Zoey McShane, 21, has always excelled, but not without obstacle.
As a biracial Hispanic woman with a complicated family, McShane learned to secure herself early on with her intelligence and determination. After coming out to her family as asexual, McShane was met with an odd combination of support and conflict surrounding her identity.
From a small, isolated town in central Florida, to a successful upcoming graduate of the University of Florida, McShane has found herself a space where she continues to flourish.
You identify as asexual, correct?
Tell me about that.
There’s a spectrum with asexuality. Some people call it alosexual, but some people are offended by the term alosexual. It’s kind of controversial so I’m just going to say asexual. So, from a spectrum from sexual to asexual, there’s gray-A in the middle and that’s like the level of sexual attraction. So gray-A could mean you’re sexually attracted to somebody every once in a while. Or you could be demisexual, which means you’ve been dating someone for two years and you’re madly in love and now you’re sexually attracted to them. But I’m asexual; I’ve never experienced sexual attraction. I’m also panromantic and that means I am romantically interested in people but I don’t really see gender in the terms of a romantic relationship. It’s not really a factor for me but I’ve dated two cis men, both in high school. Those weren’t fun relationships but I guess I learned a lot about myself from them.
How did this conflict with your religious upbringing?
I was very homophobic as a child because I was raised in a very religious environment, a very Southern Baptists environment. I don’t want to say all religions are homophobic but, a very Southern Baptist environment, and it came out extremely homophobic and I kind of realized in middle school that I didn’t see a difference between genders in terms of romance. I didn’t believe people when they said they were sexually attracted to people; I thought they were lying or exaggerating to try to seem more adult and I fully believed that everyone didn’t see a difference and they just chose who they were attracted to based on what they were supposed to be attracted to. I got into an argument with my friend who was very pro-gay rights in middle school and I said that ‘oh you just choose.’ And she basically said that’s not normal. And then I was kind of like ‘Oh.’
What was that process like? Of figuring out your identity.
So, there was all this introspection. And I was like, ‘well maybe I’m bi,’ but I can still choose. It took a while to come out as bi[sexual] to that same and as soon as I said it I realized that wasn’t the right label. So I went back and I kind of stumbled on the word asexual on Wikipedia and I was reading it and it felt like I finally knew who I was. It was this great feeling of ‘oh I’m not broken’ and this is a normal thing that normal people experience and I’m not just some weirdo who’s never going to experience love. Soon after that I got my first boyfriend who was not… he’s not a good person. He wasn’t mean to me but just stuff came out about him later… and that relationship lasted for about three months. I broke up with him basically coming out as asexual. He really wanted me to be sexually attracted to him. He wouldn’t touch me but he was, like, waiting for me to want to touch him and that felt like it was the whole relationship. I eventually said, like, that’s not going to happen. I felt like socially pressured into dating in the first place and I was like, ‘I’m just going to end this relationship right here,’ and I did.
Has it gotten any easier for you since then?
Now when I introduce myself to people and they ask about my identity I’ll call myself queer because it’s more nebulous. It’s less likely to start arguments than using asexual which can be a very divisive term for some people. Sometimes I’ll just call myself gay because it’s easier even though I really shouldn’t be doing that. It’s just a habit that I’ve gone into but I really need to break it.
Are you out to your family?
Yeah, everyone knows. I came out pretty quickly as soon as I had broken up with my first boyfriend. I was out to everyone—that was my floodgate. I didn’t come out as panromantic to my family until about two years later because I didn’t know what they would think about that. I thought they’d be more accepting of ‘I don’t want to have sex with anyone’ than ‘I want to date women.’ But the opposite was true. They don’t care about me dating women. They just want me to be sexually active, but they don’t want me to have sex. It’s a very weird thing that I feel like a lot of asexual people with conservative parents get, like, you need to be sexually attracted to people because you’re supposed to be—but don’t have sex with them because God says don’t.
Would you say your family is supportive then?
They’re not unsupportive. For instance, I ran a queer literary magazine for about a year called The Spill and we put out two issues while I was editor in chief. My mother refused to read either of them but she would promote the magazine to her friends and she would defend me for doing the magazine to the people at the church because she’s also the church secretary and she’d get into arguments with people on my behalf. She didn’t want to read it because it would make her sad, so it’s a very strange intersection of ‘they’re trying,’ but it’s not in their comfort zone, but I appreciate them for doing it. When I introduce my friends to my mom she’ll always ask me what their pronouns are so she can refer to them, even though I know she doesn’t do that with other people, she’s doing it for my sake because she wants to seem supportive.