Growing up, you thought you might be a sociopath. You’d learnt the word in a novel and it sounded like something that might apply. You didn’t feel things the way that you thought other people did. They seemed to feel things so deeply and immediately. For a while you thought you might have Asperger’s, but that was quickly ruled out. You thought that maybe you were just a little more reserved than the others at school. For a long time, you thought you were broken.
You thought about sex a lot. You and your friends would whisper in the back of classrooms; giggle at naughty books in the library. You’d stay up late and watch risqué programmes with the volume on low. You’d all talk about who’d do it first, what it would be like. The braver girls would sneak condoms around, passing them palm-to-palm like illicit substances. You thought about kissing like they did in films, hands cupping cheeks, the slide of lips, the tumbling into bed, the panning away and a soundtrack of gasps into the next scene. That never really changed: the panning away.
At fifteen you had a strictly over-the-clothes boyfriend who you eventually dumped by text. On nights out, when you were too young to drink but did it anyway, you and your friends would all kiss, grope, move to the next person. Sometimes you wish that you could go back to that. You were at the forefront of exploration then. Slowly you fell behind while making token gestures of keeping up, have another boyfriend, have a girlfriend, profess your TV crushes and bemoan your looks as holding you back.
Escaping the town you grew up in meant escaping your lack. It meant being able to start new lies, more easily excuse the absence of fresher’s lays. After all, who would even want you? Your body was a cushion between you and the world. Your knees hurt, though. And getting to class on the second floor meant leaving early enough to have time to catch your breath at the top. You lost weight over summer. When you returned, the pressure was back. There were more expectations. You got set up. You got drunk. You slept with them. You ignored them when they tried to contact you. You complained that the big-city gay scene was too intimidating, which it was. You missed the tiny, grimy bars at the back of neighbouring towns where you could have a quick flirt and kiss and leave early for the last bus home.
After another two years of laughing about how long it’d been, you went on a night out. Two people asked for your number. You felt obliged. The boy left early; he had work the next day. The girl, you spent the evening kissing, before escaping between the bodies and bodies and bodies of the club. The boy texted you, you texted back. You dated. He lived in the town over and had to drive back and forth. One night you offered him a drink, he couldn’t drive if he did, so you asked him to stay. You slept together. A lot. You stayed together for longer than you’d ever stayed with anyone, which wasn’t really that long at all. You kept having sex. You would have preferred not to. Not that you told him. You stopped kissing, all couples do. You found your patience for him waning. You told him it was over, but he tried to stay, you reiterated. He cried. You didn’t. You didn’t really miss him. You’d rather spend your time with friends, with laughter on sofas and no pressure. You moved again. The system started over.
Moving meant not knowing a soul. It meant joining a walking club, getting flirted with by men old enough to be your father and never going back. It meant not having touched anyone in months. Your skin was starving and you couldn’t pretend that the hand stroking your head was anyone’s but your own. It meant more expectations. At work you slowly made a friend, and then another. You joined a gym, a yoga class. You got asked about your love life. Over and over like it was the only thing you were good for. You were married to your work, you laughed, like Queen Elizabeth married to England. Maybe she was like you.
You don’t seem to feel things the way that other people do. It’s been ten years; fifteen, and that hasn’t changed. Friends talk about passion overcoming reason. You’ve never had that, you don’t want it. You can’t imagine intrinsically linking a person and sex in that way. You find love in your friendships. You can only imagine really spending your life with them, rather than a lover. An online quiz says you’re asexual. You read about it, research it. You feel like you’re doing it wrong. You research some more, meet some people online. You hope that one day someone else’s story will tell you how things work out in the end, what life looks like when your identity bucks the trend. But until then, you’ll live as honestly as you can.
Emma Hutson is an aromantic asexual who is currently completing a PhD on trans literature at Sheffield Hallam University. She has work published in C Word: An anthology of writing from Cardiff, Severine Literary and Art Journal, CrabFat Magazine, and the Harpoon Review. Her short story ‘Footsteps’ came second place in Sheffield Authors’ Off The Shelf short story competition. She is available on Twitter @Emma_S_Hutson
All works in The Asexual are created by writers, artists, and creators who identify under the ace umbrella. Owner retains copyright of work upon publication, but agrees to give The Asexual first serial/electronic rights and print rights as well as electronic and print archival rights. Owner also agrees that if the work is published subsequently, either online or in print, credit to The Asexual is provided.