Sigh. Take a sip of coffee, and begin again.
Hello. My name is Trevor Van Winkle, and I’m asexual.
For those who know me, I don’t really think that statement will come as a surprise. For those who don’t know me but are familiar with asexuality, it shouldn’t be a terrible shock either. But for those who took one look at that sentence and simply went “wait… what?” – welcome. It’s for you and those like you that I’m writing this.
First, let me address the obvious. I’m not an amoeba. I don’t reproduce via mitosis. Nor am I a plant, a tree, a mushroom, or anything other than a fully alive and fully human human being. When I say I’m asexual, I’m not talking about the process we all learned about in high school biology. I’m talking about a human sexual orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction to anyone, of any gender.
Before you ask, no, I don’t hate sex, or those who have sex. I’m not puritanical, prudish, or pissed off about other people’s sexuality: in fact, I firmly believe that what’s done between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes is anything but my business – or yours, for that matter (unless you happen to be one of those consenting adults). In the same way, what I chose not to do there isn’t anyone else’s.
No, I’m not just looking for attention. I’m not trying to be a “special snowflake” (and what the actual hell is that phrase supposed to mean, anyway?) or win brownie points for not being straight. I know how often both sides of the LGBTQ+ conversation deny that asexuality even exists. Honestly, I’ve struggled with accepting this label day and night for the last few months, and with whether or not I should tell anyone about it. But eventually I had to conclude that whether or not I wanted to accept it, the stories of other asexual people fit my own experience just a little too neatly to be coincidence – and that if I was going to be honest with myself and live honestly around other people, I needed to speak out. So here I am.
Asexual – Ace for short.
Ace is a sexual orientation in the same way that straight, gay, lesbian, bi, and pan are orientations. While some might debate whether it’s really an orientation or simply the lack of one, it makes more sense to describe it as an orientation. Sexual identity is a part of it, but saying that it’s just an identity is an easy (and not uncommon) way to discredit, dismiss, and disregard ace people. Identities change. Orientations do not. In my experience (and in the experience of millions of other aces around the world), it has persisted since long before I knew the name for it.
Ace is also an umbrella term for a large number of sub-orientations, all characterized by a lack of sexual attraction. Beneath this umbrella are aromanticism (lack of romantic attraction), demisexuality (only feeling sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed), grey-ace (low, but still present, sexual attraction), and a whole gradient of other terms along the spectrum from asexual to allosexual (those who experience sexual attraction). There’s a reason why one of the first symbols for the community was a triangle that faded from black to grey to white. Like all sexuality, ace is a spectrum, and the wide variety of labels are not people “making up” orientations, but finding names for existing experiences shared by a large number of people.
One of the main reasons for this variety is a rarely acknowledged reality about attraction itself. Most people look at someone, feel attraction towards them, and on the basis of that feeling try to pursue a relationship. However, while it all happens at the same time, they actually experience several things at once: sexual attraction (the desire to have sex), romantic attraction (the desire to be in a relationship), personal attraction (the desire to be closer), and aesthetic attraction (the desire to look at someone beautiful).
I think it’s easy to see how those elements can be separated: personal attraction can exist between two people with no sexual attraction, even if both parties are attracted to the other’s gender (yes, boys can just be friends with girls without wanting to get in their pants, and vice versa). You might see someone beautiful, but not want to form a relationship with them. And there are plenty of people who are perfectly content to pursue relationships that are entirely sexual, but not romantic or personal. I don’t get it, but that’s the reality of hook-up culture.
Ace people are the exact opposite. We might form romantic relationships with people we love, or with people we feel aesthetic attraction towards, but we have no inherent desire to have sex with them. For us, one or all of the other three forms of attraction are more important, fundamental, and desirable. We often place a high premium on friendship, family, community, and beauty rather than participating in the endless race to find a mate and have children. That (and I really don’t think this needs to be said, but I know it does) is fine. In fact, it’s good: in a sex-crazed culture that has commodified attraction to sell everything from hamburgers and handguns, finding an ace person who just wants to be friends might come as a relief to most people.
The gradient triangle is one of the older symbols of asexuality, created by the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). Other symbols include the ace flag (with four horizontal stripes of purple, black, grey, and white), ace playing cards (ace of spades for aromantic, ace of hearts for romantically attracted), and black rings worn on the middle finger of the right hand. I choose to wear that last one as a means of self-expression and identification, despite the fact that it’s a poorly known and fairly uncommon symbol these days. I also wear it because I think it looks cool (I’m probably wrong about that, but I really don’t care – I like it).
Some aces are also aromantic (“Aro Ace”). Others are not. Some form romantic relationships that don’t involve sex at all, or only very rarely, and for a specific purpose (if they want to have kids, for example) And yes, aces can have sex –they just don’t want to. Others don’t date at all. Some form Queer Platonic Relationships (QPR’s) that are neither sexual nor romantic, but involve the same level of emotional and relational commitment as traditional romances. And some just want to be left alone by everyone. That has little or nothing to do with their orientation, and it’s also entirely their choice.
The one thing that we all have in common? We’re fine. We’re not broken or hurting or sick – and if we are, it’s not because we’re ace. We’re not missing out on something fundamental or necessary to humanity. You don’t need to fix us… in fact, you can’t. There’s nothing wrong with us.
I don’t yet know where I fall on that spectrum. Through all the hormonal years of my adolescence and the personal freedoms of young adulthood, I never felt the same kind of attraction that all my friends did. In middle and high school, I intentionally avoided dating: it just didn’t seem worth the effort to me. Once I graduated and moved on to college, I wondered about it occasionally, but nothing changed. Whenever I did find myself in a scenario where anyone else might feel attraction, I felt only an immense personal disconnect and disinterest.
There were a few people (and I mean a few – I can count them on one hand) who I thought I felt attracted to at that time… but looking back, I realize that I only really wanted them as friends. I was attracted to their minds, their hearts, and their kindness – but nothing more. I wanted to get closer, but not in the way I thought. Of course, I lacked the mental framework to figure that out, and more often than not I grew bitter because of my confusion.
And that’s why I’m writing this now – taking the risk of coming out in a terrifyingly public way. While coming out should be a very personal act undertaken mainly for oneself, I’m mostly doing this for the sake of others who, like me, feel confused or broken. I first heard the term “Ace” used correctly in the podcast Ars Paradoxica, which featured an ace scientist as its protagonist. In more mainstream fiction, fans have postulated that Sherlock Holmes, Data, Katniss Everdeen, the Doctor from Doctor Who, and many other characters are Ace because they show a general disinterest in relationships, sex, and attraction. I’ll let you guess how many of them I identify with (hint: it’s all of them).
While none of those characters were explicitly written as asexual, I think you can see why they’d be seen that way… and why, intentionally or not, their characterization broadens the conversation around sex, relationships, and love to include those who experience those supposedly “fundamental” needs differently – or not at all. And for those like me who aren’t sure what they are, or if they’re anything at all…
Why do you think most of the characters in my podcast are gay, bi, lesbian, or ace? Because we can’t be what we can’t see. (On a side note, Worlds Apart – my attempt to write a romance I could relate to – turned out to be pretty much a textbook ace love story). I’m writing this because those in authority still tell us we’re supposed to be straight, cis-gendered, and married (happily or not) by the time we’re 30. And because I have a voice with Homestead (small as it may be), I have the chance to say that not everyone has to feel that way, be that way, and live that way.
You have the right to be who you really are, ace or otherwise. People have always had the right to determine their own destinies, despite the often-violent protests of those who can’t accept what’s beyond their understanding. But now the “different” people are standing up, linking arms, and refusing to back down. People who might’ve spent their whole lives angry and conflicted have woken up, realized the truth about themselves, and are living in freedom, rather than in slavery. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
I am human. I am not angry or broken or cold-hearted – at least, no more than anyone else. I am Ace. We’re here. We exist… and we always have, whether you saw us or not. And if you feel the same way I do, please know that you are not alone. You’re not broken, but only beautifully yourself.
If you have questions about what this means for you personally, please read the Friends and Family page on AVEN’s website: https://asexuality.org/?q=family.html
If you have more questions about what Asexuality is and how to support the ace community, please check out AVEN’s general overview page: https://asexuality.org/?q=overview.html
Happy Ace Week Everyone!