(A personal follow-up post to Queenie’s post about undetachable identities)
Birds of a feather, they say.
I’m aware of the statistics – the numbers that pop up and hover somewhere around the lower end of the population. Fluctuating anywhere between one and five percent, the asexual demographic is overwhelmingly aware of the difficulties in networking, and in face-to-face collaboration with similar souls. Considering how few people I’ve interact with, the limited number of social circles and activities I’ve thrown myself into over the years, I shouldn’t reasonably know too many asexual people.
But strangely, and perhaps rarely to a certain extent among the community, I find myself with three close friends who are now self-identified as asexual, whom I met and clicked with before any of us had the vocabulary to express what we were. We weren’t out to anyone, and in a sense, we weren’t even out to ourselves.
It’s worth noting that similar things can happen with people under the LGBT umbrella. People, through whatever forces or subconscious social magnetisms, can find themselves associating with others of similar identities even if those identities are not (or cannot be) verbalized. These kinds of social groups, founded on shared but unspoken secrets, are a godsend for many. And similarly, I somehow gathered around myself an overwhelming LGBT-identifying friend group.
But other factors contribute to the likelihood of this occurring, and the general diversity of a place tends to do so, as well as the oppenness of the social climate. If culture, family, and/or community, are such that the penalties for divergence from the norm are overwhelming, demanding an overt self-consciousness, a person can engage in a stifling self-policing that will mask any potentially identity-revealing behaviors. Connections, then, could be less likely to occur. But what are we masking, exactly? And what did I not hide that manifested itself in my interactions with others?
The idea that sexuality is a detachable part of one’s identity asks us to conceive of a surreal and frankly unbelievable version of society in which sexuality is completely separated from all other spheres of thought. In one corner, people have explicitly sexual discussions, and in the other, all the other completely non-sexual exchanges in which the concept of sex is flicked off like a light switch in everyone’s mind. No sex. Not even a glimmer of sex. Nobody thinks about sex, unless they are asked to think about sex.
Living in society and being conscious human beings, we know this not to be the case.
One time in a college classroom on a sunny afternoon, the professor asked us what percentage of our waking time was spent thinking about sex. He cited the oft-quoted statistic, that a person’s mind wanders its way back to the topic of sex every five minutes, which I had always thought to be a patently untrue statistic.
Heads were nodded in accord, and my jaw fell open. The answers, given by the more enthusiastic members of the class, ranged anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of time spent musing about sex. Those who were less vocal still nodded, smirked, and I shrank back in my chair, spinning in my shattered assumptions about the inner life of every living person around me. Like a standard human being, I had presumed everyone’s thoughts followed the same patterns as mine. I had assumed that sex was a topic that was rarely, if ever, wandered into.
It is unlikely that an idea that is habitually and frequently revisited in a person’s mind would have no effect upon the beliefs, decisions, and behaviors exhibited by that person. It’s my layman’s understanding of psychology that neural pathways work like well-worn roads, and ideas that are visited often (unfortunately as in cases of trauma) become more likely to be involuntarily referenced again, oftentimes out of context.
In this sense, it becomes reasonable that the behaviors of a person who does not think about sex, living among people for whom sex is primarily thought about, would interact in ways which betray a differing identity.
Because I am stuck in my own mind, and even in thinking about sexual mentalities I’m playing at games of imagining, struggling to grasp patterns of thought which I can’t emulate. I’m ill-equipped to elucidate what my habits are. Maybe it was my platonic-as-default view of the interpersonal dynamics around me, in which I was plainly oblivious to budding attraction and the subtleties of expression directed at others as well as directed at myself.
Maybe it was my apparently sexless obsessions with celebrities, with fictional heroes, and my bland disinterest toward anything that dealt with their bodies themselves.
Maybe it was my contentment with a close relationship with a male friend that I assumed was exclusive, until it wasn’t, because I hadn’t “initiated anything” with him that would indicate it as such. Nor had it ever entered into my mind to do so.
Maybe it was every time in high school I tilted my head to the side, scrunched up my eyebrows, and replied, “I don’t get it.”
To presume that my experience in the world, my relationships with others, and my persistence within systems that are created by and facilitated by sexual people would be identical to anyone else’s – save for my awareness of a small missing kernal of my soul labeled “Sexual Attraction” – would entirely negate a whole great swath of the events and interactions that made me the person who I am now. We are aware of our sexualities, of sexuality itself, as an integral component to the cultures in which we exist and the ways in which we conceive of ourselves in relation to others.
I could easily leave my experiential narrative at this sad string of missed cues, opportunities, and relationships, where the person I have become is defined primarily by a disconnect between myself and the world around me. And even though those events did shape me, and are important in my understanding of myself, they are only a part of what I attribute to my asexuality.
What I have presented myself as over the years – unconsciously or unintentionally – has drawn in a group of people who are foundational, embracing, and unapologetic for who they are. People who saw a disinterest and “lack” of something not as an empty space, but an openness. My sexuality left me at an intersection with no street signs, and the people wandering by stopped to chat, decided to stay, and we put up signs of our own. I owe my existence to these people, and the experiences that came out of my aceness.
We’re not just like anyone else but shaded grey. We are as complicated and colorful as the rest.