Immediately after I started identifying as gray-A, I started seeing comments like, “That sounds normal.” My first reaction was a sardonic one: “Yes, gray-As are normal! Thank you!” But of course what people really meant to say was that my experience was not significantly different from the allosexual norm.
Privately I thought this was ridiculous. Is it really the experience of most people to reach the end of college and think, hey wait, wasn’t I supposed to end up liking someone? In the typical forever-alone narrative, the single person worries that they’ll never attract a good partner, but for my part I worried that I’d never even be attracted to a good partner.
But I didn’t really look forward to explaining my personal experiences repeatedly, and to people I didn’t like. So I instead advanced a general principle. If two people have the same experiences, they can still use different labels.
This general principle is personally relevant, but not in the direction that people generally thought. I believe that someone with similar experiences as me could, if they wanted, identify as completely asexual. I think there are asexuals who do just that. You know the ones, the sex-favorable asexuals. Some of them are bloggers, even. I identify as gray-A, they identify as asexual, and that’s okay.
This is a fairly simple point, and all that remains is a brief overview of possible objections.
1. But words need to have meanings!
Asexual and gray-A do have meanings. There are some experiences that make much more sense to describe as asexual, and other experiences that make more sense to describe as gray-A. Even in everyday language, boundaries between words are frequently ambiguous and yet we still manage to have intelligible conversations.
Also, while most words have meanings, most do not have precise definitions. I’ve said before, but it bears repeating: modern cognitive science and philosophy reject the myth that words must have precise definitions.
2. Maybe our experiences are different even if we can’t pin down why.
Yes!!!!! Maybe the reason I choose a different label from sex-favorable asexuals is related to some hidden difference in our experiences.
But the nice thing about my principle is that we can leave it a mystery. We don’t have to argue endlessly to find a difference that may or may not exist, a difference that may or may not be knowable. I don’t have to give out personal details to people who are questioning my identity, people whom I don’t especially trust.
3. But what message does that send about asexuality?
I acknowledge the potential for a problem. If every sex-favorable asexual abandons the word “asexual”, then it’s sort of like they’re denying that asexuals can be sex-favorable.
There will always be some tension between people who fight for their right to a label, and people who prefer to abandon the label. You see it happen with “trans”, you see it happen with “queer”, and just about every other major identity, so why not “asexual” too?
I do not pretend to have a solution. But just as I support the right of sex-favorable aces to identify as asexual, I also support their right to identify as gray-A or something else entirely. And by giving people the choice, we may eventually find out what kinds of experiences are better off having a gray-A label, and what kinds of experiences are better off with an asexual label.