Have you ever seen one of those asexual or aromantic glossaries? If not, I have many examples in the footnotes!1 These glossaries often serve as repositories for all the identity terms that one person or another has advocated at some point in time. Many of these terms are called “microlabels” or “neolabels”, because they’re relatively new, describe something rather specific, and are used by only a small group of people.
The idea is that someone may read one of these glossaries, and find a label that is useful. And if you don’t like the neolabels, nobody is forcing you to use them! And if a particular neolabel is used by nobody, then, I guess it’s at least not doing any harm? Or is it?
Coyote recently observed that aro/ace glossaries are usually quite different from traditional glossaries. A traditional glossary might appear in the back of a book. If you encounter a term you’re unfamiliar with, you look it up in the glossary. But it seems the intended use of these aro/ace glossaries, is usually to read them straight through. As look-up resources, glossaries often have omissions and other issues.2
The result is that these glossaries contain a bunch of labels that are otherwise effectively dead. People only learn about these labels by reading glossaries, or by encountering other people who read the glossaries. The glossaries mislead people into thinking that individual neolabels are more established than they really are.
The problem isn’t neolabels. The problem is that permanent resources are keeping some neolabels on life support.
On Rabger’s model
I’m going to share a cautionary tale, and it’s a very old one because that allows you to see how it all rolled out in the end.
Rabger’s model is a model that was extant from the years 2006 to 2011 on AVEN. It made a distinction between primary and secondary sexual attraction, and primary and secondary sexual desire. Counterintuitively, asexuality was defined as a lack of primary sexual desire rather than sexual attraction. Demisexuality was defined as having secondary sexual attraction but not primary sexual attraction.
Rabger’s model was named after AVEN user Rabger, who supposedly created the model. Rabger did not create Rabger’s model. Rabger proposed a model in 2005, which started a long thread on AVEN. The AVENwiki was first created around the same time, and a few of its editors were enthusiastic about Rabger’s thread. They put the model on the AVENwiki, but took some liberties in its description–for example, Rabger had not split sexual desire into primary and secondary types.
Although the AVENwiki is supposed to be a living resource, editors lost momentum after 2006. It became frozen until 2010, when there was an attempt to update it. In 2011, Rabger saw Rabger’s model for the first time, complained that the article misrepresented their views, and deleted the AVENwiki page. The page was restored under the title Primary vs secondary sexual attraction model.
What was the problem with this model? Personally, I didn’t like it because it was too essentialist. Some other people liked it, and no knock on those people. The real problem was that, when I was on AVEN circa 2010, people pretty much only understood this model through its appearance on AVENwiki. The model did not propagate organically, it was not allowed to stand or fall on its own merit. It’s just that the demisexuality page prominently linked to the Rabger’s model page, and this led people to thinking it was the authoritative way to understand demisexuality.
Once the model was renamed, people mostly stopped using it. Without the illusion of authority propped up by the AVENwiki, the model died. I think the best part about its death, is that demisexuality was freed from the confines of a rather complicated and essentialist theory.
The moral of the story? Permanent resources, if not properly maintained, can keep ideas alive well past their expiration date, and hold back better ideas.
(This section is based on an article I posted on Pillowfort.)
Now, for a more modern example: cupiosexual. It’s defined in at least a few glossaries, and it means “wanting a sexual relationship, but not experiencing sexual attraction.” As far as I can tell, “cupiosexual” was created not because there was demand for it, but because there was demand for “cupioromantic”, and people just swapped out the -romantic suffix for -sexual. Actual demand for the “cupiosexual” label appears to be low.
When I searched around for “cupiosexual” and I found:
- A single blog post explaining what it is, what the flag is, etc.
- A stub on the MOGAI wiki
- A quora post that says it’s not real
- Some tumblr posts that list out a bunch of identities to say they’re all valid
- A tumblr blog that isn’t about cupiosexuality at all, but someone’s personal blog for celebrity photos
- A 2015 post by Asexual Advice explaining why they discourage use of “cupiosexual”.
- Lots of AVEN threads. It seems to have been more successful on AVEN than anywhere else. But only six threads in the past year and none in 2019.
- A short reddit thread where someone asks:
Some people think this is a unnecessary label, while others feel its an important distinction in the aro/ace community. What are your thoughts?
Yeah… so the problem with cupiosexual isn’t that it’s unnecessary. The problem is that people under this label deserve better.
Cupiosexual means roughly the same thing as “sex-favorable asexual”, an older term that has been discussed much more extensively just looking at our blog. Cupiosexual doesn’t mean quite the same thing–it’s a bit more rigid–but it doesn’t feel like it’s actually trying to distinguish itself from sex-favorability, it’s just an inferior definition.
So, imagine the following hypothetical: a sex-favorable asexual goes on some advice blog, describes their experiences and asks “What am I?” The blog’s mod isn’t sure how to answer, so they refer to one of those glossaries, finds the word “cupiosexual”, and recommends the term. The person who asked the question is initially overjoyed, but this turns to disappointment as they can find hardly any community or resources for cupiosexuals. They may have found a word for themselves, but they conclude that they’re still ultimately alone in the world.
And it’s not that they’re alone, it’s just that they were given the wrong search term.
Fortunately, cupiosexual is not present in many of the glossaries (partly because it’s more common to find glossaries focusing on romantic orientations only). But I find myself wondering… are there other abandoned neolabels kept on life support? In their attempt to help people find applicable identity labels, are glossaries sometimes guiding people towards dead ends, and loneliness?
1. Examples of glossaries:
Aromantic-spectrum Union for Recognition, Education, and Advocacy
Arospec awareness week
A-Spec Labels and Terminology
2. One common omission in aro/ace glossaries is “SAM” or the split attraction model. Another is the word “platonic” (which can be looked up in mainstream dictionaries, but means something different in aspec communities). Another common problem is that glossaries fail to acknowledge that words have multiple meanings. And some glossaries are split up into multiple pages, making it actively difficult to look up specific words. (return)