My first experience in the non-straight community came when I was 21. My sister subscribed to New Scientist magazine, and in the August edition the cover titled the Asexual Revolution. I always read the magazine from cover to cover anyway, but reading the centre pages about David Jay promoting awareness of asexuality beyond the biologist’s definition of self-replication led me to the AVEN website – the Asexuality and Visibility and Education Network.
It was a very dial-up Internet friendly website (showing my age here). The people on the community forums were equally friendly. They offered me virtual cake in the welcome thread, because that’s what asexuals crave in their pillow forts at 2am.
It struck me very quickly that there was a whole bunch of people who were just like me – I wasn’t the only one! For my teen years where people expect you to have sexual interest in others (preferably of the opposite gender binary), and for it to have a label – I couldn’t answer them. My sexual labelling went thus: I’m not interested in men so I must like women. One week later: I’m not interested in women either, so I must be bisexual. A day later: Bisexual is to have an interest in both, and I don’t have an interest in either, so jokingly I’m an apathetic bisexual. Many months of persistent questioning later as people didn’t accept the answer, I would say I was a closet heterosexual and run away before they had time to question why anyone would be in a closet about being straight, and why they would say they were in the closet.
Being on the AVEN forums gave me peace from other people’s aggressive questions about must liking people sexually. It gave me chance to read about other asexuals’ experiences in romantic relationships, and it’s then I realised I’m aromantic, too. This makes me a minority in a minority, but people accepted at AVEN without question.
I discovered AVEN at a time when leaflets had just been produced to educate the wider community about asexuality. I had a bunch of them posted to me from America to distribute at my local gay pride event in Birmingham. I got chased down the parade by the people from the Brook Advisory Centre as they were relieved they could offer teenagers something that said it was okay not to be interested in sex with other people. I realised then it was important for me to be open about my disinterest in sex with others, as well as my romantic disinterest.
Discovering AVEN came after I became chronically ill, which was a shame, as people assumed I was asexual because of my illness. I know differently, of course. Even at my health support groups, the other people have libidos greater than zero who want partnersex but are either avoided if they are single, or their health prevents them from enjoying the activities in a romantic partnership.
So yes, my first experience of the non-straight community was a revelation in acceptance and relief that I wasn’t alone – I belong. I embrace and represent diversity in a culture where you must sexually pursue others and you fail socially if you aren’t in a romantic relationship.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my pillow fort eating cake at 2am and talking enthusiastically with people I love platonically.