I should be writing but I keep getting caught up in thinky-thoughts about who I am and what it means so I figure I need to get them out there to clear my head for the stuff I’m supposed to be working on right now.
(warning: what follows will be some long and probably convoluted self-examination)
Maybe it’s because in less than a week, I turn 40. That seems like a good age to stop and do some serious self-evaluation. Or maybe it’s because my chronic and cyclical depression seems to be on an upswing right now and I have the ability to think about things a little more clearly and the energy to dissect those thoughts. I don’t know. But these past weeks have been spent largely thinking about where I fit in the scheme of things and what my identity may be.
First, some background which might seem irrelevant at the moment, but will have a context later:
I grew up beaten over the head with messages that I was an awful person. Not in a malicious way where I was accused to trying to hurt people, but in that I was selfish/self-centered/self-serving/get the drift?
My job, as an adolescent, was to sublimate any of my own wishes in the interest of making sure everyone else was happy, and if I didn’t do that, it was because I was a terribly selfish person. If I had someplace I needed to go, I either had to find a way to get there myself, or suffer a diatribe on just what an inconvenience it was for the people who were raising me to get me there. If I wanted something for myself, I had to make sure it didn’t conflict with what anyone else in the family wanted, or I was expected to sacrifice what I wanted so that they could have what they wanted. If I did something wrong or broke a rule, not only had I done something wrong or broken a rule, but how dare I not be grateful for all they did for me and what sort of selfish person wouldn’t totally toe the line to show their gratitude?
Just a random and rather trivial frex: I had one TV show I liked to watch. Just one. One hour a week that I wanted to use the TV for my own purposes. That TV show was on at 7 PM on Saturday, which was a time when the younger children in my family wanted to watch something else. If I insisted on having the TV for that one, single hour a week, I was the bad guy. I had committed the cardinal sin of not giving way for the sake of keeping the family peace. Typically I had to wait a week to watch new episodes when they ran a second time at 11 PM on Saturday night, at which point I would watch them on the far smaller, older, inferior TV in the basement because I couldn’t use the TV upstairs and risk waking the rest of the family. Once I started working, I had to record the episodes and watch them at 3 AM on Sunday morning after I got done with my Saturday shift at 2 AM.
Like I said, that’s a trivial example, but I think it shows just how my life worked back then. And to this day, 20+ years later, I view everything I think and want in terms of “does this benefit me over the comfort and wishes of other people?” and if it does, I struggle to let myself think or want that because if it’s not 100% altruistic a desire, then obviously I want it because I’m a bad, self-serving person. I struggle to give myself permission to be selfish, and I bludgeon myself once I’ve done so.
One area where this has been problematic is with regard to my low libido. Now, of course, as a woman, I have internalized the social expectation that I should be sexual when a man wants me and that I’m a failure when I don’t meet my man’s needs. A large part of why my first marriage ended was because I thought that the fact that I had no desire for sex meant that the relationship was over and I didn’t want to be in it anymore. After that marriage was over, I told people, “He was a great guy and I adored him. I could have been completely happy living next door to him and being his best friend for the rest of my life, I just wasn’t attracted to him.”
Then I became involved with another (altogether wonderful) man and eventually married, and I saw the same pattern from my first marriage play out. I had a period of what people in the polyamory community would call “New Relationship Energy” where I felt very sexual within that relationship, but then after a couple years, that faded and I no longer had any interest in sex.
I told myself it was because I struggled with anorgasmia. By the time I was in my late 20s, I’d never had an orgasm, even from masturbating or using a vibrator. I spent several years seeing a sex therapist, to no avail. I was broken. I didn’t work properly, and the man who shared my life was not getting his needs met as a result.
But eventually, I did manage to start having orgasms (though I’ve never managed it without a vibrator) and it didn’t help my lack of desire to be sexual with my husband at all. In fact, it almost made me MORE reluctant to have sex with him, because I knew I wouldn’t have an orgasm, even if I brought my vibrator into the situation, because it would distract me from where I needed to go in my head to get off. And I knew he would try (he would try so very hard) to get me off, because he always tried. He wanted our sex life to be good for me, but I wasn’t capable of doing it with him and I really just didn’t want to be touched. Even him trying to kiss me felt like he had expectations of sex (even when he swore he didn’t) and then I would freeze up, afraid of feeling pressured and guilty for feeling that way and for not being able to give him what he needed. I just wanted to be left alone to use my Hitachi when I felt the need and couldn’t he just leave me alone and go rub one out in the shower? (Cue thoughts of how selfish and terrible I was for feeling that way.)
Luckily, I’ve never been wired for jealousy, and I’ve always been firmly of the opinion that if I have to choose between honesty and monogamy, I’ll go with honesty every time. So when my husband felt like life was passing him by without him exploring the aspects of his sexuality he wanted to explore, I was okay with him seeking out other play partners. Honestly, it’s been great. The pressure and guilt are off me, and while I had a brief period of insecurity where I was afraid that he would find someone he wanted to be with more than he wanted to be with me and our son, especially if that person was meeting his needs and I wasn’t, but I got over that and things have been wonderful. I haven’t met his regular play partner yet, but I’ve been in correspondence with her and we’ve even talked about getting together for lunch. And since my husband started playing regularly, he hasn’t been struggling so much with feelings of being rejected or afraid that I didn’t want him because there was something wrong with him. So this has been a good thing for our relationship. Also, for the record, my husband is a wonderful man.
(Now, people on the asexual spectrum reading this post are probably nodding their heads or thinking, “Hmm, yep, red flag here, red flag there, everywhere red flag.” But I only learned about asexuality as a concept a couple years ago, so I’ve been slow on the uptake.)
Another area where my lack of libido has caused me trouble is with the fact that I write a lot of erotica. It’s made me feel like a fraud, because how could I be writing all this steamy stuff when I had no sex life of my own to speak of? So I feel like I’ve been faking it on that front, also, ashamed to admit just how abysmal my own sex life is. I also feel like a fraud claiming to be in the BDSM lifestyle when I haven’t played in over 10 years. I had played, and I still want to play, but obviously the libido issue has been a problem there, too.
The fact that my sexual desire might be purely situational didn’t occur to me until about a year and a half ago, when my husband and I had a date night at a swingers’ club. Once I got out of the house, where I am a mother, a writer, a lot of other things, I was able to feel sexual and not freeze up when my husband touched and kissed me. The context and surroundings mattered. At home, I’m not a sexual person. At home, I have other things I want or need to do, other things I want to spend my mental and (very limited) physical energy upon. Take me out of that context and into a situation where all the energy around me is sexual and I have nothing else to focus on except being sexual, and I could get there in my head.
It was around that time that I said to my husband for the first time that I thought I might be asexual.
Note the language I use there. “Thought I might be.”
On one hand, the definition of asexuality–that being having a lack of sexual attraction to other people–fits. But I’ve had a really hard time picking up the ace badge and pinning it to my shirt because of these purely situational bursts of sexuality I have. I feel sexual when a relationship is new and shiny. When I’m away from home in a place full of sexual energy. When I’m writing erotic material. When my depression is on an upswing and I start to feel (relatively) hypersexual. Also, with or without orgasms, if I can get in the mood for it, I like sex. I like the feeling of being fucked. Sometimes when I’m in a hypersexual place, I even want to get fucked.
I haven’t come out as asexual because I don’t know what to do with all that. But then, the fact that my sexuality seems to be purely situational appears to put me firmly in the demi-sexual, if not the ace, category. It’s never been about attraction to other people. It’s just been about the psychological energy of a given situation.
What I really want is an Sexual Identity Fairy to come along, bop me on the head with a dildo-shaped wand, and say “THIS IS YOUR IDENTITY! SO BE IT!” But of course, that isn’t how it works. Because how you identify is something you have to decide for yourself. And that is where I get into trouble because I don’t trust myself to decide on my own identity.
Because of my upbringing. Because I’m always afraid that whatever I do is done purely for self-serving purposes. I don’t trust myself.
If I claim to be asexual, am I just trying to give myself a Get Out of Jail Free card for not meeting my husband’s sexual needs? For fraudulently passing myself off as a writer who knows something about sex and the BDSM lifestyle when I’m all but celibate?
And what about this whole LGBTQIA+ umbrella? I’ve been (rightfully) appalled by the people claiming that “A” stands for “allies” and have made a point of making it clear that while I AM an ally, I have no interest in co-opting the struggle of sexual and gender minorities for my own self-glorification.
I’ve always identified as straight (though interestingly, one of the very, VERY few times when I actually linked sexual desire to another person–in other words, I looked at that other person and thought, “I want sex with THEM”–that person was a woman. In fact, that may be the ONLY time I’ve ever experienced a connection between sexual desire and a person that wasn’t purely situational.) Most of my aesthetic attraction to people is focused on bodies with cis-male (or sometimes masculine-leaning androgynous) presentation. Most of my sexual feeling and fantasies involve penises and penile penetration.
Having always identified as straight, presented as cis, and being in a heteroromantic relationship, I’ve spent a lot of time coaching myself to be aware of my privilege, to not co-opt the struggles of the GSM people I support for my own purposes, to respect the fact that I have advantages that they don’t and not to take that for granted and not to make their struggle for equality and acceptance about me.
So, having spent so much time loudly decrying the idea that the A in LGBTQIA+ might apply to me, how am I supposed to turn around and say, “Wow, yeah, I guess that A does apply to me?” There appears to be some debate as to whether asexuals–particularly those who are heteroromantic or in het relationships–even belong under the queer umbrella. I feel very, very, VERY OH SO VERY, leery of co-opting a queer identity for myself. Like whoa. That feels so wrong when I am so fully aware of my own privilege.
And what about the whole objectification and fetishization of gay men issue as it relates to m/m romance. So far, that is what I’ve written exclusively (though lately I’ve been considering branching out.) If I were presumptuous enough to consider myself part of the queer community, wouldn’t it seem self-serving that I could then be one of the people who can deny that they objectify or fetishize queer people because they are queer themselves? Because I don’t ever want to be able to skate on being called out if I step over the line.
So… I don’t know. I don’t know what I am. I’m a cis-woman. I’m in a heteroromantic though largely sex-free marriage. I have a distinct aesthetic appreciation for the cis-male body. I sexually fantasize about cis-male people. I can get physical enjoyment out of sex with penis-bearing people and sometimes even want the feeling of being penetrated by a penis. I have sexual energy that is largely spent in my writing because I have no desire to act it out physically. I rarely want sex with other people and when I do, it’s largely because of situational factors. What does that make me? How do I accept that identity without feeling like I’m intruding where I shouldn’t?
I don’t know.