I thought I was a good Muslim for not wanting to look at shirtless guys. I’d mostly look at my feet at the beach or cringe whenever a male lead exposed his abs in a drama. My friends would call a guy “hot” and I’d nod but internally, I couldn’t care less. I thought I was practicing hijab but these acts didn’t have anything to do with being a good Muslim. I didn’t look at men that way (and still don’t) because I am asexual.
The first time I came across this term was during my early polytechnic days. It didn’t click in the beginning that I was ace but something inside me stirred. I felt it in my gut. A year passed and I became more comfortable with the term. I was able to tell my friends that I was “leaning” towards asexuality. And now, I’m confident enough to share that I am asexual to people I’ve just met. However, I still hear the same responses as I did years ago.
“How do you know?”
“You won’t know until you try.”
“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy yet.”
As an asexual, I’ve heard these statements far too often. I’ve grown to expect it. This was why I avoided divulging this information. I was unsure of whether the person I was talking to would be able to understand me or at least try to. It was easier to keep mum about this. There is nothing to judge if there was nothing said.
I’ve made one too many statements that have been deemed controversial.
Once, I was explaining to my close friend about my sexuality and what it meant to me. I told her that I wouldn’t mind being a second wife. If I had an emotional and romantic connection to a man, I could marry him. He could have emotional, romantic and sexual connections with another woman. As long as he accepted me for who I am, I wouldn’t mind. Her face was appalled. She questioned why I would subject myself to that kind of treatment. She told me I deserved better than that. However, it didn’t feel like mistreatment. It made sense to me.
Even though I knew who I was, my asexuality continued to confound others, even my closest friends. Last year, I found out about female genitalia cutting (FGC). I was unaware of its prevalence in the Singapore Muslim community. Both my sister and I did not know that we went through until I asked my mother about it. I shared it with my non-Muslim friend and her response was not what I expected. She asked me whether this was the reason why I was asexual. I was taken aback. She thought there had to be a reason for my asexuality and linked it to an unnecessary cultural tradition.
For me, emotional and sexual connections are two different things. The latter, I don’t even experience. However, as another friend explained to me, this was not the case for everyone else. For others, it was difficult to separate emotional and sexual connections. It was intertwined and the lines convolved. It seemed that everyone else drew their emotions in abstract swirls while I drew mine in small neat boxes. I didn’t see it as a problem until I started to feel trapped in them.
I had my own view of how relationships worked. However, it seemed nearly impossible to find someone who felt the same way. I was going to be alone and I had to accept that. I did but I also fell prey to self-sabotage.
I glared at the people I was interested in instead of giving a friendly smile. I insulted people until their fancy turned into aversion. I pushed people away when my heart yearned to pull them closer. I didn’t want to be rejected because of my asexuality so in my mind, I had to reject them first. I reasoned that it was “better” for them. They should be with someone “better” and “better” meant not complicated, not asexual, not me. I convinced myself that this was necessary.
However, a part of me was also afraid; afraid that I might be forced into doing something I didn’t want to do. One night at a club, a man approached me and asked to dance with him. I didn’t want to but he was persistent. Eventually, I agreed and that was my first mistake. After a few minutes of uncomfortable dancing, he asked for a kiss. I didn’t want to but he asked until I agreed. His lips were on top of mine but my lips refused to open and I pulled away. He was livid. He couldn’t fathom why I agreed to dance with him but was reluctant to kiss him. He believed I had played him. My apologies flew over his head as he continued to berate me. Afterwards, in the toilet, tears wanted to fall but I held them in. I felt guilty for leading him on and angry that I felt guilty. I had a right to say no. But among the guilt and anger, I felt repulsion the strongest. It was because of that vomit-inducing kiss.
This was a sign. I couldn’t give people what they wanted and I didn’t want to be forced into doing something I might regret. It was a reminder. There is pressure for girls to please boys and for wives to be readily available to their husbands. Some people even believe it is one of the duties of a Muslim wife. A duty I would never want to be forced to do.
I knew it was better to be alone. It didn’t matter that I wanted a life partner. It didn’t matter that I wanted to stare into the eyes of someone I loved, to cherish and support them, and to build a life with them. I’ve built a life of my own already and it was one of solitude.
I tried to brainwash myself that I was content with living this way but it was a lie. I felt it my gut and my gut feelings are never wrong. I don’t believe I need a partner to be happy but I love love. It’s who I am. My stomach does tiny flips when I see people in healthy, loving relationships. I love the way they radiate. I love the unabashed loyalty and honesty they have. I love partners who support each other as they strive for their dreams. They make sure their partners feel loved every step of the way. I wanted to be that person for someone. And I started to hope that I could find a man like that for myself one day or so I thought…
Self-discovery is a life-long journey. I thought I knew myself but a revelation strikes when you least expect it. One night, I had a dream that I was intimate with a woman. We weren’t having sex. In my dream, she wanted to but I declined.
I woke up and thought “Huh, even in my dream, I’m ace.”
But I realised something else, I was bi too. I was a bi-romantic ace.
A part of me thought that I’ve definitely solidified my place in hell. However, I’ve grown from the child that had these lessons ingrained into her. I don’t believe homosexuality is unnatural. My dream didn’t feel wrong. I felt that I was me. It helped me realised that I do want a romantic relationship and it could be a person of any gender.
Many things have changed since I first started identifying as asexual. I’m not as sex-averse as I used to be. I am still single and still don’t like at looking at shirtless men. However, I don’t hide behind lies such as “I’m not looking for a relationship,” or “I want to focus on school.” I’m more sure of myself to say that I identify as a bi-romantic ace. I may face judgment but I’m more willing to clarify the doubts that people may have.
Some days, I do still feel alone but I’ve come to understand and love myself. And if I can do that, one day, maybe someone else will too. I don’t have a gut feeling about this but I do hope I’m right.
Ayda recently started her tertiary education but is having trouble navigating her university life. When she’s not attempting to study, she fills her time with her three loves: volunteering, theatre and scriptwriting.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu