Ace Week: Day 2 – The Barefoot Backpacker
The second in our Ace Week blog series, a Gen X ace tells their story
Asexuality and Age – by Ace icon “The Barefoot Backpacker” from The Office of National Statistics
I came to discover Asexuality much later than most people do. For me, it wasn’t until I read an article in the Guardian newspaper in 2011 or 2012, when I was already in my late 30s, that I first came across the word ‘asexual’, and it resonated with me; the more I thought about it over the years afterwards, the more I was comfortable taking the word on as my own. It just made so much sense, that there was a word that I could finally use that described me in enough detail to be meaningful. A lack of sexual attraction. It’s something that’s not important or necessary for me in order to get close to someone.
That’s my discovery, but I’m a little unusual in the community.
I’m on a Discord server run by an asexuality podcast, and last year there was a survey on the membership. 136 people replied, and it turns out I was the 3rd oldest person who responded. 89% of the respondents were under 30; indeed just over 70% were Generation Z, two whole generations down from me.
Partly this may of course be due to Discord itself being a ‘young person tool’. However, if we look at the wider community, we see the same kind of pattern. Some of the most visible asexual activists tend to be younger; Yasmin Benoit, arguably the most notable asexual figure, was born in 1996; most of the other activists – for example the two ladies running Sounds Fake But Okay, the Youtuber, Slice of Ace, the comedian Elliot Simpson – are the same age or slightly younger – the top edge of Generation-Z.
And this is great. It means upcoming generations have role models to relate to, and a community of peers that proves they are valid, so going forward asexuals and related orientations should never feel lost, alone, or confused about whether they’re just ‘odd’ or not, and therefore never face the same issues people like me faced.
But where are the others like me? Where are all the other older asexuals?
See, it’s likely we just do what gay men did previously. We hide in plain sight. We mouth the words, go through the motions of a ‘normal’ life, despite not being happy in ourselves, despite knowing it felt wrong but feel we’re not able to do anything about it. How many loveless marriages were entered into? How many people married just for the show, not for the love or connection? Remember of course asexuals can have sex, some of them even enjoy it, but by not experiencing sexual attraction, they would have felt stuck in a heterosexual dystopia and not free to express their own identity.
Amongst the older generation, especially those who’ve been in long-term marriages, having now been introduced to the word ‘asexuality’, there’s a little confusion over what it means, over how you know that you’re asexual, rather than just, well, comfortably indifferent to sex. Think of being married for 20 years – many people no longer having the urge. But remember that’s not what asexuality is; it’s not about how much sex you have, but how much sexual attraction you experience. And yes, if you’ve been married 20 years and have sex once a week, you could be asexual, but it’s more likely that you still have sexual attraction to your partner, you just don’t have the urge to act on it as frequently. You’d rather eat cake because it’s just easier than having sex, not because you don’t have the attraction to have sex.
So, what can we do? Should more of Generation-X (and maybe even Boomers) to ‘come out’ as asexual? Will it make a difference?
One might argue it’s not “as important” to ‘come out’; by the time you reach your 30s even, your life has veered down a particular path and maybe people think it ‘too late’ to change course, that ‘ah, if I were younger I’d have known but what’s the point now’, or ‘I’ve got this far, I can cope’, or ‘what will my [descendants] family think if I changed now’. Is it even relevant to me; I’ve been in a relationship for x years.
There’s also the thought society has ‘conditioned’ us into our heteronormativity, so maybe don’t feel we belong, that we’re kind of ‘appropriating’ asexual culture and ideals for our own benefit. Maybe too we might ourselves believe we’re simply going through a mid-life crisis, in the same way youngsters are ‘experimenting’ just after puberty. Previous generations bought motorbikes, discovered their author credentials, and took up crochet; if we started saying ‘it’s okay to be asexual’, would we start to see an increase of numbers in people getting divorced and deciding to, I don’t know, take up ultra-running or spoon-whittling in the forest?
Because fewer of us have ‘come out’, there’s fewer role models to see. If all the little asexual representation there is, is at the younger end of the age spectrum, will anyone believe us (because ‘people our age don’t do that’). In a way it’s like a ‘Chicken and Egg’ scenario – without the representation, we’re not going to ‘come out’, but if we don’t ‘come out’, there’ll be no representation. This also means by ‘coming out’ it’s much harder to ‘relate’, so there’s no ‘reference point’ – what does ‘coming out’ mean in the context of an older asexual; how do we explain it without a 30 minute TED talk each time, especially to our peers who’ve been brought up in the same environments.
We also don’t have the support networks younger people have - the representation and communities are on places like Discord, Tumblr, YouTube, whereas people my age are most likely to hang out on Facebook and Twitter.
And the more people like you there are, the bigger the community and the bigger the spirit. In my experience, the communities I’ve found haven’t had a problem with my age, even if some of them are made up with people some 30 years younger than me. I don’t know how I’d have felt at the age of 15 if someone 30 years older than me was in my social group, but in a way it’s kind of useful; they appreciate my experience and their discoveries, their activism, help me with mine.