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I went through a period, about ten years ago, of identifying as incel, and one thing sticks in my mind; somebody remarked that most involuntary celibates are trying to end the 'celibate' part, but others are trying to eliminate the 'involuntary'. Well, the thought of not being celibate was sort of horrifying, since I was only attracted to one (uninterested) person and couldn't contemplate sleeping with anyone else. I didn't even want to be attracted to anyone else.

I didn't equate this with asexuality or demisexuality, by the way. I equated it with True Love.

So I thought, right, I'll work on the voluntariness, and since I'm horrified by the thought of not being celibate I'm clearly most of the way there already.

Thinking of myself as incel, in retrospective, was a continuation of the passive, victimised role I had assumed in relation to my sexuality throughout my teens. This narrative basically went: I am fundamentally unattractive, nobody will ever want to sleep with me because I am flawed and they are shallow, this is how things always have been and always will be, and it is up to me to accept it.

Now, a lot of teenage girls have low self-esteem, but the majority nonetheless manage to engage in some degree of sexual activity during their lifetimes, so I don't think we can attribute everything to that. People with low self-esteem do have sex. Ugly people have sex. Shy people have sex. Even people with social anxiety have sex (though admittedly I have no clue how they get to that stage; I suppose they just get targeted by pushy people?) But obviously I was a special snowflake, unique in my utter undesirability.

What I tended to overlook was that, although it was true that nobody of the opposite (or any) sex ever indicated that they found me attractive, I pretty much repelled any such approaches before they could occur. I gave off 'leave me alone' vibes because 99.9% of the time, I actually did want them to leave me alone. I'm not sure I had AvPD at that stage (I'm only self-diagnosed now), but I certainly had some degree of social anxiety. I never socialised outside school -- I had a small group of friends, but they had mostly evaporated by the time I left -- and I was bullied, so if anyone had been interested (which I sincerely doubt, since I had the worst hair ever) they couldn't have admitted to it without being ostracised.

In my entire seven years at secondary school, I had three crushes, two of which were on teachers, and only one of which could be characterised as actually finding the person sexually attractive. It never occurred to me that I might have a low sex drive or have other anxieties about sex. I just thought every other male at my school must be ugly, or stupid, or both. Usually both.

Like most eighteen-year-olds, I thought college was my second chance. Even if the boys were ugly, at least they wouldn't be stupid. I might fall in love with somebody who would love me for my mind, and the relationship would follow its natural course.

I suppose there might be, somewhere out there, some asexual eighteen-year-old boys who love women for their minds, but the asexual eighteen-year-old boy I stumbled upon in my third day of residence wasn't one of them. Well, I say he was asexual. I don't know that he was, or that he would self-define in that way, but he was certainly somewhere on the spectrum. Like, a few weeks in, we had this drunken conversation about how the idea of sex was kind of gross and really not aesthetically pleasing, but I thought everyone secretly believed this because it was so obviously true. And he didn't date, or get off with random people when drunk, and had approximately two celebrity crushes, and I, in my blundering, inept way, clearly terrified the life out of him.

This being the same person upon whom I was still fixated three years later when I decided I was incel, I believed I wanted to sleep with him. Well, I did want to sleep with him. Whether I would still have wanted to sleep with him once matters progressed beyond the hypothetical is a question that will remain forever unanswered. My crushes were always on people who were safe, you see. Even the boy I crushed on for four years at high school was a Christian who proudly declared himself celibate. (At fourteen, I was unimpressed by this; wasn't everyone celibate at our age? You have to remember this was the early nineties, and I hung out with a lot of Christians.)

I could not imagine ever getting drunk enough to swap bodily fluids with a stranger. Or an acquaintance. Or a friend. Inevitably I would throw up long before reaching that point, and besides, I did not want to. There was only one person I wanted to kiss.

Here's the demiromantic thing. I have never had a crush that was instant. It was always: this person is nice enough, but not physically attractive. Or even: this person is really annoying and ugly. If I think someone looks good from the get-go, I just feel indifferent. It's as if it trips a switch in my brain: they're out of your league, nothing to do with you, move on.

But anyway.

Before I went off on this historical digression, I was going to say that identifying as incel wasn't right for me, and it wasn't right for me because I was trying to blame the rest of the world for the fact I was still a virgin rather than accept my own role in this. It was about me not owning the choices I had made on the way there. It was about me being Patience on a monument, a martyr to my unrequited love. It was about me being that uniquely undesirable snowflake.

And I was seeing a lot of bitterness directed against women, which troubled me although/because I knew I'd been guilty of similar bitterness against the whole tribe of men. I knew I was one of those snotty, shallow bitches who wouldn't look at these men twice, so I kept my mouth shut mostly, hypersensitive to the prospect of anyone hitting on me. Once, somebody suggested that I 'just had a low sex drive' and I automatically thought: yeah, well, you're just saying that because you don't believe women can be incel.

After the incel period, I called myself a 'non-practising heterosexual', which didn't require as much agonising, but also didn't really resonate with me, because it's not an identity, as such. It's just 'heterosexual' plus an adjective; it suggests a temporary, intentional state of affairs and fails to acknowledge adequately my difference from the norm.

So what tempts me to identify as asexual, now, is that it gives me some agency but not too much. It's not exactly saying 'this is my choice'. Celibacy is a choice. But it's not as if I had the opportunity to have sex and turned it down. It's more that I evaded being given the opportunity. And why would I do that, if I wasn't somewhere on the asexual scale? That's what I'm trying to figure out.

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ambergris

October 2013

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