I’m kind of a complicated girl, and I have a lot of different facets to my identity. I’m binary trans. I’m lesbian/super-super-gay. I’m queer. I’m ‘assigned Jewish at birth’. And I’m also asexual. At least to a degree. So, I take up a few letters in the LGBTQIA+ acronym.
Out of all of those letters, it often feels like the T is the ‘biggest’. And in some ways, it is, because I’m a trans activist and blogger. But it’s actually not always such a big deal. If I go to the mall right now, provided that no-one recognises me, being trans is a non-issue. And, people kind of understand the trans thing when it does come up, even though they often have a whole bunch of misconceptions and inappropriate questions. But it’s a concept that at least has the potential to make sense, compared to, say, asexuality. I mean, I’m asexual, and I don’t even understand it completely. So I get that it’s difficult and often gets mixed up with a whole bunch of other concepts. If you want to understand asexuality and the different types of attraction, read my explainer over here. This is a personal account of the experiences I had in coming to realise that I’m asexual.
Before I properly understood it, my asexuality made me feel very different… or even broken, because I didn’t feel sexual attraction the way other people did. I wondered what was wrong with me. I wasn’t like all the other pubescent kids, and it was a little unsettling. I even found it uncomfortable to pretend.
Now, there is a caveat to my story. I was a young, closeted trans kid, and I didn’t even have the tools or the context then to understand that I was trans. I was going through the wrong puberty, and the kids that I was supposed to regard as my ‘peers’ really weren’t my peers because they were the wrong gender. So yeah, that made a difference. I felt super out of place, and I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until later in life that I’d understand the two processes that were going on – that I was trans, and that I was asexual or ace.
I wondered about my sexuality for a long time. Once I had discovered the term ‘asexual’ and read up on what it meant, I felt a resonance and a lot of things started to fall into place. I assumed that I was demisexual (meaning someone who only experiences attraction in the context of a strong emotional bond), because I was sure that I had felt sexual attraction in the past. I just took it for granted that I had.
But then I started to think about it, and it got really confusing. Sex had always been a problem for me. I’d never especially enjoyed it, and I’d never especially desired it. Sometimes I wanted to desire it, but often it just never did anything for me. So when I started looking back, I had to ask myself if I ever really had experienced attraction.
I do experience romantic attraction, there’s no doubt. And I even have physical attraction – I can look at a girl and think ‘oh wow, she’s really cute/pretty/beautiful’, and I can feel that pull. But it’s not a sexual thing. Having other forms of attraction made it harder for me to figure out my sexuality, because I didn’t always know how to tell the difference.
Going on Hormone Replacement Therapy made things even more complicated, because when your testosterone falls to zero, your libido takes a hit. That left me in a position where I had no desire, and no sexual attraction, even if I did sometimes experience other forms of attraction.
That didn’t make figuring the past out any easier. I imagined that I must, by default, have had sexual attraction, but I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t remember what it felt like! Maybe I had never felt it at all? It made me wonder if I was actually just totally asexual, instead of demisexual as I’d previously imagined. Now I know that I am definitely demisexual, because I have experienced sexual attraction. It happened within the context of a strong emotional bond, and it was unmistakeable. But the truth is, when it comes to the past, I still don’t know.
Knowing that I’m asexual, specifically demisexual, doesn’t mean that everything is cut and dried though, because being trans still makes things complicated.
The dysphoria and the body issues affect my sexuality too. Even if I have attraction and desire, not being totally comfortable in my own skin means that sexuality is still a tricky thing to navigate. It makes it difficult to relax and be at ease, and be fully present in the moment, because my mind is always wandering, fixating on the things that I’m uncomfortable with.
It means that sometimes it’s easier to just think of sex as something that ‘doesn’t matter to me’. Sure, the suppressed libido makes that easier. But it’s a barrier to intimacy and connection nonetheless, and it’s especially jarring when that gets in the way on one of those very, very rare occasions that I do feel attraction.
Of course, sexuality is a dynamic thing. It can change as we change, and as we understand ourselves better. Sometimes we might question it – and, when we find the answers, they may surprise us. Or not. But being open to that process is an important thing.
The lack of understanding of asexuality is also frustrating, and it can be a serious problem. It’s another thing that I have to be apologetic for, or potentially feel inadequate about. I need to state it up front so that I’m not accused of misleading anyone, or misrepresenting myself.
Nonetheless, despite all the challenges and difficulties and questioning, it’s nice to know that there’s a word for all this. That I’m not abnormal just because I don’t feel attraction the same way most people do.
Anastacia Tomson is a medical doctor, activist and author.