Over the years, attempting to discover my identity in a heteronormative society has been difficult, to say the least. I could attribute this to tons of things, but internally it was due to my anxiety and constant existential questioning, along with a severe lack of self-esteem. Today, I still haven’t even arrived at a concrete answer, since it’s hard for me to trust myself, but I think that it’s okay to keep questioning. The trick is that I need to be compassionate and patient with myself. Currently, I identify as asexual, aromantic, and agender, but I still question whether this is where I’ve landed, or whether this is just a stepping-stone on my path.
For a good portion of my life I believed I was a straight cisgender person because it’s damagingly viewed as the default or the norm. I was never educated about the LGBTQIA+ community as a kid, so it wasn’t until I met my high school friends that I figured out that I was part of this community. Throughout high school, I often wondered how straight I really was, or if I even had an attraction to anyone. As my mother pointed out, my disinterest in straight dating life was starting to show. I eventually panicked, because I automatically assumed that if I wasn’t straight, it meant I was gay, so my conservative baby boomer mother was never allowed to know. I shoved all those fun issues deep in a lockbox and didn’t open it for another four years.
This was the perfect time to question my gender too because apparently one anxiety-inducing identity crisis wasn’t enough for my adolescent self. When I found out the concept of transgenderism existed, I scoured the internet for hours watching countless vlogs of transgender guys describing their thoughts and feelings on gender, transitioning socially and physically, and explaining how they’d felt before they found out they’d been transgender. I could relate to a lot of what I heard about their thoughts, and to some of their experiences when they were younger. While I don’t identify as a transgender male, I was still able to pinpoint similar experiences I’d had before in my own life.
In middle school, I’d started cross-dressing with one of my friends, taking silly pictures of ourselves and giving each other male names. I’d often felt very comfortable and confident doing it, wondering why I hadn’t shoved my hair inside a hat to give myself that classic Justin Bieber look before, not understanding what it could’ve meant. Cross-dressing doesn’t indicate one’s gender at all, but it was something I could do that would help me to better understand myself as I grew. Considering I still associated clothing and hobbies to gender when I was a child, it would take a while for me to separate them.
When I was almost 17, I’d learned I probably wasn’t what my parents expected me to be. This prompted me to begin casually talking to my mom about famous trans people that she knew of, thinking familiar faces would ease her into a mature discussion on the topic. She ended up saying some pretty bigoted things that felt like a personal affront to me, and I reacted tearfully. I’d tried to convince her and myself that I was only crying out of sympathy for the pointless discrimination that the transgender community continually faces. However, this only managed to convince her, not me. I believe due to that rejection, and my intense fear of it in the future, for the next two years my questions about my gender were stifled. It would take years for me to even think about identifying with the term “agender” and even now when the anxiety and self-doubt hit hard.
Upon entering college, I was internally identifying as “I have no clue but I’m not straight” while repressing any questions of my gender identity, terrified to think any further. I made more friends who thankfully were apart of the LGBTQIA+ community. I feel like we really do travel in herds. This is twice now that I somehow got lucky enough to convene together with people in the community by chance. In my first year, I got into a relationship that, while a bit mutually unhealthy, helped me to figure out what I identified as. This relationship made me feel like I belonged in society, finally doing what I was supposed to. In retrospect, I really didn’t (and still don’t) understand the reasoning behind most romantic cues, nor did I have any idea how people actually felt romantic love for others. Halfway through the relationship, I started to feel like I was performing behaviors that I wasn’t sure were genuine. They felt forced. Eventually, I came to the shortsighted conclusion that everyone else was probably performing these behaviors too since it seemed impossible to me that people would actually feel things like that.
With the help of my friends who educated me about the LGBTQIA+ community in a life changing way, I was able to go through a process of self-discovery. I found that the reason I felt like I was “supposed” to be dating someone, despite my clear indifference, is because of amatonormativity. This term is the societal assumption that romantic relationships are the pinnacle of all relationships, and should be held on a pedestal, normalizing them to the point where it’s expected that everyone will have one, and should want one.
Through my journey, I was able to understand what being asexual and aromantic felt like and understand how amatonormativity impacted me. After my realization, I initially found validation through an online forum called Arocalypse. This forum is dedicated to the discussion of aromanticism within a variety of topics, and is inclusive of many individuals across the aromantic spectrum. Just knowing that so many people felt the same way as I did really helped me. I’ve realized that questioning myself, while scary, is necessary for self-discovery, and can be a much better experience if you’re lucky enough to have a good support system by your side. I realize that there are people out there who don’t have others in their own lives to relate to and lean on for help when everything seems so confusing, which is where the internet comes in to maybe lend a hand and connect us through our experiences. If anyone out there in the community feels like they’re struggling with figuring out who they are, please know that you are not alone in this. Sometimes we may be too afraid to find out what we’ve been hiding from ourselves, but for me, after all those years it was worth it, and I hope it will be for you too.
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