Shared Experience, Different Words

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.

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, asexual identity, Gray-A. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Shared Experience, Different Words

  1. Trav Mamone says:

    Hmm, interesting article. Reminds me of the bisexual vs. pansexual debate among us non-monosexuals.

  2. Grey Wanders says:

    Oh Siggy, you are always so reasonable. You are a light of calm clarity in a tumultuous inland internet sea of misdirected anger, mindless rhetoric, and lack of listening skills.

  3. epochryphal says:

    hmm. shout out to the sex-repulsed greys and allos. and the sex-conflicted greys and allos.

    i’m honestly terrified of the conflation of behavior and attraction, again. like i get how words work but aaahhh.

  4. Frank says:

    From the allosexual perspective, it isn’t surprising that there are periods in your life when you are uninterested in sex. ‘It happens to all of us.’ Blame it on the stresses of life, etc.

    But it’s a strange thing. For the past year or so, I have been experiencing some fairly extreme fluctuations in sexuality and libido, and there have been extended periods where the whole concept of sexual attraction seemed foreign, and where highly sexual contexts seemed quite threatening. I don’t know if this is how aces normally perceive the world, but it’s very different to how an allosexual might imagine it to be.

    • TreePeony says:

      “…there have been extended periods where the whole concept of sexual attraction seemed foreign, and where highly sexual contexts seemed quite threatening. I don’t know if this is how aces normally perceive the world…”

      Well, I can’t speak for all asexuals (I’m an aromantic, sex-averse ace), but “the whole concept of sexual attraction seemed foreign, and highly sexual contexts seemed quite threatening,” describes how I always feel. Not sexual situations involving other people (whether irl or in, say, a movie), but those that involve me personally, whether they actually happened or just involved me imagining myself in them.

      I’ve often thought that those who identify as grey-A sound more like my parents, both of whom – to the best of my knowledge – have very low sex drives but are heterosexual, than they resemble me. But, well, I dunno. I’ve never personally known (in the real world or online) a grey-A or a sex-favouring ace, probably because I’m more comfortable in sex-averse, -repulsed or -neutral ace spaces, myself.

      But the way I see it, the difference between a grey-asexual and an allosexual with a sex drive that sometimes wanes due to personal reasons is that, to a grey-A, inconsistent sexual attraction is not a “side effect” of stress, grief, depression, etc., or a physical illness (like, say, the ‘flu) or even just having other things on their mind like striving for a promotion at work. To a grey-A, that’s their natural state which is independent of their physical, mental, financial and social status.

      These are just my personal views and observations, of course. If they’re ignorant in any way, I apologise.

      • Talia says:

        I’d also want to add that inconsistent sexual attraction, or even a sudden lack of it, could be related to depression or other neurodivergent states and still mean that a person could identify as a perfectly valid gray-a or asexual if they wanted to.

  5. Jo says:

    I think something that will happen quite naturally as mainstream perceptions about sexual attraction and desire get more diverse is that more people might start to identify as grey-A, or conversely, more grey-As will start seeing themselves as less ace. It will likely depend on what group you can relate to more. But in general, I think the range of experiences between ‘normative/mainstream’ sexuality and asexuality are broader than we think, and there’s a lot of shared experience in that between area.

  6. Talia says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. 🙂 It was a very helpful summary of your point of view that I’ve kind of molded in my mind based on your other posts on sex-favourable aces and blog comments. It also served as a little, much appreciated, self-validation moment. I look forward to thinking with the ideas that you laid out here in the future!

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