Ace Off Base: What It’s Like to Be Asexual in an Overly-Sexual World

An essay I wrote about my asexuality.


If someone were to ask me what being asexual is like, the first thing I’d say is it possibly can’t be explained.

Obviously, I know no other way. I can’t put myself in the shoes of someone who cares about relationships and sex. My brain is different, already so by my autism, but further by my asexuality, so basically, I never had even a faint hope of understanding what it’s like to be “normal.” We speak a different language (call ourselves “ace,” call non-romantic crushes “squishes”) but it’s more than that. It’s not like you’re speaking Russian and I’m speaking Swahili. It’s like you’re shouting, and I can’t make a single sound. We’re never going to understand one another, because while all I hear is you, you cannot hear me.

Let me try to explain it. Imagine you’re a football fan. Football is the entire thrust and focus of your being, first thing you think of upon waking, last thing you muse on before you drift off. Now imagine 99.9 percent of everyone you’ve ever met feels exactly the same. Now imagine every day is the Super Bowl. Football is all anyone’s concerned about, all anyone talks about, and if you’re not a football fan, people give you sideways glances. They whisper about what’s wrong with you. If they’re your parent, they say they’re sorry for you, as mine did. A famous game on this day and every other takes on an importance that you don’t understand, because to you, it’s just a group of athletes passing a ball while everyone watches. This “everyone” is part of an enormous inside joke being played on you, by everyone. It always has been. You go to sleep every night knowing the game will be just as crucial, just as prevalent when you wake up. You cannot change this, and you know even given the chance to do so you wouldn’t. The good of the many, and all that.

I grew up with three sisters. As a teenager, before I knew the term “asexuality,” I assumed on and on that I was just a late bloomer. I watched my sisters stare pouting into mirrors, endlessly searching for the right piece of clothing (which they apparently did not own) that would make them look not “fat.” (Side note: None of my sisters are fat and never have been, I’M the overweight one.) I listened to the endless “I don’t think he likes me,” “What if he’s cheating on me,” “Why won’t he call me back” as baffled as any human would be by Martian. I didn’t know how to comfort them, if indeed there was ever any right thing to say. I did the same thing with my friends who all in time grew away from me. They were all focused on the opposite sex, while I was contentedly absorbed in my books and writing.

There were signs early on. My sisters used to tease me and call me a prude when I’d look away from kissing scenes on a TV screen, because the thought of two separate human beings swallowing each other’s saliva was and is nauseating to me. All my crushes were weird even to me, because even the non-celebrity ones, the boys I knew, I never wanted to date them. I just liked the look and the personality of them, was glad they existed. Had any of them asked me on a date, I think I would’ve run away. After a gastric bypass years ago, I lost a ton of weight (not literally) and started getting hit on. I think that was a major reason why I gained the weight back as quick as I could.

It caused problems sometimes. I would point to poverty-stricken countries and say, “Why don’t they just stop reproducing if they can’t feed their children?” Because they don’t have contraception, Athlynne. “Why don’t they just not have sex?” Not everyone can do that, Athlynne. Not everyone is like you. Oh, believe me, I know. When I bemoaned one sister’s serial monogamy, my mother agreed with me, but reminded me that not everyone is okay without sex.

Sex. Another thing on the screen I turned away from. I’ll freely admit I’ve never done it and never will. It looks and sounds painful, messy, intrusive. This aversion is not judgment. I don’t think sex is wrong or anything, though I think it’s practiced much too freely and should be reserved for committed relationships and marriage. I just can’t and won’t do it, because aside from a vague curiosity that began in my early 20s, there is no incentive to overcome my revulsion and take the plunge. I’ve never wanted to have kids, naturally at least, and am entirely aromantic, and thus it would not even be a compromise I’m willing to make for the sake of a relationship; I have no desire for a partner. I understand many people can’t understand that. Believe me, from my side, the opposite looks just as weird.

Once years ago, for a college gender studies class I did my final project on asexuality, doing a presentation for my teacher and small class that was very well-received (and got me an A). I concluded it by asking if there were any questions. There was just one, spoken hesitantly by a very polite girl, and it was what my mother has asked me before, maternal guilt and concern audible in it; it was the ultimate question I think all asexuals are asked, in different turns of phrase, over a spectrum of intentions, through a myriad of ways people see us, from utter bewilderment to my classmate’s careful pity:

“Like…don’t you get lonely?”

I honestly have no memory of what answer I gave her, beyond it being a laughing-off reassurance that no, you can’t miss what you’ve never had, but it’s not exactly that. It’s more like the playing kids two blocks away have lost their ball down a sewer drain, and they’re genuinely surprised why you aren’t as disappointed as they. I was not part of the game, I only heard the noise of it in the background of the day. Perhaps it’s like when I express sadness for my many-years-vegan sister that she can’t eat bacon. She doesn’t miss it, it’s been so long that she might as well have never tasted meat, and what I often crave doesn’t exist in her world, except as some gross thing that belongs to other people.

Every day is that one in January when all minds are on the field, the rituals surrounding the game are performed. Even people who never watch sports sit and ask questions about the rules, and viewers who once played themselves reminisce about a youth in which how you handled that ball was so, so for some reason important. But my hands never touched that ball. If they had, I would not have known who to throw to, and when, and why it matters so much not to fumble. I can’t be like other women who join in on the guys’ excitement, who get into it themselves, if only because after all, it’s only one day. It’s not.

It’s every day. Because I do not want either of the options on the couch, the enraptured man or the agreeable woman, I am not what you could call lonely. Lonely is not the same as alone. One is sad by definition, while the other is what you make of it. You can surround yourself with platonic and family love if that’s what you desire, or you can hold yourself a world apart, or you can mix the two. My sisters still speak the Swahili of romantic hopes, I still answer in the Russian of special interests, but somehow, we can hear each other. Enough to remain close, at least. Maybe they secretly feel bad for me, but no more so, certainly, than I feel for them. They think I’m missing out, I think they’re overwhelmed, and meanwhile, we all strive for some happy middle place, a common ground. Maybe life is about trying to get there, whether we do or not.

The last thing I would say about asexuality, if asked, is that, even if explained to an outsider, it probably can’t be understood. But if the same was asked of the other team, even if someone tried to cross the field to me and explain the vastness of sexuality, of what it’s like to be them, I doubt I would understand. As though God or whatever you call it, in the words of Tennyson, “put our lives so far apart, we cannot hear each other speak.”

Author: athlynne

"From mirror after mirror, No vanity's displayed. I'm looking for the face I had Before the world was made." - W.B. Yeats

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