This interview was originally conducted by Marieke Nijkamp and posted on DiversifYA.
1. How do you identify yourself?
Since I didn’t discover the term “asexual” in the context of a potential human orientation until last year (I was 29 and already divorced), I’m still figuring out my precise classification. For now, however, I think heteromantic graysexual is close. Both sides of that label set are subject to change if necessary, though.
2. What did it feel like growing up asexual?
You know that feeling when you’re hanging out with a group of people who have known each other for ages and they’re all really nice and everything but they keep referencing people you don’t know, places you haven’t been, and inside jokes you don’t get?
Yeah, that’s what growing up asexual is like. Especially when you don’t know that asexual is an orientation option and so you can’t ever quite put your finger on why you’re ever so slightly on the outside of most groups.
I didn’t understand celebrity crushes. I have never once called someone “hot” and meant it the same way everyone else seemed to. When I did develop a crush on someone, it was always someone I knew. Even then, the crushes felt different in my head than the way my friends talked about theirs. I never fantasized about anything beyond kissing someone. In fact, most of my relationship fantasies were more about having someone to go places with and hold hands with and kiss whenever I wanted than anything to do with sex.
It’s not like I didn’t know what sex was or anything. My parents only filtered out the worst, most explicit of content, otherwise letting us choose to watch whatever we were interested in, so I’d seen plenty of portrayals in movies and on TV and, honestly, it always made me a little embarrassed when I watched those moments. Again, though, I couldn’t ever explain why I was so embarrassed. All I knew was that no one else seemed to feel that way about those super passionate on screen kisses or the moments when the romantic leads start losing clothing.
Movies aren’t the worst of it. Friends, even the well-meaning ones, were a lot harder to cope with than the media. At least the media doesn’t have any expectations of you, right? Friends do.
I remember a moment from when I was in middle school, something really innocuous and also incredibly telling. Three of my friends had apparently had a conversation about sex on a day I wasn’t there and, during the course of this conversation, had decided at what ages all of us were probably going to lose our virginity. One of them had already lost it, one they decided would probably lose hers around sixteen, one around eighteen, and then they looked at me and said, “You’ll probably be a virgin until you’re thirty.”
They weren’t right (I was seventeen when I had sex for the first time), but they might have been if I’d known that was an option. Instead that proclamation from them felt like a judgement. The words felt like they had edges and that there must be something I was doing wrong if they thought that about me. I didn’t know what it could possibly be, but there must have been something I was doing to make them see me this way. It felt wrong and shameful and confusing because I didn’t know why it felt wrong and shameful. I didn’t know why it was such a huge deal that I thought kissing a boy was a big deal when I was in sixth grade. I didn’t understand why so many of my friends spent their energy gushing over this celebrity and that crush and how important it was that this person liked them back.
For me, growing up asexual—especially without having that word in my vocabulary to help me understand just why I was different—left me feeling constantly off balance. It was almost like I was playing a part and hadn’t learned all the lines but I’d managed to fake it really well but still lived in fear of someone calling me on it. It was a quietly terrifying feeling because I knew that, when someone finally did call me on it, I wouldn’t have any way to explain it to them in a way that made sense. How could I when it didn’t even make sense to me?
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
Biggest challenges? Romantic relationships. Although this may just be a personal challenge and fear because of my history with them.
For a very long time I was in a relationship with (and then married to) a guy who fell practically on the opposite end of the libido spectrum from asexual. Yes, sure, all relationships involve compromise and finding a comfortable middle ground, but sometimes two people can be so far away from each other on a particular subject that the middle ground isn’t comfortable for anyone. It didn’t help that my ex was emotionally manipulative and abusive, continually reinforcing the “there’s something wrong with me” fear that had been present but far quieter during childhood and adolescence. The whole experience with him also reinforced the fear that I wouldn’t ever be able to find anyone who understood and accepted my sexual apathy. Years after my divorce, I still haven’t found anyone, but at least now I’m starting to believe that I one day might.
In the perks department…ummm, I don’t know? People seem to spend a lot of time obsessing about sex, relationships, crushes, unattainable hotness, and the rest and I don’t? All of that seems honestly tiring, so I’m kind of glad it doesn’t often cross my mind!
4. What do you wish people knew about being asexual?
That it exists. It’s a real orientation and as legitimately not a choice as being a brunette or homosexual or brown skinned or transgender or anything else. It’s a part of who I am, part of who a lot of people are, and denying its existence and/or validity can cause more damage than you know.
5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?
Honestly, I almost wish there were so many examples of asexuality in the media that I could answer this easily. There isn’t, though. The clichés and stereotypes I’ve seen come more often from others. What I have gotten from people who don’t know about or truly understand asexuality is usually something close to one of these:
“You don’t like sex? Really? Are you sure you’ve been doing it right?”
“Oh, well you just haven’t met the right person! Wait until you do then you’ll see what you’ve been missing.”
“So, what? You’re a prude?”
“Were you, like, raped or molested or something? ‘Cause then it’d make a little sense.”
“You’re asexual? You can’t be! You’re not a virgin!”
“Wow, so you actually expect to find a guy who doesn’t want sex? Good luck with that one.”
Let me just tell you now that those statements or ANY VARITION THEREOF are invalidating, offensive, and ignorant. Please, just…don’t.
BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
Do NOT—and I really, really mean it when I say this—do NOT use the word asexual to describe a character if you’re going to eventually “fix” them with sex. Don’t. Also, do not apply the label asexual to a character who doesn’t actually fall into that orientation. I cannot even describe to you the wordless excited noise I made recently when I read a book and “asexual” was there staring at me from the page. It was there! A character who was kind of like me! Oh joy and rapture!! But then I kept reading and realized that, no. The character wasn’t actually asexual. Instead they were a virgin who had multiple non-sexual traumas in their past and a fear of inadequacy that made them decide to use that word to keep someone they weren’t sure they trusted at bay. I could see the rest of the plot unfold from that moment and, as I read, it did exactly what I’d fervently hoped it wouldn’t. It took away that one little bit of representation I thought I’d found and turned him into just another allosexual.
I almost cried.
We don’t have enough examples of stated, actual asexuality in literature for authors to throw the label around like it doesn’t matter. It matters. So much.
In a more general sense, “diverse” characters—no matter what their orientation, religion, gender, ability level, ethnicity, etc.—is still a character. They’re a person who is in some way going to represent a real person who exists in the world. Just like that real person who is out there somewhere, your character should be as individual as possible. Even identical twins have different experiences, perceptions, intelligence levels, interests, reactions, and emotions, so why the ever loving hell would you expect every single black/gay/asexual/woman/trans/(fill in the blank) to be exactly the same?
Write the character as a person with their own thoughts, goals, and lives. Then, when you’re done, find a beta reader who belongs to the group you’re writing about. (And, FYI, by “in” I do actually mean “in,” not just “somehow tangentially related to the group because for one week in college they knew someone like that.”) When you get your feedback, listen to it but also keep in mind that just like your character can’t possibly represent every single member of their group, neither can whoever you chose as a beta reader. You’re probably not going to get everything perfect and you’re probably going to get called on it. Listen to the criticisms, learn from them, and apply the lessons the next time you write. It’s all anyone can do.