High school is the most awkward time of most people’s lives, but high school for a metal-head, hijab-clad, Muslim teenager with anxiety issues felt like it was just a constant shit-storm of confusion and idiots asking me if I was holding pot.
Moments of clarity were few and far between because my head was consistently clouded with panic attacks and general dizziness about who I was and what exactly I was doing on earth. So, when a girl I barely knew handed me a jewel of clarity that I’d been missing even though it was right in front of me my entire life, I nearly cried with joy.
I, Amani Hamed, am and always have been asexual. But that didn’t become clear to me until the day that Cat asked me if I was a lesbian.
Cat and Liz were girlfriends, and Liz had a reputation for being sort of the lesbian den-mother for girls who were in the closet or had just come out. Liz’s favorite hobby was sending Cat, the more subtle and approachable of the pair, to ask girls Liz suspected of being gay if they were gay. Being ’discovered’ by Liz and Cat was like being in a club, or a coven.
They wouldn’t out you, but they would help you come out.
Cat would tell you how to talk to your parents. Liz would set you up with your first girlfriend and rub her hands together with glee when she saw you hold hands for the first time.
When I saw Cat walking over I knew what she was going to say before she said it.
“So, like, what’s your deal?”
I shrugged and shook my head. That question had been silently killing me since the sixth grade. I honestly didn’t know what my “deal” was. I didn’t really feel like I fit in with gay, bisexual, or straight and it made my head spin. I stared at the redheaded cheerleader with the six-pack who had the P.E. locker next to mine and hoped that she didn’t notice when I noticed that she always absentmindedly played with her belly-button. I stared at the muscular arms and broad shoulders of the football player who sat next to me in drama class.
What confused me most was that when I was staring, at both boys and girls, I had no idea what I was feeling, or why so much of the time I didn’t feel anything at all.
I was a bad Muslim for not lowering my gaze, and I was worried that if I did feel anything, for either sex, I was going to be ostracized, excommunicated, and constantly told I would burn in hell.
Cat was the only person who had ever asked me about my sexuality, rather than assuming.
I always heard “You’re gay, right?” Or, “Oh my God, you and that one girl are lesbians together.”
Even my parents thought I was gay.
My father freaked out when I told him I was pledging as a Thespian because he thought he heard a different word. Afterward, he would knock on the bedroom door my roommate and I usually kept closed to keep the cats out, because he wanted to “check on us.”
My mother tearfully told me that if I was gay I should just tell her and she could protect me from my father and his zealous homophobia. She wasn’t upset that I might be a lesbian, but that I would keep it from her.
I wanted to tell everyone I didn’t like girls, but that led to another assumption: “Well then, you like boys.”
Or, “Then you secretly have a boyfriend.”
“I don’t know what my deal is, Cat. I really don’t.” Cat didn’t make assumptions. Cat asked questions. And while I hadn’t been able to be honest with myself, for some reason I was honest with Cat, and it all made sense.
“Well do you like girls?” I watched two of Liz’s freshmen kiss and thought more deeply about the question.
Do I think those girls are pretty? Very. But that wasn’t Cat’s question.
Would I like to have sex with another girl? Nope. Once pretense and scrutiny and judgment had been removed from the question, the answer rolled off my tongue so easily.
No, I did not want to have sex with another girl. I didn’t want to kiss a girl, let alone have sex with a girl, and while I still had no idea why I was constantly staring at other girls, looking for something, I was relieved to finally know something, anything, about myself and my sexuality.
But this led to another question.
“Well, do you like boys?”
I thought instantly of the football player, the only boy in our school who looked like a grown man, and the answer was the same. I couldn’t imagine being pressed up against a male person while both of us were clothed, let alone naked. I saw other girls holding hands with their boyfriends and thought that even holding hands was too much physical contact. Sweaty palms and awkwardly negotiating where to put my hand in someone else’s, how to walk beside a person a foot taller than myself with a much bigger stride.
No. I did not want to have sex with boys.
But what then? I panicked. If I’m not gay, if I’m not straight, what am I? Who am I?
Again, for every assumption, Cat had a question.
“So then, do you not like anybody?”
“No, I…I guess I don’t.”
Cat shrugged. I was still confused, turned around like a blindfolded kid trying to hit a piñata.
“So, you’re…asexual then?” A question.
I stared at her with my hand over my mouth and she chuckled. I heard bells and whistles in my head and saw prize doors opening like on “The Price is Right.” Cat had opened the fourth door. I wanted to step through it, to explore the other side, but I still was caught on doors one through three.
“I don’t think that’s a thing though.” Cat shrugged again and tucked her hands in her sweater.
“It’s a thing if it’s your thing. It’s your deal.” I nodded. “You’re an amoeba. You’re asexual.” I nodded more, smiling now.
At home, I had to be straight, but have no desire. I had to be quiet and feminine and someday want to get married, while knowing next to nothing about boys or men and having no desire to even talk about sex until married.
At least with my father. My mother would have loved for me to have a boyfriend, to be “normal.”
At school, I had to be something, and to like or want someone. This was not just an unspoken rule.
I was often called “weird,” or ridiculed for what then seemed like a decision to adopt total romantic and sexual abstinence. When I insisted I didn’t have a boyfriend, didn’t want one, was focused on school and career afterward, (straight) people threw out “closeted, angry, self-repressed/religiously-oppressed lesbian” as the only other thing I could be.
At times this was a homophobic accusation, an anti-gay witch hunt that never seemed to end. At other times, it was an assumption that I (because of my religion) was so homophobic that I was in the closet. I couldn’t tell which side of the remark hurt most.
Now, I had door number four. I didn’t have to be anything. But I had something that I felt I was, that I could wrap my brain around.
Cat walked off to tell Liz what my “deal” was and I stood there, my fingers still over my mouth, contemplating my entire life. It was like Cat had thrown a grenade into some dark corner of my brain and allowed the fiery explosion to illuminate everything.
After that day, I started owning the label. It wasn’t simply that the label fit, that someone else had put me in a category and I had to stay there. It was that I had been a square peg trying to fit in a round hole for too long.
I wanted the label, the place where I felt I fit. I adopted it. I felt home there. The weird little niche for me, the weird little amoeba shaped peg.
Being asexual and owning that label and my orientation has been so tremendously helpful and fulfilling for me.
I still get ire from people who want me to fit into another category, to be hetero, homo, or bisexual. Now, though, I barely care. Their hang-ups and misgivings have nothing to do with me, with who or how I am.
I discovered and accepted my deal, and I found out that there are thousands of other people that identify as asexual. One of them even made a documentary about his experiences as an asexual, and founded AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.
My acceptance of my asexuality began when assumptions that I had to fit into anyone else’s scheme ended. Acceptance of myself, and an end to many, many confused self-interrogations started when another person showed me openness, acceptance, and a lack of pre-judgment.