Every since I can remember, I’ve felt different for a variety of reasons. When I was a child, I desperately wanted the kinds of friends who lived next door, with whom I could spend hours immersed in play and imagination. Suffice to say, that never happened, one of the main reasons being that I lived about thirty minutes away from all of my schoolmates. In those days, there was a program called “Minority to Majority” in my city that enabled black children to attend public schools in other districts. When my brother and I entered middle school, we both switched to private schools, both of which were also 30-45 minutes away from our home. This allowed my brother and I to take advantage of the best schools imaginable, but we were effectively cut off from the black community. Even today, when black people in Atlanta want to suss you out, they ask you your church and what high school you attended. When I say, “I don’t go to church” combined with the name of the obscure white private school I went to, I might as well be announcing that I was raised by Martians. While my brother was popular and well-liked by people of all races, the opposite was true for me, and I ended up going further and further inside myself. Bereft of real, human interactions, I spend most of my time reading obsessively and daydreaming obsessively. The key word in all of this is “obsessive.”
As I reached middle school, the kind of sexual awakening experienced by most people didn’t happen to me. I went through all of the physical changes of puberty, but the pull of sexual attraction just never materialized; boys were just as annoying at fifteen as they had been at five, and the kind of female comradery that I had enjoyed in elementary school fizzled out completely during that same period. Like LGBT people, I had always known I had a “queer” sexuality before I even knew that such a thing existed, but there were no asexual youth groups, no asexual community centers, no asexual media characters, or other forms of support that might have been helpful in developing a healthy sense of self. As far as I knew, I was the only person in the world who was like this, and I accepted that this was just another way in which I was marked out as being different from society.
The asexuality thing made traditional Catholic ethics seem attractive, because it seemed to be an environment where celibate people were not only celebrated but had power. Not only that, but Church Fathers like Jerome made it clear that virgins were the real heroes, while the humdrum married folks of the world had to make do with being on the spiritual farm team. As someone who lived almost entirely in my mind, it was easy for me to grasp onto these ideas about sexuality without thinking very much about their real-world implications for other people. However, I was always troubled by the treatment of LGBT people in the church, especially that whole language of them being “objectively disordered,” but I assumed that as long everyone was just happily celibate like myself, then there wouldn’t be any problems. In retrospect, I realize that I was so desperate to fit in, anywhere, that I was ignoring what my actual conscience was saying about the matter.
Now of course, something must have happened to change my mind about the church’s sexual teachings, even if my sexuality (or lack thereof) remained the same. First, there was the fact that Catholicism, like many conservative religious groups, does not believe in the concept of “sexual orientation.” According to Catholic anthropology, there are only male humans and female humans, and the teleological end of these groups is to mate up in opposite sex pairs and have more males and females, some of whom will hopefully become church-sanctioned celibates. Rinse and repeat. All people who don’t fall into this model are freaks, who really should be discussed as seldom as possible. I remember reading articles from about ten years ago on the AVEN site from Catholic priests scoffing at the very notion that a human person (and not, say, a tree or a fungus) could be asexual. I was crushed; how could a priest say that there was no such thing as human asexuality, when I was a living, breathing example of it?
I realize now that asexuality and all other queer sexualities are a danger to traditional religious notions of self, because it challenges everything from gender roles to what the human nature is. In the case of Catholicism, a lot of this has to do with painting itself into a corner with outdated Aristotelian notions about how the world works. Having set up Aristotle up as the best, most wise, and most knowledgeable philosopher the world has ever known basically means that you’re freezing human knowledge around the thirteen century when Thomas Aquinas synthesized Christian thought with that of Aristotle. Now, I love Aristotle as much as the next person, but most of what he asserted as fact in the fields of biology, physics, astronomy, and the other natural sciences was and is just plain wrong, and the Catholic church is paying for it by ignoring this fact.
Going back to sexuality, I also didn’t like the kind of homophobic invective that was freely used around the Catholic conservotrad blogosphere. It was hard to for me to believe that anyone could really claim to “love” LGBT people, while at the same time calling them fags and homos and that they were destined to die of AIDS. The use of junk science and the worst kind of homophobic hysteria (teh gheys will make you marry a lamppost!!!111) didn’t exactly appeal to me either. The dismissive attitudes against women and sexual abuse survivors also rubbed me the wrong way. I suppose I could have just remained in my happy “amoeba bubble,” content to know that concupiscence wasn’t going me (while also dealing with the fact that my church didn’t believe I really existed) and let the other LGBTs do what they must, but as the saying goes, the standard you accept is the standard you walk past, and I wasn’t going to walk past anymore injustices.
While it is true that the secular world is still woefully under-educated about asexuality, I think that there is room for improvement that just isn’t there in an institution like the Catholic church, with its hidebound view of human anthropology. I don’t think there will ever be a “Stonewall movement” for asexuality, simply because the dynamics of being asexual are so different than being LGBT, but I hope than in the next ten years or so that there will be an “asexual moment” of sorts. Secular society is starting to understand that there isn’t just one type of sexuality and even that it’s completely normal for some people to fall into the asexual spectrum. Some asexuals are celibate and others aren’t. Some asexuals want to be monogamous and other want to be polyamorous. And some like me are just plain confused and are just trying to make sense of it all, day by day. As humans, we should feel free to figure out our sexuality on safe, respectful terms, and not be harangued because we don’t fit into some narrow model of “normality” (and don’t even get me started on the absurdity of telling Catholic families to model themselves on the “Holy Family,” a unit that consisted of a couple that supposedly had no sex, a mother who never physically gave birth nor sinned, and a demi-god as a son).
I just want to end this post by saying that whether you’re straight, LGBT, or asexual, but feel “queer” or out of sorts in some way, turning to religion to “fix” yourself or feel “normal” won’t help. Church history is full of people who thought that becoming a priest or a nun or a religious brother would help “solve” their problems (however that was defined), only to find that the cloister ended up feeding into their vices. Find people who will help support your in your troubles, go to a psychologist, join a meetup group, take up a musical instrument, start a blog, do anything, but don’t think that running away to religion is going to do anything but further confuse you.