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.

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  1. Excellent post, Courtney. I really identify with the thought of being open to help ease other people's anxieties. It's one of the reasons I'm out and loud and proud. 😉

    • Thanks Will! Obviously I'm in a privileged position, in that being out isn't dangerous for me, but it's still nice to be able to properly be myself. Having been helped in the past by people willing to be open, I feel it's my duty to pass that onto others 😉

  2. Based on my own experience as an asexual, and those of many other asexuals I've met, I'd say that the feeling of uncertainty you've described is very common among asexuals.  Since our identity isn't something well known or accepted, there aren't many places to turn to for its validation, but no shortage of places to look to be told that it must really be nothing more than a sign of damage of some sort.  Since this situation probably can't be changed without gaining more visibility, well, thanks for posting!

    • Thanks for the comment! One of the things that really helped me come to terms with this side of myself (and not see myself as broken) was that so many other people had had similar experiences of confusion, uncertainty and anxiety. It was a similar story with my mental health issues – if enough people shared my unhealthy thought patterns, then surely it couldn't be just that I was the worst person ever and deserved the abuse I threw at myself.
      Of course, it would be nice if I could keep myself convinced of these things all the time, but brains aren't perfect logic machines 😉

      • Yes! I definitely got here after I had "[exhausted] every other option" as well. I also try to be Open and Visible about being ace, being depressed, being trans… and I still wonder how much those last two intersect with the first, and whether I'll ever be able to figure that out.

        • Thank you for the comment – good to hear you share the same experiences. I do an awful lot of self-examination (partly because I don't have a therapist to help me ;)), but I wonder if I'll ever be able to figure it all out too. Then again, we're not computers, so perhaps complete understanding is unachievable!

  3. I know how you feel. Hiding is hiding. I feel so alive now that i can openly say that sexual relations bore me. That I am not interested in men or women. That I can freeely say that I treat all people as equals. I do not have to pretend that I 'like' men or women. All freedom is freedom

  4. Courtney: Thanks so much for sharing your story! I am myself a demisexual, and only just figured that out this year, after my long-term best friend and boyfriend made a comment that I'd be "a lot like M" if he and I weren't dating… M is a good friend of mine who's asexual and demiromantic. Of course, then I started looking into this whole asexuality thing, and discovered that, with the exception of the very strong attraction I feel towards my boyfriend, which has developed after knowing him for 6 years, I identify with all the definitions of asexuality. My college also recently started an asexuality support group, and talking to the members of that, from all points on the ace spectrum, I really do think I've found a group I fit in with. It's nice to escape a lot of the innuendo that always went over my head, and the more explicit sex jokes that made me uncomfortable. I was lucky enough not to have to try every option, since being demi made my relationship look effectively straight, for all that dating the same guy for years in a long distance situation starting at age 14 is unusual. Still, now that I personally identify, and am more-or-less publicly out, I feel a lot more comfortable and confident with all my interpersonal relationships, and particularly my romantic one. I'm glad I realized I was in a closet, and felt that I could come out of it, and I'm glad you've been able to safely and successfully as well.

    • I’m replying to this ridiculously late, so apologies for that, but thanks very much for the comment 🙂 Glad to hear you’re in such a supportive environment and have found peace with your own identity.

  5. I wouldn’t really say we don’t have to worry for our safety as a few asexuals have been raped due to their sexual orientation. I don’t see how raping an Asexual will make them appreciate sex any more than they do/don’t already!

    • Hi Ashley, thanks for the comment! I assume you’re referring to this quote from the last paragraph:

      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.

      I didn’t mean to imply that asexual people don’t experience things like corrective rape. I think the discrimination we experience is different in many ways to that experienced by other queer people, particularly with regards to coming out. I don’t think there’s the same culture of revulsion and hatred against asexual people, though there is of course a culture of not wanting sex = broken, undesirable, immature, etc.. I think our relative invisibility plays a big part in that. My assumption was that this means a lower proportion of asexual people are subjected to things like corrective rape, but I shouldn’t reach conclusions without sufficient data.

      Apologies for not being clear enough, and especially if I appeared to minimise anybody’s suffering and experiences. I definitely messed up my attempt at placating the people who accuse us of appropriating their oppression!

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