I am a sex-repulsed asexual woman in my late thirties. About a year ago, I learned that there was a word for my sexual orientation. Before I learned the word asexual, the only words I had available to understand my sexuality were broken, damaged,abnormal, and wrong.
For most of my life I have passed miserably as a straight woman. I was married to a straight man for over 15 years. During this time, I was subjected to over a decade of unwanted sex. Desperate to be a “normal” person, I got drunk and pretended to be sexual. I did this as frequently as I could tolerate, which became less and less often as time went on. My husband claimed to understand that I had Sex Issues (we operated under the theory that my issues were related to previous trauma and a raging eating disorder), but he was impatient. It sure was taking me a long time to fix myself. He employed a number of manipulative and coercive tactics to get more sex from me, and he also had sex with me without my consent while I was sleeping.
During this time, I was filled with rage and pain and confusion, but with no words to explain WHY. Why would having sex I’m supposed to want make me so angry and cause me to feel so deeply violated? Why couldn’t I do this thing that everyone else enjoys and obsesses over? Why was I repulsed by sex when everyone else says it is a Most Special and Sacred Act? Why did sex make me feel so terrible, and leave me feeling somehow fundamentally harmed, when others were willing to fight and die for the right to do it with whatever gender they chose?
For a brief period, I tested out a theory that my lack of excitement about sex with men meant that I was a lesbian. This lead to an uncomfortable argument with my husband when he confronted me about some “How do I know if I’m gay” Google searches he found on our computer. Ultimately, I concluded that sex with women also belongs to the Not Something I Want To Do category. At the end of that mental experiment, the only word left to describe myself was broken.
I adopted broken as an identity. I played out broken to it’s fullest extent, surrendering absolutely to the miserable existence of my eating disorder. I comforted myself with the idea that my sex problems were the result of the eating disorder. After all, who can even THINK about sex when they feel on the verge of death at all times? Every time I started to recover, terrifying thoughts intruded on my progress. What if recovery doesn’t cure me of my sex problem? What if I stop puking, stop binging, and get free from my food obsession, but still can’t sleep with my husband? What would that mean? Relapse after relapse after relapse kept me safe from having to confront these questions about my sexuality. As long as I believed there was a reason for my brokenness (the eating disorder), I could believe there might be a cure someday.
Yet, despite the chaos and obsession and sickness, an idea was trying to bubble up from the deep, still part inside of me. The part of me that always speaks the truth was trying to give me a message: This is permanent. This is who you are. Because I lacked the words to make this truth safe enough to digest, I had to shut it up. I had to get it out of me.
I had no idea asexuality was a valid option, didn’t know there was a word for me or my experiences, and didn’t know that there were others like me. Without this knowledge, what else could I assume but that I was sick, damaged, and wrong. Not just regular broken (the way I was with the eating disorder), but broken in some fundamental and deeply shameful way.
What my inner self lacked was the words to tell the rest of the truth: You are okay. You aren’t broken. There are others like you, and it’s okay. Your sexuality doesn’t need to be fixed. I didn’t hear this truth because I didn’t have the language to hear it.
When I discovered the word asexuality, I gained access to not only the rest of the words that could heal me, but also to the legitimacy, community, and pride that the words can carry with it. Having the language to describe the truth about who I am, and the language to hear other asexuals tell the truth about who they are, has been the key to beginning to let go of my brokenness. I can let brokenness go because I can see now that I never needed it.
It turns out, broken was never the right word for me.