Few things grate on me quite as much as the question “Is there anyone special in your life?”
People who ask this question are always very nice and well meaning, but what they’re really asking is if I’m in a long-term sexual relationship with someone. Living in a liberal community, people are usually careful to be gender-neutral about asking this question, but all the same, they ask it. Because they can’t imagine someone living voluntarily alone and they assume I must have “someone special.”
The thing is, though, I don’t. Not like they mean. Because I’m asexual, and I’m not just asexual, I’m aromantic.
Asexuality in a nutshell means that I don’t experience sexual attraction. For me personally, sex is just not something I am very interested in, as a thing, with all due respect to those who find it very interesting. I went there, I saw that, I bought the T-shirt, and I use it when I’m working in the garden and need some schlubby clothes. I’m glad to have had that experience, it may happen again at some point in the future, but it’s not high on my priority list.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all asexual people feel this way; asexuality is huge and very diverse and complex and I am only one tiny facet of it. Some of us have sex, some of us consume (and make) porn, and it gets even more tangled when you start talking about aromantic and romantic relationships. But I don’t want to throw you into the deep end without any water wings here, so let’s not get too complicated.
Some of us are in long-term intimate relationships, pursue romance, are interested in deep emotional connections with a romantic element. Others, like me, definitely have intense personal relationships, but without elements of sex or romance.
Experiencing a lack of sexual attraction doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to people -- I am, just not sexually. I’m attracted to giant sexy brains filled with amazing ideas. And I have deep, emotionally complex relationships with people whom I fiercely love and adore; just not sexually. Or romantically.
There’s a devaluation that happens with relationships that are intimate, but not necessarily sexual in nature, and I hear that devaluation every time I get asked if I have “someone special” in my life. The answer to that question, of course, is “YES!” I have several special people in my life. People whom I love deeply and am very intimate with, rely upon for support, support in turn, and consider very close partners. They are not romantic or sexual partners, but that doesn’t make our relationships less valid or less strong.
Nor do our relationships devalue those they have with other partners; there’s an interconnected web, a network of support that happens.
One of my close partners is married, and has a great, intimate, loving relationship with her husband. Her husband and I bring very different things to our relationships with her; we aren’t competitors, we aren’t in conflict. By the same token, neither of us is subordinate to the other, or “more important” in her eyes, although society would dismiss me as a “close friend.”
Intimate asexual relationships have been a part of human life for a very, very long time. Numerous cultures have a long tradition of accepting asexual relationships, not just as something before marriage that is put away when you put on the rings, but as an important part of your life. Acceptance of such relationships in mainstream US culture, though, is not as widespread.
Which means that there’s a lot of confusion about what, exactly, it means to be asexual. When I talk about asexuality, I tend to get a lot of questions about whether we’re all prudes, or just afraid of sex. Many assume that asexuality is rooted in aversion. Asexuality is also framed as a “not,” something we don’t do, rather than as a more complex and complete identity.
Or people start to get very tangled with the jargon of asexuality, which, let me tell you, is some seriously complicated stuff. Asexuality has its own Wiki. We have our own advice columnists who discuss topics like mixed relationships, which in the case of asexuality involves relationships where one partner is ace and the other is not.
There’s an assumption that I must be missing something in my life if I’m not playing backseat bingo, but I actually have a pretty rich, complex, full and interesting life. Not having sex or being interested in romance doesn’t mean I live a lonely and tragic existence!
Nor does it mean that I have any interest in pushing asexuality on anyone else; as we like to say, it’s an identity you should use if it works for you. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. I don’t hate people who have sex or think that sex is gross and bad. It just doesn’t interest me.
This insistence that “someone special” equals “someone you are having sex with” doesn’t just leave asexuals out in the cold. Lots of sexual people also have deep, meaningful relationships with people who are not sexual partners and will never be. Those relationships are much more than the word “friendship” can adequately describe, yet they’re often treated as less important than a marriage or long term sexual/romantic relationship.
I’ll leave you with this thought: “Ace” is both a slang term for “asexual” and “awesome.” Make of that what you will.