Opinion

On Coming Out as Asexual, and Is Snooping Worse than Cheating?

Roe McDermott portrait
Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies. You can contact her at dubinq.com/ask-roe.

Dear Roe,

I know you’ve written about asexuality before so I was hoping you’d have some advice for me. I’m 23, cis male, and realized I was asexual about three years ago.

I went through phases of thinking I was gay because I wasn’t attracted to women and wasn’t really aware of asexuality, but I wasn’t attracted to men either. It wasn’t until I started reading about asexuality online that it started to click.

I’m fine with being asexual, but I don’t really know if I have to “come out”. I know a lot of people don’t believe in asexuality or take it seriously, and I would rather not deal with a load of questions about it. But I’ve never really had relationships or anything close, and I get asked about that a lot by family and friends. So far I’ve just been telling them I’m focusing on college and my interests, but it’s exhausting constantly handling their questions about it and knowing they talk about the fact that I don’t ever hook up with anyone.

That might be a good reason to tell them, but it also feels weird to “come out” when there isn’t really a result at the end. When gay people come out, it’s easier for them to date and stuff but that’s never going to be it for me so I don’t know if there’s a point. What do you think?

Dear Reader,

Here’s my stance on coming out: in an ideal world, the simple answer would be “yes, of course, it will lead to nothing but great experiences!” Actually, that’s a lie. In an ideal world, “coming out” wouldn’t be a thing because we wouldn’t take heterosexuality as an assumed default that requires a disclaimer if you dissent, but sadly we’re just not there yet.

But I can’t unequivocally tell you to come out, either; I don’t know about your support system and if you’ll be respected and safe, and I don’t know if it’ll feel like the best thing for you right now. Also, you don’t ever owe anyone an explanation about your sexuality.

While it sounds like realizing that you’re asexual has been an important part of understanding your personal identity, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of your public identity, if you don’t want it to be.

So I’m not going to tell you what to do, either way – but I will share some thoughts that may help you make this decision.

First of all, I want to look at what your idea of coming out is, because it feels limiting.

Gay people don’t come out just so that they can date; they also come out because their sexual orientation is a part of their identity that they want to share, in order to be open with people, and to feel free to express themselves, and to avoid at least some of the assumptions that many people make about everyone being straight.

Coming out isn’t just a mechanism to find someone; it’s an attempt to live more openly and authentically, and that is something coming out as asexual could do for you.

At the moment, you’re hiding part of your identity, and it is creating some distance between you and your friends and family. They’re asking annoying questions because they don’t understand you, and so they don’t know how to support you. Coming out could help that.

It also might be hard, and some people might be shitty about it. That, sadly, is always a risk. However, some of that shittiness may just be ignorance, and ignorance can be combated with information.

If you choose to come out you could always pick some books or blogs or films about asexuality and share these resources with people so that they can learn more about it and hopefully be more educated and supportive.

You also can pick and choose who you’re out to. The great myth about coming out is that people do it once, in a grand dramatic gesture, when the truth is that people can come out a hundred different times, in different contexts and in different ways.

You may choose to tell a few close friends, or you may want to write about it online to connect with other people who are asexual; you may or may not want to tell your parents. You get to decide who to tell.

(Be aware though that you don’t always get to control where that info spreads afterwards. Friends may tell other friends, siblings may tell parents, so keep that in mind.)

Finally, I want to just take you up on your belief that because you’re asexual, you won’t ever date. Now, if you don’t want to date or have a relationship, that’s one thing – but if you do, remember that many asexual people have fulfilling romantic lives and relationships.

Because relationships aren’t just about sex. They’re about affection and respect and shared interests and making each other laugh and feeling supported and safe and loved – you know, all that good stuff.

You have friendships even though you’re asexual. You have familial relationships. You know that relationships and connecting with others is important and fulfilling without sex – and romantic relationships can be fulfilling without sex, too.

Or with sex. Like many people who are asexual, you may end up with a partner who is sexual. In that instance, you may end up compromising on sometimes engaging in sexual activity for pure physical release, or for their pleasure. That’s something you’ll have to decide if you want or are comfortable with.

Or you may find someone else who is asexual, or who doesn’t have sex for another reason. And you’ll still click, and make each other happy, and want to be around each other loads and do gross and sappy and romantic things together.

This might not be what you want and that’s fine – but if it is, I don’t want you to close yourself off from the possibility of it just because you think relationships have to be sexual.

Do what feels right for you, and don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out just yet. You’ve made a big discovery about your identity very recently. Let that unfold. See where it takes you.

Good luck.

***

Dear Roe,

I’m a 25-year-old woman and have been with my boyfriend for six months. Two weeks ago, I snooped through his phone and found that he’s been sexting another girl for a few weeks. They haven’t sent photos that I could see, but there they were being really explicit, no mistaking what was happening.

I confronted him about it and we ended up having a huge row where I was shouting at him about the sexting and he was shouting at me for snooping. We haven’t broken up but we’re not in a good place, mainly because he keeps insisting that it was messed up for me to snoop through his phone, while I think that seeing as he was sexting someone else, that’s really not the issue. What do you think?

Dear Reader,

I think both things can be true: he can be wrong for sexting someone else, and you can be wrong for snooping through his phone.

I also think there can be degrees of wrong, and that’s where your situation gets tricky. Because yes, snooping generally is bad – but I think it can be justified. I snooped through my particularly monstrous ex’s Facebook once – just once – because I knew he had hooked up with another woman.

(To be accurate, he had hooked up with many women; I had just begged him specifically not to hook up with this one. Why did I stay with this asshat? That, dear readers, is another story to do with low self esteem and abuse and – wait, excuse me, I’m the one who gets to be nosy in this Q&A dynamic so stop interrupting with your silent questions that I’ve projected onto you, thank you very much.)

When it had happened, I had confronted him about in person, and asked him directly, and he not only denied it, but gaslit the hell out of me, telling me I was crazy and paranoid, he was the only one who would ever be willing to endure me in my worthless psychodom – his usual, endlessly repeated refrain.

And so for the sake of getting him to confess and to make myself feel a little more sane, I snooped. Knew exactly what I was looking for, found it immediately. He too lost his shit with me, terrifyingly, and tried to use it as an excuse to not address his infidelity.

Though leaving him (preferably about a year earlier) would have obviously been the better choice than snooping, I still think I was justified, because of relationship maths.

If you’re snooping with intent because you suspect infidelity and immediately find it, Cheating > Snooping, so I’m letting you off the hook.

If you constantly snoop just because you don’t respect your partner’s privacy, and eventually find infidelity, Cheating >/= Snooping because you’re both treating each other like crap.

Cheating may generally be considered worse, but maybe if you’re the type of partner who is constantly suspicious and paranoid, your partner may have just got fed up with being constantly accused of infidelity while not getting the benefits.

(Side-note: I’m assuming from your reaction that you presume sexting to be cheating. It isn’t, always. If both parties agree, sexting without action can essentially be flirting – something to make you feel sexy and desired and that lets you take that flirtatious energy and use it to the benefit of your relationship. But that doesn’t sound like it was the case.)

It’s not clear from your letter if your snooping was a once-off or habitual – and that’s not the only thing that’s ambiguous.

You and your boyfriend haven’t broken up, and I’m wondering what that means. On one level, it’s indicating that you’re both still in this, that neither considers the other’s sexting or snooping a dumpable offence. Whether or not that’s because your relationship is worth riding out some fuckwittery on both your parts, or because it’s generally dysfunctional is something only you know.

But if it’s the former, let me give you both some advice: you need to start communicating. Either your boyfriend knew that you considered sexting to be cheating, or he didn’t want to know and so deliberately didn’t ask. Clarify that now, and talk about why he was sexting other women.

Then talk about why you felt the need and desire to snoop. After you’ve discussed this, you’re going to need to decide if being together is going to be good for you, and if so, you’ll both need to be very clear about your expectations regarding privacy, fidelity, respect, and trust.

To get to that point, you’re also going to need to communicate. Agree to meet up not to compete in a game of “You fucked up more”, but to talk about how your relationship has been and where this experience leaves you.

Both of you are in the wrong here. Maybe the question isn’t who was more wrong, but if this relationship is right for both of you, and whether you can start acting like it


Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

 

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