“Hi, I’m Sara and I’m 15. I’ve been trying to figure put my sexuality for a while and when people ask about my sexuality I just tell them ‘Oh, I’ve had a boyfriend for two years’ and they just leave it at that. When the truth is I’M CONFUSED AS ALL HELL!!! I love my boyfriend but I’ve never been interested in sex. Ever. And I think I’m Asexual but there’s also the factor of having had crushes on people of all genders and I don’t know if that makes me pansexual or what. Or Pan and Asexual? Advice?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Kara Kratcha Says:
Oh geeze. I have felt these feelings (confusion! conflict! ambivalence!) and given similar non-answers when people ask about my sexuality so many times. As I’m sure you know, I can’t tell you whether you’re asexual or pansexual or anything else. I can, however, tell you a little bit about how I felt when I was 15 and offer some advice about sexuality labels.
When I was 15, I barely knew any “LBGTQ” people. To make matters worse, almost all of the “LGBTQ” people I knew were gay men. There’s nothing wrong with gay men, of course, but the lack of queer representation in my life really limited my options in terms of possible sexuality and gender labels. (I know you didn’t ask about gender, but a lot of what I’m going to say applies to gender as well as sexuality.) I keep putting “LGBTQ” in quotation marks because, although I knew the letters in the acronym at 15, I didn’t hear the word “queer” as I understand it now until I was in college. As far as I was concerned, the Q stood for questioning. And honestly? 15-year-old me kind of liked “questioning” as a sexuality label.
In a lot of ways, you’re doing better than I was at 15. You have access to words like asexual and pansexual, and you’re not afraid to use them. That’s excellent! Unfortunately, with access to so many words comes pressure to pick the correct words. If it’s possible to figure out that you’re a (for example) biromantic polyamorous grey-ace nonbinary human, wouldn’t you want to know?
Sometimes you would. I bet you’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the truth about yourself. It feels good to find words that reflect how we experience the world. The thing is, words like asexual and pansexual are trying to capture the commonalities between many people’s experiences. Identity words allow us to form communities around shared truths. Identity words also don’t always provide for each person’s experiences all the time.
Having crushes on people of all genders and not experiencing any sexual attraction is an experience that some people would call panromantic asexuality. You can identify that way if you want to, but you don’t have to. For more asexuality words, you can check out this glossary from the Asexuality Archive. You might find something you like there.
My advice is to think about what you want out of an identity label. Who is your identity for? Is it for you, to help you understand your own experience better? Is it for your community, to help you find people like you? Is it for other people, to help you explain your experiences to them? (If you haven’t, it might be a good idea to discuss what you’ve been thinking about your sexuality with your boyfriend. A supportive partner probably wants to know what’s going on with you so that they can support you better.) No matter what you decide, how you use these identity words is up to you.
I also want you to remember that you don’t have to use the same label at all times with everyone forever. Explaining your complex feelings and experiences gets exhausting if you try to do it for everyone! You can tell people different things about yourself in different contexts. You can offer different levels of information about yourself to different people. You can decide on a label and change your mind in five minutes or five years. Let yourself use the words that feel good now, and give yourself permission to use different words later. Your future self will appreciate that!
You don’t owe anyone absolute consistency, and you don’t have to explain yourself to everyone who asks in order to claim the identity you want to claim. You’re pan or ace or queer or whatever enough because you say you are. Anyone who refuses to allow you to keep learning about yourself, preserve your energy for when you need it, and tell your truth how you want to is bad news. You can keep questioning as long as you want to.
Kara Kratcha studies English literature at a university in New York City. She recently applied to library school and tells everyone that she’s an aspiring librarian, but really she’s always wanted to be an advice columnist. (Kara would like to thank Everyone Is Gay for making hir dream come true.) If she had to pick a label, she would probably go with “genderfluid polyamorous demiromantic grey-ace,” but usually she just kind of shrugs. Right now (like, probably literally right now) Kara is working on hir senior thesis on representations of asexuality in Sherlock fan fiction.
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“I’m genderqueer, and my friend has been super supportive…up until I came out as asexual as well. She keeps asking me if I’m sure I’m really asexual or if it’s just because I’m genderqueer or ‘confused’ about my gender. What do I say to her?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Kara Kratcha as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Dear anonymous friend,
How are you? I hope you and your genderqueer ace self are doing well enough and avoiding all of the nonsense that sometimes comes with existing as a genderqueer and/or ace person. I’m sure you’re great and that you’re doing a great job.
Anyway, I have to admit that this kind of reaction to a combination of queer identities in one human frustrates and confuses me. There doesn’t seem to be any reason an ace identity should invalidate a genderqueer (or nonbinary or trans) identity. More broadly, there doesn’t seem to be any reason a sexual identity should invalidate a gender identity or vise versa.
That said, I am a human who has gone to great lengths to educate themselves about queer sexualities and genders and I bet you are too, so maybe your first move should be to explain some terms to your friend. I know you have probably already done some of this. I know you might find this a little more exhausting every time you have to do it (I know I do).
Still, there’s so much confusion in the world about the difference between gender and sexuality that sometimes we have to explain ourselves if we want to be understood. Once I told a coworker that I was doing research about asexuality and narrative. He responded with a monologue about how gender roles are collapsing in the United States and that the difference between men and women is disappearing and isn’t that a shame? I think he thought we were talking about agender people or maybe trans people generally. In any case, we did not share a vocabulary about the topic we were supposedly discussing and therefore could not communicate about it. If you want to be able to talk with your friend about your identity, you may have to establish a common vocabulary.
(You should also remember that you have not failed if you decide that you cannot or do not want to explain yourself until you are understood right now. Both asexuality and genderqueerness are complicated topics, and combining them makes them even more complicated and difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced them. In the situation with my coworker, I decided that making myself understood wasn’t worth it. You may decide differently with your friend, but that’s your call.)
The other reason I am so baffled by your friend’s reaction to your aceness and genderqueerness, dear anon, is because I myself experience my ace identity and my nonbinary identity as intertwined and inseparable. My gender complements and complicates my sexuality in ways I continue to discover. I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I find the gender binary in relation to sexual activity a lot like a fruit fly infestation: always buzzing in the background, sometimes hard to see from a distance, and almost impossible to get rid of. Even the concept of “gay sex” relies on the idea that the people involved conform to the same end of a binary gender system.
Even more frustratingly, sometimes perceptions of gay sex fall into “masculine” and “feminine” roles. I recently told someone that I am into girls and thereby implied that I’m gay or maybe bi (this, by the way, is a strategy I use when being read as a straight girl in gay spaces gets to be too much for me but I don’t feel safe explaining how I actually identify) and their first response was to ask if I’m a top or a bottom. Yuck!
By asking this question, this person presumes that all people who have same-sex interactions take on one binary gender role in sex all the time. As you perhaps perceive, my nonbinary trans identity and my ace identity are interacting here in ways that are difficult for me to pick apart. Does that response to my perceived identity squick me out because I don’t want to have to identify as top (coded masculine) or bottom (coded feminine)? Or because I don’t want to be associated with sex acts I’m not performing? Or because the gendering of sex makes it difficult for me to access it as something I want at all? I don’t know, but I’m definitely sure it makes me uncomfortable. If you have had similar experiences, maybe you would like to share them with your friend so that she can think about how the labels you use make up one whole person who experiences the world from multiple standpoints all at once.
Thinking about my gender identity and my sexual identity together often brings up more questions than answers for me, but that doesn’t mean that I’m confused about one or the other or both. My guess is that you feel similarly at least some of the time. If your friend is really your friend, then you should be able to engage in identity uncertainty and exploration with her and leave feeling that your identity is still valid. Alternately, maybe you feel entirely certain about who you are and what that means, in which case I think you should tell your friend who you are and what that means as clearly as you can and hope she takes you at your word. If she doesn’t, then maybe you should reconsider whether this person is capable of supporting and loving you the way a friend should.
All of the best,
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“I’ve been identifying as asexual for over a year now and my parents have gotten to a place where they just… kinda accept that they can’t change my mind. My problem is that I’ve been on a few dates with a great guy whom I know my parents will like, and I REALLY want to tell them about him, but I’m 96% sure they’ll say something like "See? You aren’t really asexual after all!” What should I do?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Kara Kratcha as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
I think the best thing to do in this situation is to provide your parents with a little more information about what asexuality is and what it is not. Of course, this approach assumes that you have a relationship with your parents in which you can communicate openly and respectfully. That’s not always the case, so I’ll provide some other options after I walk you through this conversation under ideal circumstances.
It seems like your parents are a little confused about the difference between asexuality and aromanticism. Asexuality is the sexual orientation of a person who does not feel sexual attraction to people of any gender. Aromanticism is the romantic orientation of a person who does not feel romantic attraction to people of any gender. Some asexual people are also aromantic, but they aren’t the same thing. Figuring out what romantic attraction even is can be difficult, and explaining it to someone else can be even more difficult, so you can check out the AVEN wiki page on romantic attraction if you want to read more before introducing this concept to your parents. You could also share with them this piece I wrote for The Parents Project that explains asexuality to parents!
Based on your question, I’m assuming that you are not aromantic. If that is the case, you can explain to your parents that asexuality and aromanticism don’t always go together. Tell them that in your case, you don’t experience sexual attraction but you are attracted to the guy you’ve been dating in other ways, including romantically. Here is a useful chart about different kinds of attraction from Tumblr user cannibal-rainbow. While attraction is often way messier and more complicated than any chart makes it seem, working with these definitions might help you and your parents communicate about what you’re experiencing and how you can identify as asexual and still enjoy going on dates with this guy. If you do identify as aromantic, you can still have a slightly modified version of this conversation. Explain that you do not experience sexual or romantic attraction, but this guy is important to you and you would like them to meet him.
If that doesn’t get the point across, you could try asking your parents if their relationship is based entirely on sexual attraction. I’m guessing they’ll say no. Ask them what they like about each other and their relationship. Explain that you also want those kinds of things out of a relationship, or tell them specifically what you like about the guy you’ve been seeing and the relationship you have with him.
If these kinds of conversations aren’t feasible within the relationship you have with your parents, you can try a couple of other things. First, try a truncated version of the above conversation. Say, “Parents, a new person has come into my life and become important to me. Can we all have dinner together some time?” This leaves the nature of your relationship ambiguous, which leaves your parents to make their own assumptions. Alternatively, you could just casually bring him over to your house like nothing’s up. However, I don’t think these are the ideal approaches to this situation. I tend to think that more communication is better, but it sounds like your parents may have invalidated your identity and experiences in the past. You might feel more comfortable having a shorter conversation or no conversation at all, and that’s okay.
Whatever happens, remember that you define your identity, your experiences, and your relationships. Hopefully your parents respect what you have to tell them immediately, but you don’t need their validation to keep being who you are. You’re great, and I believe in you!
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“I am very confused :( I went on a few dates with a girl, and I really like her. However, she recently told me she is asexual. I like her a lot, but I am not asexual. Should I tell her that we’re not looking for the same things, or should I give the relationship a try anyway?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Kara Kratcha as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found someone you really like to go on dates with. That’s awesome! Finding someone you click with can be really hard. Congratulations!
I bet as you’ve been getting to know this person, you’ve found lots of specific things to like about her and the relationship you’re creating with her. Maybe she makes you laugh. Maybe she pushes you to go on more and better adventures. Maybe you like how her ears look when she pushes her hair behind them or the color of her eyes in a particular light. Maybe you like how she refrains from romantic nonsense and gets right to the point.
Anyway, the point is, you know what you like about her and why hanging out with her has been exciting for you. It sounds like you’ve reached the scary but inevitable part of getting to know someone where you realize that as much as you like that person, they aren’t quite how you had been imagining them. Get used to this part. You’ll be living it every time you engage with another human being, whether you just met them, you’ve been married to them for decades, or they’ve raised you from infancy. No matter what, people are never exactly what we imagine them to be. That’s unfortunate because it is, as you’ve said, confusing, but it’s also exciting because it means that even the people you’ve loved the longest can still surprise and challenge you.
This might all seem a bit off-topic, but I don’t think it is. Bear with me. You asked me if you should stop seeing a person because she and you aren’t looking for the same things. Let me ask you this: what are you looking for? Take out a new piece of paper or a new Tumblr draft and write out a list. What do you want out of your relationships with the people you love, and how do you prioritize those wants? Think about how different kinds of relationships—particularly the relationships you already have in your life—create different kinds of intimacy. Think about the sexuality label you use for yourself and how it affects or doesn’t affect your relationships with the people in your life who you care about. Go back to your list and add anything that made you think of, then put it off to the side somewhere.
Now take a deep breath. You just did a lot of self-reflection, which is really exhausting and difficult. Good job.
When the person you like told you that she’s asexual, she probably surprised you by not matching what you had imagined about her and the relationship you might have with her. That’s okay. It happens all the time. But I have another question for you: at any point during your conversation about her asexuality did you ask her what she wants from her relationship with you? Go back to that list you made earlier and compare that to what you call your sexuality. Does your sexuality label convey everything about what you want out of a relationship, what you like, and what compromises you’re willing to make? I’m guessing it doesn’t. You can’t assume that you know everything about what she wants, likes, and is willing to compromise on just because you know how she labels her sexuality either.
Of course, she calls herself asexual for a reason. You need to consider how important sex is to you in this particular relationship. If you can’t see yourself continuing to enjoy the company of this person you like without having sex with her, then you should probably do both of you a favor and break it off. If you’re willing to be more flexible, however, then you have more to discuss with her. First, do a little research about asexuality. AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, is a good place to start. There you’ll probably learn, among other things, that not everyone who identifies as asexual refrains from sex. Once you’ve done your reading, you might start this series of conversations with some of these questions:
What does being asexual mean to you? How did you find that word and what made you decide to apply it to yourself?
So you’re not sexually attracted to people. How do you feel about having sex?
Are you only looking for a romantic relationship right now? (Are you just looking for a romantic relationship right now?)
If yes, are you looking for a monogamous romantic relationship? (Spend some time asking yourself this question as well.)
See how you don’t know the answers to these questions just because you know the person you like identifies as asexual? Her wants and expectations are just as complicated as yours. Before you and the person you like decide that you want different things out of your relationship, make sure you actually compare the things you want. Having these conversations with her will be a lot of work and will probably take a lot of time, but that’s not a unique feature of mixed allosexual/asexual relationships. If you’re willing to do the work, you may find that you like the person you like for a good enough reason to keep learning about her and what your relationship with her could look like.
Good luck! I know you’ve got this.
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"I’m in my second year of college and I identify as asexual. It seems like every time someone finds out and starts asking questions, they end up insisting that I just need to try it, or find the right person, or build up some confidence. It feels like I can never just say "No," and it makes me really anxious about the possibility of finding myself in a more dangerous situation. How can I respond to this?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Kara Kratcha as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
I do think that you do need to build up your confidence, but not in the way these horribly nosey people (herein referred to as GIHs—Google Impaired Humans—because they should be learning about the basics of asexuality themselves before they start asking you invasive questions) mean. The line of thinking here seems to be that your confidence should come from a comfort with your (a)sexuality*, and a comfort with your (a)sexuality means that you have found a way of having sex that makes you happy and actively pursue that happy-making sex act. I do think that it’s important to feel an ease with your (a)sexuality in order to feel confident, but I’m not on board with the wide spread assumption that feeling at ease in your (a)sexuality means having sex and letting everyone know about it.
I mean come on, this should be obvious: for an asexual person, exhibiting confidence about your (a)sexuality often doesn’t mean letting everyone know about all of the great sex you’re having because—by definition—you don’t experience sexual attraction. That’s the whole point. Thinking that expressing ace sexuality with confidence necessarily involves having sex is absurd, and it shows (along with the GIHs’ insistence that you just need to experiment or find the right person to have sex with) that these people aren’t listening to you when and if you try to educate them (since they have clearly demonstrated that they cannot educate themselves via www.google.com). Dismiss them. You don’t owe them an explanation. Disengage from these conversations and physically walk away if you need to.
Of course, ignoring the overwhelming cultural narrative that everyone wants sex is more difficult than shutting down individual conversations. Sometimes it’s impossible to do even that. I won’t lie to you and say that your “no” will always be honored. The unfortunate reality is that we live with rape culture, which says that a woman’s “no” means “maybe” or “try harder” and that a man wants sex so much that he can’t help but take it by force. Both of these ideas feed into compulsory sexuality, that overwhelming cultural narrative of “everyone wants the sex” again. I think that your fear that you can never just say no is completely grounded in these toxic narratives.
You’ve asked me how to respond. I can’t tell you how to avoid being raped (which is how I read your “more dangerous situation”) because rape is always the rapist’s fault and never the victim’s, but I can tell you how I have learned to express my (a)sexuality with confidence.** After my first year of college, I resolved to not do things I don’t want to do. Before I made the active decision to say no, my default answer to just about everything then was “yes,” regardless of how I actually felt. Will you edit my research paper? Yes. Want to go to this sketchy party with me? Yes. Can I have your phone number? Yes. Yes. Yes.
When I first made this resolution, I was in a long distance relationship. The hundreds of miles between me and my partner did a pretty good job of preventing genital bumping most of the time, so saying no wasn’t even explicitly connected to sexual activity for me. But the thing is, my mindless “yes” to everything was so insidious that saying “no” to the most innocuous requests felt impossible. That I felt unable to say “no” made my “yes” completely meaningless. I didn’t feel like I had a choice, and that disempowerment extended to my ability to say yes or no to sex. I didn’t feel confident in my (a)sexuality because I didn’t feel like I had control over myself.
So I changed my default answer to “no.” I said no to bad papers and weird parties and unwanted come-ons. I said no whenever I could. I said no over and over until it became automatic. I said no until saying yes took some serious thought, until I had to abide by my actual desires and not the desires I thought I should have. I said no until it was the answer the people around me expected to hear.
I write that in the past tense, but the truth is that learning to say no is an ongoing process, and it’s still really hard for me. Making people hear “no” takes so much more work than making people hear “yes,” and constantly fighting for your no is exhausting. Saying no takes a lot of confidence and a lot of practice. So here’s what I think you should do: practice saying no everywhere you can. Say no like you think the Google Impaired Humans are really listening to you, even if you know they aren’t. Say no right now, just for fun. Say no to ensure that when you say yes—be it to sex or something other people call sex or a favor for a friend or a big piece of cake—your yes will mean yes.
Then, when some GIH tries to tell you how to “fix” your (a)sexuality, tell them that you are perfectly confident that you do not experience sexual desire, thank you very much. Exude confidence. Radiate ease. And if the GIH fails to listen to you, offer to teach them how search engines work and flounce away with your fabulous asexual self.
*A note about words: I will be using “asexual” to mean “the sexual orientation of a person who does not experience sexual attraction” and “ace” to mean “any orientation on the asexual spectrum.” I am addressing a person who identifies as asexual, but I think this advice applies to pretty much all aces (and probably everyone) with only a little modification.
**That said, I can give you resources for asexual survivors of sexual assault, which you can find here.
Kara Kratcha studies English literature at a university in New York City. She tells everyone that she wants to go into publishing, but really she’s always wanted to be an advice columnist. (Kara would like to thank Everyone Is Gay for making her dream come true.) If she had to pick a label, she would probably go with “genderfluid polyamorous demiromantic grey-ace,” but usually she just kind of shrugs. Right now (like, probably literally right now) Kara is working on her senior thesis on representations of asexuality and asexual relationships in Sherlock fanfiction.
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