Author

Matilda Gerrans

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Love and sex usually go hand in hand, but for some people, the desire simply isn’t there.

Asexuality and aromanticism are two lesser known LGBT+ identities, but awareness of these terms not only helps to quell misconceptions, but also create an accepting environment for those who identify as aro and ace.

Asexuality can be defined as the lack of sexual attraction, and aromanticism as the lack of romantic attraction, but for those identifying as one or both of these identities, it can be more nuanced than that.

Nich is a college student who has been openly identifying as both asexual and aromantic since they were sixteen. They came across the term on the internet and found that it clicked with what they were feeling. “I just forgot that sex and romance are things I’m supposed to want,” they say, “They’re like that one tv show you keep meaning to check out because you’ve heard it’s really good, but you don’t care enough to actually sit down and watch it.”

Many asexual and aromantic people find out about the terms online, but others realise their identity after speaking with aro and ace people in the community. Brittany, a 23 year old retail worker, found out about asexuality in high school after a friend confided in her that she too was asexual. “I’ve identified as asexual for two years,” she says, “But I’ve known there was something different about me for a lot longer.”

Building strong relationships is essential, and for many asexual and aromantic people, friendships are of the upmost importance. That being said, romantic and sexual relationships aren’t entirely out of the question. While aromantic and asexual people like Nich prefer to stick to platonic relationships, asexual people like Brittany can pursue romance. It all comes down to personal preference. Despite their lack of attraction, some asexual people might have sex, while some aromantic people might enter a romantic relationship.

Coming across other asexual and aromantic people is like finding a unicorn in real life, Nich says, but the ace and aro community has been nothing but supportive. Websites such as Tumblr and Reddit have fostered asexual and aromantic communities, where members can interact with other people going through the same experiences and feelings that they are, and those questioning their sexuality can go for advice. It was communities like these that helped Brittany discover her sexuality and has helped many more come to terms with their asexuality.

I realised that I was ‘supposed’ to want to have sex. That people actually got butterflies in their stomach when they saw someone they had a crush on. I realised that I hadn’t felt either of those things—and I still haven’t.

Other communities are less than accepting. Many asexual and aromantic people face exclusion and discrimination from not only heterosexual and cisgender people, but also from the LGBT+ community. Much of the prejudice towards asexual and aromantic people stems from a lack of understanding. For the majority of society, sex and romance are essential to the human experience, and so they believe asexuality and aromanticism to be celibacy, a phase, or the lack of experience in dating, which Brittany says is the biggest challenge. “I’ve dealt with backlash from people who don’t understand asexuality and disregard it entirely, or just thought it’d be something I’d get over one day when I meet someone special,” she says, “Even today, being in a loving relationship with my girlfriend, who is also asexual, I still have people ask whether I’m still asexual or if my feelings about having sex have changed.”

Asexual and aromantic people also face discrimination in a more professional setting. When Nich came out to their psychologist, they were asked to take a test determining if they had psychopathic tendencies. Up until 2013, the DSM-V listed asexuality as a sexual disorder, and many asexuals find themselves discriminated against when it comes to medical professions, who confuse their lack of sexual attraction to a non-existing sex drive. Aromantic people may also face the same challenges; they can be labelled as psychopathic or robotic for their lack of romantic attraction, which is often confused for an inability to feel love.

The biggest challenge comes from within the queer community. Despite the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA standing for asexuality and aromanticism, some queer people are vocal about their beliefs that ace and aro people are not part of the community. Nich and Brittany in particular have been called “basically straight”, “diet straight”, and have been thought to be “not queer enough” for the LGBT+ community.

It’s really hard just telling people that I’m asexual out of fear of being judged and thought of as weird, as sex is typically an important part of people’s lives.

Many members of the asexual and aromantic community have to deal with such comments on a regular basis, but like Nich and Brittany, they focus on their community, and remind themselves that there are so many others who are like them and are going through the same challenges.

Asexuality and aromanticism are valid identities that many people relate to and identity as, and learning about these identities is extremely important not just for asexual and aromantic people themselves, but for everyone else as well.

To find out more about asexuality and aromanticism, support an asexual/aromantic friend or family member, or to figure out if you might be asexual or aromantic, visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN).

I was born premature at 24 weeks. I weighed 500 grams – less than a loaf of bread. My father’s wedding ring could fit up to my shoulder. Before she gave birth, my mother was told to prepare for the worst; most premature babies pass away or have extreme medical conditions which impact them for their rest of their lives. If it weren’t for the diligence of the nurses and the faith of my parents, I don’t know if I would be alive today.

I stayed in the King Edward Memorial Hospital for 104 days, and for those three and a half months, the premature baby nursery became a home for my parents. They spent every possible moment in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, sitting by my humidicrib until visiting hours were over.

Most parents in the ward didn’t even know if they would be able to bring their baby back home.

The doctors would give information in stages; you had to deal with one problem at a time, my father said, and not think too far ahead or focus too much on the future. You had to live in the moment and cherish each day that you got to spend with your baby.

The babies that did get to come home had severe medical issues. Emily was one of the babies who was in the intensive care unit at the same time as me. She was born at 26 weeks, and got an infection early on, which shut down the blood flow to her fingers and toes. She lost half of her fingers and most of her toes. Years later, at a playgroup, my mother would watch us playing together and see her struggling to walk or feed herself. Other babies like Emily would even lose their ears or the tips of their noses. My mum also remembered Meghan, a baby who had suffered a severe brain bleed, and as a result, now has cerebral palsy. Babies who also had serious brain bleeds would later go on to have massive learning difficulties.

There were the other medical complications. When I was first born, my skin was so thin that clothes and blankets would cause my skin to rip and tear. A plastic sheet had to be placed above me in the crib to keep me warm. I had to have intubation tubes which went up my nose and down into my lungs to help me to breathe, as my lungs hadn’t fully developed.

My parents remember the terrifying experience of watching my heart beat suddenly drop during a bradycardia. They recalled watching the heart rate monitor suddenly fall and the sound of a siren screaming through the ward. All the nurses immediately rushed to my side, reaching through the humidicrib to grab me. They had to shake my body to bring my heart rate back up. My parents would carefully watch the heart rate monitor from that moment on, and immediately let the nurses know if my heart rate declined.

Having such a traumatic event happen to you and your baby meant that many parents struggled to come to terms with what had happened. How do you cope with seeing your baby in hospital, covered in tubes, unable to hold them?

My dad was first able to hold me on Father’s Day, more than a month after I was born. He told me that he was terrified to hold me in his arms; that I was so small he was afraid he might hurt me. I was still hooked up to the large intubation tubes but was well enough that I could be held by him.

The photo is still one of his favourite pictures, and one of his most memorable Father’s Days. My dad, having to provide for our family, could only see me after work and on weekends, and so he cherished the time he got to spend with me. “I used to read to you,” he told me, “I remember reading the Iliad to you, while I sat by your crib, holding your hand.”

My mum was able to come visit me every day, and so she spent as long as she could by my side. The first thing she did each morning was to call the hospital to see how I was doing.

 We’d wake up and grab the phone, to call in, and they would say that you were fine, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief.

She used books and crochet as a way to keep busy, and concentrated on making beautiful baby clothes for me, with the softest fabric she could find. She would make a dress for big occasions, like the day that my dad first held me, or my one hundredth day in hospital. It was a tradition in the ward to bring a cake for the nurses on that day, as a way to thank them.

Other parents coped in different ways. My mum recalled a young mother with a child in the same ward, who would come up from Busselton once a week, to spend a few hours with her baby. Some parents found that distancing themselves from their baby would lessen the pain of having to see them in the hospital, while others were separated by distance. For my mum, however, seeing me every day helped her cope better.

Being at the hospital with you was the best thing for me.

As I got older and stronger, the doctors encouraged my parents to take part in taking care of me; changing my diapers, cleaning me, and holding me. My mum and dad said that that was the best medicine; being able to take care of their baby like normal parents.

When I asked my parents about the day that I was let out of hospital, they both said that they didn’t remember the day, but the feeling of finally bringing me home, and fully being a family. I came back home on oxygen, and it was around Christmas of that year that I was finally able to take off the tubes.

My parents called me a miracle baby; despite being born at 24 weeks, I had survived relatively unscathed. My hoarse voice from the intubation tubes is all I have to show for that traumatic time. I was a pin up kid for 24 weekers; healthy, alive, no learning difficulties or physical disabilities.

As annoying as it can be to explain to strangers that I definitely don’t have a cold or a sore throat, it reminds me of the struggles that my parents and the doctors and nurses went through to keep me alive, and makes me aware of how grateful I am to be healthy and alive.