I remember when I was in middle school and high school, there was always so much droning on and on about “peer pressure”, or as my sister mistakenly called it “pure pressure”. At the time, it was mostly about drugs, because shit, this was the late 90s and early 2000s; everyone was doing drugs. Not really. Aside from feeling really bored with all of it, I never really felt like peer pressure had much to do with me. Sure, I understood it conceptually, but it seemed like something you had to “fall for” and I was pretty smart, and not super popular anyway. I never personally felt pressured directly by any of my friends. Other people couldn’t pressure me because I didn’t know them, and didn’t really value their opinions of me.
I guess if you were to understand it like that (which I did), yes, I don’t really think I ever felt peer pressure. But with so much focus on this kind of explicit peer pressure, I think they missed in advising us about a more subtle, indirect peer pressure. A pressure to which I was much more susceptible. I’ve hinted at this kind of pressure in my recent previous posts, but I wanted to write more explicitly about it here. The layers of implication and my discovery of them is something I feel is worthwhile to note.
These pressures for me created a number of “wants”, but these were strange wants. Normally when you want something, there’s a clear chain leading to the want. It’s summer, it’s really hot, I’m hot…therefore, I want some ice cream. So you’re sitting there, eating your ice cream (rocky road, naturally), and I ask you, “why did you want that ice cream?” If you can stop shoveling it into your mouth for long enough, your reasons would of course have something to do with the fact that it was hot, how you were hot, how it was summer, etc. A clear set of conditions existed that you and many other people would’ve added together to arrive at the same conclusion; I want ice cream! Ice cream-hating communists notwithstanding, that’s a simple, logical argument. Of course you’d want ice cream.
Imagine how strange it would be if the situation were a bit different. I’m cold, it’s not sunny, I had a big lunch. All my friends I’m with are just infatuated with their ice creams (mint chocolate chip, eww). They’re enjoying them so much, they’re almost ignoring me. I try to get them interested in doing things, but they’re just so interested in their ice creams. Eventually, I start to think, “boy, they’re really into those ice creams. Maybe I should get one. I really want some ice cream!” Now I have this want, a want for ice cream. I try to find somewhere to get it, but all the shops are closed. I have no idea where my friends got theirs. What if they start talking about how good it was later and I feel left out? I want ice cream. I have to get some ice cream.
Clearly the want in the second version isn’t as clear cut. Sure there’s a vague chain of circumstances, but it’s not like one leads to the next. Should I extrapolate and continue with the second version? I still can’t get the ice cream. I don’t know what it is, I just can’t get it. I start to feel horrible. Why can’t I just get it? Years pass and I still can’t get it. I feel even worse now.
You’d have to be pretty dense not to realize that ok, I’m probably not actually talking about ice cream here. Yes, it’s delicious, but I’m not going to spend years fretting and feeling bad because I couldn’t get some lousy mint chocolate chip. Replace the words ice cream with girlfriend, ignore the grammatical errors, the fact that girls aren’t typically cold and you don’t eat them, and you’d be more on track with my life.
Replacing with girlfriend would be reasonably accurate I think. I suppose you could also replace some of them with sex but I’m going to be dead honest, that would just not be accurate, or how my mind works or ever worked. It would all still hold true. I did feel so bad. This want, this grating want. I couldn’t figure it out. Why wasn’t it working, I’d do anything. People are going to start talking and wondering. It just feels like an endless cycle: “need experience to get experience.” At no point in time did I stop to think about that chain of events leading to the want though. I suppose with a girlfriend and/or sex, the chain of events are probably much more varied, and more complex, but they should still be there. Right?
Well, for me, I don’t think they were. And having started into that kind of thing at a relatively young age (16-17), I just wasn’t self aware enough to imagine that my experience could be different, and equally valid. I’m not sure I would’ve wanted it to be. That’s a hard age to be, and while I know many people that age and younger are so assured of their sexualities, I sure as fuck wasn’t. I think it had something to do with my kind of late entry into the field, but also, I hated the idea of being different and noticeable. I still feel that way to some extent. Many people will say how great it is to be yourself, and be different, but when doing that just gets you picked on constantly, my bet is you’ll eventually stop (like I did). To put it simply, being different, especially that kind of different, was absolutely not an option for me at that time. I guess if you just start getting those gut signals at 13 that you’re sexually attracted to other guys, then yeah, it’s going to feel obvious from the get go. At the time, I didn’t feel like I had gotten any of those clear signals. Once essentially everyone close to me had gotten them, I kind of figured oh well, I must have received them and just didn’t realize it.
Those phase 1 signals should’ve been my clear chain of events. I skipped all that. The message was garbled on the way, a falcon intercepted it and dropped it into a volcano, who knows. All that mattered now was that I not slip any further behind. I was pretty sure I wasn’t sexually attracted to other guys, but I wasn’t feeling too much attraction to girls either. At the time, I’m sure I thought I was. I mean, I liked girls. Right? In retrospect, not at all in the same way, or to the same degree that others did. Since I was 15 or 16 I can honestly say the number of girls I’ve been actually attracted to (in any way), as in actually having my gaze drawn to them, and wanting to be near them, would have to be no more than 4. That’s an at best scenario. The devil’s advocate in me would love to say that I wasn’t that social and didn’t meet that many people, but I met tons of people over the course of high school and college. Introversion has all of nothing to do with orientation anyway. The nature of those attractions is hard for me to define, but one thing they definitely were not was sexual. No doubt in my mind. If I had to, I’d say it mostly had to do I with their faces, and hair. I was always relatively able to point out girls who were pretty, or cute (I was and still am incapable of using the word “hot” authentically), but almost nobody agreed with me on that (you’re looking at faces and not boobs?!), and I didn’t agree with who they said was “hot”. I felt I had to ignore that and just press on to phase 2. Everyone else was, I didn’t want to fall any more behind.
And so ensued so much anguish and mental stress over so, so many years. Now though, in being much, much more self aware, and starting to get a solid handle on asexuality in general, and how it fits me (pretty well, even if sometimes I’d rather it didn’t), I’m doing a lot of rewinding. Why did/do I want those things? Why did/do I want a girlfriend? Why did/do I want sex? And the real fucking bombshell, did/do I even want sex? 17 year old me couldn’t have handled questions like those. Hell, 22 year old me couldn’t have handled questions like those. I’m not even positive 26-year-old present me can handle those questions, but at least I can ask them now. Do they even need definitive answers? Maybe. I think just considering them has already been useful and helped me understand myself more than I ever have before. *See elaboration here.
Like I said, if at 13 I had gotten those clear signals, I probably wouldn’t be asking these questions at all right now. Those original signals would’ve been my chain of events, and I wouldn’t even really question it (although I certainly could, and doing so might be healthy for anyone). I think with something like asexuality where there’s an intrinsic “lack”, these kinds of questions are almost imperative. It’s just far too easy to be like me and assume that the signals in phase 1 didn’t matter, and could be skipped. They do matter, and they shouldn’t be skipped, but if you’re not getting them at all, what should you do? There’s not really any framework for that. Asking these questions kind of takes the place of the missing signals. It kind of gives me a blank canvas to work with. Why do I want a girlfriend? How do I want that to look for me? I get the opportunity to decide how I want those things to look and fit in with my life. Pondering the questions and potential answers is going to help me carve out my asexual space. It’ll probably be a different space from most people, and maybe even different from many asexual people, but that’s fine!
I’m still pondering these questions. I expect it’ll take a lot of time. After all, I was just walking into the phase 2 wall for the better part of a decade. It might take some time to undo that. That’s fine though. I don’t care how long it takes. I’m just happy as can be that I’ve thought to ask them, and found the solid ground of asexuality upon which I can stand while I do it. At this point, I expect to be standing on that ground indefinitely. For the first time in, well, ever, I feel safe, and genuinely relaxed about all this stuff. I can’t even begin to describe how good that feels. I think it’s one of those things like getting glasses for the first time. All the 20/20 people out there never get to know the feeling of suddenly realizing that, “holy shit…trees have individual leaves on them!!” If at some point in the future, I realize that asexuality ground isn’t the best place for me anymore, I’m free to move on, and that’s totally ok!