Coming Out Stories: Tiptoeing Out Of The Closet
Coming out as asexual can be a complicated affair. All our lives we're told the options for sexuality are "straight," "gay" or "lying" – maybe "bisexual" too, if we're taught by enlightened people. Asexuality rarely gets acknowledged outside of the internet and queer circles, and even those environments often treat asexuality with a hostility they wouldn't use against any other group. How can a person come out if they're not even sure the person to whom they're coming out will understand or believe them, or if that person has been conditioned to believe asexual experiences are pathologies?
When I was younger, I pretended to have “crushes” on various people, but as I got older I abandoned this, despite the “so who do you fancy?” queries' increasing insistence. It just felt wrong to actively lie, even though it caused me more grief. If I was especially drawn to a person, it tended to be more of an intellectual connection; I'd want to talk to them for hours about anything but gettin' it on. (I hope that cheesy sexual euphemism will counteract my earlier pretentiousness.) Like many asexual people, I went through long periods of wondering if I was repressed or damaged in some way; feeling like I couldn't trust my own experiences certainly didn't help my mental well-being. Not having an identity made me believe the homophobic taunts I experienced were right and I was just in denial. I tried to stick to lamenting the fact that there weren't any atheist convents.
My first exposure to asexuality came in the form of happening across Swankivy’s Asexuality Top Ten when I was in sixth form. Suddenly, everything made sense. I internally adopted the identity after a lot of questioning and worrying about whether I was just sticking a plaster over a serious problem. I still worry about this even though it's completely illogical and inaccurate. I guess it's symptomatic of how I treat myself much more harshly than I would treat anyone else. After a bit more time, I came out in a "traditional," though private, manner to several friends whom I thought would be sympathetic. One of their being horrible to me about it made me even more terrified of what people would say if I were to properly come out. Somehow, that sort of thing had been easier to take when I wasn’t making such an assured statement about my identity.
Another obstacle I found was uncertainty: How can you come out if you’re not sure what you are, or whether it’s even a coming-out worthy thing? This was tied to a good amount of internalised acephobia, stemming from the years I’d spent believing I was something I wasn’t. A lot of asexual people eventually find asexuality after exhausting every other option, as I did. (That’s part of the reason why raising awareness is so important: to help as many people as possible avoid those years of emotional turmoil.) I haven't entirely conquered my uncertainties, but I think that goal is unrealistic – uncertainty is a fundamental part of being human.
Consequently, writing for Queereka is the first time I’ve really spoken widely while using the asexual label for myself. I’m not a very brave person, so it’s still scary, but not nearly as scary as I’d imagined. If it was, I’d be hiding under the bed right now! The thought that by being open, I might be making things easier for someone else, is what drives me forward in spite of my angst. I feel the same regarding being open about my mental illness (and the lack of negative responses to that has helped me with this). It’s so liberating to be open about myself and to have a label to apply to myself just like everyone else does. I know, I know; labels are for soup cans, but language couldn’t possibly describe seven billion sexualities concisely without a few well-chosen labels. “I'm asexual” is more of a statement than “I’m just not interested” or “I don’t feel that way” – it leaves less room for doubts, disbelief and misinterpretations. It’s also nice to feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie. If we didn’t have a label, it would be a lot harder to raise awareness.
Yes, asexual people do not often have to fear for their safety the way a lot of gay and bisexual people do when coming out. However, the more of us who are allowed to be true to ourselves, the more people will accept us and stop treating us as broken or bizarre, and the less people will have to suffer. Even though the closet is a cozy place to be, and even though coming out of it hasn't completely quelled my uncertainty (particularly regarding the romantic side of things), I wouldn't go back in for anything.