Gray Asexuality in mainstream media

As regular readers know, I use Google Alerts to keep tabs on asexuality in mainstream (primarily news) media. In this article, I will survey the alerts for any mention of gray-asexuality, and discuss how it’s presented. This was directly inspired by Coyote’s survey of gray-asexuality in asexuality studies.

Methodology

A blog post with a methodology section! I have Google Alerts set up for “asexual OR asexuality – reproduction”, with a few websites blacklisted to reduce spam. This method is systematic, but not perfect–as noted in my asexuality alert journal series, some links are of dubious relevance, and there are occasionally duplicates. But for the sake of time, I only removed articles if they were inaccessible, or in a non-text format (such as a podcast).

I looked at articles received between July 1st 2021 and December 31st 2021, and searched for “grey” or “gray” to find any mentions of gray-asexuality, grey-sexuality, graysexuality, or any equivalent term. Out of 284 articles, I found 25 articles that mentioned gray-asexuality, including one that was a duplicate.

The articles

Here are the 24 distinct articles, organized by category:

Informational articles
What does greysexual mean exactly? | Body+Soul
What Does It Mean To Be Allosexual? Understanding The Sexual Desire Spectrum | mindbodygreen
What Does It Mean to Be Aromantic? | Parle
If Your Partner Just Came Out as Asexual, Here’s How to Support Them | Elite Daily
What does it mean to be asexual? Understanding the asexual spectrum | Insider
What is Allosexism & How it Affects The LGBTQ Community | Illinois News Today
Language Expert reveals evolving sexuality terminology | Daily Mail Online
What is demisexuality? ‘It’s the same as asexuality but with an asterisk of exception’ | Screenshot (this link appeared twice)
SA Pride Month: The meaning behind these eight LGBTQI+ flags [photos] | The South African
What Does Abrosexual Mean? 9 Signs & Tips For When Your Sexuality Is Fluid | mindbodygreen
Are you Lithosexual? Here Are 5 Signs You Might Be | Gayety
The many shades of asexuality | Free Malaysia Today
Asexuality: Everything You Need to Know About it | News 18

Interviews with ace people
‘It isn’t not being able to get laid’: what is a demisexual? | The Sydney Morning Herald
What people are getting wrong about asexuality (a lot) | USA Today
What does it feel like to be asexual? | Fashion Journal
The ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ | PsychCentral
Queer woman Rachel Whitbeck shines a light on asexuality | gcn

1st person articles
Coming to Terms With My Asexuality as a Black, Non-Binary Lesbian | Autostraddle
10 Facts about Asexuality That Help Dispel Harmful Myths | Self
The Asexuality Spectrum And Its Wide Range Of Identities | Study Breaks

Other articles
Andrew Cuomo’s Daughter is Demisexual. What is demisexuality? | InsideHook
Asexuality In Popular Culture: The Need For Diverse Representation Of The Asexual Experience | Feminism in India
Get to know these 7 asexual celebrities | Queerty

I was surprised by the number of articles I found, because my impression was that there’s hardly any mention of gray-sexuality at all. It seems that instead, mentions of gray-asexuality are hidden within those bland informational articles that I usually don’t even bother to look at. Often gray-asexuality is presented within a list of other words, in a way that undersells its significance within the ace community.

Notably, media coverage of demisexuality does not follow the same pattern, with demisexuality commonly being the central focus of purely informational articles, including many that did not appear here because they did not mention gray-sexuality. The notion that demisexuality is a subset of gray-sexuality was never mentioned. (Although many demisexual people do not necessarily identify as gray-A, so the idea that it’s a subset could be called into question.)

I was pleased to see at least a few places where gray-asexuality came up in interviews or first-person stories, although most of these were so close to being informational articles that I wonder if the distinction was even worth making. Only two people actually identified with gray-asexuality–in The Sydney Morning Herald and Autostraddle–the rest were just explaining it as informational background.

Definitions

Not a single one of the articles has any discussion of gray-asexuality beyond explaining its definition. In fact, 4 of the articles do not even go so far as to provide a definition. Of the 20 remaining articles, definition quality is quite low.

I’ll start with what was clearly the best definition, provided by Julie Kliegman in the Self article.

People who identify as gray asexual fall between asexuality and allosexuality (meaning you feel sexually attracted to others), and usually have their personal definitions of what this means. For example, some people may experience sexual attraction in specific situations.

To add further context, there are a lot of people who find asexuality resonates with their experience, but there’s enough difference that the word doesn’t quite fit.  Gray-asexuality is a possible identity for those people, to contain all those experiences that cannot otherwise be contained.  Common narratives of gray-asexuality include experiencing sexual attraction infrequently or weakly, but such narratives do not describe all gray-As and do not define graysexuality.  The challenge in defining gray-asexuality is that we want to ground the word in meaningful narratives, but we don’t want to tie it down to a specific narrative.

So, a common way to define gray-asexuality is by referring to one of the common narratives, and leave it at that.  4 of the articles basically defined gray-As as those who

rarely experience sexual attraction

4 more articles went a bit further by describing two or more possible narratives. For example:

someone experiences sexual attraction infrequently or not intensely.

Another common definition, used in 3 articles, was something to do with wanting or liking sex some of the time. For example,

Greysexual is when you don’t want sex all the time. It’s not constantly on your brain but you’re not asexual – you’re not NOT interested

The above definition is the only one presented in the one article that actually focused on greysexuality (in Body+Soul). Having ambivalent feelings towards sex is in fact one reason why people might feel that gray-A fits them better than asexuality. But I think the way this narrative is presented is deeply confusing to most allosexual folks, and it’s plain incorrect as a definition.

One article presented a definition that was way off the mark:

Demisexuality is sometimes also referred to as semi-sexuality or “gray sexuality,”

The remaining 8 articles (including Julie Kliegman’s) at some point say that graysexuality is between asexual and allosexual. This can be done more or less gracefully. On one end, we have Kliegman’s definition, and on the other end we have definitions with misleading emphasis, such as this one:

those who may have felt sexual attraction or enjoyed sexual contact in the past but no longer do, as well as people who may feel that they are somewhere between sexual and asexual.

Conclusion

With all that said, I think the main point isn’t in the details of the clumsy definitions provided by news articles. The bigger picture is that none of the articles go any further than providing definitions. No first-hand experiences. No discussion of what it means, or what it entails about our interaction with society. No community statistics. Nothing.

Can one truly understand what gray-asexuality is without understanding its position within ace communities? Gray-As have been coexisting in asexual spaces at least since the time the word was coined in 2006. Their inclusion in ace communities has not been without controversy, but all the established organizations and activists recognize gray-As as an essential part of the spectrum and the community. Gray-As comprise over 10% of the community–but they appear to comprise a smaller fraction of the people who talk to news media.

In the future, I would like more gray-As to speak to news media, and more journalists to realize that this is a significant topic that they’ve been entirely missing.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
This entry was posted in Articles, Gray-A, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Gray Asexuality in mainstream media

  1. Coyote says:

    The lack of any depth on gray-asexuality seems both weird and too be expected, I guess. Weird because gray-asexual identity is such an established, elementary thing in the community (and not any rarer than demisexuality). To be expected because… it’s difficult to simplify, and I can see why talking about gray-asexuality might seem like going out on even more of a limb.

    For instance, this example of a bad definition:

    “Greysexual is when you don’t want sex all the time. It’s not constantly on your brain but you’re not asexual – you’re not NOT interested.”

    Eugh. Too often I’ve seen non-aces get mad at this sort of thing because it comes off like accusing them of “wanting sex all the time,” as a basis of comparison, which understandably can leave people ticked off. But I guess this is the sort of thing that happens when you’re trying to illustrate grey-asexuality with clear, specific details while trying to boil it down as much as possible, without having a specific individual tell their own story. And personally, I’m big on the idea that you understand things like this better by reading through multiple personal stories, so it’s unfortunate that that’s so lacking here.

    • In conversations with baby aces from my country of origin, I’ve found that based on the information they have been reading about asexuality (keeping in mind many of them don’t have a strong grasp of English), they form the impression that “allosexuals” are all hypersexual. They’re all like, “I’m so surprised to learn that everyone is constantly obsessed with sex and wanting sex all the time.” And I’m like *facepalm*

  2. Pingback: An example of inconsistent definitions (200 words) – sildarmillion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s