“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?