Being Black and Ace, a personal essay by Jean M. Hodges

Essays, Personal Essays

    When I was fourteen, my father and I had “The Talk” over the phone. I was living with an aunt at the time, and we just sort of transitioned into the conversation naturally. Now, I’d gotten my period around 10/11 years old, and what I was anticipating was more of the same song and dance of tampons and menstruation. My family was made up of primarily women and girls, with my own father being the father of four daughters (including me); so I expected more of my army medical professional father to go into the various glorious changes that a woman’s body goes through at a certain age, complete with a chart and pictures of women with flowers. But what I got was this statement from my Dad  going over the birds and the bees with me with his usual militant precision, and after I asked him some small specific question about sex, he asked me,

“Oh, have you gotten any urges?”

And I answered him honestly,

“No.” And that answer hasn’t changed six years on.

  It’s always been a little hard for me to talk about my own sexuality, mostly because most people don’t tend to believe that asexuality (or being ace) even exists as a real sexuality. I’ve always had crushes and/or have been exclusively romantically, mentally and emotionally attracted to men, so I end up thinking, “Hey, wait. This means that I’m straight, right?” I have never felt lust, been “horny”, or felt any sexual attraction to any other human being in my entire life. But then there come times when someone else has expressed a sexual interest in me, and I know that deep down, no matter how strong the emotional connection I had with this person, I could never truly return those sexual feelings, despite my best efforts.

 Women in society tend to be sexually objectified from childhood. Black women, specifically, are sexually objectified such a way that their assumed hyper-sexuality is an inherent part of their nature and little girls learn early that what they do with their bodies will impact other people’s perception of them, for better or for worse. “Fix your skirt so boys don’t look at your underwear”, “Your bra strap will distract the boys during class, so try not to show it”, and, “Of course, he was looking at you, look at what you are wearing!” have been spoken and/or told to me and other women I have met in my entire life with no sign of stopping anytime soon. I’ve heard a lot about the Madonna/Whore dichotomy in literature; however, for me especially, the Mammy/Jezebel idea comes to mind. You’re either a sexy vixen or sexless mother-figure and the fact that I am inherently neither put younger me ill at ease.

   I remember a specific incident in high school where two older girls were discussing their sex lives, and one of the girls remarked that she had such a need for sex that she was going to continue to see a particular boy she didn’t even really like. When fifteen-year-old me asked the question, “What if you just…didn’t…have sex? Or want to have sex with him at all?” both of the two older girls looked at me like I had just suggested stabbing someone instead of presenting the idea of celibacy.

    As a young adult in college, being asexual has gotten easier for me to talk about, especially after meeting and interacting with a more and more diverse range of people with varying sexualities who are a lot more accepting of mine—and I can say that I am grateful for this. At the same time, I’ll never forget the look of disbelief when an on-campus clinic nurse asked me if I’d ever had any kind of sex after I had already checked the entire column in ‘no’ boxes on my sexual activity roster, confessing to her off-record I was either waiting for love or marriage to do any kind of sexual deed. I am a black person, I am a woman and I identify as asexual; I wish that more people could understand that I can be all of these things at once.


* This essay was published in Chicago Literari in 2017.

**I now identify as bi-ace, but much of what I said in this piece still holds up to my personal conceptions of my own ace-ness.

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