When I wrote about privilege a few months ago, I mentioned that I’m demisexual. While the LGBTQIA community is generally becoming more visible, and many non-heterosexual terms are now common knowledge, “demisexual” is still a mostly unknown term. I didn’t even know it until a few years ago, and since having a word that describes my experiences has improved my life, I’d like to explain it to you.
Unlike most of my classmates in junior high, who seemed constantly interested in how attractive they found movie stars, I have never in my life looked at a complete stranger and thought, “Damn. You are hot.” Like many demisexual people, I can count the number of people I’ve ever been sexually attracted to on one hand.
Demisexual is an asexual-spectrum label, which means it’s related to asexuality, or lack of sexual attraction. Demisexual people usually don’t experience sexual attraction, but can become sexually attracted to a specific person after we’ve formed an emotional attachment.
That’s not to say that I can’t “see” that a stranger is physically attractive. I mean that when I look at someone with sculpted features, rather than desiring to be intimate with them, I’m more likely to think, “Huh, that person has physical features that our society deems ‘attractive,’” and then move on with my day. I watch rom-coms and fail to engage with the characters’ plight. Usually I end up shouting at the movie screen, “That person’s a jerk! Sure, they’re pretty, but you two have nothing in common! Why do you want to have sex with them?!”
I’m like Mr. Spock from Star Trek, able to make observations but nearly always disengaged from the desires that most people would insist that all humans have. And that insistence that all people experience sexual attraction all the time is why the demisexuality label is so important to me.
In seventh grade, I had to make up a crush so that the other girls would stop asking me who my crush was. I didn’t have a crush on anyone. I never had. But everyone else had, and no one would believe that I didn’t. I started questioning myself. Did I really not have a crush on anyone? If everyone gets attracted to people, and I didn’t, was there something wrong with me?
Eventually I learned the word “asexual” and thought, “Hey, maybe not having crushes is natural after all.” But then things got complicated: I did become sexually attracted to someone. Was I not really asexual? Was this my sexual awakening? But no, it was just that person, and as my emotional attachment to them faded, so did my attraction to them. I thought that something must really be wrong with me, if I was neither asexual nor not-asexual.
Not everyone sees labels as important or useful, but for me they beat the alternative. People who fit into categories that go unacknowledged are stuck with the awful notion that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them, that they’re broken and need to be fixed. But when something has a name, it has a kind of validity that silence and confusion could never give it. When I first saw the word “demisexuality” in a Tumblr post, I Googled it out of pure curiosity, and after I read the definition, I had to remind myself to breathe. “Oh my god,” I thought, “this is me. There’s a word for what I am. Other people experience the world the way I do. I’m different, but there’s nothing wrong with me.”
I know I wouldn’t have had the awful idea that there was something wrong with how I experienced sexual attraction if earlier in my life I’d seen or read an experience I could relate to. Though rom-com characters are found relatable by people who experience sexual attraction regardless of emotional attachment, they don’t fit my experience. My experience is that I spend several months learning about a person’s virtues and what we have in common and gradually fall in love with them and only then do I find them sexually attractive. Then, when I fall out of love with them, I suddenly no longer find them sexually attractive. I’ve never seen this scenario depicted in a movie. And when I fail to react with as much excitement as the people around me to a hot celebrity, or when I “fall out of attraction” with someone, I still have to remind myself that I know it’s normal, because for the first eighteen years of my life, I had no reason to think that it was normal.
If demisexuality becomes common knowledge, then there will be one more group of kids in the next generation who won’t grow up thinking they’re broken. I hope this article will help.