‘Sounds fake, but okay’: Navigating asexuality on campus
For LSA seniors Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca, it was best friendship at first sight. Sarah and Kayla were roommates freshman year, randomly placed together in Alice Lloyd Residence Hall. They’ve lived together ever since, save for summers and a semester Sarah spent in Germany.
“We just happened to get each other,” Sarah explained.
“Week one, we were like, ‘We’re in love!’” Kayla joked.
“By day two we were like, ‘Oh! We’re already best friends!’” Sarah added.
Their three-and-a-half years of friendship have created countless inside jokes and an easy intimacy — as well as a weekly podcast, which now has more than 60 episodes. The subject of this podcast is sexuality, specifically asexuality and demisexuality. It’s grown to have an impressive following: about 1,000 listens per week and roughly 25,000 total listens.
During their freshman year, Sarah and Kayla didn’t really talk much about sexuality. Sarah was still figuring out her sexuality, and it wasn’t until the summer after freshman year that she came out as asexual.
Asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction. People who are asexual, otherwise known as “ace,” simply do not feel sexual attraction toward any gender. Sarah identifies as aromantic asexual, or “aro-ace,” meaning that she isn’t interested in romantic or sexual relationships.
“The summer after freshman year, I found out Sarah was asexual — she made a post on Tumblr and I followed her Tumblr,” Kayla recounted with her friend.
The three of us were crowded around a small table in the lobby of the UgLi. Murmured homework questions and shouted coffee orders from Bert’s provided a steady stream of background noise.
“It wasn’t even a post about coming out,” Sarah clarified. “It was an ‘about me’ post.”
“So I saw and I messaged her and I was like, ‘Hey, I saw this,’ and she was like, ‘Cool,’ and I was like, ‘Cool!’ And that was it.”
The podcast, which the pair named “Sounds Fake But Okay,” grew out of conversations between Sarah and Kayla about sexuality during their junior year. These discussions about the diversity of sexual attraction led to Kayla’s realization that she is demisexual.
People who are demisexual, or “demi,” only experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional bond with their potential partner. Kayla began to suspect she might be demisexual during her junior year, but she was in a committed relationship with a man at the time and so it didn’t feel urgent for her to define her sexuality.
However, after Kayla’s relationship with her boyfriend ended, her demisexuality became much more evident to her. Casual sex had never appealed to her, and demisexuality just made sense. It feels like less of a big deal for her to be demisexual as a woman, she explained, because society already expects women to need an emotional connection for sex. Some people confuse demisexuality with the choice to wait for an emotional commitment before sex, but just as asexuality isn’t the same as celibacy, demisexual people are different from those who make an active decision to postpone sexual activity.
Kayla remembered the intensity of recording the January 2018 episode about her realization that she is demisexual.
“I made Sarah very uncomfortable (by crying), because Sarah doesn’t do emotions in general — which is a stereotype (about asexual people),” Kayla said.
“Not because I’m ace,” Sarah clarified. “Because I’m my father’s daughter.”
“I was saying how much the podcast has helped me realize things about myself, and how Sarah has been there for me throughout, helping me understand and teaching me things,” Kayla said. “I got very emotional.”
Most of the episodes of “Sounds Fake But Okay” are inspired by Sarah and Kayla’s own experiences. For example, the duo recorded an episode about ace exclusion from the LGBTQ+ community after a high school classmate of Sarah’s — who identifies as queer — tweeted on the subject, expressing his opinion that asexual people should not be included in the LGBTQ+ community. Sarah explained that acephobia (discrimination against asexual people) often comes from within the LGBTQ+ community.
“Sarah was livid,” Kayla said. “I was also very angry.”
“I was just upset because I really liked this (classmate) as a person,” Sarah added, “And I was like, ‘You’re a part of the queer community, how can you be doing this?’ So that was an angry episode.”
The classmate messaged Kayla after listening to their episode on ace exclusion to apologize for his tweet.
“I think he kind of got it a little bit more after that,” Kayla said. “In that episode, we did a lot of explaining about why the ace community deserves to be in the queer community. A lot of people’s basis (for ace exclusion) is, ‘Well, you don’t receive as much discrimination so you shouldn’t belong’… There should be no barriers to entry (into the queer community).”
“It’s a harmful way of thinking, to be like, ‘You have to have experienced horrible, horrible things or else you can’t be part of this community,’” Sarah agreed. “I will acknowledge that in general, the ace community has had, especially on a systemic level, less discrimination than the gay community and the trans community.”
For example, no one has ever tried to stop asexual people from being able to marry — but then again, many aces don’t want to marry if they’re also aromantic. Some asexual people are homoromantic, Sarah explained, but they face discrimination because of their same-sex romantic orientation, not their asexuality.
“Asexual people have existed forever, but it was only recently that it became a community,” she said.
“There’s still a lot of discrimination (against asexual people),” Kayla said. “Maybe that stuff isn’t as bad as what’s happening to gay people or trans people, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it happens.”
Sarah described “corrective” rape as one such issue aces often face. “Corrective” rape is when sexual assault is intended to “fix” a perceived sexual deviance, such as same-sex attraction or, in the case of asexual people, a lack of sexual desire toward anyone.
As an aro-ace college student, Sarah sometimes worries that her friendliness might be taken as flirtation. She explained that she tries to be careful not to insinuate romantic or sexual interest, but that she hasn’t had too many awkward situations arise since most of her friends know that she’s asexual.
“If they follow me on Twitter, they probably know I’m ace,” she said.
“And if they like you, they’re gonna follow you on Twitter,” Kayla joked.
“Exactly!” Sarah laughed. “My Twitter’s great!”
Though Sarah and Kayla’s friends and family have been accepting of their sexualities, society still has a ways to go in accepting and respecting the different patterns of sexual attraction.
“A lot of people make judgment calls on asexuality when they don’t really understand it,” Sarah explained. “Part of the reason why we started the podcast is because we wanted to help other people understand asexuality.”