I’m a middle-school girl. I’ve discovered the world of Netflix discs you can order in the mail.
I watch Morena Baccarin glide around a spaceship. She’s the first woman I see on TV kiss another woman. I watch David Anders posture through espionage. He yields to strong women and something clicks in my mind.
Arranging the TV antennae just so, I get a decent broadcast of a show about people with superpowers. Online I discover something called fanfiction. There, a scientist and a supervillain slam each other against walls and kiss and do things I’m not supposed to read about.
I read everything I can find. I start to write fanfiction of my own.
I’m a high school girl. I’ve started dating a boy long after everyone else at our tiny school thought we were together.
We love mad scientists. We cackle about erotic death traps and heroes and villains entangled in romantic powerplays.
My head is full of characters strapping each other to machines and making grandiose speeches. My fingers type fanfiction about heroes and villains roleplaying all the things my friends and I squee about online. I covertly obtain a grown-up movie and watch Maggie Gyllenhaal get spanked by a man who doesn’t use that as a prelude to sex.
My boyfriend drags a plastic-protected Magic card over my arm and I squeal at the sensation.
We have our first kiss in the back of the school bus. But there’s no electricity on my skin, no Tesla coils crackling in my body. His mouth is wet and his tongue is insistent. It’s nothing like the fanfiction or the webcomics or the movies.
We keep kissing, keep trying, but it doesn’t get any better for me.
I’m a summer camp girl. I look up one day and see the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life.
I write a sonnet about her. I’m too shy to talk to her. I decide I must be bisexual.
I think about her as a historic queen from ancient Greece. I think about worshipping at her feet. I think about her bound with ropes to a rock awaiting a giant monster or a heroic rescuer. I think about kissing her hands and courtly love and writing more sonnets about her.
I don’t think about her naked.
I’m a college freshman. I start something casual with a boy who looks a bit like David Tennant and Matt Smith mashed together if you squint. He must be handsome: I know so many girls who want to sleep with him.
He ties me to his bed with a belt and tickles me. I feel special. I want to feel more: I want him to spank me, I want him to use ice cubes and feathers and handcuffs, but I don’t know how to ask. I think about all the Doctor Who fanfics I’ve read where the Doctor and the Master strap each other down and use sci-fi gadgets in inappropriate ways. The boy runs out of ideas after a few measly minutes and unties me. My fantasies fizzle and leave behind a void of disappointment.
Later, I find out the boy has worked his way through half my friend group. Later, my friends and I laugh about him and call him pathetic. Later, I wonder if he ever got more creative when he had a girl tied to his bed.
I’m a college junior. I’ve started dating a boy long after everyone else at our tiny school thought we were together.
We spend Sundays in bed in my off-campus apartment cuddling and watching TV shows together. We listen to sex podcasts and learn about being a “good, giving, and game” partner. We watch shows where characters have sex, tie each other up, and plot the downfall of kingdoms. My boyfriend ties me up and spanks me, which I like. As he ruts on top of me, I keep thinking about the episode we left paused on my laptop. He comes and we resume the episode. This must be a good relationship: he does something we both like, and then I do something he likes.
When I masturbate I don’t really want him there, but he wants to be involved. He wants his hands to be where mine are. I think of my masturbation as separate entirely from him, separate from anyone else, but I don’t know how to explain that to him or to myself yet. How can it be separate from him? We’re in a relationship: masturbation is shared, mutual, connected. We’re not prudes, we’re modern lovers. We’re not dysfunctional: we’re “good, giving, and game.”
His fingers fumble at me. I want to get back to watching TV.
My boyfriend keeps nudging me to try more things, to do more things to him, with him. I wrap his wrists together with a belt and feed him strawberries.
It’s not until later that I wonder if I wanted his hands to stop nudging, stop pushing … just stop.
I’m a post-grad. My boyfriend dumps me the week of Valentine’s Day. He’s disappointed I never initiated. He’s disappointed I never used the vibrator we bought in college. He’s disappointed.
He had once asked if I was asexual and I had laughed at him. Some of our friends in college were asexual. Most of them were sex-repulsed. They were disgusted when I talked about Showtime shows or BDSM. One of them had accused me of “fetishizing asexuals” for writing a fanfic where I explored the idea of my favorite character being asexual. I couldn’t possibly be asexual; how dare my boyfriend suggest that.
On Valentine’s Day I go see Deadpool and watch Ryan Reynolds get pegged by a leather-clad Morena Baccarin. I’m the only single person in the theater; everyone else is coupled up and holding hands.
I miss my boyfriend. I miss holding his hands. I miss how cold his hands were on my forehead when I had a migraine. I don’t miss his hands when I was trying to masturbate. I don’t miss trying to grind on his hand and be “good, giving, and game” while thinking about superheroes and mad scientists.
I’m a lonely adult. I read fanfiction about one of my favorite pairings. I’ve read stories where they’re re-imagined as werewolves, vampires, different genders, pirates, Time Lords. In this story one of them is asexual. The characters engage in a relationship regardless, enacting BDSM activities without the sex. My mind is blown.
I follow a kinky woman on tumblr who talks about bdsm and feminism. I flick my eyes past the naked pictures and read the text posts. An anonymous user messaged her about being asexual and kinky; the kinky woman affirms the anonymous person’s identity. She says she knows plenty of asexuals in the BDSM community. My head spins.
I talk to friends online. I read articles. I take quizzes that give me the results “ace” “gray ace” “faker” “demisexual” “liar” and “asexual.” I read fanfics tagged “asexual character” and they seem relatable.
I’m anxious and frustrated and tired. This feels like something I should have figured out as a teenager. This feels like something I have no right to claim.
I don’t want my ex to have been right about me.
I find the word “autochorissexual” online. I realize I’ve never truly fantasized about myself having sex with anyone: not my boyfriends, not the girl who made me think I was bisexual, not the women I’ve had crushes on, not the myriad of characters I’ve spent so much time thinking about – the Doctor, Herbert West, Agatha Heterodyne, Inara Serra – none of them.
I finally use the long-neglected vibrator. It feels so good that I cry. I’m alone but it’s not lonely.
I go to an event where celebrities from a show I adore are meeting fans. Everyone online says these celebrities are hot, beautiful, sexy. I partially consider this a final and desperate experiment, mad science in a way. If I still don’t feel anything, not even around these people … then I’ll know for sure.
The celebrities hug me. One of them is a woman so beautiful that looking at her nearly brings me to tears. I wait for the spark, the electricity, the Tesla coils crackling to life at long last. I feel only elation at meeting famous people I admire.
The experiment confirms what I have been grappling with for months.
I’m an asexual woman. I lie back and listen to a YouTube video where a hypnotist instructs me to close my eyes. The hypnotist is also asexual, so as “sexy” as the scenes get, she never goes far enough to repel me.
She instructs me to relax while she scrambles my mind with her words. The goal is to render me calm and pliant under her care. I want to submit to her will. There’s something compelling about her voice.
She asks me to beg and I beg. She asks me to close my eyes and I obey. She asks me and open my eyes, close my eyes, open my eyes, over and over and my brain starts to blur.
The only hands caressing my skin are my own. I don’t have to struggle or grind. All I have to do is lie back and listen to her voice.
“I’m going to count backwards from ten …”
I drift into a trance before she hits the count of 1.