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The Invisible Orientation

I've just finished listening to the audiobook version of Julie Sondra Decker's The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality (narrated by Reay Kaplan).

I book-reviewed it on Audible, but I wanted to make a few notes about my more personal reaction to it.



When I first encountered the idea of asexuality, I thought, "That could be me, but I'm not sure it fits," and I spent some time on AVEN forums, trying to figure out if I "qualified" to claim the label. I didn't feel especially at home in those forums, being about three times the age of the average user and having very little in common with most of them. I had some serious problems trying to fit my sexual history into a model that is still being defined and that didn't exist until I was already 50 years old.

So I wandered off, and have intermittently (and in safe spaces) identified as "ace" or "on the spectrum" without being out about it. Out-ness feels either unimportant or dangerous to me for various reasons having to do with my age and my family. In the meantime, I explored a lot of my other atypicalities: lefthandedness, attachment "disorder", introversion (atypical mostly only by American standards), permanent singlehood, an attention deficit; some of which feel akin to my asexuality for reasons I can't quite articulate.

Then, the other evening, I stumbled on a documentary called (A)Sexual on Netflix, and that led me to Julie Decker's new book, where, at last, I found specific acknowledgment that people my age, without a term or concept to describe themselves, might have a sexual history very much like mine and might feel just as I feel about it, and yes, do therefore claim the asexual descriptor.

For instance, I've been in sexual relationships. Sex was not horrible: I enjoyed some of it. I find some people aesthetically attractive, but I never had a way to understand the difference between that and sexual attraction. For most of my adult life, I thought they were synonymous, and I've found plenty of men visually pleasing. I have a libido--admittedly, not a huge one--and OMG I've written sexually explicit stories! That disqualifies me, right?

And then there's the fact that I have had some kind-of traumatic experiences around men and sex, and I've been diagnosed and treated for depression, AND I'm getting pretty old--so maybe "that's all it is": just PTSD, just mental illness, just age. Does all this mean I can't really claim the asexual label? The Invisible Orientation cleared that up: many asexual people have the same experiences. Asexuality is a description for people who aren't sexually attracted to others. It's mine to use if I want to.

I've come away from the book feeling much more sure (and positive) about calling myself asexual: somewhere in the nuanced and complex set of terms for self-concepts outside the "allosexual" (that is, non-asexual) range is one that fits me. Did it fit me every single day of my life? No. It's not a perfect match for my whole history. But I'm now willing to consider that the preponderance of evidence supports my decision to identity as ace.

It's pretty liberating.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
helenajust
Oct. 9th, 2014 07:01 am (UTC)
I am pleased that you feel it is liberating to decide to identify as ace when, as you also say, "Out-ness feels either unimportant or dangerous to me for various reasons having to do with my age and my family". I suspect every person feels "different" at some point, and some of us feel it more frequently or for more sustained periods, and it can be reassuring to feel somehow understood.
emeraldsedai
Oct. 10th, 2014 04:10 am (UTC)
Speaking as someone who has never been highly connected or embedded in my social network, neither belonging nor understanding is super important to me. But I'm finding a great relief of strain in having found myself a category, a column to slot myself into in my own mind.

I suspect that every dimension in which a person falls outside the hump of the bell curve adds some difficulty, and allying with others who share that outlying trait adds some comfort and pride. Even my left-handedness, as minor a thing as that is, makes me zero in on left-handed people (on TV, for instance--I always notice it) and feel a completely irrational solidarity and pride. President Obama is a southpaw! Yay!

If something as huge as your sexual orientation is an outlier, that irrational response is strong. Active oppression of the outlying trait isn't a prerequisite, though where it exists, the need for solidarity and community does become a matter of safety. Thankfully, oppression has not been my lot for any of my minority characteristics.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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