What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. (If you are new to this blog, regularly schedule programming will resume after the holidays, but you can check out the “Best Of” section in the meantime). If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This guest post is by Rebecca, who blogs at Dragon’s Quill.
Part of the reason I’m writing this is because of one of your previous “What I Want You To Know” contributors. She wrote about being gay and a Christian. She also said she worried at one time “that I was asexual or developmentally stunted,” equating asexuality with being in some way underdeveloped, while arguing that being gay is natural. This is a very common attitude, and it's why I wanted to put some of my own thoughts into words.
I remember being in fifth grade, and sitting through sex ed classes. The boys and girls were separated, and most of us were pretty grossed out. We were largely united in our disinterest in having sex, and ready to move on with our lives (especially since many of us – not including my best friend who is adopted, and was quite smug at the time – were forced to come to the conclusion that our parents engaged in this behavior, or we wouldn’t be here!).
Fast forward a few years to ninth grade health class. Dudes and gals were tossed into class together and shown videos not that different from those in sixth grade (though the singing, dancing sexually transmitted diseases were a new experience!). Giggling and blushing ran rampant, and there was some whispering about how stupid this all was because we knew all this. We’d known for years. We didn’t need a video to tell us that we’re supposed to be horny teenagers fighting the good fight against sex and sexually transmitted diseases.
Well. They didn’t need a video. I did.
Health class was a new world for me. Instead of talking about how tab A fit in slot B, we were bombarded with messages of how we felt. You feel sexual urges. You want to touch other people. You want to touch yourself. You want to experiment with others. You want to date and make out and have sex. I was constantly bombarded with messages that sex was the center of my existence. Only, it wasn’t.
Most of my years in high school, I was helping care for terminally ill grandparents, so people didn’t really expect me to date. When I started college, I assumed things would change. I’d be older, I’d do new things, I’d meet new people. Eventually, I’d meet a guy, and I’d want to date him, and we’d get married and I’d get to be a mother one day.
Only . . . then college was over. I graduated. I was 23 years old. I’d never been on a date.
I started to worry there was something seriously “wrong” with me. For over a decade, I had been bombarded with messages that I wanted sex. I had to want sex, because everyone else did; but I didn’t, and I never said a word to anyone about it. I hid the knowledge of my “freakery” away for years. I came up with excuses for it, ranging from my weight (I’m a big girl), to my health (my ob-gyn could most likely retire just from my patronage), to my father’s early death (I was 4).
I’m 30 years old now, and it has taken several years, an unexpected providence in the form of an utterly biased and essentially derogatory television special on “asexuals,” and a dear friend who finally decided to speak to me about her own struggles to realize that I’m not a freak. I’m not broken.
I’m just not interested in sex.
Because sex is such a huge part of our culture, so integral to our modern identity, not being obsessed or even interested in it creates a huge social barrier. What do I talk about at church, where the emphasis is on women with families, the role of the wife and mother? What do I discuss with coworkers, who commiserate about their husbands, boyfriends, and sex lives? How do I answer when the inevitable topic of conversation becomes the only single woman in the room? How should I respond when many people assume that, since I’m neither married nor dating, I must be a lesbian?
For the last couple of years, I’ve decided to tell the truth. “I’m not interested in dating,” I say. “I never have been. Yes, I want to be a mother. No, I don’t know how I’ll pull it off. ” This isn’t a perfect solution, because this is so often met with the dreaded “phase” diagnosis. This comes in a variety of forms: You’re just not interested yet (really? I’m 30 years old; let’s get a move-on here!). You just haven’t met the right man (I had a crush on Egon Spangler when I was a about ten – maybe I’m waiting for him?). You’re just trying to pretend that you’re not gay (this from a couple of gay friends, and someone else very much homophobic; all three were hostile). It’s obviously a physical problem (in unrelated news, I suffer from severe endometriosis and am infertile; it’s hard to keep this under wraps when you have surgery every 18 months or so). You’ll like it when you try it (this is the most popular, as if you only know you won’t like gay sex until you’ve tried it, or you can’t figure out if monogamy is your thing until you’ve had a few affairs). Have you spoken to a psychiatrist? (Because a mental disease like being aromantic must only exist if a doctor says so). Maybe you have repressed memories of being sexually abused (yes, really, this is second only to “you’ll like it when you try it”). Never have I been told, “Really? You know what, I am too!” or even a simple, “Okay then.” That’s incredibly isolating, even when there are support groups on the internet. Not having to defend myself in real life would be such an incredible feeling.
So what do I want you to know? I want you to know that asexuals exist, no matter what spell check says. We exist in all kinds of forms (my dear friend is romantic, but asexual; I’m aromantic as well). I want you to know that children shouldn’t feel forced to be sexual. I want you to know that telling us we’re going through a phase denies who we are. And I want you to know that we’re just people, not freaks, not religious nuts, not repressed weirdos: just people, with all the beauty and variety that implies.