I’ve decided to finally write about my personal experiences with asexuality, which of course will intersect with my experiences with my race, gender, and romantic orientation. This is a bit of a leap of faith.
(NB: I will censor myself on some topics because I don’t want this traced back to my personal blog, my name, or any other social network profile.)
I want to first say that I don’t write this in response to anything I’ve read - I will not address the writings of anyone else, nor sample other essays.
I am a young South Asian woman. But I’m not quite South Asian - my people were moved from India and Nepal to British colonies in the Caribbean in the late 19th century. My family has been in the Caribbean for decades, increasingly distant from our home nations and cultures, and so to say I am South Asian is to both be false and to offer you the product of many years of grappling with the truth.
Our people developed in a different hemisphere and among different cultures, climates, and colonial attitudes than our distant relatives in Asia. They have undergone separate political changes and oppression. The British have taken our family names, languages, and histories and replaced them with Anglicized names, what they call “broken English,” and new histories.
As part of a secondary diaspora - the first largely unwilling and violent, the second similarly violent but intentional - in the United States, facing these facts has been difficult. How has colonialism shaped me? My future? What of the mental illnesses passed down from my parents and their parents to me? What of my relationship with Indian diaspora? What of my relationship with Nepal, a country to which I’d felt no connection until late childhood?
I grew up in a sad home. Poverty had greatly affected my parents (in vastly different ways, which is a story for another time and place), as had the trauma they had experienced in their home country, which still follows us today. It was (is) still a home, though. It had to be; I quickly made peace with the reality of it.
My parents had an arranged marriage. I lied to myself at a young age - or perhaps I did not know - and told friends fake stories of how they met based on pieces of tales they’d told me about their respective lives before marriage. But I soon accepted this as well, for maybe it explained why there was always discomfort in the air, and why I couldn’t understand my white friends’ parents, and why I was so well trained by the age of four on how to avoid tense situations (which would develop into one of the mental illnesses the family carries).
There are arranged marriages that work, of course. But I’m not here to tell that story - and I never will be, for there’s a weight that will never leave, in ways I cannot explain to those who will never experience it. Arranged marriage in such a broken place as my parents’ home country was a means of survival in a dark political climate post-independence, and that’s how it still plays out.
A combination of alcoholism, the tension of an arranged marriage, mental illness, poverty, and the shadows of trauma meant that not only did I learn to navigate a lot as a child, but also that I grew into a specific understanding of relationships. Sisterhood was a guardianship; friendship was a series of lies I told in order to feel like what I interpreted of my environment outside of home; marriage was unhappiness, entrapment, anger, and a lot of disappointment. There was nothing romantic about my parents - they were a functional unit that produced me, and I cared about them, and that was that.
I had a lot of positive experiences as a child - I hope I don’t make my childhood seem bleak, because it wasn’t. I was imaginative and bright and I enjoyed my life. I have/had near perfect recall until recently, and the positive memories certainly outweighed the negative - and I mention recall because there were times I did lose time and memory due to trauma.
Nonetheless, I entered puberty with a set understanding of how the world worked. I knew I wouldn’t be in an arranged marriage, and I understood how my parents hurt a little better and tried to keep that in mind, but there was still a clear distinction between what I understood at home and what I witnessed at school. And I embraced the latter with full force. I knew I’d get married; I tried to make myself think of sleeping in the same bed as another person (thinking of beyond that was still too much for me), and ignored what I’d implicitly come to understand from home.
I started to “like” someone toward the end of middle school. This (white male) person had bullied me only two years before, and I took what I read to be his apparent, quiet shame about it as attraction. I didn’t know what attraction was besides hurt - and it was also an opportunity to demonstrate what I had learned about relationships as other people seemed to experience them. It wouldn’t occur to me until much later the danger in my worldview.
Because this bully’s first move had been to joke about marriage. I would afterwards blame myself for not understanding social norms and how to identify jokes because of how upset the joke (a simple posturing of “let’s get married”) made me. I didn’t even realize that the joke itself must have been that I was considered so undesirable as to warrant humor. The very idea of marriage so violated me because of what I had intimately come to know as a means of survival and nothing else.
By mid-high school, I’d accepted that I was heterosexual, despite a decent amount of stifled confusion in middle school, and that I was also goal-oriented and focused on schoolwork such that my lack of romantic interest in others was understandable within the framework of heterosexuality. My relationship with my parents was at a general low, especially since my “guardian” in tense home situations (my sister) was away at college, but things were generally fine.
I was thrown into a relationship with the second person I’d ever liked - both white boys - at this time. It lasted three weeks.
During those three weeks, a lot of red flags went up. Why didn’t I want to touch this person? Why was it so important to others - him, my friends - that I should want to touch this person? Why did it feel so wrong to think of anything besides hugging? Why was I so afraid?
These flags - which I now see as tiny white flags in comparison to actual red flags I’d seen - kept adding up and they led to two possible conclusions: that there was something about how I’d been raised, that a romantic/sexual relationship with a person seemed like betrayal, or wrong, or inherently false, just as how my friends’ jokes about marriage shot ice through my veins, not dissimilar to the bullying I’d endured in middle school. This idea wasn’t about how marriage to me was a violent thing, but how my parents would be disappointed in me, maybe for following in their footsteps instead of living the better life they wanted me to have (i.e., the ability to do more than just survive), maybe because I felt that I hadn’t received all the instructions in the manual I’d begun compiling from age four on how to navigate a household built on a marriage.
Or that there was something about my orientation.
At the encouragement of my friend, I looked up asexuality almost exactly a year later. But a lot had happened in that intervening year. I’d realized that I really had taught myself, and been taught, the harm of marriage and relationships, and that I’d been trying to distance myself from this facet of my upbringing. (Was this wrong? There’s no answer. I don’t believe in rights and wrongs, just facts.)
In that year that second boy had become an emotional abuser, a status he still holds today. He ensued to sexually harass me, especially after I came out to him as asexual, through text message. He manipulated me and used me and I am still healing from the wounds he has inflicted; almost all of my friendships from those years have been destroyed and I’m still on damage control and taking care in navigating social situations in my home town.
Needless to say, my trust in relationships dwindled from a low fire to embers. My depression rapidly reemerged, and the self-blame I’d inflicted in middle school also returned. It then turned to fire and anger. And, incidentally, I found myself surviving instead of living.
College was an escape of sorts. I was able to clear my head, and heal by myself before eventually considering forming friendships and really discussing my childhood with my sister. Some fires cooled; others raged. And here I am today.
What does all of this mean for me now?
I currently identify as asexual and aromantic because I don’t think I experience sexual or much romantic attraction. I once was elated with these ideas. I am not anymore.
There’s a lot of pain in not knowing where you come from. I have to tell myself too frequently to not look at my people - Indo-Caribbean, Indian, South Asian, brown - with the white gaze because of the after-effects of colonization and becoming diasporic. I have to really come to terms with the fact that addiction and mental illness are in my blood because of racial trauma experienced at the hands of colonizers. I recently have begun to tackle the issue of losing my memory because of chronic illness, a sick parallel to family history that hurts too much to write about anymore than this sentence.
Part of confronting this pain is to be angry. I have plenty of anger; there is no end to my anger. But the other end is acceptance. Not of a fate; not that horror must occur - acceptance that this is my people, that I am permitted to embrace them and continue to forge a new cultural identity free from words like “broken” and the abusiveness that pervades our relationships. I have to accept that my parents will never heal, and neither will I, and that’s okay because right now we have enough to work with to ensure a better future.
I don’t think any of this racial trauma “caused” my orientations purely because as a scientist I’m tired of discussing cause. We’ll never find out. There is no solution. There were no cameras or wires and heart monitors. I’m sick of this question because it is as useless as asking “is that good or bad?” I’ll say this: colonialism is bad, trauma is bad, the illnesses I have are bad. I am good, my parents can be good, my relationships can be good. Isn’t that enough?
The fact remains that I am cynical of marriage and will never willingly enter a marriage. I have to continue to move past the abuse I have suffered at multiple hands. I have to deconstruct the realities I have taught myself in order to survive in a dangerous home. I have to confront my phobia of people drinking alcohol, just as much as I have to forgive the tension between my parents.
If I was going to be asexual and aromantic from birth, these would still be my realities. But right now, inside of me, these things are tied, so that question is meaningless. I came to understand my orientations through a culture so broken that it’s taught me that massive disconnect happens in places outside of science fiction; through misogyny and bullying and betrayal of friends; and through learning the difference between survival and blossoming. I don’t care what caused what because these aspects of my existence are still associated and any relationship I have in the future, whether sexual, romantic, and/or friendly, will be marked by all of my history. All of it. No single part of it.
I don’t want anyone to get anything out of this. I am a human being and that’s not my purpose. Tomorrow I go back to my life and I want you to return to yours. I just want to make it clear that never will I be simple, just as you never will be. This is why I do not address a “community,” issues, politics, essays, attitudes. I just want this to be me.
To each their own.