Sitting shoulder to shoulder on the rooftop of my apartment, my future partner and I took turns puffing on a joint, watching the smoke mix with the night air while listening to the antics of Odd Future. Our first date, marked by dinner, ice cream and getting high together to a night-time view of Berkeley, would not have been complete without steamy post-dinner tension — urged on by our joints and the starry night sky. We didn’t have sex immediately, but the oh-so-sexy stoner shoulder-rubbing of that night foretold plenty of things to come.
Physical contact and cuddling had always been things I valued within a relationship, and sex itself played a prominent role. Dating had the emotional and sociable aspects, but the alluring elephant in the room was the sexual aspect, driven by physical touch as a vehicle for communicating desire and comfort in a nonverbal, intimate way. Closeness of skin, of bodies, became the tangible marker in my mind of how close my partner and I had become — intimacy had become a numerical and qualitative rubric for grading my relationship.
In some sense, this level of intimacy had allowed my partner and me some sense of complacency. Our sex had been not good but great, and by our frequency, it became clear that my partner and I were very much enthralled with each other. Our intimacy filled moments of minutiae — such as putting clothes back on, cleaning up beds, going for a rinse in the shower — with silence, with absent-mindedness, and it wouldn’t be long until this extended beyond bedroom antics and into some basic characteristics of our relationship.
We didn’t need dates to San Francisco, trips to thrift stores or late-night ramen on Shattuck Avenue, opting instead to leave Netflix paused 45 minutes in. Any night out, whether it was drinks with friends or socially smoking, became preludes and precursors to sex. Sex had become a suitable replacement for a lot of basic things in the relationship, and afterward, in the tired, sweaty, late-night moments, there were glimpses of problems within our relationship.
I could hear in the silence the beginnings of neglect, emotional detachment and unaired grievances that soon led us to begin fighting as much as we had sex. We seemed destined to fight and fuck until the lurking problems either split us up or forced us to change our ways. Six months into our relationship, I began my personal exploration of gender and sexuality, eventually making the choice to transition as a transwoman. As a result, as I grappled with my own personal transformation, we would eventually confront these problems.
When I began to transition, physical intimacy took on an entirely different dimension. My queer and transgender identity reflected a state of bodily displacement, with dysphoria whispering into my ear over and over again that the body I inhabited was wrong, uncomfortable and certainly not lending itself toward physical or sexual intimacy. I couldn’t find the strength or clarity in that moment to navigate being in a body that gave me emotional trauma and then using that same body for sex, an act that had been an emotional cure-all, a vehicle for closeness and comfort.
Given how gender is so frequently and inexorably regulated, where one is required to perform their gender according to certain expectations, I was also unable to reconcile how I ought to perform during sex. I was transitioning between genders and appearances in every waking moment. I knew that to set all of this aside — and return to using sex as a band-aid — was, quite plainly, an impossibility.
Feeling uncomfortable in my own body, with sex and what was expected of me — especially when I was relying on physical intimacy to feel close to my partner — stopped my sex drive right in its tracks. Suddenly, sex did not command the same urgency or attention it used to. As a result of this process, I eventually learned that what I was experiencing was asexuality.
This isn’t to say that I never think about sex or never have sex. I have just realized that sex will not be an important part of my life — that of a wide range of experiences, sex would constitute only a small sliver. And though my partner may not necessarily feel the same way about sex, my asexuality has forced us to confront the larger problems we had been attempting to sweep under the bedsheets.
My asexuality and lack of sex wasn’t a cure all to all of our problems — just as sex wasn’t — but it definitely was a start to far greater communication, physical closeness in more meaningful ways, and active, purposeful participation in our relationship.
Contact J at [email protected].