Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lines On My Wrist -- Or Why Labels Matter

I've thought about writing this blog post for almost four years.

Every time LGBT history month rolls around, I think about this post.

Every time awareness week rolls around, I think about this post.

Every time Pride month rolls around, I think about this post.

I thought about this post on June 1 of this year.

I thought about it again on June 12, the morning after the Orlando massacre, when I first sat down to watch the news and mourn so many innocent lives lost.

I've thought about it every week since, while small battles played out on the internet, and I knew it was time to stop being silent.

There are four small, pale lines on my wrist that I want to talk about.

Buckle up, this is a long one, and it gets pretty personal.

My entire life, from adolescence to now, I haven't been quite like the others. I liked boys, but I had no burning desire to date, couple up, or to have sex. I was curious about sex, sure, and if it actually felt as good as masturbating, but actually getting it on? Being with a guy? No thanks.

I've also always been the girl that guys are friends with, but don't actually want to date--at least, until I hit my thirties.

In high school, one guy ever asked me out, and that was to his sophomore Homecoming dance. He didn’t even go to my school; we met in church youth group. He might have kissed my cheek when the dance was over, I don’t remember. It was our only date.

In college, no one asked me out, not in four years, and while I felt awkward and excluded, I also felt relieved that there would be no pressure to fool around. I had crushes on boys, but looking back they were aesthetic crushes. “You’re cute” crushes, not “I want to jump your bones” crushes. And they always tended to be on guys I was around repeatedly, whether for extra-curriculars, or class assignments.

It wasn't until my mid-twenties, when relatives stopped asking when I'd bring a nice boy around and started to ask if I was a lesbian, that I thought something was wrong with me.

What was wrong with me?

Turns out, nothing is wrong with me. But it took me several years to fully understand and embrace that.

Growing up, watching my peers begin dating, knowing they were having sex, I felt disconnected and awkward. I was curious to know what the hubbub was all about, but had no driving need to actually explore it. I masturbated because it felt good, but the idea of being naked with a guy, of doing naked things with a guy, was terrifying. I felt safe around my guy friends because none of them ever treated me as a sexual object--maybe if someone had, I might have figured all of this out sooner. I don't know.

I was 26 when I had my first kiss, and I learned something that day: kissing is awesome. The guy kissed me after our first date, an unexpected surprise after walking me to my car. He was a great kisser, but we only dated a few weeks and never moved beyond that. For me, that was cool. Whatever. I’ve gotten used to this single thing, anyway.

I did kind of miss kissing, though.

I was 30-31 the first time I “saw” someone come out as asexual. It was on a writing forum, and I’d never heard the term asexual used as anything other than a science term for cell reproduction. But her story sounded so familiar and it made me wonder. So I did some research, and this was the first time I found AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network). At first, I was confused because “asexual” seemed to contradict itself sometimes. I mean, how could someone not feel sexual attraction and still like sex? What?

But the more I read about the personal experiences of others, the more I read about the asexual spectrum and the various other identities within, it became less confusing. It began to make sense.

Around that same time, a new guy asked me out. We met for coffee and hung out for a few hours. We got along really well, loved the same movies, had similar senses of humor. Making out was fun because it felt good, but there was no urgency on my part to go further, to be naked, etc….  We dated a few months, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t going to last. I enjoyed our time together but sometimes a date felt more like a chore than fun, so I ended it as gently as possible. He’s a sweetheart and we’re still in contact on social media.

But after that breakup, I started to wonder….really, really wonder. Could I be asexual? Maybe I just hadn't found the right guy--it wasn't as if I'd tried that hard. And somehow that old, acephobic chestnut got stuck in my head: how could I be sure I didn't feel sexual attraction if I've never had sex?  I couldn't right? (Note: wrong, I could know)

And since I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, I convinced myself the label no longer mattered.

I was 32 when I started dating an amazing guy. Only the third guy I've dated in my entire 36 years on earth. We had everything in common, from movies to TV shows, to the things we enjoyed doing. The same raunchy, sarcastic sense of humor. Our first lunch date turned into eight hours of conversation. I really connected to this guy, whom I’ll call Pete. Pete was everything I’d been looking for in a guy. The emotional and mental attraction was there from the start, but....BUT...

Something wasn’t there. By this point in my life, I knew for absolute sure that I enjoyed the physical pleasure aspects of sexual activity. I am in no way sex repulsed, as some aces are. I experience arousal, because that's biology. But the idea of being with someone so intimately was terrifying.

Pete seemed to pick up on that, and he was patient, even when I finally, tearfully, admitted I was a virgin. I was horribly embarrassed to be the age I was and admit I’d never had sex. But the better I got to know Pete, the more comfortable I got with the idea of maybe, finally, seeing what it was all about. Hell, maybe we’d do it, it would be all the magical rainbows people said it was, and I’d realize I wasn’t actually ace at all!

It was good. Intense but immensely enjoyable. The physical release? Awesome! I liked sex. Cool.

But afterward I didn't feel more connected to him, like I've read about in romance novels. I didn’t have this sudden, urgent need to be with him all the time. I didn't want to cuddle and bask in the afterglow; I wanted to clean up and go do something else. Each time we had sex after that, I hoped I’d feel something new for him. That thing I’d never felt before; that nebulous thing everyone else seemed to feel for other people: sexual attraction.

I went back to AVEN and started to wonder. And realize. And accept. As a writer, I’m better putting words down on paper than saying them out loud, so four months after we began seeing each other, I wrote Pete a letter explaining what I’d finally realized and was trying to accept about myself.

I'm asexual.

The letter was two pages, single spaced. I wanted to be clear. I wanted to be gentle. I wanted to help him understand my new truth. A truth I was still struggling to understand myself. But most of all, I wanted acceptance. Maybe if he accepted me, I could finally accept myself.

Pete’s first reaction after finishing the letter: Are you breaking up with me?

It’s more devastating looking back than it was in that moment, because I have a clearer perspective. In the moment, me being me, I tried to make Pete feel better. Tried to insist it wasn't him, it was me (which was true). He tried the “yeah, but you enjoyed sex” argument, to which I tried to explain that sexual attraction and arousal are not the same thing (I have a much clearer understanding of this difference now, but back then it still confused me a little too).

I don’t think he truly understood what I was trying to tell him, and maybe we should have broken up then, I don't know. But I hated upsetting him, I reassured him.

I made it better for him. Not for myself.

We stayed together for several more months, and I have some outstanding memories of being with him. But sex is why I eventually broke up with him. 

We lived several hours apart, so we didn’t see each other all the time. I tried my best to understand his needs as an allosexual person to have sex in order to be close to me, to express his feelings, and I don’t know if he ever truly tried to see our relationship from my point of view—from the point of view of someone happy to spend six hours making 80’s movies jokes, and then go to bed and sleep.

We're still friends, bless him, and he's now happily married, while I'm still happily single.

But at the time I felt guilty for breaking his heart. I didn't want to be ace. I wanted to be "normal." I wanted to be a person who was sexually attracted to others, and who desired a committed relationship, dammit.

But I don't, and I'm not. 

After that I drank a lot. 

I drank because I didn’t want to be ace, and I drank because one of my careers was falling apart piece by piece. I was angry, worried, depressed, anxious, and also resigned to being “less than.” To always being fourth of fifth best. Never at the head of the class. Never truly successful in life or in relationships. It was a very scary couple of months for me, and no one in my real life knew a thing was wrong.

I'd drink to get numb, but then I'd get upset and want to feel something, so I'd take a nice, sharp pair of nail scissors and cut the underside of my wrist with them. Shallow, horizontal cuts, because I wanted the pain, not to die.

Only one co-worker ever noticed or asked about the bandage I hid beneath my watch band. I said it was an accident in the kitchen. 

She bought it.

And then a funny thing happened.

I started getting more active within the LGBTQIA community, thanks to my slowly building career as an m/m romance author. I met other aces online. I began to embrace the fact that yes, I was different, but I wasn't alone. I was other, but I was part of something bigger than me. I silently embraced the label that other people seem to think shouldn’t matter, because labels don’t matter to them.

The ace label matters to me.

I got better. Happier. Healthier.

Last summer, I told my best friend. She told me she loved me no matter what. We both cried happy tears.

But I've still been scared. In the past, when fellow m/m authors asked for an ace perspective on something they wrote, I considered speaking up, and then stayed silent. I've shown support to fellow aces, but not solidarity. Not in the ways that I think matter. Not in the ways that have me shoulder to shoulder with my community, saying we are valid. We deserve a spot at the fucking table.

And I'm ashamed of myself for taking so long to stand up, even while understanding that I had to do it when I was ready.

My family and co-workers don't know I'm ace. They don’t know I’m part of the full acronym they hate so much. They don't know I write gay romance. I'm terrified to tell them. I live in Bumfuck, USA, surrounded by Trump supporters. You can’t throw a stick without hitting a Trump lawn sign.

A.M. Arthur isn't the name on my birth certificate, but everything I’ve written today is part of who I am. It’s all me, from the jokes I tell online to the personality, to the movies and TV shows I watch. The opinions I have. Me. I have felt more free to be me here as A.M. Arthur than I’ve ever felt under my birth name.


A few weeks ago, there was a Facebook thread that devolved into a lot of acephobic rhetoric that hurt. A lot. We were told asexuality isn’t actually a sexual orientation (newsflash, YES, it is). We were belittled for wanting equal and accurate representation, for asking for others to listen to ace people when we speak. We were punched down on for existing, period.

And every time someone else, especially fellow m/m authors, said we weren’t valid, I looked at the scars on my wrist. Those lines are still there.

Four small, pale lines that I will carry for the rest of my life.

Four small, pale lines that I created out of emotional pain that had nowhere else to go except into my skin.

Four small, pale lines that remind me every single day of the struggle other people are going through right now. Trying to accept that asexuality isn’t a curse, that they aren’t broken, that their identity is just as valid as anyone else.

Four small, pale lines that prove I can love myself for all of my uniqueness, even if other people choose to remain ignorant, instead of listening and understanding.

Four small, pale lines that silently tell my story. Silently, until now.

Respect. Listen. Learn. 

Someone in your life that you know and love might be trying to accept their asexuality right now—don’t let your ignorance and unwillingness to educate yourself be the reason they live the rest of their lives with lines on their wrists.

For those who do listen, do respect, and want to learn: Thank you.

Embracing my label, embracing myself, means those four lines will never become five.


  1. This post made me cry, and perhaps, feel a tad identified. I might need to explore this further.

    If only we all accepted each other as we are and not try to impose our own beliefs on them, life would be much easier for everyone. *hugs you tight*

    1. Thank you, Mari. And if my post has helped you in any way, then I'm very grateful for that. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I've experienced many of the same things along the same time line and still have not figured myself out. I just wanted to reach out to you and say thank you. It means everything to know there are others out there like me in some ways.

    1. Sexuality is a fluid thing, and it isn't as simple as so many want to believe. I hope your discovery journey is easier than mine. *hugs*

  3. Thank you for sharing. The first part of your story could be my own. I've known I was asexual since college, even before I knew there was a term for it. I've been fortunate in that it was never an issue for me. It's who I am, the same way my eyes are blue. While I've always felt "other", I've never felt that different. I've always resisted labeling, but your post reminds me that no 2 experiences are the same. Labels aren't necessarily for me, but for others for whom things might not be so clear cut. I forget that others may be confused or lost or not even know such a thing exists and therefore they are important.

    1. Thank you for your comments, especially about labeling. That was the major point I was trying to make. And I'm truly happy knowing who you are was never an issue for you. :)

  4. Thank you for sharing such a personal piece of yourself AM Arthur. I feel priviledged to get to know you through your words. And the thoughtfulness behind them will stick with me from here on to my future. Please take care of yourself, and know that we care about you, and you are loved as your true self.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! It means a lot! It's like looking in a mirror made with words. I live in the middle of nowhere too and it's hard to talk about these things with (so I don't). I'm not sure if I fall on the Asexual scale or not, but I've wondered a lot. I enjoy it in my m/m, but it's not something that exist in my personal life. And there are times I wonder if there is something wrong with me. But mostly I'm happy to be single. I also know what it's like to feel alone even when your surrounded by people. <3

    1. Jessica, I'm glad my words resonated. I wish I'd been able to read something like this when I was much younger and to know there were others like me out there. Thank you for reading and commenting. <3

  6. Oh my God, thank you so much for sharing this very personal writing, A.M. In a way, I am also where you have been. I live in different culture, I may not have pressure to have sex per se, but my culture stresses on marriage. This question...

    Maybe I just hadn't found the right guy--it wasn't as if I'd tried that hard.

    comes to me a lot! Because while in my culture it is not about sex, but it IS about marriage, and all I can think of is that burden of having to do sex when I am married. I am not interested in having sex, and the idea of doing so is not making me feel good in any sense.

    I also embrace my label. There is something comforting about FINALLY being able to address my sexuality as asexual. Because before this, I always wonder why I don't feel the want/need to have relationship with guy/girl.

    Oh I can write long comment on this, I just want to say that I am glad for this post, and I hope you're happy now embracing yourself being an ace

    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Ami. I'm so sorry for your circumstances and the pressure you must feel. I'm also glad that you're able to embrace your label, and I truly hope things work out in your favor. <3 <3

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, your journey, your life, and your talent with us A.M. Your books have moved me to tears more times than I can count as has your personal history. Hugs my friend, I'm so proud of you for everything you've accomplished and for embracing yourself completely!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm about the same age as you and my story mirrors yours in many ways. I was convinced up until very recently that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. By reading blog posts like this I'm slowly realising that I'm just the way I'm supposed to be. Thank you very much for putting yourself out there.

    1. You are very welcome. I'm so glad to hear that my post helped you realize there's not a thing wrong with you. <3

  9. Thank you for writing this honest and moving piece. I'm on a different place on the spectrum, but your words have made me think me seriously about a friend of mine, who I think may well be ace even though I suspect she herself might not know there is a term to describe who she is. It has made me think more about why we are all different, and how we are all equally valid, no matter our desires or orientation.

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to reply. I hope your friend finds what she needs to be comfortable with herself. :)

  10. There seems to be more and more of us as more and more of us learnt that this is a thing, not just "weird".

    1. This is very true. I can't imagine how different my adult life would have been if I'd heard of asexuality in high school.

  11. Thank you. Thank you so much. May I tell you a story? I got married, all starry eyed and high on expectations, before I ever heard of asexuality, when I was still young and naive (oh God, so naive) enough to assume it will all turn out HEA because obvious reasons. Fuck, so naive. The past few years have been... Tough, and it's getting worse. I'm also trapped in a place of religious, conservative people, including my ignorant (but otherwise wonderful) spouse, and recently I had a bit of a slow revelation: I love reading M/M romance and thought that one thing unique to this genre is the coming out trope (no one ever comes out as straight in hetero, YKWIM?) and therefore I (or every straight woman who reads M/M) can't relate to the angst and rejection associated with it... except, maybe I can. Because my revelation has to do with this slow awakening, a growing awareness that my sexuality is not "normal", and it scares me to bits. I've got no one to talk to and it's thanks to people like you writing posts like this that I slowly, sloooooowly start to see myself as something other than "wrong" or "broken". It's liberating and scary as fuck and for the first time I'm starting to understand "coming out" as something more than just someone else's unrelateable problem. The thought of telling anyone in my real life that I may be asexual (I'm still figuring it out) makes me break out in hives and pushes me firmly back in that closet. But I hate living this half-life, with all its duplicity. But posts like yours, books like yours give me courage and hope. So thank you. Putting such honest, personal words down for the world to read is scary, because people judge, and scoff, and laugh it off as invalid. But it also helps and educates and comforts and unites. Please don't stop talking about it, even if you write about it in books through characters (currently reading Hot Licks...) I'm seeing more and more people asking for stories with "alternative" sexually orientation for the characters in the few author groups I'm part of on FB. Maybe the world (or a small part of it) is ready to be open to it. I'm desperate to read romance with especially asexual characters, maybe because I need some reassurance that even they (us?) can have a happily ever after.

    1. Nevaeh, thank you for having the courage to share your story here. It's difficult to live a life where you have to hide part of yourself, and I'm glad you are able to find some comfort on FB and with fiction. I wish you all the best in your journey. *hugs*