On Trans Fiction


by West Anderson, Content Writer


[Image description: The image shows a person from behind with long blond hair in a white long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans. They are standing in front of a row of white metal bookshelves that are empty except for a single thick red book. Empty stacks are visible on either side of them.]

There is a distinct lack of LGBTQ+ characters in written fiction, and even fewer that are portrayed respectfully and accurately. I’ve read a few good novels with LGB characters – not so much with T characters. The things I have read that focus on the T leave a bad taste in my mouth. There’s a common thread through all of them that is difficult for me, as a trans person, to read.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell – they’re all about how hard it is to be transgender.

Many of them aren’t even about how hard it is to be trans. They’re about how hard it is to know someone who is trans. Too many novels that find their way to Trans Lit lists focus on a cisgender protagonist’s crisis when they discover someone they like is transgender. One such book, Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, describes the protagonist Elle falling for a man named Frank. “But Frank is different in a way that Elle was never prepared for: he’s transgender. And when Elle learns the truth, her world is turned upside down” (goodreads). I know that many cisgender people do deal with these emotions when they learn someone they’re interested in is trans. But, and this may be shocking, the assumption that everyone is cisgender is one of the tenets of cissexism and transphobia. As a trans person, it’s hard for me to care that someone’s world is turned upside down by finding out someone is transgender. Trans people are just trying to live their lives. I care more about the pain brought to a trans person when someone has to “come to terms” with them being trans. It’s clear to me whenever I open a jacket cover and read this kind of summary: this book isn’t mean for me or other trans people. It’s meant for cis people.

In other books, such as Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, the story is not only written from the perspective of a cisgender protagonist, but when he develops a crush on a trans girl, he lashes out at her when he finds out the “truth.” Take a peek at this synopsis: “One day, Logan acts on his growing feelings for Sage. Moments later, he wishes he never had. Sage finally discloses her big secret: she’s actually a boy. Enraged, frightened, and feeling betrayed, Logan lashes out at Sage and disowns her” (goodreads). In this story, we’re supposed to identify with his struggle to come to terms with Sage’s gender. That’s just about the opposite of the kind of stories I want to read about trans people. That situation happens all too often in real life, often with much more deadly consequences. In this list of murdered trans people, at least three out eight were killed because their killer discovered they were transgender after being sexually attracted to or intimate with them.

In novels that actually focus on transgender protagonists, things aren’t much better. On this Booklist for Trans Teens, almost all deal with transgender characters dealing with bullying in their in small towns or high schools. I dug through that list and didn’t see anything I would be interested in reading as a trans teen or a trans young adult. To give an idea of the general themes of these books, here are three synopses:

Being Emily by Rachel Gold - “They say that whoever you are it’s okay, you were born that way. Those words don’t comfort Emily, because she was born Christopher and her insides know that her outsides are all wrong. They say that it gets better, be who are you and it’ll be fine. For Emily, telling her parents who she really is means a therapist who insists Christopher is normal and Emily is sick. Telling her girlfriend means lectures about how God doesn’t make that kind of mistake.”

Run, Clarissa, Run by Rachel Eliason - “Life in a small town can be tough when you’re a little different, but for a fifteen year old transgender kid it can truly be hell. Clark is harassed daily at school for his effeminate behavior and appearance. He has no friends and a brother that is as likely to be on the teasing as to prevent it.”

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger - “While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?”

I’m not saying all of these stories aren’t important, or that no trans person could read them and find enjoyment or comfort. Many trans teens struggle with situations similar to the ones in these stories, and it can be helpful to read about other people struggling with the same problems and coming through the other side whole. But these are the only kinds ofbooks with trans characters. Where are the stories about trans people where their gender is accepted, respected, and celebrated? For that matter, why are all these stories so limited in scope? Where are the trans people in space, battling aliens? Or saving the world? There are no limits to the kinds of worlds and situations one can explore in fiction, so why does it keep coming back to trans people dealing with rejection and abuse? I want stories about trans people thriving, I want stories that I and other trans people can read and come away feeling good about. For me, reading is a both a way to escape, and a way to imagine possibilities. I want more worlds with trans people kicking ass, where their gender isn’t the major crisis of the book.

It’s important for the trans people of today, and for the transgender kids of the future, to have more role models, real and fictional, to see themselves in. For as long as I live, I will keep working for a world that loves and cherishes trans people.

While I wait for my trans space pirate captains parlaying with non-binary aliens, here are a few books of poetry and fiction that move away from the “bullied in high school” trope.

Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction

Eight Must Read Novels and Story Collections by Trans Women Authors

Roving Pack by Sassafras Lowrey

And because I want to provide some resources for further learning about transgender lives and history, here’s some non-fiction as well:

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Letters for my Sisters: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community

decolonizing trans/gender 101 by b. binoahan

Nobody Passes by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore


Pronouns and Misgendering


by West Anderson, Content Writer


[Image description: A picture of the author wearing a black knit winter hat that has the word “they” across it in white capital letters with a row of pink hearts above and below the word. The hat has a white pom-pom at the top. West is a white non-binary person with very short brown hair just peeking out of the hat. They are wearing a blue plaid flannel buttoned all the way to the top, a red hoodie that is unzipped, red tights with black shorts, and a green watch. They are sitting on their couch, with a black bookshelf filled with books, a poster of a mermaid, and a kitchen table with four chairs in the background.]

I’ve been using the pronouns they/them/theirs for almost three years. The decision to switch my pronouns was scary. Even though I’d met several non-binary people who used pronouns other than he and she, I was still worried about what people would think if I did. Who would actually use them, and how hard would it be to make people respect them?

In the end, I made the change, because my pronouns made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. It was a difficult transition, however. No one but my closest friends made a serious effort to change the pronouns they used for me. I’m sure all of my other friends had good intentions, but it was really strange and hard for them to refer to me as they. Often they would just forget, and I would have to decide whether to correct them or let it slide.

It’s difficult for a lot of people to imagine the stress and anxiety this puts on the shoulders of a trans person. Imagine someone calling you he every single time they referred to you, when your pronoun is she. No matter how many times you corrected them, they immediately went back to he. You’d probably end the friendship at some point, right? Who would want to be friends with someone who disrespected you so much that they kept calling you by the wrong pronouns?

I understand that adding a new set of pronouns to one’s vocabulary involves a learning curve. When I first met someone who used they/them/theirs as pronouns, I was still identifying as cis and it was hardfor me to figure out which one to use in a sentence. It felt unnatural to refer to one person as they. I messed up just about every sentence, and I had to correct myself every time a pronoun appeared in my words.

So I get it. I’ve been there. I know exactly how it feels to learn a new pronoun. I didn’t begin using they/them/their pronouns and immediately have them become integrated into my vocabulary. But I practiced, I remembered that a person’s pronouns were they/them/theirs, and every time I messed up, I corrected myself.

I want to be clear: The thing that hurts me most is not when someone messes up my pronouns. It’s when they know my real ones, but they don’t even try to correct themselves. They just let it sit there, and it’s on me to bring it up, again, that “It’s they, not she.”

It’s fine if it takes someone a while to get used to new pronouns. I promise, it really does get easier and more natural. They/them/theirs is so default for me now, because so many of my friends use them, that I no longer have to struggle. The same is true for ze/zir/zirs. That was a learning curve too, and although I am a little slow with them because I don’t get to use them in real life as much, I’m better at using them than when I started.

If someone you know uses different pronouns, please put in the effort. It makes a world of difference to that person. Here are a few resources to practice pronouns:

Pronoun Dressing Room
Learn and Practice New Pronouns
Pronoun Pronunciation

If you mess up (which happens, I still do it too), apologize, correct the pronoun, and move on. That’s all that’s needed. In the first year I began using “they,” every time someone used the wrong pronouns for me (and knew better), it felt like a literal punch to the gut. I’ve gotten more desensitized to it over the years, and although it’s better for my mental health, it’s also pretty sad. But it still sucks to be misgendered and makes me feel awful. It makes me feel like I can’t really be close with someone if they won’t use the words I need to be comfortable.


Transgender Resources


by West Anderson, Content Writer


[Image description: A side view of a row of books leaning on each other. The books have blank jacket covers in different colors: blue, orange, green, red, yellow, and pink. The word “resources” is in black text above the books.]

As I learned when I was first examining my gender and looking for answers, the internet is filled with resources to help transgender people – with everything from naming their gender, finding pronouns, and swapping clothes - to information and advice about medically transitioning.

It can be difficult for a trans person to find that info, hidden as it is in poorly formatted sites, personal blogs, and under a mound of Google search results. I think it’s incredibly important, however, as it can help trans people find help and community. As a community that often grapples with inner dysphoria and messages of hatred from outer sources, coming together and sharing love, knowledge, and resources is important to help every trans person get the support they need.

So I thought I would compile a list of resources that I have seen floating around the internet for trans people and their families and allies. Some of these helped me when I was first coming out, some I haven’t used. But all are directed at helping trans people be themselves to the fullest, in whatever way is best for them. So, whether you’re a cisgender ally, a person looking for answers about their own gender, or a trans person who has known their gender for years, I hope this is helpful.

Some of the links I share use terminology that I don’t personally use, such as FTM (female-to-male) or MTF (male-to-female). The transgender community has generally moved away from these terms, and uses the terms CAFAB/CAMAB (coercively assigned female/male at birth) or AFAB/AMAB (assigned female/male at birth) or DFAB/DMAB (designated female/male at birth) to talk about what gender the doctors assigned us at birth. This terminology is more useful because many of us feel that we were not one gender and then became another, but rather that a gender was foisted upon us and aggressively enforced by families, peers, media, and so on. Some feel that although we were assigned a gender at birth, we have always been our true gender. Intersex people also use this terminology to talk about the coercive way their bodies have been forced into a binary gender and sex at birth.

I hope these resources will still be useful, and feel free to send a message if you have another resource I should add.

Finally, I try not to split up my resources into AFAB and AMAB. Being assigned a gender at birth tells one nothing about someone’s body or needs, so I have tried to leave things open for people of all genders to use as they need, rather than enforcing a harmful dichotomy. I also didn’t split things up into trans women and trans men, since there are many people who fall outside the binary, and I don’t want anyone to feel excluded.

Most of my resources do categorize themselves by birth assignment or gender. There is a split in the needs of AFAB and AMAB trans people, and I don’t want to pretend that there isn’t. But for my post I wanted to try to leave things as open as possible. The resources I link to will do differently.

On to the resources:

Read More


Sensory Overload and Self-Diagnosis


by West Anderson, Content Writer


Source: Vimeo

[Image description: A close up drawing of a young boy’s face, colored orange with swirls or yellow, pink, green and blue over it. His eyes are screwed shut in pain and his hands are pressed over his ears.]

I’ve always been an introvert – someone who recharges by being alone rather than drawing energy from spending time with others. But in the past year, I’ve noticed a worrisome pattern in my life that, for a while, I couldn’t find the cause of. If I pushed myself past my limits, even a little bit – by agreeing to a babysitting job, or an outing with friends, or just going outside and dealing with the busy world when I didn’t really feel able – it would lead to an emotional and physical meltdown. And my limits were really low. It was incredibly frustrating to feel that I couldn’t do the average amount of things I saw other people accomplishing in their day-to-day lives. When I pushed myself to try to do the “normal” amount of things other people accomplish without issue – working a part-time job, seeing friends more than twice a month, going out for drinks or to complete much-needed errands – I would exhaust my body to the point where I could, without fail, predict getting a cold.

I felt lost and scared about my own body. My low threshold for activity didn’t seem normal, but I couldn’t find any words to describe it that made it seem valid. I told myself I must just be lazy and avoiding expanding my comfort zones. Maybe I just needed to try harder to be around people and wash my hands constantly to avoid catching colds? Finally, I brought up what I was feeling with my mom, and she suggested I could be dealing with sensory sensitivity issues, something she was diagnosed with herself. I took the sensory processing test that she got from an occupational therapist, and found that I scored as “more sensitive than most people” and “much more sensitive than most people” in every category.

Once I realized that I am indeed more sensitive to sensory input than average, I started writing down everything I could think of that I have trouble with. Putting together a picture of my various sensory issues was helpful in letting me see what specific things were driving me to such painful meltdowns.

I found that visual and auditory input were the most tiring, with touch being a challenge too.

When it comes to touch, I pull myself inward when I am in public to keep a large bubble of personal space around myself at all times. I have, since a young age, become anxious when walking around in public, avoiding entering people’s personal space by walking on the edge of the curb or in the road, pulling myself inward, tensing, and speedwalking or weaving through groups of people on a sidewalk in order to get away from them and the anxiety being near them causes me.

Visually, I get overwhelmed when there is too much input for me to handle. Being in a crowd of people is tiring because of the constantly changing visual stream, in addition to the auditory input from many conversations and trying to maintain the “proper” personal distance from others. Large stores are exhausting because I feel the need to look at everything in a given aisle or section, which often means I spend a long time cataloging everything I see in three of four large sections in a store. I don’t avoid large stores because I like shopping and I like looking at all the things, but I am exhausted after I leave them. Grocery stores take me a long time, even when I have a list of what I’m getting. If I don’t have a list, it takes me much longer to find what I want.

With auditory input, if there is more than one conversation going on at once, I can’t focus on one well enough to hear and understand everything that is said. It takes a lot of mental energy to listen and understand people fully. Often if I’m in an environment with multiple sources of noise or overlapping conversations, I have to either leave for somewhere quieter, ask the sources to be quieter, or close myself off and not respond to any of them. If I’ve been doing a lot of work hearing, I have to leave and seek out a quieter space or be alone to recover.

The worst situation I was in recently was going to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk on the Fourth of July. Five minutes after I got there, I had to leave. The crush of people, fireworks going off not a hundred feet away with no warning, the traffic, and the noise – I ended up tensed and crying and covering my ears all the way home in the car.



[Image description: An outline of a blue face in profile with a cloud where the brain would be. Tendrils are coming out to connect to pictures that surround the face of a hand for touch, an eye for sight, a mouth for sound, a nose for smelling, and an ear for hearing.]

Auditory and visual input are almost always occurring together, and depending on the amount of things going on visually (a group of people, items in a store, cars) and the accompanying audio (people talking all at once, me having to find the right words to say and appear focused and interested in the discussion with my eyes, a sudden bang from outside, road construction), it can quickly become exhausting and my ability to handle it all gets depleted.

If I have done too much in a given day or week, the result is often a meltdown that can sometimes feel like a panic attack. I have to rest and let my body recover by taking it easy and doing very little for the next few days. For a while this winter, if I did even one thing over my limit, I would get sick for a week.

I’m struggling to feel that these issues really do apply to me, and that it’s okay for me to take these terms and apply them to myself. I feel like I need a doctor to prove that I do indeed deserve to use these labels. But the process of being referred to a doctor who can help me is proving to be a very slow one. So until then, I feel trapped in a limbo between feeling that I shouldn’t apply these terms to myself until I get a professional diagnosis and needing these terms and ideas to help me get through my day-to-day life. It is a relief to find there is a way to describe what I am experiencing, and that it is okay to take care of myself and respect my limits. Searching for information about sensory overload led me to helpful information about how to deal with sensory meltdowns and avoid them. It also helped me to stop beating myself up about my different needs and limits and to start asking for support and accommodations when I needed them.

Recently, I was babysitting for a family. I was playing Monopoly with two eleven-year-old kids while a five-year-old tried to join in, while the mom was talking to a neighbor right next to us, while Spanish music was playing. Once the game was over, the kids headed outside to play tag. Knowing that I was about to push myself past my limits, I explained to the mom that I needed a break from all the input because I have problems with sensory overload. She was very understanding and gave me food and a quiet place to relax before I headed out to play with the kids again. It was one of the first times I didn’t push myself past my limits because of my desire to keep up with everyone else. And it was really amazing to have my needs heard and respected!

In addition to advocating for myself and resting when I need to, I also learned about joint traction and compression as ways to combat sensory overload. Now when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can lift weights or have one of my partners pull on my arms and legs, which helps immensely. It’s a big relief to have concrete things I can do to lessen sensory overload.

I’m hoping that through therapy, I will be able to pinpoint what my limits are in my body so I can know when to stop doing something. It is difficult for me to know when I am past my limit for a given sense. I am getting better at it, but the pressure to push myself to go to a social event, to work, or to do an errand or chore is intense. Often, if I’m not already way past my limit, I think that it will be okay. But it never is, so I want to learn where my limits are better. I want to honor them and stop hurting my body.


Leaving the Land Called Girl: My Gender Journey


by West Anderson, Content Writer


[Image description: One of several symbols used to denote “transgender”. A solid black outline of the venus symbol for female, which is a circle with a cross coming out of the bottom. The arrow of the mars symbol for male is coming out of the top right of the circle, and an arrow with a perpendicular line running through it is coming out of the top left side of the circle.]

Hi. I’m West, and I’m non-binary. I also use the label transgender.

Transgender (trans): Identifying with a gender different than the one assigned to you at birth.

Cisgender (cis): Identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth.

Non-binary: Not identifying within the male/female gender binary.

I was introduced to the wide world of gender in my first year of college, thanks to my hallway’s Resident Assistant. Ze is bigender and uses ze/zir/zirs as pronouns. (So, instead of saying “I saw him,” or “I saw her,” I would say, “I saw zir.”) Meeting zir and learning about non-binary genders from zir was like a revelation. In the next few months, I learned all I could about the transgender community. I had always been very interested and involved in the LGBT community as an ally, but the more I learned, the more I started to wonder whether there was a reason I was so drawn to this community.

During that first year in college, I also began detoxing from high school, where I had been forcefully taught how to be properly feminine. By the end of high school, I had grown out my hair from the pixie cut I had loved as a fifteen-year-old, and I owned a wide array of women’s clothing I found incredibly uncomfortable to wear. After half a year at UC Santa Cruz, the hair was cut off. Clothes from the men’s section were bought, one T-shirt at a time. I very nervously began looking more androgynous, and when the world didn’t collapse – in fact, when no one seemed to mind at all – I started to realize how much better I felt presenting this way. And I began to wonder what it meant to be a girl.

I didn’t know I was trans from a young age. I played with Barbies and wore dresses. I also played with plastic dinosaurs and toy cars. But I spent the majority of my life firmly believing I was a straight cis girl. (Look at me now, mom!) It’s only when I started poking my history with a stick that things began to fall out.

When I look back at my childhood self, I see a kid who wasn’t concerned at all with gender or clothing. I wore baggy tie-dye shirts and colorful band-aids. I played around with makeup when my friend’s sister gave us makeovers. I ran around with my shirt off for as long as I possibly could, because I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Then I hit high school, and switched from being homeschooled to going to a small private school. For the first couple of years, I wore what I pleased, and there were some pretty wonderfully weird outfits involved. I cut my hair short because I had been wanting to since I was ten or eleven.

Then I became close friends with someone who “taught” me how to stop doing all the things I was doing “wrong” with my presentation and my gender. It wasn’t just her – the pressure to be feminine, and especially to be feminine in order to attract the attention of boys, came from all directions. But the worst of it was from her.

Over and over, she picked at things about my body and my presentation: my short hair, my tiny chest, my boyish face. I looked like a man or a lesbian, she said, and she let me know it wasn’t a good thing. She drilled into me that I didn’t know how to dress myself properly or do makeup properly, and that I had better let her teach me if I ever wanted to look good. To look good was the most important thing there was. So I grew my hair out, wore skirts and shirts that were really uncomfortable to me, and did my makeup every day.

When I got to college, I was still following these rules, even though the friendship had broken up. I was so afraid that people wouldn’t think I was pretty, and therefore wouldn’t like me, unless I was feminine. The decision to cut my hair short again took months and a good long talk from my now-partner Sequoia. I can’t believe how frightened I was that people would think I was ugly or dislike me if I looked masculine. The first time I bought a pair of boxers, it took me twenty minutes to work up the courage to go to the cash register. I thought for sure the cashier would say something or look at me funny. I had a line about how they were for a friend planned out in my head. The person said nothing, and I walked away unscathed.

It’s really shocking to me to look back on the fears I had as I began to change my presentation from more feminine to more masculine. On the whole, masculine people who were assigned female at birth don’t face as much backlash as feminine people who were assigned male at birth. Trans women, and especially trans women of color, face incredible violence for being who they are. As a white AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) person, I encounter none of the violence and discrimination that I see trans women and AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) trans people facing. I’m very privileged to not face the harassment and violence that are directed at trans women daily.

Yet I kept expecting something bad to happen as I began to transition. The message that I had to be feminine to be likable had been so cemented into my head in high school that I kept waiting for people to abandon me, to not like me anymore, to not want to associate with me. Thankfully, starting college at a school 3,000 miles away from my high school, I discovered that the things I had been taught as a teenager were not how most people thought. I met incredible, wonderful people who liked me just as I was, however I chose to be. It surprised me for months that people liked the way I was changing. It was a huge confidence booster, and a lot of growth that was halted in high school happened in a huge burst in the new supportive environment I was in.

Despite this support, the decision to come out as non-binary was terrifying. So far, people hadn’t turned their backs on me as I broke the rules of Girlhood I had been taught, but what would they think when I started asking for strange new terms to be applied to me? For weird new pronouns that didn’t roll off the tongue as easily as “him” or “her”? I felt like I wasn’t really trans, that my feelings weren’t real, that the terms I wanted used for me were fake and silly.


Source: Storenvy

[Image description: A set of six pronoun stickers in the style of red “Hello my name is” stickers. These particular stickers read “Hello address me as,” then contain a blank spot for a name to be written on, and on the bottom have different pronouns on each sticker. The red one says “Please use: They, Them, Theirs,” the orange one says “Please use: He, Him, His,” the yellow one has a blank spot to fill in one’s own pronouns, the green one has “Please use: She, Her, Hers,” the blue one has “Please use: Ze, Hir, Hirs,” and the purple one has “Please use, Xe, Xem, Xyrs”.]

But the need to be referred to and seen in a way that made me comfortable was stronger than my fears of what people would think. So I came out to my hallway, to my Facebook friends, and to my family. I got a lot of support, which was wonderful, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. It was very difficult for my childhood friends to start referring to me by a different name and pronouns, and although most of them meant well, it felt like a punch to the gut every time they called me the wrong name or the wrong pronouns. Having to come out again and again is still something I struggle with. If I find the courage to tell someone new who I am, not knowing how they’ll react, I also have to find the courage to correct them every single time they get my pronouns wrong, which is usually many, many times per conversation. This was – and is – hugely anxiety inducing for me, and often the easiest route is to give up and let them misgender me. It makes it difficult to create new friendships or be myself in old ones.

After I came out, I began presenting as even more masculine. I knew then to some extent (and it’s obvious to me now) that it was an attempt to make my gender seem more valid to outsiders. It was hard for me to exist in a non-binary space that no one knew about, and so my solution was to at least try to get people to assume I was a boy, rather than a girl. But trying to pass as male was terribly stressful, and I didn’t enjoy it beyond the satisfaction that came from being a way that I had been taught I shouldn’t be. Being a boy was not my real desire, and it never fit well. I began to head towards a space that was neither boy or girl, but sometimes both masculine and feminine. However my presentation changes, I still find that I can’t connect my looks, my body, my brain, to a binary gender. So I live in an unnamed place, wearing what I like and looking good doing it.

My gender journey has not been a solid progression from a point A to a point B. It’s been a looping, curling journey with few sign posts and no GPS. If I had not heard of non-binary identities, I might still be comfortable in the land called Girl, although I probably would have moved towards a more butch girlness for my own mental health. Despite my moving away from the things I was taught I had to do in high school, I do still like being feminine, and I own a bunch of pretty dresses. But when I put them on and put makeup on, I do it the way I want to, for me. Not for anyone else’s approval or benefit. Not by anyone else’s definition of what I “must” do to be a certain gender. The great thing about learning about this stuff we call gender was that I found terms and identities and ways of being that made me feel more comfortable in my body. I’m a lot happier with myself today being non-binary then I ever was identifying as cisgender.


Coming to Terms with My Asexuality


By West Anderson, Content Writer


[Image description: The asexual pride flag, which is four horizontal stripes of color, going from black at the top, to gray, to white, to purple.]

I figured out that I was asexual in 2012. Two years later, I’m still working out how to navigate this new identity and what it means for me. I find it difficult to appreciate my asexuality at times; it has made me feel broken, incomplete, and worthless. But what I remind myself each time these feelings rear their heads is that I am not broken or worthless because I don’t want to have sex. It’s the people and cultural messages telling me that I should be having sex (and there is something wrong with me if I don’t) that make me feel less than whole.

Truly, figuring out I am asexual was the start to a path of healing and self-love for me.

When I began wandering into the dark woods of adolescent sexuality, I believed that eventually I would figure out how to have sex right, so that I would enjoy it. I believed (and had been taught) that everyone is sexual. To not be sexual was to not be a person. I comforted myself with the fact that I was a beginner, and I learned from many people, magazines, and websites that it takes everyone a while to have an enjoyable sexual experience.

But as I graduated high school and entered college, the fears that had been whispering in the back of my mind for years became louder. What if there was something wrong with me? I couldn’t seem to get anything out of sex. It wasn’t fun for me, and the only reason I sought it out was the hope that maybe this time, it would be better.

When my current two partners and I were starting to become close (they were already a couple, and I was spending more and more nights at their place rather than in my dorm), I began to worry about how I would navigate sex with them. I could tell they would be into it, if I wanted to. I liked them a lot, I wanted to be with them, so I figured the knot tangled in my belly was because this was my first time navigating this experience with two people. Because I thought if we all wanted to be together, that would by necessity include having sex.

But then a night came when we were hanging out in their bedroom, and my now-partner Sequoia started to give me a backrub. I felt tense because I knew that the evening could progress into something more. I was thinking about whether I wanted to do that, when I realized that the way their hands felt on my back was all I ever wanted to experience. It felt good, really good, and I didn’t want to do anything more. I started crying. I thought, if I’m asexual, how will I ever find someone who will want to be with me?

I had heard of asexuality a couple of months previous, but that was the first time I ever considered applying it to myself. That alone shows me how deep our culture’s focus on sex as a natural and necessary part of life goes. I was never able to even consider that I might just not want to have sex. And I never heard words to describe such a thing until I was nearly twenty.

Now, I have been dating those two people for two and half years, and I couldn’t be happier. They love me just the way I am, and I have discovered for myself that sex isn’t a necessary part of love and relationships. I feel more secure in who I am and how I present myself. Embracing my asexuality has made me feel stronger and more whole. I feel confident wearing what I like and acting how I please. The right to wear and do what one wants without owing someone sex is a right that belongs to people of all sexual orientations. For me, it was only through my exploration of my asexuality that I came to fully realize this. If someone thinks my clothes or my actions are an invitation to sex, they are wrong. I am not teasing anyone or leading anyone on. I can exercise my right to say no, and to set boundaries around what other people say and do to, with, and around me.

Even though I have embraced asexuality as an important and essential part of who I am, I still struggle with our culture’s focus on sex. I mean, it is everywhere. And I often still feel like I’m missing out on something that is really enjoyable. The pressure to have sex is not an easy thing to will away, but I am grateful to the ace community for speaking out against it, and to my partners and friends for their conversations about it and their reassurances.

Being asexual has taught me a lot. It has taught me how to hone and enforce my boundaries. It has taught me that I am lovely and worthwhile and whole even if I never have sex. It has taught me that if someone doesn’t respect me, my sexuality, or my boundaries, that is their problem and not mine. I appreciate those parts of myself that have strengthened, and look forward to continuing to learn and change my perspective until I never feel less than whole because of my asexuality again.