Being Asexual In A Heteronormative World

Heteronormativity, by definition, is basically the principle that in our culture, heterosexuality is the norm and any deviations from it, be it homosexuality or asexuality or anything else, are in the excluded minority and are every day forced to live in a culture that isn’t ours but is increasingly forced upon us. Take it from an asexual (ace): Living in a very heteronormative and increasingly sex-enthusiastic culture is very isolating if you don’t conform to it. From TV shows and movies, with graphic sex scenes on HBO and plots that revolve entirely around trying to hook up with members of the opposite sex, to even walking down a supermarket aisle and seeing covers of magazines like Cosmo boldly showing headlines like “101 Sex Tips to Please Your Man” or Sport Illustrated’s “Sexiest Swimsuit Models!” it’s everywhere around us.

It’s not just media culture that’s alienating; it’s friends and family, too. Even queer friends that I have who still aren’t in the hetero status-quo talk about sex with their partners, Facebook feeds constantly show pictures and status updates of weddings, engagements, babies and dates and when I’m out with friends there’s usually at least one person remarking on the attractiveness of people walking by. There’s something reminding me almost constantly, every day, that I’m not normal, that I’m not a part of this.

For people out there who are part of this normativity, it can be hard to see what it is. You see yourself and your happy life and you see a handful of people you know who aren’t straight or sexual or cis-gendered, but you don’t fully realize the impact of it. To you, they’re the exception to a rule that you live by and to you, it’s not a rule, it’s normal, it’s life, and more than that, it’s your life.

To compare, think of any major sporting event that you DON’T partake in, be it the Superbowl, the World Series, March Madness or the Hockey Championships. Think of how much advertising goes into that—everywhere you look stores are selling something to do with the sport; jerseys, hats, ridiculous accessories, the supermarket is having sales on all the “game day essentials,” and you can’t turn on the TV for five minutes without having a Doritos ad featuring some beefed-up sports star or crazy amounts of advertising for the event itself. All the major retailers and food chains get in on the action and have sports posters hanging from the ceiling endorsing donuts and sneakers. You can’t even go out to the mall without tripping over people talking about it, when you’re not walking into giant cardboard athlete cutouts.

There’s always at least one betting pool going around if you work in an office, people discussing it at their desks all day and that one obnoxious co-worker who puts bobbleheads and hats at their desk in support of their favorite team. Then there’s at least half a dozen people in your neighborhood hosting viewing parties, and about a million social media posts of people supporting their favorite team or tearing down their rivals. It headlines most newspapers and magazines, the athletes involved are suddenly in documentaries, and the entire lineup for Jimmy Fallon suddenly looks like every celebrity who isn’t an athlete suddenly came down with a crippling case of stage fright.

By now I’m sure you have a pretty good picture of this in your mind, and by the time Superbowl Sunday, the World Series or the March Madness championship rolls around, you’re probably now remembering how annoyed you are with this particular sport and how much you just really, really want people to stop talking about it before you lock yourself in a dark, soundproof box just to get away from it all. That’s what it’s like to be alienated by culture, but as an asexual, I don’t just deal with this once a year on Superbowl Sunday. I deal with it every. single. day.

I don’t blame people for conforming to the coupling culture, I understand biology and I know that it’s heteronormative for a reason; it’s natural for the species to want to survive and propagate. At the same time, it’s hard for non-conformers to be living in a counter-culture. There’s no way to escape it or avoid it; I don’t even have the option of joining a hippie commune like I could if I was tired of capitalism, greed and processed foods.

While I fully and completely support LGBTQ and Trans folks, and their allies, who are out there working hard to be recognized and get their civil rights, the battle is a bit more subtle for asexuals or “aces.” We aren’t asking for civil rights, we’re just asking for recognition and acceptance amid the sea of heterosexuality.

Heteronormativity is something that is pushed upon everyone by society every single day, and it’s something that we’re constantly, internally and externally pushing back against, despite knowing that no matter how hard we try, it’s futile. Society won’t change and neither will we. So we can’t stop struggling for individuality, we can’t stop trying to distance ourselves from this culture that doesn’t belong to us and we can’t stop trying to preserve our own identity.

Sometimes I wish I could just be normal. I hate the struggle, I hate being constantly reminded that I’m different at best, or “not right” or broken at worst. I definitely have days and sometimes even phases when I wish I was heterosexual just to fit in, just to stop the fight, just to belong to society and not even need to use any more brainpower on it. But I always come back around because I know that for me personally, I’d hate conforming without a second thought even more.

View Comments (17)
  • Thank you for this! The sport metaphor is perfect. It’s exactly how it feels – people try to sell you stuff using something you don’t care about as a hook, and they act like they’re really surprised when they ask “What team do you bat for?” and you say “I don’t play that sport”. So true. Good to know there are others.

  • Wait, you want us to stop and think about how our normal activities make you feel because of your abnormal sexual identity? Nope. Everybody finds a way to be offended and yours takes the cake.

    • Tony, she never said she’s offended, she’s just pointed out the reality of what it’s like. Plus, by calling her abnormal and yourself normal, it appears you missed the whole point of this article.

  • You are normal, Courtney. Your version of normal shouldn’t look like anyone else’s, and that goes for everyone. We are all different, and that’s what makes us interesting. While I’m not asexual, I’m also sick to death of the sexualisation of our culture. It’s repulsive to see sex everywhere. I can only imagine how much more awful it must feel for you, because you simply can’t identify with it in any way. If it helps at all, most people can’t identify with it either, because it’s not a true representation of everyday life, even in a heteronormal world. Good luck with your career aspirations. Dr Who would be lucky to have you.

  • I think this article would hAve worked better had you defined Asexual, I think I know the definition, yet it was never stated in this article.

  • Sorry – a little confused here. In a column published in June (“I Don’t Want A Long-term Relationship, And I’m Okay With That”), you wrote you were “definitely attracted to guys”. Have you recently come to terms with your asexuality? If so, I can imagine the process was incredibly confusing and terrifying.

    • Hi Caroline,

      No, I’ve known I’m asexual for years. I’m a heteroromantic asexual meaning I am attracted to the opposite gender just not in a romantic way.

  • I felt compelled to respond, but I am gripped with fear of being found out. I currently live in the bible belt and know that if I openly profess to be of the same subset as you that there will be repercussions. I am no longer a young man, but I still can’t escape the knowledge that bigotry of any perceived difference is rampant in this society. I have been so convinced of this bigotry that I find it hard to believe that you exist. Someone so close to my own beliefs and interests cannot possibly exist.

    I know of other writers who use avatars (for want of a better word) in order to write from a particular (different) perspective and generate valid and useful discourse that writing using their own voice would fail to produce. That being said I find it hard not to support someone with your point of view just in case you are real.

    It looks like I am back to living in the paradox where both the yes and no answers can be true. :(

    As for the article, I find that this point of view is valuable, but no one else in the place where I currently live is likely to believe that people like this can exist. It goes against everything that they are taught and everything that they believe. It is not just the sexualized society that is the problem for asexual people. Having spent time in other countries the beliefs of this country are very prudish and those beliefs refuse to believe that asexuals can exist at all. Most would rather believe that we are abused/shy/frigid/broken and only by accepting and changing to a sexual (hetero/homo) lifestyle can we ever hope to be truly happy.

    It still feels odd that there could be other people like me out there, but having read this article I will give you the benefit of the doubt and make an effort to read your other articles in case there are similar insights incorporated in those articles too.


  • What do you mean by that you want recognition and acceptance? Should I, by the same logic, as a virgin stand up and demand people talk less about sex because it makes me feel sad and isolated? I might, but I cannot imagine people will care.

    Oh it’s not the same, you might say. It’s not the same since you aspire to one day join the sex culture, you might say. Maybe you’re right, but I recognize the incredible annoyance at being constantly reminded that I’m not a part of this. You don’t feel like you WANT to be part of it and that makes you an outsider. I on the other hand hope to one day be initiated. What the sex-culture then communicates to me, in my failure at joining, is that I am an inadequate person. In addition I have to live in constant anxiety that this will always be the case.

    But would anyone make a virgin awareness week? Of course not, that’s ridiculous! Do I wish media would cut down on the sex-stuff? Yes. Do I think they will? No. I just have to “suck it up” and “be a man”. I’m not sure what I want to say here, but this article bothers me in a way that I cannot quite express. It seems you want to be treated special or something have having to live a life that me and millions of other people are expected to accept.

    Maybe next we should have an awareness week for people who dislike sports and getting drunk and thus get isolated from the mainstream culture? Or for people who grow up in socialist or counter culture homes? All those are categories that I fit and that has contributed to me becoming distanced from mainstream society as a whole. That’s something I’ve had to embrace, without expecting people who are representatives of said mainstream society to become more accepting or open minded. No one will think spreading hipster awareness is something worth doing, but the effects and the isolation is much like what you’ve described.

    Again I’m not sure what I want with this. I don’t really disagree with you either, just wanted to share my thoughts and put some missing perspective on it. I hope to get a reply and that I’ve given you something to think about.

  • Please don’t say it’s futile, I don’t think you believe that yourself. If you’d believe it, you wouldn’t have written this. And I actually disagree with most of that paragraph: it may seem as though society will never change, but it has changed and it is changing, otherwise we’d still be living like they did during the middle age or something.

    I am not asexual, though sometimes I wish I was because I’m quite the opposite and it can be annoying for my own peace of mind. I am ‘gay’ (and I write it like that because I don’t even like the term for its origin, I prefer the almost unknown ‘uranist’) but even though I am very sexual, I leave my urges to the confines of my very intimate privacy -I guess it’s force of habit, having been closeted most of my life. And this includes my social networks, also because I’m not very sociable anyway. Furthermore, I don’t want to get married or have kids.

    So you can visit my google+ page (and even add me if you want) because except from a few LGBT-support posts here and there, you won’t find one single photo or post about one single wedding, engagement, baby or date. It’s mainly animals (cute or not), humor, some tech, curious and interesting things in general.


    PS: sorry for any grammar mistakes, English is not my native language

  • I might be able to take you seriously…

    if you weren’t basically Tumblr without the death threats, genocide and forced sterilization.

  • Do asexual people still have a desire to have children? That is to say that their feelings regarding conception itself are indifferent at best, but they still want to propagate. Apologies if this is too intrusive of a question, but you put it all out there so I figure it’s okay. :-)

    (I also realize that you can’t speak for *all* ace people and would never ask you to. Asking about you and others that you may know.

    • Personally I’m asexual and long before I started identifying as such, I knew with extreme intensity that I don’t want to have children when I grow up. I began declaring in at the age of 5 and, 30 years later, I don’t recall having ever changed my mind even for a minute.
      I’d rather die than go through pregnancy, childbirth and its whole medical “envelope”. But there are also asexual people who want to have children. Aces are very diverse, the total or relative lack of sexual attraction/desire is pretty much the only thing that unites us.
      And by the way, remember one thing: being a parent doesn’t require having sex. At least for a healthy woman, a sperm donor and a syringe can be enough. If a woman wants to have a baby but is absolutely sex-averse, she doesn’t have to go through sex.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll To Top