I have a friend who in the last few months has started questioning if they might be queer (although they’re still trying to figure out where exactly they might fall). They’ve been talking to me about it a fair amount, for obvious reasons. The other day, though, we were chatting and they asked, “When did you know?”
“Which part of it?” was my immediate reply.
“Any part of it.”
The thing is, this question should be pretty easy to answer. I have a standard narrative that I use for activism work, of course–I got my first crush on a girl when I was 15, got a crush on a guy a little over a year later, learned that asexuality existed a little less than a year after that,* but didn’t start openly identifying as asexual until my twenties.
Reality is, predictably, a whole lot messier.
Here’s a place to start: I don’t actually remember when I started identifying as a biromantic asexual. I came out to my second partner (who also turned out to be ace), and I remember saying, “Do you know what ‘biromantic asexual’ means?” so obviously I knew the term by that point. But I don’t remember actually seeing the word or thinking, “Oh, hey, that applies to me.” You’d think that would be a big realization, right? There are so many narratives about people finding words for who and what they are and having huge revelations and I have…zilch. I had read the page on asexuality years prior, so I guess I must have internalized romantic orientation as a concept, assigned myself a romantic orientation, and then…never thought about it again? I don’t think I have a bad memory so much as it was a non-event for me. I knew, but knowing didn’t matter as much to me as telling someone.
Or, there’s this: I got my first crush on a girl when I was 15. I don’t think I ever went through a period of denial–it was very much “oh, okay, I have a crush on a girl; this isn’t ideal but I guess it’s happening” rather than trying to write off my feelings. But, in hindsight, maybe it was easy for me to accept because I started experiencing some kind of nebulous attraction to girls starting…probably when I was 11 or 12 at the latest. (It may actually have been much earlier than that–my mom got really frustrated with me when I was about 4 because I wouldn’t stop kissing this girl I was friends with. She was frustrated not by the kissing itself but because the girl in question turned out to have chicken pox.) I took dance classes starting in my preteens, and there were certain girls who I really wanted to impress. Because they were good dancers, uh, yeah, that was the only reason. I really wanted to talk to them and have them like me, but I was so painfully shy that I mostly couldn’t manage it. One of them complimented my shirt one time and I kept timing my laundry so that I’d wear that shirt to class in the hopes that she’d compliment it again. In hindsight, holy cow, tiny Queenie, that’s maybe not the most heterosexual behavior, but I didn’t realize that until I was in my twenties. Before that point, it was just me having uncomfortably big feelings about people I wanted to be friends with (something I’m very good at).
Or this: when I was 12, I got into a big argument with my dad about whether or not there were too many kissing scenes in The Lord of the Rings. I told him that the kissing scenes disrupted the flow of the plot and were excruciatingly dull, and he made fun of me and told me that he’d be laughing in a few years when I was eating up kissing scenes like candy. I remember telling him that that wasn’t going to happen. (I was right. The kissing scenes in The Two Towers are still pointless.) Do we count that as me “knowing”? Or was that just young Queenie having a good sense of plot pacing?
Or how about this: I started being bullied when I was in my early teens because my peers knew something was off about me. I wasn’t interested in boys (I faked a crush on a boy at one point to get people off my back), found the constant discussion about who people like liked really boring, and said some blunt and kind of mean things in response to one girl who kept monologuing about how much she enjoyed making out with her boyfriend. She called me heartless and a monster, and I thought she might be right. I had figured out by that point that I wasn’t experiencing what my peers were and assumed there was something wrong with me. Do we count that as me “knowing”? (Does it matter if I “knew” before I had the words for it? Does it only count if I had proper words to put to the experience? Or does it count only when I had proper words and started expressing those words to other people?)
That’s not even touching the way the language I use has changed over the past 5+ years. I call myself queer now rather than biromantic–I’ll say I’m bi spec when I’m in bi spaces. I used to think I was attracted to men and women more or less equally–now I’m mainly attracted to women and non-binary people. (I haven’t been attracted to a man for…approaching a decade now. That might be for Trauma Reasons or it might be luck of the draw–I’m attracted to people so infrequently that I’m working with a spectacularly small sample here.) I’m much more likely to say that I’m greyromantic than demiromantic now. 5 years ago I used to be more upfront about being ace than about being biromantic–now people are much more likely to know that I’m queer but may not know I’m ace unless we’re close (or I feel the need to out myself by making an awful pun which, let’s be real, I’ve done multiple times). But I’m not sure that we can say that I didn’t know before–it’s just that language in queer and ace communities is constantly shifting, and I’ve shifted along with it. I’m always trying to triangulate who and what I am as precisely and concisely as I can, but sometimes it’s more useful for me to throw out “queer” than to kick off the hour-long conversation about how exactly attraction happens (or, sometimes more pertinently, doesn’t happen) for me.
A lot of the time being able to talk to other people about something is a bigger turning point for me than knowing that thing about myself. The first time I came out as ace was more important to me than discovering asexuality. Which is more important: knowing or being able to make known? Does it matter when I knew if I expected to keep that knowledge locked up inside me forever? Does it matter when I knew if I somehow managed to forget that moment of knowing, but remembered the moment of telling someone else?
Maybe “When did you know?” just isn’t the right question for me. It’s probably the right question for a lot of people, but introspection has always been my strong suit while expressing my inner monologue is less so.
So, here, let me ask you: When did you know?
*Okay, so if you want to be a detective and work out my exact age it is in fact possible to do that by going through this post and previous posts I’ve made. I’m going to ask that you not do that, or at least that if you do that you don’t post about it. I’ve been intentionally evasive about my age for complicated reasons that mostly have to do with protecting my privacy (people knowing personal information about me is very anxiety-provoking, she says, on a blog where she frequently talks about very sensitive stuff because wow anxiety is weird), but this post would be borderline incomprehensible if I continued to be evasive–“February 2011″ means a lot less than an age for this kind of personal narrative.