I’ve never eaten a Big Mac before.
My parents raised me Buddhist, and most Chinese Buddhists don’t eat beef. As a child, whenever my mum took me to the McDonald’s at Liverpool Westfields, she ordered a McChicken burger for herself, and a chicken nugget happy meal for me.
I never questioned whether there were other options to choose from.
Growing up as a second-generation Chinese Australian, I was constantly learning that the norm was actually just my norm.
When I’m four, I learn not all families eat rice at dinner. At eight, I figure out not everyone goes to Strathfield on Sundays for three hours of North Shore tutoring.
It’s not until I’m ten I learn you don’t have to learn a musical instrument – and that there are, incredibly, instruments other than piano and violin. And, of course, in my very own typical late-bloomer fashion, it’s not until I get into high school that I learn you don’t have to go to university.
Those things are optional. There are loads of people who don’t do any of those things and live to tell the tale.
“Wait until university to date.”
“Wait until marriage to have sex.”
Turns out those are optional too.
I’m told the steps are as follows:
1. Find the right person
2. Fall in love
3. Get married
4. Live happily ever after
It’s not that the right person is hard to find – I just don’t get the point. Why do I need this ‘right person’? What purpose do they serve? It’s like being told to bring a plus one to McDonald’s for breakfast, except McDonald’s is life and breakfast lasts forever.
I mean, I could, but do I really have to?
Are steps 1-3 mandatory, or are they optional?
I’m simultaneously a teenager and an adult when I discover the term asexual. The TV adaptation of Sherlock has just been released and social media is going wild with speculation over Sherlock’s sexuality: Is he gay? Is he bi? Is he ace?
It’s imperative to know. The fanfiction depends on it.
Ace, I learn, is short for asexual. It’s 2010 when I google the definition. It’s the same, today, as it was the day I read it:
Asexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction
At the time, I think nothing of it. It has nothing to do with me. I experience sexual desire. I like orgasms. In fact, I love orgasms. Orgasms are the best invention since chicken nuggets.
It’s not til later that I learn there’s a difference between sexual desire and sexual attraction.
Sexual desire refers to the desire for sexual activity, whilst sexual attraction refers to the desire to engage in sexual activity with another person.
To put it in cruder terms:
Sexual desire = I’m horny.
Sexual attraction = I’m horny for a person.
Turns out, it’s possible for asexuals to experience sexual desire. In fact, you don’t even have to experience sexual attraction to have sex. It’s common for asexuals to participate in sexual activity for any number of personal reasons, the same way heterosexual people might have sex for different reasons.
When I’m 16, I ask my mum The Question.
“Can you order me a dildo online?”
We’re in the car. The only indication that she’s heard my question is the car swerving slightly. I’d been planning this conversation meticulously for months. She can’t ignore me or walk away if we’re in the car, and she can’t yell at me if she has to focus on driving.
“Mum,” I say. “Can you order me – ”
“What for?” she interrupts.
I flounder. Does she want me to say it? “What do you think?”
“I wouldn’t even know where to get one,” she replies, hastily.
“I’ve emailed you the website,” I say. “And I’ll pay for it myself.”
What can she say to that? I’m already not allowed to date or have sex. This is me, doing what I’m told.
“I picked one that’s on sale,” I sing-song. “50% off the recommended retail price. Free batteries included.” If there’s one way to win my mother over, it’s bagging a bargain.
It must be convincing, because two weeks later, there’s a brown box on my bed when I get home from school.
From my mid-teens to early twenties, I maintained the label celibate, namely because the terms bisexual and pansexual didn’t feel quite right. Bisexuals experience sexual attraction to two or more genders. Pansexuals experience sexual attraction to all genders.
Wearing those labels felt like sleeping in a bed that wasn’t mine. As comfortable as the mattress was, as clean as the sheets were, I woke up irritable – unrested.
In retrospect, it makes sense. After all, I don’t feel sexual attraction to any gender, let alone two or more.
Demisexuals experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional bond with someone.
While it’s technically possible I just haven’t ‘met the right person’; it’s just as possible there is no right person because I don’t experience sexual attraction, period.
It’s hard to realise you don’t feel something when you’ve never felt it.
It’s like asking someone to give you a call if they see Birdie The Early Bird when they have no idea who that is.
My first long-term relationship is my last.
Surprisingly, sex has nothing to do with it.
It ends a little after one year but should have been ended much sooner. I hated it, being somebody’s other half, like I’d been merged with another until we no longer resembled two individuals anymore. I was no longer my own autonomous being. It was unbearable.
If that weren’t bad enough, after a lifetime of adhering to my parent’s wishes, once I was free, I had to constantly consider this other person. If I wanted to bugger off to another country for two years, I’d have to ask them first. If I wanted to adopt a child, I’d have to ask them first.
I didn’t wait 18 years to leave the nest, only to fly into someone else’s birdcage.
There is an important difference between romantic attraction and sexual attraction. Unlike sexual attraction, which is the desire to have sex with other people, romantic attraction refers to the desire to be romantically involved with other people.
I’ll give you an example: Grimace might be sexually attracted to all genders, but only romantically attracted to one. He might want to have sex with all genders, but only want to date other men.
Aromantics, or aros, are people who don’t experience romantic attraction. Not all aromantics are asexual, and not all asexuals are aromantic, but there are people who are both.
You already know where this is going.
The day I come out to my parents, I’m living in London. I invite them to stay in the dingy flat I’m renting for two thirds of my paycheck, and take a week off work to take them site-seeing.
It doesn’t go as well as I expected.
“Well…” my dad says, wiggling his moustache thoughtfully. “How do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?”
“We’re your parents; we worry about you,” my mum coos, clasping her hands together. “We just don’t want you to be lonely.”
Suddenly, I’m a child all over again.
The liberation that comes with adulthood is not something I take for granted. The ability to come and go as I please, to eat what I like and do what I like – it makes me unbearably giddy when I stop to think about it.
Sometimes, after going to the gym, I drive to McDonald’s and watch cartoons on my phone while eating a happy meal on my own. I post a selfie with the free toy to Twitter. It gets about five favs and only one of them will be from my mum or dad.
The problem with telling someone maybe you’ll like it after you try it is you’re essentially saying, “I know you better than you know yourself,” which is highly unlikely.
My parents will protest this. It was probably true when I was a child, but is definitely not true now.
How can I be so sure?
Ask either of them to write a list of my top ten favourite kinks.
There is no one, in this entire universe, who knows you better than you know yourself.
I wish someone had told me this in my early twenties. I wish someone had bought me an Oreo Mcflurry and an apple pie and told me, “You are the only one who has lived through what you’ve lived through, thought your thoughts, felt your feelings. You know yourself better than anybody else,” then vanished in a flurry of wizard robes and pixie dust.
Instead at 22, a straight boy in a snapback waggles his eyebrows at me and says, “Maybe you haven’t met the right dick.”
And hey, maybe it’s true. Maybe this guy I’ve just met knows me better than I know myself.
I mean, I’ve spent a good portion of my life thinking I’d hate having a bird crap on my face, but maybe I haven’t met the right bird.
What the hell do I know?
It isn’t as simple as preferences. It’s not as simple as, how do you know you don’t like strawberry-milkshakes if you’ve never tried them, because having sex when you don’t want to is different to trying new foods. After all, how do straight people know they’re straight if they’ve never had sex with someone of the same gender?
I propose to you, a different question:
How do you know you wouldn’t enjoy having sex with Ronald McDonald if you’ve never tried it?
Before you protest, yes, there are some people who would love to have sex with Ronald McDonald. Some people would consider that an honour. That majestic clown face smiling slyly at you. Lips red as freshly-squirted tomato sauce. Sizzling kisses, hot from the grill, pressed against your neck. Smell of special sauce stimulating your senses.
Some people are really into that, and that’s fine. But for some people, like me, having sex with Ronald McDonald isn’t all that appealing.
Have I tried it? No.
Am I sure I wouldn’t like it? Yes.
“You’re really missing out.”
I get told this a lot, and, unfortunately, not always in regard to eating beef.
In fairness, it could very well be true.
Maybe I am missing out, by not dating or doing-the-do. Maybe I’ve deprived myself by not having sex with Ronald McDonald. Maybe Ronald McDonald is the most incredible lay ever and all the nausea and discomfort I feel when other people touch me will vanish when I’m held against his sunshine yellow jumpsuit. Maybe Ronald McDonald is ‘the right person’ he would add a whole new level of happiness to my life that I can’t achieve any other way.
Maybe in an alternate universe where I bang Ronald McDonald, lick sweaty white paint off his cheek and fist my hands in his curly red hair, I experience an emotional and sexual awakening that the gods would envy.
Maybe down the track, we get married, and have beautiful half-clown children, and keep a weekly sex schedule to work around soccer games and clown-teacher meetings, or whatever normal people do.
I think I’m okay though, not living that life.
“Are you ever disappointed?”
I ask my parents this every few months. As happy as I am, that insecurity is still there, lurking at the back of my mind like the Hamburglar ready to steal my chicken burger even as I’m sinking my teeth into it.
Sometimes it’s over Skype or Facebook messenger, but sometimes, in a rare burst of courage, I’ll ask them in person, conscious of their matching wedding bands, and the way they naturally gravitate towards each other, like it’s more normal to be together than be apart.
“Disappointed about what?” dad asks.
“That I didn’t become a doctor or a lawyer,” I clarify. “That I’m not married with 2.5 kids, a Lassie dog, and a Volvo.”
“No,” mum says. “Those people are boring anyway.”
“Yeah,” dad agrees. “Why is everyone in a rush to settle down? You’re still young. All of that can come later.”
“And if it doesn’t?” I ask.
“We’re proud of you,” mum says. “Even if you never listen to us.”
“And who knows,” dad adds. “The right person might come along when you least expect it.”
It’s 2017 and I’m at my local McDonald’s. I’ve still never had sex, or a Big Mac.
The cashier calls out ‘chicken nugget happy meal, apple pie and medium diet coke’. When I go to reach for the tray, another hand brushes mine.
I’ve never met someone with the exact same order as me.
The moment our eyes meet, it’s like every other person in the world disappears.
McDonald’s have automated self-service stations now and no one ends up with the same order number.
Plus, I don’t make eye contact with strangers if I can help it.
Every week, I set aside a day where I get dressed up real nice, and take myself out. Sometimes I’ll watch a bad horror movie at the cinema and go to McDonald’s after, scroll through my Twitter feed, send a couple of messages to friends. If the internet is asleep, I’ll listen to music and read fanfiction.
Later, after I get home, I’ll spread myself out on my bed, and thank myself for the perfect date, in the best way I know how.
At least twice.
sydney khoo is a non-binary and queer writer, born in new south wales, australia to malaysian-chinese parents. though typically located crying in starbucks or tweeting in mcdonalds, they can occasionally be found posting creative essays and short stories online. follow them on twitter @sydneykerosene.
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.