The gender binary is entirely a social construct, but knowing that does not spare you from dealing with its consequences. Transgender people face a multitude of social problems due to gender roles being assigned to people based on their biological sex; however, other queer identities can face difficulties as well. I never thought of myself as queer until I found out about asexuality and that I was asexual. Before then I had constantly been at odds with my masculinity; it was a problem that was becoming progressively worse as I got older. That issue was the culmination of years of internal wrestling over my personal perception of gender and my own gender in particular.
Before puberty I found myself slightly confused by society’s view of gender. I was and still am more masculine than feminine, at least by the traditional measuring stick. I did have a fascination with things considered feminine, especially feminine fashion, but even as a small child I choose to keep these things to myself as I felt that my family might take issue with it. I would feel safe expressing my interest in “boy things”, and slowly began to dislike my feminine side. Once adolescence sent in I really began to overcompensate for perceived shortcomings in my masculinity. For instance, before I was twelve I had hardly ever paid in attention to sports; I had played them but was not good at all. Soon I was following sports like a junkie, and while I did enjoy it I starting using the hobby somewhat subconsciously to prove my masculinity to others and to myself.
Things really got bad once I started exploring my sexuality. It was impossible for me to sexualize people in my mind; the whole thing was uncomfortable and basically uninteresting. However, when I was not trying to think about sex I had no issue with it. I was a “mental virgin” and not by choice, causing a series of internal issues including extreme masculine insecurities. At first I thought it was a problem that I would grow out of, but as I grew older so did my insecurity over my “problem”. I tried thinking about women and men, and every fetish in the book – including cross-dressing – but still nothing worked which made things worse and always left me feeling straight by default. Eventually, I reached an age where most of my peers were sexually active and no longer virgins. I then started to try date, hoping that losing my virginity would “fix” me. Needless to say I was not very good at attracting mates, flirting was like an alien language. This led to body issues, as I felt like I needed a great body to compensate for my apparent complete lack of masculine instinct. I had always been small too, most of my childhood I was smaller and weaker than most girls my age. At the point when I discovered my asexuality I was working out vigorously five to six times a week.
Finding out that I was asexual was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. One of the things that I was the most excited about was not feeling trapped by social codes of heterosexual masculinity. I could now indulge my feminine side without shame. Unfortunately, things have not worked out as I had initially hoped. I would like to be able to walk seamlessly between masculine and feminine worlds. Go primitive camping with guy friends one day, and go shoe shopping with girl friends the next. Oftentimes it feels like the opposite.
In all honesty, I was expecting to lose some of the male comradery when I came out. I no longer talk to a few of my former male friends because my coming out experience with them was far less than ideal. Most of my good male friends were more or less accepting; however, now that I am open about my asexuality and my more feminine aspects, relating to them has never been more difficult. Whenever I knew I was going to be talking to friends or family soon, I found myself researching my past interests just so I wouldn’t seem like a completely different person. This leads to me constantly reevaluating how I feel about myself in each of these relationships. While I know that friends and family should love you for who you are, I still feel guilty if I completely take away the person they have known so long. This is especially difficult when they are making an obvious effort to understand asexuality, my activism, my former struggle, and my new identity. Making new male friends outside of Ace/Queer spaces has proven to be even harder.
While my problems with male relationships have been more or less expected, my problems with female relationships have not. Beyond the lack of awareness associated with asexuality, this has been my biggest disappointment with coming out from an individual standpoint. In regards to relationships with women, I do not want to be their boyfriend, guy friend, or “just friends”; I want to be a girl friend who happens to be a guy. Instead, I feel like I am still seen like any other guy except that I am uninteresting as a partner. It is a hard pill to swallow because typically other queer men do not have this problem to this extent. There are only two male demographics who do not find women sexually attractive – gay men and ace men – and yet they are often treated very differently by women. Sometimes it feels like being an ace guy is the most uninteresting type of guy to women, including mere platonic relationships. However, it is true that I now feel closer with most of my female friends than I did before. They were very supportive the first month after I found out I am ace, and I now feel closer to them than I have even felt towards women before. While these relationships are great not one of them has the closeness I am look for, and none of them allow me to “walk in to” the feminine world as much as I would like.
I am not blaming any individual for this paradox, but it reveals a much larger societal issue. Being masculine is usually celebrated while being feminine depends on the circumstances. Generally, macho guys and girly girls do not face any conflict within society based on their gender expressions. What is curious is to evaluate how society views masculine women as compared to feminine men. While tomboys do face issues due to their gender nonconformity they are far more accepted than feminine men or “sissies”. The fact that sissy is the most comparable word to tomboy is sad. The model says that it is ok for a girl to act like a girl or a boy, but only ok for boy to act like a boy. If a boy being like a girl is so bad, then what does that suggest about being female? Being a woman should not be seen as something degrading, and being a feminine guy should not be shamed.
So here I am. I am asexual, I am a guy, and I am not very masculine. So what is the big deal? If a tomboy can go to a game with her guy buddies one day and go shoe shopping with her gal friends the next day without causing a stir, then why can a feminine guy not do the same thing and why does any of this apply to asexual men?