There are many obstacles we aces face, many on a daily basis. The most significant barriers, though – for aces of a kind inclined to form close relationships with people – are the ones which stand between us and relationships, whether romantic, platonic, or somewhere in between. I’ll be drawing on my own experiences here to help colour my claims.
Society tightly twists together romantic and sexual attraction, leading to problems for people who don’t. These issues stem from the prevailing view outside the asexual community of nonsexual relationships as unfulfilling and thus inferior to relationships with a sexual element. This is demeaning to asexuals in or seeking relationships as it devalues nonsexual intimacy.
A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a woman say she was “undateable.” As a celibate asexual, I can safely say that she probably wouldn’t know “undateable” if it was sitting at the adjacent table in a café. The commonly proposed solution for a celibacy clause is to just ‘date’ another asexual, but we all know it’s more complicated than that. I can’t help being attracted to someone, my emotions aren’t restricted towards asexuals and thus I am statistically prone to irrevocable sexual incompatibility with people I take an interest in.
I experience what you could call ‘aesthetic appreciation’ for people, regardless of gender. I admire their bodies in the same way people admire works of art at a gallery, perfectly content at a distance and not inclined to come into contact with them. But I also find people who I want to become intimate with, in a completely nonsexual sense. I would just like to spend time with them, make them a chocolate tart and know what their favourite colour is. It’s not quite romantic and I’m not big on physical intimacy, full stop. Hugs are pretty much my limit (generally speaking, I can divide physical intimacy into two categories: ‘Stuff I’m okay with Sometimes’ and ‘Anything Involving Bodily Fluids’). But that doesn’t mean I don’t need intimacy, I just experience it in a very different way – an idea incomprehensible to many people. So I’ll just call my desire queerplatonic; it’s a wonderful term for the uncertain territory between the platonic and the romantic which many aces walk. It’s a place of doubt and often isolation, made worse by the fact that mainstream society denies its existence. How am I supposed to explain my desire to a potential partner if I can’t even figure it out for myself?
All this talk of alternate forms of attraction reminds me of another problem facing asexuals who aren’t averse to a relationship of some form or another: the invalidation of our asexuality in the eyes of a non-asexual observer. Because if we are attracted to anyone, in any way, at all, the need for sex which dominates each and every human being is obviously just hiding beneath trauma, sexual inexperience or a need for attention. Surely this or that interaction will be enough to “make [you] crack.”
Here we trip over another hurdle in the ace race: acceptance. Personally, I’ve sailed gracefully over the majority of the scant few I’ve come across, with the rest resulting in little more than a bruised shin and a new wariness of certain people. To have an invisible sexuality affects many everyday interactions. Just last week I met a couple of people to work on a group project. Afterwards, we all set off across campus, conversation turning to the everyday. All of a sudden, they start discussing what they find attractive. My stomach turns, I go very quiet. “How ‘bout you?” One says, nudging my shoulder playfully.
What do I say? Do I tell them about asexuality? Do I tell them what I find aesthetically appealing? If I tell them one, will they believe the other? Does it matter? My sexuality isn’t relevant to our interactions. Chances are I won’t meet with these people once the project has been submitted. I probably won’t even get halfway through explaining before we have to go to our next classes. I’m getting more and more anxious as I think over my options.
To my relief, they find someone they know and the subject has changed before I can implode from indecision. But nonetheless, in a space in which I am not out as asexual – for any number of reasons – things can quickly get awkward for me if the conversation takes such directions.
I fear that in places this piece may have crossed into the rant zone, so I’d like to finish on a calmer note. I identify quite happily with my asexual identity and in circles in which I am out I have nary a care. I have little comprehension as to the reason the vast majority of the population spends much of their time seeking a genital interface, but nonetheless respect their perspectives and pursuits.
I believe it is of utmost importance that the campaign for asexual visibility continues, so that asexuality can be respected as a legitimate orientation, and the various obstacles we face made easier to navigate.