The first time I suspected it was when I felt… *off* about watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother. In it, the protagonist, Ted, and his new girlfriend are discussing when they’re finally going to take their relationship “all the way”, as it were, and both confess their relative “dry spells”. They start with just “five”, leaving the rest to the imagination. Ted immediately feels relieved that he’s not alone. After all, how *embarrassing* it is to go without sex for five *months*! And then his girlfriend confesses she didn’t mean two months, she meant two…
And then there’s a smash cut to Ted’s friends all saying in complete shock, and in perfect unison, “FIVE YEARS?!?”
At that point it had been 6 years for me, about. Maybe 7. And I suddenly felt like I wasn’t allowed to call myself a man, especially not a gay man, because every gay man I’d seen in movies, video games, television shows, and in books, was either hypersexual, a flaming stereotype, or a pervy creeper. In any case, they were getting it regularly. Even the older gays on Grace and Frankie were getting it almost every night.
And there I was, in a committed relationship, co-habitating, and I wasn’t having sex. At all.
I had a lot of backups, excuses. Dry spells held out for about 6 months. Depression kills libidos. We didn’t have the money for the stuff we needed. I just wasn’t in the mood. The list goes on, but suddenly I felt like there was something *wrong* with me. How could I call myself gay when I didn’t want to have sex? People marched and fought and sued and *died* so that gays like myself could be with a guy sexually and not worry about getting killed and/or thrown in jail and/or put into “conversion therapy”.
Well, people did all that so it wouldn’t happen *as often*.
How It Happened
As it usually does with me, it came out through characters, creative ideas, stories and what not. I’ve been on hiatus, writing-wise, but a creative mind needs an outlet, and as a result I threw myself into tabletop roleplaying games, where my love of world-building and character development started. I’d been running a Star Wars game, set in the Old Republic (before the movies, for non-SW nerds) because it gave an open canon to play with, plenty of source material from the comics and Bioware games. It was fun, then it wasn’t, and I started a new game with new players, friends from college and online, and I had to create an NPC to keep everyone on the right track, since everyone was playing a Jedi.
So, I made Rannoch, a privileged sort from a noble house who left it behind to become a Jedi and a diplomatic liaison. I worked through his life, backstory, hobbies, music he liked, whole nine yards. Like most of my NPCs and characters now, he was male-inclined, but without thinking another trait found its way in:
Rannoch is asexual.
I went with it because I figured it wouldn’t come up. Jedi are supposed to be celibate and all that, like paladins with laser swords, putting morality and virtue above personal wants. For a while I thought I was just conveniently making him ace so I wouldn’t have to deal with any party romances.
Because pretty much everyone in the group is a writer, a couple of them would write long, winding journal entries, or write out scenes that happened during downtime to further develop their characters, and some of those scenes would require Rannoch to make an appearance. During a long stretch of downtime, I wrote that Rannoch was in a bit of a mood, down, sad, listening to the Star Wars equivalent of Morrissey kind of times, and it occurred to me that this was because he’d broken up with someone.
Naturally, my brain went into overdrive, needing to figure out what the relationship was, and why it ended, and subconsciously I began editing in details from my own relationship. Rannoch loved who he was with, but always felt it was a relationship that was incomplete, that he lacked what his lover wanted, so he broke it off feeling it was better for both of them.
That planted the seed for me, the word “asexual” to start going around in my head, lurking, examining, questioning. I always assumed that if you were ace that you were chaste your whole life, that even masturbation was a repellant activity, and that you were too socially awkward to even imagine having a stable relationship, which, I thought, asexuals didn’t want anyway.
Yes, I know that those assumptions were wrong.
It ended up being Todd from BoJack Horseman that finally got me to that moment where I tweeted out a thread that ended with “I’m ace.” See why there needs to be more representation of the LGBTIQA+ community in media than just Ls, Gs, and token Ts?
“Oh. I’ve ALWAYS Known That About You!”
The one part of the coming out experience that I never liked, mostly coming from my coming out as gay, was the sheer amount of people who’d pull muscles patting themselves on the back for “knowing before I did”. The first words my mom said to me when I came out were “No you’re not!” but now she tells people that she had suspected since I was three or four. (Do not say because of the sailor suit I wore every day, Mom. You were the one who kept putting me in it!) Friends I had in high school, social groups, people I knew in college, had “known the moment they met me”, yet the LGBT organization that prided itself on its infalliable gaydar had clocked me as a “strong ally” and even when I kissed a guy in front of them? They just figured I was super-secure with my masculinity. I was passing without trying to pass, stealth without stealth mode through most of college.
It’s only now, after a lot of soul-searching and introspection and review of my high school and college years, that I was an ace kid who thought he was a gay kid and just wanted to finish college without any complications like a relationship that would put my life on hold. Flirtations were kept at that level, anything serious was usually an LDR online that I wouldn’t have to worry about the physical or anything else getting in the way of a full course load and a 30 hour/week part time job. I didn’t even know that ace was a thing, I just thought I was overbooked and overworked. When sex finally did happen, I was more fulfilling curiosity, and curing myself of the dread blight of virginity at the ripe old age of 19. (Thanks fragile masculinized sexual behavior gender norms!)
Masturbation was more of a chore than anything else, and guys were more often than not just that to me, a masturbatory aid. When penetrative sex happened, it was, honestly, a little boring. The guy on top of me would be grunting and sweating and pounding away and I felt… Well, honestly I was wondering how long it was going to take so I could get to sleep and get him to shut up about how we’re never having sex. I loved the guys, sure (or at least liked them enough to feel I owed it to them. Thanks gay sexual relationship expectation norms!), but I could take or leave the sex. I wrote it off more times than not on being a Scorpio.
So when I realized that I was ace (or specifically, a homoromantic asexual), it was that sudden “Ohhhh…..” moment that realizing I was into guys wasn’t just quite. When I came out to my fiance, he cut me off three sentences in with “You’re asexual.” I responded, “I’m coming out to *myself* as much as I coming out to you.” To his credit, he apologized, and let me finish. He’d suspected for a time, but never pushed it, let me come to it on my own, and I love him for that.
Friends came after, some thanking me for trusting them with that “truth”, and a couple others responded, “Oh, I’ve known that about you since college.”
I know it was meant as an “Hey, it’s okay, you’re still the same person I became friends with, so it’s no big.” I know that.
But, yes, part of me wanted to scream at them that if they’d known I was ace for 14 years before *I* did, maybe they could have let me in on it? Jumpstarted the journey? I try not to go too far down that rabbit hole, that way lies madness, but I’ll give a little advice: Don’t respond with how you knew before they did if it’s going to come off in any way as self-congratulatory. Their coming out is about them, not you, and patting yourself on the back for your vigilant eye is not going to help them in their raw and vulnerable moment.
The song “Wonder” by Adventure Club was on heavy rotation during my time of introspection, the lines, “You were after nothing I could give… And I know I should have held you closer, and I know I should have treated you better, in a perfect world. But we’re not always, what we promise to be” would always rattle me a bit. It’s a break-up song, and when you’re in a relationship and identifying strongly to the lyrics of said break-up song, it’s easy to assume that this will sound the death knell. After all, relationships come with a lot of built-in assumptions. (Yes, I know not every relationship runs this list. Blame romance novels, movies, and television for these cultural expectations.)
Step 1. Meet
Step 2. Date (Repeat as Desired)
Step 3. Kiss (Repeat as Desired)
Step 4. Sex (Repeat as Required)
Step 5. Get serious/move in/cohabitate and/or get engaged/married
Step 6. Work on the “American Dream” or a place to live and/or a family.
I’d come out to my fiance as ace, and I was nervous because I figured without Step 4, or at least the promise of it, he’d try to let me down in that non-confrontational Ohio fashion and soon after that would be it. He’s been supportive, we’ve had a frank discussion about it, and we’re both good, but there’s always that wriggling splinter in the back of my brain whispering that this relationship, any relationship an ace person has with a non-ace person is doomed. (Thanks depression!) Everything else has gone well, we watch movies together, cuddle on the couch, go on dinner dates and actually talk like we’re best friends as well as each other’s guy, but there’s that doubt now, wondering if it’ll truly be okay in the future. (Seriously, fuck you, depression)
“You’ll Always Be Gay to Them”
I haven’t heard about an ace kid being put in the hospital because some straight guy suffered from “ace panic” and needed to prove he was a real man by beating the shit out a guy that had no interest in having sex with him. When I was left beaten and bleeding on the side of a road in high school, attacked by 6 anonymous boys who pummeled me because “I don’t know, you were there”, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to have sex with them or their girlfriends. The worst damage my asexuality has done, given what I remember, is male friends needing justification about their desirability. (I still believe that I didn’t want to fuck any of them because they were my friends. Sorry GFY afcienados.) I’d been absued, beaten, been fired from jobs and been given the “You see… this is a *small town*…” speech more times than I can count for identifying as gay, and I refused to go back in the closet.
And then I had my “holy shit, I’m ace” moment and soon after felt like a coward. Come out as gay and to your religious family members you’re a sinner who’s going to burn in Hell. Come out as ace and those same people will congratulate you on being “half-cured” or compliment you on how your celibate lifestyle is closer to God.
A friend was kind enough to slap me upside the head and remind me that “it’s not the fucking Oppression Olympics”.
It’s easy to say, but when I was in high school, trying to make yourself come across as fucked up as possible was the way to be cool and accepted. Outsider status was coveted. You didn’t just have a girlfriend in Canada, you have a girlfriend that got an abortion. You weren’t just abused, you were a beaten, broken, and bloody mess. You weren’t depressed, you were Borderline or Manic-Depressive or a diagnosed sociopath. Whoever’s life sucked more was the person who “won”. You couldn’t blame them for being an asshole because of how fucked up their homelife was, when in reality it was just a bunch of working-class white kids with typical teenage problems and wanted to inflate their importance with attention seeking and big words that sounded important and scary, while completely ignoring people that actually suffered from those problems. Mental Damage One-upmanship was par for the course.
There wasn’t a “gay kid” at my high school, and while I was out to my friends, I figured it was nobody else’s business. I was in relationships, but they never got physical, which I ascribed at first to just being respectful to the girl (which was wrong, because she was always the one who initiated, largely due to being tired of waiting for me to make a move), and later to being a big signifier that I was gay. I never was into the physical stuff. Even with my boyfriends sex was only on the table because I assumed (correctly) that it was what they wanted, and I would just enough to get them off and shut them up. I was more into the talking, hanging out, occasionally making out, the ability to be intimate emotionally and spiritually with someone, and sex seemed like the only way to get to that kind of intimacy with a guy.
All of that makes me wonder what being ace means outside of myself, to other people, to my job, where I live, the optics of my existence, because identifying as gay affected *every single aspect* of my life. Now I’m finally seeing and embracing that I’m ace, so… now what? The same friend told me, “Don’t worry about it. You’re engaged to a guy. You’ll always be seen as gay whether you’re having sex or not.”
Going from Gay Urban Fantasy Writer to Ace Urban Fantasy Writer is weird. Eventually I’m sure I’ll be able to write an ace protagonist, but likely he’ll have the same insecurities as I do, because you can’t write in UF now unless there’s at least a suggestion of an OTP, and even if it’s only handled in one paragraph, I’m not sure if anyone wants to read about an asexual werewolf being bored off his ass while his mate pounds away at said ass, counting the minutes or reviewing the case/adventure so far to hopefully have the epiphany that’ll solve the whole thing and give both of them some satisfaction. It’ll be funny, sure, but as I learned at a convention, the promise of a gay relationship must deliver on “the smexy times”. (God, I fucking HATE that word.) Does anyone really want that scene from the ace character’s perspective, burying his head in a pillow, wondering when it’ll be over so he can get some sleep? Do you want to read the ace character figuring, “well yeah, climaxing feels good for about… 5 to 10 seconds, but… then what? If I need that itch scratched, I can take care of myself and get back to work in ten minutes.”
I don’t know if readers want to read a protagonist who masturbates not because he can’t find a partner, but because he doesn’t want one. After all, The Joy of Writing Sex underlines that when a character masturbates, it’s supposed to be an act of loneliness, depression, an aching for physical connection to someone else, not because they just don’t want to be with someone sexually. “Taking care of yourself” is usually seen as comical as best, desperate at worst, and usually just as pathetic. If a protagonist wants to be with someone, but doesn’t want sex, there’s usually a reason, like a moral code, or religious upbringing, or some supernatural force attached to their virginity, and in any case, when a character announces that they *don’t* want something that people generally want, by the end of the story the reader expects that they’ll accept and want it like everyone else. If you don’t, you’re breaking a trope and the reader feels cheated.
An asexual character in a setting where people have sex, is seen as someone that needs to be “fixed”, that some outdated morality or psychological damage has their libido trussed up in razor-wire. After all, romantic love and sexual love are all too often seen as intricately intertwined. Sex without love is seen as pleasurable, but mechanical, unfulfillling, and usually sinful. (Thanks, Puritans!) Love without sex is seen as friendship as best, or teasing and leading on or “friendzoning” at… well not worst, but definitely leading to a hurtful confrontation. (Thanks, fragile masculinity!)
Of course there’s the point of, “Why do you feel you have to write an ace protagonist? Why not keep writing gay guys like you were before?” I can see the motivation to ask, but I’ll just say this: I became a writer because I could never see characters that were like me that got to save the world, especially in urban fantasy. My journey to coming out to myself as ace involves finding a way to express it, keep true to myself, and write a story that I want to write. Thing is, selling gay urban fantasy was hard enough without it being labeled as M/M romance, I don’t even know how an ace urban fantasy hero will get pidgeonholed, or even if anyone would want to read it. Thank god for self-publishing and a decent day job, I guess. Now I just have to figure out how to write it, but I guess that’s part of the journey too.
But, I guess that’s it. I’m Vaughn R. Demont, I’m an urban fantasy writer, I’m ace, and I want to write an asexual hero who saves the world.
We still cool?