In my personal life, I do not see it as a goal to be asexual, nor be on the asexual spectrum. Rather, these labels are just tools to better understand what I really want, or what I might want. After briefly identifying as asexual in 2009, I realized that even if I don’t experience sexual attraction, I felt very atypical for an asexual. I could fit asexuality if I really wanted to, but it is not something I really want. It is not my goal to be asexual, it is my goal to be myself. That’s why I identify as gray-asexual.
In the ace community, it is essential to welcome atypical experiences, in part because we never know when an “atypical” experience will turn out to be more common than we thought, and in part because intersectional experiences (with race, gender, disability, trauma, etc.) tend to have an atypical flavor. However, the instinct to welcome all sorts of asexual experience can be twisted into coercive inclusion of people into asexuality.
Usually, coercive inclusion manifests in subtle ways, for instance, in identity prescriptivism. And sometimes there’s just this prejudice that individuals who fit asexuality but disidentify with asexuality: a) do not exist, b) are doing themselves a disfavor, or c) are trying to take something away from the rest of the community.
And then there are more blatant examples.
I’m thinking of a recent incident on Twitter. Before I go any further, I must strongly rebuke any harassment of the people under discussion. And, in the spirit of preventing harassment, I’m avoiding naming or quoting most of the individuals involved, and I will not discuss any interpersonal drama that occurred in the fallout. I’ll just point to the tweet that started it, a tweet by Yasmin Benoit:
There are demisexual people out there who don’t feel very asexual and aren’t very asexual and that’s cool too. The orientations overlap but only to a degree. Demisexuality also overlaps literally every other orientation. It is it’s own experience.
Yasmin’s tweet was harshly criticized. You can’t see the worst of it in that thread, but you can see some of the polite responses, such as, “Are you saying that demis aren’t ace?” Later, Yasmin posted an apology.
In my reading, Yasmin’s original tweet affirms the option for demisexuals to disidentify with asexuality. The critics interpreted this option as a threat, and respond with reaffirmations that demisexuals are ace. If that isn’t an expression of coercive inclusion, I don’t know what is.
Much of this has to do with the perpetual flame wars between aces and aphobes. The nominal crux of the flame wars is “inclusion”, although IMHO it’s really more of a proxy battle for basic respect. Because inclusion is such a big issue, people who are involved in those flame wars are often on edge, spotting shadows of exclusionism even when we’re really just affirming the option of disidentification. It goes to show that sometimes getting involved in flame wars makes you worse for the wear.
Still, I’m disappointed when aces show time and again how little they actually understand gray and demi experiences. For me, gray-asexuality is about having resonances and anti-resonances with asexual experience. It is about identification with, and disidentification from asexuality. This isn’t necessarily what it’s about for all gray/demi folks, but I’d wager it’s common. It’s such an important value, that I feel people should be familiar with it, and immediately recognize it, even if the tweet it appears in is poorly worded.
Disidentification is an important issue for other identities as well. Something I learned in the last five years, is that not all nonbinary people identify as trans. And, rather than repeating the prescriptive definition of “trans” at nonbinary people, I find it is much better to acknowledge that disidentification, acknowledge that I don’t understand, and then listen.
Within asexuality, there are multiple kinds of disidentification:
- Disidentification with asexuality, even if they have similar experiences, or fit the prescriptive definition. My personal experience is an example.
- Disidentification with the asexual spectrum, even if they identify with one of the “standard” ace subgroups like demi or gray. Yasmin’s tweet appears to have been inspired by someone who felt this way
- Disidentification with the asexual community, even if they are asexual. I daresay that aces who disidentify with the community outnumber those who identify with it, and selection bias makes them look uncommon. Since I started watching the aro community, I’ve seen a lot of aro aces vocally disidentifying with the ace community, and that could only be the tip of the iceberg.
Disidentification can be complete, or it can be partial. And it can fluctuate. It fluctuates for me. Yes, personally I find that the time I most strongly disidentify with asexuality, is when I see people insisting that I cannot.