As I’ve said before, whenever a question like ‘When did you realize you were asexual?’ appears on a survey, I have to leave it blank, or put ‘I don’t remember’ or some other non-answer.
See, those kinds of questions seem to assume that there is some kind of ‘aha’ moment, and that before the aha moment you are totally unaware that you are asexual, and that after the ‘aha’ moment it is totally clear to you that you are asexual. Suffice to say, I did not have that kind of ‘aha’ moment.
If you had asked me when I was in high school what my sexual orientation was, and if I were willing to answer the question, I would have told you that I was straight. So that means I didn’t know I was asexual, right?
Well, there is knowing, and then there is knowing. If you had asked my high school self if I experienced sexual feeling the way most of my peers did, I would have told you ‘probably not’. If you had asked my high school self if I found people ‘hot’, I would have told you ‘not really’. If you had asked my high school self if I was interested in having sex, I would have told you ‘no’. I had been aware in differences between myself and my peers when it came to sexuality even before I was in high school, though it became more apparent in high school. Does this mean I knew I was asexual, even if I didn’t have that word?
Let me throw another wrinkle into this. If I recall correctly (and I might not – I don’t even trust my own memory about this one) I found the AVEN website while I was still in high school! If so, it was really early in the history of AVEN, since I was already in high school when it started. How did I find AVEN? Because I thought it was odd that there was not a sexual orientation for people who attracted to neither males nor females, and ‘asexual’ was the most obvious name for such an orientation. I did read the basic AVEN intro and FAQ section, and thought ‘hmmm, that might be me’ … and went back to thinking of myself as straight by default.
You see, even though I was fairly aware that I was experiencing a lot less sexual attraction than my peers, I did not know how long that state of affairs would last. I still thought of myself as a late-bloomer. It was not until after high school that I stopped being comfortable with thinking of myself as a ‘late bloomer’.
So, let’s say during that health ed class I took during my first semester of high school, our enthusiastic young teacher who was proud of having studied human sexuality in college knew about asexuality, and included a decent Asexuality 101 in the class. What would have been different?
Well, I would have probably started identifying as asexual in high school (at least privately – whether I would have been open about it would have depended on how my classmates would have reacted to the asexuality component of the class) … but I don’t see that as making much of a difference to my high school life.
You see, in high school, when someone came up to me and say ‘Sara, you’re weird’ I took it as a compliment. I was proud of being weird. So a little quirk like not being interested in sex did not ruffle my feathers, or anybody else’s feathers. Of course, there was an intricate social pecking order, it was just that being a weirdo did not condemn you to having a low status in the pecking order (indeed, it was better to be weird than boring).
I experienced a fair bit of drama during high school (see ‘social pecking order’, also, academics were a source of drama) but practically none of it was related to sexuality/romance, so I don’t think identifying as asexual would have changed much of that.
When an asexual identity had more potential to have an impact on my life was … around the time I started identifying as asexual. It’s as if it were stored in the back of my mind, ready to come out when identifying as straight-by-default wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Also, I started identifying as asexual after I got some information about asexuality which was a lot more in-depth than the AVEN FAQ, which made it clearer that it was an appropriate label for me.
What’s the takeaway from all this? 1) Identifying as asexual can be a blurry process, not necessarily a clear transition and 2) I was lucky to grow up in an environment with a relatively low level of compulsory sexuality, and that probably made a bigger difference than having or not having the ‘asexual’ label.