Start with a metaphor. You’re trying to get into a party. You’ve heard mixed things about the party, but it sounds like the kind of thing that might appeal to you personally. To get in the party, you have to pass through the front door, which is guarded by a bunch of bouncers. After standing in line for a while, you reach a bouncer. She takes one look at you, and what you’re wearing, and says,
“You don’t look like the kind of person who would like this party. It’s nothing personal, many people aren’t suited to the party–most people, even.”
You walk away in dejection, but then you notice something strange. Lots of rejects like yourself are lingering, and throwing their own party. Despite being declared not the type, they are still having fun. What’s more, there are no walls. You can just walk around the doors, and the people on the “inside” and “outside” are intermingling. What kind of bullshit are these bouncers pulling?
Question of power
In part 1 of this series, I posed the question of whether asexuality should be defined in a more ambiguous or more specific way. In part 2, I provided concrete examples of what ambiguity and specificity look like. To summarize: ambiguity leaves more in the hands of the person who is choosing whether or not to adopt the asexual label, while specificity leaves more in the hands of the definer.
In short, this is a question about power. Should the power be in the hands of the definer or the adopter?
In principle, the interests of the definer and adopter are aligned. Thus the question about power transforms into a question about knowledge. Which of us has more knowledge, and can make better decisions to achieve our mutual interests? The definer knows more of the ins and outs of the ace community, but the adopter knows more about their personal experience. You have to navigate the strengths and weaknesses of each person’s knowledge.
In practice, our interests are not really aligned. Most importantly, there’s conflict of interest between different definers, to say nothing of the adopters. If you have the power to define asexuality for the new generation, you have the power to erase other asexual subgroups. But nobody likes to admit to a power grab, so everything is couched in altruistic terms. Therefore, all definers are benevolent, and only have the well-being of adopters in mind. Some adopters simply wouldn’t fit in, and it’s up to definers to tell them.
A pretty landmark
So about that party. There are lots of “benevolent” bouncers who are trying to limit the party to only the kind of people who will truly enjoy it. But then lots of rejects went ahead and enjoyed the party anyway. The bouncers are failing at their stated goal.
Is there anything similar that happens with asexuality? Is there a group who doesn’t fit the definition of “asexual”, but finds utility in the community anyway, intermingling with the rest?
Oh, hi, let me introduce myself. I am gray-A. I do not fit the definition of asexuality. I am a community leader. There are lots of people like me.
I rather like those gates. I think they’re pretty. I like to dance around them when the bouncers aren’t looking. They make a good landmark so that everyone knows where the party is.
But people sometimes act as if the gates are the bounds of the party, as if “asexuality” defines the bounds of the asexual community. It is a lie. Asexuality has been a central concept to the asexual community, but the center is the furthest thing from the boundaries. The boundaries of the community are defined by “Gray-A” and related identities (most of which are very ambiguous). If all those oh-so-knowledgeable bouncers care so much about who fits in and who doesn’t, then they’re standing in the wrong place.
The purpose of the gates
The gates do not serve as a boundary, they serve as internal structure. The gates don’t tell you whether you’re in the party or not, they just tell you which role you take in the party.
With that in mind, what is the point of exercising power over the labels chosen by others? Whether a person best fits under “asexual” or under a different related label, they’re still welcome here. And if they’re welcome here, then they have enough time to figure it out for themselves.
In this series, I’ve said repeatedly that ambiguity vs specificity is a separate issue from inclusivity vs exclusivity. If you want to be more exclusive, I don’t actually care. See, shunting people over to the gray-A category can only give gray-As more political power (although this isn’t the intention). In the abstract, I’m okay with that.
But if specific definitions are forcing people to pick identities contrary to their preferences, how much sense does that make? As we saw at the beginning of the series, there are plenty of people who identify with asexuality primarily because they are sex-averse. Whether they experience sexual attraction may be unimportant, unknown, or ambiguous to these people. These are people within the community, so here you can’t say the definers have more knowledge than the adopters. I think it puts into question whether definers have ever had superior knowledge at all.
The way I see it, people who want more well-defined boundaries have already lost, because the outermost boundaries of the asexual community have been extremely loose for a long time. Trying to make internal boundaries so very strict is petty and pointless.