[This post is part of the November 2015 Carnival of Aces, a monthly blogging carnival centered on asexuality and the asexual spectrum. This month is hosted by (A)sex and the City around the theme ‘reasons I should have known I was asexual’. Check out the previous Carnivals here: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/a-carnival-of-aces-masterpost/]
As a demisexual person who only came to that identity in my mid(-to-late)-20s, I would have known I was ace much earlier if I lived in a culture that didn’t talk about sexual attraction as a singular monolithic experience, as if it is the same for everyone. I would have known that my experience of sexual attraction (such as it is) was not generally comparable to the the norm if people, in general, were more willing to stop using the catchall term of “sexual attraction” (or even just “attraction” as it is often even more vaguely called) and to actually break that experience down into the different ways it manifests.
I find it really interesting now to look back on the ways I struggled to frame my experiences around sexuality prior discovering the language of demisexuality (as I did here and here), and just how many times I have since felt motivated to very minutely break my experiences down in ways that deconstruct the usual (non-ace) discourses around attraction (from when I initially “came out” as demisexual, to my repeated attempts to solidify that identity for myself and push back against a culture that leaves no room for the ways I have (and have not) experienced attraction. These ideas are important to me, and useful in so many ways.
I know that there are many valid criticisms to be made of the primary/secondary distinction in sexual attraction, as it doesn’t explain nearly all of the variation in the ways that ace and non-ace people can experience attraction. There are also ways in which the distinctions among sexual, romantic, aesthetic and/or platonic attractions are inherently murky, fuzzy or otherwise forced. None of these categories should be used prescriptively, and these boxes are porous and their distinctions and boundaries are fluid and open to interpretation (as so many categories are).
But I also know that having language that allowed me to break down my own experiences in these ways and see them in a new light was revelatory and allowed me to gain a better understanding of myself and the ways I relate to other people, and why my attempts to force myself to follow standard narrative arcs around attraction to other people simply didn’t work and left me anxious and miserable. And I know I’m not the only person who felt that way upon stumbling into ace circles and learning new ways to talk about these things.
Even though some of these categories are subjective and different people use them in somewhat different ways, it is still all less confusing and more open to nuanced conversations then simply and opaquely stuffing all of these varied and complex things under the singular category of “attraction”, and pretending we all know what that means. Non-ace folks: I honestly don’t know what y’all mean when you do that, especially when you so often seem to be switching between different interpretations without even realizing (let alone acknowledging) that you’re doing it.
I would have understood my ace-ness much earlier if more people took a more nuanced perspective on how sexuality and attraction works.
And, more importantly, I really should have known I was ace much earlier. Because we should, societally, strive to bring more nuance to these discussions, around attraction and desire and sexuality generally. I think that everyone would benefit from the concepts and tools the have been developed in the ace community for talking about these things.
Ways of breaking down different types of attraction, and the different bases for those attraction (primary/secondary attractions, or the framing I prefer which considers whether the attraction is primarily based on physical characteristics or on emotional affinity, or whatever else) are useful in conversation about how non-ace people experience attraction, in the never-ending debates about sexual preferences and whether or not they are mutable, and whether racism and anti-trans bigotries are somehow acceptable when they manifest in sexual preferences.
I would like to see nuanced discussions of how non-ace attractions evolve over the course of long-term relationships, as people’s bodies drastically change with age, into things their partners would not have initially been attracted to.
I would like to see so many different discussion that are impossible without the concepts created by ace folks of all kinds.
I should have known I was asexual because we should all have known that attraction is a complicated and many-faceted thing that manifests in different ways for different people (and in different ways even within any individual’s experience) and feels different for different people, in ways that go well beyond base-line sexual preferences and orientations.