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!