Being Bi/Ace, Part One: Scrutiny About Attraction and the Kinsey Scale

This post is for the May 2018 Carnival of Aces on “Nuance & Complexity,” which I am hosting. Please check it out and consider submitting! Cross-posted to Prismatic Entanglements.

I have some frustrations with the way that attraction is discussed in the ace community, which are related to and further amplified by biphobia/bi erasure. This will be part one of at least two parts, because this is something that’s really complicated for me, and so difficult to talk about that it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for more than two years! So strap in, because it’s finally time to do this.

Attraction in the Ace Community

Sexual attraction. Romantic attraction. Emotional attraction. Aesthetic attraction. Physical attraction. Kinky attraction. Sensual attraction. Intellectual attraction. Platonic attraction. Alterous attraction. Platoniromantic attraction. Social attraction. So many different kinds of attraction, so much mental and emotional bandwidth dedicated to naming and processing it all.

I can’t keep up. It’s exhausting, and personally, I have no interest in dissecting and categorizing my own feelings along these lines. The types of attraction I feel are nebulous, blending into one another in a way that feels unique each and every time I experience it. And even if they were easily distinguished, they tend to be fleeting and quickly forgotten, so it’s difficult to find patterns.

Over my years as an ace blogger, I’ve really started to hate talking about attraction. It’s just… it feels like there’s an expectation that ace people (not specific people, but people in general) will be willing to publicly engage in this type of detailed explanation about their own attractions? It’s just such a huge focus in the ace community, and I feel alienated by these discussions, and frustrated that it all seems too complicated for me to even explain why.

But this is my attempt to address the topic anyway, because there is still some value in doing that. I’m sure my experiences are not unique—I’ve been around too long to think that. So if someone else is feeling similarly frustrated with these conversations, I’m putting this out there for them.

Bi/Pan, Not Otherwise Specified

A lot of my issues with this come from my experience as a bi ace, specifically. And by that, I do not mean biromantic, but frustratingly, that’s how most people familiar with the ace community automatically read that combination of identifiers.

I don’t identify with any romantic orientation. Whatever I’ve experienced in the past—and I give a half-hearted shrug at the proposition that my past experiences might count as “romantic attraction”—I haven’t felt anything resembling romantic attraction for many years now. However, I’m also not strongly committed to aromanticism. I consider myself somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, but only sort of tenuously. Provisionally, I guess, at a remove from the aromantic community. I hold in my mind the possibility that a sudden drastic change could occur, though I don’t expect it. Because I’ve had it happen before—in my head, I’ve started calling it the Sapphire Effect, after the Steven Universe character. Maybe I’ll write another post about that later.

So I call myself greyromantic now, but only in ace communities. Elsewhere, I tend to go with bi, ace, or just queer, depending on how much I want to explain and which aspect of myself is most relevant. (I would say I’m pan too, but lately I just haven’t been in situations where that would be useful.)

When people know that I’m neither sexually nor romantically attracted to anyone, that tends to leave them confused about how I can still identify as bi. Even other bi people have said things like, “But you’re ace, not bi?”—and that’s probably the most polite version of that sentiment I’ve ever heard.

Look, I’ve been identifying as bi since I was 13, which is well before I ever identified as ace, because I noticed (some kind of) attraction to other girls and boys (and later, people who don’t fit those categories). It wasn’t sexual and it never really rose to the level of a crush, but it was still there. I didn’t stop identifying as bi when I started identifying as ace—I only stopped identifying as bisexual. And I didn’t stop identifying as bi when I stopped identifying as biromantic, either.

I have also identified as pan, not instead of but in addition to being bi, since I was 15. I use the terms interchangeably, depending on which term I think will get a better reception. Some people will tell you that they mean different things, because “bi” means “two” and “pan” (or “omni”) means “all”—which is an extremely simplistic way of defining terms. Don’t we all know how irritating it is when people are so fixated on the prefix that they rigidly flatten asexuality and attempt to deny a huge portion of the asexual community’s existence/validity? It’s the same with bisexuality.

These people tend to say that that “bi(sexual)” is therefore an exclusionary identity, but I don’t agree and have become more interested in fighting for the term than adapting my language to avoid getting into arguments about that lately.

So let’s get this out of the way now: the way I define it, “bi” means potentially attracted to both people with the same gender and people with a different gender than you. It is not solely about “men or women” and exclusive of non-binary people, because it can include anyone with a different gender than you. People who are attracted to women and non-binary or gender-variant people but not men exist and it’s totally valid if they ID as bi too. In my case, though, it effectively means the exact same thing as “pan.” So please don’t come into my comments or my email telling me I’m wrong to define these terms that way.

The Kinsey Scale and Bi Erasure

Visual representation of the Kinsey Scale. Graph labeled 0-6, with

Visual representation of the Kinsey Scale, pulled from Wikipedia.

And then there’s all this scrutiny about how much I am attracted to, usually, men vs. women—with nary a thought that I might also be attracted to people who are neither. The misconceptions are strong.

Where do I fall on the Kinsey Scale? Most people tend to think I’m like a 5, but my feelings are more along the lines of fuck the Kinsey Scale and all of your assumptions.

What the hell does it even mean to be “more” attracted to one gender over another? That’s incredibly vague. Are we talking frequency? Intensity? Level of exposure? Level of comfort? Level of desire to pursue an actual relationship? Relationship history? Something else?

And what type of attraction, exactly? Because I don’t know about you, but I experience a wide variety of attractions and attraction-like feelings, which are not that easy to describe, and I’ll get into this later, but for now, let’s just say that they’re non-standard—or at least, usually treated as if they are. And also, get this: it fluctuates, so even if I figured out what metric is being applied and pinned down a number, it wouldn’t even be the same number later on. What is the point?

I’m left feeling like I am expected to sift through my attractions to come up with a satisfactory answer for those people, but that’s a hell of a lot of work, and I suspect most of them would actually tune out anyway, because they were only interested in an easy dismissal. They want to categorize me as “(mostly) lesbian” and move on.

The worst thing is when people try to use the goddamn Kinsey Scale in scientific/academic surveys about sexuality, where they are purporting to be inclusive of both bi and ace people. Researchers, PLEASE stop doing that! Why do I need to tell you all this extra stuff about me that gay and straight people don’t have to talk about? Why split bi people up into five different grades? What is the purpose of collecting this information? It’s not even clear what you mean by it anyway, and it brings up all these bad feelings about bi erasure, especially for someone who is also ace and aro-ish. Can’t you just believe that I’m bi enough and move on?

Caught Between the Kinseyists and the Pan-Splainers

Part of why I have been so hesitant to post this is because I have experienced this type of identity-policing quite a bit. And it’s all the more fraught because I actually do experience major gender differences in my attractions. More specifically, my attraction to men is consistently different from my attractions to everyone else, in a way that leads people to think I’m just never attracted to men (and therefore, “not really bi”).

In order to talk about this at all, I have to simplify things a lot. The most illustrative route is to compare to women, who make up the most populous and broadest group of people to whom I’m attracted, with the most well-established pattern. But if I do that, then I get accused of reinforcing the gender binary by the “bi means being exclusive” crowd. I am certainly also attracted to non-binary and androgynous people as well, but they’re a smaller group with a less obvious pattern, so it’s not as helpful a comparison. So for my next post, yes, I’m going to be comparing my attractions to men vs. women.

It’s really more accurate to say that many of the people in these groups appear to be men or women, but their gender identification is unconfirmed, and surely for some it’s an inaccurate assumption. I’d say masculine-presenting or feminine-presenting people instead, but then that gets into a whole other can of worms (drag, crossdressing, and other forms of gender-bending or androgyny). Honestly, it would be inaccurate in a different way to say that, so I think it would only further confuse things. And since it’s men vs. women that I’m always getting questioned about by the Kinseyists anyway, I might as well address the differences between them directly.

So that is what I will do next time. As you can see, this is all very complicated, and I thought it was important to explore the dynamics of what makes this so frustrating to try and talk about first.

In other words, this post has been brought to you by A MASSIVE PILE OF SALT.

Thanks for reading, and if you’ve had similar experiences, I’d like to hear about them, so please feel free to leave a comment down below!


Continue to Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split →

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a 30-something asexual woman who is often mistaken for a lesbian, due to the fact that she is partnered to a lady. She is actually bi (but not biromantic) and somewhere on the aromantic spectrum. She is formally trained in creative writing with a focus on non-fiction and poetry, and maintains a blog called Prismatic Entanglements, where she mostly writes long-winded personal essays and social criticism. In her spare time, she enjoys being cat furniture, coming up with new Pokemon strategies and never going to church.
This entry was posted in aromanticism, Articles, greyromanticism, Intersectionality, LGBT, Misconceptions, personal experience and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Being Bi/Ace, Part One: Scrutiny About Attraction and the Kinsey Scale

  1. Pingback: Being Bi/Ace, Part One: Scrutiny About Attraction and the Kinsey Scale | Prismatic Entanglements

  2. Portia says:

    In one of the latest documentaries on Whitney Houston, one of her crew describes her as “very fluid”. I like that. So many emotions and energies wash over us constantly if we are very sensitive, creative people. It sounds like what you describe so beautifully, Elizabeth: “The types of attraction I feel are nebulous, blending into one another in a way that feels unique each and every time I experience it. And even if they were easily distinguished, they tend to be fleeting and quickly forgotten, so it’s difficult to find patterns.”
    We may not choose to act on these fleeting feelings. If we act, then we could consider ourselves “categorized” if we wanted to fit some profile in a culture. In just awareness of these feelings washing over me, I can relax and realize that they are not “me” and not putting me in a slot or a point in a graph.

    • Portia says:

      Also, I have specific feelings about specific people, and they are specific to that person and they often surprise me. I don’t think human beings are as tied up in a neat package as culture wants us to believe. We should ignore all the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” for the sake of our own mental health. Or take them with a MASSIVE PILE OF SALT, yes!

      • Elizabeth says:

        Haha, yeah, things are definitely not as neat as they would seem! I like your point about fluidity too.

        Re: “choosing not to act”… Hmm. I think, rather than seeing it as choosing not to act, I prefer to think of what I do with my attraction as an act of just… engaging with it and enjoying it privately. Or publicly! As a fan, I mean. I’ve spent quite a bit of time and money supporting artists because I find them aesthetically captivating. Not all of that is motivated by attraction, but a fair bit of it is. In the case of celebrities, of course, these are people you don’t personally know so doing that is about all you can do to act on an attraction anyway. But, even when it comes to someone you know (or could potentially get to know) in person, I feel like anything short of “pursue a romantic relationship” tends to get classified as “not acting on the feelings” but is that really the case? Maybe you just take a different action that makes more sense for you instead. That’s how I think of it, anyway!

        • Portia says:

          “I feel like anything short of “pursue a romantic relationship” tends to get classified as “not acting on the feelings” but is that really the case? Maybe you just take a different action that makes more sense for you instead. That’s how I think of it, anyway!”

          Yes, that is what I was getting at–it is good to be able to feel you can act out of appreciation without having to justify or explain or categorize in any way. Love is love.

  3. Leigh says:

    Thanks so much for this! I’m bi and grey-ace and somewhere on the periphery of grey-romantic and while that configuration makes sense to me, it never seems to fit within the constructs other people have for understanding what I’m talking about. As you said, I’ve found that everyone who knows about asexuality tends to assume I mean biromantic, but that is emphatically not what I mean. And while I find constructs like aesthetic and sensual attraction helpful sometimes for my own thinking (and for conversations with people where I’m interested in/comfortable with getting into that level of detail), it’s both not something I want to explain constantly and not something that seems to really reflect my experience of attraction as a whole.

    Like you, I tend to think of myself as just bi (as in, rather than bisexual or biromantic; I use other identity words as well). The way I usually think of it when I’m trying to make it legible to other people is that I experience meaningful attractions to people of various genders, even if those attractions don’t fit neatly into either of the two categories (sexual and romantic) that seem most widely acknowledged as things that matter and are worth building an identity on.

    Anyhow, thanks again for sharing this! I’ll be looking forward to the second one 🙂

    • Elizabeth says:

      Glad to know that you can relate. 🙂

      I like your way of making it legible to other people! I have just been like, totally avoiding getting into detail about it for a long time myself, since the way I typically experience some of my attraction is so unusual that… it just isn’t really discussed in the ace community, and in the places where it is discussed, it’s very much seen as a sexual thing. Either that or just appreciation instead of attraction. I doubt it’s really that uncommon though, just unrecognized. But uh, you’ll see what I mean in part 2. You won’t have to wait too long for that, it’ll go up in a couple of days.

  4. Vesper says:

    can i fanperson all over this post?
    i’m going to fanperson all over this post.
    *proceeds to fanperson all over this post*
    *might come back with actual commentary later*

  5. Pingback: Reseña “Revisión narrativa de la asexualidad en la especie humana como una orientación sexual” – Chrysocolla Town

  6. Pingback: Being Bi/Ace, Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split | Prismatic Entanglements

  7. Pingback: Being Bi/Ace, Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split | The Asexual Agenda

  8. Silvermoon says:

    I relate to a lot of the things you talk about in the first section, only I came to “bisexual” a mere two years before I came to “ace”, which is probably some of the reason I identify with biromantic.

    To be honest, for me, when I say “more attracted to women/ nb’s” I’m not sure it’s not me actively /choosing/ to have more crushes on them etc- along with a general disillusionment with men. Because when I was in high school I had more crushes on boys (…although, that could partly be because I didn’t really know I could have crushes on girls and/or didn’t recognise existing crushes).

  9. queenieofaces says:

    Yeah. Yeah. I feel this. I describe myself as bi-ish for similar reasons, although in my case I can distinguish aesthetic attraction, sexual attraction (in that I don’t have it), and then….everything else. And it’s often most convenient to call “everything else” romantic, even though, like you, it feels pretty different from person to person. But I’ve definitely gotten….tired by the amount of which I’m expected to scrutinize and pick apart every bit of ??attraction?? I may or may not be feeling at any given time, ESPECIALLY with regards to gender balance and its frequency. It’s part of the reason I’ve started just calling myself queer instead of biromantic. (Although I get twitchy about some of the “we should just abolish romantic orientation and nobody should use it anymore” rhetoric, since I’ve seen that mobilized in really harmful ways to bar people from resources. Romantic orientation is still a useful concept for me, even if I’m not inclined to use its terminology when identifying myself.)

    (I also have the “aromantic spectrum but don’t necessarily identify with aromanticism” thing going on. I think because the aro communities I’ve been adjacent to have been mainly for people who are aromantic, rather than aromantic spectrum, so there doesn’t feel like there’s common ground there.)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Although I get twitchy about some of the “we should just abolish romantic orientation and nobody should use it anymore” rhetoric, since I’ve seen that mobilized in really harmful ways to bar people from resources.

      Wait wait wait, what the heck??? There are people saying that? Why on earth…?

      I actually deleted a bit about aro communities not feeling very welcoming/enticing to me, because I felt like it was too much of a tangent. But yeah, I haven’t really sought them out because I think I’d be too much of an outlier to feel comfortable there. And the ace community already has enough people in it with similar experiences that I don’t feel the need anyway.

      Also, that convenience factor you mention, about calling “everything else” romantic… yeah. I pretty much did exactly that for a really long time. Now though, I find that I don’t even have to call anything romantic ever, people will just make assumptions. I won’t even bother correcting them unless they’re ace or at least ace-aware, because I know I don’t have the stamina for that conversation.

      • queenieofaces says:

        Oh yeah, that’s an old thing. I think I first saw it in….2012-2013? The argument was basically that we should abolish romantic orientation, so biromantic aces would identify as bisexual, homoromantic aces would identify as gay/lesbian, heteroromantic aces would identify as straight, and aromantic aces would……………*awkward mumbling and coughing* That’s in part what this post is in response to: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/prioritizing-identity/ It reemerges once every 6-12 months on tumblr.

        • Elizabeth says:

          Ah, okay. If it started during my hiatus year and was mostly on tumblr, then I guess it makes sense that I haven’t seen it this whole time. Lucky me?

  10. Vesper says:

    *finally wanders back to this post, long-winded as always*

    i have similar grievances and frustration with how much mental and emotional bandwidth (as you put it) is expected to be put into processing and categorizing the types of attraction one does and / or doesn’t experience as an ace person, although i must admit that i am by far the saltiest about being held to such expectations by fellow aces above all else.

    and then there’s the grievances and frustration that i have about the all-too-often juxtaposed definitions of “bi” vs “pan”… sigh. i personally have only come across Kinsey-related quantification of one’s biness when reading academic writing from The West, but i’m sure there are many reasons for that—some of which being that what little academic writing i read is always in English out of The West and the Kinsey Scale isn’t commonly known outside of academia— at least, not in Japan?

    Kinsey Scale or not, however, that doesn’t stop people both in and outside of Japan from wanting to categorize me as “basically” straight or gay, just as they also want to classify me as man or woman, aromantic or alloromantic, etc.

    as you said, it is ridiculous how much information both aces and bi people are expected to divulge about themself / their relationship history / etc that other people are not. not only that, but if you do indulge a person and divulge even the tiniest bit of additional information about yourself, people then try to turn your identity itself into a topic that is open for discussion, when in fact there is literally nothing to discuss because you are what you said you are. the end.

    one thing that you said that really resonated with me (i mean, aside from talk of attraction itself, which i’ll save for a comment on your other post) is how you didn’t stop identifying as bi when you started identifying as ace, nor when you stopped identifying as biromantic.

    yaaaaasssssss.

    both identities are equally important to me, even if for different reasons / in different ways, and i really do not appreciate people making assumptions not only about the relationship between these two identities (ie. that “bi” is a modifier for “ace”; that “bi” means “biromantic” when paired with “ace”), but also about my relationship to these words (ie. since “bi” modifies “ace”, i identify as asexual first and foremost; that my bi identity must be “secondary” or otherwise different (read: lesser) than someone who identifies as bisexual).

    eh. unfortunately, i’m all kinds of salty about a lot of things, but it’s always the pushback / scrutiny / expectations / policing that i get from fellow members of my own communities that gets to me the most. existing in the intersections of multiple communities means i often find myself in the crosshairs of many intracommunity AND intercommunity issues and it’s frustrating, to say the least…

  11. Pingback: Nuance & Complexity: May 2018 Carnival of Aces Round-Up | Prismatic Entanglements

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