This post is for the May 2018 Carnival of Aces on “Nuance & Complexity.”
The ace community is known for making new terms to describe various nuances of being ace. One would have to be extremely dedicated to keep track of all of them.
I cannot tell you why other people want to make so many terms for so many nuances of sexual/romantic/etc. orientation. I can tell you that having words for so many nuances helped me become more comfortable with identifying as asexual back when I was not sure whether I was ‘really’ asexual.
I live in a culture which does not fully accept the possibility that people may be asexual, which causes nearly all aces to doubt their asexuality (hey, there was a whole carnival about that). When I was trying to sort out my (a)sexuality, I kept on thinking ‘I feel x, does that mean I am not asexual? I also feel y, so even if asexuals can feel x, maybe y means I am not asexual after all. And what about z?”
The many different terms for various shades of feelings/attraction/orientation/etc. functioned as boxes which helped me take the feelings which led me to doubt my asexuality and sort them into boxes. An example of this is the idea of aesthetic attraction, which I wrote about on my blog. I experience aesthetic attraction, and that slowed down the process of figuring out that I am asexual. I am not sure when I first read about aesthetic attraction as something distinct from sexual and romantic attraction (and it is possible that I encountered the concept before I encountered the term ‘aesthetic attraction’), but it probably helped in my self-discovery process.
Even when I could not find the correct ‘box’ for my feelings, it was nice to know that there were a lot of boxes out there, and that I could make my own boxes if I really wanted.
The diversity of labels and subcategories also made it easier for me to accept diversity within the asexual community. Sometimes, an asexual would say something that I did not relate to at all. Without the various different subcategories of asexual discourse, I either would have doubted my own asexuality, or doubted theirs. Having these different words to describe how one asexual experience is different from another’s fixed the problem, or at least went a long way towards fixing the problem.
And beyond that, most people, myself included, want to find themselves in others. Outside of the ace community, it is extremely difficult to find people who have an (a)sexuality like my own, which is one of the reasons that participating in the ace community is wonderful. Having these categories makes it easier to find others who are even more like me – for example, the category ‘aromantic’ makes it easier to find other people who share my lack of romantic inclinations.
So far, I’ve been just talking about my thoughts and reactions. I would like to point out that the post I linked to about aesthetic attraction is the 3rd most viewed post on my personal blog (and I have over 500 published posts). And the 6th most viewed post is the one where I discussed being “sex-indifferent”. I actually have not written many posts getting into the weeds of the various terms and subcategories of asexuality, but it seems that when I do, those posts become really popular.
Over the years, my confidence in my asexual identity has increased a lot. The idea that I might be any sexual orientation other than ‘asexual’ is now ridiculous to me. Various feelings which, ten years ago, would have led me to think ‘I’m probably not asexual’ no longer present any challenge to my asexuality. Though I was never into playing identity police, to the extent I have ever had any inclination to gatekeep the asexual community, that inclination is almost extinct.
And now that I am much more secure in my ace identity, I find the multitude of terms to be of minimal personal use (though they are still very useful for ace blogging). These days, I need a lot less reassurance that I am actually asexual, and I have lost interest in categorizing my own feelings and inclinations in such fine detail. I still enjoy meeting other aces, but I am not as desperate to see that part of myself in others as I was in the past.
For example, if you ask me ‘are you panaesthetic?’ I will say ‘yes’ but otherwise I will never use that label to describe myself these days (and nowadays I would not write a post like the one I linked above). And while I find that neither the language of ‘sex-favorable’ or ‘sex-averse/sex-repulsed’ resonates with me, and I think ‘sex-indifferent’ is a really, really awkward fit at best, I care a lot less about not having vocabulary for that that than I did a few years ago. I am fine with lacking a label which describes my ‘favorability’ or ‘aversion’ to sex. This means people sometimes make inaccurate assumptions about me, but they would probably make even more inaccurate assumptions about me if I placed myself in the favorability/averse/repulsed framework, and honestly, the assumptions that people within the ace community make are not nearly as irritating as the assumptions made by people outside of the community.
The two labels which I still find useful for describing my (a)sexuality are ‘asexual’ and ‘aromantic’. Those words convey all about my sexual/romantic orientation that I am interested in communicating to other people in 95% of all situations, and I prefer to deal with the other 5% of situations on a case-by-case basis.
And I continue to be grateful that the asexual community has a propensity to coin new terms to describe various patterns of feelings and inclinations, because there was a time when that was a great personal help to me.
This pretty accurately encompasses how I feel about most ace identity terminology now I’m more comfortable with being ace myself. I appreciate how other aces need it and that it’s useful to them, but I can’t help but feel the community as a whole is almost endlessly stuck working on 101 ace work, with much less support for aces who’ve settled into their identity already.
Almost the only place I can find articles discussing the ace experience beyond ‘omg people like this exist’ news articles every now and then, is this website. Don’t get me wrong, finding the stuff here was immeasurably helpful and I really appreciate all of it, I just wish there was…more of it. Activism is a pretty thankless job though, so considering how few of us there are I can understand why, it’s just quite frustrating. Gah, sorry to sound so negative! This article really expresses my own feelings on the issue of terminology as a whole though.
I’m glad that you found this post worthwhile 😀 And yes, one of the main purposes of this blog is to ace discussions which are above the asexuality 101 level.
Searching for identity through labels has always made my brain glaze over and tune out. I remember when people I met discussed tastes in music, authors, movies, sports, etc. in finding common interests. It was interesting to me that I could dislike rap as a genre and love Queen Latifah rapping, so that blows generalization out of the water. Talking about sex to reach common ground was/is just inconceivable to me as an important discussion. So why am I here? Because this blog is called “Asexual”. It’s also called “Agenda”. I thought if you come to a place that is ostensibly for asexuals, nobody has to explain themselves, but that is what people are always trying to do in asexual sites. I am thinking of starting a blog called “sex-free zone”. Of course, it would have to have strenuous filters and merciless moderation! LOL
There was a time in my life when I was desperately searching for “my people”, and it is something most people go through. I see glimpses here and there, when someone’s true being shows up. I hope to make my true being show up whenever possible. True being is my people.
By all means, start that blog called “sex-Free Zone”! I’m sure that there are readers out there who would appreciate it 🙂
I’ve also found it useful to learn about and explore discussions of different types of attractions beyond sexual and romantic. I feel like sexual and romantic attraction tend to really dominate discussion even in ace spaces and sometimes, as someone who is aroace, I feel like I don’t have much to say except “I don’t experience it” (even if I can sometimes write a lot about how not experiencing it has impacted my life).
Learning about other types of attraction, even if they’re rarely discussed, helped me to develop a fuller understanding of the ways in which I can or do relate to people. I never would have found these discussions except for ace communities so I’m glad that they are part of the broader ace community and hope that others will benefit from them if they need to.
Yeah, that. Given most terms sprouted up after I settled with my terms (ace/aro), I look at them mostly from an academic standpoint: Words some people might need to describe feelings and experiences. More words are always a good thing. Also, some of those (like the sex-averse to sex-favorable spectrum) do illustrate that sexuality is a spectrum on so many levels – and serve to remind us that sometimes, you can’t have spaces that are safe for everyone.
That is a good point about how having these terms/frameworks reminds us that different people in the ace community have different needs.
What you mentioned about how experiencing aesthetic attraction slowed down your way to realizing that you´re ace sounds familiar. Not knowing that sensual and sexual attraction aren´t the same and that finding someone beautiful on an aesthetic level doesn´t mean you are attracted to that person sexually, made it difficult for me, too. It´s difficult as long as you don´t have words to give your feelings and thoughts a solid form.
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