In seventh grade, somewhere between the classes that neither students nor teachers cared about and the hormone and Axe-filled gym period, we had one hour set aside every week to visit the library. While I’m sure I would have preferred the patented middle school time-waster coolmathgames.com, the presence of our terrifying school librarian forced me to pretend to actually read.
I usually stuck with fiction. I thought that because the author had made up something, I could do the same thing for my book report. However, after a few months of pretending to read Percy Jackson, I got bored and made my way over to the non-fiction section, where I found a nice little book about a cat and its owner Schrödinger.
Maybe my developing brain was not prepared to deal with this topic, even in picture book form, or maybe it was pent-up pubescent angst, but that book struck a deep nerve. I basically screamed at my teacher. This is crazy. How can the cat be alive and dead at the same time? It’s either alive or dead. If it’s not alive, it’s dead. If it’s not dead, it’s alive. If I go lock myself in the room, I don’t magically cease to exist! This is stupid! You are stupid! Science. Is. Stupid.
This experience marked my first existential crisis, something that becomes a semi-regular occurrence in any teenager’s life. Since then I have repeatedly returned to the question of what I can and can’t know. My existential panic reached its zenith around my sophomore and junior years of high school, when I was still convinced that Schrödinger was dumb — when relationships began to dominate the social sphere and more and more students were having sex for the first time. For the most part, all the kids who hadn’t been in romantic or sexual relationships were doing everything in their power to get one.
However, while they were all asking themselves why they couldn’t find a partner, I was asking myself different questions. Why didn’t I want one? Was that okay, was I okay? Maybe I had a hormone imbalance or some other medical problem. Everyone around me was thirstier than an alcoholic in a monastery, but I couldn’t relate to any of them.
When all the horny 15-year-olds started talking, I nodded and played along, but in my head I wanted nothing more than for their balls to un-drop. If a friend asked me about a crush, I talked about someone from summer camp or referred to someone far removed from my social group. If an adult asked, I said there was nobody in the picture right now, to which they’d respond, “You’ll find that special someone eventually.”
Whenever that phrase was uttered, I instantly shot back to that library trip in seventh grade. I’m supposed to be limited to this one special person, but what if I never find them? I never thought I had ever experienced sexual attraction, and if I never found this person, then I would never experience it. But if I wasn’t able to experience sexual attraction, it would be like being able to but never finding the right person. Until I found that prophesied special someone, I both could and could not feel sexual attraction. My sexuality was a Schrödinger’s cat.
We all know, however, that Schrödinger is dumb and wrong; this couldn’t be the final solution. In the latter half of high school, the concern over my lack of a sex drive turned into a determination to find this magical person that could turn my pumpkin into a chariot. I forced myself on a couple dates, and... they didn’t go so well. But at least I learned something!
Although I was still unable to see myself in any sexual relationship, I started to realize that romance was something in which I would actually be interested. I had always thought that romance and sex were, by their very nature, intertwined. However, I now wondered whether there were other people like me who saw the two concepts as separate.
As I matured and my sexual vocabulary expanded, I became able to put words to what I was feeling. I discovered a whole community of people calling themselves asexual (ace). Of course, my family always had an open mind, but the fact was that in a small, rural Southern town, these things weren’t talked about as much. Open discourse about sexuality only really began in the twilight of my high school career. If nobody else knew about it, how was I supposed to?
After reading a Huffington Post series on asexuality, I found online communities of people who had asked themselves the same questions I had. This felt like a huge weight releasing off my chest. As I dug into it more, I discovered a whole spectrum of asexuality and demisexuality (whereby one experiences sexual attraction only after forming a strong emotional bond) which was unrelated to romantic orientation. Suddenly, everything I had been covering up with fake crushes and terrible dates was validated.
However, the question of who that mythical special someone would be never left me. If someone asks me about my sexuality, I still usually say bisexual. If I can’t know if that person exists, I have no chance of determining their gender. I’ve accepted that they may exist, but more importantly I’ve accepted that it’s perfectly fine if they don’t.
Maybe the stacks of papers and tests I’ve written at Hopkins while having no idea what I’m talking about has made me more accepting of what I don’t and can’t know, or maybe I’m just becoming more accepting of who I am, whoever the hell that is.