Asexuality in YA Series: Day 1 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Asexuality in YA Series
by Zach J. Payne
I didn’t come out with a bang, but with a whimper.
There are people who might see this as a blessing. Some people have their sexualities so scrutinized by those around them, and they’re forced to make a declaration for one side of the other. Some pray for the ability to slide under the radar, to have nobody recreate the Spanish Inquisition every time that they dare to express themselves.
Me? There are times where I feel like Schrödinger’s asexual. I’m simultaneously in and out of the closet, depending on the phase of the moon and who I’m talking to. This is not a comfortable place to be. To say that it’s a luxury afforded to me by my ability to pass as Straight is an insult, one that ignores the complexity of the struggles that Asexuals have to face.
Growing up, there was no word for Asexual. While words like gay, lesbian, and even trans are working their way into mainstream America, the concept doesn’t exist outside of socially forward institutions, most of them online. Sure, a lot of outside cultural discussion can be pejorative, but the words exist. That is such a wonder, you have no idea. Even in high school, when I first started noticing that there was a difference between other guys and me, I didn’t have a word for this. I knew that I didn’t feel attraction toward men, despite repeated inquiries as to whether or not I was gay.
When there is no word for something, we come up with one. For me, it was “broken.” And there are still some times when I feel that way. Like, for example, any time that I talk about the future with people who don’t get it.
When I tell people that I have no plans to get married or have children, I must be fishing for sympathy. “Don’t worry,” they say, “You’ll find the right person someday.” They can’t fathom that somebody might not ever want to get married and have children. This is especially true for women, since having children is so uniquely tied into what it means to be a woman. This gets worse when you start telling your family these things. Especially those members of the family who are looking forward to grandchildren. You know that it will break their hearts to tell them that no, it’s not going to happen.
But why isn’t that going to happen? People can adopt children, right? You don’t have to have sex, right? That is true. However, I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to raise a child on my own. Many single parents, especially mothers, do a fine job of raising their children by themselves. There’s a stigma attached to this, one that is damaging and damning, for both parent and child – but that’s another can of worms.
Now, finding a parenting partner wouldn’t be trouble, except that any kind of romantic relationship is off the table. Our culture is addicted to sex; sex isn’t optional in a relationship. Either you put out, or you go it alone. Yes, there are people who are understanding of their asexual significant other, but this is largely the exception to the rule. Too many people (especially men) are obsessed with their “physical needs,” and are happy to walk out the door if they aren’t being met. You can look at history and marriage laws for this one: if you aren’t putting out, your relationship isn’t valid.
If you dare confess your asexuality, the public consensus is that you need to be fixed. This is another big one for the women, where certain individuals think that rape can somehow magically change a person’s ability to feel sexual attraction. The gentler people, however, simply recommend therapy. Because you must be crazy if you don’t want any.
This is where it becomes an issue for men, especially adolescents. Toxic masculinity requires us to be screwing everything that moves. Either way, sex and identity are almost inseparable in our culture. If you’re not having sex, you don’t exist. (On the other hand, it makes resisting 90% of commercials and advertisements really easy.)
Speaking of cultural attachment to sex, it seems like an active sex life is directly correlated with happiness and goodness. Perhaps one of the most painful things I discovered on my reread of Harry Potter is when Dumbledore tells Harry that Voldemort’s evil is tied to the fact that he couldn’t love.
Excuse me? I accept that she was aiming at something deeper, that she was implying that Voldemort didn’t form any real or genuine connections with anybody, be they platonic, romantic, or sexual. But, still, that is a very dangerous message to give to children who might be discovering their own asexuality or aromanticism. And, for God’s sake, don’t get me started on Disney, where the villains are either flamboyantly gay or cold, frigid, and unable to love. Just don’t.
Asexuals don’t face a lot of the terrible things that our gay, lesbian, and trans friends do. We don’t stand out, but we are targets. We deviate from the norm. It’s a lot more subtle and insidious than the outright hate that gets thrown around, but it exists, and it’s damaging. Worse, things aren’t really getting better when it comes to recognition or cultural change. I still have to argue with LGBTQIA+ folks about what the “A” stands for, a lot of them think that it stands for “Ally”. That’s not okay.
The YA community, however, is a powerhouse of change. Create asexual characters. Create asexual protagonists, asexual mentors, asexual friends. Let the guy that your main character lust over be asexual. Play with the idea. Do something with it. Tell asexual coming out stories, write asexual space operas. Just as we’re trying to step away from the idea that heterosexuality is the norm, let’s dispose of the idea that allosexuality is all that’s good and right in the world.
Zach J. Payne is an aspiring YA fiction author, Doctor Who aficionado, and professional Facebook status liker. He currently lives in Reno, NV, and can be found @ZachJPayne on most social media platforms.