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On Asexuality

Writing by Sam Stevens. Artwork by Kate Granholm.

I don’t eat meat.

This has not always been easy for my peers to swallow. On school trips, they’d give us ham sandwiches. At lunch, they ran out of veggie stuff. In the canteen, kids would probe me with questions: “But don’t you ever want to try bacon? It’s SO good”.

And I said no, I don’t want to try bacon: it looks greasy and sweaty, and it smells. And I don’t really want to eat pigs. I just don’t fancy it. And these other kids would shove it under my nose, and wave it around as if it were a luxury whose exile I endured in sufferance, hoping to goad me into having a taste. But I didn’t, because I don’t like fucking bacon. It can be hard for kids to grasp. Meat is so essential to all our lives, isn’t it? It’s dietary machismo, crucial to the Gordon Ramsays and Piers Morgans of the world. But, just like any food, not everyone actually wants to eat it.

Asexuality, plainly put, is the lack of either sexual attraction or desire to interact sexually with others. There are fringe identities surrounding it with more nuance – you may have heard of ‘demisexuality’, which is when a close emotional bond is required to precipitate sexual attraction, but there are more too. They’re all part of the ace spectrum.

One of the dangers with asexuality is that people think they can sort of infer what it means – and all that it is – from the name. Asexual is a simple-seeming word. It is so heavily conflated with celibacy, or with prudishness, or with aromanticism, that people don’t care to really see it for what it is – which brews a horrible, stigmatising ignorance.

My relationship with sex is that I think it’s funny. It is amusing to me, this weird, limb-twisting tango treated as the consummation of human existence; most societies throughout history fetishise youth because of sex appeal, and men in particular are supposed to be sexually voracious, and in parallel women are supposed to be sex objects. We are supposed to be this way because, “sex sells”. So finding out that you don’t really belong is alienating, and leads you to question yourself. Are you broken? Of course not, but society nudges asexual folk into thinking otherwise.

I always thought I’d cross the sex bridge when I, erm, came to it. I knew the facts, sort of intuitively, but really, I felt it was this unlearned muscle memory that would one day kick in, the way sheep are born knowing how to form a flock; an evolutionary impulse, a bit of biological coding that would one day appear, given the right circumstances. And lo and behold, it hasn’t. I was born with the sex drive uninstalled. I still want physical intimacy, but I have no desire to unfasten my belt; the biological components of arousal actually work, but the feeling isn’t there.

And for this, I felt I was broken for the longest time. I was scared, even, that I might be asexual. I assumed it would be a major stumbling block in my quest to find someone… I thought it would be something I’d always have to apologise for; always feeling like I wouldn’t satisfy partners, always feeling incomplete and broken and conspicuous in my own weirdness…

And I was wrong.

It’s brilliant, actually.

Firstly, the act of discovering more about yourself is hugely cathartic. If it really is true – as a myriad of armchair philosophers state – that the only thing in life you truly ever know is yourself, then discovering more about yourself provides immense catharsis. Secondly, discovering that something you thought was a flaw is actually pretty damn great… Well, that’s a whole lot more wonder.

Now it made sense.

Now there was a whole community of people like me, people who wanted romantic lives and futures and social acceptability and media representation and to feel comfortable and true. Who understand that we aren’t broken. But asexuals are still stigmatised, and still have to navigate a society totally honed in on sex at all opportunities. And society is so ignorant about aces that people still think we basically just have a mental illness. It’s a lot to navigate.

Some people don’t eat meat, but do still eat fish. That isn’t contradictory, or weird. Asexuals can enjoy romance, date, find a partner (or more), and share intimacy together. Some asexuals even do have sex, because even though they don’t get anything out of it, their partner does and that’s important to them.

The catharsis of learning that something you had internalised as a negative, or as something to be feared, is a fundamental and unifying aspect of queer identity. Yet asexuality has also sometimes occupied a bit of a fraught position in the LGBTQIA+ community. A lot of people quibble over the legitimacy of asexuality, when asexuals do not face significant volumes of hate speech or social prejudice. And yet there are huge numbers of asexuals in conversion therapy, or whom have suffered ‘corrective’ sexual violence. The point isn’t to be oppressed – none of us want to be oppressed – rather, it’s to be proud and acceptive of ourselves.

I am proud, anyway, to be a part of the grey area. That is cathartic for me... It is not for society to say I should be alienated and isolated. And I am not… I’ve been lucky enough to find someone. She isn’t asexual. She doesn’t need to be. We have our own wonderful thing going on, and suffice to say that I don’t ever want it to stop. We love each other. It does happen; wonderful things do happen.

Asexuality is love. It is truth, and a truth we should be proud to speak.

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