First Clue

When I was at Creating Change in Denver, Colorado in 2015, one of the organizations there was the storytelling project First Clue – they had a nifty booth set up where people could make little polaroids of themselves with a short quote about how they identified, and what their “first clue” was. The First Clue project describes these as

 A new beginning to the narrative that starts long before “when did you know?” or your “coming out” story. It is about the small, private moments when you begin to discover who you really are.

For me, my “first clue story” starts around when I was in middle school, when my dad was enrolled in a sexual health study study called Talking Parents, Healthy Teens. On my dad’s part, that meant attending periodic workplace training sessions on how to talk to your kids about things like sexuality, safe sex, consent, relationships, friendships, and related topics. On my part, it means getting occasional lessons/games about said topics and filling out surveys every few months about when and how I talked to my parents about sex, my sexual behaviors, how I felt about sexuality, and a few other things.

At the time, I mostly though it was a great study because they gave me a $20 Target gift certificate for every survey I filled out. Plus, I thought filling out the survey and bubbling in all the bubbles was fun anyway. (What can I say, I’ve always been a nerd).

When completing these surveys, one of the questions that appeared went something like this(1):

Are you….

A. Only attracted to boys
B. Mostly attracted to boys, but a little attracted to girls
C. Equally attracted to both  / unsure
D. Mostly attracted to girls, but a little attracted to boys.
E. Only attracted to girls

Little me enthusiastically checked of “C”, because well, I’m definitely kind of unsure, but I also definitely don’t have a preference for one gender over another!

At the time I didn’t really think all that much of it; I was just fantasizing about what I could get with that Target gift card. In retrospect, though, that answer was kind of glaringly queer – older me would like to point out to younger me that “Oh that’s easy! I’m equally (un)interested in both”(2) is kind of not at all how most (straight) people think, and that might actually be kind of significant. 

I do think it’s a huge credit to my parents and peers, though, that I was even in a place where I could think of being as interested in girls as in boys as completely unremarkable (3). I had the good fortune to grow up with an incredible open-minded family who didn’t take heterosexuality for granted and made it clear that same-sex attraction and relationships were just as normal and valid as heterosexual ones.

Despite basically checking off the bisexual box on the survey, though, I still never…made the leap that “oh, this is what people mean by LGBT”. After all, gay and even bi people are boys and girls who have crushes on boys and girls, and that’s not me!

At the same time, though, I do remember that I never went the other way and thought of myself as straight either. Instead, I was just…nothing. My identity was just “not interested”.

It would take years before I really started thinking more deeply about the whole sexuality thing, and eventually come to terms with the fact that I was ace and queer and all that. But for me, I think this was that “first clue” that something different was going down.

Followers, I’d love to hear any of your own “first clue” stories in the comments!

(1) It’s been way too many years for me to remember the details, and I can’t find it online, so I have no idea whether it was worded as like, sexual attraction, sexual interest, wanting a relationship with, romantic interest, or what. But those details aren’t really important for the purposes of this post.

(2) Which is quite binarist, yes, but at like 12 I wasn’t exactly educated on the gender spectrum yet.

(3) One of the things I will forever be grateful to my family and peers for is the fact that, as I started exploring and questioning my sexuality (and to a lesser extent, my gender) I never had to be afraid of what I might find. I was confused, questioning, unsure – but never afraid. I worried about being wrong, or jumping to conclusions; I never had to worry about losing the support and goodwill of my family or friends, no matter what the outcome might be. To know that my family and most of my friends would be equally happy with a potential partner of any gender  – and that they were equally fine with me bringing home no one at all – made the whole process of questioning 1000x easier and less frightening.  I can only hope for a future where an experience like this is the norm rather than an incredibly rare miracle.

9 thoughts on “First Clue

  1. Age 12, had recently seen The Two Towers and was UTTERLY UNIMPRESSED with all the Aragon/Arwen kissing scenes and how they disrupted the action for no reason. Complained about this to my dad, who sort of chuckled at me and was like, “In a couple of years, you’re going to look back at this and laugh because you’re going to LOVE kissing scenes.”

    It’s been more than a decade and I still think those kissing scenes are utterly pointless.

  2. Hm. Age 13, I think, other girls dissecting a magazine aimed at teens, (kind of like a German print variety of scarletteen, only with way more music & actor stories). Help section, some reading out: “I’m 14 and haven’t had a boyfriend yet …” Everyone else: “She’s way too young to worry about that, isnt’ she?”. And me thinking, “Yeah, that, and also, why does she want a boyfriend anyway?” What can I say, I was reeeeally slow on the uptake. Also, “asexuality” as an identity label wouldn’t exist for another 7 years.

  3. Because I’m older (born in 1970s) the gap between “first clues” and “coming out” was huge. Only started to properly identify in 2011, and still not “out” to everyone by a long chalk.

    Was extra confusing because I’m a romantic asexual and my “romance drive” is huge. Always wanted to marry and be a mother. But was always confused by myself too:

    1. Seem to have a gender-neutral brain. Being stuck in a group of women, talking about decorating and hair and stuff is my worst nightmare. But I was never a tomboy either.
    2. Always felt more comfortable with boys than men. Prefer skinny, androgynous-looking guys to alpha males, who actually terrify me. Used to worry a lot that I felt almost the same for my brothers as I did for the guys I was in love with.
    3. Horrendous first experience of going out with someone, cuddling and snogging. I just cried. Told myself it was because I wasn’t in love with him (I wasn’t) but I didn’t want to do snogging etc with the person I was in love with. I just wanted to be near him. This confused me A LOT.
    4. Never understood what sex had to do with being in love. Never felt any sexual desire. I thought this was just because I was a “good virgin.” Then I got married…

    So, by the way, I’m still married and have a daughter. Which now makes it very difficult for me to come out to people in general. The awkward questions… Even though I’m totally “out” on the web and in my writing.

  4. The first clue I remember was actually as early as fourth grade. My best friend at the time had a crush on this guy, and she mentioned wanting to kiss him and I’m sure I just nodded along, but I definitely remember thinking something along the lines of “WOAH there slow down, chill out ew”. Meanwhile I had handpicked a conveniently unattainable crush and had no interest in interacting with him whatsoever. It wasn’t till middle school that I realized other people had *genuine* crushes on people and it wasn’t just a weird game.

  5. This was long before I knew about asexuality as an orientation or even identified as anything close, but in my senior year of high school, one of the lines from Hamlet jumped out at me, “Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither”. I figured this was just part of the melancholic temperament I had in common with him. Looking back, I kind of see it as my first clue as to being grey-a because even though I experience romantic attraction and a curiosity about sex, I definitely didn’t want to have sex the way my peers did.

  6. Definitely seconding the folks above who mentioned being grossed out by kissing scenes.

    CW nonconsent, people pressuring other people into having sex (Sorry that I’m being depressing on your bright post.)

    I read a lot of adult fantasy books when I was in elementary school (my reading level had outpaced the amount of good YA I could access) and so I always viewed sex as one of those cool adult things like sword fighting that I’d be ready for in time. One of my childhood fav authors had a book with a plotline that was basically “you’re afraid of sex and it is holding you back” and the character became More Fulfilled and also a Sexually Healthy Adult after being coerced into (p clearly nonconcensual iirc) sex. Thus, in one book first clue, started the center of how I thought about sex for years: I had utterly no desire for sex, so I thought everyone (especially women) lacked desire until physically pressed into doing it often enough to get a tolerance, and expressions of sexual desire were really expressions of people wanting to be Adults. Once I figured out that asexual adults exist and I didn’t have to have sex, my brain went “well that’s an inconvenience I’ll never need to bother with” and my underlying repulsion became stronger than my need to be a Good Adult. It actually took another year or two of listening to discussions of consent culture to actually understand how messed up my mental map was, to understand that people have sex because they want it and forcing people to have sex is Fucked Up.

    It was a pretty ace way of messing up looking at the world? In the sense I convinced myself no one experienced sexual attraction and my feelings on the topic were universal. But it’s a pretty sad “first clue” and honestly I wouldn’t wish that sort of worldview on anyone. Unlearning it was difficult and I came very close to a lot of bad situations. Hopefully we’re moving into a world where that will happen less!

  7. There were little hints throughout high school, and maybe as far back as middle school, but the first time I realized my relationship to romance and sex was abnormal I was in my twenties. I really, really liked this one guy. (This wasn’t the first time I thought I had a crush on a guy, but it WAS the first time I really wanted to do something about it.) We were great friends, and I thought at the time I wanted to date him and should therefore tell him how I felt. Except… I couldn’t describe how I felt. I wanted to be with him all the time, and maybe hold his hand, but kissing, etc. sounded super gross.

    I kept going over it in my mind: how do you tell someone you want to date them, but not kiss them? How could anyone not be insulted by being told, “No, I don’t want to be physically intimate with you; definitely not now and possibly not ever”? It didn’t seem fair to me to put that on him, so I just never told him. That was the year before I started researching asexuality and applying that label to myself. Since then, I’ve discovered that I’m also somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, become friends with a few marvelous aro/ace peeps I met online, and learned a lot about the asexual/aromantic community.

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