An asexual mind
In our July issue we featured an article that looked inside the mind of asexuals. Here, the story’s author Marina Kamenev shares her experience on writing about this often taboo topic. In her guest blog, Kamenev ponders what it’s like to feel completely indifferent to sex in a culture so preoccupied by it.
Before I had met anyone who identified as an asexual, I was most interested in whether they felt like they were missing out. It wasn’t that I necessarily thought their lives were lesser than due to a lack of sex or love or romance (some, like Gemma Faulks featured in the article, do have romantic relationships) but surely, I figured, they still felt left out of life in a more general way? After all, even the most basic deodorant commercial sells its product on the basis that it apparently makes the person wearing it feel desirable. And here, I realised, was a group of young people who didn’t see any purpose to be desirable. What is that like?
It isn’t just commercials that put asexuals on the other side of a cultural divide. Consider nearly every film and novel plot in existence – from Harry Potter to The Terminator – so many of them feature some kind of romantic thread. And forget about music. A challenge: try naming three songs in half a minute that don’t have a message about love or sex. It’s possible… but it’s not easy. There’s a reason I called it a challenge.
One of my interview subjects, 25-year-old Tess (an “aromantic” asexual, meaning she has no interest in sex or romance), admitted that it was hard: “There is a cliché that if someone in a film doesn’t believe in love or romance, then no-one believes the character… and the character always ends up changing their mind. That makes it so much more difficult for people like me to say I don’t want romance.”
Not that she’d change the way she is. The main reason Tess still hasn’t told anyone in her life that she’s asexual has nothing to do with shame or embarrassment; in fact, she says, “I have a medical condition that affects my female hormone production. I am afraid this is the first thing people will go with when I tell them.”
Her condition only adds another uncomfortable layer to an already fraught situation. And as I reported this story, I got the sense that even if it were tied to her sexuality, even if it could be managed, she wouldn’t change a thing.
For Tess, in particular, being asexual is not so much about behaviour but about an entire identity. And she genuinely worries that her friends will try to strip away from her if she comes out. What’s worse, she has no real reference point to describe how she feels. Asexuality often gets confused with celibacy. It’s treated as a choice and not an orientation. There are no asexuals on Glee, no popular young celebrities announcing their asexuality, no t-shirt promoting their cause. As Tess says “I think there needs to be better representation.”
Of course, there first needs to be a common understanding. Tess’ parents don’t speak English. She can converse with them in their native tongue, but even if she tried to explain to them the reason she won’t be getting married anytime soon, she literally wouldn’t be able to do so. Forget the absence TV characters, the glut of unrealistic romantic comedies or the judgment of clueless friends, the reason is because there is literally no word meaning “asexual” in her parents’ language. Linguistically speaking, she doesn’t exist. Talk about feeling invisible.
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