Monday, December 21, 2009

Coming out, a second time

Every year, around this time, my mother sends out some sort of family newsletter to a bunch of relatives. It's some sort of Christmas tradition. I barely see the newsletter myself, but last I saw, I noticed that she plugs my blog. Okay. She has permission to do that. I don't mind, but it makes me slightly uncomfortable saying what I'm about to say.

I have chosen to identify as gay.

There's a long and unusual story behind this. Though I am 21, this is not something I've been hiding all my life. It was not something I was just too afraid to admit to myself until recently. It was simply never obvious to me. It still isn't obvious to me.

Only half the gay experience

The fact of the matter is that I relate to one half of the gay experience much more than I relate to the other half. That is, I relate to the experience of not being interested in women. I'm not particularly interested in men either. That's why, last summer, I chose to identify as asexual, meaning that I am attracted to neither gender.

I still identify as asexual. Asexual and gay. I would actually like to identify as something inbetween, but unfortunately, there isn't any well-known word to describe such a person. In any case, there are many different ways to be between asexual and gay. It's not simply a spectrum between the two. It's more like a multi-dimensional space. To simplify things, I will only talk about where I am in this multi-dimensional space.* Please realize that I represent no one but myself.

*If you are familiar with the asexual community, you know that many asexuals experience a separation between the romantic and sexual. However, I do not, so you can assume I'm talking about both together.

Yeah, so I'm not really into girls. I've experienced some degree of alienation my whole life, starting in seventh grade, because I just didn't get why all my friends would go on so much about the opposite sex. It continues to this day, when my roommate points out hot girls to me, and my only reaction is "huh?"

I tend to put a low value on attractiveness, because I can barely distinguish it from unattractiveness. Perhaps I could teach myself to recognize the difference, the same way I could teach myself to recognize the difference between different kinds of English accents, but what would be the point? It still wouldn't provoke any emotional reaction, so I don't care about it. Some people have told me, "That just means you're not shallow." But this presupposes that I'm attracted to something deeper than outer beauty, such as a good personality. It doesn't work that way, not for me. I like people with interesting personalities, but as friends.

How it's different with men

It's the same with men, but not quite. I can almost tell when men are attractive. But the feeling is rather disappointingly weak, and I'm left wondering whether it's strong enough to be functional. I have decided that it is functional.

To the point: I attempted a same-sex relationship this fall. This is the first time I've mentioned it on my blog, and now that we've broken up, I would prefer it be the last. I wasn't really into the guy at first, but gradually I felt something. Towards the end, I was happy just to be in his presence. I also had the really weird experience of wanting to kiss and make out with him. If you think about it, it's a rather oddly specific desire, like having an innate desire to shuffle cards, or an innate phobia of whales. But I'm told that this is what people normally experience, and now I have experienced it. It hurt when he broke up with me, but I'm over it.

So it seems like a pretty clear case of me being attracted to the guy. Why was this the first time? I feel like it was caused by a sustained intentional effort to think of the guy as a potential life-partner, but I'm not sure I believe that this is possible. I do believe that the fact it was a guy was essential. I just can't imagine it working with a girl, though I reserve the right to correct myself if I am in error.

Oddly, throughout the relationship, I continued to identify mostly as asexual. I felt like I could tell people, "I'm asexual, but I'm also in an ordinary same-sex relationship," and that would convey the complexities of the situation. But I need a better way. Therefore, I now identify as both gay and asexual. I am gay in the sense that I am seeking a same-sex relationship. But I am predominantly asexual in my everyday reactions to people.

Some thanks

I fully realize that the act of switching between sexual identities opens me up to some criticism from all sides. That's fine by me. I'm changing my identity for me, not for anyone else.

I will freely admit that I've felt a lot of internal conflict about it. I was worried, and am worried that I could be wrong. Maybe I'm fully asexual, and not gay at all? Or fully gay and not asexual at all? Maybe I was just too afraid of asexuality, and wanted to deny it? Maybe I can't let go of asexuality because that would imply that I made a mistake?

If it appears that I've overthought the situation, you haven't even seen half of my thoughts. Questioning my sexuality has been the most depressing experience of my life. It helped that I was queer-positive from the beginning, but I was still hit hard. And just imagine how many teenagers have to go through this, many without the support of their parents. I consider myself lucky for having the parents I do, and the friends I do. I think you will be hard-pressed to find a non-queer group which is as queer-positive as are skeptical college students. Because of where I am, I've felt little pressure to hide myself (obviously, or I wouldn't be open about this on the internet).

I'm also grateful to the asexual community. Some critics worry that asexuality can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but they needn't worry. It is the prevailing attitude in the asexual community that the label is always descriptive, and never prescriptive. People who move away from asexuality after a period of self-discovery get full support from the community. There is no sense of betrayal. I continue to support asexuals and the asexual community. I continue to relate to many of their experiences, and will continue to offer an asexual perspective where it is needed.

And finally, I'm thankful to all my readers for putting up with my venting about my personal life. It probably wasn't boring, but it was far from the intended topics of my blog. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, so it may very well continue to leak in, or perhaps it won't. Either way, thanks for reading.


foole said...

Congratulations! I know that seems weird, but I mean it.

I wouldn't worry about opening yourself up for criticism; I think with things like this it's more important to consider what makes you happiest. And one of the best parts of being human is being able to change our minds. So there!

Jachra said...

Congratulations on coming out. I know it must be difficult to be asexual, and to be gay in this country is a difficult thing.

Secret Squïrrel said...

Good on you. I wouldn't stress about not having sexual feelings as strong as those of others would appear to be. Teens to early twenties is a pretty daunting time, socially and sexually, for most people.

There doesn't seem much point in worrying about whether you should be attracted to this person or that. If it happens - great; if not - that's great too.

If it's important for you to attach a label to yourself, how about neutral-gay?

miller said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! Congratulations seemed a bit weird to me at first, but I suppose it is appropriate.

Squirrel, there are already words out there to describe what I'm describing, but as I said, the problem is none of them are well-known. There's "homoromantic asexual" (aka gay-asexual), but that implies romantic feelings without sexual feelings, so it doesn't apply to me. There's "demisexual", which implies attraction only towards significant others, but I'm not sure that applies to me either. The more general term is "gray-A", and that's the one I would use. But these terms are used nearly exclusively within the asexual community, so I would only talk about them as an afterthought (ie in a comment here).

Jeffrey Ellis said...

Good for you, dude. I was thinking "agnostosexual" might be the word you are looking for? ;-)

Scott said...

Hi Miller -- I'll second everyone else with my congratulations, mostly because I know it would take me a lot of courage to discuss things like this in a public forum.

I have a question for you, which I hope won't seem too intrusive, given the personal nature of your post. In it, you said something that piqued my curiosity: "I'm changing my identity for me, not for anyone else." Not having ever experienced great doubt about my own sexuality, I am curious in what you sense you see this as a change in your identity, and not just a change in the words you use to express that identity.

I ask because I think that the language one uses to describe one's identity does have a real effect on that identity; but that's an idea that I often see lumped together with other so-called "postmodern" ideas that many self-identified skeptics reject.

I want to emphasize that this is not a criticism, but an affirmation -- I think it's vital to respect the right to change one's identity. But I think some people would say that it's not a "real" change, it's just a better description of an actual state of affairs -- and I'm curious about how you'd respond to that position.

miller said...


What I meant by that statement was I am changing my identity for my own personal benefit, without regard to whether it helps or hurts any larger political movement. For instance, I don't intend to hurt the asexual community (and don't believe that I will), but if I somehow cause them harm, then I've got myself to think about first.

Yes, I do believe identity has some significance, not just to political groups, but to individuals as well. I suppose you could say it's merely a better description of an actual state of affairs, but the word "merely" would be misplaced. It is a real change, a real change in how I describe it, how I think about it, and how I respond to it. That seems pretty significant to me.

If you are asking whether changing a sexual identity caan change the thing which the identity describes, I'd say it could be possible. Both the identity and sexual orientation exist in the same place (the brain), after all. But I have not seen evidence to demonstrate that this is the case. I also do not think there is any particular reason to think it would be effective (though there is reason to think that changing identity can lead you to falsely perceive a change, or perhaps perceive a real change and falsely attribute its cause).

Anonymous said...

I honestly would call you a homo-asexual. simple enough :)