TW, cussing and internalised transphobia (yes, really, seriously so).
I haven’t been posting here because I haven’t been in a great place. Then I found my way back to my blog, looked around for some way, any way to start this post and decided to go see what this month’s Carnival of Aces was about… ‘reaching out, reaching in’ is the theme. What can we do to reach you? What do you do to reach out?
I’m in that unproductive frame of mind where that type of question only serves to make me feel harassed and guilty. I have done nothing, nothing, nothing all ace week. I also don’t feel I’m in a place where I need reaching. The ace community is easy enough to reach when I want it. I was just all clammed up and angsting my little heart out.
The irony is that it all started from something good. I got away from the church community that had started to feel oppressive, just because of the soft, insistent peer pressure that comes with unquestioned heteronormativity. I took some space, some rest.
I finally had the time to notice I’d gotten rather messed up.
Turns out, it wasn’t just the heteronormativity, it was the cisnormativity, too. See, I’m turning out to be one of those nice little white middle-class feminists who was so proud to try and be trans-inclusive, but the moment the question ‘am I really cis…?’ seriously crossed my mind?
I hate myself a lot more right now than when I was in the middle of ‘gosh I’m pan and probably that means queer, too.’ Fuck have I built up a lot of hate inside myself. I am somewhat twistedly happy that both times the subconscious prejudice exploded in my face when it was about myself, not about other people. I’ve probably made enough of the-ignorant-person-says-insensitive-shit mistakes without doing anything on purpose.
It was so easy to accept I was demisexual, by comparison. An orientation that was unknown, no stigma attached. I felt conflicted about adding the pan- to the -romantic, both relieved to fully accept gender plays no role when it comes to attraction for me, but so scared of the many what-ifs that came with it.
Now, oh fuck, fuck, fuck do I get why people are so scared to go through the questioning and acceptance. I get why people make a one-eighty straight back into denial. I sure want to put this shit in reverse and stomp on the gas paddle.
I. Hate. Myself. SO. MUCH.
It wasn’t long after I discovered asexuality that I felt I could be more feminine some days, less so on others. These last few years that gender shit had gotten rather tied up in the traditional gender roles being preached in church. So while I’d been able to explore how far along one end of the gender spectrum I wanted to go (dress, yes, make-up, nah), the other end had gotten rather neglected. I just tossed on jeans and a shirt on the days I felt less of a woman.
Overall, I just thought asexuality meant I’d gotten more comfortable, more happy with my body. Not so much, or maybe not just that. I’d gotten more comfortable with expressing my gender.
So I figured, I’d go wander down the other end of the spectrum to see how far I was interested in going. I’d been so happy being able to be more feminine on the days I felt like it, after all. Finding the other end of the line should have been therapeutic.
Yeah, that was a rabbit hole I fell down.
One that was dark and where I’d stuffed all the shit I’d never wish on another person.
I don’t know what label I’d have, if I even want one. I don’t even know about pronouns or how to express what I’ve found, when it comes to myself. Will I ever want to express it? I don’t know.
I only know that I found, which, well. Where “woman” ends, in my head, I continue. I don’t know what the hell to call that part of myself. Person? Man? Neither of those quite feel right. Masculine comes the closest, perhaps.
The problem with exploring it is I flip out every time I touch those thoughts for too long. And I have no one to talk to so I can distance myself enough by putting nebulous thoughts into more concrete words. So here we go, anonymous, on the internet, as is the traditional way with figuring out forbidden shit for my generation.
Transgression, there, that’s what this feels like. I transgress because the whole of me doesn’t fit in the one gender.
Wow, God, that’s already much better than hate.
And now I can poke that thought until I figure what shit I’ve internalised to make me feel like I’m going to go to hell.
This post is a submission for March’s Carnival of Aces by Controlled Abandon.
The day after I went to the Canal Parade in Amsterdam in August of 2015 (a colourful procession of boats that pass a neighbourhood, with many parties and concerts during and afterwards, it’s great), I went to a jeweler’s. The elation from being in a crowd where anyone could be any gender, any orientation (and I was free to be myself, newly demisexual, newly not-heterosexual) hadn’t worn off yet. After browsing I splurged on a stainless steel ring with a black design and put it on my right middle finger. “There, I’m out,” I told myself out loud, in an empty cobblestone street between bent-over centuries-old brick facades. I went back to my room skipping (yes, a few steps literally, Pride, both the event and the coming-out phase, are heady).
I’ve worn a black ring ever since. I buy a new one every year to add to the collection. Some are partially black for when I’m feeling more demisexual than asexual. Some are delicate to go with more femme outfits. As a symbol, it’s been the main carrier for being demi, ace, panro, queer and living accordingly. Since I’ve worn it for nearly four years, that symbolism has become layered. Here’s a few of the layers…
… I go to a meet-up of asexuals. I walk around the cafe lost, nervous, ready to sit down at a table alone, when someone’s eyes fall on my ring. They ask if I am there to meet them. Gratefully I sink into a chair and stammer that yes, yes I am. My heart drums against my rib cage while I sit there, mostly listening, grateful my ring has spoken for me.
… I am on the point of coming out to a good friend. I can’t find the words until my eyes fall on my hands. On the visual prompt I wear. “So, I have this black ring on my right middle finger, because…” I feel deeply at ease around her until the next time we discuss dating. I realise she’s just… forgotten. In her memory I confessed to being a perpetual single, not asexual. It marks the point where I redefine erasure not just as invisibility in the media, but a real-world SEP-field or Sunnydale Effect.* People will forget I came out to them unless we regularly discuss the subject. That first time, I wonder if I’m in a waking nightmare and I clench my fists. The ring – the big, bold original – pinches my pointer and ring fingers. It becomes a symbol that yes, I’m awake. Evidence that yes, I did come out, even if I’m the only one who remembers.
… When I move, I start attending a more conservative church. I have to start dealing with the community’s lack of acceptance of queer people; the revelation I lived in a safe little bubble until then. It unleashes all my internalised homophobia – more than I could have predicted given the environment I grew up in. I have to read the Bible again, especially the clobber passages.** Go in search of queer Christian stories, buried underneath the dominant narrative of queers vs. Christians. I read up on celibacy and abstinence and realise exactly how much asexuality upstages traditional ideas of sexuality that are preached. Even when I’m conflicted I continue to wear the ring to church on Sunday. This is who I am. It’s on my hand when I raise it to worship God.
… It becomes a symbol of passing. Nobody recognises it for the declaration it is, even when their eyes fall on it. When they hold my hand in theirs and they stare at it, comment falling from their lips. It also becomes a symbol of defiance. I am queer in church. I am ace at work. I wear it because it’s an irrevocable part of me.
… I notice others wearing black on their right hands. I realise it’s the latest fashion in wedding rings. So, if you squint, it’s like I wear a masculine wedding ring and well… it’s related. It’s a sign of commitment, of being true, to the way I love rather than who I love. Should I ever wear a wedding ring, it will clink against my black ring like two champagne glasses meeting in a toast.
I don’t know how prominent black rings are as symbols of asexuality in the community these days. Less so than in 2015, perhaps. I see myself wearing it the rest of my life. It’s the symbol I picked for being out. It’s the symbol for staying true to myself in the face of all my anxieties of the past few years. It’s the symbol of my nature***, which’s had a massive impact on how I wish to love others, partner, friends, family and beyond.
*) SEP-field (somebody-else’s-problem field) is from Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sunnydale Effect refers to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where inhabitants supposedly disregarded the supernatural in their town because there was a sort of spontaneous, selective magical amnesia. It’s a common trope in magical realism, used to explain why the secret magical stuff is secret.
**) The six places the English and Dutch translations of the Bible supposedly mentions homosexuality, used to condemn every shade of queer. Interestingly, it sounds harsher in English than Dutch, which I think may be due to translation choices. Please note that studying the original text in its original context almost immediately undermines the condemnation, not least because our current understanding of the framework of sexual and other orientations developed in the 19th century. Yes, this is me being a calvinist and saying every Christian ought to study the bible for themselves and not letting clergy (or groupthink) do their thinking for them. I’ve had a very, very thorough lesson in how much nonsense we absorb over a lifetime.
***) Fun fact, orientation translates into ‘geaardheid’ in Dutch, which you can back-translate into nature.
In which I wrestle with prejudice.
The biggest problem I have in live conversations with people “explaining away” homosexuality, in lovely parallel to what they may use to “excuse” asexuality… I have no counter argument. I have no good reason ready why people are the way they are. I have no queer apologetics the way I’ve learned Christian apologetics (yes, there’s an academic field that’s Christians explaining their faith). I stand, as we Dutch put it, with my mouth full of teeth. Silent.
I found myself choking at one particular thread, having made the mistake of googling asexuality and Christianity. In a thread debating whether and why asexuality was sinful by some very, very conservative Christians, one mentioned why asexuality could not be accepted, according to them, though it might not itself be sinful.
See, if asexuality is a valid orientation that people can simply be, then the same will have to be accepted, by extension, of homosexuality and bisexuality. We cannot be normal, because that would make others normal. More widely accepted.
What makes it so hard for me to argue? Why was that person so scared of any non-hetero orientation being acceptable?
Here’s my pet theory: when an identity stops being controversial, it starts being taken for granted. When society accepts us, we don’t need to explain ourselves. When we accept ourselves, too, the truth of what we are, what we may feel and think and live, simply is. Our being resounds like a gong with the rightness of it. Not much ‘but why?’ to it, unless you’re a bit of a philosopher or scientist. Unless you’re still questioning, integrating this new component of yourself.
One of my better memories, when it comes to acceptance of queer folks, was the moment I realised being gay/lesbian was utterly accepted at work. I had a set of gossiping biddies for colleagues and we shared a room. There were a few side offices. The subject of the day were two men who’d been holed up in one of the offices for a longer-than-normal time. While they speculated on what two people could get up to in a closed room for that long, I realised with something like happiness that the two people’s genders had become irrelevant in pairing them off in office gossip.
When the discussion continued, the reason for the acceptance was revealed. They were compared to an gay couple in a mainstream soap opera. Having seen it occur on TV, the ladies were as happy to go slashy in their real-world shipping as any fanfic author. Representation was that powerful. Go figure.
It’s a thread I also see in Aut of Spoons’s post that no, trying to use autism to explain away gender noncomformity is not okay. I learn the word for it, etiology, trying to ‘diagnose’ sexual orientation or gender identity and yeah, doesn’t that put a lovely slant on those conversations I’ve been having? It prodded and poked at me while I try to write the round-up post two weeks ago.
I remember the easy conversations I’ve had with the few folks who’ve accepted me for who I am. I remember how I felt I couldn’t explain a large part of myself to people I haven’t come out to… telling them I’m a certain thing (mostly single, wishing for kids but leaning towards adoption, inexperienced in dating) and then… waffling.
I remember how utterly at ease I felt with myself a few years ago and now do not. How the periodic exclusion of other queer identities has made me wrestle with doubts (opgerakeld, in Dutch, churning things up to muddy the water that before was clear).
I find myself wishing I was represented in a soap opera and gossiped about at work, though I hate soap operas and I hate gossip, if only to have the evidence of being accepted by mainstream society. I wish I did not have be so inexplicable I’m ignored after I’ve come out to somebody, entrusted an important bit of who I am to a person.
I wonder to myself why this hate and these people have such power over me. Why not being accepted is such a big deal. Why I could simply be myself before, but now, being doubted, I doubt myself.
Maybe God has the right idea, with that name of his. I am here. I was, am and will be. I am who I am. I am.
In other words, JHWH is a great big bell the size of all creation resounding with BEING. The way each human resonates with rightness when they learn the truth about themselves in some way. C’thia, if you will.
No words, no explanations. I am.
My orientation has been seeping into my writing, but the stream splits itself.
On one end, exposure to the ace community, and wider queer community more indirectly, coupled with emotional investment means that it feeds into the speculative fiction I’m already writing. It gets added to the repetoire of characteristics my characters can have, and what is their gender and sexuality? has become a more prominent and complex question when I’m working on profiles.
On the other end, I’m writing about being demisexual, about coming to terms with being panromantic (still new enough I want to attach a “maybe, likely, I think” to that label), about being part of the asexual community. This expresses itself mostly in nonfiction, but also bits of poetry and short fiction.
As amateur, so far, but working towards publication. I don’t know why, but I’d been assuming that whatever I’d eventually manage to sell, I’d do it under my real name. That’s being challenged as I figure out what steps I need to take to get to that point.
Thing is, names are brands. That’s not unique to writers.
Every idealist that champions a cause comes to represent it to some extent. Being self-employed means you do a lot of networking and promotion consciously to build up your company name as well as your name until it stands for something people want to buy. Not just the service you offer, but how and why you do so. For writers that’s magnified. The good ones sell books based on their name alone. The names seen on a shelf, searched for in Amazon, recognised when you do an event somewhere.
Here I am, at the start of all that, writing in two ways and wishing to give up neither. Should I be lucky enough to sell in an insanely oversaturated market, I will get painted into a corner, branded. To be honest, I want to reserve my real name for the writing I’ve been doing for years, the long stories I labour over in worlds I enjoy filled with people I’ve come to love.
Nom de Plume
The only way I’ve really learned what works, though, is experimentation, because a lot of people say a lot of things about writing. So I’ve been poking at the pseudonym I filled out for my dedicated gmail account once upon a time, “Hedwig Seafal”. I never used it, because a screenname works well for a blog and feels more honest so long as that’s where I’m at. I like being just “demiandproud”. But having a first-name last-name alter ego seems to make sense If I want to see if I can publish stuff. In Dutch you say you buy things “op de groei” if you buy ’em too big, to grow into them.
Here I am, at the start of all that, writing in two ways and wishing to give up neither. Should I be lucky enough to sell in an insanely oversaturated market, I will get painted into a corner, branded. To be honest, I want to reserve my real name for the writing I’ve been doing for years, the long stories I labour over in worlds I enjoy filled with people I’ve come to love.
The only way I’ve really learned what works is experimentation, because a lot of people say a lot of things about writing. So I’ve been poking at the pseudonym I filled out for my dedicated gmail account once upon a time, “Hedwig Seafal”. I never used it, because a screenname works well for a blog and feels more honest so long as that’s where I’m at. I like being just “demiandproud”. But having a first-name last-name alter ego seems to make sense If I want to see if I can publish stuff. In Dutch you say you buy things “op de groei” if you buy ’em too big, to grow into them.
The will-I-won’t-I frame of mind I write this post in comes down to authenticity and privacy.
I want to be honest and making up a name seems counterintuitive. I can’t really verbalise why, except my brain goes ‘ugh, really?’ every time I consider it. My newbie might be showing, there.
Yet, the idea of a pseudonym comforts me too. I’m not comfortable with the more conservative congregation members I connected with on LinkedIn and Facebook reading “X is published in the 2020 Anthology for LGBTQIA Poetry, congratulate her.” I want to keep these roles, me demisexual writer and me active christian somewhat separate.
I’m comfortable being a Christian in the ace community. I’m ambigious about being out among Christians, especially as public and blunt as I’d need to be to write and publish about it without losing my voice to vagueness.
And that’s hard when your name is a keyword by which the world finds your work. I can write an ace character without using labels in a science fiction story or fantasy novel, and then smile an author-intent-is-dead smile at anyone, no problem. I cannot write about my personal experiences and convictions in an essay or poem and not have it follow me home.
Where my asexuality flows into my writing splits and between the two streams lies the line I am not comfortable crossing in my own name. So, makes sense to have two, have cake and eat it too.
The theme for July’s Carnival of Aces is Then and Now. Let’s compare the summers of 2015 and 2018.
I am still reeling from the shift, going from identifying as a heterosexual barred from falling in love by her insecurity to a more confident woman still seldom feeling sexual desire… demisexual. The inciting incident for this personal journey was a little over a year ago. I have lurked in the AVEN forums and set up a blog on WordPress, liking the long-form writing. I work through the questions my new identity throws up by writing and reading about them.
A city trip to Amsterdam coincides with Pride, at the start of August. With a thrill, I decide to go, wishing to be amongst other people who have a different orientation. Each museum advertises exhibits, the entire city centre sports flags for my entire stay. The place is proud of its pride and glad for its popularity. With a museumcard I happily browse through galleries and follow a tour guide through a zoo while he explains about homosexual animals.
On the day of the parade, I take out the eye pencils I bought, black, silver, white and purple, and draw flags on my hands. I walk until I hit the main canals, where crowds cluster, wreathed in colourful clothes and cheery music. I run into an aging lesbian I met earlier that week, who thought I was questioning-and-in-denial when I tried to explain asexuality – a practice run, with a stranger in a strange city, before I dare to tell family. We end up talking about how she claimed long-term relationships among lesbians often enough become queer-platonic relationships when they enter their second or third decade. We stay together that day to have someone to share comments with while we watch the floats and boats go by.
I feel a little lost, I am the only one like myself. Still, the day becomes a precious memory. Even in this time and place where there is no fight for rights, the people come to be uniquely blessed. Each time I see people together, I realise they could be friends or family or strangers or lovers, in any combination. This one day a year, anyone could be any sexuality and not be outnumbered. Too, I realise as I look better and see they can be any gender and have a good chance of meeting more people like themselves. It’s a one-day vacation from heteronormativity, from gender roles. It releases something in me.
I leave early, because there isn’t a party for people like me and I don’t much feel like beer or celebrating my sexuality. Still, I smile at all the families who start to leave along with me. They came here to teach their kids this, I realise, a broadening of horizons. Not a bad day out, either, with the festival foods and mellow atmosphere and colourful boats and people and places. Loads more fun than a documentary at school or a representative of the COC (LGBT centre) coming to talk. I find myself hoping they tell all their classmates.
The next day, my last day, I decide I want a souvenir, a symbol of when I went out to celebrate my orientation, even just to myself. I buy a ring with a black band in the middle and put it on my right middle finger. There, I decide, I’m out. A little more sure of myself I go home. I sit my family down, one by one, to come out to them.
After a hiatus, I’ve been blogging again for a while. I have moved and joined a more conservative church, since my own denomination wasn’t around. It caused a whole host of insecurities and fears to upend itself over my head, even though I thought I’d reconciled my faith and my demisexuality. Seems I absorbed some of the poison out in the public domain just fine, even if I was accepted in my personal circle.
I have had an asexual orientation long enough that I am starting to lose the sense of what it was like to think myself heterosexual. One warm night, staying with family, I walk to the bathroom half-asleep in only a shirt and startle at an outrage squawk from my brother. It takes me minutes to realise what the problem is. My body has simply become my body, comfortable and only covered for my comfort. No longer a source of questioning what might make it seem sexy, or shame for what others might see in it.
I am finally confident enough to take the step deliberately into the dating world, though it’s still a slow shuffle as if across an iced-over road. I start to accept that lacking the wish to have sex does not mean I have give up what I do wish to have, most especially kids, far more even than a partner. Not yet, I decide, but I jot down what would be practical to know or prepare in advance and start to research at what point down the line it would be possible, responsible, good. I consider whether to adopt or to carry my own.
I speak in gender-neutral terms of a potential partner. While I am romantic, wish to be romantic, I don’t really know towards whom. I realise I find people striking on first impression, or their minds intriguing to explore further. By these two methods do I identify people to like, people to love. It is by convention that I determine which way it is appropriate to build a relationship with someone, with friendship an easier path and the romantic scarcely explored.
I mentally redefine demisexual when I read about the three instinctual drives: sexual, romantic, attachment. Demisexual: the sexual drive may trigger when attachment (trust, respect, familiarity, community, collaboration, cohabitation) is present.
The gradual paradigm shift has trickled into my writing, which I’ve picked up again. I cannot withhold my changed understanding of relationships, of love. Each story, by the time I’m writing character profiles, contains an asexual character or a relationship somewhere between frienship and romantic and sexual or someone who wishes never to have a relationship at all. Because these are the things I’ve been thinking about for years, to puzzle out. My mind is too full to avoid them.
I realise with dread I am on the point of another coming out. My friends, my family know I am demisexual. But I’ve been comfortable almost never talking about my orientation. People never really ask about the ring or the absence of a relationship. It feels a little naughty, to be differentunder people’s noses, most of them never realising.
However, if I wish to publish, if I produce something good enough, being asexual will not just be part of my personal identity, but part of my public identity. On Linked-in, on my bio, answering questions from strangers.
I remember that Pride. I remember that atmosphere, that all orientations and genders were accepted on that one day. I remember that people brought their kids from across the country. I remember feeling alone in having an asexual orientation, even as I felt affirmed in being not-heterosexual.
I want to write and these stories call to me. Working through the implications and insecurities of this identity has shaped my voice, because it’s taught me so much that’s worth telling.
So, a year from now, maybe two, maybe three, somewhere there’ll be another story with ace characters, by me. Not really because I’m brave or much of an activist, but because it will, hopefully, make for a good story.
My contribution to June’s Carnival of Aces, hosted by dating while ace.
If you’ve ever heard a person talk about their faith in roughly the following format: “I had something going on, then God happened, then stuff changed for the better,” then you’ve run into a testimony. These word-of-mouth stories are the single most prolific and accessible method for Christians to talk about their lives and their beliefs.
I bring them up because the latest issue of the Asexual had me think about representation, even while I failed to write something clever on time. In my fantasy land, Christians happily bring up how their sexuality and their faith interacted and maybe took them through some hard times and maybe taught them something about themselves or the world and maybe meant their lives changed. For the better, because this is fantasy land.
In short, if I dream of representation, I dream of hearing testimonies from LGBTQIA folks, preferably asexual folks and, for the almond-whipped-cream-on-top-of-a-salted-caramel-cheesecake, demisexual or gray-ace folks.
All the more because these stories are meant as examples and as teaching tools. Testimonies are meant to tell others how to live. While I know, intellectually, there are plenty Christians with another sexuality out there, these are not stories easily found. They are not people likely to speak up, with how controversial a topic sexual orientation is, in the church around the world. Other voices dominate.
So I ache at the near-silence and I keep seeking it out, the person-like-me, both Christian and othered in their sexuality and yet managing to unite these two. I keep kneading my own faith into shapes that I think might be good and hoping someone else has a similar heap of dough already made into a nice cake.
That somewhere, someday, it might not be strange to suddenly hear a person talk about their sexuality and faith: “I discovered I was/struggled with being/came out as (not-cisgender-and-heterosexual (asexual (demisexual))) and then God happened, then my life got a bit better.”
Until it stops feeling like I’m yelling into a wishing well and only hearing my own voice coming back.
This post was written for the May Carnival of Aces hosted at Prismatic Entanglements, on Nuance and Complexity…
For months I’ve been at this point, dipping my toe into dating sites only to pull it back out quickly.
Drift across the kitchen, cooking, my mind still there, browser window still open.
Oh, god, to do something mostly new, where I feel too old. Where others start as kids, teens, adolescents.
Can I be small again? Bumbling?
Can I take the rejection, when it comes, again and again and again?
Can I allow it not to matter? How do others even do this? Where is the manual?
Not tonight, I decide. Wooden spoon clenched between ring and middle finger, I swipe the window away with my thumb. Cheeks burning, I stir the pasta.
Hungry coward, though.
“Dinner!” I smile at the people I do have, try to focus, to forget a longing for family I carry in my heart.
“Verlangen” is the more visceral desire, craving and the more cerebral longing, missing.
“Koesteren” is to cradle or hold carefully, used figuratively, speaking of tenderness and cherishing.
“Houden van” is literally “(have) hold of” and is the most common translation of “to love” but I like “liefhebben” better, which is more properly “to hold dear”.
“Verkeren” is oldfashioned as a verb, “verkering” is the relationship between the acknowledgement that there is anything more than a meeting or a hook-up, and (optional) the engagement.
Centuries of “verkering”: 13th, to turn around, a change. 15th, to associate with, 17th, to associate with a person with the intention to get engaged, 20th century, to be in a romantic relationship.
These are the words in my head, when I think and lurk and procrastinate.
These words are absent:
“Begeren” to desire, usually sexually. The noun: lust.
“Vrijen” is both being glued together in public and having sex.
To say you wish without taking action is to make the dream a wistful lie instead of a hopeful truth.
I have trawled through calendars of events.
I have made known to a dozen people how hard it is to start on something.
I have nitpicked dating sites and types of events to find objections, based in pop culture, based in insecurity.
I have yet to start.
Finally I sit down and write and write until I’ve peeled the onion to the core.
I do not have dating friends I can ask to tag along.
I do not have places I go out regularly.
I do not have a time in my week where romantic interest is likely to happen.
I do not have the experience I would wish even to say what is normal and what is not.
I do not have clever words or social smoothness to make flirting come easily or at all.
I am so dreadfully scared of all the firsts, the immediacy of emotion that comes with new experiences combining with going into a foreign domain alone where the contact is personal.
“Eelt op je ziel” translates to calluses on the soul, a buffer between you and the world, being inured.
I go into this nearly new.
Bare. Naked. Tender.
I sit with my phone in my hands. I appear as the rest do, just waiting for my bus, spending time.
In truth, I am staring at a black screen, suspenseful soundtrack thumping in my head.
I put my head in my hands and scold myself.
“Just do it.”
“You have to start somewhere.”
“It starts with simply meeting people.”
“Don’t give it so much weight.”
“Be less harsh with yourself.”
Mercy, not elegance.
Letting go and being alright with feeling foolish.
Let’s start with one, just one.
I download the app.
I find out about the wonderful world that is verifying through Facebook you exist.
I delete the app.
Facebook and privacy. Speak of antonyms.
I have an old account with which I did a lot. I learned, through others’ bad experiences, not to let apps access such information.
I’m in luck. An acquaintance suggests a solution over coffee.
I make an empty facebook account with just my name and picture. Only needs an alternate email address.
I download the app again.
Filling out the profile goes smoothly.
Months’ hesitation means I already have a profile picture.
I fill out the questions like it’s a psychology test, just go with the first impulse.
First drafts can be edited.
I hit the questions about my preferred partner and pause, thumbs hovering over the keyboard on my screen.
I sit down and sigh.
I am demisexual.
I have no idea what my romantic orientation is.
I have a post half drafted entitled “An Elusive Romantic Orientation”. I love the title. I dislike the post. Too whiny, too incoherent.
I have been able to figure out I see relationships as growing, organic. Trees and perennials and bulbs that flower for a month and seeds that may never come up.
I have been able to figure out I wish for a romantic or platonic context, so I know what to cultivate about relationships that are otherwise very diverse.
I have been able to figure out I regard platonic as the default, easiest and safest and most known.
I have been able to figure out that defining something as romantic is like installing extra features and permissions, to my mind. Go for the thrill of flirting. Exercise a greater measure of territoriality and physical affection. Dropping more masks and showing more weak spots and thinking more tender thoughts.
In secret, tend a little flame which burns with hopes for a year from now, sharing time, sharing lives, sharing homes, sharing needs, sharing families and friends, sharing nights and days.
Just a small flame, that appears in idle thoughts before falling asleep and in a belly full of mellow warmth when watching a romantic movie or another couple walking down the street.
“Waakvlam” is a pilot light, the single flame that keeps watch, always on in case something needs to be heated.
I have figured out that, yes, I am romantic. Even that I lean strongly towards monogamy.
I still haven’t figured out the prefix.
The prefix to romantic – when it is something other than “a” – is tied to the partner.
The gender of the prospective partner I need to fill out.
If asked, I would say I primarily, even perhaps only, want to interact on the romantic level. Well, and intellectual and emotional and social and… but.
So much else about a partner is more in the foreground, when I try to think of it, in memory or fantasy.
What do you put before -romantic if partner gender is simply less relevant?
The lack of a word for the thing my brain’s settled on drives me to distraction for a few days.
However, this time the quandary cannot be left to languish unresolved.
I have a profile to complete.
I consider all the gender-neutral words I’ve been using and decide follow the same line here. Simply leave the option for gender open to all of it, and scroll on.
When it comes to personal information, I have another decision to make. Do I say I’m asexual up front?
I do not even consider demisexual. That is a word for the in-group.
I struggled with disclosure when it came to my new church, feeling I had to represent asexuality because of the potential for controversy.
Yet the fact that I feel compelled to be public about such a personal fact makes me want to keep it private all the more.
“Be open if you have nothing to hide” is an attitude that makes me want to close off.
If I am not trusted for what is hidden about me, I am not trusted.
If I am not free to keep myself hidden, I am not free to entrust myself to others.
I do not put my sexuality on my profile.
I click to complete it.
I consider taking the initiative in getting in touch and chicken out.
It’s alright, I tell myself. Let’s see what happens.
“Laat het over me heenkomen” feels to me like stepping into the surf to let the waves play around my legs or drown me, depending on how rough the sea is.
After the first day I stuff my face into my pillow and laugh until I cry.
I have plenty experience with online communities.
The non-commital likes.
The awkwardness of having a chat conversation with a complete stranger.
The sudden absence of the other person.
I have feared this so much and yet it feels so familiar, so easy.
I decide to set a time to check it, like other communities, and put my phone down.
Time to write about this.
Much dawdling and a harrowing ride ended in an anticlimactic stop.
This is only the beginning, but I hope the end of the emotional rollercoaster.
Time for some unhealthy snacking and people watching at this fair.
I was going to write “ man person”, but no strikethroughs in titles allowed on wordpress. So, scholarly brackets it is. I’ll worry about being inclusive to aliens when we meet some. This is my contribution for the April – Carnival of Aces.
My friend tells her unlikely love story, and concludes, “I had a list, so I knew who to date. He just fulfilled every item on it. I knew he was the one.”
“I… can’t even imagine.”
“What’s on your list?”
“I don’t have one. I suppose I’d like to just… see what develops when I meet someone.”
“No list? C’mon, what’s your type, what’d you put on there?”
I’m quiet for a few minutes. Her sharing at least obligates me to give it serious thought. “Really wouldn’t know what to put on it,” I admit in the end.
There’s a list in my head. It’s for me, not any partner:
- Be at peace with loneliness, so company is joy, not necessity
- Have a good circle of friends, then worry about romance
- Have a stable income, so you can support a household
- Meet in real life for dates, online contact hurts too much
“D’you want me to set you up?”
“Er… are they nice?”
“Yeah.” How else do I ever meet anyone?
A month later, I’ve still heard nothing.
What I want: a list of ways asexual people identify partners in life, so I can try things, and support from friends when I admit to seeking a partner.
What I have: a list of expectations people have for how a good, normal, healthy woman finds a partner, and all the ways they joke about helping, and won’t, because it’s too unusual.
“God, I hate being single.”
“We all deal with some level of loneliness, in or outside a relationship.” The later in the evening, the more philosophical, though not necessarily wiser, my brain.
“I guess, but, I’d really like some company, y’know?”
“Depends on the company,” I mutter.
I forget my own advice, gradually.
Out of my own fantasy, the things I did like about being in a relationship, pop culture and idle conversations I build a new, false image I wish to chase.
I start living in fantasy land.
It’s an excellent image to fall asleep with, but a bad thing to believe in the waking world.
“Well, it’s a blessing, really, for your life, if you don’t desire anyone.”
“So you can focus on other things. On God.”
“What do you mean?”
Well, like Paul said, if you lust after others, you must marry. If you don’t, you’re more blessed because you can focus on serving the Lord, like him. Feel happy.”
Even as someone who actually does ministry, this made me balk.
I feel this is going to become the asexual equivalent of the scenario where gay people are accenpted so long as they are celibate and “they focus on God’s love.”
Sex is for heterosexual people, right? Bleh.
Oh, I desire another. Just very, very rarely sexually.
I don’t know how, but I know I do.
“I can’t seem to actually start. I remain this… armchair philosopher.”
“Scared? Lazy? Ignorant?”
I tell her of all my insecurities.
“Stop thinking so far into the future. Meet people. Give them space to become your acquaintance or friend or significant other, whatever develops. All you can do is create the opportunities and invest the time to grow new relationships. The rest is not yours to control.
Okay, helpful list.
- Meet people
- Stop worrying
- Enjoy the meeting of minds
- Be conscious of but not stopped by my sexuality.
I am spending a lot of time with someone in a relationship that is… not going well. Mostly, I’m in charge of making sure she eats and has enough fun, someone else is playing the part of confidant.
They pose for a picture. “Wait. I need to unlock my phone for you. It’s secured with my thumbprint. No one else can access it.”
“Oh wow, that seems handy, in case it gets stolen.”
I get one of those glances, one of the heavy, unsmiling ones. “Yeah, well, I got tired of his spying, y’know? My messages are none of his business.”
He messages her daily. He reads her email. He upsets her, over and over.
Yet, she loves him, he loves her. They’re trying.
The realisation comes gradually that I have been idealising realtionships.
Living in fantasy land is safe and easy.
There are things, being single, that I’ve been taking for granted.
My own space, respected.
Being on an even keel with others.
I realise I do have a list.
List (to be specified):
- Adult of similar age
- High integrity
- Similar ideals
- Compatible life goals
- Equally affectionate
- Does not discriminate
- Comfortable with who I am
Seeking: a person of good character.
My contribution to the March Carnival of Aces, about physical health and bodies. Go check out all the contributions.
Explicit language about sex, though I try not to be graphic.
For twenty-five years all the landmarks of developing sexuality and romantic relationships pass me by.
I blame my impopularity, my insecurity, my anxiety, my depression.
I have a few crushes. I think those feelings are attraction.
I look at a man I have known for several years.
In disbelief I feel my lower stomach roil with heat and my groin clench. I flush.
I flee to the hallway and slide down a wall.
That was sexual attraction. Out of nowhere. Already waning.
I realise I have never, ever felt it before.
My mind explodes.
I find the word “asexual” online. I read, ferociously.
I am demisexual, I decide.
I feel highly relieved.
The general practicioner looks at me. “Are you sexually active?”
I tick the box for single on the document, on every document.
I am in Amsterdam during Pride week.
I buy a purple dress and paint flags on my hands.
No one recognises asexuality as a thing. I comfort myself with forum hopping.
Weaving through the crowds I realise the most important thing about Pride is intangible: lack of expectations.
People bring their kids to experience a place and time when anyone’s sexuality and gender can be anything and it is okay.
It is festive, but I am alone and unknown. I leave early.
On the way home I buy a black ring and put it on my right middle finger.
There, I am out.
I take a photo.
I fill out another form. Yes, I’m single, dammit.
For the first time, I want there to be a question about sexuality.
“I’ve been flirting with you for ages!”
“I honestly didn’t notice.”
“Oh my God.” Skype makes his laugh a muffled thing. “Do you like me? I mean, you were not responding, so.”
“…yeah. But. I wasn’t gonna say anything. This is online.”
“You were just gonna pine. Pathetically.”
“Well, yeah. I’m… kinda glad to be having this conversation, though.”
I discover that being in love comes with heightened awareness, especially of my body in the world.
Flirting, once I’m aware, is an addictive adrenaline rush.
I feel tender, vulnerable.
I stop blogging. This is for me.
“Your vagina’s kind of narrow.”
I glare at my doctor. What part of ‘never sexually active’ was unclear?
“You never masturbate?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
She grimaces. “This may hurt.”
She slides in the I.U.D. Aside from a dull ache, it’s fine.
Five years’ worth of birth control, installed.
Our flirting, our conversations continue.
I am shameless. I grew up in a culture open about sexuality. I see no reason to hold back.
I find my imagination has the greatest influence over my body.
Anticipation can buzz for an entire day beneath skin.
I want touch, I crave it.
The flip side, he lives in another country.
I love the attention, the banter.
I want company. I want another body, close.
The calls become explicit too, sometimes.
I delight in the celebration of body, it is so new.
I am, perhaps for the first time, interested in manly bits.
I love the touch, even imagined, even removed. Giving and taking.
I love the gaze. I love the sounds. I love the play of talk and touch and exploration and affection.
However, as it becomes more… focused, it becomes less interesting.
Reality is less without imagination fully engaged.
The more it is about just the genitals, the less my body and mind are into it.
The popping, crackling full-body fizz as we suggested, flirted, started, settles down into a low, steady buzz in my belly, depressingly familiar from masturbating.
Now, as then, orgasm is simply an end. A sudden stop to pleasant sensation, like stepping in a cold shower.
I have learned not to let that buzz culminate and tip over, but now it does.
“Did you finish?” he asks and I answer in the affirmative.
I do not fake that, but I fake how it makes me feel.
I fear he notices.
We end that call and I curl up wanting to cry.
Orgasms do not work as advertised and I want an afterglow badly.
The foreplay is not supposed to be the highlight, dammit.
When I start counting in months, I feel his physical absence acutely.
The difference with friendship turns out to be the level of preoccupation and the territoriality that comes with it.
He is a missing limb, in my thoughts but never under my hands.
We drift apart. His disinterest grows and I become stiffer the longer I want more than I can have.
I start babysitting, for some money.
Children, I discover, like touch, especially when they can dictate it.
Since touch has always equaled affection in my family, it is very, very easy to love the kids.
I also discover babysitting can stop from one day to the next.
The first time it ends I cry for several days on the couch, I simply think I am sad.
The second time was longer, much worse, and I realise how much more territorial I was over kids than even a romantic partner. Even when I knew they were not mine.
I am preternaturally aware of my womb for several months.
After the third time is bad, so bad, I swear off babysitting.
I fill out another form. I tick single, and no, for sexually active.
A year in my new town, I finally feel comfortable to start touching the people I have come to know.
A hug, a supporting hand.
I do not realise just how much it relaxes me until I am asked what’s made me so cheerful.
I meet my new doctor.
“I am not sexually active, no. I am on the asexual spectrum.”
She gives me a weird look at my wide, wide smile.
Two years seems to be the mark for me to be settled enough to start feeling attracted to people.
A grinning woman, oozing charisma and feminity, makes me weirdly cheerful and want to stare like a creepy stalker.
At the coffeestore, to make it more cliche.
No flush, no buzz, though. No desire to touch.
Oh, oh. Aesthetic attraction, I realise. For a real, live person.
I meet a young woman, single.
She is going to be a foster parent.
It is a revelation. Many ways lead to Rome. I need not take the most common one.
My anxiety hits me over the head again, out of nowhere.
My sex drive remains. I still feel the occasional attraction, mostly aesthetic or romantic, once even the flush of sexual.
I blamed all the wrong things when I was young.
I am demisexual, and it is simply my nature, not a symptom.
I have tried to cover all the feelings that relate to my body and are encompassed by my demisexuality.
This is not a complete account, I have chosen to include the first (or only) time I felt or acted on certain attractions.
I decided to leave out times when that attraction was not directed at a real person but a fictional character, especially since sexuality seems to function very differently in imagined and real scenarios.