• Hayley Williams compares the experiences of coming out as bisexual and asexual. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
Even when the word asexual finally entered my lexicon, it created more questions than answers.
By
Hayley Williams

6 Nov 2019 - 10:34 AM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2019 - 9:14 AM

When I came out to my parents as bisexual, it felt like little more than a warning to an already progressive family that I may end up bringing a woman to our Christmas lunch instead of a man. But when friends ask if I’ve come out to them as asexual, my answer is no. But should I have to?

I’ve been largely out as asexual for about a year now. I wish I could say that coming out was a big, world-changing, cathartic moment for me, but the closure it promises is often elusive. In most traditional coming out stories, the first person you come out to is yourself. My experience in coming out as asexual, however, felt like it happened in tandem with my personal journey to claim that identity.

While being bisexual is not an easy experience for everyone, for me it was relatively simple. I knew from my teenage years that I wasn’t just attracted to men, and the process of coming out as bi was only as difficult as my audience was conservative. The idea of coming out as asexual was far more intimidating – I felt as though my experience wasn’t ‘ace’ (asexual) enough, that I would be denied by the community I was trying to join.

The idea of coming out as asexual was far more intimidating – I felt as though my experience wasn’t ‘ace’ (asexual) enough, that I would be denied by the community I was trying to join.

I had known for some time that I didn’t feel sexual attraction the way most people seemed to, but for much of my life I just didn’t have a word for it. I used to peruse lists of LGBTQIA+ identities like I was browsing a restaurant menu with a really specific craving. “Which one of these matches the feeling inside me? Which one of these is a better alternative to ‘there’s something wrong with me?’”

Even when the word asexual finally entered my lexicon, it created more questions than answers. What if I just haven’t met the right person yet? What if it’s just my depression sabotaging my libido? Why would I masturbate if I’m really asexual? What if what I’m feeling is normal and other people just push through it? What if I’m just too anxious to pursue sex?

The first person I ever came out to was a friend who had long been open about their asexuality. The conversation was a long one, where my friend corrected me on many common misconceptions about asexuality. The ‘coming out’, when it finally happened, felt a lot more like asking for permission - “this is how I feel about sex… do you think I could be ‘ace’?”

Even when I felt solid in my own private identity, it took me a long time to share that discovery with the world – mainly because the world still struggles to understand what asexuality really is.

Even when I felt solid in my own private identity, it took me a long time to share that discovery with the world – mainly because the world still struggles to understand what asexuality really is. While some asexuals are sex-repulsed, others will be interested in sex in certain situations, as a lack of sexual attraction doesn’t always mean a lack of sexual drive.

As someone in the latter category, navigating the world of dating felt like an ongoing experiment. Before I was truly comfortable identifying as ace, I broached the topic with people I met on dates, though I often struggled to put my feelings into words.

“I’m still interested in sex, but it’s not attraction to you that makes me want to have sex. Sorry, that sounds meaner than I meant it – I like you and find you attractive in a lot of ways, just not sexually, but if I’m going to have sex with someone then I would rather it be you than some random off the street.”

I’m sure that hiding my asexuality would have been much simpler than my poor attempts at explaining it, but doing so would mean sacrificing my own needs for the sake of comfort. When I do enjoy sex, it’s different to the way a sexual person would, so good communication is vital.

After many awkward fumbles, I worried that identifying as ace would restrict my potential to date people I was romantically interested in, or cut me off from the few sexual experiences I might have otherwise enjoyed.

After many awkward fumbles, I worried that identifying as ace would restrict my potential to date people I was romantically interested in, or cut me off from the few sexual experiences I might have otherwise enjoyed. Initially I came out as ‘grey asexual’ - meaning someone who is on the ace spectrum but still experiences some sexual attraction - though now I prefer just ‘asexual’.

And my parents? For the longest time I didn’t have the words to express what I was, even to myself. I believed that my lack of sexual desire was something about me that was broken, and those lingering feelings still make it painful to share with the people that care about me. Being asexual is part of who I am, however, and being lucky enough to have a family who will accept that means that perhaps it’s time they knew.

Ultimately, coming out publicly as ace has been far more rewarding than it has been punishing. The more I speak about my experience publicly, the more people I have messaging me privately, just as I once did with my friend. We have long conversations, exploring their identities and culminating in them asking me whether maybe they could be asexual too.

You can watch Asexual: Living without sexual attraction now on SBS On Demand.

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