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What it’s Like Identifying as Asexual on Valentine’s Day

A holiday all about romance, sex, and intimacy, we wanted to find out what Valentine’s Day is like for people who experience these things in more atypical ways.

by Aditya Mirchandani
13 February 2020, 7:41am

Photos courtesy of the subjects

This story is part of a wider editorial series. Coming Out and Falling In Love is about the queering of our relationships with others, and the self. This month, we look at Asian attitudes to sex and porn, dating in the digital era, experiences of LGBTQ communities, unconventional relationships and most importantly, self-love. Read similar stories here.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love, but usually within the confines of sexual intimacy. Rarely do notions of filial love, friendship, and self-love fall under that umbrella. So for a lot of people, the holiday is a reminder of the unwavering expectations that society has on relationships — that they be between a cisgender, monogamous, man and woman.

For some, being asexual on Valentine’s Day comes with its fair share of complications. The constant bombardment of media relating to dating and hookup culture can be a grating experience for someone who doesn’t relate to all aspects of the celebrations. We spoke to four people who fall outside those conventions, and find out what that experience is like for them.

Jasmine, 25

Project manager, Philippines

VICE: What is it like being asexual on Valentine's Day?

Jasmine: It's actually a really good day for me! Some may think it’s a little isolating, especially to those not really romantically involved. For me, though, I’ve always thought that it’s a really good day to celebrate love no matter what form that may take. For the past years, I’ve taken care to spend more time with my closest friends, and even my family, to do just that.

What is Valentine's Day like for you?

It’s a good day to celebrate love. Love for family, friends, or for a special person. I’ve always liked it as an occasion, with that frame of mind. I've always had the habit of inviting friends out to group dinners.

How do people react when they find out you're ace?

If it's not “Oh really?” it's mostly, “Oh, that makes sense,” especially when I've explained to them why.

What are your plans for Valentine's Day?

This year, I actually have a staycation sleepover with my closest girlfriends from college! We’ve planned a movie night!

Nadine Kamarwan, 23

Illustrator, Indonesia

Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

It’ll be on a Friday so I will be working (laughs). Valentine's Day for me is funny because I was born on February 13th, so it feels like my birthday party Part II.

I feel my closest connection with my very close friends. Since high school, I participated in Valentine's Day by sending meme cards to them. Generally among my friends, it (Valentine’s Day) was never a big deal. I am surrounded by people who are in a relationship and they don’t care too much about Valentine’s. It’s like any other day, except they maybe post some Instagram Stories for appreciation. I feel like a lot of my friends are emotionally closed off.

What are some of your thoughts on Valentine’s Day?

Some people think we’re repulsed by it, we’re not! I like seeing people in love. I like seeing other people showing that they love each other. Any excuse for a kind gesture to people you love, I appreciate. It’s nice to show people that you love them, even though you don’t want to have sex with them. We’re not repulsed by romance.

What are the most ridiculous things people have said to you about being ace?

My gay friend in Australia was surprised when he found out I’ve never had sex. He said, “You’ve never had sex? What the hell!” and I was just like asking, "Do I look like someone who has had sex? What does that look like? What do you mean?” I don’t think I’m that weird.

If there’s anything you could change about Valentine’s Day, what would it be?

It’s not Valentine's Day that I’d like to change, it’s the “Single Appreciation Day (aka S.A.D.)” that comes with it that bothers me. Why do people have to feel sad about being single and think they need to be appreciated like that? It’s not bad, it’s fine!

People who are single, who are actively looking, a lot of them feel sad about not celebrating it. Don’t be sad about it, you are living your life. You’ll either find someone or you won’t, and it’s not something you should worry about. There are other things to be happy about. For those who feel Valentine’s Day puts pressure on them, don’t. It’s not that special a day, it’s just another day with a brand on it.

Valentine’s Day gives you an excuse to be kinder. It’s people who are sad about it, who are bitter about it, and who are angry about it that drive me mad.

*Heather, 32

Office worker, Singapore

What is Valentine's Day like for you?

Before I was attached, Valentine’s Day was bittersweet. As someone who identifies as a romantic asexual person, it seemed completely hopeless to ever find a partner who would accept my aceness and love me as I was. While Valentine’s Day has no meaning to me, the crass commercialism associated with it (that I could not avoid) would inevitably trigger these thoughts and feelings in me.

How do people react when they find out you're ace?

People, especially sexual people, are usually stunned and will ask me what asexuality means. I usually become a walking, talking AMA after coming out to them, and find myself trying to field every question they have.

How do you explain to people that you are ace?

I use the analogy of hunger. For instance, if we liken a sexual person to someone who gets hungry and their sexual preferences to specific food they get hungry for, an asexual person like me simply doesn’t get hungry at all, ever. This does not mean we don’t eat food (some ace people do have sex, for various reasons), it’s just that we don’t eat food on account of feeling hungry. Asexual people aren’t celibate either; continuing the analogy, celibate people would feel hungry but abstain from eating food.

What are your plans for Valentine's Day?

I don’t plan to do anything special at all. I personally dislike Valentine’s Day’s, due to commercial entities’ overt promotion of heteronormative, sexual partnerships when connecting their products and services with Valentine’s Day (sexualised ads promoting VDay specials). I don’t boycott Valentine’s Day per se, well, perhaps a soft boycott.

What are some misconceptions about ace people celebrating Valentine’s Day?

People probably assume we are eating cake and playing video games in a basement, which I probably will be doing, so I guess it may not be a misconception! To be serious, people would assume ace people do nothing, or that we are completely chaste. This is not true. Ace people are incredibly diverse and exist a in a spectrum.

If there’s anything you could change about Valentine's Day , what would it be?

To cancel it. I don’t think it’s relevant anymore! We partner each other in diverse ways. There is no single way to love well. I can’t see Valentine’s Day being revamped in any meaningful way without falling back into some kind of essentialism.

What do you want people to understand about asexuality?

Ace people exist. Don’t assume everyone you meet experiences sexual attraction, the same way you wouldn’t assume everyone you meet is straight. We are probably more common than you think!

Shambhavi Saxena, 26

Writer, India

So tell us, do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Yes, I do, actually. With my partner who identifies as non-binary.

What misconceptions do people have about aces celebrating Valentine’s Day?

Often, people make the mistake of confusing asexuality with aromanticism. They’re two very different identities and there are a lot of asexuals who experience romantic attraction to others. For aces who desire or are in a romantic relationship, Valentine’s Day is pretty normal. People do the same thing that heterosexual couples would do.

What do you think is wrong with Valentine’s Day?

Since Valentine’s Day has been propagated as this sort of cisgender heterosexual celebration, you’re not likely to see any representation of any other kind of love. It always has a sexual undertone, where the romance will necessarily lead to sex. You will see a lot of ads, adult toy stores will go all out with discounts and products, or there will be offers at hotels where the expectation is that it’s a safe space for you and your partner to have special Valentine’s Day sex or something!

How does this underrepresentation make you feel?

So initially, I would be very pissed off. Why does this particular day need to reinforce the whole heterosexual narrative of love? I would just be so put off by the fact that there are couples everywhere. There are constant reminders that, “Hey, you don’t have a partner, you’re not in a relationship, you’re not having sex. Why are you out here?” And it’s weird. It makes you think, “Hmm, maybe I should just stay home because I don’t want to be confronted by that constantly.”

What are the most ridiculous things people have said to you?

I’m often confronted with one very basic question: What would you celebrate Valentine’s Day for? I am a literature grad and I tend to think too deeply about these kinds of things. For me, Valentine’s Day is not associated with teddy bears and roses, but a very political moment in Roman history when St. Valentine went against social norms and facilitated the marriages of people when it was frowned upon. That’s the relevance of this day for me. It’s to say, “To hell with what society wants. You’re in love and if you want something, you should be able to have it.”

If there’s anything you could change about Valentine’s Day, what would it be?

It would be great to see love, as a concept, desexualised. We often forget that there are multiple forms of love and its expressions. When two people are in love, there doesn’t necessarily need to be a sexual activity involved. This will liberate a lot of people from performing their sexuality as a mandatory thing. The ace community is sort of bringing that to the forefront. The only way this change is going to happen is if we are involved not just in heterosexual spaces but also queer spaces because even here, sexual identities often take precedence over everything. As a human being, you can’t be reduced to the bedroom.

This story includes reporting from Ikhwan Hastanto and Pallavi Pundir.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

*Subject preferred not to provide a photo.

Find Aditya On Instagram.

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

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