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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

Ace in transition

It’s Asexuality Awareness Week, and I want to talk about how coming out to myself as transgender has affected my understanding of my asexuality. Incidentally, while I’ve written blog posts for arospec awareness week (in February), this seems to be my first post for ace week!

If you want to learn more about the basics of asexuality, the Trevor Project has some very good starting points. Also, my friend Becky interviewed me all about being aromantic and asexual for an episode of our podcast, so you can hear more about asexuality from my point of view!

The short form? Being asexual means I don’t experience sexual attraction to anyone, of any gender.

Coming Out

Coming out as asexual was, for me, a very different experience from coming out as trans. I knew I was different by the end of high school, and I embraced the label of asexual sometime during university. When I moved back to Canada, after 2 years of teaching in England, I gradually became aware that asexuality falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, and I started to explore what that means for me. I put “asexual” (and eventually “aro/ace”) in my Twitter bio and began connecting with ace-spec people on Twitter. I really enjoyed this growth, but I want to acknowledged how privileged I am to avoid much of the harrassment and abuse that ace people face, either in person or online.

Coming out as trans was more like an epiphany than a casual adoption of a label. I will write one day in more detail about how I came out to myself. For now, let’s just say that it feels like it happened all at once and yet it also built over a long time. Once I came out to myself and others, starting my actual social transition felt very natural, as natural as being ace feels—this is largely one of the reasons I feel confident in my trans identity. As happy as I was before, I am happier with myself now.

She Looks Cute

In recent years, I’d been questioning whether or not I experience aesthetic attraction to women. Aesthetic attraction means being attracted to someone’s appearance, style, physicality, etc., but on the level of appreciation of their looks rather than a sexual attraction. Many ace people can appreciate someone’s beauty or recognize that someone is “hot”—this is usually a form of aesthetic attraction. I don’t feel this—yet when I looked at some women, I … liked how they looked. I was fascinated by their appearance. This was very confusing, and for a while I wondered if I was wrong. Maybe I was aesthetically attracted to women.

Coming at as trans has helped me reframe this entirely differently. When I look at a woman and appreciate her appearance, it’s less about her aesthetics and more about my envy. I think, “oh, I wish my lips were like hers,” or “I really like that hairstyle; I wish I had that hair.” In hindsight, that was literally how I’ve been thinking about this the entire time, and it’s further confirmation of my trans identity. I was fascinated by these women not because of some attraction but rather because I was imagining what it would be like to be like them.

I Look Cute

I recently wrote about cherishing the changes happening to my body, and in that post I briefly discussed how my asexuality disguised my gender dysphoria. Everyone has a complicated relationship with their body; ace people often have very complicated relationships with our body because our experience of sexuality is often so different from everyone else. Before I came out to myself as trans, I attributed all of my hang-ups about embodiment to my asexuality. Now I’m coming to understand it’s so much more complex than that!

Transitioning has made me feel so much more connected to my body. Even though my physical changes have really only just begun, they are exciting harbingers of the body I will one day have, a body that is more congruent with my gender of “woman.” This is so euphoric, so freeing. I spent 30 years thinking of myself as a man and being, you know, only just ok with my body as it was. Now it’s like I’m waking up. I don’t merely have to tolerate having a body; I can revel in my body, now that it is becoming the body that matches my idea of myself.

I look at myself in the mirror now, and every day I am a little more obsessed with myself. I love myself and I love my body and it feels good.

Am I Still Ace??

(If this blog were about clickbait, this would have been the title of this post! I forbore.)

Some people have asked me—people close enough to me to know they are allowed to ask a question like this, mind you—whether, now that I’m out as a trans woman, I’m still asexual. I don’t mind this question (from close friends), because it is a reasonable question. When you alter hormones and when you alter your understanding of yourself and your body image, it’s reasonable that sometimes this could change your sense of attraction.

Indeed, although it’s a little too personal to get into all the details here (if I know you and you’re curious, DM me and we can talk), my changes are definitely affecting how I experience myself as a sexual being. (How’s that for a euphemism??) And for the better. That spiritual connection I described above is also sexual in a way—as my body and my sense of self become more congruent, I feel more comfortable exploring that aspect of myself. That doesn’t translate into more exploration—my libido has actually decreased, and I am grateful for that side effect, and I am re-evaluating so much about this aspect of myself—but what exploration I now engage in is … more fruitful, shall we say? More meaningful than it felt before.

(At this juncture I feel it’s important I point out that there are many harmful beliefs—derived from junk science—around trans women’s identities and sexuality. What I am describing above is not autogynephelia, and for more details on that and debunking, you can check out this essay from Julia Serano. Rather, this is merely a single facet of my much broader experience of being trans and wrestling with the incongruence of my body and my gender.)

That being said, I’m still not attracted to anyone. So the answer to the earlier question is, for me at least, no. Coming out as trans has not made my asexual label obsolete: I am proudly an asexual, trans woman (correlative adjectives for the win).

Many Identities, All of Them Beautiful

Instead, coming out as trans has been a healthy opportunity to help me challenge, explore, and continue to grow my understanding of my asexuality in a way that I probably wouldn’t have if I had continued to stubbornly insist to myself that I was cisgender. You’d think that being asexual is simple, since not experiencing attraction kind of frees us up from a lot of the hang-ups and annoyances allosexual people (if some of my friends’ venting sessions to me indicate) experience! And to some extent, that is true—but I think we ace people can sometimes fall prey to that simplification, when in reality, our relationship with our bodies is just as (if not more, as I alluded to earlier) complicated! I think reflection and questioning—not necessarily of your label, though that’s valid, but rather of how what that label means for you—is a valuable exercise.

Reflection, questioning, and conversation, which is why I wrote this post. It is very important to me to talk about being asexual, as much as it is important for me to chronicle my transition these days. I want young ace people to see older ace people like me and realize you are valid and beautiful. I want you allosexual (the opposite of asexual) people to learn more about us, to become aware (hello, ace awareness week!), to become comfortable with this idea that ace people exist and that we are normal and wonderful. I want us to have dialogues, to learn, to accept one another, both within our queer communities and in society in general. I want better ace representation in media, and more inclusive language that doesn’t devalue friendship and elevate romance and sex.

The Atlantic published a beautiful article this month about people who prioritize their friendships over their romantic partnerships. I read it, and I felt so seen. This is what I feel with my closest friendships, and with one friend in particular, and I feel so fulfilled and satisfied with these grown-up relationships that are closer than friendship yet not romantic or sexual at all. We deserve, all of us, ace or allo, better language in our society to describe how we feel about people. Let’s start now.

I am Kara. I am asexual, and I’m also aromantic and transgender too! I am all of these things, yet even those labels alone do not come close to capturing my essence. They are merely starting points, shorthand that help describe my communities, my people, rather than my person. Because I am a person. Behind those labels, ace and aro and trans, we are people. We are people whether we have sex or not, whether we experience attraction or not, whether we match our assigned genders at birth or not. We are people, humans deserving of dignity and respect and joy. Never forget that.

Coming out as trans has been such a wonderful part of an otherwise challenging year. It has made me re-evaluate my asexuality in a healthy way, and I feel empowered and more connected to myself as a result. I am proud that, in doing this work, I have found all these identities that help me express myself to the world. When you get right down to it, that’s all we crave, as human beings—that connection and ability to tell each other who we are.

All my fellow aces, all my fellow trans people, all my fellow trans aces: you’re so cool for knowing this stuff about yourself, you know that? And for all of you who are questioning, exploring, learning what labels work for you—you’re valid and valuable too.

Happy Asexuality Awareness Week!