Many ways to be between

I am gray-A, and I am very vocal about it.  I’m not just a hypothetical counterexample, I’m right here and I won’t let you forget it.  I could write a long series about it, ranging from personal experiences to theorizing.  I can’t think of a better place to start than at the definition.

The first thing I tell people is that gray-A is that space between asexual and sexual.  This is a convenient lie.  It conjures up an image of a one dimensional spectrum, with asexuals on one end, and allosexuals on the other.  This allows for different kinds of gray-As, but it places the different kinds in a hierarchy.

[Image description: A one-dimensional spectrum from allosexual to asexual.  Different kinds of Gray-As correspond to different spots on the spectrum.]

But in fact there are many ways to be gray-A, and they don’t fall on a straight line.  A gray-A can:

  • Experience sexual attraction only infrequently.
  • Flip back and forth between experiencing sexual attraction and not, over a period of months.
  • Experience sexual attraction very weakly.
  • Experience attraction that may or may not be called sexual, since it shares some characteristics with sexual attraction, but not others.
  • Experience sexual attraction only in specific and narrow circumstances.
  • Be uncertain about whether they experience sexual attraction.
  • Experience sexual attraction, but be missing some other important component, like sex drive.

In my case, I experience attraction that may or may not be called sexual attraction.  But in my case, I do not experience sexual attraction infrequently, and I do not feel uncertain about it.  Other gray-As can have completely different experiences from mine, though we share a label.  I cannot place myself as more or less asexual than these other gray-A folks.

My list of possible gray-A experiences is slightly longer than the list currently on the AVENwiki.  This raises the question: Where did I get this list?  What is the underlying logic?

My view is that “gray-A” arises from a deficiency in the word “asexual”.  “Not experiencing sexual attraction” is a fine definition, but it fails have a one-to-one correspondence with the set of people who find asexuality to be a useful idea.

Lots of people come to the asexual community, find lots of experiences to identify with, and are glad to finally have a word to describe themselves.  But some of those people will feel that they don’t technically fit into the definition of asexual.  Are these people supposed to abandon the possibility of a self-identity because of a technicality?  Are they to permanently feel like outsiders to the asexual community?

[Image description: Asexuals exist within the circle “‘Asexual is an accurate description”.  Gray-As and demisexuals exist within the circle labeled “‘Asexual’ is a useful idea”, but outside the circle labeled “‘Asexual’ is an accurate description”.]

“Gray-A” is a solution to these questions.  A gray-A is someone who finds asexuality to be a useful idea, in the sense that it approaches a self-description, even if it does not quite fit.  This allows a space where you can have an identity, fit on the ace spectrum, and feel at home in your community, without being disqualified by an arbitrary definition.  (Demisexual also fits somewhere in this space, but I don’t discuss it because it is outside the scope of this post.)

As for the list above, that does not define gray-A.  Those are simply ideas trying to describe what sorts of people might identify as gray-A.  If you experience sexual attraction weakly, you might find asexuality to be a useful idea, without quite fitting the definition.  Or maybe it’s not quite weak enough that you really need an identity, or maybe it’s so weak that “asexual” is a very accurate term.  You can be somewhere on the list without being gray-A, or you could be gray-A without being on the list.

Note that large parts of this post express my own views, rather than consensus views.  Other gray-As may or may not agree with me.  Next time, I will talk more about my personal experiences identifying as gray-A.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
This entry was posted in Gray-A, Modeling. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Many ways to be between

  1. It’d be nice to see more conversation about ways to be grey-a. I think I’m probably on the allosexual end of a similar spectrum to the one you describe yourself on, a kind of ‘what the hell is sexual attraction, anyway?’ There’s a point when the distinction between sexual attraction and not-sexual-attraction-that-works-similarly sorta fades to mush.
    My definition of grey-a is pretty much ‘it makes so much sense to identify with asexuality that the technicalities are pointless.’

    On an overly technical level, I think your diagram is wrong. I think there are probably, or at least hypothetically might be, people for whom the word asexual is accurate who don’t find it a useful idea. But I get why you didn’t include that.

    (also, the first item on the list should read ‘infrequently’)

    • Siggy says:

      Thanks for the correction.

      Of course there are people accurately described by “asexual” but who don’t find it a useful idea. But I don’t have much to say about that. It would be best to let them speak for themselves, if they wanted to.

  2. Pingback: Why I use “allosexual” | The Asexual Agenda

  3. L says:

    Reblogged this on FISTFELT and commented:
    Good info here! Though some of the bullet points fit me and my experience (I can’t be sure whether I’ve felt sexual attraction because I have no idea what it is, I experience attraction that could be construed as sexual but isn’t), I pretty thoroughly identify as asexual as it’s the most accurate term I have that summarizes how I relate to sex, dating, and physical intimacy. I like the viewpoints being shared these days concerning the relationship fantasy and reality have for asexuals, and I feel like those discussions are diversifying the term in a pretty vital way. To me, there is very much room for people who may or may not feel sexual attraction, whether very weakly or infrequently, but don’t feel inspired to let those thoughts have an impact on their relationships or daily life, sort of like the way libido is treated by asexuality, except that it’s a more… mental sort of libido. Still, it wouldn’t be called abstinence/celibacy because for these folks there’s no desire to act, no pining for a perceived absence because sex isn’t something that’s missing, it’s just something that’s not part of their life and they’re happy with it.

    Again, I have no real internal concept of what sexual attraction is, so I can’t say that I haven’t experienced it for certain, so I may or may not be part of this proposed group. But the fact that the variety of ways in which people experience their asexuality is not commonly acknowledged is still something that troubles me quite a bit, and I’m glad to see that there are tiny hints of steps being made to question that.

  4. vampyremage says:

    I’ve only just recently started to think I may be moving just a little bit into grey or demi territory. Sexual thoughts are neither strong nor frequent, but they’re occasionally there in a way they never were before and they only pertain to my partner. Whether that means I may be grey I’m not sure, but its a rather baffling change at 28. For now, I continue to identify as ace but the thought is there at the back of my mind.

  5. miro says:

    Thanks for this. There are some downright nasty people who go through the Gray A tags on Tumblr and reblog posts to “inform” people “GRAY A DOESN’T EXIST”. I feel like I can’t exist and speak my heart on Tumblr without being harassed by these few people. But I can’t find anyone like me in real life, either… so I feel lost until I see posts like YOURS! This is so great and I love it and it makes me feel a lot better. Thank you.

  6. Pingback: “Experiences attraction infrequently” doesn’t cut it | The Ace Theist

  7. womandrogyne says:

    Hello there, and thanks for this. I fall more or less under your last item in that list, in that I experience sexual attraction (among all the other kinds of attraction there are), but not any urge to act upon it. I personally prefer to identify simply as asexual, because grey- has enough negative connotations for me not to want to label myself that way – to me, it has an aura of “in-between”, “in the shadows”, or even “impure” about it, and I’ve had other “pure” asexual people insist I call myself grey-ace because I experience sexual attraction sometimes, and I’m not interested in being policed like that.
    It strikes me that one of the problems with talking about [a]sexuality is that most people translate it in their minds directly into “wants to/doesn’t want to have sex” rather than acknowledging all the physical and emotional content that exist all the time whether or not we’re engaging in actual sex.
    As for attraction, I’ve coined for myself the label polysensual – to try to make it clear that whilst I have no real interest in sexual expression, I’m very into touch, affection, intimacy that isn’t sexual.

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  17. ettinacat says:

    I currently identify as asexual, mainly because I’ve spent 10 years doing so, but I’m not sure if I might be grey-ace, because I have a fetish. Specifically I’d be a nonlibidinist sex-repulsed autochorissexual fetishist who can’t masturbate. But I think that’s close enough to ace to count, especially since if I’m not exposed to my fetish (which I wasn’t until a few years ago) I don’t feel sexual feelings of any sort.

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