Friday, July 3, 2009

Have you considered that you might be…(hushed voice) gay?

As a teenager, there were many times when I wondered if I might be gay. I just wasn’t interested in girls the way the other guys were. Sure, I occasionally got crushes on a few females from among my peers, but not that many and not that often. And there was definitely something the other guys were feeling that I just wasn’t. There is a strong societal assumption that if I wasn’t interested in girls, it must be that I’m gay. But whenever I wondered whether I was gay, I reminded myself, “Um, self. If you were gay, that would mean that you’d be attracted to guys. And you're not.”

Oh right. Good point.

Since that time, there have been a couple guys that I had very brief intellectual crushes on--the first of these was when I was 19, and it resulted in a definite attempt to convince myself how totally-not-gay my feelings for him were. I succeeded in this: I noted that what I felt toward him was quite different than the crushes I’d had on girls in middle and high school.

More recently, there’s been a guy I had a long-standing intellectual crush on of very low intensity. During the time that this was on the back burner, I got a crush on a friend that ended up making things between her and me very awkward and uncomfortable. Fortunately, that crush went away, but about a month later, it started to come back. And I really, really didn't want it to. To put down that resurgence, I, though sheer conscious effort, managed to turn my low-scale intellectual crush into a full blown crush, successfully eliminating my other crush.

So I know that it’s not the case that I’m attracted to men and unwilling to admit it to myself. There is a guy I’m attracted to, I do admit it to myself, and I’m quite sure that I haven’t felt this towards another guy before.

A few ago, before finding AVEN, I had tried to explain my asexuality to a friend; I failed miserably. He was just convinced I was gay. When I tried to deny it, he became convinced I was gay and in denial about it. A couple years later, I told this experience to a therapist I was seeing to try to make sense of my (a)sexuality; he asked why it bothered me so much that that guy was convinced I was gay.

I had to think about it for a moment, and I’ve thought about it several times since. It wasn't that I was bothered by the possibility that someone might think I was gay. It wasn't that I was desperately trying to project an image of myself as a model of masculine heterosexuality. It was that I was trying to explain to this person something about myself, something I had wanted to tell someone about but whenever I tried, it always resulted in confusion and misunderstanding. Having failed for years to explain this facet of myself that had so long confused me, I had given up on trying to explain it, and in talking to that friend, when I had decided to try again, I was only met with denial and disbelief. I was frustrated at his seeming refusal to genuinely listen to what I was saying when what I was really wanting was someone to listen to me and someone to understand me.

It seems that many asexuals have experiences like these. They face the common belief that not being straight means that you're gay; they face disbelief that someone claiming to be asexual might actually be asexual. The (supposed) hetero/homosexual binary and anti-homosexual prejudice combine to reinforce heteronormativity: anyone who isn't straight enough is suspected of being gay and at risk of being ridiculed for it (whether it's true or not). The result often is feigned heterosexuality. Under this ideology, asserting asexuality can easily be seen as a way of hiding being gay, as though there might be some other reason for failing to conform to hegemonic heterosexuality and socially prescribed gender roles. Acceptance and understanding of sexual diversity doesn't tend to be a top priority for those enforcing heteronormativity.

But the (supposed) hetero/homsexual binary can also combine with acceptance of gay men and lesbians to counteract acceptance of asexuality. The (quite correct) belief that many people with same-sex attractions can be hesitant to acknowledge these may be used to explain away claims of asexuality. "It's okay just to say that you're a lesbian." etc.

For those asserting their own asexuality, if they hear the (maybe)you're-gay-response--whether in forms intended to demean ("You're gay!") or in forms intended to help ("Have you considered the possibility that you might be gay?")--this can be very frustrating. If someone is saying they’re asexual, it's probably only after they've seriously thought about the matter, it's probably because they're wanting acceptance or because they're wanting to challenge false assumptions people are making about them. Like other annoying responses--"You're just a late bloomer", "You're repressed", "You just haven't met the right person yet"--the main function of the (maybe)you're-gay-response is to find some explanation for a claim of asexuality without acknowledging the possibility that the person might actually be asexual.

This response is frustrating because I'm wanting someone to listen to me and it communicates to me that they aren’t listening, that they aren’t taking me seriously, that they aren’t seriously entertaining the possibility that I might know what I'm talking about when I'm explaining my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

This response is annoying because of course I've considered the possibility that I'm gay. I've considered it and considered it again. And time after time, I've read experiences of asexuals who seriously wondered if they're gay because if you’re not straight, that’s the only widely acknowledged alternative in their cultures. I've heard of a number of asexuals who came to the conclusion that they're gay or that they're bi--even ones who have come out as such--only to later realize that they were just fooling themselves and belatedly accept their asexuality.

Another problem with this response is that people who don't experience sexual attraction may experience romantic attraction, so it is perfectly possible to a gay asexual or a lesbian asexual; it's possible to be a bi-romantic asexual.(I found an interesting thread from a homoromantic asexual who, before learning about asexuality, felt he could neither affirm or deny assertions that he must be gay.) On the other hand, it’s naïve to think people who’ve never heard of asexuality would know this.

But there's another reason I find the (maybe)you're-gay-response troubling. Even if it's true, so what? Why should experiencing same-sex attraction invalidate asexual identity? There is no reason why identity labels have to be static. There is no reason that asexual identity should only be accepted if it will apply forever. The blogger The Venus of Willendork asks in a recent post (Hide and Seek) asks what's wrong with temporally identifying as asexual as a safe space to try to figure things out? Some people may not be willing to acknowledge their sexuality, so what’s wrong with identifying as asexual, hanging out in the asexual community, learning about sexuality without pressure to be sexual and where self-acceptance and self-understanding are so highly valued? And then, after they’ve figured things out, they can identify differently if that's what they feel makes sense for them.

About a year ago on AVEN, there was a thread called Self-discovery =) in which someone who had been actively involved on AVEN for a while and had identified as asexual, acknowledged that she wasn't asexual. She was a lesbian but, because of her background, she had been unwilling to recognize even the possibility of attraction to women. However, far from saying that her experience on AVEN and her time of identifying as asexual was a bad thing, she felt that it was hugely helpful for figuring herself out. For her, even though she ended up deciding she wasn't asexual, the time spent identifying as such helped in a process of self-discovery. What's so bad about that?


Isaac said...

Yeah, this is an option I'm given when I show disinterest for women. As you pointed out, I don't know if it's worse when it comes from homophobic or gay-friendly people. In case of homophobes, they believe you if you aren't effeminate or show gayness features. In case of gay-friendly, they may not believe you and may think that you are gay in denial. If this suspicion of gayness vanishes, a homophobe might be better, since they won't bother you again. If you got a reputation of gay in denial, a homophobe is worse.

If there weren't this false dichotomy, one may discard being gay if he shows the same disinterest (or more) for men as for women.

Anonymous said...

So are you saying you forced yourself into a homoromantic crush (which you had never truly had before) to get rid of an unwanted heteroromantic crush? That seems kind of creepy - I don't mean so much because of the gay angle, but because I can't imagine forcing myself to re-orient my whole worldview to solve a temporary problem. I hope I'm misunderstanding you.

pretzelboy said...

I don't think that developing (partly intentionally) a homo(quasi)romantic crush is particularly creepy or a reorientation of my whole world view. Because a lot of anti-gay rhetoric is all about getting people to "change" and become straight, there has been a lot of emphasis on the immutability of sexual orientaiton. And for a lot of people, this is true to their experiences. But there are some people who experience a certain amount of fluidity regarding their attractions. And there are some people who first experienced attraction to someone as the same gender as themselves after becoming open to the possibility. Partly, this is what this was for me. Becoming open to the possibility is part of what made it possible. Also, I had never had such a long-standing intellectual crush on anyone before, and that is another part of what made it possible.