No, 14 was not “too young to know” | asexuality

Whenever I talk about coming out at 14, there’s always a common theme in responses, and I’ve seen others have this too – surely 14 is too young to know you’re asexual?

When people say this, what they’re referring to is the idea that you shouldn’t “be sexual” at 14, you shouldn’t be having those sorts of ideas or relationships at that age. This stems from multiple misunderstandings.

The first of these misunderstandings is something that comes through a lot in our society when we talk about changing how we teach sex ed, and I believe it stems from the general taboo of sex in our society – the idea that young people aren’t already learning about sex at that age or that they aren’t already on their way to forming such relationships. We know that this simply isn’t true.

Our school halls are filled with innuendos, elbow nudges and rating others out of ten. Our society is fundamentally built on relationships, on finding our “other half” (newsflash, you are already whole), on one-night stands and pulling in clubs. We call babies ‘ladies’ men’ or say they’ll ‘get all the boys’. Sex and attraction, at the very least aesthetic, is normalised from day one – and not only that, but we grow up without high quality sex education to actually comprehend it.

I never had crushes as a kid. I didn’t pine after the boy in the playground that everyone else did, the classic football lad with blue eyes. I didn’t understand why so many of the girls spent time looking at pictures of Zac Efron and taking quizzes about which random celebrity boy they’d end up with. Eventually I forced myself to believe I was gay, and then when I realised I didn’t like girls either, I thought I was broken. There is more to sexual attraction than simple lust – although that plays a part too.

And another misunderstanding here is that you have to have sex, or even have had a romantic relationship, before you can decide you’re asexual. This is fundamentally untrue – firstly, this feeds the idea that all asexuals don’t have sex, and more than that, we don’t ever expect straight people to have had sex to “confirm” their sexuality, to identify as straight before they hit the age of consent.

And so, I think I was perfectly within my rights to know at 14. I had people say it wouldn’t stick – whether that be due to my age, or just because of the age-old “you haven’t met the right person yet” that comes with saying you’re asexual at almost any age – but it has.

But I think something I want to stress is that it wouldn’t have mattered if I had ended up being wrong. There is nothing wrong with using a label that you believe fits you, and then finding that it doesn’t.

Saying all of this, though, it’s important that I recognise my simple privilege in realising who I was so young, even if I get a lot of judgement around it. I talked in my recent “reintroduction to my coming out story” about discovering the term on Tumblr – and I know many examples of people who also experienced this, and I don’t doubt that this continues – and although it may be shifting to Twitter and Instagram now too in this age of infographics and carrds, it shouldn’t be the job of social media to educate.

Young people should be aware of the wide spectrum of sexuality younger. That’s not pushing an ideology on them, it’s simply informing them. When we teach sex ed, we can’t talk about LGBTQIA+ identities as if no-one in that class could be part of the community any longer, we can’t imply that it’s something out of reach.

And although it’s still not pushed enough, we do teach young people it’s okay for them not to have sex until they’re ready – but we don’t teach that it’s something they may never want.

A re-introduction to my asexuality story | asexuality

Today I attended the 2020 UK Asexuality Conference, and I felt a sense of belonging that I’ve never really felt, or not for a while.

About a year ago, I stopped talking about being asexual as much as I used to on the internet. I didn’t necessarily stop completely, and it’s still in my bios – but I just saw so much aphobia and exclusion and gatekeeping on Twitter that I started to feel like I had to protect myself.

I’m a complete stereotype, being perfectly honest – I had no idea what asexuality was until I found out about the ace spectrum on Tumblr. I read the definition and something just clicked. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that though, because otherwise I would have felt broken for so much longer. Talk about sexuality wasn’t seen on many other platforms back then. It took me a little while to decide to take on the label, but I came out at 14 to my mum.

I had a conversation with my mum in the car one day where I mentioned a friend who had come out as asexual (which was true, it wasn’t even a cover up) to test the waters, and she didn’t understand it. We had a lot of chats about the misconceptions of hormone imbalances and such. She is the most liberal parent you could come across, but it took me a while to feel like she would accept it.

The first person I came out to was a therapist. It wasn’t someone I ended up seeing regularly – it was to fill the gap before I got into CAMHS – but he was teasing me about one of my friends. By that point, my need to tell someone, anyone, was so big, that I just blurted it out. I felt like a bubble had been burst.

Eventually, after many failed attempts of going and sitting in my mum’s bedroom and willing the words to come out, we were in the car again – most of my mum and I’s landmark conversations and deep debates happen on long car journeys – and she simply asked me how I identify.

I identified as demisexual back then. I came out publicly on Instagram on Coming Out Day 2015, and most people didn’t care, but I got some backlash that I was just straight. I can’t remember when I moved to asexual, but it’s comfortable and natural these days.

By age 16, I was entirely casual about my sexuality – I don’t feel like I have to tell anyone and I wouldn’t say I bring it up without context, but most people know and quite a few of my teachers back at school would discuss it with me if it came up.

The intersection between asexuality and disability fascinates me. When I started identifying as asexual, I was in the starting blocks of finding out that I was autistic and chronically ill. Those worlds often collide when I’m accessing healthcare, and doubt can often be cast over my sexuality.

A couple of my most prominent memories from the time I spent in an adolescent mental health unit are related to my asexuality, and I often wonder if that’s because it was the same year that I was having to come out repeatedly anyway. When I was admitted, it was the first time during a physical check-up that I was asked about being sexually active, and I can clear as day remember my laugh and saying I was asexual sliding so easily off my tongue; I remember the eyebrow raise of the nurse and the slightly awkward squirm of the doctor. It’s worth saying that asexual people can be sexually active – but for me back then, it was a much easier thing to say.

The others are conversations in the communal area of the unit, various patients squashed up on the three worn sofas, some knitting or colouring in. One day, one of the boys on the unit told me that the doctors had told him his sexuality was only because he was autistic, and after I exclaimed that I’d heard the same, he asked if I was pansexual. I remember laughing and saying no, I was “the exact opposite” (it’s not that simple, I know, but I was 15 and new to that world). It fascinates me that you can fall on different sides of a sexuality spectrum and still have your identity put down to your neurodivergence.

I don’t need to be fixed. You cannot fix what isn’t broken.

I’ve never truly wanted to be allosexual (non-asexual). I’ve had moments of my heart slightly pulling, that slight moment of desperation to be “normal” simply for your life to be easier, or to be loved. But it wears off quickly, when you remember that there genuinely isn’t something wrong with you.

I want to start writing about asexuality again; I want to talk about how it intersects with my other identities more. I want people to understand it, understand me. I want to advocate for better understanding of it in the healthcare system.

And so, that is a re-introduction to the part of me that I’ve forced myself to neglect for the last little while. My identity is too important to me to fear the backlash anymore. I’m ready to talk about it – or, at least, I will be.