I don’t know what made me start questioning. I don’t really remember starting to question. I just remember questioning. Thinking more and more about my gender. Thinking more and more about my sexuality, and, in turn, my romantic identity. Then there was the day he said it. It fell out so casually, like a simple fact said many times. “Well, yeah, you’re greysexual.” It was the first time anyone (myself included) had said the word aloud in reference to me. It felt validating. It felt beautiful. It felt right.
We received a storm of texts as we always do when she texts us.
“IM SO MAD
IVE NEVER HEARD OF GREYSEXUAL BEFORE TODAY
I JUST THOUGHT I WAS A POOR [read: BAD AT BEING] ASEXUAL
Fuckiing knew I was valid”
My little-est sibling-in-law had found her identity. She had found the word that fit her and made her feel valid in her experiences. It was a beautiful thing to bear witness to and be a part of. It set off stirs in me that drove me to read more, learn more, determine more.
For years now, I’ve been identifying as bisexual and/or panromantic. I never really digged into things further. I hadn’t really analyzed how I experience attraction. About a year ago, I started identifying as nonbinary gendervague. These were the best terms I had found to describe my experiences of gender. But then I started questioning and have found new terms that fit much better. I’ve also had to explore a lot the ways my identities intersect and affect each other. So let’s explore together.
One of the first things to acknowledge here is that, as an aspect of being autistic, I experience alexithymia which makes it very difficult for me to identify or express my emotions. I do much better expressing my emotions through written word than spoken word which is why I so often turn to writing to sort things out as writing can help me find the answers I didn’t know I had. So, as we set out on this journey, I must acknowledge that this process has been impaired by my alexithymia. This is a huge factor in why I identify as gendervague.
Talking of gendervague, let’s dive into gender first. I’ve already written a piece in which I explore my gender identity and its intersections with chronic illness, neurodivergence, and trauma which makes for good reading if you’re not familiar with my journey thus far. However, things have changed a bit in the gender department, so it’s time to explore further.
I know that I’m not cis. Woman doesn’t feel right to me. Neither does man. I have some dysphoria regarding the downstairs piping but none regarding my chest. This often leads me to feel invalid in my identity. I’m working on assuring myself that my experience of gender is valid even if I don’t have a problem with my breasts. However, I desperately wish I had a penis. This is a wish I’ve had since my early teen years at least, though, when I was young, I didn’t have the words to understand my experiences.
I present very feminine, yet not at the same time. I wear tons of dresses and skirts, to the point that one of my friends always acts astonished when I wear pants or shorts. Yet I have a shaved head and wear no makeup. I have no shame in showing off my chest, yet I wear a mostly black wardrobe with occasional splashes of deep reds and rare bits of other colors. My presentation is a mess of very styles and gender expectations. Yet much of this is influenced by my disability.
I wear dresses and skirts because most pants aggrevate my endometriosis leading to increased pain and cramping. I shave my head because it’s super stimmy, better for my sensory system (hair is sensory hell!), and takes far less effort which is great for my executive dysfunction; all aspects of being autistic. I typically don’t wear makeup because my hands shake too much (yay tardive dyskinesia, dyspraxia, and anxiety), it takes too much effort (see executive dysfunction), and I don’t like the feel of it (see sensory issues); all a mix of autism and the meds I was put on at a young age for my mental illness.
So much of my presentation is tied up in my disabilities. My chronic pain affects the clothes I can wear as can my autistic sensory issues. I must dress for comfort rather than style. As such, I wear long flowing clothes in soft knits that generally come across very feminine, even if I’d rather not be read as a woman. Sometimes I wish I could bind just to be able to not be read as a woman all the time, but my sensory issues won’t allow for it. I like my head shaved as I feel it’s more androgynous, but I can’t deny that the primary reasons for doing so have nothing to do with gender.
We covered how I feel about my body and how I present, so how do I feel? This is where the alexithymia comes into play. I’m not really sure how I feel. I know that being referred to as a woman feels wrong. I also know that I don’t fully identify with male. I’m not even sure there is anything to feel. Another neurodivergence comes into play here as well: PTSD. I can’t help but wonder sometimes: if I wasn’t a woman, would I have been raped? There really isn’t an answer to that question. I know that men get raped as well, but would I have still suffered as I did had I been born with different parts? This muddles up my understanding of my gender because this injects some anti-femininity bias that I struggle to sort out from my other feelings (or lack thereof).
I’ve questioned if I were agender because I often feel there is no gender for me to sense. Yet I can’t say for certain that I don’t have a gender, so I’m uncomfortable taking the label. I considered autgender for a time, but I feel that my other neurodivergencies play a role in my perception of my gender and, as such, should not be erased by a label that focuses solely on the role that autism plays. I considered other labels as well, but nothing quite fit.
As such, I stick with the label of gendervague as I feel it describes well the intersection of my neurodivergence and my experience of gender. However, I’ve decided to move away from the nonbinary label and instead identify as genderqueer as I feel this term better sums up my feelings with regards to gender. I love the inbetweens and identities that don’t exist upon binary spectrum. I love the queering of gender and hope to queer gender myself.
So it is that I label myself genderqueer/gendervague.
Now, we move on to my sexual identity. As I’m sure many of you figured out from the beginning of this piece, I’ve begun to explore the asexuality spectrum. As the term graysexual has floated around my orbit, I’ve found myself drawn to it more and more. It’s rather odd, for I never before considered that I may be anything other than allosexual. Primarily because I am a very sexual person. I like sex. A lot. I now know that I was operating out of ignorance of what asexuality really is. I’ve had to pick myself apart to understand.
I have sex frequently. Like multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day. I enjoy sex, like really enjoy it. Sex is so stimmy for me and wonderfully pleasurable. At least, that’s how it is now. I have a somewhat long and definitely interesting relationship to sex. So let us go back and explore from the beginning.
I was sixteen when I first had sex. I had been dating my then-boyfriend for about six months. We had been set up together initially. A friend had decided that we would be good for each other and somehow we ended up dating. I had wanted to wait until six months proper, but, finally, I could resist no longer. My sex drive was ravenous. Hypersexuality driven uncontrolled schizoaffective bipolar type disorder led to many risky decisions in pursuit of sex. I was faithful to my boyfriend, but we would go at it anywhere we could and were quite lucky to escape those years without criminal charges. I wanted to have sex all the time. I masturbated every night. My sex drive was unreal.
I was eighteen when I realized that boyfriend number one was abusive after reading a sign in a college dorm bathroom. It was one of those signs of abuse posters that detailed signs of abuse and, as I read, I recognized almost all of them in my relationship. Soon after, I dumped him which led to a terrible ordeal over several months that was very painful. He had never been sexually or physically abusive, but the mental abuse leaves scars ten years later.
Just months later, at the young age of nineteen, I entered into a new relationship with the guy who had been catching my eye at work. It was a real deal crush with butterflies, blushes, and all that jazz. I don’t remember what exactly I was attracted to. I know i found him quite handsome. I know he was quiet and sensitive and we connected in a way I rarely connect with others. After four days we had had sex and my memories resume about two years later when he raped me for the final time. I have no idea how many times he raped me due to all the memory loss. I have two documented instances, but I have no idea how many more times there were. I broke up with him and tried to move on.
That is, until halloween rolled around. I went out to a club with my best friend to celebrate our favorite holiday. While there, I met a guy and, feeling reckless, invited him back to my place. I had gone out with the intention of bringing someone home for the first time and he seemed like a good candidate. We got back to my place, my two best friends sleeping downstairs, and we got busy upstairs in my room. Then things went places I never wanted to go. I said stop. Again and again I cried stop. But to no avail. He had me trapped to the bed so that I could not escape. All the while, my friends were just out of reach.
The next day, at my best friend’s insistence, I went to the police and was traumatized again as I was forced to relive it with judging questions and victim-blaming notions thrown in my face. In the months that followed, I hooked up with a lot of people. My number grew quickly as, with reckless abandon, I sought healing in the arms of another. As can be predicted, this didn’t exactly work. Finally, I just gave up on the idea of relationships and sex. My gay best friend and I decided to get married for the tax benefits since neither of us planned on finding any sort of committed partnership.
About a year after the last time I was raped, I had my first good sexual experience in a very long time. My best friend and I were cuddling as we often did when he started to put the moves on me. After making sure that he wanted to do this, I enthusiastically agreed. I had had feelings for him for a long time that I had suppressed knowing that he would never be into me because I was not a man. But, miracle of miracles, it did and I couldn’t have been happier. That man is now my husband and I still thank my lucky stars that I was so blessed as to be able to be with him.
So, why go through all this? I’m sure many of you could have done without some of this conversation and its more triggering material. Yet, this all plays a role in my understanding of my sexuality. I spent about five years in two abusive relationships. The first five years of my dating life trapped in the webs of abuse. My mental map of love and romance is rather askew due to my formative relationships being so unhealthy. I still fall into the mentality of the abused even now that I’ve been in a healthy relationship for five years.
When it comes to my sexuality, it’s hard to sort out what kind of attraction I’ve experienced. I know that, when I was young, when I would fantasize about sex, the other person was always faceless. There was never really anyone in particular I would fantasize about, even when I had crushes. I know that, now, I don’t think I’m capable of feeling sexual attraction outside of a close, trusting relationship. Yet, even then, I’m not sure under what circumstance I could actually feel attraction at this point. I’ve come to realize that much of what I had thought of as sexual attraction was really just aesthetic attraction. I don’t really relate to the experience of looking at someone and having sexual thoughts about them outside of relationships. I know I’m attracted to my husband and very much so enjoy sex with him, but am I capable of having sex outside of our relationship? It’s certainly a possibility since we’re poly, but is it really a possibility for me?
It’s hard for me to untangle this from my experience of sexual violence. I am much more guarded now. I fear people with penises for that is how I experienced sexual violence and my brain struggles to separate people from their anatomy in situations that involve sexual tension or possibility. Time to move on because this seems to be doing bad things to my brain.
My neurodivergence also plays a role in this because, as an aspect of my schizoaffective disorder, I experience a very high sex drive (though it’s lower now due to various medications). This has made things more confusing as I’ve sorted through the mess that is my sexual attraction. And, again, my alexithymia comes into play when trying to sort through my feelings.
With all this in mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am greysexual, though I’m partial to the term grey-ace or grace. I thought for awhile that I might be demisexual, but I realized that I’m not really sure what the rules are to my sexual attraction. I know that the circumstances are very limited. I don’t know if they fit the definition of demisexual, so I’m going to stick to grey-ace.
Finally, we arrive at my romantic attractions. Yet again, we enter a murky quagmire of unknown feelings and confusing information. I know that I tend to develop “crushes” on my friends when friendships reach a certain level of intimacy. This can include aesthetic and sometimes even sexual attraction, but it seems to also involve some sort of deep romantic or platonic attraction. However, I struggle to comprehend romance. It really makes very little sense to me. Thus, I struggle to determine if my feelings for people are romantic or platonic. Thankfully, a friend introduced me to the term quoiromantic (also known as WTFromantic), an identity for those who struggle to understand romance or feel it doesn’t apply to them. As soon as I read the description, I knew that this was the word for me.
To sum it all up, while I previously identified as a bi nonbinary gendervague person, I’ve now determined that my identity is bi quoiromantic greysexaul genderqueervague person. It’s a mouthful. It’s long. But it fits. These words encompass my experience of sexuality, romance, and gender and I’m ok if this seems ridiculous, but to me it feels like home.