I’m not secretive about the things that make me different. I am very open about being queer, nonreligious, autistic, bipolar, vegan, nerdy, and short, however it makes me relate socially. What I do not hide but do talk less about is that I also identify as demisexual.
It’s a difficult conversation to start, because very few people know what that means or have even heard the term before, and it seems pointless to provide a lengthy explanation of a subject many will believe too personal to talk about in the first place. But if my goal in this blog is to air subjects that make people uncomfortable– allowed to do so, because hey, I’m already a weirdo anyway– then there’s no avoiding the subject. “Personal” doesn’t have to mean “private.” The fact that the asexuality spectrum is so personal— not a visible or controversial lifestyle that seems to affect anyone else– makes it important, and also largely voiceless in conversations about sexuality. But do be warned, TMI will probably follow if you’re sensitive about that kind of thing.
I’m an incorrigible eavesdropper, so I’m ripe with anecdotes about strangers’ conversations. This is a totally unscientific means of gathering data, but I like to think it shows me the rough lay of the land at least in certain circles of people, without having to actually talk to them. So I want to point out that in the past year or so, I’ve overheard approximately five discussions about asexuality, also generally assumed to be aromantic. Example: “I have a friend who says she’s asexual. Like, she just doesn’t get urges. I can’t imagine being like that but it sounds a lot easier.” [Awkward laughter ensues all round.]
There’s still a value placed on celibacy in our society, even when we don’t talk about it. How else do we explain the fact that there’s still any debate about abstinence-only sex education, and furthermore, that this debate is publicly centered only around the efficacy of this curriculum, rather than its moral foundation? Or the fact that Catholic regular and secular clergy still follow a vow of celibacy, and that again, concerns with this ethic arise only when sexually deviant behavior emerges alongside it? Science fiction shows envision an evolutionary progression that leads us away from physical forms altogether. Sex is the stuff of mimesis, melodrama, and indulgence. De facto desexing, as much as castration, leads us to believe that certain figures are trustworthy, non-threatening, and disciplined. This stereotyping is transferred to views of the aromantic asexual.
Number of times I’ve ever heard anyone actually say the word demisexual out loud unless I brought it up: Zero.
There is, as I mentioned, an entire spectrum of (a)sexuality– as slippery and nuanced as the number of individuals who fall on it, which is everyone. That kind of nuance is beyond the scope of this post and the limits of my qualification to express. I happen to find that the definition of demisexuality aptly describes my characteristics, and that’s what I am able to talk about.
Five hundred words in and I still haven’t bit into the meat of the topic at hand. Move it along, headcheese.
There are lots of definitions of “demisexual” on the internet, but so that we can be perfectly clear, I’m going to make my own. I am inherently unable to experience physical or sexual attraction to any other person unless I also have an emotional attachment to them.
That doesn’t mean at all that I have to be madly in love, in a serious monogamous relationship, or seriously committed. There are lots of kinds of attachment. Some are based on an untenable situation but are just as real at the time, and that’s okay with me. Others simmer longer. Either way, from the point that a connection and attraction is established, my feelings proceed pretty much as any sexual person’s do, so there’s no need to go into detail. It’s the beginning that’s the thing.
At its root, speaking only for myself, I absolutely require trust, mutual respect, and intellectual kinship to develop anything more. Sometimes that happens right away but doesn’t last. Other times it takes a while to be realized. Or anywhere in between. But most often– especially given my general unsociable nature– it just isn’t there, and sorry, I’m just not interested.
In practical terms, this means I’m shut out from sexual-normative culture in a number of ways that might sound trivial, but over the course of a lifetime prove frustrating and sometimes hurtful. As a teenager, I watched my peers develop celebrity crushes that became more sensual with each passing year, and couldn’t relate. I was called a “dyke” because a classmate said her dream vacation was to Hawai’i where she could see a lot of buff, shirtless men, and I just looked confused and said I wanted to go to Antarctica instead. Meanwhile, no one whom I actually had any feelings for in real life was remotely interested in having anything to do with the weird girl.
After getting married at 18, I listened silently to my then-husband slaver over the skinny red-headed nurses at his workplace. I’m not saying I never had crushes, or even serious connections, to other people while I was married; I’m no angel. But I couldn’t help somehow feeling more deeply betrayed, and also without any ability to empathize, when he dwelt on these purely physical flirtations, in a way that’s very hard to explain. It’s not that I think physical attractions are in any way wrong or disdainful. It just felt like we were living in totally different mental worlds, like we did in so many other ways, which made the marriage even stupider and more ill-conceived than it was always going to be, and caused it to rip apart in a bloodier way than it perhaps needed to.
Then, entering the dating game relatively late, I met with another shock. I’d assumed, long believing that I was of average looks at best, that I’d have to work to win over interesting people with my personality and sense of humor. Instead I was faced with a decent number of people who hit pretty hard on me at face value, but turned out to not care about who I was, and naturally have next to nothing about them in common, or even compatible, with me. Again, we were playing in two different arenas. I wanted to feel something for them so that I could want to have sex with them. They just wanted to have sex and save the rest for later, and I’ll say for the record that this was no different between men and women.
In addition to “dyke” I’ve been called “prude.” But I’m not this way out of some manichaeistic desire for moral superiority or spiritual-physical purity. I have a hunch that this epithet results from a sense of self-judgment and shame on the part of fully sexual people. But it hurts, still, to be put down for being different, and the more so when there’s little or no visible community with whom to identify and commiserate. I want to emphasize, therefore, though I don’t feel I should have to, that my feelings imply zero judgment on people who feel differently. I have as much trouble understanding you as you do me, but honestly, I don’t give one single fuck about who and where and when and how and why you fuck. Carry on and quit expecting me to be turned on by it.
It’s not like I didn’t try. It’s not like I never had sex with anyone I didn’t care about. If I hadn’t tried, I wouldn’t no with such conviction that I am unalterably demisexual. It was crap. Feelingless, boring, and soon forgotten. Maybe not for you, and that’s fine– you have my best wishes. But I won’t go there again. If it comes down to it, I’d rather tend my own garden, thanks.
It’s hard, too, not to feel alienated when so much of popular culture is based around primary physical attraction. It’s a truism that sex sells. I’d feel more comfortable with this, maybe, if it actually sold to me. Or maybe it would be more uncomfortable because I’d have to feel dirty when I was hot and bothered over something I view as explotative, misogynistic and crass, like Blurred Lines (NSFW) or this ad. Instead I just roll my eyes a little, feel like an outsider, and think, “If I wanted to see boobs, I could draw some, and it’d be just the same.”
There are a lot of boobs in the world and a lot of shirtless men. And I honestly don’t really care. Don’t take off your shirt, at least, not until you show me who you are. How you think, what you laugh at, what you care about, how you move, how you talk, whether there is a kindness and a curiosity and a weirdness about you. Then I’ll care. I’ll care a lot, about every hair and freckle and iris pattern. Those who have loved me know this, and have loved or hated it. Pretending is pointless. Demisexual is just another thing I am. It’s a thing some other people are, too, whether they tell you or not. Now you know. So talk about it sometime. It might be the first time anyone around you hears the word.