By Any Other Name
“You like him, don’t you?”
Your cheeks glow pink, and your ears burn hot. “No, I don’t! He’s a friend!”
“You’re blushing!” they exclaim. The school bus starts moving, but they ignore the driver’s shouts and still face you, smirking. “You’re such a liar.”
What makes blood pool in your cheeks and drum in your ears is embarrassment. You’re telling the truth – you always have. You’ve never liked anyone, at least not in the way they accuse. You don’t even really understand what they’re talking about. How can your friends even see what they supposedly see in you? Almost every interaction becomes some sort of code that they only have the answer to. Maybe you’re just that blind. Maybe there is something there.
You blush harder, and their voices grow loud with affirmation.
They are the same friends that accuse you of lying at sleepovers: “We always tell you about our crushes, but you never tell us anything back. Don’t you trust us?”
It escalates to the point where you’ve become the outsider. The circle of crush-discussion forms, and slowly you are pushed to the corner of the bed, fiddling with your iPod.
They still ask though – they can’t comprehend your disinterest, so they begin creating stories involving any person you seem to get along with. After all, there must be someone.
“What about you?” they ask, expectantly. “Is there anyone you like?”
It’s exhausting sitting outside the circle, but you know why they ask. There are rumours about you and a boy. You tease one another, and often sit beside each other in class. It really seems like nothing different from the rest of the classroom, but even some teachers make a coy remark or joke about the two of you. Sometimes you catch the boy’s eye when it happens, and his ears are brushed with pink. You can no longer tell whether it’s embarrassment or some silent confession of love.
The question sits in the air. Why not put the rumour to good use?
“I . . . I might like someone . . .”
The gaggle of girls shriek in delight, and even though you’re smiling at the chance to conjure up some grand, sweeping love story – to finally feel like you’re truly included – it scares you how relieved they seem to be.
You’ve always had a habit for teasing. Most of your sense of humour is founded upon it. You try to work with what you have.
It’s never been used as an insult before though.
College is for exploration, and to your parents and friends and neighbours and everyone you talk to for longer than two minutes, that translates best to dating. So, you date.
He’s cute, funny, and walks so closely at your side that at every step your shoulders bump together. You like the closeness; it reminds you of some silver-screen love story. He asks if you want to go up to his room, and you say, “Yes,” because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
You hate kissing. His body is heavy and suffocating. It’s only been minutes, and four times now you’ve halted things from going farther. He’s getting frustrated. You try to explain but you trip over your words so much that they no longer resemble any human language.
“So, what is this? Are you waiting ‘til marriage?”
“What? No!” You struggle not to laugh – nothing about this is as conscious a decision as that. It’s deeper within you, something almost integral to your being.
“Is anything actually gonna happen, or should we just end things here?” He looks tired and disappointed.
You tell yourself you tried. You also tell yourself that maybe if you would just have sex and get it over with, you’d understand yourself a bit better. Maybe you’d even change your mind about the whole sex thing! After all, weren’t you okay with giving this a try? Isn’t that why you were seeing him in the first place?
He’s good looking, funny, engaging, and he’s interested. This is what you’re supposed to be doing!
“No, I think we should probably just call it a night.”
Before his room door closes behind you, you hear him murmur, “Of course I’d end up with a tease.”
For a moment, guilt bubbles in your stomach. It doesn’t stop you from shouting through the door that he can just jerk it out then. A stoner stumbles out of the washroom, and high-fives you as you head down the hallway.
Your parents are getting worried. They keep waiting for that movie moment – for the awkward holiday visit home with your new partner in tow. They are open to the idea of you being gay now (they are getting that desperate). As you sit across the kitchen table from them, you can’t tell what’s worse: their unspoken expectations or their stilted dating advice (which you never ask for).
“Maybe you haven’t met the right person,” your mom says quietly one night. Every visit home leads to a conversation like this. It’s strange how much your parents care about you getting laid. You don’t think about it too hard.
“Maybe there will never be the right person,” you reply. There could be the right person, you think, but the constant repulsion towards anything sexual kind of complicates matters.
“It’s just . . . you never really dated in high school, and we want you to be happy. I hope you’re not holding yourself back because you’re frightened.”
You are holding yourself back. You are scared. But not of dating. You have dated, and you will continue to. The fear comes with the repulsion; it makes you feel broken. You wonder if you are missing out on some essential part of life. How can you force yourself to be part of something that refuses to mesh with you?
“I’m fine, really,” you lie. “Maybe this is how things are meant to be.”
But as you sit in your old bedroom lined with crumpled posters, your words gently dust and cover everything there. Your entire childhood surrounds you – toys, stuffed animals, and books all sit unchanged, perfectly positioned as they were when you first moved away. They wait expectantly, you think, just as your parents do; they wait for when you will return as a fully-grown adult.
They will always be waiting though. Adulthood to them means a home with a wife or husband and two kids running around in the backyard. You used to force yourself to see that picket fence, but now there’s only a thick blanket of fog.
Your parents glance at the clock, then back at you, and they worry. You can’t ease their fear – there’s too much of your own.
You come across the word outside the context of a science class, and you wonder if it is fate.
It stands in front of you in cut-out glitter letters, like a poorly rendered beacon. The college clubs try to entice fresh blood at the start of every school year, and the LGBTQ+ alliance is no exception.
The word is one of many that decorate the table’s billboard, but the sunlight catches it and flashes it directly towards you.
Going up to the table would mean talking to the very enthusiastic, very chatty committee members, and that is not about to happen, so you log the word into your brain and continue towards your dorm. Once you’re in the comfort of your own bed, you pull out your laptop and begin to search.
You finally shut your laptop closed hours later, sinking your room into darkness. Your eyes blur from focusing so long, but you need to know. It would be so much easier to put a word to what you are, instead of tossing around multiple theories as to what’s wrong with you.
For so long, people have accused you of repressing or suppressing . . . something; and for just as long, you’ve accused yourself of holding back and missing out on an essential part of life. You can see the word imprinted on your eyelids – "asexual" – and you feel yourself stand up and go to the mirror.
Looking at your reflection suddenly makes you feel as if you’re on a stage with a bright spotlight in your eyes and a crowd before you. It’s so quiet you can hear your heartbeat drum in your ear.
“I’m asexual,” you say to the mirror, and you see your reflection smiling back.
"Asexual" may refer to a certain absence of sexual attraction, just as "aromantic" refers to the absence of romantic attraction, but the word fills a void that’s been in your identity for so long.
You and Spock have very little in common.
You never thought you would have to proclaim this to yourself in the mirror, but you find yourself staring back nonetheless.
It’s not that you don’t like Spock; he’s an interesting well-written character in a fun and campy ‘60s romp of a show. Besides your shared love for science and your awful habit for overplucking your eyebrows however, there’s very little similarity.
Your friends disagree.
After weeks of reading articles and watching YouTube vlogs, you come out as asexual to your friend as you sit on your bed and drink tea. Your throat is hot and tight, but you can’t tell if it’s from nerves or from your inability to let your drink cool first.
Your friend tilts their head, thinks, and then asks, “You mean like Spock? Like Star Trek Spock?”
“. . . what?”
“You know, the guy who was from Vulcan and didn’t feel anything like love and stuff? Isn’t that kind of the same thing?”
You sit and stare. This was your first big "coming out" moment. You didn't know what you were expecting . . . maybe tears? Confetti? Three cheers of hooray?
Why Star Trek?
It’s not until hours later when you’re alone and lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to your dormmate’s breathing, that you feel bitterly hurt.
It’s silly, and because it’s silly you start crying, and you start feeling angry because you’re crying over some stupid comment about Spock.
The words linger though, stinging against your skin. Your friend tries to explain themselves better, but you find yourself further and further away. You didn’t think asexuality marked you as something so "other." Asexuality didn’t mean you didn't understand love, or that you shunned it for some higher, more intellectual pursuit. It doesn’t help that during those hours of searching articles and watching vlogs, you encountered asexuality as an easy means of showing that someone is "inhuman." After all, all humans lust and desire, and every character must have a love story. Normality and happiness don’t seem to mesh well with asexuality – at least, that’s what the internet seems to say.
Tears wet your temples until you fall asleep. You’re human, you tell yourself. You’re still flesh and blood. You are not denying your nature. Coming out was supposed to be about embracing your nature, wasn’t it?
The questions and doubt never quite end, but you begin to revel in it.
You navigate your way through the world of sex, and often come out looking like a fool who has no idea what they are doing. There’s no shame or embarrassment, however, for each experience brings you closer to knowing yourself. Sex is more complex than you ever thought it could be. There’s giving, receiving, watching, partaking, smiles, and tears. Repulsion towards certain aspects and roles remain in your core, but now you know how to better explain your identity to your partners, and they are more than happy to accommodate. Dating becomes fun.
Your parents shook their heads when you told them about your asexuality, saying they were too old to understand. The night ended abruptly as you hid in your room like a scolded child. Trying to explain asexuality to your parents resembled a lecture more than a discussion, and you were exhausted of the responsibility.
An hour later, they knock on the door. Your mom has a cup of tea for you, and your father asks for your help with Google as he pulls out his laptop.
Some friends crack jokes at the very sound of “asexual,” but they listen and acknowledge it, and that is what you want most of all. Star Trek ends up featuring much more in conversations than it did before you came out, but the queer theories are endless, and you and your friends can go on for hours. Spock may not be asexual in your mind, but you see it in other shows and characters. Your friends message you anytime they come across some asexual representation, and you grin every time.
There are still doubts, of course. Questions loom over your head, but you remind them that there is still time for answers, and they retreat into the rafters for a little longer.
You’re asexual. It’s more complicated than that, but it is something that finally feels yours.