"Look at her tits, bro," said my well-meaning classmate once in the social science hour.
"Eh," I replied. "They were much sexier before she decided to take her clothes off."
He looked at me like I had violated the twelve sacred commandments of porn consumption, all at once. "Kela, why would you say that? Look!"
I looked, and I looked more, and I'm sure even the teacher looked, but it wasn't until half a decade later that I understood what I should have much earlier.
I started my schooling by making everyone believe that Power Rangers were real. "Listen to me, the Yellow Ranger stays here, at our school," I told them. All they had to do was sneak into this vacant room on the third floor with the questionably concrete stairs and he would be happy to hand out morphing gadgets. My classmates would begin arguing about which colour they get to be and then I would feel super important and cool. Thankfully, nobody would be brave enough to creep into that room, and we would never find out who lived there, possibly the watchmen, or possibly the sisters (nuns) with their stern and soft and tired faces.
Once they’d grown some pubic hair, though, my classmates forgot my scam but would no longer be part of my bullshit. They ostracised me from dhora-dhori, a game where kids chased each other like Timon and Pumba. But I didn't think anyone in my class was cute enough to be called Timon and Pumba. I thought of them as the hyenas from Lion King instead — secondary antagonists.
The hyenas in class used to laugh with their stupid teeth when they were happy and cry with their stupid teeth when they were whacked by the fat stick that the teacher used to make himself feel like a gangsta. Years later, just before matriculation, two hyenas would elope to another state after having steamy sex on Teacher's Day, manifesting some kind of post-traumatic daddy disorder that definitely goes back to the caning.
I thought I was the same as the hyenas — I wouldn't mind running off from school with my partner — but something was off. This became more and more obvious with each passing grade.
The hyenas invested their energy in riding my face through the mud fields of Assam, stealing tiffins and peeking over the urinal walls to check out the size of my dick, and then proceeded to swat me in the balls the next hour like some Spartan general testing out the limits of his army — only to lead the discussion towards girls and their pussies. I was still very preoccupied with jump-dancing in my room, slaying dragons, making pacts with wizards and charting landscapes quivering with adventures, all while imagining someone I'd share my life and my adventures with.
Clearly, I wasn't partaking in the same erotic fantasies as the hyenas, even after growing older, even after starting to find power rangers boring (the CGI had stopped looking realistic) and even after after picking up emoboy stoic philosophy and self-help books that tend to fascinate emoboys of that age. Even as I thought that was a sign of growing up, the hyenas seemed to have skipped many levels and were more enthu about Mia Khalifa and Johnny Sins. Most of them already planned to pursue science, expecting a fat salary and a hot wife who would keep them super happy like Yo Yo Honey Singh whose songs were all the rage before Ed Sheeran came and made everyone fall in love with an anonymous person's body.
Degenerates like me took humanities. I expected a different crowd here, one filled with similar degenerates. Yet half a country away, far from home, nothing changed. Everyone still had a thing for everyone else. But it was here in Bangalore that I learned the world isn’t only filled with hyenas, that there is in fact a rather strong fauna diversity to gawk at.
Iguana, a self-established hopeless romantic in college, kept asking if I liked anyone. I kept saying no, but then she wouldn’t believe me. "How's it possible, bro?"
Cat would offer help. "What if we set you up with someone? It will be like that Community episode where they try to get Abed a girlfriend until they realise Abed could get any hot girl he wants on his own."
Raccoon, dating a guy named after a popular character from a popular Nintendo game, said she knew someone in college with a crush on me. "Nice," I replied with a straight face.
"I used to fall in love every other second," the Orangutan said. "I had once fallen in with a Cat. I later learnt that she was in love with me also. She wrote this poem and published it in the school magazine under my name. But it was too late."
In between cab rides and canteen food, Llama, who wouldn’t date anyone shorter than her, asked, "Are you sure you're straight?"
Questions, questions, and I had no answers. Until a Reddit meme showed me an incomplete keyword "Asexuals are…" and Google suggested "invading Denmark", "gods" and "coming for the iron throne."
Like some of my friends who were allies before they figured out they were queer themselves, I didn’t realise I was asexual until I began relating a little too hard with the memes. It led me to places such as r/aaaaaaacccccccce and the AVEN Wiki. The friendly spectrum-based nature of this new identity and its individually negotiated vocabulary not only gave me the dignity I deserved, but also the freedom to think outside compulsory sexuality – the assumption that all people are sexual – tattooed on the body of our society as well as its institutions and its people.
I have been in relationships before. The last one nurtured me, propelled me and seemed four years too short. I did also eventually like someone in Bangalore — a close friend of mine, an Iguana — but it wasn't until I was head over heels for her that I felt attracted to her in any other way.
It's a funny time to be on the a-spectrum in India. As a country that refuses to talk about sex, and only beginning to accept romance, I'm surrounded by old people who will celebrate my "celibacy" (provided I'm not of marriageable age yet) and sex-positive young people who will break their heads wondering how I can exhibit sexual inclinations despite being asexual.
It's also a funny time to be in the LGBTQ. A bisexual friend of mine recently said, "If you're asexual, how do you know you're not attracted to men?" He had a crush on me for years, and suggested that I try going out with men to see if it worked. Or I could kiss him and find out. This is no different from what straight people tell gay people — how will you know you're not into girls if you haven't kissed them?
The ace community parachutes in with their memes. "I think of attractive people like beautiful sunsets. I don't want to fuck a sunset."
Maslow in his triangular hierarchy of needs, very popular among psychology and business enthusiasts, had put sex at the base, along with food, shelter, air, food — the very things that keep us alive. In other words, sex must be an inextricable part of the human experience, and nothing could be more normal than wanting it bad and all the time.
The converse must also be true. When fans asked the showrunner of Sherlock Holmes if Sherlock is asexual, he said “there’s no fun in that.” Predictably, most asexual characters on TV are aliens, robots, or psychopaths. The few characters that are human end up implied and not canonically confirmed. This reminds us of the way heteronormative studios in the 20th century coded gay characters by their dressing sense and mannerism to avoid referring to them as gay. The result being that the knowledge of asexuality and its agentic nature remains out of the mainstream and people like me wouldn’t find out that it’s a thing until much later in their lives. Over the past decade, canonical gay and lesbian characters have multiplied incessantly, with western studios trampling on each other to pursue their shiny and golden tokenism, but we await a film to explicitly mention asexuality.
It’s no wonder then that I wanted to feel visible. I wanted someone - anyone to relate to. It used to make me sad. Koisenu Futari comes to mind. The plot is basic — what if two asexual-aromantic people start living together and call it a family? (And yes, they use the terms asexual and aromantic). Watching that one Japanese drama made me feel more seen and more heard than I had in my whole life, even though I'm not aromantic, even though I inhabit the opposite end of the a-spectrum. There was something odd and crippling about the loneliness of not fitting in, especially among people already fighting from the margins. The show and the online community made me realise that there are people like me everywhere, not as visible, maybe because it's not safe to come out, maybe because there aren’t enough stories telling them what happens after, maybe because they don’t know what it means. Maybe I could do something about it.
Growing up different in every way, asexual and autistic, fantasy bridged the divide between me and the reality that be, as my power ranger stories inspired, but it also did something else. It’s given me purpose, hope and something to like about the world. It’s given me enough, until I could see the world as more than hyenas, as sparkling, funny, compassionate people who dance and love and have sex in the most brilliant and weird ways, even if I’m not into it all the time or experience it differently.
It’s given me the courage to question the essentialist assumptions of sexuality - that it’s something inherent, unchanging and meant to be quantified and fit into neatly drawn boxes, like a sorting hat that assumes you’re either one of the Four - heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual - or you’re nothing at all.
Most importantly, it’s given me stories to write about, and people who might read them.
Lonav is a self-proclaimed zebra, although friends argue he’s an ostrich. He loves writing, raccoons, music, and neuroqueer conversations, among other things.