Friday, July 18, 2008

Thoughts on coming out part I: early attempts

When I was a child, I recall being told about how beginning in middle school, give or take a few years, my body would start changing and I would start liking girls. The first time I got a crush someone was in 6th grade. I acquired the male secondary sexual characteristics at generally the right time. So I figured I was more or less normal (at least in this respect.) Sometimes kids at school would talk about who they liked or they might ask me who I liked and I was able to answer the question. I didn’t get crushes on very many people, but when I did they tended to last for a long time, though I didn’t do much of anything about them. (Also, the objects of these were all female.)

I remember once in high school having a conversation with about three other guys and the topic turned to girls. Undoubtedly I’ve gotten stuck in such conversations on numerous occasions, but this one had a strong impression on me. Since many of my friends in high school were female and such conversations seem to be less common in co-ed groups, I probably managed to avoid such conversations more than most. Anyway, a friend of mine was talking about this one girl who he evidently thought was hot. A couple of the other boys teased him about how he liked her, but he insisted that he didn’t like her, he just thought she was hot. This was somehow associated with large boobs.

I was totally unable to categorize this. It clearly was a report of a form of attraction that I had never experienced. They asked me who I thought was hot. No one. They didn’t believe me. It seemed that everyone else understood the distinction between thinking someone’s hot and liking them, but I had only ever experienced one of these and apparently this was strange. I had never associated liking someone with any particular physical attribute.

Often in religious education we, especially the males, were told about the sin of lust. We shouldn’t look at girls in a certain way or think about them in certain ways. At least, I think that’s what lust is. To be honest, I was never quite sure what they were talking about. Still, whatever it was that they were talking about, I tried hard not to do it, but I had this growing suspicion that I couldn’t actually manage even if I tried. I always felt a bit lost in these discussions because it seemed that there was this shared experience that everybody else had so there was no reason to explain it, but I don’t think I had ever felt it though I couldn’t be sure since it was never described. However, we were definitely told that this was something all guys struggled with, and throughout my time in Evangelical groups, lots of the guys around me talked about their struggles with it and, slowly, I became more and more convinced whatever it was that they were feeling, I didn’t feel. Still, the message was clear. This was a struggle for all guys. Never were there mentioned the possibility of exceptions.

Some people distinguish between sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction, but at that point, I had never felt the former and the latter only once, and that for only a second or two. I general had little or no visual aesthetic sense (for people, art, scenery, etc.) and had thought that perhaps this was responsible for whatever this strange trait I had was. I did not make a distinction between sexual and aesthetic attraction.

When I was around 16 or 17, I tried to explain to a few people about what I didn’t feel. The girlfriend I had when I was 17 was aware of this (and hated me for it.) She was angry that I never told her that I thought she was pretty. Perhaps I was overly honest, but I had said that I didn’t find her, or any other person, pretty. In my mind, it was a rather good reason, in hers an unpardonable one. Things didn’t go well because of this and a large number of other reasons. (Everybody other than me thought the relationship was a bad idea, but I didn’t listen to them.)

I tried to explain to some other friends about my not finding anyone pretty. This was the only language I could find to explain what I now regard as my asexuality, and I quickly discovered that my attempts to explain it failed miserably. I wanted to know why I was like this, whatever “like this” was, but no one understood it and I couldn’t explain it, so I decided to just keep quiet about it.

Not long after my short-lived having of a significant other, I began reading the Bible more frequently and I came across the passages dealing with what has been called the gift of celibacy. Jesus is recorded as saying “this is not for everyone, but only to those to whom it has been given…let the one who can accept it, accept it.” Paul, who seems to like celibacy, also recognizes that for most people, it is not a realistic option and practically speaking, telling/expecting everyone to be celibate is simply a stupid idea.

I thought that perhaps I had the gift of celibacy. After having acquired a very cynical view of romantic love from a bad relationship, celibacy seemed like a decent idea. (I was perfectly aware of this cynicism, the reason for it and the fact that it wasn’t a very good reason, but it still took a while to subside.) I also knew that not having sex really would not be at all difficult for me.

I had hoped that perhaps in reading about those who have the gift of celibacy, I would finally be able to find others like myself. From time to time, I would read about the two passages on the subject in various commentaries, but was disappointed to find that none of them told me about others like myself. I recall reading one author discussing celibacy and some people who had chosen to be celibate who went out of his way to make a point that it was not that these people were less interested in sex than others, but that they were simply devoted to their work. I felt crushed by this. My hopes that maybe here, at last, I would find that I wasn’t alone, that there were others like myself and it was explicitly denied.

But I didn’t want to be celibate. Even though not having sex was easy enough, I didn’t want to give up the possibility of family life. I wanted to get married. I wanted to have children. Being a life-long celibate would mean I couldn’t have these.

In college, I discussed my asexuality with one of guys I roomed with for my last two years there, but I don’t remember exactly what I told him. He thought it was a bit odd but seemed understanding.

Although I rarely discussed my asexuality with people, I didn’t do much to try to hide it either. Making no attempt at feigning heterosexuality has raised questions about my sexual orientation more than once—but always under the assumption that if I wasn’t straight, I must be gay. I’ve wondered if I’m gay many times despite the fact that I don’t get crushes on guys the way I have (at least occasionally) had them on girls.

My asexuality had long been a source of confusion for me that I was regularly made aware of, but I had no categories to understand it and had generally met with confusion whenever I tried to explain it. A couple years ago, I taught English abroad and during that time, I decided to give it another shot, so I talked about it with the pastor in charge of the English service I had been attending, desperately hoping for some ability to share this with someone, maybe to be able to understand myself and hopefully at least to find someone understanding. But it was an utter failure. He just assumed I was gay, and protestations about not being gay, about not being attracted to guys were generally ignored. This was extraordinarily frustrating. It’s not so much that I was afraid of people thinking I was gay as it was that I was trying to open up and explain something personally important to me that wasn’t always easy to talk about, and I felt that what I said was basically ignored.

My early attempts at “outing myself” resulted in utter failure. With later attempts, I had matured somewhat but still lacked concepts or vocabulary to explain what I felt (or didn’t feel) and did not do much better. Frequently, when people got hints of my asexuality, they thought I was gay. I could quite honestly deny this, but I had a growing sense that I wasn’t all that straight either. I felt like I had to stay in the closet, but I wasn’t sure which closet I was in. I knew I had something to hide, not because I was ashamed of it or feared what people would think if they found out, but because I could not explain it, and generally people couldn’t understand it. I had this sense that if only I knew which closet I was in, it would be so much easier. If I had a word, I could tell people I’m that.

Retrospectively, I should have realized that this wasn’t true. It’s not that if I had a word, I could explain things to people by telling them that I’m that. Rather, if I had a word that other people knew what it meant, I could explain things to people by telling them that I’m that.

2 comments:

Ily said...

I can definitely relate to the "who do you think is hot?" conversation...it was always the bane of my existence, up until I realized I was ase. Now I'm more comfortable joking about it. But when I was 17, I remember going on a trip with a bunch of my female friends, and they made up a code word to identify hot guys. They noticed that I wasn't identifying anyone, and joked about how picky I was. I knew I wasn't just picky, but didn't know about anything more than that at the time. It was really aggravating. Knowing I'm asexual lets me take that stuff less seriously, I just realized.
But yeah, coming out is always so hard. That's why I usually try to do it in writing somehow. I've definitely come out to more people with my blog than any other way. Now they just take my sexuality as a given, and I don't have to do a whole talk. Usually, at least...

pretzelboy said...

I just learned to be quiet in conversations about hotness. Probably the most such questions. My grandmother keeps asking me from time to time "Got you eye on any pretty girls?" The answer's always been no. "Well you let me know if there are." "Yes, Grandma."

Since identifying as asexual I've learned to have more fun with it. I got asked once by my father's (second) wife's mother, "Are there any hot girls in your department." "I don't know." This created a moment of stunned silence of trying to figure out how on earth to respond. "You must just have more important things on your mind." I'll let them go on thinking that.