I don’t get the reciprocal “wow, that sucks, I’m sorry” support I was initially hoping for, and my attempt to lean on a friend for an hour turns into an exhausting, draining 101 session.

On the other hand, it seems out of place to suddenly yell at a friend who is already feeling down on themselves, which is when that line tends to crop up. Remember, I like these people. The people who tell me this are usually pretty awesome most of the time, and they don’t realize that what they seem to think is a sort of compliment is incredibly backhanded. I want to support my friends when they’re feeling down, because that’s part of what being a good friend is all about. And it’s hard to talk about statements like that outside of the context in which they turn up.

What about you? If you’re out as ace, do your friends tell you this? And if so, what do you say?

About Sciatrix

Sciatrix is an American graduate student studying ecology, evolution and behavior. She identifies as asexual and has mostly given up trying to sort out the whole romance thing for now. She has previously blogged about asexuality at Writing From Factor X. In her free time, she trains in canine agility and knits oddly cabled hats.
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13 Responses to It Turns Out Asexual People Have Problems, Too

  1. Jo says:

    Yeah, I’ve gotten this a few times, once from my Dad. At the time, I actually did think that my life was a little bit simpler because I wasn’t in a relationship, but now I am in (a committed, platonic) one, I’m right there with all the feelings too! When I had a fight with my partner last week it was horrible. And when we’re out in public, part of me still freaks out about someone I know pulling me aside and being all ‘what are you doing, don’t you know he’s married?’ Just because some things don’t worry me doesn’t mean that there aren’t just as many other things that worry me.

    “I think this thing comes from the idea that asexuality is sort of like being allosexual, but with everything that could possibly be connected to sexuality–including dating, seeking emotional intimacy, body image issues, and heteronormative expectations–neatly excised from your life like a cookie-cutter chunk, leaving only clean edges around your work and school and casual acquaintances behind. The trouble is that asexuality–and life!–doesn’t really work that way.”

    This! This sums it up so perfectly. 🙂

  2. namipuffin says:

    I get this a fair amount, though usually when I’m coming out to people rather than when they’re venting to me, because the people I actually cultivate as friends have either been through the lecture already or are already familiar with asexuality. My response to the “it must be so nice being like you” tends to be a flat no, sometimes followed by an explanation and sometimes not. People usually get the message. Like I said, it’s almost always in a situation where I’m already doing visibility/101 stuff so I have no qualms shattering their illusions. I also do feel some sympathy for them because I also used to think that way. And then I discovered the joys of navigating non-romantic intimate relationships and, even more, ending non-romantic intimate relationships and that cured me of all those illusions extremely quickly.

    • Sciatrix says:

      I should try actually lecturing people more when I come out, then. Usually people don’t express interest when I out myself, and I leave it at that–only to much later get smacked with misconceptions, often at some pretty bad times. I don’t think I’ve ever run into this when doing 101, as a matter of fact.

      I’m pretty sympathetic to the people who tell me this, because I never get the sense that it’s unkindly meant. It’s thoughtless, not malicious, you know? Just, after the hundredth time, and especially when people drop it on you when you’re doing them a favor or when you’re feeling down yourself, it gets a bit old.

  3. queenieofaces says:

    I just got this last week! Although it was more of an “I really, really, really need to get laid; it must be so nice to not have that feeling” sort of conversation. My general response to people talking about how easy my life must be is to smile politely and then stare at them really intensely. This usually makes them really uncomfortable, with the added bonus of them suddenly realizing that what they said was kind of awful, so they wind up backpedaling and apologizing. If they don’t have that moment of realization, I generally wind up shattering their illusions of how awesome and amazing my life must be by pointing out that they probably don’t get corrective rape threats on a frequent basis, get told that they’re heartless monsters, or get dismissed as “late bloomers” or “immature.” And that’s not even getting into how hard it is to navigate relationships…

  4. This is unrelated to most of the article, but I think this is the only time I’ve seen the word “prurient” outside of a First Amendment context. Congratulations!
    Also, I’ve only heard this a couple of times- and usually its by people complaining about how confusing relationships are. I’ll often end up commiserating with them, which sort of inherently rejects their previous statement without me having to outright explain how its wrong. Admittedly, I wouldn’t go to those people for support, typically.

    • Sciatrix says:

      Actually, I’ve never found that they notice commiseration as a rejection of their statement. I suppose people assume I’m not speaking from experience when I say “yeah, it’s hard to figure out your feelings” or “talking to people about emotions is difficult!” I don’t think it’s a blatant enough nudge to redirect their train of thought from “my life sucks and I imagine yours to be so much better.”

  5. benjfcarter says:

    I’ve always been pretty upfront about saying that, were I given the choice, I’d probably choose to be straight. Yeah, it’s arguably just as insulting in the other direction, but, well, there are a few other assumptions it deals with too, and I’ve never met anyone who actually WAS offended by it. I think mostly, the point I’m making (that the other side LOOKS easier if you’ve never experienced it) is pretty obvious.

  6. Smrtp says:

    I think that: on one hand its insulting to assume someone doesnt have problems because of x or y… So, when someone assume that asexual people have it easier, that isinsulting.

    But, on the other hand i do think i could manage my life better if i was asexual, not because being asexual is inherently easier, but because i think i could manage better the challenges of asexuality instead of my current challenges as a sexual individual. That said:

    1- i could be wrong, i know.
    2- i think some sexual folks handle well their being sexual, some would do better being asexual… Some asexual folks do well at being asexual, some would do better being sexual. So, while generalizing and saying x or y group have a simpler life is insulting, thinking that YOU in particular would have it better if you where X instead of Y

    • Sciatrix says:

      Wow. Maybe go read the post again, because you’re doing exactly the thing I spent a thousand words politely asking people not to do.

      Also, you cannot fully understand exactly what my challenges are without living my experiences. It is necessary to have the lived contexts and experiences to fully understand what my life is and exactly how difficult my challenges are. Telling me that it would be totally better for you to have my challenges than yours without fully understanding what they are is disrespectful. I’m not sure how I can phrase it any more clearly than that.

      • Smrtp says:

        First, this is why i said that i could be wrong. I dont know really, i can only make assumptions based in what i have read some asexual people say about their challenges. And even if my assumptions are true, i could still be wrong about me being able to handle it.

        Second, i said that being asexual ISN’T inherently easier, and. I know usually is very hard for most asexual individuals. Im not saying asexual indiivduals have it easier, of course not…. Let me explain myself better: some sexual individuals are good at being sexual and managing the challenges they go throught, some sexual individuals dont know how to handle being sexual. From what i have read, some asexual individuals manage being asexual well and are good at handling their challenges that come from being asexual, others on the contrary have a very difficult time being asexual.

        Im not bellitling your challenges,
        Im not saying “oh, you are so fortunate for being asexual!”
        Im not saying sexuals have it worst

        What im saying is that MAYBE i would do better being asexual, just like many asexual individuals would have it easier if they where sexual. The reason i think this is because, different people are different, and different problems affect them differently.

        So what is hard for me, for you might be easy peasy, and what is hard for you, might be easy peasy for me.

        Maybe is just the “grass looks greener on the other side” phenomenon. Just like the legless richboy might be jealous of the child running park even thought that running child is poor, while the poor boy is jealous of the legless rich boy.

        But, well, im sorry if i said anything that sounded insulting. And i hope my clarification is clear enought to make it non-insulting.

        Best of wishes, and sorry for any miscommunication. (Actually, english is not my primarynlanguage)

        • charley says:

          Here’s everything you said, but with a different topic.

          Wowee! I know everyone has problems, and it isn’t righteous to try and belittle them, but I think I would make for a better Arab than a Russian. I’ve read articles online from people who are Arab and I think it would be easier for them if they were Russian. Likewise, people who are Russian would be better equipped for life as an Arab. I’m not trying to say Arabs have is so easy and they have no problems, just that some Arabs are bad at being Arab, and some Russians are bad at being Russian. I hope I don’t come off as a complete tool, but everyone is unique with infinite problems that affect them differently, which is why with my Russian knowledge, I could thrive as an Arab. I guess the grass just looks greener on the other side..

          //// you said yourself it was insulting to assume people didn’t have problems, and yet you went ahead and assumed other people’s problems were easier to handle than your own. Of course some people will have “easier” problems, but when that problem is all they have ever known, it will seem like a huge god damn deal, regardless of outside factors You’re right, the grass does look greener on the other side sometimes, but it is still entirely rude to make such assumptions.

  7. Pingback: Need to know? | The Asexual Agenda

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