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The first time I heard the word asexual it was an insult; someone who wouldn’t let a guy hit on them, someone who was a shut in. That was a few years before my best friend, while driving me from campus to their house, told me I might be asexual. I didn’t know what they meant, nor how to respond, so all I said was the word, "What?"
And that’s when I learned about asexuality, a sexual orientation wherein, unlike heterosexuals who experience sexual attraction to a different gender, an asexual does not experience sexual attraction towards any gender. This would, however, mean that I wasn’t straight. My friend told me that the A in LGBTQIA+ stood for asexual, among other identities like agender and aromantic. I had thought it meant allies.
“Why would allies be included in the letters? They’re not gay.”
“But asexuals are gay?”
“In a sense, yeah. Some people use gay as an umbrella term for everything non-hetero.”
But I was convinced I was straight; more importantly, I was afraid to claim a community that wasn’t mine, like one of those embarrassing white musicians that pretended they were black and appropriated culture that wasn’t theirs. So I refused to let myself think about it, which worked for a few weeks, maybe. And then I found myself spending a lot of time on asexuality.org, trying to soak up every last piece of information, and, in the process, losing every last sliver of my heterosexual identity. It wasn’t too hard to realize, after all, that I was pretty much the least heterosexual person I knew. Other than, of course, my friend who introduced me to the word that saved my life.
Asexual. So this meant that sex was actually something people wanted, that sexual attraction was real? I had always considered it a myth and assumed that I would have no choice in the matter. That if I loved someone, that was something I had to let them do, that experience would train me to enjoy it — that that’s how everyone did it, and how everyone felt about it. Finally, I realized sex was not something every person in a relationship is just forced to deal with, that it was something I could live my whole life without. The relief I felt in that moment is something I don’t have the words for, but later on, I realized that learning I was asexual saved me from potentially disastrous situations and the idea that people are “straight until proven gay” put people like me in real danger of letting others take advantage of them.
Since then, a lot has happened to me, and I’ve come out to my family and friends and learned to slowly love and accept who I am as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, “ace discourse” has reared it’s ugly head on websites like Tumblr, where people debate over whether asexuals exist, and whether they are gay enough to deserve their coveted spot in the LGBT+ community. The discourse, is, of course, pointless. No matter how many notes an angry post gets, ace people are still not straight, and still part of the community. Unfortunately, the discourse causes a lot of asexuals to feel shame in their identity, and may convince them that they are, indeed, heterosexual, and just need to experience enough sex to start liking it. That sort of thought process is very dangerous to LGBT+ individuals just trying to figure themselves out, and it doesn’t help that there’s no positive media representation of asexuals.
So where can asexuals go to see themselves? Other than AVEN or asexual.org, there are few resources for this fraction of the LGBT+ community, even though it makes up more than 1% of the world’s global population, which is pretty massive. While TV shows like Sirens have shown asexual characters, they are usually misrepresented. In Sirens, the asexual character was talked about negatively by others, making it hard for asexual viewers to even watch the show. Even some of the most progressive TV shows, like Brooklyn 99, have used the word asexual in a joke with negative context. Truth be told, coming to terms with my sexuality changed my media intake greatly. Books and TV shows about heterosexuals were boring and left me feeling isolated. Romcoms where love is only considered real after a badly filmed sex scene became nauseating. I realized part of the reason I was so convinced that sex was a requirement was because it was everywhere, from car commercials to make up removers, to food packaging. The ever reaching hand of heteronormativity, the idea that being heterosexual is default, had a finger in every notch of western consumerism. I remember learning in my first psychology class that sex sells. Well, it seems the media only believes that heterosexual sex sells, and it doesn’t really for everyone, especially not me.
So while I am saving money, I’m not finding comfort, or anyone like me, in any source of media I reach out to, and such lack of representation makes asexual individuals event less likely to be self-accepting. So what’s left for this group of individuals struggling to understand themselves in a hyper sexual world? Well, first off, acceptance of asexuals as members of the LGBT+ community is happening, with an asexual flag now hanging at Stonewall and asexual groups marching in pride, while discourse may exist it will essentially be pointless. Not only that, but as society strives to move forward in accepting the whole of the LGBT+ community, representation will hopefully follow. So to all those now who are struggling with the isolation and confusion that come with lack of representation, remember you are a part of a resilient community, and one that is fighting now harder than ever. You can fight with us, and the world will eventually be safer for everyone with an LGBT+ identity.