You’re fourteen, the first time it occurs to you: maybe you’re not quite like everyone else. Not in the secret superpower way, either, but the way where everyone else seems to know something you don’t.
Your friends are turning fifteen, and one by one, birthday parties all end up in the same place. Truth or dare. Spin the bottle. Seven minutes in heaven. Party after party, your friends whisper and giggle as people are dared to kiss each other, as they’re locked in closets together and emerge blushing. You can see them eyeing each other, leaning into the path of the spinning bottle, engineering the perfect match-ups.
Everyone seems to have someone they’re angling for, but you’re coming up empty. Your friends have told you about their crushes, about the butterflies they get in the pit of their stomach when they make eye contact, and you’ve felt that too, there’s someone who gives you those butterflies too—but the thought of being alone in a room with him isn’t exciting, like your friends tell you, it’s mostly just stressful. They tell you kissing is great, but you can’t imagine it being worth the stress.
Quietly, you melt into the background at parties, making sure you don’t get picked. There are enough people who want a turn that no one notices you never have one.
You have your first kiss when you’re sixteen. The boy gives you butterflies when he asks you to get a coffee with him, but when he leans in and touches his lips to yours, the butterflies aren’t there, and it mostly just feels awkward. You can’t quite fathom how this became the primary human method of expressing affection, but his cheeks are flushed when he pulls back, so the confusion isn’t mutual.
You kiss the boy regularly, waiting for it to become the magical experience your friends tell you about, but it never really does. It’s fun enough, but you can never fully lose yourself in the experience. In the back of your mind, you’re thinking about your algebra homework, your shopping list, what you’re going to get your grandma for her birthday. He comes away slightly out of breath, adjusting his trousers and trying not to let you see; you come away having decided to make lasagne for dinner.
You keep trying, though, because you like the boy, and maybe one day it will get better.
One day, his hand strays under your shirt when you’re kissing him. He pulls away, meets your gaze, asks if it’s okay, and you tell him it is: maybe this will be it. Maybe now you’ll feel what everyone else does. He unhooks your bra, and his breathing gets faster.
His hands feel nice, but you feel none of the desperation you’ve read about, seen in movies, heard from your friends. You’re not left wanting when he excuses himself to the bathroom.
Later, you realise maybe you should have returned the favour, but the thought never really occurred to you at the time.
Over time, you explore each other further. The boy gets carried away sometimes, ruled by instinct, but you’re still detached, still thinking about other things, never losing control or giving into passion or any of the other clichés you came across on the internet when you tried to look up why you were so withdrawn. Everything you read said that when you’re in the moment, things just fall into place and everything is easy, but you’re still waiting.
He looks awestruck as he slides into you for the first time, and you resolve to never tell him that you’re practicing your history presentation for tomorrow’s final.
You start to think maybe you’re just not that into to him, but then he texts you about his day, or calls just to say hi, or takes you to the spot in the forest where he made forts when he was a kid, and your heart swells, and you know you’re in love with him.
When he breaks up with you, he doesn’t say it’s because of the sex, but you know he’s been getting more and more frustrated by the way you never initiate anything, never take control, the way you space out sometimes and only half pay attention to him. You don’t try and argue with him, because he deserves someone who wants him the way he wanted you. The way you can’t seem to want him.
“Maybe I’m bi,” you say to your friend a year later. You still don’t feel the urge to kiss anyone, to take their clothes off, to lock yourself in a room with them, and at a day shy of eighteen you’re losing hope that maybe you’ll ‘grow into it’. You don’t feel the urge to kiss anyone, but you think girls are pretty the same way you think boys are handsome, so maybe you’re not straight.
Maybe kissing a girl will be different
“No, you’re not,” your friend says, without looking up from her homework. “Have you ever had a crush on a girl?”
Not if just thinking girls are beautiful doesn’t count as a crush. Not in the way you’ve had crushes on boys, with butterflies in your stomach and wanting to show them your secret inlet on the beach, wanting to tell them about your day and talk about the mysteries of the universe.
But you can’t let go of the thought that maybe kissing a girl will be different.
At the Halloween party the next week, you drink a little more than you normally would, and when a pretty girl invites you upstairs with her, you follow willingly.
Maybe kissing a girl will be different, you think, right up until it isn’t.
You go to university, make new friends, and one by one they end up in relationships. Sometimes they suggest setting you up with someone, with the friend of a boyfriend or the brother of a classmate or the “cute TA who’s younger than he looks, really,” but you tell them you’re fine, you’re enjoying being single, you like being alone.
Friends break up with their partners and complain about how it’s been three whole months since they last had sex. You realise it’s been three years for you, and you’re in no real hurry to break that streak.
When you’re twenty-one, a late-night Wikipedia loop leads you to a page on asexuality, and you freeze. The first line of the article reads “asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity,” and your heart starts racing, because this could explain so much. Your hands shake as you google ‘definition of sexual attraction’, and as you read through descriptions given on various sites and forums, the pieces all fall into place and you can’t imagine ever not knowing what now seems like the most obvious thing in the world: you’re asexual.
You spend the rest of the night reading forum posts, talking to people just like you, and every now and then you remember something that happened in the past and think, huh, that makes a lot more sense now.
You’re twenty-two, the first time you read a book with an asexual main character. The book isn’t great, as far as books go, but you cry when it ends, because it’s the most understood by a work of fiction you’ve ever felt.
You can’t help but wonder how different it would have been if you’d had a book like that when you were fourteen and wondering why everyone else was so invested in spinning the bottle, when you were sixteen and kissing the boy wasn’t as exciting as you thought it should be, when you were eighteen and thought maybe kissing a girl would be different.
You’re twenty-two when you decide you’re going to make that difference, to make sure other people have books like that when they’re growing up. Books, plural, more than the handful that currently exist. It seems like a small decision, but momentous as well; you’ve written things before, but starting this book feels different. It feels important.
It feels terrifying, but one day it might make others feel less terrified, and that makes it worth it.
Emma is a soon-to-be graduate who’s glad she figured out asexuality before she now has to figure out life after university, because one minor identity crisis at a time is more than enough. She writes in her spare time and will downplay it if asked about it, but her goal is to publish a mainstream Young Adult novel with an asexual main character (and also some mermaids). You can find her on twitter @phonotactless and instagram @k.ouhi.