What to do When You are Skeptical of Someone’s Transition

Every trans person, when they start their transition, has to deal with at least one person who doesn’t quite buy it. Someone will think it’s a phase, or a plea for attention. This is overwhelmingly unlikely to be true. Less than one percent of people who transition go on to regret it; of that number, many don’t even regret it because they are not really trans, but because of the overwhelming prejudice trans people face. I once knew a trans woman who had tried to transition earlier and had to detransition because of how shitty people were. When I met her she was in her fifties and transitioning for the second time.

So it’s a bit surprising that during the year I began my transition, not one but two of my friends also began to identify as FtMs, and then changed their minds. This shaped a lot of my thoughts around this issue, so I thought I should share the story, and what I learned from it.

The first thing I think people should know is that who actually transitioned and who didn’t spectacularly failed to line up with the conventional trans narrative. Hailie and Madison (not their real names) were both significantly more masculine than me. Hailie was a classic butch lesbian, deep voiced, athletic, fond of beer and belching. She had her first crush on a girl back in kindergarten. Madison was bisexual and punkishly androgynous. I am sensitive, shy, artistic and exclusively attracted to other men. I had a lot more people shocked at my coming out as trans than either of them, yet I’m the only one who was really transgender.

Lesson one; you don’t know. There is no way to tell from the outside whether somebody is really transgender or not.

A consequence of the first point is that of the three of us, I received the most resistance to my transition. I was actually kicked out of my house, and stayed with Madison’s family until I could afford my own place. Madison’s family was a little nervous, because she was famous for identity crises, but they were still fully willing to feed, clothe, shelter and love her, as well as provide her access to gender therapy and transition services. Hailie’s family was much the same; nervous but willing to be supportive.

Lesson two; there is a school of thought that says the best way to help trans people is to be a gatekeeper. You need to put a lot of obstacles up to make sure they aren’t just confused or whatever. Insert something vague about tough love here to justify making people prove they are really transgender. That’s bull. People in a supportive environment can still figure that they aren’t really trans. People who are trans don’t need to be picked on.

So what did happen to make Madison and Hailie realize they weren’t trans? Well… mostly nothing. They experimented with gender for a little bit, and they figured it out.

Hailie had been assaulted and raped a short time before she came out as trans. Her sister was worried that this was some big unconscious fight to avoid thinking about the rape, rather than an honest transition. When Hailie insisted this wasn’t the case, her sister backed off.

For a few months, Hailie went by a boy’s name and male pronouns. Then she quietly told me that she was having second thoughts. Then, a while later, she said she wanted to go back to female pronouns. A little while after that she said her sister had been right. Hailie had felt dysphoric because of the physical trauma she had just been through. She had needed something other than the rape to worry about. She wasn’t trans. Honestly, I can think of worse ways to deal.

Madison’s story is a little more complicated. Have any of you ever had the experience of being accused of causing drama, or known people who were accused of it when they were trying to draw attention to legitimately awful stuff? Did that experience make you think that people need to just stop making that accusation, because it seems like it’s only ever used to silence people with real problems? And, after thinking this for a while, did you ever run into somebody who would milk every drop of sympathy to their own advantage, who always had to have the biggest crisis in the room, who was every “you’re just causing drama for your own ends” accusation made real? And you tried really hard to be compassionate, but inside you’re just screaming “you! It’s all because of you! We could just ban the word drama entirely and take everybody in the whole world seriously, if it wasn’t for asshats like you!”

Yeah, I didn’t realize it at first, but after living with her for several months, that was Madison. At first I was hopeful that gender dysphoria was the thing that was wrong with her all along, and being trans would solve all the things, but I did start to suspect something when the only thing she ever did to transition was talk about it. We picked out our new names and talked excitedly about them. I did the work of finding out how to legally change one’s name and print all the documents out. I printed out two copies and left one out for Madison. It stayed on the fridge with a magnet for months and was eventually thrown away. She got her letter from a therapist that would give her access to hormone therapy, and the name of a good clinic. I got my prescription filled as quickly as possible. She never did. Her transition only existed when she was coming out tearfully to somebody, at which point she could use their sympathy to control them, of course.

Her parents handled it perfectly. Instead of obstructing her transition, they gave her responsibility over it. She had a part-time job, and with her parent’s insurance she could afford to use pay for co-pays and fees to change her name herself. She had a driver’s license and could drive to doctor’s appointments herself. They gave her all those responsibilities.

Lesson three; if obstruction is the worst of both worlds, responsibility is the best of both worlds. A genuinely trans person will see responsibility as a wonderful gift and act of trust (provided you aren’t giving them so much “responsibility” they don’t have a chance to actually transition. This level will vary depending on the age of the trans person, but you know, use common sense). For a person who isn’t trans, realizing they like the idea of transitioning more than the work of it can help them figure it out.

And, piggybacking on that, lesson four; I think probably most people who think they are trans for a while, when they aren’t really, are in some way either a Hailie or a Madison. Either they are going through something else that is awful and need some understanding and respect, or they are that once-in-a-while asshole… in which case what they’re really after is for you to not understand them, so they can blow up and use that to control you. Show them understanding and respect from the start, and they’ll have nothing to work with. They’ll have to move on to something else.

I don’t know how people realize what their gender identity is, any more than I know how you know you’re in love, or that your new house feels like home. And I say that, having been through all those experiences. I just know that when you know, you know, except once in a while you think you know but you don’t. But hey, those moments of not knowing that you don’t know are just part of being human, and they don’t generally last as long as really knowing you know. You know?

Anyway…

I wonder at how afraid we are to let people experiment with their gender identities. There’s no harm in it. I think obstructing experimentation causes a lot more confusion than just letting people play around, not to mention pain for people who genuinely transgender.

So in case I wasn’t clear, if you aren’t sure whether or not someone’s transgender, just respectfully back off. You might be right, you might be wrong, but either way it’s their job to figure it out.

Open Letter to an Unnamed Comedian

Dear Comedian,

I will not name you because, number one, I saw you at a late open mic night and your name was lost in the swirling rotation of participants, and number two, the odds that you actually see this are slim, and if you do, you will recognize yourself from the joke.

The joke was about a trans woman. Now, I do have a sense of humor about my transness. I like to joke about it, and I like to hear other people joke about it. There’s really only one transgender joke I don’t like. It goes like this; you expressed sexual interest in a trans woman. Haha. That’s it, that’s the whole joke. The precise wording and context varies, but the joke itself never changes. Its funny because… I don’t know. Because transgender people are inherently gross? Because being in contact with them makes you gay and gay people are inherently gross? Its simultaneously homophobic AND transphobic. Hilarious!

Unfortunately, that joke also accounts for 99.9% of the transgender related humor out there, which is a shame. There are so many other jokes that could be told. I loved the one on Orange is the New Black where the only woman in the whole prison block who knew how female genitalia worked was the trans woman. I love this webcomic. I love the penultimate episode of Freaks and Geeks (which is about an intersex girl, but much of the episode could have easily been about a trans woman).

But I’m getting away from myself. You didn’t actually tell that joke, or perhaps you did, but put the first truly original spin on it that I can recall seeing. You told it about yourself. You described a beautiful woman on television who you were very attracted to, and then revealed to the audience that she was trans, and that you knew that at the time you were attracted to her.

Is that offensive? I’m conflicted. On the one hand, its one thing to put someone else down for finding trans people attractive, and another thing to state it publicly about yourself. The latter suggests that there is something okay about it. At the very least you were okay enough with it to admit it to a room of strangers. On the other hand, that wouldn’t be funny or provocative if it wasn’t for the general knowledge that being attracted to trans people is stigmatized. The question is whether or not the joke reinforced that stigma. I wish you had gone on to criticize the stigma, to make some joke questioning why it is, exactly, that we treat attraction to trans people as something shocking and bizarre? Especially at a time when being gay is more acceptable, when many of your fellow comedians that night were themselves openly gay? You could have made us all laugh at the fact that we applaud Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres, yet still mock a heterosexual man for being attracted to an adult woman whose breasts and vagina were relatively recent additions to her anatomy.

I also wonder if it ever occurred to you that a trans person could have been in the audience? I wonder if, to you, transness is something that happens on TV and in bad jokes, not in real life. Would you have told your joke differently if you knew that someone sitting in front of you had personally dealt with the issue of dating while being transgender?

Here’s what dealing with it looked like (for me, not for everyone who is trans). First of all, it meant being prepared for the fact that some people won’t want to sleep with me, on the basis of my transness. That’s okay. Everybody has the right to say “no” to someone they aren’t attracted to, whatever that reason. You don’t have to say “yes” to someone who is fat, thin, tall, short, possessing of a hair color you don’t love, possessing a fashion sense you don’t love, etc. Second, it meant being willing to answer a lot of questions to potential partners that I wouldn’t be willing to answer otherwise. I knew there were some people who wouldn’t be interested and some people who would be interested and also come pre-educated, but that most people who were interested would have some questions. Questions about my surgical history and what I can and can’t do in bed aren’t for the knowledge of the general public, but someone who is considering sleeping with me does have a right to know what will happen. Third, it meant being willing to shut people down and get away fast if their questions were not polite in tone, or if in any way they began acting predatory and disrespectful.

If all of that sounds scary to you, it was. It was exactly as intimidating as it sounds. And in the end, it was worth it, because you might notice I was using past tense in the paragraph above. I found someone online who seemed nice, we wrote, I answered some awkward questions because he asked them politely and reasonably. We met in person, we clicked, and we celebrated our one year anniversary last week. As it happened, we celebrated at the open mic night where you, dear comedian, told your joke.

And this brings me back to why I’m not sure whether I’m okay with it. I recall that at first my boyfriend wasn’t sure what to do, but then he talked to another gay man he respected who shared a story about hooking up with a trans man and how it went well. That gave my boyfriend the extra bit of confidence he needed to meet me in person. So maybe, by admitting that you found a trans woman attractive you made someone else feel like, despite what society says, they weren’t weird for finding some transfolk hot (cause seriously, tons of us are really, really hot).

Still, the joke didn’t make me feel good. It still made me feel like you were mocking yourself, like in the end you were affirming that there was something weird about your reaction. I didn’t laugh at your joke. I laughed at every other part of your set, because you are a very funny man, but I didn’t laugh at that one. It felt like, in order to laugh at it, I would have to laugh at myself, not in a good and healthfully self-deprecating way, but in a way that affirmed that yes, I am a filthy, strange and unlovable thing. I wasn’t really in the mood to do that. It was my anniversary.

Birth control!

Hey everybody! Want to read a post about birth control choices? If not, may as well click away now!

Since realizing that I was going to become sexually active as soon as I found someone I liked enough, I’ve thought a lot about birth control options. I’m the kind of person who likes to weigh choices over and over, considering them from every angle, so it was a pretty natural thing to do. But I never hear other women talking about their own birth control choices; at most maybe they mention what they’re using, or something they had a bad experience with.

Methods I have used
Condoms: Still a part of my life in the poly world: like many poly folk, we have a rule about using condoms with new partners, and not stopping using them without discussing it with the other partners. It’s primarily about preventing infection, not preventing pregnancy, but when I wasn’t on any other form of birth control it served double-duty. The interruption in spontaneity doesn’t bother me, but the increased dryness does. Still, sex with a condom is way better than no sex at all: it’s a price I’m quite willing to pay.

Withdrawal: A much-maligned strategy, for couples where the male partner knows his body and can exercise control. You’ll still hear conflicting reports about whether there’s sperm in pre-ejaculate: there isn’t conclusive evidence, but the most likely answer is “sometimes, from a previous ejaculation.” Either way, it is possible to get pregnant from perfect use of withdrawal, but the odds are low: the perfect-use rate is 96%, which is close to the perfect-use rate for condoms. I like it because it’s free and doesn’t require me to do anything, not even go to a doctor every few months. I would like it less if I didn’t trust my partner’s “perfect use” abilities, and I would never, never recommend it to teenagers. The biggest disadvantage is that it might be less fun for the man: it is for mine, which is the primary reason I went on to a different method.

Fertility awareness: Another much-maligned strategy. As with withdrawal, its effectiveness depends on how well you know your body and how good your self-control is. I used a lazy-but-cautious form of fertility awareness, keeping only a very small window of “safe” times. For this reason, I probably won’t ever use it as my primary form of birth control: to do it effectively, you should be charting your temperature and all your cycles and cervical fluid, and while I like the idea of knowing my body that closely, I’m not disciplined enough about daily tasks to carry it out.

The Sponge: I liked this one. It was easy to use, I had control over it, and I didn’t have any comfort issues. The major downside was the cost: something like $12 for a pack of three. That would be okay if I was single and only occasionally having sex, but not something I wanted to consider long-term.

You’ll notice that all these methods are non-hormonal. For a while I was dead set against using hormonal methods of birth control: I was afraid of undiscovered side effects, and I didn’t like the idea of constantly medicating my body when it’s just operating the way it’s supposed to. My take on this changed somewhat as I learned more about reproductive biology: it became less “don’t disturb the magic and mystery of the reproductive cycle!” and more “here’s why the body does these things at this time, and here’s all the things that can change that, and just because it’s natural doesn’t mean that it’s the healthiest thing for you.” (Kate Clancy writes a lot of good stuff about women’s reproductive physiology: this post contains links to a lot of great information, by herself and others.) This ideological shift, combined with what I learned about some other non-hormonal methods I was considering (more on that in a minute), got me looking at hormonal methods again. And so we come to…

What I’m using now
NuvaRing: I just started it, which is what prompted this post. In a month or so I’ll come back with a fuller report on how I like it. It’s the first hormonal birth control I’ve taken, and I chose it for two reasons: it’s lower-dose than any of the others, and it’s instantly removable. If I find I don’t like its effects, I can take it out and the hormonal effects start breaking down after several hours. Also I like that it can be used continuously, without a withdrawal bleed every month. If I’m going to be messing with my hormones, I’m going to enjoy the full benefits, goshdarnit! I like it so far: I don’t feel it at all, insertion was no problem, and I’ve noticed no other effects.

What I’ve considered using
Diaphragm/cervical cap: This was going to be my method of choice once I finally made it to a doctor. Both methods are very similar to the sponge, which I liked, but more cost-effective for someone who has sex more than once a week. What changed my mind was learning that spermicide may increase risk of HIV infection: frequent use can cause minor abrasions which make HIV transmission easier. The risk given my circumstances is pretty low: while I’m non-monogamous (risk factor), none of my partners are hugely promiscuous, and I trust them all to use condoms with outside partners, and I’m not going to be exposing myself to spermicide every day. But low risk isn’t no risk, and gosh it’d suck to get HIV, so I bumped any spermicide-dependent birth control methods down several rungs on the preference ladder.

IUD: This one I might go with after I’ve had all the children I want to have. Several years ago I was planning on using the copper IUD once I became sexually active: over many years it becomes cost-effective, I liked that it was non-hormonal, and I liked that I wouldn’t have to do anything about it once it was placed. Non-monogamy, and my late onset of sexual activity, changed my calculations here too: some people don’t recommend the IUD for the non-monogamous, as it can increase the risk of complications if you do get an STI. Also, I’m now thinking it will be less than five years, not more, that I decide it’s babytime, so it makes less sense financially. And finally, my calculations of “prefer less hormonal interference” and “prefer less menstrual difficulty” have flip-flopped: before, I wanted no hormones even if it might make my periods heavier and more painful, and so planned on using the copper IUD. Now, I’ll probably opt for Mirena if I do get an IUD.

So! Now you know all you’d ever want to know about my ruminations about / experiences with different forms of birth control. If you’d like to share your own, please do! I’m genuinely interested to hear other people’s experiences and considerations… which is why I posted this in the first place.

Why a sex strike is not a helpful response to attacks on reproductive choice

I’ve seen a couple of calls for a sex strike of some kind, in response to the many recent attempts to restrict availability of women’s reproductive choice services (both abortion and birth control). I get where they’re coming from, and I think their main argument is correct: before birth control, women and men alike had much less sexual freedom, and the further our access to it is withdrawn, the less sex people will be having. The posts I’ve seen about sex strikes are a well-meaning attempt to confront men with the reality of this consequence before it’s too late. (There could very well be calls out there employing a nastier, “they’re trying to screw us so let’s not screw them!” tone, but I haven’t encountered them yet.) The problem is that tactics like this aren’t paying close enough attention to who is pushing this legislation, who is supporting it, and how a sex strike is going to affect them.

Historically, sex strikes have been effective when the women of a single community took a strong position against actions or policies that the men of their community were embracing. That’s not what’s going on here, though. Pulling back access to reproductive choice services is not something men are doing to women: it’s something political conservatives are doing to everybody. And while political conservatives do tend to skew male, the difference is not dramatic (For an example, look at the demographics of voters in the 2006 elections.) My experience is that people tend to run in social circles with similar political beliefs, so women who vote conservative are more likely to date men who vote conservative. And how likely are women who vote conservative to participate in a sex strike? My guess is… not very likely?

A lot of conservative voters have very strong beliefs around sexual morality, believing sex should only take place in monogamous heterosexual marriages. Needless to say, a sex strike is not going to scare them: unmarried, unready-for-children people having less sex is exactly what they want. So the success of a sex strike depends on the existence of a significant population of conservative voters who are relatively neutral on sexual morality and who enjoy non-procreative sexual activity. And even if that population is large enough to affect election results, the men of that population would have to be dating / married to / hooking up with women that are politically motivated enough to engage in a sex strike. I just don’t see that as likely. I think conservative-voting, apathetic-on-social-issues men are mostly dating (etc) apathetic-on-social-issues women, who aren’t going to participate no matter how hard a strike is pushed.

So I think a sex strike is going to have a negligible effect on conservative voters, who are, after all, the ones who place and keep these politicians in power. What about the politicians themselves? Will they suddenly find themselves unable to get laid and reconsider their stance on birth control availability? Not likely. Rich and powerful men play by different rules, in sexuality as in many other things. Rich and powerful men have nothing to lose by returning to the sexual dynamics of the pre-birth-control era. Do you really think a successful politician in the 40s had a hard time getting laid? It’s the average men and women who gained from the availability of effective birth control, and it’s the average men and women who will lose as that availability is withdrawn.

It’s pretty popular these days to pooh-pooh attempts at grassroots activism on the grounds that they’re ineffective. In general, this irritates me: why discourage people from trying? But in this case I have philosophical objections as well as pragmatic objections. A sex strike encourages women to use their bodies as a bargaining chip, and haven’t we seen enough of that? It supports a “battle of the sexes” mentality, and haven’t we seen enough of that? It makes sex once again about power and control, and not about joy and connection. If I thought it was going to be an effective tactic, maybe I would think all this a worthwhile price to pay — maybe. But I don’t think it is, so I would rather see us support the right to reproductive choice by continually affirming sex as a healthy, joyful, and mutually beneficial part of human nature.

Ask the Sexologist: Recommended reading on the sources of kink

Hi Ginny,

just spotted the new post on the Brunettes…. So, figured I’d ask a simple question, which is: what books would you recommend for a layman to get acquainted with the current state of sexology/sex research? I’m prompted to ask because I’d been reading this excellent article:

http://www.xojane.com/sex/feminist-women-with-rape-fantasies

and reading the comments I came across a reference to A Billion Wicked Thoughts. Alas, even a quick check of that book & some online reviews (e.g. at Figleaf’s site) confirmed that it was pernicious dreck. So I’m left wondering what I SHOULD be reading…. In particular, I was curious about how people’s sexual identities are formed–how does one end up being “submissive” or having a particular fetish? And what about cultural differences–what does “kink” look like in other cultures? Are dom/sub, top/bottom binaries pretty much universal or do they have a more recent, specific history?

As you know, there’s a stereotype in popular culture that people who are into S/M have had damaged childhoods or were raped; I gather the BDSM community often hates this stereotype (perpetuated e.g. in the otherwise S/M-positive film Secretary). There’s probably a grain of truth to the stereotype (in my anecdotal observation, anyway) but I was wondering where to go for a more reasoned, empirical study of the topic.

best,
N
______________

Hi N,

“Why we like what we like” sexually is one of the toughest and — if judged by my cohorts’ research interests — most intriguing questions in sexology. It’s hard to study for a number of reasons: how do you recruit a good representative sample on such a sensitive topic? How do you measure all of the possible variables, both genetic and environmental? How do you gather reliable information about subjects’ childhoods, possibly including pre-memory stages of life? And how do you get funding for a study on the origins of fetishes in our sex-negative political environment?

To have a really solid answer even to the simple question “Does childhood abuse make one more likely to develop BDSM inclinations?” you’d want to do a longitudinal study, starting with a large sample of abused and non-abused children, and follow them through life, interviewing them about their sexual interests in adulthood. I can think of half a dozen reasons such a study would be hard to pull off, just off the top of my head.

SO. I’m sorry to say that I can’t give you a definitive answer, or even point you to resources that have one: as far as I’m aware, it’s not out there yet. But there are some theories being tossed around. One book I found interesting is Arousal, by Michael J. Bader. His basic thesis is that fetishes and fantasies all have the purpose of making us feel safe enough to be sexually aroused. Based on the different insecurities and anxieties we have, some people get that feeling of safety from exhibitionist fantasies, some from submissive fantasies, etc. It’s an interesting read and a valuable theory: I wouldn’t say I’m completely sold on it, but it’s a contender.

For cross-cultural information, Exotics and Erotics, by Dwight R. Middleton, is a great overview on desires, practices, and identities across cultures. The World of Human Sexuality by Edgar Gregersen is longer and more in-depth, and very scholarly in tone, but if you can handle a little dryness in your prose it’s fascinating reading. Neither one of these have a psychological focus: they describe rather than attempt to explain. However, knowing what sexual tastes and practices are considered normal or abnormal in other cultures helps to shed light on our own.

Good job rejecting the Ogas and Gaddam book, by the way. Their work is not entirely meritless, but their research practices are really lousy. I can sort of understand the temptation to do bad research when good research is so difficult and ridden with obstacles, but there’s no excuse for giving in to it.

Let me know if you have further questions!

New feature! Ask A Sexologist

(This, along with a few other posts, is being cross-posted at our new website polyskeptic.com, which has three active contributors and counting! I have a chronic problem with starting and trying to maintain multiple blogs; I’ve tried various solutions to this problem but nothing seems to be taking. For now, at least, I’ll be posting more personal stuff exclusively at this blog, more controversial stuff exclusively at the other blog, and a lot of things to both blogs.)

Several years ago, when I was frantically catching up on all the information on sexuality I avoided learning in my youth, I discovered Savage Love. I read through every single archived column, and then went back and did it again. It was around that time that I started to think, “This human sexuality stuff seems pretty endlessly fascinating to me… perhaps I will devote my career to it?” So now I’m about a third of the way through a M.Ed in human sexuality. It’s still early days, but I’m very happy with that decision so far.

So now I want to share the riches of my extensive knowledge. Got a question about sexuality? Ask away! If it’s a factual question, I either know the answer or know how to find it (or can tell you “we don’t know yet, but here’s the fascinating history of the investigation so far!”) If it’s advice, well, as Dan Savage points out, the only qualification necessary to give advice is having been asked for it. I will disguise any personally-identifying information, and I will be nice to you: as much as I enjoy Dan Savage’s caustic style, I’m constitutionally incapable of emulating it.

I’ll run the feature from one to three times a week, depending how many questions I get and whether I have a paper due. If you have a question email me: lirelyn at gmail dot com.

Musings on asexuality

I’ve seen several blog posts and commentaries on asexuality pop up recently, and it always prompts a lot of conflicted thought from me. I want to muse through it here… but to understand my thoughts about asexuality as an orientation, readers need to know a little more about my personal history.

About five years ago, I underwent a five-month transition from conservative evangelical Christian to atheist. And what do most teens and young adults do after leaving a sexually repressive ideology? Why, go out and have lots of sex! Many of my friends expected I’d do this; some people probably assumed, as I used to assume about others, that I was leaving religion in order to get license to pursue sexual activities. But for me it was different. Sex had zero appeal to me, although I passionately wanted a relationship of love and pair-bonded intimacy. I’d never masturbated, and the last sexual fantasy I’d had was over ten years ago. As a young teen, I hadn’t found it difficult to repress the budding sexual desires that my religion told me were dangerous and destructive unless I was married; by 25 I had repressed them so successfully they were nowhere to be found.

I knew that I wasn’t “normal,” and began searching out information about what had gone wrong with me, that I rarely felt sexual attractions and didn’t desire sexual interactions. Fairly quickly, I stumbled on the concept of asexuality, and found www.asexuality.org. It was like a revelation: I might not be normal, but I wasn’t alone! On the message boards, I found a community of people who discussed love and attraction in terms I could relate to; I found a place where I could discuss my sparse sexual history without feeling like a freak; I found a language for my feelings of attraction and desire, words like “aesthetic attraction” and “heteroromantic.” It was liberating. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the people on those message boards, for giving me a safe, welcoming place to discuss sexuality and begin exploring my own sexual identity.

Obviously, at some point my identity began to shift. I slowly felt a resurgence of sexual interests and desires, and the label “asexual” or even “gray-a” (usually used to mean not quite asexual, but with a very low libido) no longer felt right to me. But becoming a sexual person was not an easy road — I should say is not, because in many ways I’m still working on it. At times of anxiety and depression, my libido disappears completely. I enjoy sex, sometimes quite a lot, but never as much as others seem to, and at times I feel inadequate, envious, or resentful about this. In short, my relationship with sexuality is still somewhat dysfunctional: sometimes we get along great, I’m happy to have it part of my life, and I’d hate to lose it; other times, I feel like it’s all struggle and confusion, and I wonder if it’s really worth it.

Going back to a self-identification of asexual (or, more likely, gray-a) sometimes seems like a tempting option (ignoring, for the moment, that I’m in not one but three sexual relationships, and how that would impact them). It would be easier, without a doubt. But it would be dishonest to say that it was my only option. My sexuality has grown and strengthened over time and with some deliberate effort, and I believe it can continue to do so. But it takes a lot of energy and courage to keep on that path. I see what sexuality can be for other people, and I want that for myself. But sometimes, when I look at the level of joy and satisfaction I get out of sex, and compare it with the level of joy and satisfaction others seem to, I’m afraid my potential is permanently limited, and I wonder if it would be wiser to just give it up and find satisfaction in other areas.

I know there are people within the asexual community who have approximately my level of libido and sexual connection, who have chosen to let sexuality fall by the wayside and to pursue other avenues of joy and pleasure. Sometimes I worry for these hypothetical people (who I am not at all supposing to be the majority of self-identified asexuals) that they’ve let an orientation label cut off their own assessment of what’s possible for them. Other times I envy them for evading many of the frustrations I feel.