When did you know?

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.

About queenieofaces

QueenieOfAces is a graduate student in the U.S. studying Japanese religion. She is a queer asexual. She also blogs over at Concept Awesome and runs Resources for Ace Survivors. She is never quite sure what to write in these introduction things, but this one time she accidentally got a short story on asexuality published in an erotica magazine.
This entry was posted in Articles, Coming out, LGBT, personal experience. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to When did you know?

  1. I didn’t know about asexuality until I was in my 40s. When I was at school I had zero interest in boys but thought that I had plenty of time once I left school but nothing changed once I started working I just never fancied anyone I didn’t socialise a lot but plenty of people meet their other half at work, travelling, etc. All I’ve ever fantasised about are completely unobtainable guys like actors or musicians who I have no interest in actually meeting in person.

    I just lived my life trying to accept I was different and not understanding why but then the internet world arrived and occasionally I would google about mental health problems as I do suffer from anxiety and on one fateful day around 2012 I came across an entry in Wikipedia which gave a definition of asexuality and I went “bingo”! I kept going back and re-reading it thinking that’s me and then went on various websites to read up about it and joined AVEN and then came to realise I was also aromantic as well. It was such a relief to find others who were like me.

    • Jess says:

      Though I was quite a bit younger when I first heard the term, I didn’t ID as ace until I was almost 30, and very much identify with fantasizing about unobtainable guys, assuming I’d meet my eventual other half through my day to day life, and looking up information on mental health online. I grasped at anything that could explain why I felt the way I did, any condition or personality quirk that I came across and could cling to as a reason for being the way I was, but it still took me a long time to realize it was asexuality/aromanticism. I’m glad you found that relief; I’m feeling it as well, even though part of me is still coming to terms with it.

      • Hi Jess, it made me feel sad, frustrated and angry. I would just put it to the back of my mind how I felt but every so often it would dominate my thoughts and my frustration at the way I was would prompt me to search for answers I would too google different conditions Aspergers, ADHD etc until I stumbled on asexuality. I agree although there was relief, I still sometimes wish I was different but at least I understand a little better who I am.

  2. DasTenna says:

    I distinguish between “knowing” and “feeling”. I felt that I might be different than my peers – or most other people around me – at the age of 11 or 12. But I didn´t knew how different until last year when I found the term “asexual”. It took a month or two to understand that those texts I read could´ve been written by me.

    • queenieofaces says:

      The “feel” vs. “know” distinction is super interesting to me. If we start counting from the age I felt something was off, 11 or 12 seems right for me too, although I started noticing little things when I was 9 or so. That’s waaaay earlier than I would say that I “knew” anything about my sexuality.

      • Carmilla DeWinter says:

        Agreed – I started not getting my peers anymore around age 11, 12. I knew something was off, like we were sometimes speaking different languages, and tried to explain it to myself with various reasons: I was fat (I wasn’t actually, but that’s another story) and I was shy.
        Over time, I adjusted by becoming an eccentric and (still) enjoying it. I was fine where was, without any labels, when I learned about asexuality at age 25. I did some thinking and started openly identifying as ace at age 29. So – no heureka-moment there, either.

  3. agigabyte says:

    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.

    Honestly, that’s adorable. Just had to get that out of the way.

    Anyway, I figured it out sometime last year, though I think I knew on some level shortly after I found out what sex was. I’m fifteen, now, and I think that discovering the ace blogosphere at such a relatively young age has really helped solidify my identity.

    • Rivers says:

      OHMYGOODNESS I LOVED THAT TOO. It reminds me a lot of things I did when I was younger. I used to have a huge squish on my best friend in elementary school, and I would do some not-very-straight things to impress her.

      And yeah, I do think having the ace blogosphere has definitely helped support me, and it’s definitely taught me so much I would never learn on my own.

  4. Cracticus says:

    I knew throughout high school that my peers were interested in things I wasn’t. I thought I’d somehow chosen to be that way due to the Christian beliefs I held at the time. I thought once I met “the right person” I would begin to feel what my peers felt. When I learnt about demisexuality during my time at uni I immediately identified with it, even though I’d never experienced sexual attraction at that point. About half a year later I was forced to question that and have since been comfortably identifying as grey-A. You could also say I’ve always known I’ve been sex repulsed, even before knowing the term for it. Like my lack of attraction I thought that would also go away when I met the right person. I really struggled with feelings of brokenness when it didn’t. Discovering that term really helped with coming to terms with that and helped me realise that it’s ok to be that way.

    • Jess says:

      I did a similar thing w/r/t demisexuality. That’s how I first IDed, when people on sites I was reading started talking about it (w/varying degrees of sensitivity). I hadn’t experienced sexual attraction and couldn’t even imagine myself having sex, but I thought it would all change when I met the right person. Realizing that was not a thing; that I was the way I was independent of the people around me and their interest in me, was really freeing, even if it still makes me sad sometimes, almost feeling like I lost out on something b/c of the years of expectations I had built up for myself.

  5. Sara K. says:

    I also have trouble answering the question ‘When did you know?” for similar reasons. I also find it much easier to remember when I started telling other people that I am ace than when I started identifying privately as ace.

    And I am really happy that you are blogging again!

  6. Rivers says:

    I just have to say that you’re not alone with the pun thing. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve come close to accidentally outing myself with puns, even though the people around me might be the last people I would want to come out to.

    I think it’s easy for people to talk about big realization moments–a lot of people (though not all) have them (and there are benefits to having them and benefits to just kind of knowing). But in general, these big moments are built off all the small things and experiences we’ve had our entire lives. The things we come to know as being a part of ourselves, even if we don’t have to words to describe those feelings and experiences.

    When did I know?

    I didn’t have crushes in first or second grade, even though all my peers did.

    I had my first squishes when I was in first and second grade, but I had no way of expressing that, so I was just “a very loyal friend”.

    I realized I didn’t want to get married or have children when I was nine, which is part of how I experience my asexuality.

    I discovered the word asexual when I was fifteen, and I immediately knew it was me.

    But if I think back on all the “big moments” I had, of introspection and realization, I know that I wasn’t discovering some new aspect of myself, but realizing who I have been all along. The something I’ve never been able to word or describe or properly think about because I had no previous frame of reference for anything like it.

    I don’t know exactly “when I knew”, but I do know that it’s who I am.

    And that’s what matters.

  7. Rachel says:

    Like a lot of people here, I know in bits and pieces, and *felt* it before I *knew* it. Travel back in time and ask 15 year old me if I was interested in boys, and I’d have told you no. Ask 15 year old me if I was aro ace, and I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. I discovered asexuality quite by accident (and even visited AVEN) in undergrad (I was about 19), but I didn’t actually connect the dots until I was a 23 year old grad student. The fine details fell into place pretty quickly though: sex and romance averse, aesthetically attracted to men, etc.

    In retrospect, I’m kind of baffled that I missed the blindingly obvious when I first heard of asexuality in my late teens. Because really… my aro aceness is blindingly obvious. There were signs of it EVERYWHERE. ADHD selective obliviousness probably had a hand in that.

  8. I personally distinguish between feeling, knowing and identifying. I can tell you exactly when I started identifying as ace and how it happened. Knowing and feeling, however, are a lot more complicated.

    Like most aces I already knew something was “off” long before I’d heard of asexuality. But I’ve always felt different from my peers for several reasons, so I think it took me relatively long to figure out I was different when it came to romance and sexuality as well. I was 15 when I first consciously realized I didn’t like guys (or girls) in the same way my peers were. I remember thinking I wasn’t interested in guys, I just happened to have liked one. But when it came to sex I mostly just thought I was being a good christian girl for not wanting it, so althought I did realize I was different, I still didn’t quite realize *how* different.

    A couple years later, when I’d first heard of asexuality, I went through around 2 years of doubting/suspecting I might be ace or ace-spectrum. At first I just pushed those thoughts aside, because I didn’t yet fully understand everything and thought I couldn’t be ace. As I gradually learned more and more about asexuality I started relating to it more and more, until I finally decided to find out everything I could about asexuality and see if that was really me. Did I actually “know” all this time? Possibly. I do remember at some point telling someone about asexuality as something that existed in other people, while having this little voice in the back of my head that told me I was ace as well.

    So I guess it’s been more of a learning process of years – one that is still going on, too, as I’ve changed my labels a couple of times and am still not sure about every part of my orientation.

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