by Dill Werner
I can only speak for one person when it comes to demisexuality—me. My experiences, my preferences, my sexuality, me. Being a queer demisexual means that I fall somewhere along a spectrum within a spectrum along another spectrum. I am a demisexual floating in the asexual spectrum hunched under the queer umbrella. It’s…complicated.
Demisexuality is a very individual and emotionally-linked experience, which makes it difficult to draw out an exact description of what it is to be demi. Being demi means my sexual orientation falls somewhere between asexual and sexual. I feel sexual attraction but not in the same way sexual people do. Demis need a deep, emotional bond in order to experience sexual attraction toward another person. Keep in mind that sexual arousal and sexual attraction are not the same thing. A person can be sexually aroused but not sexually attracted to someone, and no always means no.
There is a growing list of books with confirmed demisexual characters. Notice that many are word-of-god demi, meaning the author has confirmed the character is demisexual off the page. This in itself is problematic. As someone who identifies openly with this sexuality, it leaves me feeling unworthy when a character is merely hinted at being demi. Why can’t I be shown on the page like heteroromantic or homoromantic characters? Even bisexual and pansexual characters are becoming more common. Readers need the words spelled out on the page where they can find characters to relate to. Self-identifying goes beyond Google searches and Tumblr posts. A character is like a friend sitting next to you, having a conversation about sexuality. Oh, you feel this way? I do, too. Together, you figure things out in the course of 250-or-more-pages.
An example of a canon demisexual is Aled from Alice Oseman’s RADIO SILENCE. Main character Frances is determined to get into an elite university but becomes involved with her favorite podcast and the shy genius, Aled, who created it. The book discusses under-represented sexualities in a way that’s open and fluid. Plus, it uses the terms bisexual, asexual, demisexual on the page.
“Wait, I don’t understand,” said Daniel. “I thought that meant someone who doesn’t like having sex at all.”
“I think that’s the case for some people…” said Aled. He sounded a little nervous. “But asexuality means…erm…someone who doesn’t feel, like, sexually attracted to anyone.”
“And some people just feel like they’re…like…partly asexual, so…they only feel sexually attracted to people who they know really, really well. People they have, like, an emotional connection with.”
“Okay. And that’s you.”
“And you are attracted to me. Because you know me really well.”
“And that’s why you never have a crush on anyone.”
“Yeah.” There was a pause. “Some people call that ‘demisexual’ but, erm…it doesn’t really matter what the word is—”
Yeah, being demi does mean you’ll have friend crushes. It’s inevitable. Deep, emotional bonds can develop between friends and can be platonic or become something romantic. It all depends on the situation. My closest friends are more than just friends, they’re family. Demis will love you, care for you, and cherish your friendship. We’ll be your greatest cheerleaders and the roots of your support system. You’ll sometimes wonder why we’re so unconditional, but it’s our nature. We find our people and stick with them, no matter what.
Being demi means I have eye-rolling moments when I rarely find myself on the page. As with any demographic, there are tropes. In current YA representation, demi characters will either fall in love too easily or too often. We’re not completely asexual or sexual for a reason. We experience relationships on a different level than our peers.
Imagine that your (sexual) friends have a jar filled with tiny clear marbles. You, a demi person, have a jar filled with only a few marbles, but your marbles are large and multi-colored with swirling fantastic designs inside them. Your friends play with their marbles daily, throw them around, clank them together, and misplace them. They shrug it off, no big deal. If the marbles break, they’ll get more from inside the jar. It’s like their jar is constantly refilling with marbles. For you, each marble is like a treasure. You only play with them using the utmost care and diligence. Your number of marbles is limited, and you don’t know when you’ll be down to your last marble or if you’ll ever get another marble again. Sometimes, you feel like your jar is empty, but it might not be so. There’s always the possibility that there’s one more marble waiting for you in the depths of the jar. When you reach in to pull a marble out, it might be a small, clear marble. You look at this marble, hold it in your hand, and feel nothing. It lacks the same enthusiasm you would experience with one of the larger, intricately designed marbles. So you drop the clear marble back in the jar. It wasn’t meant for you to play with.
The clear marbles you let go can be painful. They can be violent. They can cut you down in ways you never imagined. Being demi means dating is, well, difficult.
Being demi meant I’d always have to have “the talk” with my romantic partners. And let me be clear, it doesn’t matter what type of relationship you’re in—gay, straight, cis, trans, non-binary—you will have to out yourself every time because not telling the other person can have consequences. “Why did you waste my time?” consequences. You’ll spend half of your time explaining what demi is and the other half assuring the person that, yes, it is a real thing.
Being demi meant I’d get to the point where my partner wanted to take things to a sexual level and my body would shut down—emotionally and physically—because I just couldn’t force myself to feel the same way they did. I couldn’t make myself experience the same sexual attraction after days, weeks, months, or even years of knowing this person any yet not knowing them the way I needed to. Then, I’d be stabbed in the heart by the words no queer person can stand to hear.
“Why can’t you be like other people?”
Twist the knife, watch the blood pool.
“Why can’t you be normal?”
Yes, those words. The ones that make me want to crawl out of my skin and hide. I wished I could be like everyone else, especially when my friends started dating in high school and throughout college. I was left behind, confused when they would move from partner to partner and talk about “hook ups” or one-night stands. The idea of both casual sex and casual relationships repulsed me. It isn’t the same for all demisexuals. Each person has their own preference on sex, masturbation, and partnerships regardless of sexuality. Never assume any two people are the same.
In Shira Glassman’s Mangoverse series, the author has confirmed Rivka to be demisexual. Glassman tweeted, “Demi ppl say that my Rivka is demi so I kept on writing her that way. Demisexual warrior woman! With dragon!” In Glassman’s YA book THE SECOND MANGO, Queen Shulamit and Rivka discuss Rivka’s previous heteroromantic relationship with a man:
“He wouldn’t want you to feel this way. And he wouldn’t want you to have stayed alone so long for his sake.”
Rivka’s face wrinkled into a cranky scowl. “I’m not saving myself for a memory! I just don’t fall in love every five minutes like a lady-in-waiting in some bard’s tale.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” Shulamit looked down. “I know it’s not love, but I notice women so easily. Even when I was missing Aviva with all my heart, there were the willing women, the statue, the—the make-believe trick woman back there…” And I approached you, too, that way at least three times, she added inwardly, glad they were past that.
“That’s not how my mind works,” said Rivka.
It’s more than Rivka saying, “I don’t want to sleep around or give myself to someone willingly.” She can’t do it. Like Rivka said, it’s not how we work. Demi a grey area of asexuality where we don’t choose not to have sex or when/who to date. We often times can’t do either. Our bodies will tell us when it is or isn’t right.
Being demi meant I didn’t understand how my friends engaged in relationships so easily. Meanwhile, I was called a prude and made to think it was a conscious decision for me not to have sex. But it wasn’t a decision. I couldn’t shut off this part of my brain that lit up each time. The warning lights flashed blue and red as the sirens shrieked. “Nope,” the little voice in my head would command. “We are not doing this.” Whenever I came close to having sex with someone I hadn’t connected with, my body and brain would scream at me that it was wrong, all wrong. My heart would race and my muscles lock. Panic flooded me. I knew this person and cared about them on some base level, but it was wrong.
Being demi meant I wasn’t choosing to abstain from sex because of moral or religious beliefs. It meant that sex wasn’t right for me. It caused me mass amounts of anxiety when with a partner. On my own, I was fine. I didn’t really have any desires to be with anyone intimately. And that was okay. What I needed was time to find the right person and make the connection.
Being demi meant I had to experience something more intense than love before I could be sexually intimate with someone. Sometimes, the spark is effortless. A connection knits between your ribcages like a white-hot thread, binding you forever. You have one conversation and know the rest of your life will be filled with making memories together. If you’re lucky, you never have to snip the wire, never have to let go of them. This is why demis get irritated with people dismissing insta-love as a played-out trope in YA fiction. It might be overly abused (authors only have so much wordcount, people) but demis know insta-love. It’s real. It’s valid. And it deserves to be recognized.
Once I found my person, our two worlds click together to form something bigger than I ever thought imaginable. After two weeks, my partner and I looked at one another and said, “We’re getting married, right?” Dear reader, we did. After years of sadness and shame, I finally understood the hype of love and relationships. My friends even joke that my partner thawed my cold, dark heart. “Ha-ha! Made you love me,” my partner often reminds me. Yeah, they did.
Being demi means I want to share my experiences with other people, to help them understand what it’s like when you’re stuck somewhere between the lines, drifting in the world of grey that’s often overlooked. We’re not a one-size-fits-all sexuality. We need to have our stories told—preferably by Own Voices authors—which means putting the full scope of our experiences in print. Being demi is about more than including one scene that outs the character. It’s about going into depth and explaining the emotional turmoil we face in everyday relationships.
We love. We long to be loved. We just need to do it in our own way, on our own time.
Dill Werner is a genderless blob floating in a sea of confusion that strings words together for fun and profit. In reality, they is a genderqueer, demisexual, pansexual author who writes young adult and adult LGBTQ+ fiction with the supportive Knight Agency. When not conspiring to take down the gender binary, they cheerleads amazing people in the queer community and edits their Own Voices narratives, one of which takes place in a magical queer circus with a heteroromantic demisexual character as the antagonist. Find them on Twitter or check out their Blog for more ramblings about gender, sexuality, and book reviews.