This is a short post on label formation for this month’s Carnival of Aces on identity, labels, and models.
On the one hand, it’s not unheard of for people to discover a label that works for them and feel immediate relief upon seeing the word next to the definition. That’s a valid experience. It’s just as valid, however, to take the scenic route.
I’m talking about the experience of staring at the words in front of you and thinking “But what does that mean, though?” I’m talking weeks of research and doubt and waffling. But mostly what I have in mind is the inadequacy of Label (adj.): definition as the key to unlocking identification & the psychological necessity of seeing it spelled out in detailed, personal, narrative form in order to feel comfortable enough to describe yourself as One Of Those. I’m talking about needing to read whole stories, dozens of them, before you’ll take on a new label for yourself.
Some people might not need all that. But I do, a lot of the time.
A lot of the time, the word by itself is just not enough.
I can’t decide “yeah, that’s me” if I don’t have a sense of what it looks like, so to speak.
This mental requirement of mine has revealed itself in the different outcomes of looking into the asexual spectrum vs. my attempts to research various nonbinary genders. Admittedly, gender may be more tricky to describe or pin down by nature, but I’ve found accounts of what it’s like to be ace/demi/gray-a to be more numerous, detailed, and easy to track down than accounts of what it’s like to be agender/genderfluid/bigender/etc. Maybe I’ve just been looking in the wrong places. Regardless, I’ve concluded that this is a necessary part of the identification process for me: to form an understanding of a label through stories. The same holds true for my understanding of other identities that I have no suspicion of being applicable to myself, too — I learn better through stories than through abstract, generalized statements of description.
What I’ve gleaned from this is that anyone looking to coin and popularize a new label might see those interests better served by circulating stories rather than PSAs. For me, at least, a label comes to have meaning through its surrounding discourse. That’s why my identification as gray-a is what it is as much as my ??? sentiment toward gender is what it isn’t.
So when I see some of that old “okay this is too many little subdivisions now” response toward the myriad of specific romantic orientations and gender identities, even within the ace community, some of that may just be stubbornness, but I also think some of this phenomenon may be at play — the need to see stories in order to grasp what the label is good for. And so while I still advocate asking people their reasons rather than assuming the worst, I’d still like to see more stories, too.
The responsibility doesn’t fall to any one person. It’s not even a responsibility at all. But for those actively looking to help a particular label gain traction: I hope you take this into consideration.
Likewise, I think this has particular relevance to ace advice givers dealing with the “Am I asexual?” question in their inbox (and here’s a handy guide to how to handle that, btw) (and here’s some related reading and Queenie’s advice-advice, in case you missed that too). Even if you give someone asking “does XYZ disqualify me from identifying as ace” the right answer (hint: the answer is always no), the fact that they’re even asking at all should tell you something. They probably haven’t found many stories of ace experiences yet (or maybe just not any related to that particular point of inquiry).
Just saying, “yes, you can still be ace,” might not be the best way to help them, if they’re anything like me.