By Shambhavi Saxena
Why LGBTQ+ Series? Read here.
I think I'm most aware of it when I'm watching something. My eyes roll back in their sockets as far as they will, and I will groan the usual “Oh no, not this again.” I'm most aware of it when a sex scene comes on and I can't think of it as anything but a rude interruption to an otherwise engaging plotline. Oh, this isn't prudishness. I'll be the first to advocate for free, enthusiastic, consensual relations between adults. I've got nothing against sex. I'm just a raging asexual.
What's asexual, you ask? And of course you ask, because how many of our rare breed have you ever seen on TV or in real life? Broadly, it is a lack of sexual attraction towards any gender. But that doesn’t quite cover the asexual spectrum (yes, I said spectrum) which includes multiple other identities like demisexual, autochorissexual, gray-asexual and more.
And everybody forgets to mention that sexual orientation is separate from romantic attraction (some asexuals are in relationships!), sensual attractions (some asexuals enjoy physical intimacy that is not sex!) or aesthetic attraction (some asexual think you fine, but don’t wanna bang), and that all four of these categories apply to persons of all gender identities. Amazing, it’s almost like humans are a diverse species or something. Who knew?
But all this information wasn’t always available, and especially not while I was in school.
Not having the word alone, meant having to choose between liking boys and liking girls, when the thought of either never gave you proverbial butterflies, just the dry feeling being stuck between a rock and a hard place. As if high school wasn't hard enough, here was the less than thrilling prospect of being surrounded by peers who had had their ‘magical’ sexual awakenings. And then there was me, ‘high-maintenance girl,’ the ‘ice queen,’ the ‘late-bloomer.’
I must have pushed sex to ‘NBD’ status (no big deal) by my late teens. Don't get me wrong, I did my reading. Boy, did I do my reading. I got a primer in sex education pretty early, by pestering my parents with questions and raiding encyclopaedias, and online forums that boldly had the words “menstruation” and “clitoris” and “orgasm.”
But it was always a more academic approach, always a mildly intrigued eye peering through a microscope at a world I thought I could leave behind when I took the slide off the tray.
Of course, I couldn't really leave it behind, because I wasn't the eye. I felt more like a speck of dust trapped under a glass slide, the intruder, the outsider, the misfit. By the time I was 12, and my classmates were refusing to say the word “pen” (it came too close to the other thing) I was already starting to tire of sexuality. It was also the year I taught myself to make pencil sketches, the year I had guitar lessons, the year of sleepovers with my girlfriends.
But all these new experiences became new sources of irritation too: the women I tried to draw off the backs of magazines wore too many “come hither” looks; the songs I disjointedly strummed told me that everybody had to want sex; and sleepovers were routinely punctuated by uncomfortable episodes of “who would you do?”
Sex was the market place, think Sarojini Nagar on a Sunday, and even though I wasn't buying, I was just being carried along by the crowd.
I didn’t start identifying as asexual until very recently. I turned the word around in my head a lot before I began turning it around my tongue. But that’s the preliminary almost every queer person goes through - to ask, gingerly, if I wasn't making a mistake, if I wasn't too young to know, thinking that all of the doubt fed to me was true, so that I'd never be as confident as my best friend when she says “I'm straight,” because being straight is ‘normal,’ and ‘common,’ but being asexual makes you ‘broken.’
But I knew I wasn’t broken, and I wanted to grab the world by the lapels and have them know it too. So I came out. And I came out again. And round about the fifth time it lost its charm. The person I was coming out to was very nice about it, but the role of personal educator being thrust on me was an all-new challenge I wasn’t ready to accept. No matter how respectfully people pose their questions, it still feels like I’m back under that glass slide, with an eye looking down at me.
People who come out always risk being reduced to their sexuality. A proclamation of pride becomes a prefix, and a search word. The Lesbian Artist, the Bisexual Swimmer, The Transgender Actor - just like the Lady CFO. The power to invoke our own identity markers gets taken away from us, and then it doesn’t matter anymore that I love snail mail, or make mix-tapes for my friends, or photograph the dogs I meet, or the multiple other things that make me who I am. Amazingly, I get reduced to the one thing I’m not doing. And there are always questions.
What's life without sex, you will ask incredulously. Don't kid yourself, even on your best day you’re not going to last more than 30 minutes. That still leaves you with 1410 minutes without sex, and I'm sure you get by just fine.
Newsflash: I get by just fine too, and I get a 30-minute advantage. Alright, passive-aggressive ace mode off. To me, sex is just an optional activity that some people do some of the time, like play video games or shop for groceries. Though sometimes, I’ll admit, it takes on grander political dimensions.
On the outside looking in, I have no stakes in the game, and maybe that makes me privy to patterns and politics that might escape some. I get a detached view of things, and not putting a partner’s face to what goes on in the bedroom (or car or closet?) helps me think about sexual politics a little differently. Things like consent and bodily rights become a little sharper, a little more pronounced for me. As I demand for the right of many of my peers to have sex, I demand for my right not to. Because saying “I'm asexual” is as useless as “I'm not interested” or “I have a boyfriend,” and it only proves to me that aces also need to be smashing the cis-hetero-patriarchy.
I'm not a medical condition. I’m not a brahmachari. I'm not sitting on a gay-fence. I'm not your Friday night challenge. I’m asexual, and I'll say it over and over until you're tired of it. Because I’m tired too, of seeing ace people condescended at by heterosexuals, and sneered at by “real” queers; of never finding the media that represents me and what I feel like; of having to explain myself, like the infraction is mine, and not yours, because you have the privilege of never thinking about yourself the way I think about me.
I’m tired, but if my math is right, I’ve got about 10,950 minutes for every day I’m not having sex to recuperate, get back on my feet, and remind you again: asexuals are real, and valid, and will fight for visibility and respect - for themselves and every systematically marginalized group.
Are sex and gender the same? Or are they different? Confused? Read our explainer here.
There's a lot more to LGBTQ+ than the rainbow filter in your profile picture. Read our comprehensive explainer here.