A tale of two sisters: "I'm bisexual, she's asexual"

San Francisco Pride 2011. Photo ©Sara Beth Brooks

San Francisco Pride 2011. Photo ©Sara Beth Brooks

My sister and I were almost identical when we were children. People had a hard time telling us apart. Most assumed that we were twins. Back then there was nothing to separate us; now there’s very little to join us. For all of our differences perhaps the most notable is that she regards herself as asexual and I identify as bisexual. When they were handing out libidos I got it all and she got nothing. While I was chasing boys around the playground (and secretly wishing the girls would get involved too) she was alone in the corner looking at bugs. I’m a complete extrovert and she’s a shy introvert. How can two people who grew up in the same environment, who were birthed from the same loins, and who shared the same space for such a long time, be so opposed in their outlooks?

Our parents treated us equally well and brought us up beautifully. But they had no idea we’d turn out the way we did – a homebody and an itinerant wanderer with one of the highest sex drives known to man and woman-kind. Childhood was easier for me than it was for her. Undiagnosed autism and dyslexia meant a constant struggle for my sister to find acceptance and develop an understanding of the people around her. She retreated. I, on the other hand, was a wild child. I’m constantly seeking attention, sociable and a natural flirt. Even as a small child people were drawn to me. She’s just withdrawn. She admits that all of her eccentricities make it difficult to box her in. “I think,” she says, “my lack of desire to have sex is as much linked to my autistic tendencies as to my sexuality.”

I love sex and was fascinated by it at a young age. I demanded books about anatomy and where babies came from at around the age of seven. I was obsessed with looking at the boobs and willies in the drawings (these days I prefer the more adult versions). I started masturbating before I was 10. I still do, on a daily basis. My sister does it too, mostly to help her sleep, but she doesn’t consider her orgasms to be “real”. “I would like to experience a proper orgasm but it’s more out of curiosity than any actual desire. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with an actual person if they came my way” she unintentionally punned.

As I moved into my teenage years I was obsessed with finding a boyfriend (not yet willing to admit to myself that I also wouldn’t mind a lady) and lusted after people on TV and in the street. My sister mentioned no one. There was a time when I thought she was a lesbian. We were watching The Quick and the Dead and after the finale she wanted to rewind and re-watch the climax to get another look at Sharon Stone using the weak excuse: “She’s such a strong female character”. There were also hints that she might be transgender. Statements such as “I just don’t want these boobs anymore” and “I’d rather be a man” cropped up occasionally but were left hanging. My bisexuality was bubbling under the surface and I thought it might be nice to have her come out as gay so that I wouldn’t seem so odd in my desires.

My sister’s lack of longing baffled me for the longest time. I’m desperate, attracted to anything that moves, and psyched when someone reciprocates my attentions and intentions. I am insatiable. I didn’t understand why she never seemed enticed by anyone. If she did, she just never acted on it.

“Of course I fancied people,” she tells me, “and I still do; mostly men and a few women. But that’s more about wanting to be that woman than being with her. When I was a teenager I mentioned to someone I fancied them and the look they gave me hurt. I’m not sure desire is the right word for how I feel towards a beautiful person because, in common with most of the planet, I have my own ideas of male and female beauty.”

The asexual pride flag

The asexual pride flag

Her asexuality is still a concept with which I struggle. All I’ve ever wanted is somebody (male, female, whatever) to love me and hold me close. Physical touch does very little for most people who are asexual, my sister preferring to be hugged only by those she likes and knows well, whereas I could easily be described as a hug slut. I seek solace and comfort in physicality; it’s my love language. She’s happiest alone, in the safety of the environment she’s carefully controlled and knows. How could she not want someone with whom she could share her life, her desires, and her beautiful heart? (She’s a much nicer person than me). A friend of hers keeps trying to set her up. Her response is rather direct: “I’ve never wanted to look for the so-called right person and I am quite happy not sharing my space with anyone, thanks.”

I’m a romantic fool, a great big softie. My sister isn’t. She’s not hardened by any means – she cries at sad movies, she is emotional – but she has no interest in someone else knowing her intimately. I realise that some asexual people can have perfectly well-functioning relationships without the messy sex bit. I would rather die a spinster than have a sexless partnership. I’m a demanding lover, needing orgasms aplenty; my sister is satisfied with a book. “Were I ever to find someone,” she declares, “I’m fairly certain that, after a time of experimentation to see if I liked sexual activities, it would be a celibate relationship”.

It wasn’t until she went to university that my sister felt that she fitted into a category. Thanks to the internet she could finally name how she felt. Although it still lacks finesse, “asexual” is the closest it gets. We’re all a messy conglomeration of things and sexuality is but a small part of who we are. And it doesn’t matter that we’re so unalike, not in the grand scheme of things. I’ll leave the final words to my wise, loving, lovely sister: “I don’t see myself as free from the ideas of sexuality. I feel a little trapped by it if I think about it too hard.”

I love you, sis.


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A Jill of all trades, mistress of none, Kate has tried everything: prison psychology, volunteering with homeless people, teaching English abroad, and editing a magazine in China (thankfully not in Chinese!). A born procrastinator, she's been working on her autobiographical sex book for the past four years and has got nowhere. She's hoping to find some motivation on the open road - a born traveller she's hoping to leave for America very soon. Happiest performing her comedy poems at spoken word nights and getting inordinate amounts of attention, Kate is a whirlwind of a woman.

One Response to A tale of two sisters: "I'm bisexual, she's asexual"

  • Chloe says:

    What a fantastic piece about asexuality – an identity which is sadly so often ignored on the sexual spectrum.

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