Can You Tell Me What I Am?

One of the most common questions that I get when I blog or talk about sexuality is “I think I might be demisexual/asexual/whatever, how do I know?” I’m certainly not the absolute expert on how to figure out your sexuality, and I’m still in the process of coming to an understanding with my own (we have an uneasy truce at the moment). But I have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to understand my sexuality, and so I thought I’d share some of the things that I’ve found helpful to keep in mind or to try when trying to figure out what the heck your sexuality is.

There are a few guiding principles that most people who talk about sexuality all suggest as good places to start when you’re thinking about sexuality. The first and probably most frustrating of these is that no one else can tell you what your sexuality is. At the end of the day, you are the one who knows yourself best and who will understand what identity feels right to you. This means a lot more work for you, but it also means that no one else gets to police your identity or demand certain performances from you in order to “count” as your chosen identity. It’s better that way, I promise.

Relatedly, there is no “right” answer about what your sexuality is. Sexuality is a fluid thing. What feels right for a while might change with new experiences, and your understanding of yourself absolutely changes. You can change how you identify. But there’s also no identity that will be exactly you in every nuance and stereotype. You don’t have to check off every body of “homosexual experiences” or “asexual identifiers” in order to identify as those things. People are complicated, and if you think that your overall experience falls into a particular identity, then that’s probably you. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work for you.

On that note, keep in mind that identity terms exist to help you. You don’t owe anyone anything when it comes to figuring out your identity. They’re there to help you understand yourself and communicate yourself to other people quickly. You don’t have to follow some sort of dictates in order to carry out your identity, you don’t have to stick with one once you start identifying, you don’t even have to identify as anything if you don’t find it helpful. Identity terms are useful to give us different potential templates of sexuality. “Oh hey, there are people out there who experience sexuality in x way and I also have y element of that, that’s nice to know. I wonder if they have any experiences or suggestions for how to successfully navigate dating?” Keeping this in mind can take some of the pressure off. This is something you’re trying to understand so you feel more comfortable and happy and maybe have more tools and support to figure out how you want to relate to other people. If it’s not helping, you don’t have to do it.

So with these guiding principles in mind, here are a few things to try. First, research! What are some of the labels that are out there? Here’s a good list to get you started with some basic definitions. It’s one of the most complete I could find, but if something sounds like it might be you spend some more time Googling see if it leads to anything else. One of my favorite resources for asexuality is AVEN. If anyone in comments has suggestions for resources about other sexualities (I’m not horribly well versed in most queer resources), please leave them in comments!

It can also be helpful to talk to close friends. They can’t tell you what you are, but bouncing ideas off of someone and hearing their perspective on what they’ve seen you do in the past can help clarify things that might have seemed muddy before. If you’re going to ask someone who’s more of an “expert”, it can be useful to have specific questions, e.g. I thought I didn’t want sex because of my upbringing, but now I’m not sure. Is it possible to be asexual if you have a history of conservative sexual messages? Someone who doesn’t know you can’t speak to your personal situation, so asking about facts that require their expertise is probably a better way to utilize their help.

It can also be useful to “try on” different labels. This can mean different things to different people. I’ve been “trying on” asexuality for a while now. I started by thinking of myself that way privately, then mentioning it to a few close people, then openly using it as a template for my relationships. Over time, I’m not sure how well it’s fitting with my experiences, so I might end up trying something else on instead. That’s ok. Sometimes you realize something doesn’t fit you when you first start trying to think of yourself with that term, and that’s ok too. Take whatever time you do (or don’t) need. There is no penalty for “I don’t have it figured out yet”.

One thing that I’ve found incredibly helpful is reading narratives/blogs/stories from people with a variety of different identities. It gave me a better feel for what the subjective experience of different sexualities was like, rather than a colder “definition”. It can be easier to empathize or imagine yourself in a narrative than in a definition.

If anyone else has suggestions or tips that they found helpful while trying to understand their sexuality, please leave in comments.

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