Sunday, June 14, 2009

You're not asexual. You're just a late bloomer.

There are people who first experience sexual attraction in their early 20's, and the fact of the matter is that some people identifying as asexual probably are "late bloomers"; some of the younger people identifying as asexual will experience sexual attraction later in their lives. And yet, something about this dismissal of asexual identity, something about this response to someone coming out, something about the way it is so dismissive deeply troubles me. I think the reason is that it may sometimes be true but is rarely helpful.

Because the late-bloomer response is such a common form of asexual dismissal, it has gained its place among the ranks of annoying responses to asexuality, it has earned its spot in the annals of asexohating. As a result, responses arise: people become confident that they are asexual; they are certain that they will never experience sexual attraction.

This is troubling: Not you, nor I, nor anyone knows what the future holds. Sexual and asexual alike should be open to the possibility that in the days and years to come, we may have new experiences, feel new emotions; people should be open to the fact that in the future, they may feel things hitherto unfelt by them.

AVEN's static content reflects this view: The overview of asexuality says the following about asexual identity:
Most people on AVEN have been asexual for our entire lives. Just as people will rarely and unexpectedly go from being straight to gay, asexual people will rarely and unexpectedly become sexual or vice versa. Another small minority will think of themselves as asexual for a brief period of time while exploring and questioning their own sexuality.

There is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual. Asexuality is like any other identity- at its core, it’s just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so.
Likewise, on the general FAQ, we find the following question and answer:
Q: What if it's a phase?

A:What if it is? That doesn't stop you being asexual right now.

It may be tempting to hold back on accepting your asexuality in the hope that eventually you'll 'bloom' into a sexual person. I'm not saying that might not eventually happen, but consider this: do you want to spend your life thinking of yourself as an undeveloped person, living for the dreamed of day when you'll become whole? Might you feel more comfortable accepting who you are now as a whole complete valid person? Maybe one day you will “bloom”, and if and when you do, you won't have lost anything by being comfortable in the mean time.

There's no shame in identifying as one thing and then later identifying as another. Your identity isn't meant to limit you. If you've moved on or changed, then by all means describe yourself differently. If you fear you might be different in the future, that doesn't change which label is most useful to you in the present. There's nothing wrong with change.

Yet, A-pologetics seem inevitable, and views of the "I know that I will always be asexual!" variety are almost certain to arise. The late-bloomer response is predicated on a belief that asexuality doesn't exist and is a way of avoiding having to accept it. For the person hearing this response, they have no idea what they will or will not experience in the future. Not only that, but it is the experiences of asexuals that they read about and feel they can relate to, and in hearing the late-bloomer dismissal, they hear dismissed those they feel a sense of connection to, those they share an identity with.

People are told "You're just a late bloomer." People are told "Wait. Sexuality will emerge" Yet these hearers ask themselves how long must they wait to "know" they're not a late bloomer. Till they're sixteen? Till they're twenty six? Till they're sixty two? Must life be spent in perpetual waiting to eventually "bloom" into being sexual?

In answering the question for myself, "How do I know I'm not just a late-bloomer?", the answer is quite simple. I am a late-bloomer. I first experienced sexual attraction at the age of 22--and then I was attracted to the only person I've ever been sexually attracted to in my life. Beginning a couple years later, I began to develop some vaguely sexual feelings of incredibly low intensity.

I am a late-bloomer, and when I finally blossomed, I "bloomed" myself right into being a "Grey-A". Oh the excitement. Oh the thrill.

So I am a "late-bloomer" and I still consider myself asexual. Also, I have a definite suspicion that people who first experience sexual attraction much later in life than most are probably going to be at the low end on the sexual-desire spectrum.

When AVEN was preparing for a major make-over of its front page in early 2009, there was consideration of updating the FAQ's, and I did some editing and writing for that, though the plan ended up getting put on the back burner. In addition to edits on the main FAQ, I wrote some potential new questions for parents. I did some intensive research (walking over to the living room and asking Mom for some question parents might ask [I happended to be at her house at the time]). She posed the following question, to which I wrote a response.
What can I do to support my child?

Probably the best thing you can do is to be accepting and willing to listen. If your child has told you that they are asexual or that they think they might be asexual, it is because they love you and what you think is important to them. Many asexuals are afraid of coming out to parents because they are afraid they will be dismissive and say something like the following:

“You’re not asexual. You just haven’t met the right person yet.”
“You’re just a late bloomer.”
“Someday when you meet the right person, you’ll be interested in sex, just like everyone else.”

If your child if fairly young, it is entirely possible that one of these is true. If you think this is the case, you may choose to advise your child to be open to the possibility, but it probably isn’t a good idea to assume that this must be the case. Especially if your child is well past puberty, they may find dismissive comments very frustrating. If you’re child has decided to tell you they are asexual, they have probably thought about it a while and are looking for acceptance and support.

Also, it is probably a good idea not to put a lot of pressure on your child to date, to get married or to have children.


Anonymous said...

Well, my son who is 24 commented on his cousin who is not 21, saying he is a-sexual. I asked what that meant; he told me so I looked it up, and found this blog. Your viewpoints are intelligently written. Now I have a greater understanding, thank you.

pretzelboy said...

It's good to hear that you found my thoughts helpful. I think that the issues surrounding the possibility of being a "late-bloomer" are complicated, and I feel really limited in my own understanding.

Anonymous said...

I must agree that we must keep an open mind about own identities. There certainly is merit to the other possiblilites besides actually being ace.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a good hypothesis that about late-blooming and hyposexuality. Has it been discussed before?

AFlyingPiglet said...

When I idenfited as a single Heterosexual, I always assumed attraction would 'kick in' at some point and that I was a "late bloomer".

Since identifying as an Aromantic Asexual last year (aged 36), although I am still open to the possibility of this happening, I doubt it very much - and I have a real peace about it as its taken the pressure off me.

Its interesting as I know someone who is a late blooming lesbian. She has left her marriage and her kids as she realised she could no longer try and convince herself that she was heterosexual. So the term late bloomer doesn't just have to apply to Asexuals - although that is how society seems to use it.

Myself--Who Else? said...

Oh my gosh, I am the same as you! I first experienced sexual attraction when I was 21, which was the first (and as it turns out, the only, so far) time in my life. I turn 30 next month.

I really liked the the FAQ and your answer. I think I need to send that to a few people in my life...

pretzelboy said...

AFlyingPiglet, it seems that a lot of people are slow to realize how much variation there can be among experiences of sexuality, and instead want to fit everyone into one neat box (heterosexuality) or maybe a couple nice neat boxes (stereotypical ideas relying on a strict gay/straight binary.)

Myself--whoelse, thanks for sharing your experience. I felt a little hesitant about whether to mention my own "late bloomer" status since it seems to go against what we often hear in the asexual community and it's rather personal. So it's good to hear that this experience resonates with other people!

willendork said...

Very courageous of you -- not only to challenge the static understanding of asexuality, (or hell, sexuality in general; if I have to refute the "born this way" status of my lesbianism *one more time*... eh-hem, tangent) but also to offer your personal experience in support of it. I agree with you: the issue is validity and the willingness of loved ones to be supportive, not whether or not something might change in the future (or whether it was true in the past.) If an identity functions for now, it functions for now, and if someone is compelled to come out, they deserve support. These "late bloomer" and "just a phase" labels (as terms of dismissal) need to be shelved in place of that.

Leaper said...

I know this is an old post - found through google trying to find what grey-a meant because the AVENwiki link from another site didn't work - and I'd like to make a linguistic quibble. The use of the word 'lame' is abelist and thus a) exclusionary of asexual people who happen to also be PWD and b) really distracting from your very valid point.

pretzelboy said...

I've changed the wording in the sentence you were referring to, though I am inclined to disagree on this point. Generally, I am a fan of avoiding language that is demeaning to certain groups. However, I am also inclined to draw the line at synchronic meaning.

There are probably lots and lots of words that we use all the time that at some point in their histories usages that were demeaning to certain groups, but this is generally irrelevant, and going through the OED to find all of them and systematically remove them from English would be difficult and pointless. What matters is how they are used today. Yes, the word "lame" had a meaning relating to disability hundreds of years ago, but, as far as I am aware, it has all but lost that meaning in modern English. In that sense, it is quite different from using "gay" in a pejorative sense.

Leaper said...

In my experience, lame *is* still understood as meaning 'unable to walk' as well as the other, making it similar to 'gay' in the context. (and retard, for that matter.)

pretzelboy said...

I did a search on google for "is lame" and "is gay." For "is gay," the majority of the first ten sites used the terms in the same-sex-attraction sense. However, in the first 200 instances of "is lame" (I gave up after that) the only instances of "lame" in the "unable to walk" sense that I found involved a quote attributed to Einstein with a rather literary feel to it. (I am excluding "lame duck," because it's derivation is rather opaque.)

pretzelboy said...

p.s. My own sense on the matter is that it is quite clear that "retard" comes from "retarded" or "mentally retarded," but I am inclined to think that, for most people, they have no idea that there is (or ever was) a connection between "lame" (not all that great) and "lame" (unable to walk), if they are even aware of the latter meaning at all.

There can also be individual variation on matters like this. Taking a more neutral example, the word "crane" can mean a certain kind of bird or it can mean a kind of heavy machinery. Originally, the latter was derived from the former, and some people still feel that they are connected (i.e. that the words are polysemous.) For other people, they feel that they are simply homophones--two words that happen to sound the same and have unrelated meanings.

Anonymous said...

I'm turning 17 in April. Is it possible that I'm still a late bloomer? I know I'm hetero-romantic, I have known that since I was 10, and I want to grow up and get married, but if I'm asexual can I still do that? Perhaps I can marry someone else who is asexual and then only have sex for the purposes of having kids?

Julieann said...

I didn't know what asexual was growing up. I became interested in sex when I was 20 and wanted to act on my interests. I have only acted them out on myself and at 25 am still a virgin. Most people I know were acting upon their sex at 15 so I feel I have some catching up to do but not really. I tell my friends I wasn't into sex until I was 20 and they all ask "so were you asexual or something?" Now I can firmly say, no just a late bloomer :)