“My daughter was sexually assaulted in college and now she identifies as asexual. Are these two things related? Could I have supported her more or better after the assault? I can’t help but blame myself, since I love my daughter so much.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Rachel Halder
Thank you for writing in. The love you have for your daughter is evident, and I can only imagine that you want to support her in the best way possible. This isn’t an easy question to answer, mostly because it surrounds your daughter’s identity, and she is the only person who can speak to that. I am not your daughter, and I do not identify as asexual, and ultimately I cannot (and do not want to) speak for your daughter! Therefore, I’m going to try to approach this question by talking about trauma healing and identity, and how the two are tied together.
I understand why you are concerned that your daughter’s asexual identity is related to her abuse. For the longest time, I was really wrapped up in the idea that my own sexuality was linked to my childhood abuse. But linking those two things–the traumatic abuse she experienced and her new asexual identity–actually takes away her agency. In a way, it’s even subtly shaming her. Even though this isn’t what you’re wanting to say, she could hear this question as something like, “Okay honey, I’ll play along with this asexual identity because you were abused, but I don’t really think you’re actually asexual.” Now, not only was she robbed of her agency in saying what could and could not be done to her body, she’s also robbed of the agency in declaring who she IS. What’s more, this response may play into some untrue stereotypes about asexuality that we debunk here. I encourage you to read up more on asexuality here at My Kid Is Gay and beyond.
The thing about identities is that they are not simple, and they are constantly shifting. We start out life as a baby, move to toddler, become a sister, move to teenager, become an adult–that’s just one example of the fluidity of identity. But our sexuality is a spectrum, and it can also be fluid. I myself have identified as straight, bisexual, lesbian, and queer. None of those were inaccurate labels–they were an expression of who I felt I was at that moment in time. Currently, I identify myself as queer and pansexual, but my primary lover is a male. Does that make my identity inauthentic? Not at all. It just means that I happen to be in love with a man, while there’s a large part of myself who finds deeper sexual attraction to women, and who is also open to attraction to anyone, regardless of their gender identification.
How do identities relate to trauma healing? Well, as I mentioned above, I firmly believe that abuse survivors’ identities should not be tied to their abuse. With that said, though, it is true that as we journey down our individual healing path we will constantly reimagine and recreate ourselves, because it’s a necessary and important part of our journey. I was never able to fully embrace my queer self until I went to therapy and began speaking about my sexual abuse. And within that, it took me years after admitting the abuse to fully come out to the world. During that time, my identity was shifting. What I labeled myself one year was not necessarily what I labeled myself the next year. That’s because as I evolved, I found better words that embraced more wholly who I AM (depending on that moment in time).
You are an awesome parent. How do I know that? Because you’re asking these hard questions! You’re seeking out answers! You obviously want what is best for your daughter! So let me say here that the best way to love and support your daughter is to fully accept who she is and however she identifies herself, and to respect her need to identify and re-identify herself while she heals from this trauma. I’m not a parent and therefore can’t imagine how horrible it must feel to see your daughter experience pain. I am a daughter, though, so I can speak to the experience of having parents who felt guilty for the abuse I experienced. And to put it bluntly, my parents’ guilt did nothelp me.
Guilt is shown in lots of different ways. The way I saw it manifested in my parents was that 1) They didn’t talk about what happened to me. 2) If I pointed out something that I was hurt about from the past (for example, them not getting me therapy when I asked for it as a child), I was met either with defensiveness (“We didn’t know any better–we didn’t know how to handle abuse. If it happened now we would do better!”) or guilt/shame (“I am so, so, so sorry. I’m a horrible parent!”). Both of these responses were beyond frustrating.
Really, all I ever wanted to hear was acknowledgement! I wanted to hear something like, “I am sorry you hurt so much, Rachel. And I can understand why you have some anger about your childhood, and some resentment toward us for not properly giving you care when you asked for it. Thank you for being our daughter and for beautifully expressing your pain. We really want to support you (all of you, including the gay [asexual] you) through this process.” And thankfully, when I explained this to my mom, that’s exactly what she gave me.
I’m not sharing this to discourage your own feelings about your daughter’s experience, or to say that you’re not allowed your feelings. Instead, I am trying to offer alternative ways to handle the situation that hopefully can support your daughter and help ALL of her feel loved. In short, your daughter has the right to identify herself however she wants, regardless of the past abuse she’s experienced, and she has the right to have that identity respected and loved.
Rachel Halder is currently an MA in Religion candidate at Claremont School of Theology, studying holistic spiritual trauma healing for those who have been marginalized by the Christian Church because of sexual abuse and/or LGBTQIA sexual identification. She is passionate about interspirituality, believing that mystical spirituality is the origin of all world religions, and that at their mystical core all spiritual paths lead to Love. She blogs about sexualized violence at Our Stories Untold, about spirituality at Heart of Thought, and when she’s not writing or speaking you can find her hiking mountains or walking through the forest, communing with pachamama’s beautiful earth creation. Follow her on Twitter @raegitsreal
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