In middle school and high school I started to notice additional things that separated me from my peers as they became more expressive of their sexual identities. People were talking or joking about the sexual interest they had in other people, in Rihanna or Vegeta or whomever it was, and I just couldn’t relate to that at all. I thought really hard about the way I felt toward people; maybe I had sexual feelings for someone and didn’t even know it, I thought. But I never found that I could identify my feelings about any particular person as being wholly different from the feelings I had toward any friend or well-liked relative. I had the feeling I wasn’t straight, because I couldn’t relate to the experience of thinking Rihanna or anyone else was “hot”, but I knew that didn’t make me gay either, and though I felt as early as high school that a bisexual identity fit my sexuality better, it still didn’t fit well enough that I felt comfortable calling myself bisexual. I heard straight people describe their experiences, and they weren’t remotely familiar. I heard gay people describe their experiences, and could relate to some negative elements of those experiences — the alienation, the feeling that one wasn’t quite the same as other people — but not the positive elements, not the clear feeling of an attraction to other boys that was different from what I would feel toward any friend. Because my experience of attraction (or rather a lack thereof) applied to all people regardless of gender, I felt most familiarity with the few examples of bisexual experience I found in media, but because those experiences were more likely to be expressed in terms of the presence of romantic-sexual attraction toward other people than in terms of its absence, it didn’t seem that a bisexual identity was mine to claim. In any case, I didn’t feel that there was any place to discuss these things openly with my peers; I didn’t attend any school with a Gay-Straight Alliance or anything similar until college.
As I advanced in school I also noticed more differences in the way I experienced that primarily affected my academic work. It took me much longer to do my schoolwork than it seemed to take most people. I would frequently go home from school and do my homework until I fell asleep working on it, then scramble to finish as much as possible between the next day’s classes. If I had enough time to complete a test, I usually did very well on it, but I agonized over getting my thoughts on paper anytime I had to write an essay. It was a deeply anxiety-provoking struggle, sometimes enough to provoke passing suicidal thoughts I wouldn’t mention to anyone. Teachers and guidance counselors lamented that I was so smart, and if I took my schoolwork more seriously my grades would stop slipping. Sometimes my academic troubles were instead blamed on depression, but i think it would be more accurate to say that my academic problems triggered my depressive episodes. Eventually I managed to graduate high school, but I resented so many of the experiences I had there that I have never entertained the idea of attending a reunion, and just driving by the place makes me anxious six years later.
In high school something unexpected happened in the development of my sexual identity; I got a girlfriend. That is to say, I started to become very emotionally intimate with a friend, and then we declared ourselves to be “dating”. But when it became clear to me that she had strong sexual feelings toward me, and expected that I would have reciprocal feelings toward her, those feelings failed to materialize. I thought that maybe, if I had a close relationship, that feeling I had never had would naturally develop out of our emotional closeness. But it never happened. I didn’t want to believe that at first, but eventually our relationship became impossible because of this.
In college, as I was dealing with the emotional fallout of that romantic relationship, I started to feel that something was very wrong with me. I was supposed to have learned what it meant to have sexual feelings for someone by that point; I was an adult, after all. I would lie awake at night thinking about that, worrying that I had become broken. And then I heard about the asexual community. Suddenly I found a lot of people who had an experience of sexuality that I could relate to. I started calling myself asexual and I felt a great sense of relief. I wasn’t broken, and there wasn’t anything wrong with my sexuality.
But there was still something wrong with me. Although at first I found it easier to handle my college coursework than it had been to handle my high school coursework, as I reached my junior year I found that the reading and writing load was more than I could handle. I simply couldn’t read some material as quickly as it was being assigned, and writing was even worse. Sometimes I couldn’t finish my tests on time. After getting mostly As for the first couple years of full-time college study, I was starting to fail classes. I took advantage of short-term psychological counseling offered by my school, and my counselor and psychiatrist both suggested I might have a form of Attention Deficit Disorder. I decided to seek accommodations for this condition, but in order to do that I was supposed to present documentation of my disability. My psychiatrist therefore gave me a list of local professionals that could give me a neuropsychological examination. Unfortunately, out of this list I never managed to find a professional that had an open slot to evaluate me whose services I could afford. Eventually, unable to seek accommodations from the school, I dropped out.
Of course I suspected that there was more to it than attention deficit disorder. Most of the aforementioned differences I had noticed between myself and my peers as a child has carried over into adulthood, and as an adult I noticed new ways in which my mind did not fit the expectations of the world around me. I diligently avoided nightclubs and parties, because I knew I would be deeply uncomfortable with both the social interactions and the noises they would involve. I had no real understanding of how to find job listings that were appropriate to my employment needs, and when I did submit applications to various jobs, I got the feeling that the personality questionnaires attached to them were designed specifically to weed out people like me, people who were very uncomfortable chatting with strangers and had frequent depressive episodes and sometimes had trouble finding the motivation to eat with reasonable frequency. I literally didn’t know how to have a casual conversation with most people. I didn’t seem to have enough in common with other people, most of the time, to just wing it and talk about something we both understood. My associational way of thinking made me very attracted to poetry, but also made it difficult for most people to follow the trains of thought I tried to express.