By Lauren Jankowski
Usually I appear on this site as an adoptee writer. But what you might not know about me, what I have not mentioned up until now, is that I am a proud asexual woman (an aromantic asexual, but more on that in a bit). It is my goal to be the first openly asexual fantasy novelist, a goal I’ve had practically since I started college. Asexuality is an important part of who I am as a person, but it is something that not a lot of people seem to be able to accept. I attribute this to the many misconceptions about asexuals that there are out there. It is because of this that I feel it important to share my own experience on this topic.
Around junior high school, it seemed like girls and guys started showing an interest in each other. Not exactly romantic, that didn’t start until high school. Everyone seemed to be pairing up, going to dances, engaging in the usual painting of faces and nails, and picking their personal fashion statement. Everyone except me. I did not understand this type of blending and much preferred to stay hidden in my world of books. I also felt no attraction or desire for anyone, male or female. I attributed this to my hating junior high and just wanting to get the hell out of there.
High school rolled along and that was when I started to realize there was definitely something different about me. Everyone seemed to be getting involved in relationships: boyfriends, girlfriends, heterosexual, homosexual, etc. Everyone seemed to want this progression. I did not and I couldn’t figure out why. Counselors didn’t help at all. They seemed to assume it was a communication problem. I tried my best to articulate that it wasn’t communication; it was that I didn’t desire a relationship. This was brushed off as some kind of defense mechanism (I wanted it, but I couldn’t achieve it, so I acted like I didn’t want it). A therapist I was seeing outside school went so far as to tell me that my lack of desire meant I was depressed and should be put on anti-depressants immediately. Somehow, I knew this was incorrect and so adamantly refused to take anti-depressants.
By my junior year, I was close to having a nervous breakdown. Then health class came along and if I didn’t think things could get any worse, I was about to be proven wrong. I have many issues with how sex ed is taught, starting with the way it focuses solely on heterosexual missionary position sex (as if that’s the only kind there is). My sex ed class seemed to boil down to the following: we know you’re all having it, here’s how you avoid dying from it. Not a single mention of asexuality.
The message that I was receiving from counselors, classes, and the world in general was clear: my not desiring relationships or sex was an abnormality. I was a freak and I needed to be fixed.
When my senior year rolled around, I decided to try and research my “abnormality”. I somehow stumbled across the AVEN website (Asexual Visibility and Education Network). I could not believe what I was reading. Here were people like me who were healthy, well-adjusted individuals. I could not believe my eyes and tried to find the catch (I was first convinced it was a hoax website), but there was none to be found. Like being gay or straight, asexuality isn’t a choice. Asexuals are simply born that way.
The AVEN website got me through the next few years, right into college. Still, I kept my identity to myself for many more years. I’m fairly certain my mother knew I was asexual, as I probably mentioned it off-hand once or twice in passing conversation. Then I started to realize that there were very few support systems for those identifying as asexual. How many people were going through what I had gone through? It was then I started coming out to more people in my inner circle.
When asexuality recently started gaining more visibility, there was some support (most of it coming from the LGBTQ community). There also seemed to be a ton of backlash. Asexuals seemed to be getting attacked for trying to “match” the gay community in regards to the discrimination experienced. There is a somewhat contentious debate about whether or not asexuality falls under the queer umbrella (I happen to believe that it does and identify as such). Go to the comments section of any article on asexuality and I guarantee you will find a lot of comments along the lines of the following: “NOBODY CARES WHO YOU’RE NOT SLEEPING WITH!!!!”
Then there are the people who still consider it a disease. The DSM still lists “hyposexuality disorder” as a condition, which includes asexuality. I’ve been accused of being frigid, repressed, or just plain scared of sex. I even had one person try to diagnose the cause of my asexuality (apparently because I take Adderall, I think I’m asexual but really I’m not). As if I don’t have the right to not experience sexual desire. As if it somehow makes me less than human. Whenever asexuals make gains, it’s often just brushed off. My desire to be the first openly asexual fantasy author is frequently met with a “nobody cares about asexuals” attitude from publishers and agents. We are still the invisible minority.
I mentioned before that I am an aromantic asexual. This means I have never and do not experience the desire to be in a relationship. There are also hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, bi-romantic, and pan-romantic asexuals. These are asexuals that desire relationships, but not sex. Asexuals are rarely celibate. Celibacy is a choice. Asexuals will often engage in sex with their partners because they love them and do not feel uncomfortable expressing that love physically, even if they themselves do not experience sexual desire. On the AVEN website, I believe there is even an asexual couple who have a kid.
When I came out to a confidant, I mentioned that I’m probably a bi-aromantic asexual. I experience intellectual attraction. What this means is that I experience a pleasure out of intellectual exchanges that is similar to what many would define as orgasmic. That may be hard to believe, but I assure you that it is true. I need intellectual conversations, I thrive on them. I enjoy engaging in them with men and women, gay, straight, and trans. People fascinate me, their stories and their views.
I have been lucky in that most people in my life have accepted me as I am (and not felt the need to fix me). However, I’m sure there are asexuals out there who aren’t so lucky. Asexuality does not mean inevitable loneliness. Asexuality is not something that is fixable. It is not a disorder and it is not the result of fear. There needs to be more of an acceptance and understanding of asexuality and those who identify as asexual.
If you know someone who might be asexual, the best thing you can do is be understanding. Celebrate the gains the asexual community makes, because there is so many we must achieve. There are only two states that recognize asexuality as an orientation (and therefore protect them against discrimination): Vermont and New York.
While I was at Beloit College, I created a blog for a project. I collected a lot of useful links and information, which are still posted. The blog, and more information on asexuality, can be found here: http://beloitasexual.blogspot.com/