I will not lie to you: Questioning one’s identity is scary.
The evening of June 4, 2006, when I finally became aware that I probably was not heterosexual as I had always assumed, and the night that followed were, at the time, the scariest moments of my life. Now, four years later, they have only been pushed to second place by another evening that I do not want to talk about (and anyway, it has nothing to do with asexuality or any of the other matters that I wish to discuss in my Petri Dish).
Why is questioning scary? Because it requires accepting that some things one believed in and thought unquestionable are, in fact, not certain at all. It means accepting that one may not know oneself as well as one thought. The first time it happens, it can be quite a difficult experience – it certainly was for me.
It can be difficult especially if one considered oneself to follow the norm in something, and suddenly realizes that it may not be the case after all. For some people, accepting that one might divert from the norm is very difficult. There is something comforting in fitting in, in being like everyone else. People who are different in some way (whether it is sexual orientation, dietary choices, religious beliefs, reading preferences, or pretty much anything else) are often asked to justifiy their difference to others. Their difference is also often assumed to be playing a part in pretty much anything unpleasant that may happen to them.
(An example? The keyboard layout used in France is AZERTY; I, however, use the Swiss-French one (QWERTZ) for personal convenience when I need to type in French. So, at work, although I have a standard-issue AZERTY keyboard, I changed the Windows input language settings to QWERTZ; I know that layout well enough that I don’t need to look at the keyboard to type. People only know about my unusual keyboard layout preference because they run into difficulties when they try to show me something on my computer and happen to have to type, or when I need to use a different computer and stare at the keyboard in order to find punctuation marks instead of typing like a machine-gun like I usually do, and thus have to explain that sudden slowness to whoever happens to be witnessing this pitiful typing performance. I cannot count the number of times I have had to explain (usually several times to the same person) why exactly I use that layout and how come I find it easier to use than the usual AZERTY, and my use of that layout has been blamed for every issue I may have run into with my work computer, especially authentication issues (and it always turned out that my password had been typed correctly and that the cause of the problem was elsewhere). And this is nothing compared to what I hear when people find out that I am a vegetarian…)
For me, when I first wondered if I might be asexual, my problem was not to accept the possibility of diverting from the norm (I had been doing that all my life) but the fear that I was not really asexual and only wishing to be in order to be different. First I had to get over thoughts such as “you’re not anything special, what makes you think you can be part of a one-in-a-hundred minority?” in order to fully accept that, yes, I was different. The issue was not wanting to be like everyone else: it was the possibility of wanting so much to be different that I might be making it all up.
But this first questioning experience opened the door to others. Realizing that some things could be questioned allowed me to question others later on, and to get to know and understand myself better. The following questioning experiences became easier, too. I wish I had become open enough to question everything on principle, but I am not there yet. So far, I have questioned the so-called universal truth that everyone is interested in sex, the idea that romantic love is the most desirable feeling one can have for another person, traditional relationship models that follow the friends/lovers binary, and pretty much everything I thought I knew about gender. I may have not fully figured myself out yet, and at the start each questioning process may have been a bit upsetting, but in the end, I feel better trying to really understand who I am and who I want to be, rather than remaining stuck in a mold that may not exactly hurt me, but which does not exactly fit me either.
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