Coming Out Experiences

I don’t know of how much interest it is to anyone, but this should give my personal posts a little more context, for what it’s worth.

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The first time I talked to anyone about my orientation and the possibility of not-being-straight-ness, I was speaking the bisexual friend I’ve alluded to before, my copilot and confidant, and she was listening to me talk through my confusion and anxieties over what to call myself, which involved a lot of negotiating what I thought was a discrepancy between my aesthetic and sensual attractions to people, my vague partnership interests, and the complete lack of appeal inherent to any configuration of genitals.  Sexual attraction isn’t based on that alone, granted, but that’s how I framed it at the time.  Since she already knew about asexuality herself and we’d had brief conversations about the concept before, I knew she was a safe person to talk to about this, but I’m still grateful and relieved to think back and remember how her reactions were to all this were just to make thoughtful acknowledgement noises and let me keep talking.

It was kind of during this conversation, I think, that I realized instead of picking between asexual and heterosexual, it’d really be best to call myself gray-a.  By some accounts, the asexual label would still be an appropriate label for me, but regardless of which one I’m closer to, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m somewhere on the asexual spectrum, and that was the scariest part to come to terms with — because that phrase provides yet another way for people to invalidate me.

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The next person I came out to was my mom, when I had just started wearing an ace ring and she noticed it and asked me about it, just like I was wishing for and hoping against.  I stammered a nervous explanation and she made her “what is this liberal BS” annoyed face and asked me how it was different from chastity, but that was it.  She didn’t say much of anything.  I’m still not sure how much she understands.  Since every subsequent effort to casually bring it up in conversation has been met with the annoyed face, I’m afraid to bring it up again.  She did promise to post something for AAW next year though, probably to pacify me after a quasi-fight we had.

I tried coming out to my sister and that was a disaster that involved the words “Why does everyone have to be a special snowflake?” and I’m not going to dwell on what happened there.

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I’ve told only a few people after that.  Once, to correct an implied assumption that I’m straight, and another time, because someone reached for my ace ring to investigate whether it was a mood ring — an act that was more physically invasive than I’d like to have happen without any warning.  If you’re going to grab at me in the midst of conversation, at least let me know about it first, and give me the option to tell you to keep your hands to yourself, thanks.

Both of these situations made me very nervous, but nothing much happened as a result, and the only follow-up question happened on a different day, after I had described a guy in my econ class as attractive.  “So… for you, he’s like… eye candy?”  Uh, not how I’d describe it, but yes.

In both of these instances, the people involved were young women whom I don’t have much social contact with and who were unlikely to cause any serious consequences.  What I’m saying is that I’m a coward and there are a lot of people close to me I haven’t told yet.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the counselor who works at my school.  I told her too, since, well, she’d asked about my weekend, and since we’d been talking about the issue of me being an incompetent shut-in who can’t make friends, I felt obligated to tell her that my copilot and I had driven to another city for an ace meetup — something she treated like much more of a success than it felt like.

I haven’t come out to any men.

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Those stories are the positives, the people I’ve felt just safe enough with to let it slip, the times when I haven’t encountered any serious backlash.  By telling you just those stories, I would be giving you an incomplete picture, which is why this post is also going to be about some of the people I’ve deliberately not told.

These people include the room full of articulate, outspoken classmates who said nothing, who sat in silence, when during a lecture, an English professor speaking on The Turn of the Screw asked us if we, too, wouldn’t “go a little crazy” if we had to go through college without any sexual outlet.  I should have stood up and shouted “I’M A VIRGIN AND I’M NOT CRAZY AT ALL” but can’t imagine that would have gone over well.

These people include the genial, well-meaning acquaintance of mine whom I overheard telling a story about his friend, relating how he’d been told, “I used to not understand what the big deal with [band name] was.  Then I had sex.”  I had no idea what he meant by that, and this was the first time, ever, that my inexperience made me feel like I was actually missing something important.

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Nor do I want to tell the dude who decided to remark upon my conversation with the copilot — a conversation centered on my confusion at why sex is treated like some mandatory rite of passage for adolescent men, like they’re less of a person without it, like it’s something to be sought after not as though it’s like any other means of enjoyment but like it’s a specific requirement for adequate status and personhood, like it’s something you Have To do or else your wacky friends will arrange something for you, in a raunchy comedy movie, probably.  Neglecting the context and any of the particulars of this conversation and also the fact that I wasn’t talking to him, this annoying kid next to us butted in to offer the viewpoint that “sex changes the way you see the world”… which was a rather opaque idea that he failed to explain and which I didn’t know what to make of (and I later asked the copilot, who has had sex before, what he could have meant by this, but she didn’t seem to understand it either and was just as annoyed).

Then, his girlfriend, knowing that I’m a prude, spoke up acting like she needed to convince me that “sex feels good” as if this was new and revelatory information.  I wanted to throw up my hands and be like “WOW, REALLY?  IN ALL MY LIFE, NO ONE HAS EVER COMMUNICATED THAT PERSPECTIVE TO ME BEFORE.  NEVER WOULD HAVE GUESSED.”  I don’t remember how I actually responded to her — probably some quick, exasperated “I know that” — but given that I couldn’t answer “I know that from personal experience”, I got the vibe that she was skeptical, and she probably attributed my confusion at the patterns of our culture to me being a narrow-minded virgin or something, as if having sex would just clear all this up.

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Through a convoluted string of events, this one guy ended up finding out about my orientation via the copilot, which was okay with me because I thought we’d never meet in person, and then we did meet in person, and at the time it kind of escaped my mind that he knew, and it didn’t seem important… until he started being really awkward about the fact that I’m not interested in boobs.  We were talking about shirtlessness (don’t ask) and, in response to the idea that both men and women have boobs, he was like “Well, some boobs are better than others,” before gesturing to me and saying, “But then again, I recognize that I’m saying this to the… asexual person in the room.”

And then he just gave me this look like he was expecting something from me (confirmation?  denial?  an explanation of some sort?) and I just kinda… looked back at him, like thanks for making this more awkward than it has to be.  Maybe it’s a function of me being socially awkward in the first place, but I didn’t know what to do with someone blatantly pointing out my orientation in a way that, in context, didn’t further the conversation in any meaningful way.  Maybe he was trying to be funny.  If so, he failed.  All it did was spawn a pause in the discussion that left me thinking “Uh… why’d you do that, man?”

It didn’t seem that bad at the time, but lest anyone think he was trying to express acceptance in his own fumbling way, he 1) looked pretty uncomfortable as he said it, and 2) later told the copilot that I’ll “change [my] mind some day”.

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The one who’s made me the most afraid to come out, though, is the girl who refused to accept my disinterest in going to frat parties.  I made the mistake of mentioning my ethnography project to her, as well as that fact that I still hadn’t decided what part of campus to study.  She suggested I go to one of the frat parties on campus.  There are a number of reasons why that would be a bad idea, the first of which being that I’d never been to any before, ever, and lugging a notebook along to jot down observations didn’t seem like a good way to start.  But this girl was persistent, and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t just the idea of persuading me to go a frat party ethnography she was intent on — she had this agenda that “you need to get out of your comfort zone”.

Nevermind the fact that being badgered about going to parties and being told I need to get out of my comfort zone already puts me out of my comfort zone.  I’m sure pointing that out wouldn’t have been enough for her.

She framed it as if she was encouraging something important for my personal development, which she probably thought it was, but it just came off like she was uncomfortable with the way I’m living my life and wanted to push me in a different direction for the sake of new experiences or something, out of some arbitrary notion that it would be good for me.  I get that people are keen on the idea of adventure/exploration/breaking routine/trying things/being “open-minded” or whatever, but having someone argue with me to “just try it!” for the sake of trying alone only tells me that people don’t put stock in my ability to perform a proper evaluation.  I can decide that for myself, thanks.  People have a right to say no.  I have various reasons for feeling certain that frat parties would not be enjoyable for me, but she wasn’t curious what those reasons could be because she had already made up her mind that no valid reasons could exist.

When I told her I already do get out of my comfort zone, she started pressing me with questions about it, like I’m supposed to present credentials.  When?  How many times this week?

I just gave her a look like she needed to chill out and terminated the conversation there.

If an angry and emphatic “just try it” is her reaction to a disinterest in parties, you can imagine what her reaction to the asexual spectrum might be like.

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She did the same thing again, later, when I declined to play a board game with her.  Well, okay, it’s not a board game, exactly, but it has cards and it comes in a box labeled Dirty Minds, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

I told her I didn’t want to play it, and she got really frustrated with me.

It’s all very strange, since she’s the atheist pothead, and I’m the religious straight-edge, and this is not at all what the cultural narratives say is supposed to happen in this situation.  Shouldn’t I be the one trying to harass her about her life choices?  Not that I would.  I’d already made a habit of leaving her alone and had always tried to keep out of her way, but that wasn’t enough for her.  My mere existence, it seemed like, was enough to annoy her into trying to push her beliefs on me.

Anyway, when an explanation of the game’s rules and gameplay didn’t persuade me, she gave me this rambling, inarticulate lecture whose vague thesis seemed to be something to the effect of… that I need to change, somehow (it was kinda hard to tell, since her argumentation skills are astonishingly terrible, but it was apparent from her gestures and expressions and the way her voice cracked that she was getting very worked up over me).

Part of the problem was that she spent half the time insisting “It’s just because of the name!  Admit it!” and she took way too long to notice that I was just standing there nodding whenever she said so and was offering no resistance whatsoever to admitting it.  I don’t know how many times she told me “You just won’t admit it!” before I interrupted to say “I am admitting it.”  That caught her off guard, and then she was even more confused, with this look on her face like she couldn’t process what she was hearing — but then she just went off again, making another scattered and disorganized argument that I struggled to make sense of.

If she had just asked some simple questions or expressed any interest in hearing my perspective at all, she might’ve learned more about why I wouldn’t expect to enjoy the game, but she thought she already knew what I was thinking, and so she didn’t ask, and so I didn’t get the opportunity to tell her.  It would have greatly improved the structure of her argument if she had any idea what she was arguing against — but that never occurred to her.  And so she just got more and more angry with the fact that I hadn’t been convinced yet.  She kept talking in circles until she couldn’t think of anything, at which point she would pause, and I’d ask her if I could leave now, and then she’d say “No!”, call me rude for asking, and start off on me again.

When I told someone about this later, they told me I should’ve just left without her permission.  The thing is, I’m a sucker for hearing people out when they criticize me, even if they’re bad at making their case, on the off chance that they might have a fragment of a point somewhere.  I’m not perfect and I need to keep my ears open for good advice, even from the unlikeliest places.  I wanted to at least let her have her say — again, she was very upset and it must’ve been important to her — and hearing her out would make sure I gave her every fair chance I could offer.  This mostly consisted of me patiently standing there while she monologued and made disappointed faces at me.

By the end, when she’d run out of steam, she decided to up and leave, concluding that I’m just “really stubborn and really narrow-minded” and that it frustrates her.  I can infer that she associates these traits with my refusal to go to frat parties and play sexual innuendo games, among other things, but that rests on the presumption that my refusal to do either of these things must be a result of failing to give them due consideration.

It did not seem to occur to her that their might be any way to give such things a fair evaluation and come to the conclusion that it would be better not to try them.  Granted, there might be a flaw in said evaluation, but she didn’t try to look for one.  She just assumed that’s it’s not possible I could have given it any consideration in the first place. My choices were choices she couldn’t empathize with, so she assumed they must be predicated by something illegitimate.

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Given that I’ve experienced this kind of treatment, I’m apprehensive about how most people would respond to my orientation.

And these are just the experiences that I feel comfortable talking about.

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One response to “Coming Out Experiences

  • toafan

    I’m posting this here mostly because this made me think of it. Probably there are better places for this idea and better ways to phrase it as well and I should find them and put it there too.

    The big difference between chastity and asexuality is one of intent. Basically, chastity is broadly characterized by “I want to, but I am/will not”, whereas asexuality is broadly characterized by “wait, why would I want to?”

    (Hopefully the gist of that paragraph will be useful to someone.)

    The other differences stem from the underlying one.

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