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.