I wrote the bulk of this piece back in Connecticut in 2013, when i still believed in the concept of mental illness yadda yadda. i am adding this preface in Vermont, from a place of somewhat greater stability and even more firmness.
Asexuality is not a common orientation but it is not unknown or in any fashion abnormal. As i note below, a good 1% of the human population may be asexual all their lives and many, many more may find themselves “asexual” at some time in their lives. I put the quotations around the word because i believe that those who find themselves suddenly asexual while taking certain psycho-tropic drugs may not quite understand that it is the medications that have induced this change in them, but sometimes the state is an unnatural change from their native orientation and not a natural state of affairs.
if you happen to be asexual, as i am, you surely know that it is not a state of being without discrimination. For one thing, people make assumptions about us that are almost always to our detriment, and they never bother to inquire first who or what we are about. For instance, i am 64, childless, unmarried, and unpartnered…and yet i like to contribute to the well-being of young people, either by teaching them or by assisting them in other ways. If i were married with children, i believe my intentions would not be regarded with suspicion, but as it is, i feel frequently suspected as some sort of sexual predator. An asexual friend of mine evinced similar feelings, saying that he could not invite a friend from work out for a drink without that person clearly fearing that he was being “hit on” when all my friend ever wants is friendship from anyone, male or female!
I dont understand why the A in LGBTQIA stands for “allies” not for “asexual” and why there is still no place for us within it.
Let me state this plainly so there is no misunderstanding: I am tired of people thinking there is something wrong with me just because I do not have a husband or boyfriend/lover or even a girlfriend/lover or a love-interest of any kind. I am not interested in sex and have never been interested in sex for whatever reason. This does not distress me and it never would have in the past, had others not insisted that it ought to. I have finally come to the conclusion that being asexual — definition: having no interest in a sexual relationship with another person — is okay.
I am not unhappy. I get a lot done and I am likely more satisfied by my life as an asexual than someone who is sexual and without a partner. I am never lonely. And I have tons of friends. (At least 16 friends — all of whom I adore — came to my 60th birthday party!)
It has taken me, via a tortuous up and down path, a long time to come to this position. And there may well be those who shake this foundation yet, as other people’s opinions, alas, still manage to have a strong effect on me. I have never told openly the story I am now going to relate, but I think it is time. It should be an eye-opener and a warning to those who believe they have the right, even the duty to “help” a young person discover “her true identity…”
As some of you know, a very long time ago, I was a student in a medical school in Connecticut. The two years I attended med school were extraordinarily difficult ones for me and I admit now that even as I matriculated, I “knew” at an almost conscious level that I would never get through. I didn’t honestly want to be a physician. Not really. Oh, yeah, I thought I could be a good psychiatrist. I knew that I understood people and mental illness enough to empathize and help others. But the notion that I could successfully get through four years of med school and four years of residency in order to achieve that goal was something I also knew would be impossible, even as I nominally attempted to undertake it. I had no choice. It was what you did in my family. And there was no question in my mind that I could work at a “regular 8-hour a day job.” I simply didn’t have the stamina either interpersonally or physically. I didn’t know why, I just didn’t. (I also didn’t understand that I had narcolepsy, so I construed my constant drowsiness as “boredom” for everything.)
So there I was in med school, without the ability to make friends or any interest in relationships, especially having just broken up with Bruce, the one boyfriend I had had and with whom I had sex (because he pushed it). I hated it…which was why I broke it off. I know I was noticed. I felt noticed. Possibly because I made little effort to be friendly, possibly because my narcolepsy made me noticeable. I don’t know. It is not that I was or am a striking person at 5′ 3″ and 105 lbs…hardly! Perhaps it was my mere aloneness that struck people. I dunno.
Things were hard to start with, but then the voices started up telling me to hurt myself and I acted on their commands, frequently. I had horrific nightmares nightly. And I could not stay awake in class or to study no matter what I did. People had all sorts of advice and jokes for me but no understanding. They gave me No-Doz and Vivarin for my birthday, which precipitated a caffeine-toxic all-night-up of horror. They took photos of “Rip van Winkle” sleeping on the med school lobby couch and published it in our newsletter. No one knew what was really going on, at home, at night, in my bedroom when the voices took over.
I had a run-in with the student health doctor, Dr E, to whom I had gone about possible Reynaux (sp?) Syndrome. When she saw certain scars on my body she became concerned and spoke with the psychiatrist I was seeing at the time. Dr S, who was a cold man who seemed to dislike me from the start, was angry at our next appointment for “parading” my wounds and warned me against ever doing so again.
I went back to Dr E and told her what Dr S had said. She seemed perturbed and gave me the name of a therapist that she said she often referred “troubled students” to. I might consider seeing Tamara instead of Dr S. The other students liked her a lot, Dr E said. What were their problems? I asked. Dr E shook her head and responded, Not so very different from yours.
I sit nervously in the waiting room, hoping that Tamara will be so late she won’t have time to see me today after all. I feel sick to my stomach and wonder why I’ve come. Five minutes late, ten minutes late. I am just about to leave when a very pregnant woman opens the door to the office and welcomes me in. I do not look at her face but whisk myself inside, trying not to guess how many more weeks she has.
Before she asks me anything, Tamara says, “Now, I see girls who like girls and boys who like boys. You’re okay with that?”
What is she talking about? I don’t understand. Girls who like girls? I like girls, I like boys. Why shouldn’t I be okay with it? So I say, yes. And assume that even so, she sees people whose issues are very different…
I didn’t ask her. I simply assumed that she had other interests. And went on from there. But it was critical, because I did not get that she was conducting therapy as if I had agreed that I was a lesbian, and yet I had made no such admission. I did not even understand what she was getting at. Why was she so coy? Why didn’t she just come out and ask me whether or not I was gay and then tell me that she only treated lesbians and gays with issues around their sexuality?
As it turned out, she had no idea that I was not in fact assenting to her coy proposition that I “liked girls.” On the contrary, if she had asked me point blank, I would likely have said, “Me? No way. I am not even interested in boys. I couldn’t care less about sex. I like, but don’t love, boys and girls…so to speak.” But the operant word, clearly, was not “like” at all, but love, as in “making love.”
Actually, in point of fact, I would not have been able to respond at all, if I remember my former self accurately. I was nearly mute much of the time, esp in therapy, and when I did speak it was often very cryptically and with difficulty making myself clear. This may account for the misunderstanding that so horrified me in what follows.
It was a crazy-making psychotherapy for about 6 months. I had no idea what notion she was operating under, because I didn’t know what kind of therapy she “did.” Likewise, if she knew the least thing about me, it was completely mis-colored by her mis-understanding of me as a lesbian. So when one afternoon she “told” me that she empathized with me, because I had had a sexual relationship with my previous psychiatrist…I hit the roof.
“WHAT? What the F— are you talking about?!” I nearly leapt out of my chair.
“It’s okay Pam, I understand,” she soothed me.
“It is NOT okay! I never said anything of the sort! This is YOUR filthy mind! I’m out of here. Go to hell!” And with that I got up and walked out. I realized then that she was nuts. Somehow she had gotten the entirely wrong idea, but I didn’t understand how. It made no sense to me. Where on earth had she fashioned that notion? I certainly had never said any such thing…
Then her statement “I treat girls who like girls…” came back to me. And I understood more. Dr E surely knew Tamara’ orientation, her clinical expertise, so Dr E must have believed that I needed to talk about conflicts about my “homosexuality,” about coming to terms with being a lesbian, unbeknownst to me. So she had set it up that I see Tamara, believing that she knew me better than I knew myself. But what right had she to do that? And how would she know whether or not I was a lesbian? Just because I was a conspicuous loner? How dare she? She knew nothing about me! What she had done was a violation of me as bad as any man who wanted to have sex just to prove he was Mr Right!
I spent a lot of time after that utterly paranoid that I might be gay, feeling that I must be gay, certain that I was gay…I even came to the point that I accepted it eagerly. But it was never true. It was just another identity forced on me by others who would not let me be. Who would not accept that I simply have never had interest in sex or sexuality beyond a pervasive non-sexuality. My libido, my psychic energy, is invested in other things, in art, in science and in life, but not in erotic interests. And you know what? Being non-sexual or asexual doesn’t make me an amoeba or less than human.
At least 1% of humanity is asexual, has always been asexual, permanently. That’s a LOT of people. We may not be the norm, but there are enough of us out there to rate your acknowledgement and the respect you would pay to any other human being. That’s all we ask, that’s all I ask. And for you not to try to change me just because you do not like it or understand my way of being. Thank you.