Ambiguous and heading nowhere

“Gray-A” was coined to describe the fuzzy space between asexual and non-asexual.  Or as I’ve put it, it describes people who find asexuality to be useful to understand their personal experiences, but who don’t fit the technical definition.

“Demisexual”, by contrast, refers to a more specific experience.  Demisexuals only experience sexual attraction to people that they have strong emotional bonds with.

Demisexuals are less numerous than gray-As.  In a recent survey, demisexuals make up 15% of the community, while gray-As make up 20%.  Not to mention that demisexuality is often thought of as a subcategory of gray-A, implying that gray-As are really more like 35%.  And yet it seems to me that demisexuals command greater amount of attention.

To give a recent example, Arf recently considered the question of whether there should be a demisexual community which is independent of the asexual community.  Arf also launched, which features a recently developed demisexual flag.  As far as I know, no similar question is even being asked for gray-As.

Why is it that gray-As, despite being a large fraction of the community, aren’t more vocal?

I am gray-A, but not demisexual.  I’m not upset with the way things have developed, but I’m deeply curious as to why they did.  (Furthermore, if you’re one of the people who want to further develop gray-romantic discourse, I invite you to compare notes.)

Unfortunately, to figure out why gray-A people aren’t more vocal in the community, we’d need to hear from more gray-A people.  It’s a double-bind!  Here I will only talk about my own experience.

Before I identified as gray-A, I first identified as asexual.  My impression was that at the time, this was the standard way to do it.  People would rarely go directly from non-asexual to gray-A, they’d mostly identify as asexual first.  You wouldn’t even have heard of “gray-A” until you spent more time on AVEN.

One thing that people on AVEN do when they first start identifying as asexual is try to match their experiences against other people’s.  Does anyone else here have Aspergers?  Has anyone else here had romantic or sexual dreams?  Does anyone here feel like they’re missing out?  Does anyone here like crossdressing?  (Examples taken from actual AVEN thread titles.)

By the time I started identifying as gray-A, I was fed up with the conversation.  Fed! Up!  Nobody seemed to experience exactly the same things I did, and I ended up reading a bunch of experiences very different from mine and it caused me irrational anxiety.  I no longer wanted my experiences to be exactly like someone else’s.  Well, in truth I had mixed feelings about it, how could I not?  But on some level I was against it.

So when I started identifying as gray-A, I did not care to construct any specific gray-A narrative.

I like the ambiguity of gray-A.  I like that it goes nowhere.  I am afraid of it going somewhere.  I don’t identify as demisexual precisely because it is more specific, and thus describes yet another experience I don’t relate to.

I really like Epocryphal’s greyness 301.  Everything is so delightfully vague.  And it’s a terrible foundation for a gray-A community.  What would we even use for the community’s public face?

Here are a bunch of personal stories which are all different from each other.  Perhaps you can figure out a pattern, but we’ve already tried and given up.”

I’m happy that we don’t need a public face.  The asexual community kindly provides a public face for us.  Thanks!

So in case the question is ever asked, the answer is no, I do not want an independent gray-A community.  I like having discussions about grayness which are embedded in the broader ace community.

However, my view is inextricably tied to a particular time and cultural context, and I’d love to hear from other people.

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 Articles, Community, Demisexual, Gray-A. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Ambiguous and heading nowhere

  1. mintythings says:

    Wow, I had pretty much exactly the same experience with the AVEN forums XD Except at that time I was questioning whether or not I even was asexual, so I just stopped reading them pretty soon after I started. If I had been less uncertain, it wouldn’t have affected me as much, and I definitely understand the appeal of finding people who share your experiences, but… yeah. In retrospect, part of the reason I thought I must not be asexual, was because I went to AVEN and it was full of people going “Oh, yes, me too!” about things I didn’t relate to at all.
    And now here I am five? six? years later, realizing that it makes perfect sense to call myself gray-a and I ignored that possibility for basically no reason. (I *think* I had heard the term gray-a at that time, although I’m 100% sure. I definitely had heard of demisexuality.)

    • Siggy says:

      Yeah, and it felt like I had no one to blame but myself, since it’s entirely reasonable for people to find others with similar experiences.

      I’m so glad we share this experience of not relating to other experiences!

  2. Renayko says:

    I agree that there is certainly a lack of gray-ace discourse and it’d be neat to see more grace narratives 🙂 It’s possible that the reason there’s less of you talking is because when people discuss things it tends to be in a elaborative/additive way within a larger framework. With no common gray-ace narrative to build upon people might be discouraged from participation because the idea of constructing a new framework is probably daunting.

    In addition to having a more clear cut framework, I get the sense that demisexuality might get more attention because we seem to specifically get a lot of negative attention. Both within the ace community and outside of the ace community. (Perhaps this negativity comes in part from the fact that our narrative is more specific and thus easier to attack?) With pressure coming from both sides we kind of had to create our own internal “community” as a safe space for demis.

    • Siggy says:

      Yes, thanks for pointing out that a specific narrative not only provides a framework for building narratives, but also a focus for negative attention. Sometimes I’m jealous of demis for having a more active discourse, but it helps to remember that graces and demis each have their own strategy, each with its advantages and drawbacks.

      Incidentally, The Asexual Agenda hasn’t ever had any demisexual writers, and I make an open offer for any demisexuals to explain their own perspective in a guest post or interview.

    • Coyote says:

      “Perhaps this negativity comes in part from the fact that our narrative is more specific and thus easier to attack?”

      Perhaps, but going further with that, I’d suggest that ignorant folk tend to read demisexuality as being embedded in the virgin/whore dichotomy.

  3. Arrela says:

    My relationship to identity terms can be summed up as “how do people know? So specifically? Is there an answers section in the back of my mind somewhere that I have somehow overlooked? How am I supposed to settle on a specific word? I mostly just know what I’m not? Are things really that clear cut for other people?” So I really like the concept of greyness, that things can be vague and fuzzy and still have a word, that there is a vocabulary I can use without being terrified of unintentionally lying to someone. Which makes me even angrier that there’s no good term for this in Norwegian! Because pretty much all of my real life conversations are in Norwegian and just calling myself asexual feels weird in a similar way to how I always felt weird about calling myself a lesbian. Sorry, this was a tangent, the point is that I really relate to the ambiguity and fuzziness of greyness, and really miss a corresponding term in my native language. Especially because Demiseksuell (demisexual) works and is becoming a relatively well-known word in at least my queer circle, and I am kind of tired of people suggesting that that must be what I am when I say I am “kind of mostly asexual.”

    • Siggy says:

      Frustrating that there isn’t a word for it in Norwegian! I’ve also had people ask me if I mean that I’m demisexual, but it doesn’t happen very often, so I can only imagine what it’s like for you.

  4. epochryphal says:

    I agree completely. Very much my experience as well.

    To the question of why graces don’t write as much (or, “why is it so hard to get graces to write about their experiences?”) — for me it’s been because there’s minimal payoff and a lot to lose.

    There’s always someone going “what? that’s not asexuality or even close” and there’s people invested in categorizing and finessing and partitioning the spectrum, often people who end up saying “well it all blurs together and it’s frustrating so it has no meaning, throw it out, back to binary.” (I’m especially thinking of the abominable debut of the grey forum on AVEN, and the allo folks bashing greyness as a concept and the mods warning grey folks for “discouraging discussion.”)

    And minimal payoff: there’s so rarely even one person who chimes in to say “ooh! me too!” (Here’s another contrast with demi experiences I think.) It’s usually at best silence or an asexual person saying “huh interesting thanks for writing.”

    Plus even good ace spaces often word things in ways that I find confusing as to whether they mean to include graces or not, and I err hard on the side of “not” because when I’ve erred on “yes” it’s blown up in my face. And I know it is very hard to be clearly inclusive without knowing much about grey experiences – so feedback loop, yeah.

    Just…even the friendly asexual spaces miss the mark a lot, and it’s discouraging. And “write more!” is not a very useful prompt, but specific questions are often ouchily worded.

    • Siggy says:

      I think the AVEN grey forum is a bit better now, mainly because it’s off the haters’ radars. But even at it’s best, it’s still applying the same AVEN approach to demi/graces, which is not really for me. Also, I’m not really sure why it’s combined with sex-related discussions.

      In the OP I said I like that gray conversations are embedded in asexual spaces, but certainly the spaces have to reach a certain level of competence before they can serve that function. The tricky part is to build awareness and competence without sacrificing the defocussed narrative.

  5. Coyote says:

    My answer is similar to yours, Siggy. Demisexuality has a specific definition and narrative, but gray-asexuality is basically “like asexuality except not.” For those of us who choose it as our primary label (rather than a subset like demi), that’s the one unifying feature we have in common, and there doesn’t really seem like a point to building out a separate community when we’ve all decided the concept of asexuality is so relevant to us that it’s the primary feature of our label. This may not be how all gray-aces feel, but I prefer having discussions “embedded in the broader ace community,” as you say.

    Also, my theories on why gray-as aren’t more vocal:

    In general, I don’t think there’s much need for contrast with core asexual experiences — meaning, when an asexual person says “here’s some of what X is like for me as an asexual,” gray-aces don’t need to say “well, here’s how I experience X as a gray-ace” because for the most part stuff is pretty similar. It’s not 100%, of course, but the amount of overlap is what I assume led us to identify so much with asexual people in the first place.

    Plus, there’s what I wrote in this post

    “[O]ne of the reasons gray-asexuality is so hard to talk about, on a personal basis, is that it involves this constant self-monitoring in order to ensure that your descriptions don’t veer too close to sounding like either ‘just’ asexuality or ‘just’ allosexuality. In effect, trying to describe a personal gray-asexual identity requires making two arguments at once: that it’s different enough from asexuality to justify not identifying as asexual, but that it’s also different enough from allosexuality to justify not identifying with one of the allosexual labels either.”

    • Siggy says:

      I sorta talked about that latter problem and ways around it in this post. But it’s worth noting that my usual strategy for vis/ed is to insist that I’m gray-A and not really talk about specifics.

      I feel less sure about the similarity between asexual and gray-ace experiences, although I guess I haven’t blogged about specifically gray-ace stuff for maybe over a year? Not sure how that happened.

  6. Siggy says:

    Moderator’s note: This was in reply to another comment which was deleted by request.

    If you don’t particularly like the ambiguity of grey-sexuality, I would be interested to hear more! Would you say that the ambiguity is something you’d prefer to work through despite its drawbacks, or something you’d prefer to overturn?

    To make the question more concrete, I can imagine a variety of strategies. We could identify and name many of the specific narratives under the grey umbrella, demisexual and lithsexual being examples. We could just discuss lots of specific narratives without necessarily naming or categorizing them (sort of like the greyness 301). And of course, there’s the strategy of just saying everything is wibbly.

  7. I’m sure it’s over-simplistic, but I can’t help feeling that the wording itself doesn’t help. ‘Grey-A’ is a) very obviously related to and nested within asexuality, b) Impossible to understand without understanding asexuality and c) (imho) a really terrible label that I personally wouldn’t ever identify as except as a time-saving mechanism if I’m sure the people I’m talking to already know it. I go with things like ‘a bit asexual’ normally.

    It’s really easy for ‘demisexual’ to become a thing with a discourse outside of asexuality, and I think that’s where most of its problems stem from. It was developed within asexual circles, as ‘here is how I’m different to asexuals’ and then a whole lot of people discovered it and misinterpreted it as ‘here is how I’m different to allosexuals’. It’s difficult to imagine ‘grey-a’ being taken out of context like that. Semantically, ‘demisexual’ asks to be understood as being equivalent to ‘heterosexual’, ‘homosexual’, ‘asexual’, etc, and ‘grey-a’ doesn’t. I think that’s affected both demisexuals and their critics.

    ‘Grey-a’ as a term pretty much defines itself as ‘in the nebulous space’. Which I think started as a general desire not to exclude, but it’s lead to a certain built-in unplottability to the identity.

    Then again, I pretty much choose these sorts of words (‘queer’, ‘queerplatonic’, etc) for their ability to contain as little information as possible, so I’m not fussed personally.

  8. Ooh. This is super interesting. I will say, I think demisexual and gray asexual both describe me equally well, but I prefer demisexual because of its specificity. Also, I am very vocal about demisexuality largely to combat the hate that it attracts, especially from the anti-SJW crowd on Tumblr.

    I think gray asexuality gets hate too for not being asexual enough or whatever, but it is more obviously associated with asexuality, while the definition of demisexuality is soooo incredibly prone to misunderstanding that I think it’s necessarily to constantly clarify it.

    I have thought about creating a similar space for gray asexuals (like but a lot of it would be very similar to asexuality resources. And of course, gray-a experiences are so diverse. It’s something I’ve been considering, though, and of course, demigray is intended to be a space of gray ace experiences as well as demisexuals.

  9. Hibari says:

    I wrote about being grey-a on Tumblr a couple years back: Sometimes I wonder if I’m really an ace who happens to not mind sex with her partner, but I too just like that ambiguity. That’s why I also choose not really specify my romantic and aesthetic preferences (besides, they’re both way too complicated).

    Most of my friends are still coming to terms with the concept of asexuality so I tend to post more discourse about asexuality to get them familiar and to start thinking about sexuality/asexuality as a spectrum. My other reason for not going too far into talking about being grey-a is that I have a hard time doing it without getting into details of my sex life and fantasies. Those were how I came to the conclusion that I’m probably grey, and I personally don’t mind sharing in order to raise awareness. However, I can’t says that my partner feels the exact same at times, and some of our friends just don’t want to know what turns me on or what happens in the bedroom with me.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    This is a pretty interesting discussion, as someone who formerly identified as gray-A. I think it’s just really a lot harder to talk about because it’s such a varied group of experiences that are often fluid and/or confusing. It’s something that I think a lot of people want to keep private, and only discuss in certain safer situations. That was certainly the case for me. I mean, I made an entirely new pseudonym just to explore that—and then it ran away from me and I drifted back into squarely-asexual land, whatever that means.

    Sometimes people (who aren’t) want to talk about graces a little too much, too, and take the conversation in directions that are… not ideal. There was that one journalist a while back who used an old interview with me to publish a new article on grayness without my consent—after I had stopped identifying as gray-asexual, but not made that public yet. So I really strongly agree with you when you say you’re afraid of it going somewhere. I don’t want that to happen either. But anytime we talk about it, there’s that risk of someone taking what we’ve said and going somewhere we don’t like.

    That’s part of why I’ve been so hesitant to explore gray-romanticism, honestly. I feel like that’s somehow even more of a minefield, and I’ve been burned before. It’s easier to keep it to myself. But unfortunately it also gives people a lot of wrong impressions about me and my relationships. Correcting them is a risky trade-off.

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