I’m scared to try again. Our last conversation didn’t go so well. You got angry, accused me of clinging to stubborn hopelessness. You said, “I just can’t go there with you.” I didn’t see how speaking the truth made me hopeless. Strange how mad it made you, not seeing hope in my truth.
All I was saying was that the world is set up to exclude people like me.
I understand why it might be hard for you to see it. It was invisible to me for thirty-seven years, because for that long the world just was. Discovering I was asexual and aromantic, that asexuality is a thing, that there is a word for what has made me different all my life—the discovery was like developing the ability to see oxygen molecules in the air. I tell you, they’re everywhere.
Even if to everyone else, the air just is.
Sexual attraction, romantic attraction, it is as ubiquitous as oxygen. Not just the attraction itself, but the ways in which romantic love is privileged over everything else, it is so there, so present, it is as invisible as air.
I wish you’d try to see it, to go there with me. Try an experiment. Sit in a coffee shop for five minutes, not really noticing anything in particular, just sitting. Just experiencing what is. This is how I used to sit too.
Then sit in a coffee shop for five minutes with an awareness of asexuality and aromanticism, that it exists. Maybe try to imagine that it’s you who is this, this identity that puts you outside of a world built for two. Notice what you can see now, what is instantly visible, all the billions of microscopic ways that you are different and outside. Notice the molecules colliding against your skin, rushing into your lungs, a subtle irritation of the throat.
Take notice of the song playing on the sound system. It’s Sia. You’ve always liked Sia, though you don’t listen to her lyrics. You like the quality of her voice. But this time really listen to the words:
We had love so strong my heart couldn’t take it/You took it in your hands and resuscitated/You said, me and you against the world/You said, you and me forever girl
(and realize: This is why you don’t listen to song lyrics, why you appreciate music as sounds–because it hurts to be reminded that you will always be a loose fragment in the world, while the others pair up against you, leaving you outside.)
Listen to the conversations. This one plans her wedding, that one orders a tea for his wife. That one’s child is getting divorced, so tragic, and Scarlett Johansson is hotter than Jessica Biel. You’ve always lacked the sense that detects hotness.
And notice how still, in 2017, you can find someone reading a tattered copy of Fifty Shades of Gray. When that book first came out you didn’t have the language to explain why it held no appeal whatsoever. Remember how you felt vaguely ashamed over failing to read it, like you’d not done your homework. Again.
(and reflect: All your life, these invisible molecules rubbed rubbed rubbed against your skin, a gentle agitation, so subtle. Is there any wonder you wrapped yourself in callus?)
Back on the topic of books, you browse the shelf by the window, the one with the sign that says Take a Book, Give a Book. Today you don’t find any titles that interest you, it appears the patrons here favor romances or high fantasy, genres you never could appreciate.
(and chuckle, sheepish: Before you knew what you were, you used to explain this difference by claiming superior taste. You prefer literary fiction. You’re a bit embarrassed to admit to this arrogance now.)
See that couple over there in the corner, waiting for their order? He’s seated in a chair and she’s standing close, her leg brushing his. They’re holding fingers, loosely connected, she’s swaying back and forth in time to the music. They’re merging. They’re merging, in public, and no one but you takes notice. They are what is.
I watched you slip, slip away, no explanation/ You on your phone, your laptop and your Playstation/ I stared at the diamond on my finger and I waited
(and speculate: You’ve never been able to understand jealousy, what it’s about. Back when you were married, that disastrous experiment, you wished your husband would find some other woman to sleep with, so maybe you wouldn’t feel so bad about being unwilling yourself. You used to wonder: What is about you, that maybe you don’t know how to love enough to be jealous?)
These details in the coffee shop are not the kinds of things you noticed before, before you had the words, before you got your new vision. It’s all isness, like so many molecules of air. And yet, now you can sense it, you felt something inside, some nonverbal resistance, an unaware awareness: There’s something wrong about me. A sensitivity to the air that rubs against your skin. An allergy, maybe. It feels like shame.
Because there were no words for it, you might have needed to emphasize some other thing that was also different about you, something that did have words to explain it. You might have been desperate to magnify the named difference until it was large enough to cover all of you. You might, for example, have developed an eating disorder and clung to it for twenty-five years.
Just as a purely hypothetical example.
I’m merely suggesting you might have needed a way to explain things to yourself, a story for why you lacked the drives and impulses of the others. Otherwise, you might have been terrified–though you wouldn’t have realized it.
Having finished the experiment in the coffee shop, you’ll want to use the restroom before heading back out on the road. It’s a long trip home. While washing your hands, the end of that Sia song is playing. You hold your hands under the tap, and you listen.
I’d rather walk alone, I’d rather walk alone/I’d rather walk alone than let them throw dirty confetti.
And you dry your hands, and you have to admit, Sia’s got a lovely voice. But these words are not convincing, they are lies, they don’t make an honest effort at truth (she’s too angry, like a child threatenening to hold her breath for revenge.). Because you can see it now, see it as I see it: That the world is set up so that either you walk with a romantic partner, or you walk alone. And when you walk alone in this world built for two, you are very, very alone.
And you might, maybe, have a moment of hopelessness about that. I wouldn’t call that stubborn, though. I’d call it seeing the truth.