(Un)detachable Sexualities: A Hypothesis

In Queenie’s last post on why asexual people aren’t just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction, one of the points she made was that it suggests that our sexualities are detachable parts of our identities. Queenie writes:

I cannot imagine a world in which I am not asexual.  If I were not ace, my interactions, perceptions, experiences, and sense of self would be so radically different that I simply cannot imagine a world in which I am not ace and yet am still me.

This really resonated with me as well – so much that I had to force myself away from the comments to come and write my own post dedicated to this topic. Because I feel the same way as Queenie does: my asexuality is an inherent part of my identity, something that can’t just be detached. If I can furnish you with an analogy, asexuality is like a cog in a machine: everything turns with it, and although there are also many other cogs, they all depend on each other to keep turning. The asexuality cog can’t turn on its own, and without it, nothing else turns either.

Like Queenie, my asexuality is such a part of me that it impacts on the way I interact with people, the way I perceive the world around me, the way I experience everyday life. Perhaps that sounds melodramatic, but I think a lot of straight, non-ace people probably feel this way too, but without ever having consciously recognised it. (Why else would some people be so opposed to things like marriage equality, or trans* identities, or polyamorous relationships, or even asexuality?)

If I woke up one day and was no longer asexual, it would probably inspire a major crisis in my identity. The idea of not being asexual is something I can’t even comprehend when I think about it – just like when I theoretically consider having sex with someone some day, but reach that point where my brain just stops functioning and starts looping like a scratched record. Although I’ve only identified as asexual for a few years, I have a strong sense of always having been asexual, without having known of asexuality’s existence and terminology. And over the past years, I’ve invested so much time and energy and emotion into this aspect of who I am, be it though agonising and theorising, writing, doing activism or just simply talking to other people in my life about my asexuality.  I would love to wear a big, flashing neon sign above my head that screams ‘totally asexual!’ My asexuality is so important to me that when I’m out with my partner and someone assumes we’re a couple, I feel like I’m constantly fighting the urge to blurt out ‘but I’m asexual’ to their face. (On the other hand, it is also lovely to get the legitimation, sometimes.)

I don’t expect that this is the case for all asexual people. Obviously, everyone experiences their sexuality (or lack thereof) differently, and hey, that’s probably a good thing. I think there is a sort of baseline which the vast majority of aces share, where we somehow feel like we can’t relate to normative sexuality and feel (to a greater or lesser extent) alienated from the rest of society. But there are probably a whole range of other factors that influence how much your sexuality is something your identity hinges on, like if you’re in a relationship or actively seek them out, if you live with a significant other (broadly defined), if you have kids, if you’re married. In my case, my personal circumstances – not being in a primary romantic relationship, never having dated and not wanting to, not planning on starting my own family or marrying – mean that I place a LOT of emphasis on my identity as asexual, because it really defines my experience. For someone who is ace and in a long-term primary relationship with children, though, their ace-ness might not be such a defining thing, and they might think of themselves as a partner or a parent first, because those experiences are the ones that most shape their everyday lives. This one’s just an example, obviously, but you get the idea.

This isn’t much to go on, I admit, but thinking about it, I seems likely that there’s some sort of general pattern in how much people value their sexuality as an identity, even if it doesn’t hold for everyone. Is there some sort of correlation between how much aces differ from the everyday experiences of ‘normative’ sexuality and the value/importance they place on asexuality as a part of their identity?

At this point, I feel like I need to explain what I mean a bit. By talking about how much or how little asexual people’s experiences differ from the ‘norm,’ I mean how much their lives are similar to that thing the model of sexuality the media and mainstream society presents as the norm: i.e. searching for a significant other, dating, being sexually active, marrying, cohabitating, having children. So an asexual, homoromantic person may largely follow this path, building romantic relationships, living together, getting married, etc. (OR, they just as equally might not – as Queenie makes abundantly clear). On the other hand, an aromantic person who doesn’t desire romantic relationships or a significant other or marriage or children will probably experience life in a way that is quite different to the norm. (Or, again, they might not.)

So to extrapolate a bit: from what I’ve seen and read and talked about with other aces, it seems like those whose experiences are more removed from the norm could see their asexuality as more integral to who they fundamentally are. I, for one, don’t see my life and future unfolding the way that most people assume it will. I don’t plan on sexual or romantic relationships, on marriage, on kids. As such, my experience will probably differ quite a lot from the expected norm.

On the other hand, I imagine that some heteroromantic aces might have an experience that is a bit more similar to the norm, and therefore could feel that asexuality was not quite so important to their identity that they couldn’t imagine being themselves without it. I’m thinking along the lines of David Jay here, whose work shows a bit of a trend from seeing asexuality as an identity to seeing asexuality as more of a tool that is useful as a descriptor, but not the be-all-and-end-all.

As for aces who also have other intersecting identities and orientations, say for instance homo-romantic or trans* asexuals? My guess would be that many are also more likely to be on the ‘quite attached to their identities as asexual,’ end of the scale. But there’s also the option that aces who also identity as gay, lesbian, trans*, etc. might place more emphasis on their romantic orientation than their asexuality, seeing their queerness as taking precedence and impacting on their sense of self more than their asexuality. Likewise, aces who have a disability, or who are into kink or BDSM, or are polyamorous might value those identities over the fact that they’re also ace.

So perhaps it works along the lines of ‘the more I have to think about who I am and what exactly my sexual orientation is – the more I have to negotiate my sexuality on a daily basis – there more entangled I am in it.’ So people who never have to question or ponder their sexualities might not see their sexuality as a big deal (though I’d guess that if they were forced to scrutinise it, they’d probably realise that it was a big part of who they are). And people who have struggled with their sexuality, and scrutinised and defended and questioned themselves would probably see it as a lot more important to who they are, as something quite un-detachable.

Obviously, I can’t say that any of these ideas are hard and fast rules, or even that they have any degree of accuracy at all. And obviously, it would be idiotic to say that people whose asexuality is fundamental to their identity are somehow better or worse off than someone to whom asexuality is a useful concept, but not the be-all-and-end-all of their life experience. Whatever your level of attachment to your asexuality, it doesn’t make your experience as asexual any less valid or legitimate. You can be ace and never really give it a second thought, or you can be ace and constantly think about how your asexuality is shaping your life. Or you can be somewhere in the middle, or even have a fluctuating relationship with your sexuality.

I do think exploring the thought processes behind why some people see their sexuality as kinda detachable and others as completely bound up in their identity is interesting. And it’s also important, because it highlights just how diverse the asexual community is and how wide the range of experiences is. As Queenie pointed out after reading the draft of this post, it’s especially relevant and important when most mainstream depictions of asexuality follow the ‘unassailable asexual’ stereotype.

I’d be very interested to see what you, TAA readers, think, and whether your own thoughts on asexuality and identity reflect the ideas in this post, or disprove them completely. Please share your thoughts!

About Jo

Jo is an ancient history honours student in Australia, with a particular interest in gender and sexuality in antiquity. In her free time she devours books, tea and Doctor Who, but is honestly not that into cake, and proudly calls herself a feminist and an activist. She identifies an an aromantic asexual a little bit more every day. Jo also blogs at A Life Unexamined on feminism and asexuality.
This entry was posted in asexual identity, Modeling, Sexual normativity. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to (Un)detachable Sexualities: A Hypothesis

  1. Seth says:

    You may be on to something, but the pattern I’d expect, based on my own experience, is the opposite of what you say you’d expect: that while aces in or wanting normative relationships would be less visible to others, their differences would be more apparent to themselves, making their ace identity more important. I’d also expect an (almost as) high importance of orientation in aces in or wanting non-normative relationships, since I’d expect that to correlate with self-awareness, community involvement, and other queer identities. Among aces who’ve never been in any romantic/sexual/queerplatonic relationship and don’t especially want one (*raises hand*), I wouldn’t expect high importance to be placed on orientation, since it wouldn’t directly affect their goals and everyday lives, and there’s greater potential for obliviousness. I definitely agree with this quote: “the more I have to think about who I am and what exactly my sexual orientation is – the more I have to negotiate my sexuality on a daily basis – there more entangled I am in it.”

  2. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    As an ace/aro person. Hm. When I finally started identifying as asexual, I had been feeling somewhat adrift for a long time, always wondering why the heck I couldn’t be just normal, while at the same time wondering why the heck I should want to be normal in the first place.
    So, on the one hand, no, I didn’t have to think about my sexuality much, as I wasn’t quite aware what my differences actually meant, and where they came from. On the other hand, I am differing from the usual quite a lot, so asexuality is a “cog” of my personality and identity by now that I can’t imagine missing.
    So, third option: It’s complicated? Detachable-ness might also be influenced by how much self-worth the word has given back to you, how alienated you felt before finding it, how you feel about the community, and whether or not you’ve decided to join in the activism.

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    For me, I think part of how my entire life is changed by my being asexual is that I don’t think about sex the same way, I don’t view TV shows/movies/flirty moments in books or even in real life different. I look at other people’s romantic relationships and I inevitably project my own complete lack of sexual feelings onto them when I imagine what the love they feel for each other is like, but I’ve recently learned more about asexuality, and I’ve learned enough to realize I’m wrong, and that for a lot of people sexual attraction is so tied up in their everyday interactions, in the love they feel for their romantic partners, etc. I feel like in this way I experience everything in my life differently because of my asexuality. Sex might not be the only thing people think about all the time, but they think about it so much more than I ever realize, so my worldview is just so fundamentally different than theirs. And there are so many times in life when my asexuality is shoved in my face – sexy scenes in TV and movies and fanfiction and wherever, billboards when you’re driving on the highway, when you go clothing shopping, etc. Every time something assumes you’re gonna experience sexual attraction, I am reminded that I don’t.

    I didn’t realize how different I was for years though. It’s having become very involved online in the asexuality community that made me realize my differences and now I can’t stop thinking about them, so they become an intrinsic part of who I am.

  4. I mentioned on the other thread that I can imagine a world where asexuality is defined in a way that doesn’t include me- but I imagine that’s different than what you are getting at here, because that is just changing the label and not actually changing me.

    More to the point here, I think to the degree I feel my asexuality is “detachable”, it is mostly because I can explain the stereotypical “asexual” things about me with other explanations. For example, my weird preferences in relationships could just as easily be a strange version of polyamory. My generally analytic approach towards sex could be part of my usually detached and analytic approach towards everything (which itself is likely due to disability/chronic pain). Lack of interest in marriage, children, family, and so on? That could be a more general queer thing (when I try to imagine not being asexual, I tend to imagine being bi).

    Another aspect of this might just have to do with other identities being more definitive of my life- certainly disability comes to mind, because I think for me my disability issues mean I wouldn’t want a normal relationship (or generally try to appear normal) anyways- so if I wasn’t asexual, I think I’d be mostly the same. But that might betray how asexual I am, since I don’t imagine sexual attraction actually having any effect on my life or priorities?

    • Siggy says:

      Among the responses so far, yours resonates with me the most. I feel like my asexuality is easily detachable, not because it didn’t have a strong impact on me, but because I can imagine an alternate definition where I’m not asexual.

      Actually, I felt like this was a critical component to accepting my own gray-A identity. First, I had to accept the possibility that I was asexual, and make peace with the idea. Then I had to accept the possibility that I was not asexual, and make peace with that too. Then, of course, everything in between must also be okay. Since I’m fine with both ends of the spectrum, I no longer feel the need to lean myself in one direction or the other.

  5. Eponine says:

    I’m one of the aces who have a (seemingly) normative lifestyle: I’m heteroromantic, married, and sexually active. I can enjoy sex and have few problems compromising on sex, which probably makes my asexuality less salient than a repulsed ace’s.

    I said I have a “seemingly” normative lifestyle, because I’m also polyamorous. I think my poly identity is much more important than my asexual identity. I used to feel asexuality was important too, because if I suddenly became sexual, I might not be able to have the kind of grey-area non-sexual relationships I enjoy now. But now, I think it has more to do with relationship views than sexual orientation. If I became sexual, I’d probably have more sex and more sexual partners, but I’d still cherish non-sexual intimate relationships, because what constitutes an intimate relationship is a very flexible thing for me. As an asexual, I can imagine having an intimate relationship without cuddling, so I can also imagine having an intimate relationship without sex if I was sexual.

    To sum up, what kind of relationships I have is more central to my identity than whether I want to have sex or not, and even if I desired to have sex, I believe I’d still be able to have the kind of relationships I have now.

  6. Tad says:

    I guess I experience most of my identities are all parts of me that I can’t really imagine my existence without. Some of them might be more muted at some times than others, but they are what help frame my experience with the world. I am a nonbinary queer person. My trans*identity is part of how I navigate my relationships with others. The same is true for me being sadistic and for me being grey-ace and… maybe aro? I’m still working that one out, but I’m pretty sure something’s there, and I know it’s influencing the fact that I’m not looking at others as potential candidates for romantic partners even though I am examining them for potential as nesting partners…. That stuff also influences how I think about myself, but it’s primarily social. Oddly enough, the fact that I’m a ginger (red hair) is one of the primary identities that I think of as defining myself outside of talking to others…

  7. I would say that I am firmly in the camp of “asexuality is undetachable from my sense of self.” Although my asexual identity now is based around how rare and alien the experience of sexual attraction is for me, when I first started calling myself asexual, it was because I was aware that my sensory processing was different than most people’s, such that I was pretty sure I would have sensory overload if I ever touched someone’s genitals or had anyone touch mine. Although I didn’t have the words “sensory processing” or “sensory overload” when I was 13, and I didn’t receive an autism evaluation (and subsequent autism diagnosis) until more than a decade later, I knew when I was 13 that there was something atypical about how I experienced the world. Similarly, an autistic person is another undetachable identity of mine.

  8. Pingback: Being asexual, being autistic | Critique of Popular Reason

  9. Pingback: Carnival of Aces: April 2014 Round-Up of Everything Submitted!! | From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

  10. Pingback: My Doubts about Not Wanting to Have Sex (and my journey through the depths of Scarleteen’s sex-positive sex-ed website) | From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

  11. Pingback: Representation in acefic | The Asexual Agenda

  12. Pingback: Being an Asexual Fangirl (Part 1) | From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

  13. Pingback: Why You Should Care | The Asexual Agenda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s