I grew up in a family that never talked about sex or even really relationships and intimacy. Of course I was still surrounded by sex in media, my peers, etc, but I never got “the talk” or had any discussions about sex within my household. My therapist wanted me to consider if that could have influenced my disinterest in sex and lack of sexual attraction.
—Seen on AVEN
I don’t feel sexual attraction to people but I know my antidepressants repress my sex drive so I don’t know what I feel naturally and what’s been taken away from me if that makes sense.
–A question seen on Asexual Advice
In a world that continually erases Asian (male assigned) sexualities I was coerced into asexuality. It is something I have and will continue to struggle with. My asexuality is a site of racial trauma. I want that sadness, that loss, that anxiety to be a part of asexuality politics. I don’t want to be proud or affirmed […]
There’s a common theme among people questioning whether they’re asexual. What if I’m really this way just because of _____? Replace the blank with “trauma”, “hormones”, “medication”, “my age”, “gender dysphoria”, “abuse”, “anxiety”, “repression”, or “upbringing”.
Even if you’re sure you don’t experience sexual attraction, if the reason you don’t experience it is due to any of the above, your claim to the identity becomes contested. The only universally accepted reason to identify as asexual if it’s “just the way you are”.
Philosophically, this drives me up the wall, because “it’s just the way you are” is not really a reason. It’s an admission that no one knows the reason. Suppose we discovered that 60% of aces are that way because they were subject to larger amounts of a particular brain chemical at the age seven. Would that mean that those 60% are no longer “really” ace? Would that be a case of SCIENCE disproving 60% of asexuality?
Who cares what the reason is? Does it make a difference to your lived experience? Does asexuality-because-hormones feel any different from asexuality-because-genes? If you don’t know whether your asexuality has anything to do with hormones, does that put your experience of sexual attraction into a quantum state?
However, the answer to “who cares?” is you care. And I care. If people just didn’t care, then Alok wouldn’t have written that essay, people wouldn’t ask Asexual Advice for advice, and nobody on AVEN would ever talk about it. Let’s think hard about why people care.
1. The “real” you
Many of the “causes” I mentioned appear as external forces, which could push you away from the “real” you. For example, if I’m asexual and taking antidepressants, would the “real” me, who is not on antidepressants, not be asexual? Of course, then the “real” me would also be depressed. The question is not, “Who is the real me?” it’s, “Who do I want to be?”
2. A product of error
If one’s asexuality is the product of something like horrible, such as trauma, that feels deeply uncomfortable. How can I celebrate my orientation when it may have been caused by something so terrible?
You are free to celebrate your feelings or not. However, always remember that neutral and good things can come out of bad. For example, I had parents who argued all the time, and that was bad. But I also learned to be good at conflict resolution, and I can still celebrate that consequence.
3. Unaddressed problems
If you think you’re asexual because of anxiety, or because of hormones, you might worry that by identifying as asexual, you’re ignoring the real problems in your life, whether those problems are social or medical.
Although, I haven’t heard any cases where an asexual identity caused people to ignore their other problems. If you’re worried about unaddressed problems, an asexual identity doesn’t require you to stop addressing them.
4. Predicting the future
What if it later turns out I’m wrong? What if it’s due to my gender dysphoria and I stop feeling asexual when I transition? What if it’s due to “repression”, whatever that means, and I stop feeling asexual when I’m no longer repressed? What if it’s due to my age, and I stop feeling the same way in a few years?
The future is scary, and there’s little I can say to make it less scary, since it’s not like I can predict the future. If you’re worried that tomorrow you will stop feeling asexual, you’re welcome to take a day to think it over. If you’re worried that it will happen over the next few years, I can’t tell you what to do with that. You may either give it time, or you can take your experience as it is now.
5. But other people are saying I can’t be ace…
They’re not the boss of you. It’s your choice to make.
And although I offer reasons why you may still identify as ace, you may also ultimately decide that an ace identity is too uncomfortable. I respect that, because it is your choice to make.
This is such a good post. 😉 Thank you for writing it.
Agreed with luvtheheaven. Thanks for the post, it’s important.
Also, it’s kind of a mind opener, because I never quite get why people agonize over the reasons so much. (Probably because my reasons are pre-natal hormones or therebouts, which means there is no me who would have come out another way. Born this way?)
I wonder if the prevalence of this type of questioning is because so many people in the community are newly discovering their asexuality. Whereas, by the time I came across the concept of asexuality, I had already known for a good 15 years (as well, I first learned about asexuality in 2004, which is a long time ago now) that I was not interested in sex or attracted to people that way, I just hadn’t had the language to describe it. Like Carmilla, I tend to feel that I was “born that way”, but at this point in my life, I’m a lot more interested in how I can best lead a livable life as someone who is asexual than in spending a lot of time wondering where it came from. Perhaps as the community matures and more asexuals move through different stages of their lives, the debates will come to take a different form.
Hmm. I came to the community lacking a word, but I was rather unapologetic about being nearly thirty and still single. I’d done my agonising about “why can’t I be like everyone else” waay earlier, and had finally decided that a) “everyone else” was a diverse group and it thus was impossible to be like everyone else, and b) not being like “everyone else” suits me just fine, after all. Call it my hidden punk self.
I often wonder if my asexuality came from/was influenced by other aspects of my personality or my environment growing up, because I just find it interesting to think about the possible connections. I’ve concluded that growing up in conservative Christian culture might have at least contributed to my sex aversion, and sometimes I wonder if that’s a bad thing, something that should be remedied because it came from unhealthy attitudes within Christianity. So I appreciate the reminder that the way I am isn’t wrong, no matter where it came from.
I distinctly remember the moment when I really “got” that good things can come out of bad. I was reading an old academic paper about the debate over whether homosexuality should be considered a disorder. I don’t have access anymore, but the author noted that the cause of homosexuality was irrelevant to whether it’s a disorder, and used an example similar to the one about my parents.
Good things can come out of bad–It’s the kind of thing that’s immediately obvious when stated directly. It was simultaneously obvious that I had not emotionally realized it until that point. That was very important to me.
Yeah, I’ve also had those moments of getting something that I then feel like I should have realized a long time ago. Sometimes you just need to see something in the right phrasing or context for it to really hit you.
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I have thought a lot about any potential “causes” for my asexuality, and also about how much asexuality impacts my thoughts and/or determines other aspects of my identity. Then I have decided that it doesn’t really matter that much. My current identity is a product of everything that I was born with and have experienced until now. My future identity will then be my current one plus any new experiences and changes that come my way. If sexuality is fluid, identity can also be a constantly changing thing. I had been “sex-repulsed heterosexual” for 22 years before I was “sex-repulsed asexual” for a year, and now I am “sex-neutral asexual”.
Hence, while it is great to understand how any part of myself came about, I don’t think that is crucial for “being who I am” at this moment. If I am no longer asexual/female/Asian/scientist/atheist/etc. in the future for whatever reason, my future self can deal with that the same way I am dealing with it now.
To 3, I would add: sometimes you can’t address a problem, because access to affordable competent medical care, because non-binary dysphoria that nothing will relieve, because autistic and there’s nothing to change, etc. And, well, that’s something to cope with, and claiming ace as identity may be a way of coping, and if that’s useful that is 110% valid.
Reblogged this on Asexuals involved in BDSM.
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Part of the reason* why many aces want to find out or prove that there is no reason for why they are that way/that they were “born like that”, is that (as is also true for other mogii identities), ace-phobes will want us to change. The most common attacks on asexuals are variations of “You’re just repressed/inexperienced” or “Were you abused?!”. And oftentimes the first reaction to an attack is to deny it and explain that no, of course not, and I can prove it too!
So it’s, in essence, an effort to convince ace-phobes (and maybe the internalised little ace-phobe in the back of our own heads) that there is no reason and thus no way to change and thus no obligation to change = become “normal”. This implies that if there were a way to change or prevent asexuality, it would more or less be an obligation to do that or at least stay out of ace communities and instead of using “asexuality” to describe oneself, use pathologising words :/.
I’m really happy that this tendency is changing nowadays! I think this is due to more and more trauma survivours, mentally and physically ill/disabled, neurodiverse and otherwise marginalised people (like Alok Vaid-Menon) openly doing ace activism, claiming and building a space for themselves in ace communities and standing up to efforts of (some) other aces to distance themselves from them.
And by doing so, I hope that attitudes of asexual people /and/ allosexual people will change and be more accepting and affirming of all the different ways to be ace and that all aces will be less on the defensive.
*of course it’s also just important and rewarding to find out more about oneself and in that context, I think exploring possible reasons/influences for one’s identity is a good thing.
Belatedly, this is what I meant when I commented over at Coyote’s blog that I don’t think repression is a particularly useful concept. I tend to think that people talk about repression in the context of “well, the *real* you under your trauma/terrible beliefs about sex really is interested in sex”, and I don’t think that is a particularly helpful attitude. I think you fleshed it out in much more detail, though!
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I think that there’s a pressure and an assumption that if we hold an identity, especially around sexual/romantic orientation, that it must always have been true and always will be true, or we’re betraying the movement. In reality, change is a part of everyone’s lives–whether or not this particular label or experience changes. But I think that’s where a lot of this comes from.
Of course, it’s also a site of compulsory sexuality. “I’m asexual.” “But why??” turns into, very easily, “I don’t want sex right now.” “But why??”
The statement, of course, should be enough. Or it’s sorta rapey.
I don’t know if anyone remembers, but a while ago there was a tumblr firestorm sparked by someone (I won’t deign to link to them) claiming that everything we say about asexuality is useless and any statistics we may have are bunk because they didn’t enquire about the ’causes’ of asexuality. Their faux-scientific position was basically that we can’t call asexuality a real orientation because we don’t know what it’s caused by and what if it’s caused by some genetic or environmental factor. That would disprove asexuality completely.
My reply was basically that LITERALLY EVERYTHING is caused by genetic and environmental factors in a complex combination. We are not minds in isolation, but rather connected to bodies and brains that are affected by their surroundings and own genetic code. Even if we knew exactly what the cause of something is, since when does anyone get to say what is valid based on knowing what caused it? It’s like saying, ‘You think you feel happy, but that’s just because your body’s releasing some hormones in response to a stimulus and they’re telling your brain that it’s happy. You’re not actually happy.’ It doesn’t actually follow, you know?
Somebody save me from people who think they understand science.
Great point. 😉
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