2013-2014 in Ace Tumblr: the Gray Wars

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.]

2012

  • 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.

2013

  • 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.”
  • 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.

2014

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.


18 responses to “2013-2014 in Ace Tumblr: the Gray Wars

  • Sennkestra

    I also think it might be relevent to loop in the context of identity policing and advice blogs as well – things like the old flowchart on asexualadvice that completely ignored the possibility of grey-asexuality can I think be enlightening:

  • Sennkestra

    (Also, woops, it’s always awkward seeing your own old posts and thinking how much differently you would phrase them now…)

  • aceadmiral

    The semi-arid post finally makes sense!!

    No but this is really interesting, thank you for putting it together. I remember from the times before this having to yell at people forgetting/excluding graces (I was not… present… in 2013), and not only does reading this help me make sense of some things, but it’s also an important piece of history. I’m glad you saw people sticking up for graces and didn’t let the gatekeepers keep you out!

    • Coyote

      Oh dear, lol. Was it unclear what that was supposed to be parodying? At the time I thought it was embarrassingly on the nose and over the top, haha.

      But anyway. Thank you. :) Hopefully this post can be of use to future reflection & discussion. Already has been, sort of, in my conversation with Oliver/AssignedGothAtBirth here.

  • Cracticus

    I found out I was grey-A in early 2016 and there was still a fair amount of gatekeeping going on then, which gave me a hard time figuring out my place in the ace community. I remember there was one very vocal person on AVEN who kept trying to argue that grey-As and demi weren’t part of the community because the they could have “normal sex”. As someone who’s sex repulsed, this made no sense to me. There were also people arguing that grey-As should just form their own communities. Then (and probably still now, I haven’t bothered to check) there weren’t many spaces specific to demis and grey-As, and I often found I had more in common with asexuals than other grey-As. In the end, I didn’t stay on AVEN for long, but my experiences there did leave me concerned about not being welcomed in other ace spaces. Thankfully I haven’t seen much gatekeeping outside of AVEN. Finding this blog and TAA definitely helped reassure me of my place in the community.

    • Coyote

      Oh yeah I forgot all about that, but definitely one of the things assumed in these arguments (by the anti-gray folks) was that gray-asexuals are never sex-repulsed. I remember wanting to ask about that if I ever got into a fight with one of them, but they never ended up coming here or finding me.

      Sorry to hear about your experience with AVEN. :( I’m glad me & TAA could make a difference! :)

      And yeah “just go form your own community” is especially ridiculous. As if it would benefit the asexual community to be even smaller. As if “forming your own community” is just that simple.

    • Cracticus

      Also asexuals and grey-As have so much in common they’re trying to achieve, splitting them up would be counter-productive.

    • Anonymous Gray

      Sorry, kind of TMI (content warning: sex mention/discussion, violence mention, both non-explicit):

      I suspect that the reason gray-asexuals identify out of being allo is because allos do not treat us as being “normal”. I am gray-asexual and my partner is an allo with a lower sex drive (basically what exclusionists claim that gray-asexuals are), and our experiences are quite different.

      He has never questioned his orientation, he knew it by adolescence even though he did not act on it until young adulthood. He had several serious LTRs in his 20s, but was open to dating me. He’s not the stereotypical horndog straight guy who spent his post-pubertal life trying to jump on everything in a skirt and feels angry and deprived without sex, but he sees himself as normal, and I think most allos would too.

      I have never felt 100% asexual because partnered sex was something I wanted to try – and generally, asexuality is exclusionary of a desire for partnered sex (?). However, my sex drive is so weak and my ambivalence so strong that I did not act on it for a long time – and then it was probably more about trust than lust.

      I had crushes and dated casually, and I never wanted sex with any of them. Doctors gave me weird reactions when I admitted being abstinent as a young adult and I began forego health care for fear of being treated badly. The thought of abstaining through one’s 20s is apparently unthinkable: professors pronounced that sex is universal by young adulthood, feminists wrote about “waiting a long time” to have sex until 19, men committed rage murders over the freakish state of being a 20-something virgin, and Tina Fey caused a stir by saying that she did not have sex until age 24. My allo friends in college and beyond told jokes about virgins and it’s a word that’s in progressive circles synonymous with an insult. Never did any of these allos exempt from their derision/exclusion “if you feel sexual desire/attraction that’s a-ok, you’re one of us”.

      Normalcy is all about conforming to an arbitrary pattern of behavior and I think that gray-asexuals, particularly those who are averse/repulsed, or have absent to low drives, are much less likely to meet this standard than allos.
      If exclusionists think I am normal, I wish they would tell that to my friends, doctors, and society, etc.
      So TLDR, but there is a big gray (ha!) area between 100% asexual without sexual attraction or desire for partnered sex ever, and what our society considers normal.

  • (What) does the aro community want (with) quoiros? | The Ace Theist

    […] sure it’s hindsight bias at work, but this all seems so much murkier than the Gray Wars of 2013-2014. Seeing that conflict play out in no uncertain terms showed me exactly what ace tumblr thought of […]

  • Siggy

    You know, what you refer to the gray wars never made as much of an impression on me. Sure I wrote a bunch of reactions and an entire series of blog posts. But it was kind of this ridiculous thing where people who were obviously unfamiliar with the gray-A philosophy were litigating an issue they had already lost years ago, and didn’t have enough of a clue to realize. More or less like inclusionist/exclusionist discourse.

    Certainly a lot of this has to do with me already being 4-5 years into the ace community. And uh, being a powerful blogger. Well perhaps not many other people saw it the way I did.

    • Coyote

      Yes, this post is definitely written from the memory/standpoint/POV of past-me as someone questioning and with no prior point of reference! I don’t think it needs to be very significant to other people, but it is something I realized it would be good to explain so that I can indicate where I’m coming from/what my experience has been on some things.

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