LB’S NOTE: It takes four qualities to be a true artist:
- You need to speak the truth.
- You need the courage to expose your inner self.
- You need talent.
- You need craft
In this piece, Bri Castellini proves she’s got it all.
by Bri Castellini
I don’t know how to write about sexuality. I absolutely don’t know how to write about mine. Because for most of my life, and all of my dating life, I was, for all intents and purposes, a heterosexual woman.
I’m not/never was, and ignorance of the law is not a defense, but I lived as if I were a heterosexual woman. I only expressed and understood my attraction to men, I only dated/romantically pursued men, and I assumed that someday, I would have and be interested in sex. I hope my family stopped reading this at the first sentence because jeezer creezer are they not gonna enjoy the rest of this.
This is a post about how I don’t know how to write about my sexuality because I so completely “pass” as heterosexual and lived most of my life AS heterosexual and navigating queer spaces is intimidating and odd because of that.
I identify now much more complexly, as a bi asexual woman. Attracted to multiple genders, sexually attracted to none. Let’s break this down so it’s easier to talk about:
This one is more widely known about me, because my last two major film projects (Ace and Anxious, Sam and Pat Are Depressed) have featured asexual female leads and because in all the press I do about them I bring up the fact that asexuality representation is super important to me being asexual and confused all the time.
Asexuality, for the uninitiated, is defined as someone who does not experience sexual attraction.
Asexuality is NOT:
- Aromanticism, or someone who does not experience ROMANTIC attraction. You can be asexual and (like me) have/want romantic relationships.
- Celibacy, or someone who chooses to not have sex at all or until a certain time in the future (like choosing to not have sex before marriage)
- Sex repulsion. It can also be sex neutral, and many people (as pointed out by both protagonists of Ace and Anxious and Sam and Pat) who identify as asexual have sex, for various reasons that are entirely their own.
We aren’t going to talk about my sex life, now or [likely] ever, which admittedly makes being an advocate for asexual representation complicated. The reason isn’t because I’m not open to talking about it, but because my sexuality and my experiences with it are intrinsically tied to my partner, and my partner shouldn’t be subjected to weird questions or having his sex life dissected for all to see just so I can be more candid during interviews.
What I will say is that discovering that asexuality was a thing changed my life for the better. I realized that certain frustrations and embarrassments and emotions I was experiencing had an explanation. I realized I wasn’t broken, or defective, just different, and identifying as asexual allowed me to feel more comfortable in literally every part of my relationship and my life. And I found out about it on Tumblr.
Thought 1 of 2 on media representation: I didn’t know I was an atheist/agnostic until I discovered it was an option. After learning that some people didn’t believe in God from a friend at school, I thought… huh. I guess I’m that, then. The same thing happened with asexuality- I legitimately never heard of it as an option. I assumed sexual desire was a given and that if my experiences went against that, then I was broken and there was something wrong with me/my brain/my ability to “just relax.” Representation is important because it tells people the most basic thing: that there are many options for who you might be. Presumably, this is why many religious people don’t want secularism or homosexuality mentioned in school.
I’m supposed to call it “biromantic” because, as established, I am the other side of the spectrum of “sexual,” but for me, personally, that feels bizarre and unnatural. So I go by “bi asexual” because I like the way it looks. Get off my nuts.
I discovered this fun twist recently, like in the past 4-5 months, after I saw, no shit, a photoshoot of Tessa Thompson and thought… OH. For the first time it really hit me that I wasn’t looking at those photos and thinking “she’s pretty!” I was looking at those photos and thinking “DAMN.” It’s a subtle difference given that I don’t experience sexual attraction, but trust me, I felt it. And looking back, so many things in my life make so much more sense.
Thought 2 of 2 on media representation: compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by a patriarchal society, implying it is the natural order of things. Compulsory heterosexuality gets particularly confusing when you can partially genuinely identify as such, ie, when you are attracted to 2 or more genders. So when I was a kid/young adult, I assumed because of the patriarchy that I was heterosexual because I knew for sure I was attracted to men. Therefore, anytime someone tried to tease me for being a lesbian or someone asked if I was attracted to women, my answer was “no, because I like men,” and that was true. Anytime I looked at an attractive woman and had a quiet conversation with myself about whether or not my appreciation of her was attraction or platonic observation, I would settle the query with “no, I definitely like men, so it must be platonic observation.” The two, as I’ve come to learn, are not mutually exclusive. However, when there is barely any bisexual representation in media, and the patriarchy has its claws in everything, it’s easy to understand why it took me so long to realize that I can also be attracted to women, because of the fact that I was raised only knowing a binary system. I don’t remember when I learned that bisexuality was an option, but it definitely wasn’t before college.
Bisexuality does NOT mean that:
- I want to open up my relationship to experiment with women. I’m not with my partner because I thought I was heterosexual when we started dating; I’m with him because I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him.
- I am less attracted to my partner. In the same way that finding another man attractive does not negate my attraction to my partner, adding more genders to the finding-other-people-attractive opportunity pile also does not. You can find multiple people attractive even if you’re only interested in a relationship with one.
- I’m interested in threesomes. Asexual, remember?
- I’m more likely to cheat on my different gendered partner. Finding more genders than initially expected attractive does not in any way change my relationship with my current partner. At all. Ever. Period. My relationship with my partner exists on a completely separate plane from my various sexuality discoveries, because relationships, as my friend Jules pointed out in a recent video, do not have sexualities.
“Passing” refers to “the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of an identity group or category different from their own.” For example, a trans person who outwardly “does not appear to be trans” (a pretty derogatory thing to be looking for in the first place) is considered “passing” as cisgendered (defined: a person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth), or a light skinned Latino person might be considered “passing” as white. As both cisgendered and white people hold immense privilege in society, not being part of those communities but being able to “pass” as if you are awards you some of those privileges yourself. In my case, I can easily “pass” as heterosexual because I’m a cisgendered woman in a long term, sexually active, committed relationship with a cisgendered man. Therefore, I benefit both from heterosexual passing (the ability to marry my partner if he wanted to get married, the ability to walk the streets and not be harassed by homophobes, the ability to adopt children easily and probably not be discriminated against for jobs) and from allosexual passing (allosexual meaning that you experience sexual attraction/ are not asexual). Boy howdy do I hope the folks have long since stopped reading this blog.
There is a long and complicated history in the queer world about who belongs and who doesn’t, and the various ways that passing preclude you from being welcome in queer spaces where camaraderie and shared discrimination are big parts of the conversation and culture. Let’s be very clear: I am not in any way saying that I think queer spaces are all about sharing trauma, or only about sharing trauma. But I am saying that there is are reasons queer spaces exist, and many of those reasons don’t apply to someone who “passes” as not-queer, or who only recently discovered they were queer. And that’s a weird place to be.
I know I would be welcome in most queer communities, online and off. I was recently invited to speak at FlameCon, an LGBT+ ComicCon in NYC. My short film has over 26k views on YouTube with the most common comment after “#relatable” being “finally! Asexual representation!!” I am a bi, asexual woman. But I also feel like I have no right to be in some of these spaces, where people are estranged from family due to their sexuality, or have experienced physical or emotional trauma as a result, or who have known their sexuality for years and struggled with internalized homophobia and self hatred, or who don’t “pass” and therefore must live every moment with the weight of what that means in our society coloring their every move.
Do I deserve to join queer discourse? Do I even deserve to refer to myself as queer? As far as I can tell, I’m going to be in my existing monogamous, heterosexual relationship for the rest of my life, so I won’t be dating women or nonbinary people. I won’t ever be judged by a patriarchal, homophobic society because of the person I choose to spend my life with. I won’t ever have to decide whether or not it’s safe for my partner and I to hold hands in public. I won’t have to worry about so many things that others who share my sexuality do, and that is an incredible privilege. I am so, so privileged in so many ways, and would need/want very different things out of a place in the queer community than many others.
And yet, I am queer.
What does that mean, in practical terms? I’m not sure. But here we are.