What is demisexuality? This hunky HIV advocate searches his soul for an answer

Written by:

Yen Feng

Yen Feng

Yen is the editor of asia.gay. You can reach him at editor@asia.gay.

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Name: Kevin Chan 
Preferred pronoun: He/Him/She/Her/Whatever 
Age: 36 
Height/Weight: 180cm, 85kg
Occupation: Program manager of DHSKP (Differentiate HIV Services for Key Population) program in PTFoundation, a foundation that primarily advocates for the HIV and AIDS movement in Malaysia
Nationality/Ethnicity: Malaysian-Chinese
Home: I live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

When I first contacted Kevin for an interview, I wasn’t expecting that we would talk about something so personal to him. And when we did, his story moved me, because I think as gay men, we are often led to believe that sex is a transactional vehicle for pleasure with no emotional consequences.

The media and popular culture paint gay men as hypersexual beings who view sex as a commodity. We are inundated with messages – whether implicit or explicit – that teach us that our self-worth is measured in sexual prowess. Even bottoms have to be “power” bottoms in order to wrest dignity back from a community that puts straight-acting tops with big dicks on a pedestal. Submissive, effeminate men are often relegated to the bottom of the reject pile.

A person’s relationship with sex is deeply personal, and it is the culmination of past experiences, some of which may be traumatic and difficult to recover from. For Kevin, it was sexual assault at a young age. For others, it could be other forms of abuse or trauma, physical or emotional.

The need to connect with others and fit in is universal. For a sexual minority within a sexual minority, trying to find people who understand can feel deeply isolating and impossible to accomplish.

Today, Kevin has slowly taken back control of his life. He is working in an organisation that advocates for HIV and Aids awareness in Malaysia, and he has been in a relationship with a supportive, loving partner for eight years. I wish him all the best and thank him for sharing his story with asia.gay.

Thanks for agreeing to share with us your experience with asia.gay! We are really happy to talk to you. You self-identify as a demisexual. Can you tell us more about that? What is a demisexual?

Basically, demisexual people only feel sexually attracted to someone when they have an emotional bond with the person. They can be gay, straight, bisexual, or pansexual, and may have any gender identity.

The prefix “demi” means half — which can refer to being halfway between sexual and asexual. Demisexuality can be a type of “graysexuality”. A graysexual person may experience sexual attraction only rarely, or they may feel sexual attraction but aren’t that interested in sex.

I think to understand this process of identifying yourself sexually, it’s important to first understand what is sexuality? To me, sexuality is the way people experience and express themselves sexually. This involves biological, physical, emotional, social, or spiritual feelings and behaviours.

Some members of society don’t just strive to attach feelings to sexual attraction but view it as a necessity, which means casual sex. For demisexuals, a one-night stand doesn’t just happen spontaneously, or very often at all. 

Can you briefly describe your self-discovery journey?

I didn’t really know what it meant to be “gay” until I was in my 20s. And at first, I was not comfortable with it. I am a survivor of sexual assault, and that has really affected the way I think about sex.

When I think about sex, I often associate it with dirtiness. Even something as simple as ejaculating in front of a sex partner is something that terrifies me. My journey to recovery is long and I’m not even sure I’m even halfway there. But thankfully, I have found kindness and understanding in my current partner.

I’m so glad to hear that Kevin. At what point did you realise that maybe you were not just gay but a demisexual?

Actually, I had sought help from a mental health psychologist in early June 2020. I had scheduled an assessment to see if I was suffering from a performance anxiety issue, and through the process (and a lot of reading), I came to understand more about the meaning of sexuality.

When I thought about my own sexuality, this question would always come to mind: “Is sexual attraction important to me?”

I would think about whether or not I enjoyed my past experiences with sex. And to be honest, I felt some frustration that there was always some level of expectation of sex in a relationship. That would scare me and I would not know how to deal with it. I felt like I had been told a lie about sex, a lie that I had to live for the rest of my life just to fit in.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about demisexuality?

This is a difficult question because it is such a complex and individual feeling. It’s also hard to discuss because I haven’t been “interrogating” the people around me to ask them what they think about demisexuality.

But there’s one thing I would like to say: demisexuality isn’t necessary about sex per se, or even a lack of libido. It is about the need for emotional intimacy to feel attraction. Identifying as a demisexual doesn’t change how I experience sex, it only makes it clearer when or how I would interact with sex.

What do you want others to know about demisexuals?

I understand the perspective of others who might ask “Why do you need to label everything?” And I might agree – except, this isn’t about labels but helping people to identify with something so that they can feel comfortable about their sexuality.

For me personally, I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself and have had a lot of pressure from society to be one way or another. If sexual attraction matters to you for sex, it’s great that you know that. If not, that’s totally OK too. What is most important is to know yourself and be comfortable with your needs.

Get to know Kevin on Instagram by following him @kevisland and @JomTest_PTFoundation.

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