Sadie Dupuis, best known as the lead singer of indie-rock band Speedy Ortiz, was teaching writing at UMass Amherst in 2011 when she came across a student paper that dealt with demisexuality -- defined, generally, as a sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Dupuis was in her early twenties, and had recently ended a relationship with a boyfriend of five years. Something clicked into place.
“When I first became single as an adult, I was like, what the f--k is wrong with me? All my friends are on OkCupid and Tinder, and have no problem going on dates and hooking up. And when I would try to do these things, it felt very alien to me, and was upsetting to me in ways I couldn't understand.” A lot of Speedy Ortiz’s earliest songs were “granulating with that,” says Dupuis, talking on the phone just days before she releases her first solo record, Slugger, a more pop-influenced album under the moniker Sad13. “I thought something was wrong with me.”
Reading that paper, Dupuis began to cry. “My student had just helped me to understand why I feel so troubled about even thinking about having a sex life. It helped me understand so much about myself, and why do the things that I do. That I didn't have to apologize: there was nothing wrong with me.”
While the LGBTQ community (and the idea of sexuality as a spectrum) has made strides in terms of visibility and representation over the past decade, asexuality is still widely undiscussed -- though that’s slowly changing as well. The best known asexual online community, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, founded in 2001, boasts over 100,000 members worldwide. The organization’s census, a tool used to get perspective on how this population identifies, currently gets nearly 15,000 responses a year -- up from only 300 responses in 2008.
Dupuis is one of those members, and so am I. Though I had my first moment of recognition at 21, in 2013 -- after recognizing a description of my sexuality in a Tumblr post while avoiding homework -- it wasn’t until 2015 that I heard of any famous people who identified as demisexual: Sadie Dupuis gave an interview to Complex magazine in which she “came out.” Reading about her experience gave me the personal courage to dig deep into my lack of sexuality. To plead for what I thought was insanity, and find solace in it.
I began to reflect on times I’d felt “different.” As a woman in the arts and music world, the scene can seem overtly sexual: I recalled getting a Tinder account just because I was bored one night, then immediately finding 15 musicians from bands I worked with. All of a sudden it was difficult to look them in the eye the next five times I saw them; I couldn’t help but think they now saw me as a sex object.
Everyone who’s demisexual defines it differently, and everyone deals with it differently. Dupuis deals by writing. She’s never been one to censor herself: her music explores sexuality, and examines how society views sex-positivity. “I wanna want him so bad, but I don’t recognize the charms that he has /‘cause my heart looks in on itself and he’d be better loved by somebody else who cares about a face,” she sings in Speedy Ortiz’s “Shine Theory.”
With Slugger, a feminist soundtrack to be equally enjoyed by fans of Julie Ruin, Rilo Kiley and Nicki Minaj, this theme is more prominent than ever. Dupuis has allowed herself to write personal songs, songs made to empower, songs about consent, songs that remind those who listen that they are more than just what the world tells them to be.
“A lot of Speedy Ortiz's music and even my solo stuff has been overtly sexual, and I think part of that has been a way to cope. As a songwriter, I have always written to cope,” she says. “I started writing music that was explicitly sexual way before I was even interested in sex whatsoever. That was part of me trying to understand my own complicated feelings about it. I still feel that often in my lyrics now, exploring with writing really overtly sexual things to help me understand why it's not a part of my day-to-day life.”
Part of Dupuis’ coming out was her desire to dispel myths about asexuality.
“I think there's a lot of wide misconceptions about what being on the asexuality spectrum means,” she says. “I think that's also why people who do identify on the spectrum don't usually come to that identification quickly, because you think, 'I've had sex before and have enjoyed it, I must not be asexual.' When really, it has to do with your attraction rather than your participations.
“There have been certain relationships in which I have really enjoyed having sex because the relationship was so built on the foundation of years of friendship, emotional and romantic attraction,” she says. “It varies so much from person to person on the spectrum. There are plenty of people who have absolutely zero interest in sex, but will do it because they have romantic feelings for their partner and want to do that for their partner. And there are people who say, f--k that all together -- or literally, don't f--k that all together.”
Even though the wide range of people on the spectrum makes her careful of trying to speak for demisexuals, says Dupuis, it’s still exciting to watch people learn about the term: “Whatever helps people feel less alone.”
Sad13 performs at at 9pm on Dec. 2 at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco. Tickets, $10 - $12, here.