Thursday, May 15, 2014

Finding My Way - Discovering Asexuality

I forgot I hadn't posted this here - at least I don't think I did. I wrote this years ago. I rescued it recently from the depths of my computer after doing an archeological dig on my computer I still haven't finished. This gives me shivers and makes me shudder every time I read it, but it needs to be said. 

Finding My Way

The prom is in five hours. I’m drowning in my emotions. I hover around the desk of a teacher, hoping to find some way to express how I’m feeling to her. Why does everyone else want to go to the prom but me? Why am I not interested in sex? Why don’t I want a boyfriend? Why am I so different? I can’t stand not knowing. Everyone I know is going, of course, and they have been talking about it for months. My twin brother is going with my best friend. I feel so left out. I walk home lost in my thoughts. That night, I sit on my bed and cry for hours. I can’t stand the isolation of not knowing. I can’t stand the loneliness of being different. I feel like I want to die.

The date is December 23, 2002. I know this because it is a date that is forever imprinted into my brain. That night, during a random late night Internet surfing session, I happened to type the word “asexual” into a search engine and found AVEN. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network. It is right after the first semester of my freshman year of college and I have become more desperate than usual to figure out who I am. Suddenly, a miracle happens: the bold, black letters on the front page of AVEN proclaiming, “Asexual: a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction.” I stare at the letters, dumbfounded. I don’t comprehend what I’m reading. I’m so excited I can hardly breathe. As if in a dream I start clicking around the site and reading posts. Message after message of people writing “I thought I was the only person” appear on my screen. I stay glued to my seat reading through old messages for several hours and stumble to bed around 6 AM. I think of the site during every spare moment the next day. I’m not the only one? I’m not a freak after all? I can hardly let myself believe it.

I’m watching Boy Meets World one afternoon after school with my brothers, like we always do. I’ve always loved this show because the characters are so loveable and funny. It’s the one show my brothers and I can agree on. The characters always make me laugh, and I can relate to them. Well, almost. Topanqau and Corey, the show’s two leads, are constantly in the middle of an intense, on again, off again relationship. It is a frequent theme of the show. The show very often portrays their long, passionate kisses or the other problems that arise in the love lives of the show’s main characters. Since I relate so much to the characters, it really bothers me that I’m not like them in this one respect. I sit there day after day watching this show and wondering why I don’t want to passionately kiss every boy I see. Some days the isolation, the fear, the loneliness of this difference which I can talk to no one about threatens to overtake me completely. I feel like a freak of nature. The knives in the nearby kitchen beckon to me and I cry out and try to push the thoughts away.

I wake up in the middle of the night in a strange bed in a strange room, with people I have only met the night before. All of my clothing and belongings are in a suitcase sitting in Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, and I have to get up at 8 am the next morning to retrieve them. However, I am elated. I am sharing the house with six other members of AVEN, who have flown in from all over the United States and Canada to be here. I am meeting other asexual people for the first time in my life. Together, we will be filmed for a documentary on asexuality that will appear on the Canadian Discovery Channel.
The next day I meet them all: Xendara, who is the closest in age to me, a student at SUNY in Albany, New York. Todd, from St. Paul, Minnesota and Dave from Washington DC; both middle aged. Maria, originally from Poland, a sweet, shy girl in her mid-20s now living in New Jersey. An outgoing young man by the name of Gorax – he insisted that we call him Gorax – with dirty blonde dreadlocks from New Brunswick, Canada. Josh, a student at nearby University of Connecticut, and of course David Jay, a junior at Wesleyan and the reason that we are all here.
I remember vividly sitting in the room I was sharing with Xendara and making conversation with her, thinking I’m sitting in this room with another girl my age who’s not interested in sex, having this thought run through my mind over and over. I remember riding in a car with the whole group, making excited conversation, feeling like a part of a group I could relate to for the first time. Listening to other people tell their stories, which were so similar to mine. Being a part of a group who I had something in common with, and not being alone for once.

I enter the Barnes and Nobles and head straight to the gay interest section. I’ve been attracted to these books like a magnet lately, desperate to read the words of anything that remotely resembles my situation. I’m not straight, I’m not gay, I don’t know what I am. But at least the people in these books on coming out stories and gay youth and gay rights history have one thing in common with me. They know what it’s like to be different. They know what it’s like to be out of the sexual mainstream, to not be straight in an increasingly heteronormative culture. They know what it’s like to feel like the odd one out for so long. I go through a phase where I think I might actually be gay. If I’m attracted to boys, then I must be to girls, right? I buy all the requisite rainbow stickers and spend my time reading gay rights publications. In the end, though, it doesn’t pan out. I’m not gay. I’m just me. But who is that?

It is October of my junior year of college. I am visiting my grandparents’ apartment in Philadelphia. It is also the weekend that the New Scientist article is supposed to come out. New Scientist is a well known popular science magazine that is widely distributed in England and other European countries, along with having a small readership in the United States. They have done an article on asexuality and interviewed many people from AVEN, including myself. I get my grandfather to take me to the bookstore and I don’t tell him why. My heart is pounding as I walk to the magazine shelves and look for it. I pick it up and for a moment the room spins around me. Time feels frozen as I look at the front page headline on the bottom of the cover: “Asexual Revolution,” it proclaims. I turn to the article and lose all awareness of my surroundings as I read it. Six glorious pages of pictures, quotes, interviews and even studies of us. I love the layout, I love the headlines, I love everything about it. I am quoted in it about halfway through and I read this quote over and over again, not being able to quite believe that I am seeing my name in this publication. I exist, I think. I am real.
That night, as I read the responses of my fellow AVEN members online, I find that the New Scientist article has been picked up by at least a dozen other international newspapers. I’m even quoted in Spanish. Five, six different countries, a dozen different spins on the same article, a dozen different ways to say We are not interested in sex and yes, we do exist! I print off every last article that I can find, spreading them over the large fold-up guest bed in my grandparents’ spare room, holding them like candy, still not quite believing that I am finally seeing who I am in print. Still not quite believing that the rest of the world is ready to acknowledge that we exist. I never want to let go of the papers in my hands. I want to keep reading them over and over again, until I have committed every last word to memory.

It is sixth grade and my school is having a dance. I am twelve years old, and I could care less about dances. I don’t even really know what one is supposed to do at a dance; the whole thing seems kind of funny to me. While waiting for my mom to pick me up, I wander into the gym where the dance is being held. There are about a dozen people standing around, and music is playing in the background. I see snacks in one corner and a few stray balloons off to another corner. I wonder what people could possibly do in a setting like this. I go up to one girl and ask her, “Hey, what are you guys doing?” She gives me an odd look and says, “Dancing.” I leave, shaking my head. I don’t understand it but I don’t really want to either. There are some things that I cannot talk with my peers about, and this will remain one of them.

It is my senior year of college. I am sitting on the lawn in front of an academic building, talking to a student. She tells me that she gets nonsexual crushes on people sometimes, and I bring up asexuality, asking her to imagine what a nonsexual relationship or marriage would look like. It is the kind of philosophical discussion that we have every day on AVEN, but I have never been able to converse so easily or so freely about it with someone not from the site on this topic. Every other time I have dared to mention asexuality to someone offline, it has been in a very defensive way or I’ve done it only while citing some article I’ve been in as proof of my validity. This is different. This feels like having a normal conversation with one of my peers about asexuality. This is something I have never done before. I feel free, and get a little closer still to acceptance of myself.

I am in Connecticut meeting my friends from AVEN. A friend of David’s comes in and tells us that a gay student on campus has been brutally assaulted. We gather at the campus center with chalk in hand and begin to write messages on the pavement to express our outrage. “What kind of world do you want to be part of?” we ask, and “How many more lives will you ruin with your hate?” It is an intensely powerful experience for me. It also connects frighteningly well with what our group has come to campus to do: speak up about who we are. Here, on the very same night, we are forced to encounter a situation in which one of our peers is not allowed to be who he is. As I grip the dusty chalk and kneel on the cold, hard pavement, intent on condemning what will never be right, I know that I can never again be silent about who I am.

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