Do These Pants Make My Identity Look Big?
My three primary internal identities are all bound up in ways that I’ve found to have made them grow into more or less a single, unified identity. I have no word for this singular identity (other than, I guess, “me”, if I want to be corny and completely useless about it), but it can be approximated by terms like “pet” and “cute”. But it makes absolute, perfect, seamless sense to me in my head, and I found myself having to describe it in words for the first time the other day when my husband, in a bout of confusion and frustration, asked me to explain how my gender presentation could have so little impact on, well… the rest of the stuff. (He’s cis and hetero and is struggling to embrace my desire to sometimes pass as male or just be masculine-of-center.)
It was then that I realized just how much my identities have been informed over the course of my adolescent development by the visual language of cartoons and children’s media. It’s more than just this, I discovered: the visual language to describe those kinds of characters and those kinds of realities has an enormous impact on how I see myself and how I interact with the world around me. Growing up, I identified with a lot of girl characters, sure–and none of what I’m saying here is based on anything I consciously understood at the time, or anything I affirmed to myself, but are rather based on gut feelings I remember having, inclinations and fascinations towards certain character archetypes and narratives–but what I can recall feeling towards them was markedly different than how I identified with animal/non-human characters that exist, for the most part, without gender being part of their list of character traits.
(I know this sounds like it’s going to be a post about gender and not asexuality thus far but like I said, these things are all one in the same for me.)
How I felt toward girl characters (and human characters I strongly identified with in general), in retrospect, probably had a lot to do with my attempts to figure out how I wanted the world to see me. I never had a very good grasp of the concept of gender growing up (I still haven’t internalized a lot, but now I celebrate it instead of try to cover it up by mimicry!), so presentation was an all or nothing thing to me. During the times that it mattered immensely, I’m sure that what I was feeling was social dysphoria and wanted to fit into the world in a way that was suitable to me and my self-image. But during the times that it didn’t matter, I think I could say that I felt more in-tune with something that ran way deeper than presentation, and those were the times that I most strongly identified with genderless characters.
I think there’s definitely some underlying subtext about the trope of the genderless, asexual animal sidekick character that I think can be summed up by a single, really strong word: dehumanization. I mean, just look at how negatively charged the pronoun “it” is. To not have a discernible gender entails Otherness and a certain lacking of humanity (and the respect that goes with that). To take a quote from a tumblr post I saw this morning that really made me think about this subject:
Read as queer, read as straight, read as cis or as visibly trans. It doesn’t much matter for me because the cane, the visible disability erases all of that and replaces it with a sexless, genderless, romance less, loveless blob of personal medical questions, hallmark looks and sad faces from others over my “sorry state”
The subtext that I’m talking about is made super plain here. Being agender, asexual, and aromantic strips you of your perceived humanity, right to autonomy, and right to respect in the eyes of other people. Being thought of as these things (when you aren’t them) is a soul-crushing and enraging experience because you’re being viewed as subhuman. This isn’t something that I wish on anyone.
But at the same time… I’ve thought of myself as a blob before. And a thing. And pretty casually, too.
So what does this say about me? I don’t hate myself, I don’t see myself as subhuman and inherently unworthy of respect, love, friendship, happiness, et cetera. In fact, I think I’m a pretty rad person that has some interesting things to say and some nice art to offer the world. But at the same time, too, I see myself as pretty darned Other and that my identity isn’t something that can be recognized at a glance, let alone understood by, well… pretty much everyone I will ever meet.
In my marriage, I fill the role of “cute one” way better than I do “wife” or “domestic partner” or whatever. In bed, I am “cute one”. Out and about, holding hands, I am the “cute one” still. Like a beloved pet, I am sexless, genderless, and even ageless to a degree. I’m his best friend and staunchest ally. I get a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment playing the role of sexual partner and wife, and it’s something I want to do for the rest of my days, but at my core I’m… a lot less than that? More? Something else entirely?
Basically how it all fits together is this: I am a blob. A cute, funny, talented blob that has ups and downs, joys and sorrows, dreams and aspirations. I know what it’s like to get mistaken for a gender, but I don’t know what it’s like to be one– I play at gender like a child plays doctor. Gender and sexuality are also projected onto me. Statistically speaking, this is always nonconsensual, aside from a single anomalous presence in my life, which is my husband. In the surreal cartoon-speak of my mindscape, my husband is hyper-gendered in comparison to myself, is steeped in that extra dimension of reality so thoroughly that he can see right through me when I pretend to be a gendered person because I lack a certain intrinsic quality that I can’t even begin to fathom. My play is encouraged, entertained, but always however mocked and derided. In the world of BDSM, humiliation sometimes has an enormously cathartic effect on the subject of the humiliation scene; I’ve heard that being made fun of for being something that you aren’t is an incredibly empowering and cleansing experience, and it’s something that has sometimes been present in my aromantic, asexual fantasy relationships. Another aspect is that my “blobness”, that which makes me inherently subhuman to the rest of the world (and is an absolutely negative experience for the vast majority of people) is ultimately celebrated. Acknowledging my lack of gender (and sexuality) and my inability to pretend to be a gender (or to be sexual) is celebrated as that which makes me special and worthy of love and care. In this dynamic, which has essentially reached the level of archetype in my own head, I am constantly being validated for being something they can’t know, which allows me to engage them in a way that I don’t truly understand either but they do and need.
The concept of smallness and physical diminutiveness obviously permeates this entire conception, but that’s a whole different essay on its own, to be honest, and it’s a theme I’ve touched on in previous essays concerning macrophilia.
But I guess I’ve yet to answer the prompt questions: What does my appearance have to do with my asexuality? My presentation? My physical looks?
And the best I can really do to answer them is to say “everything and nothing”. Playing with the concept of Otherness through my presentation gets me one step closer to making my self-image a reality, as nebulous and impossible as it may be. The further I distance myself from common conceptions of “normal human”, the more genderless and sexless I become, and the less social dysphoria I feel even at the potential expense of my right to respect and autonomy. When I am gendered, though, my sexuality unfortunately becomes a public concern. If I look like a tomboy, I’m obviously a lesbian. If I perform normative femininity, I’m obviously straight. There is no looking like an asexual, an agendered person, a non-libidoist, a macrophile, a BDSM pet and bottom.
I can, however, look cute.