The Invisible "A"
The first time I heard the word “asexual”, I was in a ninth-grade Biology class. We were discussing cell reproduction, my teacher standing before the projector, lecturing and gesturing to the board, which depicted animated cells splitting in two. These cells, we learned, did not need one another to create new life. All that was necessary was the one. To me, this word, “asexual” became a term that was associated with science and plant cells, not people. I never even thought of applying it to myself until years later.
If one were to look up the definition of asexual in a dictionary (under the noun description), they will likely find something along the lines of “a person who has no sexual feelings and desires”. This is a good broad definition, but the reality of asexual (or “ace” for short) individuals is much more complex than that. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, much like being gay or being straight is, and it is defined by a lack of sexual desire. It is not a widely- discussed topic, and so often people’s understanding of it is rife with misconceptions. I know mine was until I did some research.
Growing up, I never really got the entire “attraction” thing. It was lonely, never really caring about or understanding what makes a person “hot”. Or why you would want someone to press their lips against yours. Although I didn't have these desires towards others, my peers did, and I began to feel abnormal. I recall being fourteen and randomly selecting a kid from my class as my “crush”, just so I could have a talking point when sleepover conversations inevitably turned to boys. My aversion towards sexuality became an aversion to dating in general. By this time, I had heard of asexuality from a girl at school, and had turned to the internet to learn more. I was thrilled to find information and communities supporting the fact that I was not alone. However, I still equated asexuality with singleness, and had a lot to learn.
Asexuality as an identity is something that is very often confused with other identities. As science progresses and we learn more and more about sexuality, people are know tending to see it as a spectrum. Like being asexual, aromantacism (or a lack of romantic attraction) is also widely misunderstood. Often, the two are seen as the same thing, or always existing in tandem with one another. In the media, asexuality generally has not been depicted in an accurate manner. Popular characters that are thought to be “asexual” (such as Sherlock Holmes and The Doctor from Doctor Who) are portrayed as emotionless and cold, perpetuating the idea that asexuals “cannot love”. Depictions such as these also seem to reinforce the idea that asexuality dictates singleness, which is not the case. Ace individuals can indeed experience romantic attraction, and many are in romantic partnerships.
There is also the issue of asexual erasure in the LGBTQ+ community. Sometimes, the acronym will include an “I” (for intersex) or an “A” at the end, making it LGBTQIA. For years, I had mistakenly thought that the “A” stood for “ally” based off of a comment I once heard. Only after doing my research did I learn that the “A” was really for ace people like myself.
Currently, there is not an abundance of asexual people representated in mainstream media, though this is changing. Explicitly asexual characters are beginning to show up in television, such as Todd Chavez from Bojack Horseman. This so far has raised general awareness about the topic, even though we still have a ways to go as a society.
If you are asexual, know that you are not alone. You are not broken. You are allowed to feel the way you do, and even celebrate it. And if you love someone who is asexual, please do your best to support and listen. Together, we can work towards a world where everyone feels free to be who they truly are.
Written By Gracie Nordgren