I discovered the true meaning of asexuality—and the existence of the asexual spectrum—at age nineteen, and it changed my life. But it wasn’t until three years later that I came to accept that label, specifically the gray-asexual label, for myself. Looking back, it’s unsurprising why.
In the heteronormative culture we live in, sex is everywhere and romance is the endgame.
I spent the majority of my life being told I was straight, and I believed it. I didn’t understand the concept of celebrity crushes or the idea of finding strangers attractive, but I went along with it. I thought it was the thing to do. To this day, I don’t understand the idea of seeing a stranger and wanting to get their number. Or hooking up with someone you don’t know at a party. In a way, these things—so normalized in our culture—are a foreign language to me.
Every time someone spoke about an attractive person, I would say, “They’re not really my type.” And then they would ask me to describe my “type,” and I’d discover that I don’t have one. For the longest time I thought I was just an extremely picky straight woman (with seemingly no actual criteria beyond “I like good people”). And I certainly passed that way, too, so I went along with.
Then I stumbled across a Tumblr post explaining what it means to be asexual and have a sex drive. I didn’t know that was possible.
Up until that point, I thought being asexual meant you weren’t interested in sex and didn’t have a sex drive. I didn’t realize that asexuality referred to sexual attraction to others, not the presence of a sex drive or sexual desire. To be clear, there are many asexuals who don’t have a sex drive or an interest in sex. But as I’ve learned, sex drive is not the defining characteristic of asexuality.
In the best comparison I’ve read on the subject, this Tumblr post said:
Do you ever go to your fridge because you’re hungry, but once you open it you just stare inside and want none of it? You open your pantry but still nothing appeals to you. Maybe someone even comes and suggests something, and even though you don’t know what you want, you still know that everything they said isn’t right. So you just stand around confused and hungry for no reason. That’s what it’s like to be an asexual with a sex drive.
Sometimes I think of sexual attraction as an inside joke that I can’t understand. I realize I sound obnoxious whenever someone points out an attractive guy to me, and all I can say is, “I don’t see it” or “Not my type.” I suppose if you don’t understand asexuality, that’s how it comes across. It’s frustrating to speak a different language on sexuality, where the dominant culture rejects or ignores you. At least now I know I’m not in the wrong.
But what if you’ve been sexually attracted to someone before? What about that crush in middle school? Do they negate the fact that you haven’t been into anyone for the past five years of your life?
This is where the asexual spectrum comes in. While we often split people into the category of sexual and asexual (that is, if asexuality is even acknowledged at all), sexuality isn’t quite so simple. What about people who live in those in-between spaces, with once-in-a-blue-moon sexual attraction?
It took me years to accept the gray-asexual label. Why? Mostly because of all the negative reactions I was seeing on social media. People calling ace-spectrum folks “special snowflakes,” saying we’re actually straight people who want to feel different (nevermind that queer aces exist). Maybe I was straight once, or maybe everything I thought I felt was a result of heteronormative indoctrination.
Do I need to prove it? If I say I haven’t been attracted to anybody in the past five years, is that asexual enough? What if that changes next year? Am I no longer asexual then? This is where I’m grateful for the gray-asexual label. It allows me to name my experiences, to acknowledge that there is a space for me somewhere, and to know that I’m not “weird” or “overly picky” as people have said. Because I just don’t experience attraction that way.
Once I realized I was on the asexual spectrum, everything made so much more sense. I went from feeling like a cultural outsider to having a word that describes who I am.
This is where things got tricky for me as an immigrant kid and a woman of color. I always assumed that my lack of interest in dating and my lack of attraction to people was a cultural issue. All this time, I’d blamed it on coming from a country where the most PDA you see is handholding, and where cheek kisses were rare even on TV. I thought the sexual conservatism of my homeland was the reason why I didn’t fit in to dating and hookup culture in the U.S. Now I know that’s not true.
Knowledge of the ace spectrum unlocked a new world for me, but it’s also not quite complete. Because I’m seeing another gap here, a conversation that needs to take place. Where are the spaces for asexuals and ace-spectrum people of color to connect? I blamed my lack of attraction on my cultural identity and its “foreign-ness,” and that’s why it took so long for me to realize I’m gray asexual. What if I had found an ace community of color to help me unpack that?
It’s hard enough finding asexual communities; it’s even harder finding communities for asexuals of color.
To my knowledge, the largest online resource and community for asexuals is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). But AVEN has always felt like a predominantly white space. It’s not the community for me.
What spaces will allow me to talk about being gray-ace while being hypersexualized as an Asian American woman? Where are the aces who will understand why I blamed my lack of sexual attraction on cultural differences? In other words, where are my people?
It’s a liberating experience to finally understand and name my identity as a gray ace. The next step in the journey is to connect with others like me. I want the next article I read on asexuality to be written by an ace of color, and I want to see an active community for us, by us. I’m committing to this by writing more about my experiences as a gray-ace of color. And I’m hoping to meet my community in the process. Anyone care to join me?