Or, growing up Demi in a world filled with insta-love and why rep in books & media is vital!
CW: discussion of gender roles, sexuality, and queerness, internalized queerphobia
Hey hey lovely foxy folx! It’s February, the month of love, of flowers, of chocolates, of teddy bears, and grand romantic gestures. Unless you’re me, and then it’s just Singles Awareness Month. A gauntlet of avoiding all lovey-dovey things, of fighting off family members and co-works and random strangers who want to know when I’m going to find that special boy and start a family…
No. Just NO.
Look, to be clear, if romance is your thing, please, go for it. If kids are your thing, go for it. I applaud you. I don’t mind that people are wildly romantic or lean into Valentines day as a time to celebrate their love whether it's romantic or platonic. No, what burns my bacon is the assumption and the expectation. The assumption and expectation that as a femme presenting cis-female I should, by my advanced age have already settled down with THE ONE and since I haven't, there is clearly something wrong with me. Which, obviously, there isn't.
There are a lot of layers here. In today's blog, I’m focusing on how my love (read: lack thereof) life was affected by growing up as a demisexual who didn’t know what demisexual was until three years ago and coming to understand how media influenced me and made me feel broken. Remember, all experiences with sexuality are valid. None of us are a monolith. So this may resonate with you, or maybe it won't.
Now, come with me back to the 80's and 90's, a time of shoulder pads, big hair, and Tamagotchis.
My family reinforced standard gender roles and while I don't recall specific moments of queerphobia, we absolutely fell into the microaggression category. I was aware of queerness growing up, but it was an oddity, something we whispered about. it was okay as long as it wasn't one of us--absolutely not something I was. Well, spoiler alert, hi, IT. ME. Quick note-- I had no clue cognitively speaking, but my body and mind absolutely knew! I still remember standing in the hallway outside the music room, waiting for our teacher to show up and seeing a girl across the hall and I immediately wanted to talk to her and ask her out, followed by telling myself that was impossible because we were both girls and I wasn’t allowed. So I never asked her. I did kind of become her friend and I made sure I sat near her in a few classes. But that was it. Basically, I didn’t cognitively know I was queer, but my body and hormones sure did.
I never said anything about this to anyone until in recent years when I came to fully realize and accept my queerness (I'm such a late bloomer). Now, I’m living my best and unapologetic bi/pan demisexual life. The second layer to this is that through a combination of how my brain neurons fire and how I was raised, I have always been slow to make friends and acquaintances. It takes me a long time to develop trust and I put a lot of emphasis on emotional and mental connections. On dating sites, this is the “slow to warm up” option when describing your personality, but I’m the REALLY SLOW TO warm up category. I always struggled with actually talking to people and sharing my *gasp* feelings (trust me, this was exacerbated by family expectations, so it was twice as rough and a shout out to my amazing therapist who’s helped me learn to not just shove my feelings into boxes in the deepest, darkest pit of my soul) much less enter into the arena of physical contact.
Cool, great Katja, congratulations on your late discovery of queerness, can you get to your point?
Yeesh, I was providing pertinent background info, give a girl a break.
But what a perfect pivot into why this all matters. Just as I am today, I was an avid reader and consumer of media when I was a tween and a teen. I lived on a dirt road, lived a great rural life, and there was no internet. GASP, I know, I lived in a time before Al Gore’s internet, before CABLE, by golly!! Cable TV became a thing when I was a tween, but our family didn’t get cable until I was almost 16? So up until then, we had the 3 major stations and when the weather was good, the Canadian station. My media intake was very narrow. Yes, queer literature existed during this time, but not in places where I could get it. Not in school libraries and not in our public libraries, and well, I’ve already mentioned there was no cable or internets. (Also, the internet of the late 90's was NOTHING like the internet of today)
Everything I read was filled with insta-love, with characters whose arms brushed and they immediately knew THEY. WERE. THE. ONE. They would then exchange a fleeting glance and suddenly they were nekkid and having sex and it was AMAZE-ZA-ZING. Obviously, I’m generalizing, but when we boil it down, this is the crux of how the love aspects of stories went. I never read stories about messy relationships (unhealthy, YES, but not messy. And the unhealthy ones were portrayed as something I should pursue, because as a female, it was my duty to fix that bad boy and bring him back to the side of good!)and certainly not about relationships where people actually paused to like, get to know each other before they progressed to the intense and all-consuming necessary physical aspect of the relationship.
For a long time, I was convinced that I would know THE ONE for me because our eyes would meet, there would be a flash of lightning and I’d feel that electric charge in my very soul. We wouldn’t have to discuss it, we would just fall immediately to making out.
If you’re shaking your head and sighing, I deserve that. (trust me, I'm shaking my head at myself too) But everything I read or saw just jumped right into intensity. I never had good examples of a slow build—not a slow burn, but a build.
Needless to say, as the years passed and this never happened, but everyone around me seemed to have found this magical connection, I became convinced I was broken, there was something wrong with me on a level that immediately made everyone pass me by. This wasn’t helped by well intentioned, but horribly wrong family, friends, or random strangers who insisted that if I dressed differently (more sexy) or wore make up, or did my hair different, or sMiLeD mOrE or did one of a thousand things that meant not being me, that I would find someone willing to date me. But, the summation of what I heard was IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.
I have very strong theories about attraction (as in they revolve around 3 pillars: Physical/looks, Wealth, & Power) and have so much anecdotal evidence to support it, but that’s a blog rant for another day. Today we’re focusing on how NOT having anyone to discuss my demi-ness with and existing in a hyper-sexualize world made everything in life that much more difficult.
Because while my lack of any romantic history in my life (I’m not kidding, I’ve had a handful of first dates, but since I wasn’t down to make out afterward, there was never a second date, much less a third or fourth) is composed of several important variables, I strongly feel that if I’d had a better understanding of myself and had the language to discuss it, it would have changed my world. And because I only saw examples of couples that progressed through the stages of romance and dating in a timely fashion that tended to start with more physical contact then I was ready for, I STRUGGLED and then internalized the struggle to believe that it was my fault. That there was something at my core that was broken and incapable of being loved—I could love, but it would never be reciprocated because my love language was different.
My expectation was that I would meet, dare I say it--MY SOULMATE--at some random point in my life. Look, side tangent here, but in my teen years I did read a lot of L.J. Smith...my favorite of which was called Witchlight. And it had all of the things I've talked about. That electrical zip, the eye contact thing, etc. etc. So I guess I should blame all my confusion on L.J. Smith...I mean the tag line at least is accurate. Anyway, because of arms brushing or an extra second of prolonged eye contact, I would KNOW and we’d fall madly in love and live happily ever after. Let’s just ignore the fact that any partnership, whether marriage or friendship takes work from all involved. I know it does. My point here is that because this never happened, I figured I was doing it wrong. I can’t be sure, but I bet I missed out on a few potential relationships because I would write them off within 5 minutes if the LIGHTING (that’s a Godfather reference for all you classic movie buffs) didn’t hit.
Fast forward to now. My first course correction was realizing that my attraction to women was as legitimate as my attraction to men. (Hello queerness!) Then I started hearing people talk about the ace spectrum and I dialed in. As soon as I read about it, it was like a lightbulb went on in my head. THIS WAS ME. This explained so much and the relief of having not only a word to use, but finding that other people felt this way was life changing. And my personal focus on needing someone I feel I can trust emotionally and mentally (my demi-side) is what pushes me toward the pan label. I don’t particularly care what your gender presentation is, I care about how I feel (safe? Happy? Having fun? Can I be vulnerable?) around you. I love me some intense platonic relationships.
I have preferences and types. I get crushes. But regardless of that, I’m inclined to spend a lot of time studying our dynamic before I would commit to anything more than a hug. My love language (yes, I took one of those quizzes as though it would explain what I was doing wrong) is all about words of affirmation, quality time, and acts of service.
The increase in mainstream publishing of queer books has helped to make these topics and ideas more accessible to teens and I love when I hear my students discussing these things. They’re able to articulate who they like and how they feel and what type of attraction they experience. You might not think kids can grok this stuff, but they can and DO and are gonna be so much better off for it. Old lady me is so jealous! I mean I’m able to grok these ideas and articulate my expectations to potential partners, but I’m far past my dating prime.
Yes, yes, I can still date and maybe one day I’ll find someone patient enough to go through the process with me, but the whole process is a BEAST when you’re a teen/young adult, now as a mature person, there is the expectation that I’ve been there/done that and I’m just like, maybe we could just talk for a week or three and then, if it’s going good, move to holding hands?? I need that SLOW BUILD. I mean, just look at these otters. Are they not the epitome of romance??
Anywho, the past 5 years have been a massive course correction for me and I’ve had to really sort through my own expectations—aka, finally admitting that I’m not going to fall head over heals for THE ONE because of a finger brush. And I’ve grown stronger in standing up for myself, shutting down family members who start to blame me for not being married or having kids. Could I have done some things differently? Yes, but why would I? Why would I deny the truth of who I am and be someone I’m not? Side tangent, I can’t tell you how many people have told me my expectations are too high. Like really? You want me to settle? To accept someone who doesn’t love me or isn’t good for me? This argument never made sense to me.
And I have YA books to thank for helping me to see my identity as valid. YA books aren't written for old-lady me, but I can still see myself reflected on those pages. YA books are out there doing the work and it is so very comforting when I come across a character who shares a piece of my identity on the page. It doesn't have to be an exact match (remember, none of us are monoliths! Being queer isn't like Highlander where THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!) And I have so many YA books to thank for helping me to sort things out, especially when I find books with ace and demi characters. They make my heart sing when I read them. Whether it’s explicit or implied. But I am so very, very thankful they exist. That they’re easier to find. That they're helping to make space for more.
This is power that media has. Had I seen myself represented earlier, I wouldn't have had such a firm misbelief about who I was and how I functioned. But regardless, these were all books that helped me to better understand myself and realize I wasn’t alone in a world of people who were all happily sexing it up while I wanted to get to know someone before moving onto to any of the physical aspects. As an adult, I had the means and privilege to access them. Today's teens aren't always that lucky and when these books are being challenged for the very fact that they're queer--you're telling kids that they aren't allowed to be themselves. I regularly bring in books and pass them along to my students. I've had a few who have actually cried because I handed them a book that had someone with their identity as a main character. And that's why we need these books on the shelves. So, to all the people trying to take these books away, please just stop. Stop attacking BIPOC or LGTBQA+ creators and stories. Let us read the stories where we get to see ourselves. Let us read the stories where we find joy and happiness.
And on that note, allow me to suggest to you some of my favorite books featuring demi and ace characters. Some of them it’s more implied or it's more my interpretation than a cannon thing. But definitely check these out! Let me know your thoughts on twitter (or, if I ever get comments on my blog, leave me a comment!) And feel free to recommend me more!
Beyond the Black Door (POV character, brilliant explicit discussion)
Tarnished are the Stars (POV character, brilliant explicit discussion)
Fire Becomes Her (where do I even begin? BRILLIANT DISCUSSION. LOTS OF CHARACTERS)
Vicious: (POV character, implied, minimal discussion)
Little Thieves (POV + others in the cast, brilliant explicit discussion)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Liraz!! IT SAYS ASEXUAL ON PAGE. Plus it has discussion. Liraz has always been one of my favorite characters of all time. There is discussion once you get to POV chapters from her. I would read a ten book series just about Liraz. I adore her.)
Vespertine (POV character, implied)
Jane, Unlimited (POV character—my interpretation/implied)
Eliza & Her Monsters (POV character--my interpretation/implied, great discussion!)
The Good Luck Girls (POV character- internalized discussion/self awareness)
In the Ravenous Dark (Cast member, brilliant discussion)
Blood Like Magic (Cast member, some discussion)
Scavenge the Stars (POV characters, my interpretation/implied)
Elatsoe: (POV character, implied)