A gray kind of ace

Gray is a purposeful metaphor. An expression of imprecision, blending, and betweens. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about gray-asexuality again. It’s been a few years since I published “Experiences attraction infrequently” doesn’t cut it, and while I know that post is still useful to people, it’s also been long enough at this point that I’m embarrassed of my own writing. So this is a short reflection piece on why I still identify as gray-a, going on about six years now. 

[This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort; cw: sexual violence mention.]

Why am I still here? I did wonder, you know, for years, if this might be provisional, temporary, a stopping point on the way to something else. And yet, here I am. Still gray-a, despite doubting myself more or less on the regular, coming back around, reevaluating, wondering if I may be in denial of some deeper truth that has yet to make itself clear to me. 

This is, itself, a part of my grayness. Uncertainty and doubt have been such an enduring fixture of my relationship to asexuality and the asexual umbrella that even when those doubts are tamed and domesticated, made safe enough to sleep in the house, they stay my hand; they fur up my clothes too much for me to commit to any “cleaner,” clearer, more absolute identity. I am gray-a because I am mired in gray and that’s the beginning and the end of it. As for the rest, who knows? I only know one thing for sure: the ace community is my community. I am a part of it. It’s where I live. I mark asexuality out on the map as the closest waypoint, the emergency contact, the next-of-kin. 

I am not gray-a because I “experience sexual attraction infrequently.” I am gray-a because when it comes to describing myself, asexuality is an important part of the conversation even without being a perfect fit, and that’s what matters. I am gray-a because encountering ace accounts of sexnormativity has been a life raft that has helped me more than anything any other community could offer me. I am gray-a because I relate to other gray-a people — not all of them, not in every single way, but enough. I am gray-a because I relate to a lot of asexuals, too. I am gray-a because the details aren’t anybody’s business. 

The concept of “grayness” may not be something I experience as convergent between romance & sex, but I relate to applications of grayness across the board. In some aspects of experience and identity as much as the rhetorical trials of grayness, I feel a kind of relationship to grayromantics through my grayness, in much the same way that I imagine biromantic aces feel a connection to bisexuals. 

The concept of “attraction” played an important role in me working through questioning my identity, but “attraction” itself is not my identity. Attraction is not the be-all end-all of everything. Attraction does not rule what I call myself. I can’t even figure out how to apply the concept half the time. 

The concept of “sexual attraction” is important and useful to some people, and it doesn’t entail undercutting that at all to also say that the concept of “sexual attraction” is an arbitrary social construct and will never be objective or absolute across the board. It is a subjective way of conceptualizing raw experience. It is not a thing in the way that a concrete physical object is a thing. It is not an item. It cannot be measured. It cannot be universalized. I am not gray-a because I quantified my experiences of sexual attraction into a discrete number and then determined that it was “low.” I am gray-a because if you ask me to quantify or even specify an experience of definite sexual attraction in the first place, I am lost.  I am gray-a because if even if I could hammer my existence into a tidy spreadsheet for you, what difference would that make? I still relate aces on other points that have nothing to do with the “attraction” construct. I am ace. Aceness is my home. People fought for people like me to be welcome here, and I make it my business to take up the fight in their honor. 

The concept of “sexual orientation” is itself a social construct, one that we sometimes speak of on an individual scale, as an internal psychological affair, sometimes even as something whose “true form” can be hidden from you. It’s true, people can be gaslit and misled, and the truth is also that, besides gesturing at some abstract internal rule, “orientation label” is just as much a way of loosely, imperfectly marking out a set of relationships among diffusely-networked communities, none of which are ever totally homogeneous

The concept of “sex,” as some kind of broad category, is more saliently a point of alienation to me than it is something I can map myself to in terms of “potential sexual partners.” My pool of potential sexual partners is “probably not you.” My sexuality is “incompatible with everyone, probably, possibly even the asexuals.” I am gray-a because I speak of my sexuality primarily in the form of negation. I am gray-a because I am mostly nothing in particular. I am gray-a because I explain what I am using words like “probably,” “possibly,” “mostly,” and “primarily.” 

The concept of “sexuality,” as a basis of humor, conversation, and casual socialization, has been asserted in my life so dogmatically as to have undermined and even destroyed some of my friendships. 

The concept of “sexual interest,” as a lens through which to interpret others’ interactions and intentions, real and fictional, is prickly and too often inaccessible to me. 

The concept of “sexual tension,” in its typical usage, has never been as intuitive to me as sexual tension in the sense of anticipating of the threat of being violated, and that alone is as much of a reason for my identifying as gray-asexual as anything.


15 responses to “A gray kind of ace

  • Oriented Gray | The Ace Theist

    […] could have been described as “oriented.” For example, I have an orientation. I am gray-asexual. I am “oriented” gray. Calling tri-labeling aro aces “oriented aro aces” […]

  • aceadmiral

    I only know one thing for sure: the ace community is my community. I am a part of it. It’s where I live. I mark asexuality out on the map as the closest waypoint, the emergency contact, the next-of-kin.

    I am honored and grateful to be a part of your community and hope it will always continue to be so.

  • epochryphal

    “sexual *tension* in the sense of anticipating of the threat of being violated” – mmmm. resonance. even though i had this whole, like, gender (and neurodivergence?) experience of never really internalizing messages about Risk Of Rape because duh i wasn’t a girl, when it suddenly slammed in through direct warnings given to me it was so very Oh. and then it became a central thing to my dysphoria and sex repulsion. and then with transition it moved mostly into a darkfic and kink place. anyway, sex and the most visceral feelings about it as revolving around the imminent possibility of violation—yeah.

  • demiandproud

    You make some really good points….Based on feelings I’d go with “demi” as my orientation. Based on what I’d want out of relationships I’d go with “ace”…Plus there is the whole shedding of internalised compulsory sexuality as a big liberating part of the experience.

  • kernsing

    “[A]sexuality out on the map as the closest waypoint, the emergency contact, the next-of-kin” these metaphors! so good! Personally I feel that way about gray asexuality? I think? Would that make me gray gray asexual. Gray-ception. Or maybe that is more what you said about “relat[ing] to to applications of grayness across the board” since I’m a gray kind of aro. Or maybe it’s the ‘romanticism and sexuality don’t converge and it’s weird to have the same word for both’ thing. Also about the “grayness across the board” thing: even though I’m pretty sure I’m cis, nonbinary people talking about gender sound right? Good? True? To be fair I have not seen many nonbinary people talk about gender, and this may also have more to do with voidpunk feelings, so.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this!

    • raavenb2619

      I’m always happy to talk about gender if you want

      • kernsing

        I think I signed up to get email notifications from this comments section? And yet I received no email notifications. Thanks WordPress. Or me, I wouldn’t put it past me to think I signed up for notifications when I didn’t. Anyway. That’s the explanation for the late reply.

        Thanks for the offer! What specifically were in my mind when I said “nonbinary people talking about gender sounds right” were the terms “female/male-aligned” & co. But, like, it’s backwards for me? More like “enby-aligned” cis girl? (I don’t know if people would have objections to that phrasing?) I have a fairly strong & consistent (?? maybe?? interoception is so weird) internal sense of being a girl & that’s my agab, but also a sort of preference for being read as genderless? Also a sort of “gender? no thanks, N/A” feeling & wishing that I was part of a species where gender just never was a thing at all? So, vaguely quoi-like sentiments? (I am full of question marks)

        I think some part of the reason is not fitting into the feminine gender role very well and not wanting to be associated with it. People attributing things to femininity that really don’t apply to me (e.g. a big one: romance) and feeling connected to genderlessness/having a gender other than female or male/gender as non-applicable because of that, but I’m not sure if that connection is so strong that I’d say I partially ID as enby/am demienby. Seeing nonbinary-ness as a waypoint that’s visible from where I’m standing, but it’s not too close, gender nonconformity is much closer; if I want to tie this back to the main post. Although I am getting pretty off topic, so Coyote, if you mind, we can move the discussion somewhere else.

        • raavenb2619

          I have a fairly strong & consistent (?? maybe?? interoception is so weird) internal sense of being a girl & that’s my agab, but also a sort of preference for being read as genderless? Also a sort of “gender? no thanks, N/A” feeling & wishing that I was part of a species where gender just never was a thing at all

          I’m not sure if you’re aware (and not sure if it would accurately describe you), but you can be a demigirl even though you’re afab. But yeah, gender is super confusing and it’s okay if you’re full of question marks forever.
          Re: gnc-ness, that makes a lot of sense. Have you heard of arogender? It might fit you.

        • Coyote

          Although I am getting pretty off topic, so Coyote, if you mind, we can move the discussion somewhere else.

          I am both interested in the conversation and also thinking that it looks like time to move this one. Have you thought about making a WP post about it?

    • Coyote

      Thanks, haha.

      Personally I feel that way about gray asexuality? I think? Would that make me gray gray asexual. Gray-ception.

      lol, maybe. That’s up to you. Since you mentioned it, though — that’s also another sort of way that I feel on the romantic side of things, relating to some grayros through my quoiromanticism, but hesitating to ID as grayro myself because it feels like that would overstate my connection to aromanticism.

      Or maybe it’s the ‘romanticism and sexuality don’t converge and it’s weird to have the same word for both’ thing.

      agh, that too.

      Also about the “grayness across the board” thing: even though I’m pretty sure I’m cis, nonbinary people talking about gender sound right? Good? True? To be fair I have not seen many nonbinary people talk about gender

      I have very, very rarely seen people talk about feeling or identifying as graygender.

      (That’s… related one of my personal private woes about the term “demigender,” too — which has caught on more than graygender & seems to be more widely used. When I first heard it, it seemed appealing and worth looking into. But it seems like a lot of people were/are just using it to mean the supracategory solely for demiboy & demigirl, like if you were demigender you were necessarily expected to call yourself one of those, specifically, and… no.)

      • raavenb2619

        I’m demigender, and while I’m not aware of their being much of a demigender community, I don’t expect any of the following to be controversial/against a general consensus. I hadn’t heard about graygender before, so I always interpreted demigender to be sort of the graysexual of gender (sort of, because that’s one of multiple ways I look at it). I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone insisting that demiboy and demigirl being the only ways one can be demigender, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening, since I’ve seen deminonbinary used a couple places. Demigirl and demiboy are definitely used/mentioned the most, but I don’t think that it’s a reimposing of the binary (at least not primarily); I think it’s just a consequence of most demigender people IDing as demiboy or demigirl. As far as I’m concerned, as long as someone’s using demigender or demi-something in good faith to try to understand and/or express themselves in the context of the world, they’re welcome to use it without further explanation to anyone (including as simply “demigender, full stop”). Personally, I’m agenderflux demigirl, because the strength/intensity of my gender varies. It tends to be on the low side or sometimes agender, but it’s very rarely (if ever) 100%. The “flavour” of the gender is feminine-ish, but not fully “girl/woman” (which might be because of my demigenderness, or maybe not). I’m not comfortable calling myself a girl/woman, but I am comfortable calling myself demigirl. There are also definitely times when I can’t really tell if I feel agender or super super weak demigirl, so I also use demigender as a sort of *shrug*. If either of you (or anyone else reading the comments) have more questions/comments, you’re always welcome to reply here or pm me somewhere.

  • Vesper

    very much appreciate this post. thanks for writing it. interestingly enough (to me), at various points in time for various reasons it has occured to me that “gray” is an identifier / descriptor that i *theoretically could* use to further describe my particular ‘flavor’ of asexuality, but instead of drifting in that particular direction, i’ve (both consciously and unconsciously?) chosen to fortify my usage of the identifier / descriptor “queer” in conjunction with “asexual”… i’m sure that my pre-existing affinity for “queer” as a word and identity plays a big part in that, but it’d be naive and dishonest of me to think that there isn’t more involved than just that… hmm.

    • Coyote

      Sometimes similar narratives end up getting labeled differently by different people — nothin’ wrong with that. In my case, I know for sure my own relationship to the word queer (re: not using it) is most certainly shaped by the fact that I didn’t identify that way before discovering the asexual community.

  • Linkspam: August 16th, 2019 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] described gray experiences, wrote about issues with oriented aroace terminology, and made a linkspam on tri-label aro […]

This comment section does not require an account.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: