When I was operating in the world knowing that everyone I met either assumed that I was heterosexual or homosexual, I spent lots of time on edge, worrying about how every little compliment or accidental brush would be interpreted. The result was that I stopped displaying positive feeling about anyone especially to their face.
This wasn't all in my head; on many an occasion, people did express romantic attraction towards me and I don't exactly feel like it's okay to send mixed messages. I wanted to be clear and honest. At the same time, I ran away from anyone who I ever perceived as wanting a relationship with me as well, as soon as I got any sort of hint that that was "what they were after." The intent of a romantic relationship took on a sinister connotation in my mind as I fell into the trap of conflating romance, sex, intimacy and sexuality.
So here's where labels save the day...well only kind of.
There is of course the obvious resource that I can now find people online who share (and therfore validate) my concerns, anxieties, and questions within a supportive community of people who don't gawk or scoff when I talk about how to have a fulfilling personal life while avoiding sex.
More pronounced is how it's change the way I allow myself to relate to other people. I've realized that, in the year since I've declared myself asexual [insert over-dramatized reenactment here], I've progressively allowed myself to be much more open to affection and relationships (of all kinds) than I ever have been. It's not just having a word to call myself (though I reluctantly admit that that helps), but that I feel safer after establishing a hard limit (sex) for the relationship and then operating from the assumption that that is not where the relationship is leading. After I come out to someone, I can more freely express feelings without the automatic assumption that affection and closeness equal sexual availability or attraction. Ironically, since I've started thinking of myself as asexual, I've gradually become more open to the idea of relationships in general and physical closeness in particular.
But that's not actually what was the most important transition for me. Thinking of myself as asexual allows me to deconstruct the way I have been thinking about social relationships and sexuality. It allows me to acknowledge how much the my relationships (which I could never imagine being sexual) never-the-less mean to me. It allows me to realize how much I've discounted my own feelings for not being sexual as well as how much I've pushed away the very things I want and need most from other people because I didn't understand how they could be distinguished from something I didn't want at all.
Sex is more than just bodies and sexuality is more than just sex. Others used sex as shorthand for a lot of things I really do value, like intimacy, closeness, connection, communication, etc. and knowing what those things are puts me a lot closer (though farther away than I wish I were) to figuring out how to accomplish them without it. Lastly, without the word asexual, there would be no Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), and I never would have figured out how much I love to talk about sexuality.