Note: This op-ed was published in conjunction with Asexual Awareness Week, which lasts from Oct. 22 to 28. For more information about the campaign, please visit their website. Those interested in learning more about asexuality can contact the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, the nation’s largest organization for people along the ace spectrum.
First dates often feel like a job interview.
They consist of questions like: What do you do? Where did you go to school? Why do you feel you are the best candidate for the position? And like conveniently forgetting to list the job you left after two weeks on your resumé, certain bits of information are left off the table.
For me, there’s one big detail I hesitate to disclose to potential applicants: I’m demisexual. For those who aren’t familiar, demisexual is the term for an identity that falls on the asexual spectrum. Also referred to as “grey sexual,” it’s often described as “halfway in between” sexual and asexual. Being demisexual means that it can take me months of dating someone to feel attracted to them, which can be a difficult thing to explain while deciding whether you want the California Roll or the Philadelphia Roll.
But lately, there’s one additional factor that’s been complicating the usual first-date formula: I only recently started dating women.
Last summer, I decided the key to my love life would be meeting a funny, androgynous woman who also didn’t mind waiting a few months before sleeping with me. It’s hard enough to date when your sexual identity requires a Vox explainer, but throwing queerness into the mix is a new set of challenges. Before we’ve even ordered drinks, I’m racing through a list of questions in my mind: At what point do I admit that I’m a 31-year-old baby queer? And when do I try to explain that I’m not interested in going home with her unless she wants to watch Netflix on opposite sides of the couch?
I firmly believe that everything would be so much easier if anyone I dated already had a Wikipedia page on my life before they even swiped right. We all have some part of our histories like thissomething we wish we didn’t have to say out loud, as we nervously anticipate the reaction of the other person on the side of the table.
“Demi-what?” a bearded, knit cap-wearing dude once repeated back to me, before deciding to never text me again. Just a few days ago, a woman at my co-working space asked me who I think is hotter: Chris Pine or Chris Evans? “Well, that depends on what their favorite books are and how well they got along with their families,” I thought. I said instead, “Captain America.” It just seemed easier.
I find myself in this situation a lot, and when pressed, I’ve gotten good at rattling off a one-sheet about how experience attraction.
In case you’re curious, I can think someone’s good-looking but not want to have sex with them. But I’ve never wanted to sleep with someone I didn’t feel like I knew extremely well. It’s why I’ve never followed through on a one-night-stand and why I can tell you the hometowns of anyone I’ve ever slept with and the first names of their parents.
In my past relationships with men, I’ve waited weeks before telling them that I needed time before sleeping with them. Some stuck it out, others ran for the door. While it’s possible for me to feel sexual attraction, I only feel it with people with whom I’ve developed a strong connection. That bonding takes time and a bit of patience. It means staying up late on the phone to talk about my mother, who passed away when I was in college, or about my experiences as a hearing-impaired woman.
And on top of that, I need for my partner to share with me right back, to deepen that bond.
But unlike being slow to get intimate with people, dating women is new territory for me. Earlier this year, I finally started confiding to friends that in addition to falling on the asexual spectrum, I also identify as queer. While I have always felt drawn to some women, I spent most of my 20s undermining my own feelings and dismissing them. It wasn’t until after I turned 30 and was living in Portland, Ore., a city with few (or rather, fewer) hang-ups about attraction and identity, that I really started coming to terms with my queer identity.
This revelation came after a slew of crushes on masculine-leaning comedians who talked honestly about trauma, letting their audiences get to know them. Tig Notaro, star of Amazon’s One Mississippi, opened up about her breast cancer diagnosis in a 2014 stand-up special. Fans heralded her as brave. I thought I’d met the love of my life.
But coming out to yourself can be difficult when you’re starting years behind most other women you know. Entering the fourth decade of my life, it felt as if the opportunity had already passed me by. I’d had 15 years of experience with men. Much of it had been a disaster, including two failed live-in relationships and a brief stint with a borderline alcoholic, but it was all I knew. Even though I’d lost interest in the idea of growing old with a man, the thought of making the change to women felt overwhelming.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
A couple of weeks ago I got coffee with an old friend, Alysse, whom I met while working at a daily deals website; it was the kind of company that offered 20 percent savings on foot massages and semi-luxury cruises on the Chicago River. I knew from Facebook that she’d recently started dating a woman. I had felt so much envy, looking at photos of them together at one of her fashion events, beaming side by side. From what I gathered through online sleuthing, this was Alysse’s first serious relationship with a woman.
“I just think it’s too late for me,” I admitted, my envy spilling over into confession.
Alysse wasn’t convinced. “If you feel that way, you need to go for it,” she said. “Go find yourself a nice butch lesbian.”
My old friend told me she’d known after her last serious relationship with a man that she needed to finally explore what she had kept putting off for years. She didn’t start dating until she was ready, working up to it slowly.
I know she was talking about dipping that first toe into the lady pond, but it resonated with me on multiple levelsboth as a queer person and someone on the asexual spectrum. As someone who is relatively new to the demisexuality label (I identified publicly in an op-ed last year), I’m going to have to be comfortable with going at my own pacewithout apologizing for how I experience intimacy. And if others aren’t willing to wait, I’m learning not to take it personally. We all have to live our own truths the best way we know how.
Everyone has at least one thing about them that we’re terrified to share. Maybe we feel it means that we won’t be invited back for another round of interviews. Even worse, we may fear it makes us unlovable. But whatever it is, your information is yours to dispense. And if you want, you can wait to share those deepest parts of yourself with a stranger until they’re not a stranger anymore.
Or you can always just be brazen and shout it from the digital rooftops of the internet. Maybe you’ll luck out and go on a date with someone who googles your byline first.