When I first learned about asexuality — which is to say really learned about it, as an orientation — my first incorrect misconception was that all aces are aromantic and nonlibidoist.*
*Reality: some are, some aren’t.
Then, as I began exploring AVEN’s wiki, I came across the page for gray-asexuality. By this point I had already more or less accepted asexuality as legitimate (cultural instruction runs deep; even I was resistant to its validity at first and I’m someone who couldn’t name you anyone I consider hot) but upon seeing their definition of gray-a, I thought by this point, they’re just splitting hairs. Is a label like this really necessary?
Well, yes and no.
In this post, you’ll get to read about how the label of “gray-a” went from being the label I was most skeptical of to the one that I now identify as.
Asexuality is a concept that confused me when I first began investigating it, as much as allosexuality* does in some ways (anytime someone calls somebody “hot”, inside I feel weird about my inability to agree). I delved into research, because that’s what I do when I get interested in something, and even though I still thought I was straight at the time, my confidence in that belief and my utter confusion at how asexuality “works” had to grapple with the reassurance and comfort I found in reading what aces had written about their experiences. There was a feeling of… kinship, for lack of a better word.
*Allosexuality is a blanket term for sexual orientations like heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. — the ones where people do experience sexual attraction to people. It’s not a great word for it, especially since it starts with the same letter as asexual (just an aesthetics issue); still, it’s better than referring to the majority as “sexual”. But that’s a topic for another day.
I’m fortunate in that my bafflement pushed me to read and read and read all different perspectives from different sources. Otherwise, I might’ve stopped searching with the mistaken assumption that asexual = aromantic or asexual = no sex drive or, the big one, asexual = does not want to have sex ever.* The last one there is a source of a lot of problems (especially since, if you try to correct someone about this idea, they’ll sputter “But then what does it mean?!“). But I digress.
*Again, this is another thing that is true of a lot of aces but not for all. That one stumps a lot of folks. I should write a post about that too.
Once I came to the understanding that asexuality means not experiencing sexual attraction, and what all that does not necessarily mean, there was a new dilemma to face: Could I be asexual? I wasn’t sure about the answer because I wasn’t sure what sexual attraction means. This is a problem a lot of asexual face. How can you say you don’t feel something if you don’t know what it feels like? People who do experience (or have experienced) sexual attraction have said that when you feel it, you’ll know. Since grappling with this dilemma, I’ve come to the conclusion that people who are wondering “Am I asexual?” and struggle over “Do I experience sexual attraction?” are probably people on the asexual spectrum. It seems reasonable to assume that if you weren’t, you’d know. The idea that you could secretly be experiencing sexual attraction without being aware of it becomes more laughable the more you think about it.
That’s the standard I hold other people to, at least. Not so for myself. When I was investigating asexual experiences (and comparing them with my own), I found plenty of people saying that when they discovered the label of asexual, something inside of them just “clicked” and they knew instantly, or that they’d known they were asexual their whole lives, or that they always knew that they’d never want sex, and upon “discovering” their asexuality, they felt immediate relief, and they knew at once who they were.
It wasn’t that easy for me. No resentment against people for not having to wrestle with it for a month, of course. That’s great for them. However, there were a variety of things that tripped me up or made me uncertain* enough that I’m still not comfortable identifying as 100% asexual.
*Not saying that doubt isn’t a standard part of the asexual experience. It is. That one’s pretty universal. Even when an ace is confident, there are a lot of societal forces pressuring them to wonder Could this just be a phase? Are you sure?
On the one hand, I was still hung up on the idea that true asexuals either hate sex or don’t care about sex — the terms being “sex-repulsed” and “sex-indifferent/neutral”. People have already discussed why these delineations are flawed, and that’s not even addressing the fact that some aces enjoy sex,* but I internalized the rule nonetheless. Where do I fit? I still have no idea.
*Yes. It’s complicated. But not really. People argue about this one a lot.
Deep down, there’s also this selfish anxiety that if I out myself as ace, that’ll lead to invalidation my opinion on all sexual matters because I must have no idea what it’s like (even though American culture has given me a pretty good idea, and I experience similar enough nonsexual feelings to take a decent guess). If not that, then people will think that I’m only asexual because I’m too religious, or some other conflationary BS that I don’t want to deal with (or rather, don’t want to make worse).
On the other hand, how do you explain the fact that I don’t think anyone, of any gender, is hot?* How do you explain the fact that I never feel a sexual interest any possible configuration genitals? What abstinent heterosexual has ever thought, “Maybe I won’t have sex on my wedding night. I mean, that’s a pretty big leap, to go from completely chaste one day to ‘all bets are off’ the next.”…? …Honestly, I should have taken that last one as a sign.
*To be frank, if you ask me to identify the hot people in a picture, I can probably do that for you, if only because I’ve learned from other people what the typical signifiers of hotness are. That is, I can point out what most other people would consider hot. I, myself, don’t really have the feeling. Previously, I attributed my surprise at anyone saying “S/he’s hot” to the fact that everyone has different preferences (failing to account for the obvious fact that all my life my sexual preference has been no one).
So I’ve settled for just saying that I’m on the asexual spectrum. Maybe I’m more asexual than I think, or maybe less, but the fact of the matter is that gray-a is a useful term for people like me, because I feel like I’m in a gray area. Even when I was sure about being straight — and boy, was I sure; maybe I’ll even share some stories about that — inside what I felt what was more “straight-ish” or “mildly straight”, as I termed it at the time (in part, I was getting confused by my romantic orientation, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic). I’ve always been a fan of upgrading to better words when you have them. Maybe there’s even a better word than gray-a out there, somewhere.
For now, we’ll just say that’s what I am. It’s comfortable, it’s the least inaccurate, and I’m keeping it.