Royce's Dating & Self-Discovery Stories
Today Royce shares a journey of self-discovery related to various aspects of asexuality, gender (or lack thereof), and neurodivergence by recounting their dating history and things that have been learned in hindsight.
Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the podcast. My name is Courtney. I am here with my spouse, Royce. And together, we are The Ace Couple. And today, Royce, I want to talk about you.
Royce: So, short episode today. Got it.
Courtney: [laughs] No! Let’s talk about you, seriously. Because it’s no secret to our listeners that I am the more verbose [laughs] of the two of us. That is how we are in our everyday lives, so that is very true to real life. But I also just happen to have so many more stories than you. I have a lot more firsthand experiences with discrimination, assault, microaggressions, exclusion from within the Asexual community. So I just have a lot more tangible points in my life to turn to and discuss and make a thesis out of. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any. It just means that I’m talking about my experience a lot more often on microphone than you’re talking about yours. But when we went to start this podcast, we acknowledged that the two of us are both on slightly different places within the spectrum of Asexuality. So I want to give, essentially, a full episode’s space to talk about where you are in the spectrum and what life experiences and what stories you can sort of point to, to give our listeners an idea of what that looks like.
Royce: Well, I’m not really sure what the best way to go about this is. I could just try to go through chronologically and figure out what might be of interest that I’ve thought of in hindsight, because that’s a lot of it, at this point. I was kind of figuring out Asexuality in my early 20s, and I was figuring out neurodivergence in my early 30s, and looking back from teenage years, in particular, onward up until now with that in mind. I think there are some things that I’m realizing now that I may not have realized back then, while it was happening.
Courtney: Mhm. Yeah. And that makes a lot of sense, because when I was a teenager and I was beginning to date, first of all, I started dating pretty young — younger, I think, than the average person — but I knew, even before I started using the word “Asexual,” that that is what I was. I didn’t have the interest. But not everybody has that immediate self-awareness or comfort in a label as I did. So I would love to know what conclusions you have come to with the gift of hindsight and wisdom from age.
Royce: Well, I think that, given where I’m at on the Ace spectrum, neurodivergence is going to come up more prominently or more frequently during all of this — possibly also just because that is something I’ve come to understand more recently, and I’m just seeing so many different ways that that has impacted my life, going back to childhood. So maybe that’s also just more fresh in my memory right now.
Royce: But I guess, starting out, I didn’t date in middle or high school. I did have someone that I was really close to for a period of time in high school, but we never ended up actually dating. And this wasn’t due to lack of interest. I mean, I’ve always had crushes, but I’ve also always just been kind of anxious and not very social and that kind of thing. I did have, at one point in high school, after I had started working, I feel like I got a little more attention — just being out in public at a local store and whatnot, instead of just going to school and going home, because I didn’t really do extracurriculars or anything.
Royce: But —
Courtney: President of the Go Home Club, I heard. [laughs]
Royce: But I had a friend mention just when we were hanging out at one point in time that- he was kind of laughing about it, because it didn’t make sense to him at all, but he had heard some other people just mention that I seemed kind of unapproachable. And I think that is quiet; intelligent; not very social; there may be some things about, like, mannerisms —
Royce: I think, particularly when I was younger, I made too much eye contact.
Courtney: Oh, overcompensating. I 1000% did that.
Royce: No, it was more that… I think, at this point in time, I am more inclined to break eye contact —
Royce: — if I’m thinking about something, if I’m concentrating on something. At that point in time, I don’t think that I understood that looking at someone and not blinking very often might make them uncomfortable.
Royce: Like, that was a concept that didn’t even register.
Courtney: That’s fair. Honestly, same, a little bit. The eye contact one is weird, because I also think I used to have an abundance of eye contact. I was like, “Hello, eyes, I am never going to turn away from you because we are talking right now.” But I think we have both, as a direct result of the pandemic, started dropping eye contact a lot more often. And I’ve even noticed that with my mom, [laughing] which is interesting. When I go to see my mom, she’ll just, like, look at a wall while talking to me, and I’m like, “You never used to do that!” But I’ve noticed that Royce and I stopped doing that. Could part of that… I guess intimidation perhaps also be perceived gender, do you think?
Royce: Probably. I mean, I also think that, just generally speaking, given gender norms, given social norms, masculine people approach feminine people when it comes to dating. That tends to be what happens.
Courtney: Mhm. And has that been your experience in your life?
Royce: Not really being approached for dating? Yes.
Courtney: Really? I thought you were going to say the opposite way. Because I definitely messaged you. You’ve also told me that you have tended to date more…
Royce: People who are more assertive. Um, I mean, I had an online dating profile for several years. And yeah, occasionally, I would get a message from someone, but those were rare.
Royce: And another part of that, I think, is just the social dynamic, because a lot of women who have been on a dating site just get flooded with messages.
Courtney: That’s real.
Royce: And that can get to a point where it’s like, well, if all your time on a site is spent filtering through a bunch of oftentimes horrible messages, do you even have the time or the energy to look for yourself?
Courtney: Yeah. [laughs] That’s fair.
Royce: But anyway, going through sort of the early period here, I went to college out of state, so separated from everyone I knew in high school. And I was very busy in school. I was definitely focused on getting through college, because I had to take out loans and loans were expensive and my brain does not like debt. So, my…
Courtney: Well, you graduated early. You, like, packed your schedule intentionally.
Royce: My bachelor’s degree was two years and four months, so I tried to get in and out pretty quickly. Which is kind of interesting, to be out of college before you can legally drink.
Courtney: Do you feel like you missed a fundamental aspect of the college experience? [laughs]
Royce: It was nice to be out. I actually… The first job that I got out of school was in a college town, so I was rooming with a couple of people who were finishing their senior year.
Royce: So I got some college town experience without the schoolwork. But anyway, throughout that period of time, I did date a little bit, not a lot. Well, I will say, I had a relationship or two in person. And periodically, I’d have long-distance things where they were just someone I was close to, flings, actual relationships that were just long distance that didn’t last long enough for us to eventually meet up, or something like that. Some of that happened. I think, looking back at a lot of that, I was obviously still figuring myself out. And some of the ways that that manifested were just difficulty communicating in the ways that a lot of successful relationships require.
Royce: But it was also, you know, I was busy. I enjoyed working on projects. Oftentimes, I didn’t really feel the need to be in a relationship, either. It was something that I wanted. It was something that I would sort of rotate back to, but I would be perfectly fine for months, if not years, at a time, being single.
Courtney: I do want to call attention to the word “fling.”
Royce: I do not have a clear definition. I was just throwing out a few different relationship terms.
Courtney: Yeah. When you say the word “fling,” what does that look like in your past? Because I’m sure there would be plenty of people who would hear an openly Ace person be like, “I had flings,” and they’d, like, do a double take.
Royce: Well, I’m trying to put things into perspective, because the actual relationships that I had tended to be very short. The way it tended to work is: I would meet someone, and we would have a very dense interaction. We’d be talking a lot. And I got the whole, “This is so weird. We’ve only been talking for a few days, or a week or two or whatever, and I feel like I’ve known you for a really long time,” sort of thing, just because it was very personal, very in-depth, very quickly. So that meant that a lot of my relationships were very compact. I guess, I don’t know if it’s worth distinguishing something that lasted a month or two and something that was, you know, very personal and emotional that was maybe, like, a week, that was not an entirely platonic thing, but it also wasn’t long enough to start talking about relationship boundaries and things like that.
Courtney: So you were, like, speedrunning relationships. [laughs]
Royce: You could put it that way, I guess. I think that there are lines between different kinds of relationships that are often blurry to me. Like, I would meet someone with the intention of dating in mind, and we would immediately jump into that, and there would be no, like, friendship/getting to know you buffer. It was just immediately, “Here’s, like, a non-platonic personal connection.”
Royce: And I think at that time, too, a lot of my friendships had been, I guess, very surface-level. Like, there were a lot of people that I was around frequently, but our interactions were kind of based in just having fun, joking around, playing video games, that sort of thing, and oftentimes didn’t get into personal things. So I feel like I had my friends, the people around me, and then a deep connection with someone was always based in something similar to a romantic relationship.
Courtney: But then you also did mention, in our episode where we were talking about One Night Stand — both the video game by Kinmoku but also just the general societal concept — you said that by the Google definition, you have had a one-night stand. Were those situations that were this very dense, compact thing that just fizzled out really quickly, or were those more, I guess, akin to what you’d see in popular media about what a one-night stand is?
Royce: No, it was like, we met online, we talked either through that platform or through text for a couple of days, we went on a first date, had sex at the end of that first date, and then, for whatever reason, just didn’t continue communication. It wasn’t something that was intentional. My kind of social view of a one-night stand is, like, going to a bar and hooking up with a stranger and then not talking afterwards, kind of a thing. That’s how it’s often depicted. I’ve never done that. There was actually a point in time when I was with college town roommates where we were out at a bar one night and they just, like, made some kind of quick phrase or signal, got a last round of drinks, finished it, and were like, “Okay, gonna try to meet someone. I’ll meet you outside.” They both, like, cheersed and went in opposite directions, and I was just standing there looking around like, “What are we doing now?”
Royce: How do you just go up to someone you don’t know and…
Courtney: [laughs] “Pardon me.”
Royce: So I just finished my drink and walked outside. And pretty soon, they came out after me, and we walked back home.
Courtney: Wild. That feels like it should be a scene in, like, a television show with an Ace character. [laughs] So, before we go any further, what sort of labels or terms would you use to describe your current place on the spectrum to people who are familiar with the Asexual lexicon?
Royce: [weary] I don’t know. [Courtney laughs]
Royce: It’s something I stumble around every time I need to mention something about it. I’ve used sex-neutral or sex-favorable before, but that’s really… That’s a conversation. When it comes to the romantic area of the spectrum, I know there’s something there, but I think it’s also complicated in a way that is difficult to actually label or to speak to.
Royce: One thing I’ve noticed, looking back, is that… I guess, a pattern that I’m going to have to talk about in relationships that I was in. Oftentimes, they would last a month or two — like, something that I can very clearly define as a relationship instead of something that was a bit more amorphous. And that is that there would be this pattern where I would meet someone, and I would feel a lot of emotion and a lot of excitement to be around them. And it was, I think, the closest thing that I was really aware of at the time to what the general social perception of love or attraction is supposed to be. Like, it was something that was very pronounced and very obvious. But looking back, I feel like it’s not abundantly clear if that was just, like, the excitement of a new situation, of getting to know a new person, and just the emotion that comes with being in a new situation and, like, having new experiences, also, like, receiving a lot of affection — that, and something that is would be more, I guess, resolutely defined as affection, attraction, whatever you want to call it. And the closest word I’ve heard to that is quoiromantic, or I’ve heard it referred to as WTFromantic, which makes sense, because it’s confusing.
Courtney: And I, every time I see that written out, I can’t help but think “What The Fromantic!” [laughs]
Royce: There are a few labels that I feel like, depending on how an individual person articulates their own experience with that label, I may or may not feel a bit of it.
Royce: It’s to the extent where I don’t really feel comfortable saying that is what I am, but sometimes I’ll hear people describe this, and I’ll feel part of it, definitely.
Courtney: Mhm. I have also flirted with the quoi label, so maybe down the line, we’ll do a full episode on quoiromanticism, because it is a very, very fascinating thing that… You know, we have several friends who very specifically identify with that label, also. And depending on the friend, I can very easily relate to at least certain aspects of it.
Royce: But that added to my confusion, because I would start a relationship and I would feel a very pronounced emotion, affection, attention. It would be very obvious. But then after a couple of weeks, month or two, that initial excitement would level, and then I was kind of left with the question of, “Is this a sign that this is not right, that this is not a meaningful relationship, that we need to break up? Or is there something else going on here?” And when I would ask other people sometimes about this, they would give the general social things that I’m sure everyone has heard, like, “When you know, you’ll know.”
Royce: Or I think we mentioned in a previous episode how for some people, it’s like, doing something physical — like kissing someone or having sex or something like that — does something special that is a confirmation of whether or not this is right.
Royce: And so all of these signs I didn’t get. So I started wondering, like, “Okay, does that mean this was the wrong relationship? Like, it was good for a little bit and now it’s not, so I need to move on? Or is it something about me? Is there something that I am just either not finding yet or am not capable of experiencing long-term?” And that made some relationships hard. I’ll get into one specific little bit later. I think there’s a couple other things I want to talk about first, but I wanted to set that precedence.
Courtney: Put a pin in it. I mean, yeah, we love honesty around here, and sometimes labels only go so far [laughs] or aren’t clearly defined enough. So, even if you don’t have the specific words that are 100%, definitively, definitionally correct — I mean, I’ve said before on occasion that sometimes labels, even if definitionally they feel right, I prefer storytelling. So I’d rather tell you stories of my past and tell you how I’m feeling than give you a label to Google. So let’s hear some of those stories.
Royce: So I guess, getting back into, I guess, where I fit on the Ace spectrum and how some of these early relationships manifested — because this would still be at the time before I used the word “Asexual” in any sort of public capacity. Some of these I may have had the term, like, in the back of my head, but it wasn’t something — I hadn’t, like, put it on the dating profile yet. A lot of these interactions, I, as I said, got close to someone pretty quickly. Things would often get physical pretty quickly, and I was usually pretty passive in that regard. It wasn’t that I… I’m not sex-repulsed. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy any of it. But it was also something I was curious about. It was something that I, you know, hadn’t found exactly what this means to me or if there was something out there, but I found that it was usually something that I would walk away from going, “Oh, that was that. Society promised me more.” And, like, this wasn’t something that led up to expectations. And it took a while of, I think, repetition to get it through, like, “Oh, that wasn’t nerves, it wasn’t just first time with a new person, it wasn’t what we did. It’s just…” Like, eventually, I eliminated possibilities until I realized, “Oh, this just isn’t important to me.”
Courtney: So you trial-and-errored your sex life.
Royce: Pretty much, yeah. And I think some of my orientation was a bit hidden by the people that I dated, too. Because I had more than one relationship with someone who mentioned, at one point in time, that in basically all of their relationships they’ve ever had, they had a higher sex drive than their partners.
Courtney: Mmm. Yeah, and then [laughing] they find you, which is so fascinating.
Royce: But, let’s see. Some of the shorter encounters — the flings, if that’s the word that we’re using — those just kind of fizzled out because, you know, no one followed up. I didn’t receive a text, and after having, you know, a burst of social interaction, after, you know, a few days, a week or so, of frequent communication, my social needs are met. And I’d go back to work, I’d go back to hobbies, and sometimes it would just, you know, slip my mind without any sort of follow up.
Courtney: That is so baffling to me. Like, I could not imagine. I need so much communication. [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, my relationship periods would be: I’m fine on my own for a bit. I feel like I need something. I’d have a fair amount of interaction with people. And then my social needs would have been met for a while. And then I’d go back to just being on my own for a bit.
Courtney: Fair enough.
Royce: The relationships themselves, I think… Well, I think communication was a big barrier. That was an issue. Me not understanding myself well enough and not being able to communicate what was going on was a big part of it. And part of that was, I guess, a fear of, well, if I’m conflicted on whether or not this relationship is right. And if I’m going back and forth on, “Am I feeling what I’m supposed to be feeling? How am I supposed to take a sudden drop of excitement?” there is this fear that I’m trying to understand something, but if I articulate it out loud, the relationship is just going to be over.
Courtney: Mmm, you’re going to hurt someone.
Royce: That’s just how it’s going to end. If I’m like, “Hey, I don’t know if I like you anymore —”
Royce: “— like, in the way that we would need to maintain a relationship,” I mean, I obviously said that bluntly right now, more so than I would in a conversation.
Royce: Like, there’s some way to articulate that. But my feeling at the time was, the end result of that is just a breakup. And then that seemed to be worse than, you know, waiting a bit and kind of seeing what happened. Generally speaking, once I did feel that, it wasn’t too much longer after that that something happened that caused a breakup anyway.
Royce: And I guess I have two examples that I can think of. I guess one that, in hindsight, seemed to be more situated in neurodivergent behaviors. I remember being in a conversation just discussing, like, what to do, where to go, hobbies, events, sort of things like that. And we were going back and forth on where our interests lie and, you know, what to do for fun and that sort of thing. And I don’t remember what sparked it, but at some point in time, she just got noticeably upset and started, like, listing off a few things that were an issue, that weren’t quite doing it for her in the relationship.
Royce: And at one point in time, I just remember… I got really confused here. Because I remember the line — I think she was saying that I didn’t seem to be, you know, interested enough in the relationship at this point. And I was trying to question that. And she said, “Come on, I see the way you look at me.” And I, in the middle of this conversation, said, like, “Wait, what?”
Courtney: [laughs] “How am I looking at you?”
Royce: “What? What is this?” Because this is something that I’ve noticed. I mean, back in high school, this was actually… There was a point in time where I intentionally started doing facial expressions or gestures that were, like, very stereotypical — like, movie sort of stereotypical expressions, like raising eyebrows or making noticeable facial changes or doing things with your hands —
Courtney: You do have a killer eyebrow-raise, by the way. [kaughs]
Royce: — because I kept getting interrupted. Like, someone would say something in conversation, and I would take a moment to process the words and think, and they would see a neutral expression without an immediate answer and assume that I was irritated or angry or something like that. And so I had to, like, buffer the conversation with filler, with movement.
Royce: Like, I had to fill space to create enough time for me to actually participate in the conversation. And at this point in time, I was aware of that. I was aware that people would sometimes project whatever it was onto my, like, neutral expressions. And it was pretty clear at this point in time that, like, that’s what was going on here. I don’t know exactly what was being projected, because I never got an answer. But it did catch me off guard where I was trying to be in this conversation and I just got hit, like, from out of left field. Like, what is happening?
Courtney: That’s… So, first of all, yes, you have a fabulous eyebrow game. Since we don’t have a video component, I need the listeners to understand that you have the greatest eyebrows [laughing] I’ve ever seen in my life, and you can raise them like nobody else I know. 10 out of 10. But you didn’t get an answer to that? You were like, “How am I looking at you?”
Royce: No, I didn’t get an answer. It was in the middle of…. I don’t have a… This has been long enough ago and this happened quickly enough that I just don’t have a good memory of the situation. I don’t even remember what led into it. That line specifically sticks out to me —
Royce: — because it was a surprise when it happened. And looking back at it, like, now, it was very clearly a neurotypical-neurodivergent misattributing body language and facial expressions and things like that. Like, that’s what happened. But no, it was just, there was some trouble in the relationship and we started talking about it and then we were arguing and then we weren’t dating anymore, so.
Courtney: Could there have possibly been an element added on top of the neurodivergent facial expressions, or perhaps lack thereof, that could have also been, like, perceiving a lack of desire or not perceiving enough desire from you in sexual or romantic situations? Because I know I’ve dealt with that from allo partners in the past.
Royce: I think that’s highly probable. I don’t think that there is, like, a line that I could key into from that conversation that demonstrates that. But I think that that feeling was probably present.
Courtney: Because you did mention that a lot of these relationships, you were the more passive one, and it was someone who had a history of having a higher sex drive than their partners. So is this another situation like that also?
Royce: Yes, this was one of the examples, yeah — one of the people that I heard that from, and I have another example that’s kind of along those same lines. I think it’s more Ace-allo not mixing well, though, in this case, whereas the other one stood out to me as being a very clear, like, neurodivergent communication problem. But I mentioned the pattern of getting very excited in a relationship and then having that fall off and not knowing what to do with it. And at this point in time, this cycle had happened often enough that it was getting frustrating, it was getting anxiety-inducing. It was something that I was very concerned about because I was learning more about myself. I think, at this point in time, I was actually putting early iterations of Asexuality on my dating profile. At this point, I think it was with a question mark, like, “I think I might be.” I think I mentioned an interest in kink and then also mentioned I think I might be heteroromantic Asexual, which is what I used at the time.
Courtney: Mmm. I don’t think I knew that you ever had kink on your profile.
Royce: I’m pretty sure I did.
Courtney: Did you remove it by the time I came around? Because I don’t recall that.
Royce: I can’t remember. I don’t think that’s something that I would have taken off, had I put it there. It may have also just been that OkCupid was a site that had a lot of question and answer sections.
Royce: And some of those may have just been buried in there instead of on the front page. I don’t know.
Courtney: Mhm. That would make sense.
Royce: But anyway, in this relationship, the same pattern sort of happened. And this was one where I went to a friend that I was close to and I mentioned, like, “Hey, this thing is happening. I’m not sure what to do. I’m kind of panicking about it.” And they gave the whole, like, “I don’t know what to tell you. In my experience, I just know,” kind of an answer.
Courtney: [laughs] Unhelpful!
Royce: And so I did something that you shouldn’t do, and I messaged them in the middle of an anxiety attack.
Courtney: Oh no!
Royce: So, like, I was trying to compose words. I was writing a lot of text just trying to explain the situation. And that is one thing I will say as an aside here: there is a social stigma of always having tough conversations in person, and I understand where those people are coming from, but in my position, like, sometimes I need a quiet room and a keyboard buffer to actually be able to, like, get the words right.
Royce: And this was definitely one of these situations. But we had this conversation. I tried to articulate my thoughts. And then we started going back and forth a little bit about the nature of the relationship and what was going on. And she brought up some issues as well — which, in both cases, the prior relationship and this one, this was the first time anything had been brought up. These were also one/two-month-long relationships, so I don’t know how much of that is a communication issue and how much of it is just the relationship being young, and maybe we were both just kind of waiting to see what happened, and then when something came out, it just all came out at once.
Royce: But in this case… This is something that I brought up to you earlier on in our relationship and had me thinking back on it. Because she said… The word she used was “affectionate.” It was something like, “You aren’t very affectionate” or “You aren’t affectionate enough.” And I mentioned that to you early on in our relationship, where I said — I basically repeated that or said, like, “I’ve been told that before,” and you kind of looked at me funny and disagreed. And I think it is kind of a difference in how affection is interpreted.
Courtney: Oh, absolutely. Because I would argue that you are probably the most affectionate relationship I have ever had, at least by what my needs are for affection. So I was really surprised by that.
Royce: Looking back now, I think that by “affection,” she absolutely mentioned sexual attraction —
Royce: — or, like, overt displays of that. Because there was a line that kind of confused me at the time. It was surprising, but she said the nature of our relationship at that point in time reminded her of one of her worst relationships in the past, where her partner had gone on antidepressants.
Royce: And I didn’t know, at the time, that those types of medications can lower libido.
Royce: So looking back on that now, I think it was absolutely a question of overt sexual attraction or attention or something like that. In the moment, I heard someone say the relationship right now is reminding them of the hardest relationship they’ve ever been in, and I was like, “Well, then, we shouldn’t date.” Like, that answers my question. I am no longer conflicted.
Royce: My stress was because I didn’t know what to do, and you answered my question.
Royce: So I felt relief at what I now see as an issue with my orientation.
Courtney: Yeah. Yeah. And I’m sure it definitely didn’t help that she had, like, past baggage that she was being consistently reminded of that is not fundamentally your fault, at least not that aspect, which is so interesting. And that’s why… I think that’s why, ever since Episode 1, we’ve been talking about breaking out the pocket dictionaries. Words have such a fluid meaning. Words can have such an individual stigma or connotation to them that varies so drastically person-to-person.
Courtney: Because in this case, the word was “affection.” And it still baffles me. Because I’ve told stories on this podcast about the nature of our relationship, that we have had people reaching out to us or people in comments say, like, “Oh, that’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard,” “Oh, that’s wonderful,” “That’s so sweet.” So, like, it’s not just me that I am so weird [laughs], that me or someone exactly like me is the only one who can receive the type of affection you’re giving.
Courtney: But to me, it’s like, what is someone talking about, “you’re not affectionate”? Because this is exactly the kind of affection I need. But if someone’s definition of affection requires a certain type of sexual attraction, if it requires a certain type of physical touch, then, yeah, that doesn’t even register to me as affection. And in fact, with some of my past relationships, physical touch has often been a very coercive, sometimes even traumatizing thing, that, like, even if it was done with the utmost consent, it’s not going to be something affectionate to me, it’s something altogether different.
Courtney: So that is really interesting. And that’s something that I really want the listeners to take away from, because you have — sort of interchangeably or shifted at various times — said, like, oh, you’re more on the sex-neutral or the sex-favorable side of things, because you aren’t averse to sexual situations, but you are also saying that you personally have been very passive in them.
Royce: I flip between using those two terms, or often, I say both, because I feel like neither term fits correctly.
Royce: “Neutral” I don’t think is quite right. “Favorable,” I also… I don’t know. Neither term really fits. I think that I like the idea of sex more than I like the act. And sometimes, it has been difficult to break down how much of that is an actual interest or appreciation of the idea and how much of it is mental habits, like growing up and just assuming I was, you know, cishet, knowing that I liked women, and just assuming that, given relationships being presented as what they are, that sex was going to be a part of it. I think that sometimes habitual thinking can get into that. And sometimes, it’s been challenging to sort of work backwards when a thought comes up and see where is this actually coming from, why am I thinking this right now, what does this mean, or what does it matter?
Courtney: Mhm. Yeah. And that makes sense. And I think that’s a good example of one type of Ace experience that could really help either allosexual people understand who are just learning, or even questioning Aces themselves. Because sometimes, there has been a history of exclusion in the Ace community where it’s like, “Well, if you like sex, then you’re not really Ace.” But there’s still a fundamental Asexual experience in there that — it’s not an allo experience. Even if you are partaking in sex, even if you are enjoying it in that moment, there can still be a disconnect between an allosexual partner that needs an abundance of communication if it’s going to work, sometimes perhaps some level of compromise. But an Asexual person does not have the same relationship with sex as an allo would, even if on paper they might be performing the same acts.
Royce: And I guess I should also clarify: I’ve been using the term “sex” as sort of shorthand to refer to a variety of sort of adjacent activities. I think that in… I guess the most mainstream allonormative definition, sex is oftentimes penetrative intercourse, but, more generally speaking, something that has the end goal in mind of producing an orgasm. And when I’m referring more frequently to sex as I experience, sometimes that is not the purpose, sometimes it’s not a part of it at all.
Royce: Generally, I guess more of what I was referring to — I was using the word “sex,” but I was more referring to a wide variety of…
[melodic beeping in the background]
Royce: Good thing I was pausing.
[melodic beeping in the background continues]
Courtney: Okay, that was probably too light for the microphone to pick up, but, listeners, I need you to understand that Royce once again decided to put on a noisy cooking implement right before we went to sit down and record. So our rice cooker just sang a little tune at us. [laughs] It was not the pressure cooker this time, though. [laughing] That one’s loud enough to register on mic.
Royce: That one just beeps. Anyway, what I was trying to finish off there was, I was generally just referring to what I would describe as, like, intimate physical contact.
Royce: Like, there’s a boundary line for me that I could tell where this line is and what falls into that realm and what doesn’t. But I don’t know if, prompted, I could explain clearly enough to an outside observer without a very lengthy explanation and examples.
Royce: I am normally not a very touchy person, so there’s a very clear line between, like, what kinds of physical contact I engage in.
Courtney: Mhm. And so, you said that, in these situations, your goal has not been the traditional societal goal of reaching orgasm. So what has your goal been, other than the earlier examples of, like, self-exploration?
Royce: Well, I think that that is still a part of it, sometimes, or has always been a part of it, in that new experiences or new sensations are interesting. I think in a past episode, I referred to some of this as a form of stimming. Sometimes, I find myself being interested in just finding new sensory experiences.
Royce: Sometimes, intentionally overstimulating is an interesting experience.
Royce: In other situations, with partners that have been very sexual themselves, focusing more on them in some way that they enjoy has been rewarding in some way. It’s been interesting in some way.
Courtney: Which, yeah, and I do think, despite the fact that we have brought it up at least tangentially in a variety of episodes, and we had our full episode where we had Evie Lupine on and we were talking about Asexuality in kink, I think there have been some instances where elements of enjoying kink have been brought up, and we have had some listeners who still just don’t understand it. Because, to a lot of people, kink, in their mind, is a fundamentally sexual experience.
Royce: And that’s some of what I was trying to address earlier when I said, specifically, “This is what I think most people think of in the broader society when you say the word ‘sex.’” And I wanted to make that distinction — that I’m referring to a broader spectrum of things here. Because there is a lot of kink that doesn’t focus, again, on orgasm or on any sort of genital contact or, sometimes, no physical contact at all.
Courtney: Yeah. And that… I think especially people who haven’t really explored the kink community sometimes think of kink almost in a bit of a vanilla context, where, like, some lightly kinky things are essentially just foreplay, and that isn’t always necessarily the case. Like, you’ve mentioned, just that sensory overload — like, “I just want to feel a lot of things intensely and in a new way” — that doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual, it doesn’t have to involve genitals. It could even just involve things like pain.
Royce: Yeah. In that situation, there are a lot of different things that can potentially contribute to that feeling of sensory overload, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be one thing or the other. And even if it does involve something, that’s not really the point. It’s not the purpose. It’s, you know, a tool or a means to get to where you’re going. But, I mean, that feeling: one, it’s very intense, and there’s a curiosity of seeing, like, just how intense it can go. And, as someone who often has a noisy brain, very intense physical stimuli can kind of work to shut that down.
Royce: And on top of that, going through something that is very intense and also physically exhausting —
Royce: — like, the moment that you come out of that is often very, very clear.
Courtney: Mhm. I wonder, have you ever had any early relationship conversations with someone, or pre-relationship conversations, about sexual desire or sexual needs? Because I know when we were first talking, we both, like, clearly knew that we were Asexual. That was stated on paper and in the very first message, so we knew that element of it. But I still asked at one point, “If I never want to have sex for the rest of my life, is that okay with you?” And you said yes, and that was a huge relief to me.
Royce: No, I never had any of those conversations. And I think that is probably because… well, one, all of my relationships are very short, and so we never really got to the point where — well, we didn’t talk about these things upfront, and we didn’t get to the point where we had a conversation about that sort of thing. I also, aside from maybe the last one or two, I wasn’t confidently identifying as Ace.
Royce: And even in that last one or two, I question the “confident” word in that sentence.
Royce: I think it was something that was in the back of my head, but I wasn’t… I was still trying to rule out possibilities.
Courtney: Mhm. Now, I also think there are points throughout this episode where, for any listeners who are, like, really well-versed in the spectrum of microlabels, might have thought, like, “Oh, that sounds like this. This sounds like that.” Have you ever seen or identified with any of the microlabels? There are a couple I thought about that are specific to neurodivergence, and then there are also some I’ve come across that are like, you immediately lose romantic interest once you get close enough to someone. I’ve seen those where it’s like, you might experience one during certain periods of a relationship but then it goes away. Have you seen any of those and identified with any of them, or not so much?
Royce: Of the kinds you just described? No, not particularly. I don’t have a habit of looking through microlabels. Like I said, sometimes, when I hear another person describe their place within a microlabel… Because even — I mean, it’s spectrums all the way down.
Courtney: A spectrum of spectrums!
Royce: Even something as well-defined as a microlabel is going to have a variety of experiences inside of that.
Royce: There have been some times when I’ve heard people describe aegosexuality where I have, again, felt like some of that seems like something I’ve experienced, and then there are other times when I’ve heard other people describe it where I’ve felt completely separated from it.
Courtney: Can you give a couple examples of when it has or has not felt right?
Royce: I think it has generally revolved around people describing getting some kind of enjoyment out of, like, for example, reading or watching something with explicit content. Now, the problem is “enjoyment” is a very difficult word to describe.
Royce: I don’t know exactly what… I think there are wide varieties of ways that that can be interpreted.
Courtney: Yeah. Is it just “I like this thing,” or is it arousal, or somewhere in a gray area between the two? I have heard some Aces in certain places of the spectrum very sincerely, honest-to-gnomes, unironically say that they watch porn for the plot. [laughs] And I know that that’s, like, a joke amongst allos, like, “Oh, ‘I’m just watching it for the plot’? Uh-huh. Sure.” Or read, for that matter. Consume in some way.
Royce: That’s interesting. I’m sure there is, like, well acted-out dialogue pornography out there somewhere, but generally speaking, I think the joke is so many of those situations are so ridiculous. I’ve heard people watch porn for comedy.
Courtney: I have heard that one.
Royce: I’ve heard allo people say that before.
Courtney: I have heard allo people say that before. And that’s one that I have to raise an eyebrow to. [laughs] Because it’s just so far away from my personal experience.
Royce: Honestly, I am more inclined to believe comedy than plot, because it’s one of those, like, “It’s so bad, it’s funny” moments.
Courtney: [laughs] Oh, maybe it is for the comedy plot. I would never be in a situation where I am looking for plot or comedy [laughs] in that area of media to consume. So do you have any fun or interesting dating stories? I have so many of them, it’s probably gonna be its own series, starting with the gnome episode, but.
Royce: “Fun or interesting”? I don’t-
Courtney: Or funny. Or tragic. Noteworthy.
Royce: I think a lot of mine were mundane. I mean, there is… I remember, a first date that I didn’t follow up on because they had to have been, like, mashing up the plots of several movies and telling them to me as if they were facts about their life. Like, had cosmetic surgery while hiding out from the Russian mafia, and, oh, there was just all sorts of stuff. It was, like, two or three hours of just nonstop storytelling. And it seemed like as the stories went on, the more absurdist they got. And I feel like there were a couple of things where, in the moment, I heard this and thought, “I’m pretty sure that’s very close to the plot of some kind of movie,” or it was, like, a major aspect of just some shows that were coming out around that time.
Courtney: Oh dear. I feel like I would be too trusting and give the benefit of the doubt to people too quickly who were like that, because, A) I haven’t seen a lot of movies, and B) I have some bonkers, off-the-wall stories myself, that… I have friends and I have you and I have just a variety of people in my life who’ve been like, “If I hadn’t been with you in the room when this was happening, [laughing] I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Royce: You have a skewed baseline, that’s true.
Courtney: [laughs] I haven’t even told my weirdest stories on this podcast yet. I was so surprised when I moved to Kansas City that, very quickly, I encountered two of your exes. And I was like, “How many people have you dated?” And the answer was still “Not that many.” And Kansas City is a pretty decent-sized place. Or maybe “exes” isn’t correct, but people you were at least speaking to on a dating site.
Royce: Oh, yeah. I think only one was an ex, but it was just one of those situations where the area you’re living in seems a lot smaller than it actually is, just due to shared interests, things like that.
Courtney: Yeah! Well, it was wild. I mean, I didn’t know anyone down here except for you when I moved. And to me, Kansas City — that’s, like, the big city! I came from South Dakota. I was like, “This is a whole real city.” And all of a sudden, like the very first event that you came to help run my booth with me at Crypticon, you were like, “Oh, there’s —” Was it not actually your ex? Was it, like, a friend of an ex?
Royce: A friend, yeah.
Courtney: You were like, “Oh, there’s friend of my ex at that booth over there.” I was like, “Oh, tell me that story!” But then you told me enough about that story that then I recognized her out in the wild when I was out and about. Like, on two different occasions, I was like, “Oh, that’s Royce’s ex.” Wild!
Royce: Yeah, that was the ex that I broke up with while having that long conversation under an anxiety attack.
Courtney: That was her?!
Courtney: I heard those two stories, but you never connected the two! [gasps] Wild! Yes, I encountered her in, like, two different situations, and I was like, “Fascinating.” But then you were also like, “Oh! Yeah.” We were just sharing stories of people who we hadn’t dated but we had spoken to, and you were just like, “Oh, yeah, I was talking to someone once who was, like, a professional mermaid.” And I was like, “Wait a second. I know a professional mermaid!” [laughs]
Courtney: Because I went to this networking group for a while — like, a young entrepreneur business group. We had breakfast, like, twice a month. And it was not an enormous group. There were, for the most part, like, a core group of, like, six people, and some people who would just come a few times a year. On our absolute busiest day, we might have, like, 20 people there, but usually it was closer to, like, 10 or sometimes even less. And one of the recurring members of this was a professional mermaid! And I thought she was so cool. Because I’d go to these business networking events and I’d introduce myself as a professional weirdo, because that would get some laughs and get people more interested in actually hearing the fact that I make stuff out of human hair, because if you lead with that, people are gonna think you’re creepy. If you lead with “I’m a professional weirdo” and you show up in a purple top hat, people are gonna be like, “Who is this fascinating person?” And then they’re a little more receptive to what I have to say about what I do. But I meet someone who has, like, the full-on professional mermaid tail, will do gigs. I was like, “This is the coolest profession I have encountered at these things yet.”
Courtney: And when you’re just casually like, “Yeah, I was talking to someone online [laughing] who’s a professional mermaid,” I was like, “What are the chances?” So, the next time I saw her, I was like, “This is gonna sound really weird, but did you have a dating profile on this site?” [laughs] And she was like, “Uh, yeah?” I was like, “Mmm! You were talking to my spouse at one point. Fascinating!”
Courtney: But it was also at that same event that I befriended a former coworker of yours. And he became, like, my best friend in that group. So when we had, like, a housewarming party or, like, a board game party, I invited him over, unbeknownst to you. And you were like, “Wait, why is my former coworker on this invite list?” [laughs]
Royce: Yeah. He had left the company we were working at maybe a year prior to do his own thing.
Courtney: Fascinating. How that happens, I do not know.
Royce: ’Cause you’d known him for a while before I saw the invite list.
Courtney: Yes! I had! I had. But yeah, then I was like, “Gosh, Royce, social butterfly over here. How many people do you know?” Apparently, everyone I’m meeting, you already met first, despite our vastly different outside-the-house social structures. [laughs]
Courtney: So what’s actually the timeline of little elements of identity discovery? Because I feel like you’re the kind of person who will sit on ideas and observations for quite a while before you actually articulate them or start identifying as it. Because, as you said, Asexual — you had it in the back of your head before you were saying it out loud. And so was it Asexual, and then Agender, mehgender, and then Autistic, neurodivergent, and now you’re thinking about sort of maybe quoi, maybe something weird romance going on in there? Was that the right order?
Royce: Well, going back further, I think that there are a variety of situations where I have consciously realized I was experiencing something different, and then I just didn’t have enough information at the time to make sense of it. And I can think of little bits here and there. Like, one super simple thing. I have the, like, textbook Autistic trait of walking with my weight towards the front of my feet.
Royce: Oftentimes on my toes. I remember a point in time when my sister and I were just running around playing at my grandmother’s house. We were probably in elementary school, maybe a little older than that. But I just realized, at one moment, that my sister, who is a lot smaller than I am, was making so much more noise than I was running around. And clearly, like, now, that’s where your weight was on your foot, whether you’re hitting your heels or flat versus your toes. And I thought, like, “That’s strange. I don’t have an explanation for that.” But I didn’t really realize what I was doing with my own body in the moment and also wouldn’t have realized that that was abnormal, for example.
Courtney: Mmm. Mhm.
Royce: I think the first thing I noticed was actually the possibility of being dyslexic, in high school.
Royce: I started noticing that some of my reading patterns were different than the groups of students around me. And I was in, like, advanced English and whatnot, and sometimes when we would read out loud, it seemed like — or if we had situations where we had to read material within a very fixed amount of time. I think I was in a woodshop class at one point where the instructor was like, “Okay, skim this chapter really quick, and we’re going to go into the back and use saws.” [laughing] And I realized the first time we did that that the way that I was reading was not suitable for what we were doing. I was supposed to be very quickly skimming in a particular way, and even then, even after knowing what the time frame was, it was still a struggle to get through the material, even if I was not reading everything word for word. And with that, I just got some amount of proof in the moment that the way that I am experiencing this is different than the majority of the people around me.
Royce: Throughout my late teenage/early 20 years, I did get some indications that the way that I went about relationships, that the ways that I experienced emotions, seemed to be different than other people. There was one point in time — I was probably, I don’t know, 19 or 20 — when I was trying to articulate what I was observing emotionally. The way I was thinking about it in the moment was like, if the average person were to graph out what sort of situations will cause an intense emotion — like, a high emotional reaction — and they graphed that out for a variety of different stimuli, I also have things that provoke an intense emotional reaction or a lower emotional reaction, but it seems like my graph was shifted a bit from the norm. Like, I was being emotionally engaged by different criteria than most people, and I just didn’t know where to go with that at the time. It was something I observed.
Royce: I think not long after that — probably 20, 21 — I did start having some thoughts on gender. I mean, I’ve mentioned in prior episodes that a lot of how I perceive gender was in observing the stereotypes that exist and being frustrated with those stereotypes. That sort of has a long history. There was a more prominent time around that period of time — 20, early 20s — where the idea of androgyny or whatever gender-neutral term you wanted it to be was noticeably appealing in some way that I have difficulty describing. I don’t know if I just appreciated the concept or I thought that it fit right for me, some combination of those things. And in the few years after that, I was also starting to figure out in more definite terms my sexual orientation.
Courtney: Mhm. Was the word “androgyny” actually in your head at that time, or was it a concept? Because I feel like, even just since we’ve been married, that you’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with that word and use that word more often than you used to.
Royce: That’s the word I’ve always been familiar with. I think it was the only word that I had at the time to describe some kind of genderless experience.
Courtney: Because I thought I had asked you, early, early on in our relationship, if you considered yourself androgynous, and I distinctly remember being told no.
Royce: I think it was just less concrete at that point in time. The last time I had probably really given much thought to it was, “Is this something I conceptually appreciate? Is this something that I think fits well for me? Is this something that I think I am attracted to in others?” And I don’t think I had a strong enough pull toward that word to say, “Yes, I am this.” Which actually may be just another manifestation of how I identify as Agender, where saying, affirmatively, “Yes, I am this label” is something that has never really felt right to me.
Royce: So I think it may have been that definitively saying, “Yes, I am this thing” is something that didn’t feel right.
Courtney: Mmm. Okay.
Royce: Because even Agender is kind of a default, it’s like…
Courtney: It’s the closest word that’s kind of enough.
Royce: It is — technically, this definition meets what I’m feeling, but I still really don’t like saying “I am this.”
Courtney: Yeah, you don’t have any affection for the term. The word “androgyny” did just remind me of my very old book that is mostly about hair but also a little bit about androgyny, so I’m not going to go all into that right now, but listeners, if you want to hear me absolutely geek out about a book from the 1600s written by a Puritan… [laughs] definitely let us know if you want to hear that! That can be its own episode.
Royce: Beyond that, let’s see, we’ve hit early 20s. I think mid-20s was a lot of me just figuring out my own mental health and anxiety, which, eventually, once I kind of got that under control, then a gap of a few years and then really learning about neurodivergence.
Courtney: And then, when and how did the romance-questioning aspect come in? Because that’s probably the last articulated of all these identities that have been coming to understanding throughout the years.
Royce: That’s true. I think that just in recent years, being more involved with the broader community or reading more material from the community, I’m just seeing more terms or more concepts that make sense in some way or another. And we talked about how we tend to use shorthand explanations for a lot of our identities —
Royce: — just for the purposes of, you know, quick conversation. And I think that’s a lot of what it is, is I’m just seeing some more things out there and saying, “Hey, some of this kind of makes sense.”
Royce: And I mean, some of that comes back to our discussions on gender as well, where, a decade ago, we both used the word “hetero.”
Courtney: Yeah, which I think is wrong on both accounts for multiple reasons, but I think at least perhaps made a little more sense to you. And maybe this is something you can extrapolate on a little bit more, because you said earlier in this episode, like, you liked women. So, like, what have you been able to point to to actually orient in that direction, when you yourself have muddy, complicated identity when it comes to gender or lack thereof gender, you have an appreciation for androgyny, you may be — [laughing] you are definitely Asexual, you may also be on the Aro spectrum.
Royce: I think the difficulty with picking a word out that I said earlier is that, oftentimes, I find myself defaulting to either a word that I would have used at a previous point in time because we were talking about something in the past, or just the simplest word to continue the sentence that I paused in the middle of while trying to think of a word.
Royce: There’s a gap in our language right now.
Royce: Like, I can say that the attraction that I have felt has always been oriented femme, but the boundary lines — like, the edge of that is fuzzy and I don’t know exactly where it starts and stops.
Courtney: Could it be a more expansive or fluid definition of “femme” than allocishetero society might consider it to be?
Royce: I assume this entire conversation we’ve been having is outside of the purview of allocishet society.
Courtney: [laughs] Fair! Always assume that all of our conversations are — unless we ever, for some reason or another, have an allocishetero person on the podcast to just be like, “Tell us how you work.” [laughs] Which is really interesting, though, because I’ve also seen some pushback from allosexual people who are like, “Every time I try to ask Aces these questions, they always go into how complicated it is and how fluid it is and how it’s a spectrum, and I never get a clear answer.” But it’s also like, I’ve had a lot of questions with allos where I don’t get a clear answer either. If you sit down with an allo and be like, “What is sexual attraction?” you’ll get a lot of answers like your ex gave you, that’s just like not really an answer, or what society tells you — like, “You’ll just know. It just is.” I think people get a little too fixated on the concept of, like, “Well, words have meaning!” And that we forget that we’re assigning words to very abstract and individualized experiences, concepts.
Royce: Yeah, words do have meaning. Many words have multiple definitions, and those definitions are also temporal. They change throughout periods of times, within different cultures. They may also have different meaning in different dialects. But then also, words have independent personal connotations.
Courtney: Yes. And sometimes, over the course of history, a word will expand to mean increasingly more things, and sometimes it will shrink to mean something far more specific than it was originally intended to. So, language is fascinating. And one thing that the queer community in general has been very good at is creating new words where there are gaps in the language. And some of those end up sticking. Some of them don’t. I know we’ve expressed frustration at times for not having language to discuss various types of attraction that isn’t based in a gender or an assumed gender — not only for the person you’re attracted to, but for what your own gender is. And I know that there are pockets of the queer community who have created microlabels that do accommodate those. In my own experience, I haven’t necessarily found those particularly useful, at least not yet. Perhaps that will change. I don’t know what language is going to look like in 50 years from now, but I’m eager to see!
Courtney: Do you want to do the outro this time?
Royce: Not really.
Courtney: Will you anyway? It’s my least favorite part. The intros and the outros. I’m terrible at them.
Royce: My personal opinion on outros is that, after the first couple of times that someone is told to leave a comment or subscribe or hit the button or ring the bell or click the thing or do whatever it is, they understand it, and the rest is just noise. And if you think about it, how many hours, if not days, if not weeks of your life have been filled up with meaningless outros telling you to do something you already inherently know how to do? It’s a waste of all of our times.
Royce: And I think that if I am going to end the video, I’m just going to say, “Okay, that’s it. We’ll release another episode next week.”
Courtney: See, that’s fine. I don’t even say “Click all the things” every time. I just do sometimes, and it’s because I don’t know how to give an outro, because sometimes it’s awkward to just be like, “Alright, bye!”
Royce: You just rushcut. Like, cut off mid sentence. Occasionally. We’ve done that once.
Courtney: Yeah, I was going to say, didn’t we already —