Love is so tied to sex and romance that those who are asexual and aromantic have to create a whole new language to describe our experiences


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By Latonya Pennington

I knew that I was queer since 2015, but I didn’t yet know how queer. Sometime around Valentine’s Day 2018, I realized that I was a Black bi grey asexual. The commodification of Valentine’s Day and the book Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann made me examine ambivalent feelings about sex and romance that I had ignored until then. Due to the fact that sex and romance are as much of a norm as being straight, I thought that my feelings toward asexuality would eventually go away, but they didn’t. 

Let’s Talk About Love had taught me about asexuality through its college coming of age story and its Black bi-romantic asexual protagonist Alice. While trying to figure out her college major and career goals, Alice also learns to navigates dating as an asexual person and reconsiders the impact of her friendships and family relationships on herself. Her introspection and self-discovery became a personal catalyst for me to have a one-on-one conversation with myself about sex and romance.

Questions I asked myself included, “Do I experience sexual attraction?” “Who am I attracted to?” and, “What type of attraction do I think I experience?” Answering these questions was a little uncomfortable because I hadn’t been taught sex positivity, and discovering that I was attracted to more than one gender was also uncomfortable due to internalized biphobia. Yet being honest about my orientation and how I experienced attraction made me open to learning more about myself.

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Using resources such as The Asexual Journal and the wiki pages for the Asexual Visibility Educational Network, I discovered grey asexuality and aesthetic attraction. The definition of grey asexuality varies by person, but for me it means that I rarely experience sexual attraction and only want to have sex when certain conditions are met. Meanwhile, aesthetic attraction is a general appreciation of a person’s appearance without having romantic or sexual feelings for that person.

As handy as I found these terms, I also found that I lacked the language to describe parts of my asexual identity. The reason for this is aptly described by asexual writer Joe Jukes for The Asexual Journal: “To grow up asexually is to be immersed in the language of sex.”

Love, kissing, and more is so tied to sex and romance that those who are asexual and aromantic (i.e. those who don’t experience romantic attraction) have to create a whole new language to describe our experiences. And since being asexual is also being queer, the language of asexuality, sexuality, and orientation must evolve alongside other queer language.

I found myself questioning the limitations of viewing desire and attraction through the lens of romance and sex as well. I have mixed feelings about the term “bi-romantic,” because it doesn’t quite suit the attraction and desire I experience. Most of the time, I experience aesthetic attraction mixed with a strong desire to kiss someone. While I wouldn’t mind being in a romantic relationship, I don’t believe you should have to be in a romantic relationship to kiss someone. I also believe that consensual kissing doesn’t always have to lead to sex. If “casual sex” exists, then why can “casual kissing/make outs” be a thing?

While questioning made it easy for me to embrace being a grey asexual, internalized biphobia and an uncertainty about sex made it hard to embrace being bi even though I had claimed it for myself. Not only was my brain stuck on a wrong definition of bi that enforced gender binaries and being sexually active, but an uncomfortable family Thanksgiving in 2018 put me on the end of some biphobic comments and made me even more ashamed of using the term for myself.

Not only that, but a lack of sex positivity made me feel like talking and thinking about sex was wrong and that the way that I would want to have sex wasn’t valid. Multiple factors contributed to making sex feel taboo for me, including how normative slut-shaming was, being raised by a strict Black father and Vietnamese mother, and receiving abstinence only education in school as a person of color. 

RELATED: On being too queer and not queer enough: Finding space for my asexuality

To explore the desires that I had, I used my imagination at night. I’d get creative and imagine myself as fictional characters like Utena and Anthy from the Japanese anime Revolutionary Girl Utena or Usagi from Sailor Moon. Then, I’d imagine myself making out with another fictional character, like Usagi kissing Haruka (also from Sailor Moon).

Sometimes, the fantasies would turn hot and heavy as the kissing turned into me being half naked and having my breasts and stomach kissed. I’d feel hot and aroused when this happened, and also free. Even if I didn’t have the words for my desire, it felt good to express it without anyone shaming me for it. By having kissing and sexual fantasies, I was able to figure out how intimate I wanted to be and the type of people I found attractive. Yet I didn’t have the words for my sexual desire until I found this article about non-pentrative sex acts written by writer Erika W. Smith and sex educators like Cameron Glover after someone tweeted it.

As I continue to discover more about my queerness, I hope that asexuality and sexuality are destigmatized so that desire, attraction, and love aren’t exclusive to romance, sex, and certain ways to have sex. Bi grey aces deserve to define ourselves through queer language that is accessible and flexible, even if we don’t yet have it.

Latonya Pennington is a freelance pop culture critic and poet. Their criticism can be found online at Syfy Wire, Brain Mills Press, and Black Sci-fi.  Their poetry has been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, EFNIKS magazine, and Argot magazine among others.