I don’t care about your precious binary

This post is addressed to people who make the argument that gray-As are not asexual.

Your binary is pointless

Who are you arguing against?  I identify as gray-A, precisely because it allows me to think of myself within the asexual spectrum without identifying as asexual.  Vehemently arguing that I should not identify as asexual shows ignorance of the fact that gray-As generally do not identify as asexual.

I identify as gray-A, because I am neither asexual nor allosexual (or sexual, or non-asexual, pick your favorite term).  Asexual and allosexual do not cover the entire spectrum of human sexuality.  If you define “allosexual” to mean “not asexual”, then it would cover the entire spectrum, but the reality is that “allosexual” does not mean “not asexual”.  If it did, then virtually every generalization ever made about allosexuals would fail fantastically, because you’d have to apply the same generalization to every gray-A and demisexual.

It’s sometimes proposed that we change the name from “gray-A” to “gray-sexual”.  Good luck convincing people to use more syllables!  I think this suggestion comes from a chain of mistaken assumptions.

  1. It is assumed that etymology is destiny.  Just because the “A” originally stood for asexual does not mean that it has to stand for the same thing now.  It can stand for “ace”, which is a term that commonly includes everyone on the asexual spectrum.  Or it could stand for nothing at all.
  2. It is assumed that “gray-asexual” was ever intended to be a subgroup of “asexual”, just because “asexual” is in the name.  Presumably butterflies are a type of fly as well.
  3. It is assumed that even though “gray-sexual” implies a subgroup of “sexual” (according to the second false assumption), this is acceptable because gray-As are sexual.

I actually have no problem with the term “gray-sexual”, because I do not falsely assume that this implies “sexual”.  However, I don’t like the kind of people who usually propose “gray-sexual” as an alternative–so I politely decline their generous advice.

Your binary is blurry

I contend that there exist many people out there who could legitimately identify as either asexual or gray-A, their choice

For example, a gray-A could experience some components of sexual attraction, but not others.  Like if I don’t have any sexual fantasies about anyone in particular, but I have more nonspecific sexual fantasies.  Or if I get physically aroused in certain situations, but mental arousal doesn’t follow.  Or if I want sex with specific people, but my desire comes from thinking about it rather than from a clear emotion of sexual attraction.  Or if I have the experience of seeing people as “sexy”, but somehow this doesn’t connect to oneself wanting sex.  I can think up examples all day.

You, by yourself, could categorize all these people as asexual or gray-A.  But we as a group would be unable to reach a consensus.  The definition of “sexual attraction” is just too ambiguous, and it varies from person to person.

People who argue that gray-As are not asexual often talk about gray-As as if they are people who experience sexual attraction infrequently.  I think this is because they are unimaginative, and can only understand the asexual spectrum in terms of frequency. But yes, there are gray-As who experience sexual attraction infrequently.  But even here, it may be ambiguous, because “asexual” is sometimes defined as “experiencing little or no sexual attraction”.  The distinction between “little” and “more than a little” is an ambiguous one indeed.

Here’s an analogy.  There exist some people who could legitimately identify as either bisexual or gay.  People with a Kinsey 5 could probably identify either way, their choice.  Some of those people may choose to identify as bisexual.  What you argue is analogous to telling those bisexuals that they are not gay.  One, they already know they’re not gay: that’s what they’re saying when they say they’re bisexual!  Two, people with a Kinsey 5 can perfectly well identify as gay if they want to, thank you very much.

Your binary is a historical accident

I often wonder, why is it so important to draw the boundary around asexuality so sharply, and in that particular location?  The definition of “asexual” as “someone who does not experience sexual attraction” basically comes from a decade-long tradition, and from authority.

But I’ve read about the history of the definition, and I’ve come to understand the tradition and authority as false idols.  Historically, the definition of “asexual” has been more ambiguously defined than it is now.  Historically, the definition that appeared on AVEN’s front page was intended to be a simplification used for visibility purposes.

Furthermore, not every asexual community has used the same definition.  In some cases, communities declined because their definitions were divisive (see The Official Nonlibidoist Society and Asexuals on LiveJournal) and not community-building.  So you could say that the definitions we have remaining are the time-tested ones that work.  However, asexual communities do not rise or decline solely on the basis of their definitions.  In the history linked earlier, Hinderliter argues that AVEN succeeded because of superior web design.  Hinderliter points out that Asexuality on LiveJournal has always displayed a different definition.  Their definition probably never caught on probably because LiveJournal’s never been very popular.

Given the historical contingencies, you might expect that people speaking other languages occasionally draw different boundaries.  Like in Japanese, the aromantic/romantic distinction is very important.  In Russian… there’s something entirely different going on that bears more investigation.

I will be reasonable, and say that the boundary between gray-A and asexual is very useful and real.  However, the precise location of that boundary is not useful, and not real.  It’s a historical accident.

It’s like, I think there is a real and useful distinction between bisexuality and homosexuality.  If someone thinks they’re a Kinsey 6, but they’re actually a 3, that’s important.  But I don’t think that drawing the boundary at precisely Kinsey 4.5 is very important.  If someone thinks they’re a 4.6, but they’re actually a 4.4, what does it matter?  Where did this oh-so-important boundary of 4.5 come from anyway?  Someone with a decent website (ie me) came up with it, that’s all.

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, Misconceptions. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to I don’t care about your precious binary

  1. queenieofaces says:

    Can I just say that I really, really like the Kinsey scale analogy? I have two friends who both self-describe as Kinsey 1; one calls herself “straight with exceptions” while the other identifies as “bisexual.” I can definitely see how a similar situation could come up for people in that sort of grey area of the asexual spectrum, where one might say they’re “asexual with exceptions” while another might say they’re “grey-A.”

  2. Yes, all this. The refusal to accept grey-As and demis as ace recently vexes me, because every other LGBTQ sphere I’m involved with is moving more and more towards realising that there is no way in hell you can draw anything remotely like a clear line across sexualities.

    Playing devil’s advocate, I think people mean different things when they say ‘Should grey-As be allowed to identify as asexual?’ I tend to leap immediately to the practical effects of whether it makes sense for grey-A’s to be in the asexual community, whether they have enough shared needs or identity (hell yes). It seems like you might be thinking more about internal identity and whether that makes logical sense. I think someone who disagrees with us might argue that it’s about how they identify publicly to the outside world- in a world where every time you out yourself as asexual it’s inherently a political act of visibility, the more people who out themselves as asexual, struggle to get people to buy the validity of that and then later turn out to be actually-sort-of-asexual, the less legitimate asexuality will seem.

    Which, coming from an LGBTQ perspective, just resembles throwing queers to the wolves to me. We can fight tooth and nail for a world where one particular identity is acceptable, within narrow parameters and with the ability to instantly lose your protected identity the second you experience sexual attraction, or start to consider that a feeling you have is nebulously attraction, or any other experience that makes you not a real asexual. Or we could fight for a world where labels are communication tools, rather than factual claims you have to constantly prove are genuine, and it’s accepted and expected that sometimes sexuality is fluid or complicated and that’s fine. The second way’s harder, but it’s much, much better.

  3. I’m going to add that when you consider how other people interpret identities it gets even more annoying to try and draw clean lines. I tend to consider myself asexual. But for empathy reasons, I can enjoy having sex with some people sometimes (note: that has nothing to do with sexual attraction, hence the calling myself asexual). But since everyone loves to label other people based on behavior, I’ll often be seen as bi (I also feel like demi would make sense if judging from behavior, but no one knows that term so they tend not to apply it to me).

    Since my identifying as asexual only makes sense from a very technical point of view based solely on my own personal feelings and experiences, it’s just as plausible someone in my position could identify as demi, bi, grey-a, or probably any other identity. The idea that there is a clean and clear line even between ace and bi (much less ace and grey-a) seems ridiculous to me.

  4. Siggy says:

    At the risk of contradicting what I said in the post, I sometimes identify as asexual. Sometimes it’s because I feel that I am indeed asexual according to the sense relevant to the particular conversation. Other times it’s a white lie. (If I’m leaving a single internet comment, it’s not a big deal if people are led to believe I’m asexual, and it’s not difficult to later correct myself if necessary.)

    However, when I tell people I’m gray-A, or that I’m between asexual and non-asexual, it is implied that I am not asexual. So I stand by my statement that–as a gray-A–I do not identify as asexual.

  5. Ornello says:

    What the fuck is a “Grey-A”? What the fuck are you talking about in your message?

    Moderator’s note: This blog isn’t the space for 101 lessons. See our comment policy. Do not reply to this comment.

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