A label for lacking: what being asexual is like

by Apple Nocom
Art by Aaron Silao

Iris stands petite at 5’1”, is 24 and a graduate of a top university, and now works in a digital agency. For fun, she reads, writes, travels and blogs. She’s currently single though she was in a healthy relationship for 2 years last year. And, Iris is asexual.

To be technical, asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction. This is entirely different from having a low sex drive or disliking sex, although these are fairly common traits of those who identify as asexual. This is also different from those who are voluntarily abstaining, or celibate. This minority is underrepresented in Filipino society in all aspects, even in the LGBT community itself. The closest I’ve heard of them is via the “halaman culture, which is loosely applied to people who are willfully abstaining from sex or romance in general. We hardly ever hear of their experiences, their roots, and their narrative of self-discovery. Though she is only one of probably hundreds, Iris cheerfully shares her perspective on the identity.

Asexuality is a spectrum, where people fall into black and white (those who feel sexual attraction and those who don’t), and those who only feel attraction sometimes or under certain conditions. These people identify as “graysexuals.” Then there are the sub-minorities of graysexuals; such as “demisexuals,” those who only feel the attraction after an emotional connection is first established, “reciprosexuals,” those who only feel the attraction to those who are first attracted to them, “lithosexuals,” those who feel the attraction but don’t feel the desire to act on it. Iris admits she does not know them all. Who knew there were so many? And I wonder, how does one come to realize which one of these they are?

For Iris, she realized she and her last partner simply weren’t on the same page when it came to sex. The honeymoon stage meant a high for both of them, but her partner’s desires remained steady while hers tapered off over time. She didn’t want it like he did anymore. Not to mention she found herself surrounded by the topic of desires and intimacy, and she began to admit she didn’t think or feel about it the way most people did. Enter the asexuality spectrum.

“Discovering there was a word for what I was feeling—what I was—was a huge relief,” she shares, relaxing into her seat as she recalls. “It meant that there were many others like me. There was nothing abnormal with what I was feeling. I felt very defined and liberated to adopt the label.”

“Discovering there was a word for what I was feeling—what I was—was a huge relief.”

As one would likely expect, it had its effects on her relationships and dating life. It first came up in her last relationship, which was her longest. Her desire to be intimate began to fluctuate and eventually drop, causing long-term and deeply-rooted friction. She began to worry that it would always affect her romantic life, especially in her case, where the attraction was there at the start but it disappeared. It was even a subtle factor in their eventual end.

The good news is that Iris is dating again. Her current partner took the news better than the first, though she spent plenty of anxiety-ridden moments waiting for the topic to come up. Iris wrings her fingers as she continues, “When it finally came up, he was open-minded and understanding, which made me feel that maybe my last partner just didn’t try. That or I just got lucky this time.” Her eyes twinkle as she says this.

Iris isn’t out to the public: only a select few of her close friends know about her newfound identity. I thought coming out about asexuality would be relatively easier than coming out as any of the other LGBT identities, but Iris says it has its own challenge. For example, she worries about skepticism and criticism from people who don’t really understand the concept. Prude. Halaman. Uptight. The labels aren’t derogatory per se, but as with anyone, I imagine it would hurt to be misunderstood and stigmatized in one go. Luckily, most of those who found out were simply inquisitive, which means they were making an effort to understand. If there were any doubts, criticisms, or stigma, they never reached Iris’ eyes and ears.

“Prude. Halaman. Uptight. The labels aren’t derogatory per se, but as with anyone, I imagine it would hurt to be misunderstood and stigmatized in one go.”

One of Iris’ regrets is that she doesn’t know any friends on the asexual spectrum. She couldn’t compare her stories coming out to friends and partners, to the stories of other asexuals, and she doesn’t have anyone to validate her experiences. All she knows and shares today, she knows from researching the spectrum on the Internet.

We go through the most common questions or reactions she receives when coming out about her asexuality, including the crowd favorite, “Maybe you just haven’t had a good partner.” She dismisses the comment each time. “My experiences have actually been pretty good, thank you very much.” At least until it started becoming a topic for fights. After the intense friction, the whole concept of sex became an even more tainted idea, which put her off further. How about now that she’s with a more open-minded partner? “Now, I can have my fun without the pressure of wanting it every time. Still, this hasn’t changed that I don’t feel it the way most people do,” she clarifies.

“Maybe you just had a very Catholic upbringing.” Iris admits to considering this at some point. She came to argue that all her siblings and childhood friends grew up in the same environment and she is, to her knowledge, the only one who identifies this way. “I can tell the difference between just being a prude and truly not feeling sexually attracted.”

“Maybe you just have a low drive.” Here, Iris clarifies a difference between attraction and drive: drive wants the act in itself, whereas attraction wants someone specific. When she researched the spectrum, she found that some asexuals had high drive but no attraction. Some non-asexuals had low drives. Some lie somewhere on the spectrum, experiencing attraction rarely or under certain conditions. “That makes me, to be technical, a graysexual with a low drive,” she confides, “but I find it easier and more comfortable to identify as asexual.”

And the most unique question, “Do you still want to have children? What about your future husband?” Iris tells me that she definitely wants kids in the future. “As for when I meet The One, I can guarantee it won’t be an issue,” she says with a coy smile, “but thank you for your concern.”

For kids out there struggling with possibly being on the asexual spectrum, Iris advises to really take the time to figure out how you feel. Learn from reading up on the experiences and feelings of those who identify as asexual, and know where your story stands next to theirs. That’s what Iris did. “But remember,” she adds, taking a more serious tone, “the need for certainty is for you, not for other people. Your identity is valid if you feel it is. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”