Asexual, gray-A, and demisexual are three “canonical” groups of the ace spectrum, the three categories that get mentioned when you want to enumerate the kinds of aces. But that’s not really all there is to it. There are numerous other labels—sometimes called “microlabels” or “neolabels”—which may either elaborate on the canonical labels, or even replace them entirely.
In the past, I’ve criticized neolabels for filling glossaries without actually getting used. If people use them, and like them, that’s well and good, but if people don’t use them why are we making misleading glossaries? On the other hand, some words in these glossaries are more popular than you might think, and today I’m going to talk about one of those. Today I will look at aegosexuality, also known as autochorissexualism.
“Aegosexual” describes people with sexual fantasies but who don’t locate themselves within those fantasies. I’m going to take it for granted that this is a real and valid experience, and one that is not particularly difficult to understand. Instead I will focus on something I have had more difficulty understanding: why do people use uncommon labels like this one to describe very specific experiences?
In which I give advice
It’s a perpetual pattern in ace communities, that we are receiving a constant influx of questioning people looking for advice, or validation, or just permission to be who they are. I personally stay away from giving advice, but I still receive the occasional query. Here’s a particularly memorable experience.
Someone—let’s call him Henry—had found me through my other blog, and started reading about asexuality. A lot of it resonated with his experience, but there was a major sticking point: he had elaborate sexual fantasies. So it was up to me to assure him that this was not that uncommon in the ace community, and would not be a barrier to identifying as ace if that’s what he wanted to do.
In my response, I also mentioned researcher Anthony Bogaert, and his (then recent) paper on autochorissexualism (more on that later). I even attached a copy of the paper because I’m such a nerd. I was just making an amusing observation: aces with fantasies are so common that even out-of-touch scientists have noticed. But Henry took hold of the term autochorissexualism, which perhaps resonated even more strongly than asexuality itself.
And though microlabels are most commonly associated the tumblr ace community, or with young people, that’s not where he went. He shied away from ace communities, went off and did his own thing. And he continued to identify with the term many years later. You can get Henry’s side of the story in a post he wrote for the Carnival of Aces.
It’s hard to argue with a success story like that. And I have to imagine that this is a common occurrence. In the Ace Community Survey, there’s a question where people are given the options “asexual”, “gray-asexual”, “demisexual” and “questioning”. Almost one percent of people skip those options in favor of typing out “aegosexual” or “autochorissexual”. This is more common than any other write-in category by far. And the group would likely be even bigger if it were explicitly an option.
But I admit I was initially puzzled. At the time of my e-mail exchange, it was a label that virtually nobody had heard of, and therefore could not be used to effectively communicate anything—certainly not for someone who did not even participate in ace communities.
Almost all neolabels are coined within our communities, but “autochorissexual” is an exception. It was coined by preeminent asexuality researcher Anthony Bogaert, in a 2012 paper titled “Asexuality and Autochorissexualism (Identity-Less Sexuality)”.
Bogaert is a psychologist who struck a chord with his 2004 quantitative analysis of the UK NATSAL surveys, opening up asexuality as an academic subject. But he’s not really an expert on qualitative asexual experiences. In his book, Understanding Asexuality he speculated on whether asexuals could appreciate sexual humor; clearly this is not the kind of researcher who spends time scrolling through ace forums. The autochorissexual paper is based purely on a single AVEN thread, seemingly the only thread Bogaert ever bothered reading. My former colleague Andrew Hinderliter claimed that in fact he had shown this thread to Bogaert—and complained that he was snubbed in the acknowledgments.
If you look into the original paper, it’s problematic. Bogaert was explicitly discussing autochorissexualism as a paraphilia, during a time when the DSM classified all paraphilias as disorders. Furthermore, he made a comparison to autogynephilia. So people who want to distance themselves from the origin often use “aegosexual”. In the Ace Community Survey, “aegosexual” is the more popular term. (“Anegosexual” is a very distant third, but I’ll mention it for the SEO.)
Despite the problems with the paper, Bogaert’s scientific authority has likely been valuable for its initial claims to legitimacy. Other labels have been attacked with false stories about their origin. For example, such and such word was made by a teenage girl and aren’t we ashamed of even indirectly associating ourselves with such a thing? When a word is coined by a scientist in an easily citable paper, that makes the word more unassailable.
But the irony is that Bogaert just got his ideas (or at least, the good ones) from the ace community. Because isn’t that how it always works? People doubt our experiences, because they expect scientific proof. But if they ask the scientists, the scientists just turn around ask us.
The experience described by “autochorissexual” predates Bogaert, and its validity is prior to Bogaert. What did Bogaert contribute? Bogaert contributed the word, and a hell of a marketing campaign. You might remember the word because of the supposed scientific authority behind it. Or you might remember it because you have a painfully academic sense of humor like me. Or maybe you just had to say the word several times to even pronounce the thing, and by then you commit it to memory. You might not like its origin, but you can’t forget it.
What I like about the story, is that Bogaert paints a vision of a different world, where any random forum thread can and will be used as the basis for a new identity label. Despite its reputation, the ace community does not, in fact, come up with new words for every specific experience we ever talk about…. but maybe we should?? Let’s highlight the shit out of every personal narrative because our lives are just that meaningful. And none of this humble “allo” or “demi” nonsense, we want awkward, extravagant words with more syllables than “sesquipedalian”. A scientist said we should do it.
Reasons to identify
The problem with giving a label to every experience, is that not everybody with those experiences would choose to use the corresponding labels. In the case of neolabels, the people who choose to use them are likely only a tiny fraction of those who have the experience.
Although I would not call myself aegosexual, I find the aegosexual experience to be relatable. The sexual fantasies that allosexual people typically describe, in which they imagine themselves in sexual situations, have at times felt a bit bizarre to me. Why… would I… imagine… myself? Of all people? Actually for most of my life I have not had any sexual fantasies at all, so you could say that my sexual fantasies not only omit myself, but also omit other people, and the sex and fantasy to boot.
You could speculate that I choose not to identify as aegosexual because my experience is a bit different. But I feel like the bigger issue for me, is that identifying as aegosexual makes me feel like I am directly telling people that I masturbate.
But some people are more open about their sexuality than me, or they may participate in spaces where openness is more the norm. For example, there are some fandoms with lots of sexual content. Suppose an aegosexual person is existing around that sexual content, or even producing sexual content, it’s easy to see why they might find the label essential for explaining their motivations and attitudes within that space.
Another reason I wouldn’t identify as aegosexual is that I feel like it’s obscure enough that it’s not effective communication. But not everyone sees it the same way as me. You might even say that as a blogger who writes for large audiences, it is I who have the unusual perspective on communication. Many people are in fact okay with using a word that most people don’t understand. My impression is that people who use neolabels often have utopic visions of a language that will satisfy their personal needs. They will fight for that utopia, but are also satisfied for now with having to explain words all the time.
One last reason why a word like “autochorissexual” might feel indispensible, is if it’s the one thing that helps you identify with asexuality or the ace spectrum. As I’ve said before, disidentification with asexuality is an important experience. You can reassure people that X or Y is consistent with asexuality all you like, but you can’t force them to identify that way. It’s not necessarily for lack of assurances, sometimes it’s for lack of the lightbulb moment of self-recognition. People with prominent sexual fantasies are probably less likely to consider that they are asexual, quicker to shrug off the possibility. When aegosexuality is presented as an alternative, or just as a modifier to asexuality, that may trigger a lightbulb moment where there was none before.
Not all people are so lucky, of course, to find a word that so perfectly fits their needs. That’s why I like broad and vague labels like “gray-asexual”, a label for the rest of us. But, if you want something specific, you might take pleasure in imagining fictional Anthony Bogaert personally swooping in, acting like he knows something, and giving your specific experience a ridiculous, wonderful name that you can be proud of. It happened before, it can happen again.
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With fantasy, one person’s recreation may be another person’s critically important medium of self-expression or self-realization. It is simultaneously true that people engage in fantasy in ways that don’t influence their overall sexuality, and that people engage in fantasy to discover or affirm our sexuality.
I mean, technically some definitions would call me ageosexual as a celibate queer person. But since lusting after completely inaccessible persons (real or imaginary) is a big part of queer cultures, I don’t see a need to identify into it.
But with labels, a big hangup I have is that “-sexual” seems to promote sciency-style theorizing over differences that feel very culturally constructed to me. And what gets potentially lost is the idea that sharing a sexual orientation doesn’t mean sharing behaviors, values, or experiences.
I showed this to someone earlier, and they remarked that identity-less sexual fantasies seem to be commonplace insofar as porn generally does not include the reader/viewer as a character. And along the same lines, you might say that “lusting after completely inaccessible persons” is an aegosexual experience.
But if someone identifies as aegosexual, I figure they feel something counter to the norm, or counter to expectations. So there must be a bit more to it than that. But *shrugs* it’s hard to say what. Maybe it’s having these sexual fantasies to the exclusion of other fantasies, or aversion to imagining oneself as a participant. There probably isn’t one unified thing.
I think due to its history, aegosexual/autochorissexual is tilted more towards essentialist theorizing, although I don’t actually think that’s due to the suffix. There are a lot of neolabels with the “-sexual” suffix, and they all have their own things going on.
It should be spelled “aNegosexual”. “Aegosexual” is improper Latin.
You said that last time the subject came up too, but never responded to me or Sennkestra… Obviously you can spell it how you want but I don’t think your prescriptivism makes any sense.
Siggy, I can appreciate your dismissiveness and distrust of a ‘scientific’ word that has, as you state, a very non-scientific, dubious origin. I am far more willing to trust a word that has an organic origin, initiated by a person who felt that the word, deconstructed, perfectly described themself. If I’m not mistaken, you have written before about the way that a poster on Reddit devised ‘aegosexual’. No self in sex: it’s a perfect description of me, for a start.
You question why anyone should want the label. I think there is a difference between learning of a label’s existence and actually using it. Using it makes life easier, as long as everyone agrees on the meaning of course. It’s often simpler to use a single word to describe a set of behaviours than it is to describe the behaviours themselves. Learning of it is much more personal. For me, it was far more than a light-bulb moment. For decades I’d thought I was crazy. A ‘normal’ professional, cis-gender woman, married with kids who, ever since early childhood had fantasised, sexually, solely about other people, and the other people were always men. Gay fantasies. No place in them for other women. That would be too much like being involved myself. It was wonderful to learn that there were a host of others who shared a disconnection between their self and their imagination: those ‘third-person fantasies’ that characterise aegosexuals. I thought, ‘Well, we can’t all be crazy!’ So, for me, it’s not, as you suggest, a ridiculous name to be proud of. I’m neither proud nor ashamed to use it and, as it’s one of the things that defines my (a)sexuality, I don’t agree that it’s ridiculous.(Perhaps I have been unjust there. I’m not sure if you were applying ‘ridiculous’ solely to the Bogaert construct.)
I don’t think of aegosexuality as an alternative to asexuality, something you reflect on. I happily wrote ‘asexual’ in the orientation section of the recent UK census. Ace/aego…I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg. Are people born asexual and gravitate to aego because of their vivid imagination and aversion to partnered sex, or does their imagination lead them to explore less mainstream behaviours? I dont know. I’ll continue to use both descriptors, but there is a very real sense in which I am drawn to the label ‘aegosexual’, with or without an ‘n’. I would say that it determines what I do (e.g. as Jude Tresswell and the County Durham Quad books) whereas asexuality determines what I don’t do. I don’t have sex, but I think about relationships that do.
I think you misunderstand my attitude. The non-scientific origin of autochorissexuality–as an experience discussed on AVEN and elsewhere–is not “dubious”, it is the source of the identity’s strength. The scientific roots of the word are far more dubious, but ironically have been more marketable. I’m not dismissive about it, my tone is of amusement.
You misremember. I identified the origin as a post on Tumblr.
Maybe it’s just because your comment started with a gross misreading of me, but throughout your comment I feel like you’re making statements that might or might not be further misinterpretations. Here you make it sound like I was challenging the label by asking a question that I did not think had a satisfactory answer. But the whole point of asking the question was to discuss multiple possible answers.
I was referring to the word “autochorissexual”, which most people agree is a mouthful of a word. And I was not disparaging it, I am amused by how ostentatious it is. Maybe we all deserve ostentatious words.
Thank you, Siggy. I did misinterpret some of the content of your post. Also, I did wonder if I had recalled correctly the forum on which ‘aegosexual’ had its original posting.
Your post has made me think about which label means more to me: asexual or aegosexual. (I’m happy with labels.) There’s a blog post in that. I shall write it.
Thanks so much for your post! i loved the discussion. Even if i doubt i’m anywhere near as scholarly or learned – so i post with trepidaton.
Labels can be important, but at the end of the day? i’m still me, with or without that label. Or whether most others understand the label. So why do i still crave a label that accurately describes me? To a degree, it validates my existence and lends some credibility to my experience(s) not being a sign i’m broken, dirty, or beyond the pale.
Growing up, being anything except heteronormative was completely out of the question. Anything less would lead to justifiable self-hatred. So i tried to make my square self fit into that round pigeonhole. That was never successful, and led to many decades of feeling defective, less than human: unacceptable and unloveable. And yes, self-hate. “What’s WRONG with me?”
When i stumbled upon the term asexual, i wish it could say it healed that chasm in my soul, but it did not. However, it gave me hope that maybe i’m not so alien as to be irredemable. And if there is a label in the asexuality spectrum that already exists AND fits? Well then, i am not alone! i just might find someone who will understand me, accept me as i am, and love me for myself – in a way that i can accept (viz. without sex, or kissing).
i can’t say that either aegosexuality or autochorisexuality is quite right, for me. But they seem significantly closer than anything else i’ve discovered to date. Even if either were a perfect descriptor, i doubt much that i would blandish it about promiscuously, or get it tattooed prominently on my body. But just to have finally had that light-bulb moment when i am aware of who i am, what i want? And it is real? i think finding the correct label will play a major part.
Unlike most asexuals, i cannot say for certain that my early childhood sexual trauma is not a contributing factor to my being Ace. i don’t have a “control version of me” to compare myself to. i tend to believe it didn’t “make me Ace,” but pushed me much further into not wanting actual sex with another, while still enjoying the fantasies and concomitant arousal/release. Since most Ace posit that prior trauma is NOT a causative factor in asexuality, does that mean i none of these labels apply to me?
Now in my twilight years, i guess it really shouldn’t matter. Though somewhat less distinguished than Dr. Bogaert, i think Popeye summed it up fairly well: i yam what i yam. i’ve gone this long without having someone of my own to cuddle with, i reckon i can make it the rest of the way. And a label would just be a verbal construct to quantify who i (and maybe others) are. But it would be delicious to know i fit in somewhere: “i’m real, and it’s okay!” Even if it’s just within the confines of a sesquipedalian mouthful.
P.S. Somewhat off topic, but why do so many of the descriptors for “haters” end in -phobia? That would indicate a FEAR of, not an antipathy towards. Should it not more properly be -misia? Most of them really exhibit no fear of Gays, Transsexuals, Ace, etc., but a total disregard for and lack of acceptance or tolerance of non-heteronormatives. The only ones i have seen that truly are afraid, are those who are so deeply in the closet and cannot accept who they really are. For them, homosexuality, transsexuality, asexuality – if those differences are valid, their whole self-construct and understanding is a house of cards. Which to them, is completely unacceptable. Still, they are just words – labels – and the hate sadly goes on regardless of what it is called.
I’m glad that my writing resonates with you, even if aegosexual/autochorissexual doesn’t fit quite right. It’s okay not to find a label–and conversely I would say it’s okay try a label even if you don’t think it exactly fits.
I’m not one of those aces. I’m open to the idea that prior trauma can be a causal factor in causing asexuality. I mean, it isn’t in general, but it could be for individuals. In practice, a lot of people with trauma just don’t know if it was a causal factor in their aceness, and I don’t think it makes sense to say their “correct” identity hinges on a thing that they will never know.
I believe the practice derives from “homophobia”. I don’t really like it, but I think we’re stuck with it, because it’s a bit of a pattern for homophobes to dispute the term, and I don’t think people want to make any concessions to that sort of rhetoric.
But, it’s worth not duplicating the problem, so I usually to avoid “acephobia” for that reason.
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“Because isn’t that how it always works? People doubt our experiences, because they expect scientific proof. But if they ask the scientists, the scientists just turn around ask us.”
Reminds me of getting disability accommodations for university. The university wanted a doctor’s note – meanwhile the doctor didn’t do any assessments or tests, just asked me which accommodations I needed.
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