So here’s another item on the list of bones I have to pick with how people talk about gray-asexuality: when people define it as “experiences sexual attraction infrequently” (or “rarely” or “occasionally”) and leave it at that. [ETA 5/22/19: example].
First of all, that’s not all it means, but more annoyingly, that phrasing leaves the door open for anyone to say, “How does that warrant its own label? It’s not like people who are bisexual, heterosexual, etc. experience sexual attraction every minute of every day,” because it fosters the impression that the ace community is oversexualizing the experiences of allosexuals thanks to varying impressions of what “infrequently” entails, and, as a result, it tends to create the impression that gray-as are categorically nothing more than mini allosexuals — only with a smaller word bank, so to speak, of people they consider hot.
This post is a response to the problem where, because well-meaning people (even within the ace community) keep recycling a definition that is too narrow to apply to us all, other people are getting the impression that gray-asexuality is just some convoluted way of referring to Allosexuality Lite.
Part of the inspiration for writing this post, besides bitterness, was Sciatrix’s remark to me about how hard it is to get gray-as to actually write about gray-asexuality. I’ve got the will and the means, so I figured I might as well contribute another post on the subject. In the course of planning this post, though, I discovered that one of the reasons gray-asexuality is so hard to talk about, on a personal basis, is that it involves this constant self-monitoring in order to ensure that your descriptions don’t veer too close to sounding like either “just” asexuality or “just” allosexuality. In effect, trying to describe a personal gray-asexual identity requires making two arguments at once: that it’s different enough from asexuality to justify not identifying as asexual, but that it’s also different enough from allosexuality to justify not identifying with one of the allosexual labels either. To be honest, I don’t know if I can strike that balance. Nonetheless, this is my attempt to express a deficiency in the definition that reduces the concept of gray-asexuality down to infrequence of attraction, by providing some personal reflections on why I continue to self-describe as gray-asexual.
For me, sexual attraction is infrequent, yes, but it’s less infrequent than it is faint and fickle — ephemeral — some kind of unstable compound with a brief half-life, one that catches my attention but then starts to evaporate just as soon as I try to seize my attention on it in an attempt to analyze it for the benefit of humankind, since “what does sexual attraction feel like?” is ever-popular question in the asexual community. I don’t “experience” sexual attraction so much as I have brushes with it. We bump shoulders in the hallway as we head in opposite directions, or it rings my doorbell and then runs off, or occasionally appears on my doorstep unannounced, and then just as soon as I get out the words, “What are you doing here?”, it’s taking off and leaving me there with my head stuck out the door watching it speed away, saying to myself, “Oh. Um. Alright. Well, see you again in a few months, then.”
Compared to what allosexuals feel, this is much quicker to fizzle out and has much less of an effect (read: none at all) on how I form relationships. It’s like the difference between the feeling of holding a solid object in your hands and reaching your fingers out into a cloud of fog. Not the same thing as a pure nothingness, but not weighing as much on your perception, either.
Also, yeah, I experience it “infrequently”, whatever that means.
For the sake of argument, when making the case for gray-ace inclusion, advocates sometimes give an example of infrequence as “two or three times in your entire lifetime, tops,” as I have done myself before. These days, though, I waver more over what should count as sexual attraction and what shouldn’t, meaning I’m not sure that kind of frequency rate is the right way to describe my particular situation. Yet I still consider my brushes with sexual attraction to be infrequent, among other things.
For me, what does “infrequently” mean?
It means not having any consistent idea of what kind of physical appearance would have a sexual appeal to me, with those anomalous instances of sexual attraction never amounting to any permanent or recognizable kind of preference that I can draw on (even though I can easily rattle off a list of traits that attract me aesthetically). It means not being able to personally empathize with characters or real people who ogle and gush over sexually attractive people. It means feeling slightly awkward and out of place when my friends send me pictures of “hot” people and express how they feel about them, with no counterexamples leaping to mind that would allow me to say, “No, they’re not hot, ________ is hot.” It means there’s no variant of a generic human form that I can put together in my mind to make me think, “Ah, yes, that is the kind of person I want to see and interact with naked.”
I felt slightly repulsed just typing that, because that’s such a non-want for me, but I feel obligated to explain here. If I were “just allosexual”, then presumably there would be some ability on my part to identify specific features that often cause or correlate with sexual attraction for me — ex. big boobs, round butts, muscular abs, deep voices, for instance, are some features that have some kind of sexual appeal to many allos. Ask them what kind of people they (generally) find sexually attractive, and they can put together an answer. I can’t relate to that. Ask them to imagine a person — no person in particular, just a general anonymous shape — that they would think is hot, and my bet is they could conjure a sexy image easily. I can’t relate to that.
It feels inaccurate to say I “experience sexual attraction infrequently” (or any variation of that) is not just because of the fuzziness of “infrequently”, but also because of the stickiness of the word “experience”, which implies something much more sustained than the occasional static that appears on my radar. When I call my sexual attraction rare and fleeting, that doesn’t mean hot people are uncommon, but that my experience of seeing anyone as “hot” is uncommon — and that that feeling genuinely leaves me. My straight & bisexual friends have given me the impression that this is not true of them — if they think someone is hot, they can expect to feel the same way about that same person tomorrow. As convenient as it would be to have more in common with the majority of people, I can’t relate to that. I just plain don’t experience my sexuality the way allosexual people do.
For the time being, I don’t feel like “asexual” itself is the best way to describe my sexual orientation. But dang is it a whole lot closer than bi, gay, or straight.
That’s what it means when we say that asexuality has a spectrum: that you don’t have to be asexual in order for asexuality to be one of the closest reference points for describing your experiences.
Granted, there are times when I do consider identifying as “asexual” instead, but the word “gray” as a prefix feels more suited to expressing the way my sexuality feels. It feels gray. It feels hazy. It feels semi-arid. I’m not convinced that my experiences can be definitively declared to be less than ten inches of precipitation a year, and the label of gray-a lets me avoid worrying about precision. If we went by a previous, more nebulous understanding of asexuality as “disidentify[ing] with sexuality”, though, then I am asexual through and through.
Most critics of gray-asexuality have given me the impression that they want gray-as to identify with an allo label instead (preferably the label of “straight”), and since the shift from identifying as heterosexual to gray-a has allowed me the mental space to recognize that some of my brushes with sexual attraction are similarly-gendered, pushing me into picking a different label would probably just result in me resorting to something vague and non-het like “queer”, and (besides the fact that I don’t feel enough kinship with the term for it to apply) — I do not think that would go over well.