As an intern in the public relations agency where I now work full-time, I sat at the front desk alongside my direct supervisor. She told me a story. “Last year,” she said, “our production client had a shoot in the middle of our office for a whole day.” She gave me a sidelong glance. “And they were casting male models.” She paused for effect. “Shirtless male models.”
I pulled my Asexual script out of my back pocket, raised my eyebrows and nodded. I even tried to smirk. “Oh, wow” I offered.
“Wow” tends to be my default reaction when someone strikes up a conversation while also assuming my sexual orientation. This someone doesn’t realize I’m saying ‘WoW,’ as in, ‘World of Warcraft.’ As in, I’d rather think about World of Warcraft than start a conversation where people assume I find other humans hot.
A separate occasion. I attended a holiday party as part of the same company and tried to network with strangers. I improved at networking through sheer willpower and the delicate balance of stubbornness and indifference. I stubbornly talk to X number of people per evening and, so long as I’m nice, don’t care about any personal judgments.
Except for this evening, when one woman in our circle gestured widely with her wine glass. She was talking about female roles in film, of which the variety isn’t exemplary. “And I mean, we all know women love sex,” she shouted out of the blue. “We all know women masturbate. Women are sexual beings! Why [does Hollywood] act like it’s something to hide?”
My coworker and a third woman both half-cheered in agreement. I cheered internally, at the hopes of a chasm spontaneously opening beneath my feet.
Ready? W o w.
My examples don’t sound like typical workplace examples. Any reader may substitute my stories with a social event, old friends, new friends, or passing encounters. But an emerging workplace environment–in my industry, in my Los Angeles tech community, and among my Millennial peers–is the social workplace. Social, the social, and being social becomes part of your work. For many, being social as a rule entails biting the bullet…and maybe a lime after downing a shot of Tequila before a speaking event*. Yet this environment makes me think about complications in being Asexual in “extroverted” work settings, or in settings where physical appearance is a hot topic of conversation.
In both experiences above, ironically, my difficulties stemmed from my identity being “invisible” rather than acknowledged. A lack of information about the asexual identity leads most to never assume that anyone at any time is asexual, rendering it an “invisible orientation.” When invisible, I feel pressure to maintain the assumption that I’m straight, in a perverse way. Yes, I do think so-and-so actor is hot, please hire my PR agency and help me keep my job. Or, yes, women are beautiful sexual amazons and deserve equality, please take my card and talk to me again.
That is to say, I fear that my asexuality emerging during entertainment industry events could impact my connection with many others, which is pivotal when performing well in my current job role.
The Daily Kos described a similar phenomenon. Carlin writes, “Some asexuals have experienced discrimination and bullying in school settings, in the workplace, on the Internet, and elsewhere, and they’ve often been invalidated and made to be invisible. Asexual men, including me, can get bad reactions when they fail to conform to heteronormative expectations, including pursuing women. I’ve personally been called a bundle of sticks, if you catch my drift, by people making nasty remarks about my lack of pursuit of the opposite sex.” (Bolded mine.)
A humming conversation exists about aces at work, both on the internet and The Asexual Agenda. I barely scratched the surface of my thoughts on the topic. I work in entertainment environments, tech environments and 100% woman-owned business environments (where a small office can yield gushing conversations about “guys”). My coworkers are not bad people and the industry means me no ill-will. Both, however, remind me that I am Asexual and they are Not, in ways that don’t make me sprout ace pride colors like peacock feathers. Rather, I’m reminded that I’m Asexual and should Shut Up about it; that I’m asexual in an industry where sex still sells. Sharing these opinions on attractiveness makes workplace camaraderie slightly easier.
How does your asexuality manifest in your workplace, school or home? Do you work or live in environments where you’re not only rendered invisible but “pass” as a heteronormative identity? Do you feel pressure to maintain the façade at the risk of your career or emotional well-being?
*I do not condone drinking with the intent to binge or harm.