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A is for (A)sexual

What my identity means to me, and the 6 questions about asexuality I get asked the most often.

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Identity is a bit of a strange thing, isn’t it? No one truly, fully understands the ins and outs of everyone’s sexual or gender identity, though, I think a lot of us would like to. I use the word “strange,” not cavalierly, but purposely and proudly because in just four modest words, to the world that you inhabit, one or both of either identity could change.

I am an asexual.

I have been for some time. Hell, I adopted purple as my favorite color for the past three years (the color of Asexual pride,) and no one really seemed to notice. Which is fine, because purple is fucking awesome.

For a while, I even blamed my Multiple Sclerosis to the trusted few close enough to me to admit this to.

Is it to blame? Possibly.

Even though I wasn’t diagnosed until three-and-a-half years ago, the symptoms of the disease are so varied from person to person, over such long periods of time, it’s almost impossible to really, truly ever know. The wetting the bed for weeks on end every time I relapse? That’s MS. I’m still pretty cool with blaming MS for that.

Does it matter if it is or not? Not one bit.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t always personally identify this way, nor would I ever consider myself “straight” by any stretch of the imagination. Though, this identity has certainly strengthened and cemented fully in me over time. I used to date. I used to try to be sexually active (even succeeded a few times! Ayo! Up top!)

(This is where I’d insert, like, fifty high-fiving noises if this were a podcast.)

But it was clear from the sheer volume of relationships I managed to smash into the rocks like a dingy under the control of a very inebriated Jack Sparrow, that I was not on team “Sexual Congress is the one for me! (Ask me how!)”

It fully took hold of me when my straightness was so far removed that I realized, I did not care about either girls or boys, in any sexual capacity anymore. None. Throw me into a throng of naked people and I’ll complain that the AC is up too high and we should get most of these people some pants with the postiest of hastes.

Which would explain why I lost my virginity at twenty-three.

Actually, shit, that’s a fact about myself, upon reflection in this context, that is no longer weird, but is actually perfectly sensible. That’s why I never had any interest with what the girls or the boys were doing in the high school locker rooms. Huh. That’s kind of a big realization for me.

To continue this journey on the Refreshing Honesty Express to No Sex Town, I’ll admit part of my hesitancy in coming out is about the stigma that surrounds, oddly, specifically, this sexual identity. Hell, we can’t even get our goddamn A onto LGBTA all that often. But maybe that’s just more in line with who we are. Maybe we’re just less comfortable in a grandiose, bombastic march through downtown. Maybe we’re just As. Maybe it’s okay to be just As. Our march will be at the library! (Quietly.)

Allow me to explain.

Asexuality is, by its nature, an introverted identity. And for someone so “in the spotlight” to say that, you should now know how much of my life I’ve lived in total secrecy, putting on a public-facing façade, for what feels like most of my adult life. Never in any form of media, have I ever truly been myself. And that has really started to eat away at me. This has been a long time coming, and I’m as excited to finally have it out there, as I am terrified of what the reaction will be.

Bottoms up.

Being an asexual is super weird a lot of the time because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we live in a hell of a sexually charged entertainment landscape. We notice all of that and it can be overwhelming sometimes. It’s like; we’re sometimes waiting, thinking, “Christ, all of you just fuck already so we can get back to work/football/cooking/bathing/fishing/etc.” Hey, don’t shoot the messenger! If you want to know how to spot sexual tension like a ninja, stop having sex forever because you think it’s gross and weird. This tension will now have a metaphorical odor, and you can pick it up from across the room.

I’m so good at this, most of the people I introduce to each other end up getting married, and I introduced two of my ex-girlfriends to their current husbands. Yeah. I said that with braggadocio because I value human happiness over the unhealthy need to try to control the lives of people I’m no longer dating! #KillingIt #Applebees

(You have to use the second hashtag if you want to win free appetizers. I can’t say no to you, 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken Tenders.)

(Yes I can.)

And the rub of it all, is the best representation I’ve seen of asexuality anywhere in the massive space that is consumable media, was in a game I wrote on, but didn’t even think to do!

(It’s true! The Mary Sue posted a piece about it last week and it inspired this one.)

(I’ll do my introduction now.)

My name is Mikey Neumann and I’m the Chief Creative Champion at Gearbox Software, the makers of Borderlands (among other cool stuff). I wrote the first Borderlands and its DLC, came up with a lot of the cinematic style (like title cards!) that permeates the game, heck, I’m not even sure the game series would have been funny if I hadn’t randomly started believing it should be funny because I was lighting people on fire with a gun called the “Toecutter.”

But I wasn’t the lead writer on Borderlands 2, Anthony Burch was. And he took on the fight for better representation in videogames long before I did. This was his fight, almost completely on his own, and I think he did an amazing and commendable job.

Before I take any heat at work for using the word “fight,” trust me, it’s a fight because one side is arguing from a purely emotional, purely moralistic perspective.

I firmly believe it is our job to represent people of all walks in media for no other reason than it is our moral duty to do so.

Which makes the business decision more cloudy because you might be convincing someone that we should make a choice that could lead to less sales and cost more money (if the course is changed). That doesn’t always work in a production meeting when time and budget are precious commodities stretched far too thin already. “Spend more; sell less!” is a pretty questionable campaign slogan.

(And, for the record, I don’t think sales would alter course that much, if at all. It’s just a fear that’s out there in a few forms. You’ll certainly be asked the question. The reality is, people can boycott Star Wars Episode VII all they want because it’s still going to make more money than anything this entire year. So, the point is, at the end of the day, does it really matter?)

What does any of this mean for the future of Borderlands? I can’t talk about anything or a team of seasoned assassins will grind me into a custom blend of herbs and spices. But this matters a lot to me. Like it matters for Anthony. Like it should matter for all of us. Equal representation in media is such an important lesson for everyone to learn because, once you learn to respect it, you realize that it’s possible to turn your empathy off when it suits you. Because you have been doing that this whole time, and how dangerous that can be. And entertainment walks this line because it is both an art and a business. If art is a weapon of social change and business is an enemy of empathy, where does anything fit in? How do we get better representation for everyone in media?

Well, I think we’re over the hill, but not down the other side. I think representation, even since the 1990s, is so radically different now than it was then, that many of the shows from that era have, at the very least, a few jokes that would never see the light of day now—and that’s not nothing.

But we have this whole side of the hill to get down. We have a lot of work left to do. And we should do it for no other reason than it’s nice to see yourself sometimes in the media you consume. It’s also nice to see a story about someone you aren’t. And new identities, means new stories! This should have everyone excited. Homogenization is boring! Let’s show how neat we all are!

Which brings us back to asexuality and the questions I get most often:

1.) How often do you think about sex?

Thankfully, practically never. Actually, one of the questions I get at almost any convention is ‘where do you find the time to make so much stuff?’ Well, I live alone, almost never date, and I haven’t thought about sex in three years. It translates, not surprisingly, to a startling amount of free time. I make stuff. I love making stuff and spreading joy. It’s arguably one of the finest pursuits in life: using your time to make other people happy.

It’s like I can see through the Matrix. I can walk down a street, pass one hundred people, and never lose my train of thought I needed to daydream about a sexual tête-à-tête between one or more unbeknownst recipients.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve evolved into a type of human that has been machined into an efficiency singularity. Then I realize this species would almost certainly go extinct for obvious reasons.

2. Is that lonely?

Oh my heavens, yes. Sometimes unbearably lonely.

I remember a conversation I had with Amy Falcone in a hotel bar at PAX (she’s an artist you should follow here.) I was just a pup then (two years ago,) and I was starting to ask questions out loud, to other humans. Amy, beacon of human understanding, was amazing. She made me comfortable with asexuality as an idea, because, up to this point, I didn’t even know there were other people that lived their life in this way. She told me that, yes, of course asexuals get married because sex is only part of a relationship. I never thought about it in that way and the thought that asexuals marry each other was a warm one. I was pleased to know that. Amy knows a lot about a lot of things because she spends the time to listen to a lot of people.

Then I started feeling less lonely. Someday, off in the great blue yonder, I’ll find someone. There’s a lot left to figure out about me still, before I jump into another relationship I’ll inevitably fail to keep afloat. And I’m pretty okay with that because it gives me a lot of time to make stuff.

3. If you had to have sex, could you? Like, if there was a gun to your head?

Disclaimer: I in no way want to belittle consensual issues as they relate to sexual encounters. I’ve really gotten this question more than once and the sheer extremity of it is at once, both fascinating and disgusting.

It’s also a really stupid question. Before answering, even though I shouldn’t, I would remind people that sex is not your weapon, and with very few previously agreed upon exceptions, most weapons probably don’t belong in the sex room.

(That’s a thing, right? The sex room?)

I actually have gotten this question with enough frequency to talk about it here, gun metaphor and all. My friendly advice to you, don’t ask this question, or any derivation thereof, to an asexual (or anyone, really … ever). I don’t have an answer other than, if you put a gun to my head for any reason, I’m pretty sure I’d apply myself to the task at hand with my full attention.

(And fail.)

4.) Is this real? Are there really a lot people that identify as asexual?

Yes. Loads. There’s even a lot of people that go through periods of time where they identify as asexual and then choose not to later. It’s really none of our business why or how people choose to identify as any one thing at any one time, but I hope to give you a little perspective that can help make that easier to understand. The reality is, if people wish to live a certain, law-abiding way that enriches their life and affords them happiness then we should all be supportive of that. Questions like this are difficult to navigate because any one person is probably ill equipped to answer for an entire Earth’s worth of sexual identity at the moment they come to grips with their own.

5.) Are hugs okay?

Yes. I’m not a feral cat that recoils at the simple touch of a human. I love hugs. Hugs are great.

6.) Is hugging feral cats okay?

It’s probably not the best idea.

I hope this article has assuaged some fears in the future of Borderlands, but I can assure you that Gearbox is more vibrant and diverse than ever before and we want to share that with the world.

You can follow me on twitter @mikeyface. You can also follow @Borderlands and @GearboxSoftware. If you want to listen to Wil Wheaton and I talk about bad television, check out our podcast, TV CRIMES. And if you want to listen to my entire celebratory perspective on film, you should check out my Youtube show, Movies With Mikey.

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