Since My Experiences Do Not Fit In Your Boxes
We have a relentlessly sexual understanding of attraction in our culture; it is assumed that attraction is all about sex. But these conventional ideas about attraction have failed me on multiple levels.
As a woman of color, conventional ideas about attraction have told me that I am not attractive because I do not measure up to white standards of beauty — leading me to spend my teenage years putting toxic chemicals on my head to straighten my hair. At the same time, as a biracial woman, conventional ideas about attraction have told me that I am attractive because I look exotic. I’ve developed a death glare to deter random men on the street — both the white men who see me as exotic but not too exotic, and the black men who see me as meeting some sort of light-skinned ideal.
As an asexual person, conventional ideas about attraction have failed me because I spent too long thinking that I “hadn’t met the right person yet.” I assumed I was straight because I wasn’t sexually attracted to other women. I didn’t have the language to understand my own identity or what I desired in my relationships.
After thinking I was more mature than my sex-obsessed peers, confusion, denial, and a “just because sex is not important to me in relationships doesn’t mean I need to identify as something other than straight” phase, I finally realized I was asexual at the age of 29.
In researching asexuality, I encountered a more varied understanding of attraction. Attraction could be sexual, yes, but it could also be romantic, platonic, sensual, emotional, aesthetic, intellectual, and more. I was grateful for finding these new ways of talking about attraction that more accurately reflected my experience.
After identifying as asexual, I started wondering what my romantic orientation was. My knee-jerk reaction was to assume that I was heteroromantic, but I wondered if that was really the truth or if I was putting myself into that category because of the lack of social acceptance of queerness.
As I questioned, I became frustrated, trying to analyze my feelings into discrete categories. Was this feeling romantic or platonic or sensual? Some combination of all three? Too often my emotions just don’t fit nicely into these boxes.
Currently, I identify as greyromantic because I’m reasonably certain that I’ve experienced romantic attraction (towards a grand total of three people, two male and one female). But the label greyromantic is not as important to me as the label asexual. Trying to figure out what romantic attraction even is, given that different people and cultures see different things as romantic has made me realize that the distinction between non-sexual types of attraction is not particularly useful to me. This categorization of attraction is a reaction to a culture which conflates attraction with sexual attraction. I wonder what language we would use if we could start from queerness?
I have ended up thinking more about what I want in relationships than about types of attraction. I tend to consider two factors: emotional closeness and interdependency. When I think of emotional closeness, I ask myself questions like: When I get good news, who do I want to tell? Who do I want to hug me when I cry? Who do I want to laugh with over ridiculous inside jokes? Who do I want to share secrets with? When I think of interdependency, I ask myself questions like: Who do I want to live with? Who do I want to raise children with? Who do I want to share financial responsibilities with? Who would I be willing to help in a middle-of-the-night emergency situation?
I can organize my relationships by asking myself how emotionally close and how interdependent I would like to be with a person. For example, I might have a long-distance friend who is emotionally close to me but not involved in my daily life. I might have a roommate who I share food and space with, but who isn’t emotionally close to me. People who I would like to be both (emotionally close to and interdependent) could be family, best friends, or partners (romantic, platonic, or otherwise). Following the popular narrative of building a life where only one person (a romantic partner) is emotionally close to me and who I am interdependent with seems so limited. This way of thinking helps me to imagine a good life for myself regardless of whether I end up finding a life partner or not. I do experience attraction and I do feel drawn to particular people for a variety of reasons. But thinking about emotional closeness and interdependency helps me to organize how I think about relationships, what my goals are, and how to build the future I want for myself — a life rich with intimacy, authentic connection, laughter, deep conversations, and plenty of hugs.