A compilation of links to the arguments made on gray-asexuality and demisexuality in the Tumblr segment of the ace community, back when they were a big point of contention around the year 2013. This doesn’t aim to include everything, but it is 1) what I was able to recover, and 2) what I consider representative. Disproportionately many of the original aggressors have since changed their URLs or deleted their posts, but I believe I’ve provided enough context here to read between the lines, even if you weren’t there for it all.
A note about the imprecision of the title: Technically, I’m going to include a few links from 2012, as prelude, but the bulk here will be from 2013. Also, you may spot a couple of links to WordPress and AVEN in the mix as well. These are to allow further context and examples of where the conversation had spillover, but this particular post is going to focus mostly on Tumblr.
A note on why I’m writing this: While it might be just as well for this mess to go forgotten, witnessing it unfold was something seriously impactful on me at the time, as someone just starting to read ace blogs and (at the time) newly questioning whether or not to describe myself as gray-asexual. I had no prior contact with the community outside of this, of course. For me, this was one of my very first introductions to the community — a debate over whether or not a given group of people, a group that I kinda sorta maybe was realizing I might be a part of, belonged in the community. You better believe I watched it closely — and slowly formed an impression of who had the best case.
It would have been helpful to have this compilation back when I was trying to explain gray context in 2015, but oh well. More recently, however, there have also been some newer conversations I’ve wanted to reference it in, such as contrasting some gatekeeping in the ace and aro communities, so a post on this may still be useful yet.
[Note: this post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]
- Late in the year, November 1st, Hezekiah and Fiish responded to something posted in the demisexual tag that compared demisexuality to a specific racist behavior. It is unclear to what extent the instigating post might have been a holdover from 2011… or merely the beginning of what was to follow.
- In February, Fiish wrote a response post condemning the conflict and saying “No one is pushing asexuals out of the ace community.” A few days later they added this short followup.
- In April, Hezekiah disputed some of the accusations about how demi & gray-as talk and whether or not they are confusing others about asexuality. The same day, Fiish wrote a shorter post with the same sentiment, which spawned a much longer reblog chain between them and Elitistace, one of the anti-gray aces. See here, here, and here for the full chain. As this example shows, one of the main positions held by the anti-gray aces was that demisexuals and gray-asexuals should not be part of the ace community.
- In May, Hezekiah put together a post on the development of gray asexuality and demisexuality as identity terms. This was related to the dispute because one of the accusations had to do with where “demisexual” as a term had come from. I haven’t managed to dig up an example of this, but I distinctly remember the popular accusation being that demisexuality was “made up by a teenage girl on a roleplay forum.”
- Not directly related to dispute, but also of note this month — Sara K. wrote about finding the idea of gray-asexuality useful as an asexual, since it grants asexuals some reassurance about their own place in the community.
- From August, this AVEN post by Mari would later be linked by Swankivy as an example of anti-gray sentiment. Note that this post was not directed just at grayness exclusively but was written more as a general complaint about the asexual community “making up pointless terms for things that don’t exist.” I’ve picked this post to link because it’s representative of Mari’s arguments, and Mari was one of the outspoken anti-gray asexuals at the time, though most of her original Tumblr posts seem to have been lost.
- In September, there were several threads that I was able to recover.
- User aceofsnow wrote a criticism of “gray asexuality bashers,” framed as a reaction to the phrase “actually asexual.” Hezekiah provided some context on the #actuallyasexual tag.
- Gideon criticized the term “gray-asexual,” in a post addressed to people who “think that ‘gray-asexuals’ are a thing.” You can read responses in the subsequent reblog chains by user logicalcounterargument, Aydan, and Siggy (see also here and here — that’s as much as I could recover of that chain). This is also the post where Swankivy linked to that AVEN post by Mari.
- Mari also made the similar claim that “‘gray asexuality’ isn’t real” in the reblog chain with Swankivy here [cn: CSA reference in the url]. See also this related message thanking Swankivy.
- In October, there was a lot I recovered as well.
- A sex-positivity tumblr blog got an anonymous message asking them not to use the asexual flag to represent asexuality. As you can see, criticism of the flag here is presented hand in hand with attacking gray-asexuality. See this reblog-addition from Sennkestra for a more detailed response on the flag issue, and for even more more details, see The Ace Flag: A History and Celebration. I’m including this one because it’s one of the only direct criticisms of the flag that I was able to recover, but I remember it as a complaint circulating at the time.
- This exchange between Gideon and Hezekiah.
- A reblog chain here, here, and here involving user logicalcounterargument. In this case I’m not sure the anti-gray participants there are even asexual themselves, but I’m including it nonetheless as an example of what these arguments looked like.
- An example of the “but that’s normal” or “but most people are like that anyway” argument, which was pretty common.
- Sennkestra’s post answering “are grey-aces and demisexuals considered asexuals” (by answering no, that’s why they’re called grey-aces and demisexuals instead, but they are a part of the asexual community).
- These two posts on the term “asexual spectrum.”
- In November, apparently the complaints about the asexual flag were still circulating, because you can see Hezekiah, Sennkestra, and Redbeard making fun of them here [cw: eye-straining flag design].
- Another snippet from this month: wasn’t able to recover the full version, but another defense of gray identities survives in a partial reblog here.
- In December, the debate was still going.
- I don’t have a precise date for when this one first went up, but sometime at least as early as 2013, the tumblr blog asexualadvice put up a flowchart for questioning people that advanced an absolutist approach to asexuality. For more on these kinds of issues, see also my later post Examples of Bad Advice (the section on identity policing & prescriptivism) and Hezekiah’s later post on Asexual identity prescriptivism.
- In January:
- Anagnori gave the name “asexual absolutists” to people within the asexual community who identity-police other aces. It’s a longer and more general post than a lot of these linked here, but there is a paragraph within it specifically to answer “These people aren’t technically asexual, so why should they be part of the asexual community?”
- User demons-in-the-void posted that demis and gray-asexuals “are actually just sexuals being misled.” Hezekiah responded.
- In February:
- Anagnori was asked for their position on the issue, and they linked to their aforementioned post.
- An anonymous messenger’s husband compared “asexual spectrum” to “vegetarian spectrum.” Shapes and Aydan responded.
- User caudatenucleus wrote a post about “why i don’t believe in the asexual spectrum” (with this followup explaining that they themselves are demisexual). The post inspired reblog-additions from Odannygirl, Aydan, Lulu, Izaak, Sciatrix, Siggy, user memeloving-jojotrash (I… looked for their alias, but no dice) and also notunprepared, whose blog requires you to log in to Tumbr.
- In March, Anagnori made another post in support of demis & gray-aces, in response to finding something out about a site they’d linked on their resource page.
- In April:
- In May, Anagnori made another support post.
- In June, I published a post on the condemnation of gray areas, explaining how that condemnation can also be detrimental to asexual people.
- In July, Hezekiah published a post arguing that demisexuality is not “appropriative” of asexuality.
- In October:
And this is where my links run out.
In summary, the 2013-era invalidation and attacks on demi & gray-asexuals encompassed a range of things: They don’t deserve labels. Their experiences are “normal.” They don’t exist. They’re misrepresenting themselves. They think they’re special. They’re not a part of the asexual spectrum. They don’t belong in the asexual community. They’re taking over the asexual community. They’re appropriating asexuality. They’re confusing outsiders. They’re going against common sense. They’re making asexuals look bad.
But also, again and again, what you can see from this time is prominent, vocal members of the tumblr ace community arguing back, in short form and at length. Their fellow aces on tumblr, including core asexuals, didn’t let these ideas go unchallenged. They rejected identity-policing and gatekeeping. They affirmed demisexuals & gray-asexuals as a part of their community. They elaborated on the utility of “asexual spectrum” as a phrase and the commonalities between asexuals, demisexuals, and gray-as. They questioned and explained, in detail, why the anti-gray arguments didn’t make sense.
Because of watching all that unfold, I knew I might come up against certain invalidation from within the community if I began to identify as gray-asexual, but I also knew what the arguments looked like, and, more importantly, I knew that a good number of ace bloggers had my back. The support in our favor wasn’t just more prevalent than the attacks. It was also more well-reasoned and something people had shown they were willing to fight for.
Gatekeeping and the disdain for grayness never really, completely went away, even within the ace community itself, but from my perspective, it was clear who had “won” and why.