by Laila Winters
It’s been several years since I emerged from the proverbial closet, first as bisexual and then as a full-fledged lesbian (identity is a confusing thing). From the very beginning of my journey into flannel and combat boots, I was fortunate to have champions in my corner, especially after a friend accidentally outed me on Facebook. But as a snarky queer with a penchant for base-jumping into the nearest existential crisis, I knew early on that something was still not “right.”
There was a part of me that didn’t make sense, that felt wrong. And it wasn’t the kind of wrongness that you prayed about in church, but the kind in which you realized you were different; different in a world where being different is dangerous.
Unlike most people my age, I had no interest in having sex. I wasn’t even remotely curious about it. My friends thought it was weird and my mother once said, “Where the Hell did I go wrong with you?” And it was strange and wrong and my boyfriend at the time decided to cheat on me.
The first time I heard the word “asexual” was in high school biology and we were learning about genetics and reproduction. The second time I heard it, deep in the belly of the Hell site known as Tumblr, the word had been coined as a sexual identity on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. But unlike my time as a sophomore, the word resonated. It sank into my bones like some tangible, sought-after clarity—I was ace. And being ace made sense to me.
Asexuality, or being ace, is defined as: experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behavior. Asexuality exists on a continuum from people who experience no sexual attraction or have any desire for sex, to those who experience low levels, or sexual attraction only under specific conditions.
It would be years before I came out as ace (and even longer still before I realized there was nothing “wrong” with me), when I had the courage to accept that I was different on a scale that most don’t understand. Being queer was one thing, but to shrug your shoulders and say you’re not interested in sex? That was weird—the “you’re insane!” kind of weird, not the kind where you like anime and reading manga.
In all the years I’ve been out, I’ve been given more Hell over being ace than I have for being queer. No one cares that I have a girlfriend, but they do care that we’re not having sex (not that it’s anyone’s business). My mother still asks what went wrong with me. A friend thinks I might have a medical condition. It was implied that my girlfriend is settling for me. We were told that our relationship wasn’t real by a bitchy psychic at a Renaissance festival.
These comments are always hurtful, regardless if the speaker means well (though most of them don’t). I’ve tossed and turned and cried myself to sleep because people keep telling me how wrong I am, how sorry they feel for my girlfriend, how Jen could do better than someone like me because sex is everything, don’t you know?
But it’s with the revelation that not everyone is kind that I offer up this list to you now: what not to say to your ace friends. Alternatively: how not to make them hate themselves, or how not to make them feel wrong for existing.
Disclaimer: while meant to be informative, the comments below were drawn from personal experiences. If, by chance, you happen to be a “speaker” below, please know that this article was not written to take aim at you, but to instead help guide you into some small semblance of understanding. It was written to help tell you that I’m listening, and words hurt.
8. “What happened to make you like this?”
Nothing. It’s a common misconception that sexual identity and sexual trauma go hand in hand, which is always the “what” in this question. Asexuals aren’t driven to be ace by any outside factor, it’s simply just a part of who we are.
7. “You just haven’t found the right person yet!”
For someone who identifies as ace, there isn’t a “right person.” Asexuality deals in sexual attraction, and most of us don’t experience this at all. It doesn’t change based on who’s standing in front of us. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not capable of relationships (because you know, sex isn’t everything); romantic attraction is an emotional response, which most people experience at one point or another, that results in a desire for a romantic relationship with the recipient.
6. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
Yes, actually, we’re well aware of what we’re “missing.” That’s the point.
5. “Maybe if you just tried it…”
Some of us have tried it, and some of us haven’t. It doesn’t make any difference. As a person who’s afraid of heights, I’ve never tried skydiving either, but I know that I wouldn’t like it. Same concept.
4. “You don’t like sex? What’s wrong with you?”
Nothing. Just like abstaining from sex probably isn’t your thing, having it just isn’t my cup of tea. Try and look at it from our perspective—being ace is our normal, so you liking sex is weird. But we wouldn’t say that to your face.
3. “Maybe you need some kind of therapy?” / “Maybe this is a medical condition?”
I tried therapy, once. It didn’t work for me. She was awful and made me play board games.
You can’t counsel someone into experiencing sexual attraction, just like I can’t counsel someone into taking a vow of celibacy. That’s not how any of this works, and a therapist can’t get to the root of a problem if there isn’t one. The same can be said for a medical condition; being asexual and having issues with your libido aren’t the same thing.
2. “Tell me about your sex life.”
In the words of Bianca del Rio: not today, Satan. My sex life (more specifically, my lack of one) is absolutely none of your business. People who identify as asexual are under no obligation to tell you what they have done, what they haven’t done, how far they’ve gone, how far they haven’t gone, or any variation thereof. Hounding someone for answers, even if you’re “just trying to understand,” is rude, invasive, and again, none of your business.
1. “I feel bad for your partner.”
I hear this one the most, and believe me, I feel bad, too. But Jen knew I was ace before we even started dating, and it was a choice she made when she decided that she still wanted to be with me. We make it work, and so do plenty of other people in ace/non-ace relationships. How we make it work is absolutely none of your concern, and I can guarantee that you put more thought into it than we do.