Straight by Default
Two years ago, I was standing on the steps of a hotel in Europe with a guy I had met at the bar a few hours previously. He was funny, smart, and I’d had fun dancing with him. So, when he asked to walk me home I agreed. It was pretty clear that he was into me – he’d bought me a drink at the bar, he’d held my hand on the way back to my hotel, and now he was loitering on the steps, staring into my eyes...
“Can I kiss you?”
The question wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I was still flustered. What was the protocol in these situations? He was the second person who had ever expressed interest in me, and it came as a shock that anyone would actually want to kiss me. And since he was attracted to me, clearly I must be attracted to him. So I nodded, the tiniest bob of my head to signal my agreement.
The kiss was awkward, uncomfortable, and went on for far too long. But when we pulled away, he was smiling.
“Wow. You’re a really good kisser.” His voice shook, his eyes sparkled, and he clutched the stair railing as though he couldn’t stand on his own.
I stared at him. He was kidding, right? He had to be kidding. I’d only kissed one other person in my life, and I’d assumed that the utter disappointment of kissing was simply because I wasn’t doing it right. In contrast to his shaky-legged enjoyment, I felt nothing. I’d enjoyed chatting with him earlier, but now I just wanted him to leave.
It was at that moment that a word popped into my head, as abruptly as if someone had held it up in flashing neon letters: asexual.
One of my high school friends had introduced me to the term when they came out as asexual partway through 12th grade. At the time, I nodded and accepted their explanation, but never considered trying the word on for myself.
I left that guy on the steps of the hotel and hurried up to my room, tapping “asexual” into the search bar with shaking fingers. The hotel WiFi took forever to load, but the moment the definition popped up on my screen, I knew I was right. Everything I read could have been taken straight from inside my head. I was asexual.
Many of my friends in high school identified as LGBT+, and I had asked myself at that time where I fit in the spectrum. My conclusion? I must be straight “by default.” That was the best description I could come up with.
Even saying it to myself back then, the words sounded ridiculous. Shouldn’t I know if I was straight or not? But everyone around me seemed so certain of their identity. And I clearly wasn’t gay or bisexual because I would know if I was attracted to women. Wouldn’t I? It didn’t occur to me to ask myself if I was attracted to men.
It sounds ridiculous, but up until that night on the steps, I had assumed that attraction was defined by a guy liking me. If he liked me, then I must like him back, and then we would start dating. Ironically, it was only when I started reading stories from other asexual people that I realized most people know that they like a person, even if that person doesn’t like them back. This was due to that nebulous concept of “attraction.”
The closest I’ve gotten to pinpointing attraction is the feeling I get when I see someone, or start talking to them, and I instantly want to spend more time together. I’ve felt this attraction a few dozen times throughout my life, for both men and women. When I was younger, I classified this attraction as wanting to be friends with a girl and having a crush on a boy.
My understanding of attraction has always had other people at its center. It wasn’t until I started thinking about myself that I realized I don’t know what attraction feels like. Based on descriptions of sexual attraction posted on ace forums, I’m pretty certain I’ve never felt that. Butterflies in the stomach, obsession with another person, weak legs... I always thought those descriptions were exaggerated in books and movies.
But wait. I still want to make a deep connection with someone; to have a partner I could spend time with and be my true self; the self that I always hide from the world. Could I be romantically attracted to people?
This is where everything gets pretty fuzzy. If you don’t feel sexual attraction, everything else feels messy and confusing. Are those feelings I get of wanting to spend time with a specific person romantic or platonic? I’d only ever considered guys as potential partners because of my whole “straight-by-default” assumption, but when I feel attraction, if that’s what it is, it isn’t gender specific. Does that mean I’m biromantic?
I still don’t have a clue. I envy people who understand attraction to the point where they don’t even have to think about it. They seem to have been born with an instruction manual, and someone forgot to give me mine.
I don’t even usually think about attraction, because it doesn’t come up in my daily life. For now, I have friends and family, none of whom I’ve told about any of this, but who I know would support me if I wanted to share. And maybe one day I will meet “The One,” and those butterflies of attraction will explode from their chrysalises to flap around my stomach and I’ll just know. Or maybe that will never happen, and I’ll have to continue stumbling through life with the fractured knowledge I’ve got now.