Around my twentieth birthday, I became restless. For the first time in seven years, my age would not spell “teen”. I was gradually turning into a grown-up: I was pursuing my studies, had a steady job on the side, was paying for my horse’s boarding and everything he could possibly need. But still, I could not shake the feeling that there was something wrong with me. Something missing, or something broken perhaps. As if I were missing pieces of a puzzle, unless I had maybe one too many. I spent hours on the web, trying to find answers to a question I did not even know.
I ended up on AVEN somewhat by accident, after having clicked on a bunch of websites on yet another forum that seemed to hold no answer for me. I had long given up browsing French websites and forums, as they had not proved to be of any help. It may be hard to believe, but asexuality is even less known in non English-speaking countries. When I started reading article and testimonies on AVEN, I felt the pieces of the puzzle click. The shadow that was bearing down on my heart, so heavy, was finally lifted. I was not alone. It took me time to accept that I was not broken, or that I was not a freak of nature. But I at least knew that I was not the only one: if I was going to be a monster, I would at least get people to be monsters with.
And I thought back on all the times that I felt lost, or confused, while growing up. How teachers, parents, or friends, would tell us it was okay to be gay or bisexual. How it was healthy, and normal, for young people to have a sexual appetite that would need sating. And there it was, that word, “normal”. It can be such a degrading, dirty word when it is not used properly, and you find yourself being on the wrong side of the fence. No one ever said to me that it was okay to not experience feelings for anyone. It was okay to experience attraction to someone of the opposite sex, of the same sex, of both; but having no attraction to any sex or gender whatsoever was not even in the cards. It was not even worth mentioning, because how could it possibly exist? Experiencing attraction isn’t even human, it’s animalistic. It’s how every species has survived so far: adaptability alone would not be enough if a species had no desire to reproduce. We were told it was a primal need, as essential as breathing, or drinking. Even certain psychologists and psychiatrists, in Freudian times, reduced the core being of any person to their sexual needs. These ideas were pummelled into our very minds. Ignorance was not bliss then; it made me a freak of nature, a monster, something wrong and broken.
And flashbacks to forgotten moments hit me then. I’m fifteen, maybe sixteen, sitting with friends at a table in the cafeteria, having lunch. They’re talking about their sexual fantasies, or maybe is it famous people they think are sexy. And there I am, staring intensely at my food, trying to blend into my surroundings and disappear, because I have no idea what they’re talking about. I understand the words, but not the feelings behind them. I stammer, make a joke, comment something someone said, while trying to think of something clever or interesting to say. And I feel wrong, and out of place, because I do not even remotely understand the way that they experiences things.
I’m fifteen, maybe sixteen, and I have a boyfriend. I have feelings for him, maybe not quite love yet, but I know it’s not just a friendship. A shy first love, perhaps. But no matter how hard I try, and despite what people have told me, nothing seems to click in me. There is no switch. I can’t seem to experience any kind of physical attraction towards him, or anyone for that matter. And I worry that I am even more broken than I thought, but I try to convince myself that I may just be too young. But I can’t take the guilt, and I break things off; breaking his heart, and mine, in the process.
I just turned eighteen, and finished my first year of college. I got back together with that boy. The loving feelings are still there, somewhat different as I have grown, but there nonetheless. But the feelings every one else seem to have, the physical and sexual attraction, still escape my grasp. Being eighteen now, it’s getting hard to pretend I’m simply too young or not ready yet. There is no pressure from him, there has never been, and he would wait. But something in me tells me that, no matter how patient anyone is, I will most likely never develop these feelings. So I break things off again. It just seems fair, to him, to me, to both of us. But again, I break both of our hearts.
I’m twenty, and I have finally figured out what I am. I am asexual. I do not experience sexual attraction. But I may experience romantic feelings, regardless of their sex and gender. And I am starting to accept that it is okay. So I open myself to someone I thought would never hurt me. I’ve only told my best friend so far, but it went so amazingly well that I feel confident. And I fall down hard. The words are harsh, severe. They hurt. I’m told I simply haven’t met the right person yet. Or maybe there is something physically wrong with me. Or, perhaps, have I suffered some kind of trauma in my childhood. Or I could just be a late bloomer. But the feelings will come. They have to. Because it’s normal. It’s human. Even animals get them. It’s how we survive. And there it is again. I’m not human. I’m not even an animal. What does that make me? Abnormal. Monstrous. Broken. Sick. Wrong. Such words are not necessarily spoken directly to me, but they are so heavily implied that it is all the same in the end.
Most of the other people I talk to are simply sceptical, and though I doubt they fully accept them, they respect my words nonetheless. They simply ask of me that I keep an open mind, and accept that I may experience these feelings for someone, someday. Which I do regardless. And, sadly, that reaction has become good enough. It is good enough that people do not treat me like a monster because of they way I feel, or rather, do not feel. People fear what they do not understand, and that fear can cause them to lash out. And to many, it is simply unthinkable that someone could experience no sexual attraction whatsoever, to anyone. Because, they, too, were told that it was at the very base of the pyramid of life. The reason why the circle of life has been going on for so long.
I will never forget the day I told my best friend. We were in Brittany, in France. and we had just had an amazing meal in a fancy restaurant by the seaside. We were sitting by a big window, West oriented, which had allowed us to enjoy the sun setting over the horizon, painting the skies and sea with crimson colours. After night had settled in, we went for a walk on the beach. We took off our shoes as we walked on the sand, in the dark, enjoying the quietude of the moment. I remember how my heart was pounding inside my chest, and how terrified I was. I had never told anyone. And while I trusted him, and trusted his reaction, it was still not an easy thing to say. He did not even blink. He didn’t know the word, or that there was even a word for it, but he had noticed that I had never seemed to show the slightest bit of attraction for anyone. And he couldn’t care less what I was. I was still me. I have to admit that he did set the bar pretty high for any person I would tell afterwards. But reactions like his are uncommon, even rare. There aren’t that many people that are willing, or able to, to accept so easily something that they do not understand.
And this is why awareness matters. It may have changed my life. If I had learnt about asexuality early on, I might not have felt so broken for so long. I might not have been so harshly rejected and made to feel stranded. And I am far from being the only one with such a story. Most people in the ace community have similar stories, have faced such loneliness. Some have even suffered corrective rape.
And while there will always be bigoted people, people that are not willing to accept anything that is even slightly different, I do believe that awareness would prevent most of it. Letting people know, especially younger people, who already have so much to face, that it is also normal to not experience attraction, could make a huge difference. In accepting others. In accepting yourself. We won’t change the world in a day. It will take time, and efforts. It will be hard. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have to try. Just because asexual people could hide their sexual orientation, or lack thereof, if they so chose, does not mean that they should, quite the contrary.
So spread the word. Don’t get mad at people who ask questions, even if these questions can seem insensitive. If they are asking questions, then it means that they are willing to try and understand. That they want to learn. So teach them. Do not shame them for experiencing something that you do not. Just let them know that we are as every bit normal as they are. That once they have that knowledge, they could help change some lives. All it takes is some acceptance.
Oh, and we have cake.