Pride as Therapy for Shame

This is my contribution for the June 2020 Carnival of Aces, hosted by aspecofdest, the topic being pride. 

Sometimes I really hate being asexual. Yes, I’m aware that’s a depressing way to start a post on pride in one’s orientation.

Just when I start to think I’m totally comfortable with how I identify, something unearths my heaps of internalized shame and feelings of inadequacy related to my romantic and sexual orientations.                                                                                                     I recently met another awesome ace through a queer dating app, and, as a part of my ongoing attempt to be more authentically myself, I gushed about her to my mother almost immediately. She ended up walking in on one of our Instagram video chats, got to talk to her briefly, really liked her, and is now shipping us hard as a couple.                     This unexpected turn of events has yielded a new crop of uncomfortable questions, such as, “I know some asexuals masturbate, can they get off?” and, on an even more cringey note, “What exactly would you want in a relationship, physically? Hugging? Hand holding? Kissing? I understand asexuality’s a spectrum, would you want any genital contact or groping?”

My 18 self would have been thrilled that she took my identity seriously enough to ask such questions. Yet here I am, just uncomfortable as hell.                                        The day after this uncomfortable turn of interrogation took place, I realized that a good portion of my discomfort was shame. This was solidified when, a couple nights later, my mother reported a revision of my identity to our neighbor, Angela. If you’ve been with me for a while and have the patience of a god (seriously, whhyyyyyyy didn’t you break this post into 2 parts, past self????) you may remember Angela from Being Openly Asexual, Openly Gay, and Equally Proud.

After some pestering from Angela about attractive German men, I essentially outed myself as gay, leaving out my asexuality because 1. I didn’t think it was relevant and 2. Coming out as gay is aaaaaaalways easier than coming out as asexual.

So, my mother had gone over to Angela’s for a drink, they began talking, and I came up. I’m going to be moving out of my parents’ home (hallelujuah) in under a month, and Angela inquired if I knew anyone in the region I’m going to be moving to. My mom told her about a potential love interest who I met online, going on to explain that I’m asexual and so is she. She gave her a brief – and pretty terrible – explanation of asexuality, and then left because it was getting late.                                                                                      Maybe it was the explanation of asexuality as a lack of a sex drive that my mother provided that had me cringing, but I think that it has more to do with internalized aphobia. A recent doctor’s visit drives this theory home.

I mentioned the presumed need for STI vaccinations in my last post Virginity is Not Immaturity and my awkward, shrill declaration that they wouldn’t be necessary killed the topic during that particular appointment, but I didn’t see any guarantees for the follow up.  I saw essentially two options for explanation: out myself as ace, either with or without explicitly using the label, but definitely say that I did not desire intercourse with anyone of any gender, or out myself as a lesbian by saying I wasn’t sexually attracted to men (true) and if she pushed the question about women, say that if I were to have sex with anyone, it would be a woman – which is true, if I were to engage in intercourse, it would be with a woman, likely in an attempt to make a relationship with an allosexual work.  None of my explanations would have been a lie, but the degree to which I was leaning toward lesbianism as an explanation for my not needing STI vaccines was a bright red shame flag in hindsight. (Fun fact, I did some research on vaccines, and the most common one is for HPV it appears, which can be transmitted through non-penetrative sex acts. My small fib wouldn’t have gotten me out of vaccine talk.)                     Every time I imagined outing myself as ace to my doctor, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach distinct from the usual nerves. I felt that same sinking when my mother told me she outed me as ace to Angela. I had been happy with imagining me as just your typical lesbian, and once she saw the whole picture, some sexless freak who can’t experience love the way everyone else does, I felt ashamed.                                             I keep reminding myself that asexuals are so constantly bombarded with the message that we don’t fit, be it lack of representation (or terrible representation) in media, the highly sexual nature of advertising, or, for romantic aces, how sex is taken for granted as a part of healthy, mature relationships, that it makes perfect sense to have so much shame about this aspect of myself.                                                                                                 Even the definition of asexuality as a lack, a gaping hole, opens people up to shame. I think a better way of defining asexuality would be to characterize it as a difference in desired connection – emotional rather than genital.

When I first realized my romanticism, there was quite a bit of fear and shame, but also a feeling of relief. I had the hope that someday I would have a relationship to talk about, something to fill the hole of an identity characterized by lack, something that, on the surface, to the outside eye, would make me look just a little more normal.

Even though my romanticism has been a muuuuuuuch easier thing than my asexuality, there definitely still is some shame there. My local Barnes and Noble recently opened, and whilst browsing for the first time in a long while, I noticed they had set up a display for pride month. I quickly became aware that I was self conscious about looking at it and trying my best to appear like I was just looking in the general direction of the display and not directly at it – I say I’m proud of being homoromantic, and yet I don’t want to be “caught” looking at a pride display. How far does the internalized homophobia go? That’s a good question.

I bought a rainbow Barnes and Noble book bag and forced myself to walk with it clearly in view, not at all hidden by my purse. On my way out to my car, I realized this display of pride merch was a kind of “fake it till you make it”, somehow I’ve been doing with my ace ring for a loooong time. It’s been so long, I’ve gotten used to the weight of a ring on my right hand. It’s been so long, become such a routine accessory, I’ve forgotten why I initially started wearing it. I realized recently that bought the vast majority of my pride jewelry – ace and gay – just after my two coming outs to myself, long before I felt any kind of bold, active pride. It seems I have long used pride jewelry as a “fake it till you make it”.

In honor of pride month, I bought myself myself a new ace pride ring – not a traditional plain black band, but a heart with the ace flag. The plain black band became just another piece of jewelry to me as the years passed and my shame ebbed and flowed, but this one is loud – a reminder to myself that my wearing this ring is an act of self love, a shove against my self directed aphobia, and a clear beacon to other aces that they are not alone. It is becoming more and more clear to me that I am not the proud ace role model I wish to be, and I’m hoping that having an image of pride clear on my right hand will serve as the gentle shove I need to be the activist I once dreamed of being.

 

Until next time,

keep on Aceing It.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Pride as Therapy for Shame

  1. This post is great, and thank you for sharing your experience! Compulsory sexuality is a very frustrating and ubiquitous pressure in media. Becoming a role model takes time, and you absolutely seem to be taking the best steps to be confident in yourself and become that role model you want to be. It’s not easy being visible, but ultimately I’ve found good in my high visibility, especially when younger folks latch on and see me as a real live grown up ace gay enjoying my life.

    If I can offer my 2 cents that you didn’t ask for, I’d like to jump in with more info on the HPV vaccine. As long as it is reasonably affordable for you, it’s not a bad idea to get it, even with you staying celibate. While it does only protect against certain types of HPV, the types it protects against are the most common cause of cervical cancer. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact, as compared to being spread by fluids like most STIs, and although 99% of the time HPV is not a big deal, some forms of HPV are very dangerous (the cervical cancer thing). While it is most often spread through sexual contact, there are enough cases of it being spread without sexual contact for it to be a reasonable precaution even if someone is maintaining celibacy. I’m not a doctor or nurse, but I’ve been a sexual educator for about 5 years, and this is a really common worry for a lot of people.
    There also a tremendous amount of research that is suggesting that cis women who have sex or sexual touch with other cis women don’t get tested or vaccinated against HPV enough, but that’s less relevant for you, and is really just me being nerdy about all the research I’ve read.

    Like

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