What led me to choose the topic “re/presentation” for this month’s Carnival of Aces was my recent experience working on various asexual visibility projects. I’ve been involved with giving a few workshops in the community, a radio interview, and a film screening on campus. Having never really done this sort of thing before, I’ve been made more conscious of matters concerning both how I present myself as an individual and how I simultaneously represent others in doing these things, and I’ve been interested to hear from other people to know their own experiences.
Along the way I’ve met what Sciatrix calls the unassailable asexual, one whose asexuality cannot be doubted by anyone for any reason. Particularly in the case of the radio show, which involved a late-night interview with a sex therapist, I felt a tremendous pressure to be the unassailable asexual. I don’t mean, of course, that anyone ever told me to be that person. It just sort of happened that way, where by “sort of” I mean “inevitably”. Why would that be? Perhaps it has something to do with watching bits of interviews which people like David Jay have given on TV, where they’re often asked any number of shocking questions with the assumption that their identification as asexual cannot possibly be valid and so the hidden Truth of their sexuality must be discovered and made known. Perhaps it has to do with the frequency at which these exact same sorts of questions are being asked when asexuals come out in more ordinary situations. There’s also the matter that as ‘the asexual’ on the show I knew I wouldn’t only be speaking for myself: many people would be listening who’d never have heard anyone say that they’re asexual before, and so many of them probably couldn’t help but to see my own situation as somehow representative of all asexuals, and so any personal weakness I might show could be generalized and applied to all asexuals. At least that’s what I was worried about, as invalid as the generalization would be. Whatever the reason though, I assumed the worst and so armoured myself as though preparing to be the direct target of some kind of nuclear inquisition. It’s not that I planned any sort of deceit. I didn’t say to myself anything like, “I don’t have absolutely no libido, but I’ll present myself as though it were the case so that they can’t try to undermine me”. Rather, under the pressure I felt and my own insecurity in confronting it I managed to tell myself who I was and would be as I felt was necessary.
(As it would happen, the host turned out to be reasonably well informed on asexuality. She knew what sorts of questions would be considered rude and didn’t ask them, and more importantly it was clear that I hadn’t been invited simply as part of a demonstration on the absurdity of identifying as asexual. The main difficulty I had turned out to be in covering all my talking points, since I’d prepared each of them as a defence against a particular attack. I’d come prepared for all-out war and found myself unready for peace! But I think we managed to have a nice discussion in the end, one of the callers aside maybe.)
True, this might be a common way of dealing with things like this, and more generally, to some extent I hear that we all build a number of personae for social interaction. But I feel like I may as well have been wearing a mask for parts of the discussion. While I talked about how much diversity there is in what is termed ‘asexual’ and the many ‘shades of grey’ that there are, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that I was thus described. For ‘me’ there was no ambiguity, no trace of a loose thread from which my asexuality might be unravelled.
I don’t mean to say that I’m really so doubtful of my being asexual, far from it in fact. But asexuality isn’t normative. Most people haven’t heard of it. When they do, many respond by saying that there’s no such thing. A few people are accepting, and I doubt I’m the only one to whom it means a lot that they are. It remains though that I can’t look to the world outside, the world from which I come and am a part, and find much acceptance of an important part of myself in it. Some insecurity, at least a lingering doubt, is almost inevitable. Add to that the fact that what I’m describing now is just the way things are all the time: presenting this aspect of oneself to others brings with it the added concern of how they’ll respond, and from this follows the reluctance to show anything which they could interpret as weakness.
Hopefully it’s just the jitters of a sort: with more experience I might become more comfortable speaking about this kind of thing. However, the underlying problems I’ve described are systemic and won’t just go away on their own. At the heart of it is probably the fact that our identities as asexuals are for the most part either invisible or erased. The only way to deal with this is by gaining visibility, and so it seems that the solutions to the problem at both the individual and the societal level may really be one and the same. Each of us being as we are, it’s important to talk about who we are. We need to be bold. Let’s.