What a long, strange ride it’s been. And wonderful, sometimes. The later bits more so than the earlier, but that’s kind of how it is when you don’t figure out an essential part of who you are until you’re fifty-two years and some-odd months old.
The author in me wants to tell this story ‘properly’ – spin it out, keep you in suspense, scatter a few red herrings here and there, and (me being a romance author and all) wrap it up in a nice neat Happily Ever After. But this isn’t one of my stories, and the purpose of National Coming Out Day isn’t to win a Pulitzer or a RITA. I’m writing to shed my secrets, claim my life. And maybe shed a little light on the path for the next people to walk it.
I’ve always known in my heart that I live somewhere “on the rainbow”. I was just never sure where. I only knew that I didn’t fit in with any group of people I’d ever met or heard enough about to understand. And I finally got tired of the not knowing, and the not fitting in, so about a year ago, I found an amazing therapist and started a process of actively questioning and exploring my sexual identity. Both the orientation and gender dimensions.
I started out thinking I might be genderfluid, or agender, or possibly even transmasculine – I’ve always hated my body, and I’ve always hated female stereotypes. But that wasn’t quite it. I hated being in a female body, but I didn’t want to be male – as I told a panel at Rainbow Con, about the only time I really wish I’d been born with a penis is when I sit down to pee and my iPhone always falls out of my back pocket. *winks* (And really, that wasn’t even a problem until I sized up to an iPhone 5s…) And it turned out, my hostility to my femaleness was something else entirely – I’ll get there in a few paragraphs, I promise.
Then came the breakthrough. The Moment. A Facebook moment, actually. A friend liked a post, a post it normally wouldn’t have occurred to me to do more than glance at (information overload being a Very Real Thing), because hey, it couldn’t possibly be me, right?
But it WAS me. A young woman was writing about her experience of asexuality. And every word made me want to jump up out of my chair and do the Rocky Balboa arms-pumping-the-air thing.
I’d finally found me.
This is who I am. I’m asexual – I don’t feel sexual attraction to other people. Other kinds of attraction, yes, but not sexual.
I’m not celibate – granted, a lot of vocabulary in the field of human sexuality is fluid right now, words have a tendency to change meanings according to who’s using them and in what context, but to me, celibacy is a choice to forego something you actually want or value. A celibate person is still heterosexual or homosexual or bisexual or wherever along the sexual axis of the spectrum they might find themselves, they’ve just chosen not to act on their attractions, for whatever reason.
And I might be graysexual (intermittent or sporadic sexual attraction), maybe even demisexual (capable of sexual attraction in the context of an intense emotional relationship) – I’ve never been in the kind of relationship that would let me explore my sexuality safely with another person in a way that would let me find out. But for now, where I’m at, asexual is pretty much perfectly descriptive. The picture at the top of this post is a tattoo I got at Rainbow Con back in July – asexual people (aces) often make use of playing card Aces as symbols, and graysexuals and demisexuals often use the Ace of Diamonds in particular. (“Often”, not “always” – symbolism’s a fluid thing too…) (This is also what happens when I try to take a picture of my own ankle with my phone…)
And frankly, I’m not overly concerned at this point about finding the exactly right sub-label. Or about putting myself in a box. That’s not what I’m trying to do, when I describe myself as asexual. I’m finding a language to speak about my life, and people to speak it with. I’m finding out, for the first time in my life, that I’m not actually fundamentally broken. That there are other people out there like me, and that it’s okay to be the way I am.
This is a fairly new thing for me. I spent most of my life convinced that I was defective. Not quite human. Because everybody was sexual – all the good people were, of course, heterosexual, but even the homosexuals still had sex with somebody. The real fate worse than death was being frigid. If you were raised the way I was, being frigid meant you were choosing to refuse to give your man what he had a right to expect, and that you would probably end up divorced and alone; if you were the feminist I later became, being frigid meant rejecting the delightful gift that was your own sexuality.
I tried to hide, for a very long time, without using that horrible word “frigid” (even though I did end up divorced and alone, twice, after sexless marriages – which were by popular definition “bad” marriages, so the last thing in the world I could do was admit that I liked them that way).
And here, it turns out, is why I hated my body. Men kept finding it attractive – and I, with my entire sense of self-worth being pegged to keeping my promises and honoring my obligations, firmly believed that I was obligated to go along with whatever their attraction prompted them to do, even though as an asexual person I totally didn’t want it. I ended up in two marriages that were very bad ideas that way; in between marriages, I stumbled through attempted relationships in which one or the other of us (usually him) always gave up after a few dates because there was no “spark,” no “chemistry.” Even if we could spend a whole lazy Sunday afternoon strolling hand in hand through an enormous flea market, and stay up till three in the morning talking about the movie we’d just seen… even I thought a “real” relationship had to be more than that, and if there wasn’t more than that, well, it just wasn’t going to work.
And I hated places like Victoria’s Secret, with their “every woman is sexy!” ethos and their underlying assumption that of course every normal human woman wanted to be sexy, so of course I wasn’t normal. I panicked every time I heard “love your curves!” – dammit, I thought I was safe, being fat. But nope, now there’s a spotlight on me. “Here she is, boys! – come and get her! Just look at all that sexy just waiting to be loved up! Even sexier than the skinny girls!” (For the record, I’ve always considered “love your curves” to be a wonderful, empowering thing. For everyone but me. I figured it was just part of how broken I was, that I had to keep hating on myself for a reason that would have been totally wrong to apply to any other woman.)
This is starting to change. (Finally!) My therapist is amazing. Beyond amazing. She’s helped me through the scariest part – getting rid of my preconceptions about asexuality. Especially the whole “frigid” thing. I’m not frigid. Hell no – just read any of my books! I don’t have to hate my body any more, because guess what? – even if it IS looking “eminently edible” to some folks, that creates no obligation on my part. And Victoria’s Secret is just overgeneralizing. (Still working on internalizing both of those, I admit. But progress is being made!)
I did think it was odd, at first, being an asexual author of m/m erotic romance. But it isn’t, really. For one thing, we all write about things we don’t know first hand, to some extent. Black Beauty was a wonderful book, but I strongly suspect it wasn’t written by a horse. And I have a strong libido, even though it doesn’t express as attraction to other people. And I truly am “in love with love” – to me, the best stories are the ones about two (or more) people who take most of a book to figure out they can’t live without each other. My romance is heavily fantasy-flavored, and who knows, maybe someday I’ll be writing fantasy that’s heavily romance-flavored… but there’s no sign over the romance clubhouse door that says “No Aces Allowed”.
And m/m is perfect for me, too. The idea of most romance is to get your reader to identify with one of your protagonists. Me, I’m more comfortable reading or watching erotica in which I don’t identify with anyone involved. If I start identifying with someone in the scene, I push back. (Yes, it’s a paradox. Ain’t life fun?) Writing m/m lets me explore all the intensity, all the passion, all the sensuality, in a way I can truly enjoy, without putting up any barriers.
And on a slightly related note, I think I finally understand why I’ve always preferred hanging out with gay men, rather than straight men. When I’m with gay men, I absolutely don’t have to worry about them picking up on some mysterious and unintentional “attractive” thing I might say or do and having any expectations of me. I’m not making them any promises, or at least not any promises they have any interest in me keeping! I can finally just be myself, safely. I sometimes think that my ideal relationship at this point in my life would be a poly relationship with two uninhibited gay men who adore me and don’t mind having an audience in the bedroom. If anyone knows how to get in contact with Dirk Caber and Jesse Jackman…. *happy sigh* *did I mention I’m also musicosexual?* Or, failing that, I’ll just sigh happily over Brock O’Hurn from a safe distance. (Celebrity crushes can be wonderful things… they don’t have to be sexy, and they can be perfectly safe. And in case anyone’s wondering, yes, I do truly enjoy all the luscious man-candy pictures that turn up on my news feed. I may not be daydreaming about what I personally would love to do in bed with all that male beauty, but believe me, I can come up with plenty of other daydream fodder!)
Next on my agenda? – (1) really internalizing my intellectual understanding that other people’s sexual attraction to me, or lack thereof, is their own bidness, and not any obligation on my part — it’s perfectly okay to say “nope, not interested”. (2) starting to figure out what I actually want out of a relationship (because I’m sure I do want one), and (3) starting to learn how to ask for whatever (2) is. I might be graysexual – I’ve felt sexual attraction to people before, usually a passing thing. Or I might be demisexual, and need to be in an intense emotional relationship with someone before I start feeling sexual attraction. I don’t know. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve had any chance to find out for sure. But I do know I’m going to have to figure out how to start talking about possibilities, if I’m ever going to find anyone willing to help me explore them.
Maybe some gedankenexperiments would help, a little constructive daydreaming with some of that daydream fodder. Maybe Brock. *grins* Hard to believe it’s taken me this long to realize that it’s okay for me to daydream about finding ways to be happy with someone that don’t involve immediate chemistry and sexual yearnings, but hey, better late than never! It feels deliciously self-indulgent, contemplating the prospect of figuring out what my thought experiment and I could say to one another, or do with each other, that might stand a chance of someday, down the road as far as I want it to be, carbonating my hormones…. or of making me happy even if said hormones remain UNcarbonated.
I finally understand now, fifty-three years down my life’s road, that uncarbonated would be perfectly fine. It’s okay for me to want to be happy, and not need for that happiness to have a sexual dimension.
I’m not broken after all. I’m just a different kind of whole.