The thing that took me 40 years to say out loud

I’ve known this internally for a while, and was massively stressing out about how and where and when to say it, but it was only fairly recently that I finally burst and finally just said it –

I’m asexual.

More specifically, a panromantic asexual, and even more specifically, a panromantic asexual who lingers near the sex neutral part of the scale: [sex negative — sex neutral — sex positive]

And damn, has this been a huge relief. The world around me has exhaled. I feel lighter. I don’t have to push myself to try to fix something that’s not actually broken. I don’t have to perform anymore.

Mind you, no one was asking me to perform – I was putting that pressure on myself. A lot of this part of my life has been an exercise in cognitive dissonance, but I’m not alone in this. It’s not an uncommon experience, especially for Aces who are in areas of the spectrum where there is attraction (sexual or aesthetic), there is a desire for some sort of romantic or emotional connection, and they’re not necessarily repulsed by sex. Confusion is a very easy place to land. In a world where it’s assumed that people are sexual – sometimes to the point where we get the message that certain people can’t control their sexual urges – it’s hard to accept that…you’re just not.

I had times in my life where I tried to push myself into that sort of role, knowing that something wasn’t right, things weren’t clicking, something felt off. I could see other people were experiencing things differently, and I wasn’t sure why.

To complicate matters, while I’m largely sex-neutral, there are certain things I do find absolutely repulsive, and I just didn’t understand what to make of that. When I was young, I was able to self-medicate and dissociate and perform. The older I got, the harder this became, and the more repulsed I became, so I just…stopped. And confused sexual partners in the process, because I didn’t have language to explain why I needed to stop. All I knew was that I didn’t like these things, and most other people do, and that didn’t compute for others, or (initially) to me, either.

Now it does computer. It’s an Ace thing. It’s just how my brain is wired, and where my boundaries are. I’m perfectly okay with certain sexual activities – if you’re okay with my taking specific acts off the table, and you understand that I’m ambivalent about the rest – then we’re good.

I’m at a point where I could be celibate for the rest of my life and not care. However, I won’t necessarily turn down a sexual encounter. (That’s the neutral/ambivalent part.) And it’s nice to know that if I do choose to engage in something, I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to pretend, or avoid, or risk things getting weird and uncomfortable. I can engage in activities as I’m comfortable, and not have to pretend to be having an experience that I’m not actually having.

So sexual attraction is just not how I’m wired, I can say that out loud, and I’m okay with it.

What I do have, in droves, is aesthetic attraction – meaning I find someone’s look in some way attractive. I assumed for a lot of my life that this was sexual attraction. When I really dig into it, more often than not, I like to look but feel no particular need to touch. Sexual attraction is (apparently) different. But I understand now where my confusion came from – a lack of language. By which I mean, I understood that I liked looking rather than touching – but I didn’t understand why.

I didn’t have these phrases, these differentiations, these definitions, so I had no way of fully analyzing and understanding myself. I didn’t have ways of describing the nuances. I had no measures. All I had was “this thing most people find really arousing literally makes me gag and other stuff is fine but I’m not super aroused by it and other people are so what’s going on here?” and that’s not a fun place to be.

So, I performed, and that…sometimes ended badly. I had to dissociate to do or tolerate certain things. I had to try to pretend that I was having a reaction to other things and, over time, I got tired of pretending and sort of just didn’t? Which made things weird.

To be clear: You should not have to dissociate to perform/receive certain acts. You should not be feeling gross, repulsed, or sick to your stomach afterwards – which happened increasingly as I found dissociating harder and harder to do, which led to avoidance, which led to partners taking it personally, which led to much awkwardness and misunderstanding. I could say I didn’t like something, but not why, and all they knew was that something I had previously done with them I was now suddenly refusing to do with no real explanation. I’ve even had people say, “But you liked it!” and in my head I was like…no, I didn’t. I absolutely did not. But I was so good at performing that I’d tricked them into thinking I had, and they were confused and frustrated, and I had no idea how to explain myself.

Now I feel like I’m on firmer foundation and can explain to people who I am and how I’m wired and what I will and will not do. I also understand now, and want to emphasize, that feeling ambivalent is fine. I’ve now connected with other Aces who are sex neutral or positive who do engage in sexual activity and are fine doing so, as long as everyone understands that they are having a different experience than an allosexual would have.

Now I have the language that allows me to fully explore nuances, and I have places I can go (online) to find support and others like me, and an ability to analyze and understand my own experiences because I’m able to align them to something. I’m able to look at the asexual spectrum, and within that, the sex tolerance spectrum and understand where I fit.

Sexuality, sexual attraction, gender – these are not binary things. They’re not absolutes. We really do need to approach these things with the understanding that there is a wide spectrum, and that how people fit into that spectrum not only varies, but can evolve. I would have identified as much more sex positive 20 years ago. As I get older, I slide more into neutral/ambivalent. And that’s fine.

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