Stop the Fairy Tale Kiss

Photo by TaniaSaiz

When explaining asexuality to friends, the greatest hurdle I usually face is conveying the disconnect between sexual and romantic attraction. Sexual romantics quickly accept that sexual attraction does not require romantic attraction; they’ve giggled over strangers passing store windows and ogled pictures of celebrities without wanting to date either.  The trouble is in explaining that the inverse is true. Romantic asexuality exists, because romantic attraction occurs separate from sexual attraction. Eventually, the conversation leads to: if romantic asexual aren’t doing anything sexual with their partners, what do they do? (They never listen when I explain that asking the aromantic is not the best idea.)

But that’s far from the only misconception about sexuality and romance engrained in our culture. From the time we hear the tale of two true loves who kissed and “lived happily ever after,” we are taught that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are one in the same, that adults and their relationships don’t change, and that attraction is only experienced to one person at a time—if they’re the right person, all time. This is not how many people feel.

Romantic asexuality—hetero- homo- bi- pan- poly-romantic asexuality and others—is well within the human experience, but the romance our children see in media is all about ‘love at first sight’ and ‘true love’s first kiss.’ By the time we reach adulthood, almost nobody knows asexuality exists, and that can be dangerous. The idea that sex is needed for romantic relationships is so ingrained in my generation’s culture that this article, screencapped with a response declaring the sexual boyfriend ‘friend zoned,’ became a meme.

The refusal to acknowledge that people and their relationships change over time, especially in something as serious and long-term as marriage, also leads to people shaming divorce. Divorce happens, but unhappy people lie to themselves to avoid divorce happening to them. One of my uncles is his wife’s second husband. My aunt’s parents barely saw her between when she divorced and when her first husband died, because they did not want their neighbors to know she was divorce. When her first husband died, they promptly went around their neighborhood announcing that their daughter was a widow. Another aunt-uncle pair refuse to divorce, though they dislike each other and live in separate states.

Not everyone who experiences romantic attraction experiences sexual attraction. People who love each other at one point in their lives may not at another point. Can we show children more that represents that?

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The Invisible Asexual

Asexuals.

Moss on the wall, Kildale

Photo by Miss Steel

Hold up, wrong image.

Photo by trollhare

That’s better.

I grew up under the assumption that, at some point in my teen years, the heterosexuality fairy would gift me with the desire for candlelit dinners and ravenous sex. Days after a terribly awkward prom night, I discovered AVEN, and the existence of asexuality and aromanticism. The internet continues to be the only place I have met anyone else (openly) asexual.

When I first came out to my mother, she said I hadn’t found the right person yet, and promptly forgot the entire conversation. The second time I came out, she asked me what asexuality is. One stranger, whose advances I rejected by declaring my general lack of sexual attraction, purred, “You never know.” Among the people who immediately accepted the legitimacy of my sexual orientation, only a few members of the campus Queer Student Union didn’t need me to define it. Even in the QSU, one person asked, “Those actually exist?” He then mentioned the other possible asexual he knew—with the disclaimer that “maybe there’s just something wrong with her .” Assumptions that asexuality is an illness, or the result of some childhood trauma, are not uncommon. The DSM—apparently having not learned from its mistakes with homosexuality—continues to list asexuality as a psychological illness. Why is asexuality so invisible that even asexual people go decades unaware they aren’t alone?

Our society demands heterosexuality. Men must be openly, even aggressively, heterosexual, or homophobic men—a large and politically powerful group in the US—grow uncomfortable sharing bathrooms and locker facilities with them. On the other hand, women must be receptive to men’s sexual advances, or risk being branded “frigid,” “teases,” and/or “man-haters.” “Man-hater” in particular is associated with cis-men declaring women and passing-women lesbians, regardless of how the women identify themselves. I am unsure how society views non-passing transfolk’s sexualities.

If a cis-person is not overtly heterosexual, they are labeled homosexual. If they are sexually active across genders, or declare their orientations, they may be acknowledged as bi- or pan-sexual.  However, the celibate are not assumed to be asexual. Even when asexual people declare themselves as such, they are met with skepticism, or diagnosed. Sexuality is so prevalent in our culture, from our music to our television to our sense of humor that some people have difficulty comprehending not relating to that culture. In a culture as sex-obsessed as ours, asexuality is too alien to understand, so it is flippantly brushed aside as a mere lie or childish confusion.

Asexuality is gaining recognition, thanks largely to AVEN and asexuals’ ability to spread information and connect with each other over the internet. Only eighteen months ago, the front page of the AVEN forums were filled with members who lived for decades, thinking of themselves as monstrous and broken, before learning about asexuality. Now, the front page is filled with teenagers and young adults who, finding themselves out of place among their hormone-riddled peers, confidently adopt the title “asexual.”