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Recently, I’ve had to look very closely at myself and what I want out of my relationships.

Two years ago, this wasn’t an option. I was fighting so many battles that it was easier to go along with the norm than it was to wage a war to be myself. I needed someone on my side so badly that I didn’t care what they were taking from me.

Now, for the first time, I have some room to breathe, to think, to feel. And what I’ve found there is something that I don’t think I could have dealt with back then, especially in regards to my orientation and how I want to live my life.

Now I know that I’m an aromantic asexual with a preference for women.

In a way, accepting these labels is freeing. In another, it’s terrifying. Altogether, it’s a mouthful.

It was almost 6 months ago that I realized that I was asexual, or lacking sexual attraction. For the first time, I realized that being in a relationship didn’t mean that I had to have sex. For the first time, I knew that I wouldn’t have to be counting down how long it would take a relationship to end in order to protect my own mental health. For the first time, I could admit that I used sex as a method of self-harm and dissociation, rather than an expression of love and caring.

With an already shrunken dating pool, due to my attraction to the female form, I wondered how I would ever find someone who also shared the trait of asexuality. I had to question everything I’d been taught about what qualifies as an intimate relationship, a belief system that I’d already wrangled with for years. Worst of all, I had to ask myself whether I was truly asexual or just projecting my conservative, Pentecostal upbringing onto my ‘real’ orientation of homosexuality.

I struggled, but eventually moved past that dilemma with the realization that I’m actually asexual. Now, within the past month, I’ve realized that there’s another part of the puzzle. I’m also aromantic, or someone who doesn’t experience romantic attraction.

I thought back to the three people I’ve loved in my life and realized that I was always deeply satisfied with those passionate friendships. My life was warm and beautiful and full of happiness when I had them in my life, though they all eventually moved on to get married to other people or lost contact with me. Suddenly, many unexplained aspects of my behavior and life clicked into place. I wanted to deny it, but the idea of being an aromantic fit me.

This combination of labels is sometimes really scary. With those labels, I’m turning my back on a lot of things and opening myself up to a lot more. For one thing that phrase, ‘aromantic asexual’, means that I’m going to have to deny the traditional relationship models of society even more than I already was by identifying as a lesbian. It means that many of the people in the straight and gay communities won’t understand me. It means I’ll have to wait, maybe for a long time, before I find someone who loves me and who I can love in return. Being labeled an aromantic asexual means that I’m more alone and invisible than ever.

However, understanding myself in this way also opens my life up to some pretty amazing things. It means that I don’t need to fake my way through relationships. It means that I can abandon the ‘normal’ relationship model for one that fulfills me as a person. Being an aromantic asexual means that I don’t have to be someone I’m not anymore and that I know where I stand on my boundaries and my interactions with other people. It means that I can be whoever I want, without worry of being a certain kind of attractive or desirable to any particular kind of person.

Like any other identity, being on the aro-ace spectrum is a bit of a mixed bag.

This month we’re supposed to talk about our ace identities, labels, and models. I really wish that I could contribute more to this topic, but I honestly don’t have the answers. I have my experiences, humble as they are, and my thoughts, but nothing in the way of hard-earned knowledge of any kind of model with regards to asexuality. I wish that I could talk more about the asexual labels, but this is the first time I’ve ever used them outside of my own head.

I would like to say though, that I’m grateful that I’ve discovered the aromantic, asexual identity. For the first time, I’m able to look at those ‘failed’ loves as misunderstandings, instead of betrayals. I’m able to be happy for their happiness and to treasure the good times as what I want to have in the future. I’m able to know what interactions I do and do not want, and act accordingly.

It’s going to be hard to face the difficulties that these identities might bring me in the future, but, through that same discovery, I also have more confidence in myself than I’ve ever had before. And that, to me, is what accepting an identity is all about. It’s about living without regret and without shame, despite what challenges it might bring you.

Put simply, it’s about living a life that’s worth the battles.