Question of the Week: December 12th, 2017.

What do you think about Merriam-Webster putting asexual in the dictionary? 

I don’t super love the definition, I feel like it’s still so far down the list of acceptable definitions it’s still confusing and not amazingly validating. That said, I was still super happy when I heard and I really hope it catches on.

About astarlia

Astarlia is proud of herself for only having volunteered for..... okay if you have to stop and count it's probably too many things isn't it? She is passionate about nerd culture, disability and mental health, alternative relationships, sexuality, and young adult fiction.
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6 Responses to Question of the Week: December 12th, 2017.

  1. Katherine says:

    I’m not particularly thrilled with the definitions either; it kind of feels like whoever was given the assignment of adding the definitions did the bare minimum of research on the ‘new’ usage of the word before submitting something they though sounded vaguely right. Which is a shame, because up until I read the new definitions I was super excited that asexuality was finally getting dictionary status. Having a denotative definition, instead of just a connotative one, can go a long way to making certain people accept us as valid, after all.

    So the ‘sexual orientation’ definition would be entry 3:
    “a : not involving, involved with, or relating to sex : devoid of sexuality – an asexual relationship
    b : not having sexual feelings toward others : not experiencing sexual desire or attraction
    ‘In general, an asexual person does not feel or otherwise experience any sexual attraction, according to The Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN). Basically, it is an inborn absence of sexual desire.’ —Lindsay E. Mack”
    The biggest problem is that it doesn’t outright refer to asexuality as a sexual orientation. The conflation of sexual ‘desire’ and ‘attraction’ is kind of annoying too, as it feels invalidating to aces who may choose to engage in sex, or masturbate, because of their libido. The quote just reinforces that invalidation and it just feels awful to read it in this context.

    My version of the definition would be something like…
    “a : not involving, involved with, or relating to sex : a relationship devoid of sex – an asexual relationship
    b : not experiencing sexual attraction towards others : a sexual orientation where no sex/gender is found to sexually desirable”
    I don’t know what quote would I would chose to go with this, though; I’d have to give it more thought.

    Then there was entry number 4:
    “not having or showing a particular sexual identity : neither male nor female
    … parents who first encounter the world of Pokemon through their youngsters may have no idea what this land of soft, rounded, asexual creatures is or what drives it. —Vince Horiuchi”
    I can only assume that what they meant was the lack of physical sexual characteristics, because what they defined sounds more like ‘agender’ than ‘asexual’. (This definition has been around a while, if far less commonly used now than it used to be despite the quote being relatively new. Sort of like how ‘bisexual’ can also mean ‘possessing sexual characteristics that are both male and female’, making it hilarious to watch the Trouble with Tribbles and hear Dr. McCoy describe the tribbles as bisexual.)
    I would have written this one as “not having or displaying physical sexual characteristics : neither male nor female” and left the quote alone.

    The feeling the dictionary definition leaves me with isn’t one of confidence and makes me nervous about what the definition for aromantic will be whenever it finally gets added. Still, it is nice to be able to point to the dictionary for one of my orientations now instead of having to basically explain the plot to ‘Frindle’ for why the dictionary doesn’t validate my identity.

    • Rivers says:

      Yeah, I think you summed up my frustration with it pretty well. I too was excited until I learned that yeah … not really.

  2. Siggy says:

    In my experience looking at google alerts for asexuality, the most common usage is in biology. In fact, I need to filter out anything talking about asexual reproduction. But asexuality as sexual orientation is definitely the second most common usage. Surveying the last couple months, about a quarter of my alerts are dubious–they appear influenced by the sexual orientation definition, but they have something mixed up. Only a few alerts use “asexual” to simply mean sexless or genderless. So, I guess I would have swapped 3a and 3b, and maybe put definition 1 underneath.

    Interesting that the sexual orientation definition is the only one listed for “asexual” as noun. In all the other definitions, it’s an adjective only. That reminds me how asexuals are generally fine with using “asexual” as noun, whereas most other minority groups prefer their identity terms be used as adjectives. It makes so much sense now.

    As far as the definition itself goes, it seems adequate. The biggest error is the claim that asexuals often identify as “straight, gay or bisexual romantic”. Very few people ever say it that way.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Well, it’s about time! But yeah, I have reservations about the definition. It is not what one would call nuanced, and I’m sure that it will be used in many attempts to exclude and invalidate people based on them having any sexual feelings whatsoever.

    Definition 4 is what’s really bizarre to me, especially the decision to use that Pokemon quote. It says “neither male nor female” so I would assume what they really mean is actually sexless or agender, but most pokemon actually are not genderless, and the games make a point of having sex-based differences, some of which are subtle (female pikachu’s tail) and some of which are NOT SUBTLE AT ALL (like Nidoran), so… I’d really like to know the date and source for that quote, because it would only be slightly defensible prior to 1999/2000.

    Also, I love the typo of Lori Brotto’s name. Good proofreading there.

    • Siggy says:

      OMG I was looking at the “Lori A. Rotto” and wondering if it was a typo or coincidence. It seems to be a typo, and the original quote is from here. The middle initial is correct though.

      I can’t find a source for the pokemon quote.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Yeah, I only find sites quoting the definition while searching. I wonder if it’s some ancient article in print media or something. Either way, it has no place being quoted in 2017.

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