Belated National Coming Out Day post: Why having words for things matters
Almost exactly a year ago, I came out as asexual on Facebook.
I’m asexual, or possibly some degree of greysexual/demisexual; so far it’s hard to tell. Because I do experience romantic desires, I didn’t know this until fairly recently.
I have it easy because at least I appear heterosexual. And it does look to me like sexual desire is a massive distraction and productivity-drain in other people’s lives, so if someone offered me the chance to add that neural wiring, I’m not sure I’d take it.
The hard part comes with being in a relationship, or wanting to be in one, and having the realization that most other people out there have a totally different conception of what a “relationship” means. The hard part is living with the cultural expectation that, as someone’s girlfriend, you owe them physical and sexual intimacy. The assumption that not wanting sex means that you don’t actually love or desire someone; worse, the idea that you can’t just get into bed with a significant other three times a week, as the tradeoff for getting all the awesome parts of the relationship like hours-long conversations, cooking together, and having kids someday. If you’re not “into it”, it doesn’t count.
So if you’re a guy and you’ve been the recipient of my confusing romantic signals in the past, I apologize. I probably did like you. I could have fallen in love with you, even. But that’s a pretty scary leap when you become an emotional wreck a week into dating anyone and have no idea why.
If you’re one of the people who’s been incredibly kind and understanding about this, and helped me try to sort through my feelings in a way that felt safe, you know who you are, and thank you.
I don’t think it took long after this before it became general knowledge to most of my friends in the CFAR/LW community. I don’t remember exactly what was on my mind when I made that post, but I do remember that I didn’t think anyone would care much, and I doubted it would change anything.
A year later, it feels like it’s changed everything.
Miranda!2013 had what my mother would call ‘baggage’ around relationships: a mixture of strong aversions, mistaken intuitions, conflicted feelings, et cetera. It wasn’t like I hadn’t noticed this, either. I knew pretty well that it made no sense how rapidly I could flip from having a crush on someone and being excited about seeing them, to wanting to avoid speaking to them forever. I had been working on it.
In fact, I’d been working on it quite deliberately since 2011, when I made a New Years Eve resolution to have a serious relationship. Yes, really. There were moments that were wonderful. I remember standing in my boyfriend’s kitchen, him behind me with his arms around my waist, rocking from side to side as we cuddled…and how I could remember my mother and father standing in that position, and it felt so adult and right.
But then there was the kissing, the making out, the clothes coming off, and the sleepovers where I lay awake all night…and worst of all, the suffocating feeling of knowing that I was loved by someone who I didn’t and couldn’t love back, not in the way he wanted. I remember being afraid of how much he wanted me, afraid that he would rape me. I thought that quiet voice in my head was being stupid, because obviously my boyfriend wasn’t going to pin me down against my will. He loved me; he was gentle and caring and kind.
But we had sex anyway, six months later. I spent a year and four months throwing all of my ingenuity into making that relationship work, into not letting my ‘baggage’ hold me back.
And every time we had sex, it felt a little bit like rape, even though I was technically consenting, even initiating. The little voice screamed that it was wrong, wrong, wrong, and I pushed that voice down until I barely noticed it–until I could look at our relationship and see a victory, a triumph of self-modification.
In the process, I created an enormous stack of baggage, which made it really fucking difficult to have any kind of relationship at all for the next several years.
Miranda!2011 had the usual inhibitions and insecurities of someone who had grown up nerdy and somewhat of a loner, and a misbehaving vagina, but that was about it. Miranda!2013 had a desperate roller coaster relationship with intimacy of any kind. I wanted to be needed, but I was terrified of being wanted. Sometimes it was too scary even thinking about future relationships, and I would resolve to be celibate forever and go to a sperm bank when I hit 25. Even as I started groping towards the think I thought I might want, I only felt safe in long-distance relationships, or seeing poly people who already had primaries, or preferably long distance relationships with poly people who already had primaries. The amount of travelling I was doing in 2013 made this more feasible.
In May 2013, I turned down sex with someone I really, really liked, who liked me back. It was a tentative step in a direction I didn’t even have a name for yet. At this point I’d managed to convince myself that I didn’t like commitment. Commitment, the thing I’d found most beautiful about my parents’ marriage, but poisoned by association.
In the fall of 2013 I started seeing Alex and Ania, a poly couple. It was one of the most healing experiences I could have had, and I will never be able to thank them enough for respecting my boundaries even when I was completely confused about what that meant. At that point, even getting frequent texts from someone I was dating was scary; it implied interest, which implied desire, which would surely lead to one part of me guilt tripping the rest of me into having sex. Instead of arguing with that, Alex and Ania respected it perfectly. I saw them when I wanted to, and no more.
I still spent the rest of that winter convinced that what I really, truly desired in a relationship was to see my partner no more than once a week, and not be expected to even feel like cuddling, and to be free not to talk to them all week if I liked, even then I would have days, or weeks, when I didn’t want to even think about it.
I met Ruby (in person) in February 2014, and things are completely different and a lot better than 2013!Miranda could have imagined–if anything, I am in exactly the relationship I have always wanted–but it took a lot of difficult communication, of digging through baggage and figuring out what the hell it meant.
It didn’t happen all at once, but the thing that made me feel safe loving someone, and being loved in return, and letting myself want what I really actually wanted and not just what was least scary, was coming out as asexual–more specifically, the community response to my coming out as asexual. People paid attention, and remembered it about me, and brought it up in conversation, and were curious about it, in a way that was incredibly validating. It turned out there were online forums full of people talking about being asexual. Sometime in early 2014, there was a gradual but massive shift where I stopped thinking of myself as a weird broken monkey with missing neural circuitry, and started being okay with asexuality as part of my identity, and then even started being happy about it.
There’s another half to that–one of the foundations of my current relationship is that Ruby knew, before he even met me in person, that I was asexual and what that meant. Starting a new relationship is always going to be confusing and hard, but having a public label took a lot of the ambiguity out–and so far, my being asexual has been a complete non-issue, not even interesting. Ruby is a pretty wonderful person, but it would have been a lot harder for him to find that out a few months in.
I really wish 2011!Miranda could have had that, before she managed to convince herself that she hated commitment and really only wanted casual long distance relationships with people who already had primaries–even though those are nice.
And 2011!Miranda almost had that. I attended my high school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and knew what it looked like to be gay or lesbian or trans. If my college dating experience had consisted of unsatisfactory dates and make-outs with boys, and confusing but thrilling feelings about the girls on swim team with me, or if I’d noticed that I felt wrong in my body and being referred to as ‘she’ made me feel sick, I would have recognized that. (Which wouldn’t make things easy, necessarily–having a word and a name for what you’re feeling doesn’t protect you from discrimination by family, friends, and society.)
But I had no model for “I really like this guy and want to live with him and cook for him and talk about economics until four am and maybe have babies someday, but ohgod if he touches me one more time I am going to run away to the corner and cry.” My mother was supportive and understanding, and her way of being supportive was to buy me chocolate once I managed to have sex.
I’m hopeful, and I’ve got a lot of resources to work on it, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever shed the baggage I amassed in two years of trying really hard to make ‘normal’ relationships work.
That’s why having words for things matters.