Our theme for the month of June is “Celebrities and Me.” Writers were asked to select and write about a celebrity with whom they feel some connection.
There’s a person standing at the railing of the observation deck that crowns the hill on the broad side of the Onomichi Strait. They have long dark hair tied up in a ponytail and are eating an ice cream bar. At the snack shack where they bought it, you can get the local specialty—hassaku orange soft serve—even in winter.
They might look at you and if they do (if you need them to), they’ll say, “You can tell me anything. I won’t listen, though.”
I’d start by telling them about the lies I used to tell in middle school. This was back when “So who do you like like?” was the most daring question you could ask a person, and answering truthfully was the purest form of preteen trust.
“I don’t like anyone,” I would say, and watch the others roll their eyes, bored and annoyed with my dissembling. Secrets are the currency of adolescence, and no one likes a cheapskate.
So I pretended to have crushes. I picked boys who got good grades and were nice to their younger siblings, then whispered their names as peace offerings to my circle of interrogators, who giggled and moved on. Better to be a liar than to be perceived as one.
And I did try to like like them. I tried to AED my heart into Victorianesque palpitations when they walked by and force my cheeks to coquettish blushes when we were assigned to plumb the exhilarating depths of the quadratic equation together. Turns out I’m bad at palpitations and coquettishness. (Good at the quadratic equation, though.)
Even after I learned the words for what I was, I didn’t use them. I’d heard people tell me that labels are so important and an equal number say that labels don’t matter and I didn’t know which side I was on, so I held them close to me and let them go on a need-to-know basis.
But the thing about my brand of asexual and aromantic is that no one ever needs to know. I’m never going to show up at the office party with a same-sex partner. I’m never going to have to explain to that partner why I don’t find them sexually attractive (and it really isn’t you, it’s me). The closest I come is in some variation of this conversation:
“So are you, you know… gay?”
“What makes you ask?”
“Well, you’ve just never seemed that interested in guys, is all.”
“Have I ever seemed interested in girls, though?”
“Huh. I guess not.”
It’s not a secret I keep because I’m scared. I don’t even keep it out of the quasi-survivor’s guilt that comes from knowing that my sexual orientation is both a) not heterosexual and b) never going to get my house graffitied. Or risk my job. Or make me fear holding someone’s hand while walking down the street.
I do it because I hate when, after I’ve gone through it all, after I’ve told them that I don’t ever want to get married and I’m not keen on kids and no I’m not lonely and I do really enjoy my own company and actually it’s in the “+” bit of the acronym, they say, “Well. You’ll feel differently when you meet that special someone.”
It’s the knowing look that I hate. It’s the pity.
(Or maybe I am scared. That’s the deep fear, that someday I will discover that I’m not ace, or not aro, or not ace and aro in the way that I thought I was. And what I would hate more than the pity is proving them right.)
Because there are a couple of things I know: I’m not asexual because I’m scared of sex. I’m not aromantic because no one’s ever asked me on a date. I’m not using esotericism as a coping mechanism for the fact that I’m twenty-four and single in West Michigan.
But then, there are more things that I don’t know: Do I get to call myself queer? Do I even want to? When I tell people, is that coming out? Do I get to claim that term when the process is so relatively painless? Is it okay not to be proud of it? If love is what we’re proud of, how can I be proud of the absence of that? Am I just supposed to be proud of being different? Of “being myself?” Do I even know what that is?
(And that’s the deepest fear. That I don’t desire sex or romance for the same reason that I don’t laugh at funny movies or cry at funerals. That it’s the depression. Or it’s the meds. That something in my brain is knocked sideways and it’s sluiced shut my ability to be fully empathetic. That Disney was wrong and being different does mean that I’m broken.)
That’s what I’d tell the person on the observation deck.
And they wouldn’t listen. Because they’re fictional, but you probably figured that out by now.
Their name is Someone-san, and they are important to me because they are the first—and as of this writing pretty much only—explicitly asexual character I ever encountered in the wild (by which I mean without someone saying “Hey Annaka check this out there’s an ace character in it”). And their creator, Our Dreams at Dusk mangaka Yuhki Kamatani, is too.
I have to wonder if my affinity for Someone-san (and Kamatani by extension) is the ace equivalent of trying to set up the only two lesbians you know on campus. The generally anonymous nature of most mangakas—plus the fact that Kamatani’s Twitter account is now defunct and entirely in Japanese anyway—means that I have even less of an opportunity to vicariously connect with them than most modern “celebrities.” Like Someone-san, Kamatani will never listen to me.
But then, I don’t need them to—the greatest trick of literature is that it teaches us (fools us?) to listen to people who will never listen back. What I need is for someone to stare at me from the pages of a book and say things like, “Being asexual isn’t what makes me me.” So then I can look back at them and say, “Oh. Of course. How stupid of me not to have realized it sooner.”
They don’t have to listen to me. I’m listening to them.
My, what a fascinating jumble. Complex and simple, sentiment-full and whimsy-full. It strikes the heart, yet is probably so alien to most. And it’s beautiful.
The fears portrayed within are so real, the tie-in to literature is emphatic agreement. What I probably like most, too, is despite all the questions there is no single answer. That’s what figuring out life is.
If this essay was in a book, you would bet I would get over my strong aversion to writing in books and underline and star and put exclamation points beside almost every one of these sentences.