I Can’t Be What I’m Told, but Coming out Is Exhausting

Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Clara Barnhurst

I’m asexual. I don’t know what kind of asexual yet, but it was nice to come out and say that I’m asexual. It was nice to look for the black ring, join a support group, connect with others and start the sorting process. Discover where I belong. This wasn’t like coming out before. Before, I knew exactly what I was, what that meant and how to proceed. This time it’s riskier, in a way, and the messages I’m getting about my sexuality (or lack thereof) are less encouraging.

Coming out is a process of exposing oneself. It’s scary; the information you kept to yourself leaves your control. Coming out before was more dangerous because of the innate aggression felt about my status. Coming out this time was more difficult because I wasn’t equipped to deal with the general ignorance of well meaning people.

For those who don’t know, asexuality is a rather complicated thing that is expressed across multiple spectrums. An asexual person doesn’t experience sexual attraction. Some asexual folk are touch averse, some are sex averse. How favourable you are to various forms of contact may or may not be connected to a lack of intrinsic interest in sex; in my case, I’m quite tactile and favourable to touch but ambivalent about sexual contact at best. This is all new to me so I expect my personal compass will shift as I learn more, but here we are now.

If this sounds familiar, it should: gender is similarly broken out into different spectrums that are completely unrelated, self determined, and subject to change. Transgender people often find themselves needing to make that clear to people, including other transgender people — it’s remarkable how similar the exchanges are. In some cases, it’s a point of swapping some words around and I could lift text out of asexual resources and drop them into transgender ones.


I’ve made the point at how misogyny and transphobia are enacted the same way. I’m seeing similar parallels between transphobia and aphobia; my response to well meaning cisgender people trying to understand is the same as allosexuals (folks who experience sexual attraction) trying to understand asexuals: don’t. If they truly understood, they would be asexual. This thing requires acceptance, not understanding.

What’s particularly strange is how allosexuals go about attempting to comprehend asexuality and it follows same pattern as the deception narrative: framing the allosexual struggle to be in a relationship with an ace person. When people come out as gay or trans, many fall immediately to the partner’s feelings. Or children, or anyone but the most vulnerable person in the picture: the person coming out.

The innate cruelty of this reaction is clear: a person has just shared a difficult thing. They’re often unsure of the recipient's reaction, possibly making plans to exit whatever the relationship is. Perhaps a swift one. Even if the deception narrative was true (it isn’t), the moment of sharing is not the time to focus on anyone but the person sharing. Not doing so pushes that person into a context they are probably too vulnerable to deal with in the moment.

This is precisely what happened to me when sharing my new information about myself: people mentioned past partners using sex as weapon. The focus was on their feelings as an allosexual human. This makes sense: allosexuals have no point of reference for this. I don’t understand why anyone would want sex, so why should they understand why I don’t want sex? And again, it’s exactly the same for cisgender folks trying to get why someone would ‘change their gender’: transgender people aren’t. They’re just sharing something about themselves that was always there.

Coming out is a symptom of social injustice: we can’t be what we’re told. If the world didn’t tell us we had to be cishet, we wouldn’t have to come out. If people didn’t keep including me in collective nouns while talking about sex, I wouldn’t have to tell them I was asexual. The assumption that we’re all monogamous cisgender, allo/heterosexual folks is the problem, not us saying we’re not any or all of those things.


In my case, I was secure enough in my friendships and (quite rightly) focused on my fiancée’s feelings; it’s not like my asexuality directly affects my other relationships. The isolation felt as people bought into their own references had its impact on me internally, but it didn’t decide anything. Unlike gender, my sexuality’s relevance is restricted to the people that might want to have sex with me and bring that to my attention. Acknowledging my asexuality deeply affects my world, but broader society will swiftly and indifferently woodwork me.

Invisibility in itself is a problem, but it’s also convenient for me right now. As with so many things, I’ll get to decide how visibly ace I need to be. It’s likely that visibility will change depending on where on the asexual spectrum I find myself: the jury is still out on that one. For now, invisibility gives me space to figure a few things out. It might be wrong how I’m erased, but it’s too convenient to not use it — another important parallel between sexuality and gender queerness.

For me, these are the fundamental reasons why gender and sexuality need to be part of the same political movement, beyond the pragmatic reasons of unity against oppression: our oppressors use the exact same strategies to suppress variance in gender as they do with sexuality. Our fight is the same fight, even if our cause is parallel rather than identical. We are misunderstood the same way, singled out the same way, and woodworked the same way. Oppression casts a wide enough net for all of us.

We can’t be what we’re told. I find in my continuing adventures as a career non conformist that I have to come out constantly to avoid being lumped in with the rest. The rest aren’t comfortable for me; I need my own patch. Maybe that’s a flaw? Conformity is seductive; maybe life would be easier, but it always comes full circle and I can’t be what I’m told. Queer, always. Visible, sometimes. Conforming, never.


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