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My years in undergrad offered me the most free time I ever had, which, by virtue, was the most time I had to think about myself.
On one of these aimless days, I googled asexuality. It was a word that I wasn’t sure was even real. It was simply my own amalgamation of two ideas that I felt simultaneously: the prefix a-, meaning “no,” and sexuality, of which I felt I had none. To my disbelief, Google returned thousands of results. I combed through a few links, unsatisfied with the sterility of the latest Psychology Today feature or the dubious nature of magazine headlines questioning whether or not asexuality was a “real thing.”
So I turned to Tumblr.
Tumblr was how I spent most of my evenings in college after a long day of classes and a couple hours of Netflix binging. It’s not that I wanted to spend my evenings alone looking through blogs, but I have always been picky about the people with whom I chose to occupy my time. My patience for superficial conversations had always been thin, and if I could not have some degree of depth or intimacy in my interactions with others, I’d simply refrain from interacting with anyone at all.
But my cynicism was beginning to take a toll on my mental health. No one is an island unto themselves and I desperately longed for some semblance of solidarity or companionship. Because of my social anxiety, the internet seemed like an easy place to break out of my shell. I found Tumblr and was immediately sucked in. It was intimate enough to have a conversation, but still ephemeral enough that it seemed detached from my actual life.
When I got on Tumblr that fateful evening, the first blog I came across was the aptly named Asexuality Blog. Though asexuality meant experiencing no sexual attraction whatsoever, which is how I generally felt, I knew I’d had moments of romantic, and sometimes sexual, attraction to a select number of people at different points in my life. As I scrolled further, I learned that there was such thing as aromanticism, and that romantic and sexual attraction were not necessarily mutually inclusive.
The gods of Tumblr had come up with a name for this too: gray asexuality. I felt a sense of clarity and ambiguity at the same time as I continued to read. Back then, there still wasn’t a neat label under which to place myself. Gray-aces—the spectrum between asexuality and sexuality—could also take many other forms and names and functioned as an umbrella term for even more specific identities.
When I came out to my friends as asexual, rather than excitement for my finally being able to put a name to what I was feeling and experiencing, I was met with derision and dubious expressions. “Maybe you’re just a late bloomer,” one said. “What? Everybody experiences sexual attraction. That’s like biology,” said another.
Though I didn’t find validation from my friends, I stumbled across this post a few days later:
“Shoutout to arospec [aromantic spectrum] kids. who sit around at family gatherings and smile as their relatives ask about their latest partner, but secretly feel like screaming. Who shift uncomfortably when their friends ask if they have a crush on anyone-
‘You’re blushing- so you do!!’
and vaguely mumble out the first name they can think of, just so they stop talking about it. Who get laughed at when they say they aren’t interested in a relationship, told they’ll change their minds when they’re older, that one day they’ll find that special someone who’ll make them want no one else in the world. shoutout to the arospec kids who force themselves to say yes to the first person that asks, and try to muster up the excitement the movies say you feel when your hands meet in the popcorn bucket, because that’s what romance is, right??—the-flying-aro
This portrayal of asexuality was not one of tragedy or misunderstanding. Other blogs and “ace” bloggers tackled our identity with humor and sarcasm. “I want a movie called Friends With Benefits about two aro/ace people who are best friends and get married for tax benefits,” missvisibleninja posted. Finally, there was proof that I wasn’t misinterpreting my feelings.
Rose, the curator of fuckyeahasexual, told the Daily Dot that she started her Tumblr as way to confirm her own questioning of her asexuality. Once she felt confident, she did more than reblog posts that spoke to her; she started answering questions, took state advocate classes, and became an activist voice.
“The long and short of it is, I also found asexuality because the Tumblr, at least a safer and accessible version that allowed me to really consider it more than harmful representations that were available elsewhere at the time,” Rose said.
While blogs such as Rose’s helped to validate my feelings about my sexuality, I was also a college kid from Mississippi grappling with the politics of my Blackness. As someone who was constantly taunted for “not being Black enough” and “doing white stuff” like reading, I cannot describe the elation I felt when I discovered that I was not the only Black person whom the gatekeepers of Blackness had turned away. There was the birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement, which spurred a rise in creative Black excellence and gave rise to blogs like the Blackout that celebrated Blackness in all its facets. Black Our Story offered lesser-known facts and moments in Black history and was also one of the first blogs to bring activists like DeRay McKesson and Netta to my consciousness. Then, as the natural hair movement began to flourish, its influence also found me. At a time when I was wanting to experiment with my appearance to look more gender neutral, I commenced what Natural Hair Tumblr called the “big chop”—cutting off your chemically treated hair.
But just as influential was seeing where my identities crossed paths. As a sophomore, I came across a blog called Dopen Mind. Not only was it 4/20-friendly, it also featured posts that merged Black and queer existences in a way that I had not encountered before. Another called GoldenPOC posted about sexuality, gender, and mental health as they related to the Black community.
On Tumblr, I could see my race and my asexuality represented, but I could also see where these things intersected. There was no one way to be Black. No one way to be asexual.
Today, scrolling through my old profile likes brings back memories of self-discovery and a time where I desperately sought a sense of belonging. I wasn’t trying to be an all-out social justice warrior, but I felt victory in just knowing I could like or reblog a relatable quote or image and anyone who browsed my blog could see it and better understand me. It didn’t have to be met with protest or rebuke. A woman with no shirt on, a woman in a finely tailored men’s suit, Teeny Weeny Afro style guides, funny GIFs—all on my timeline, all part of a collage that helped me feel less alone.
With Tumblr, there was finally a place I belonged.