I’ve had to summarize this situation for other people a few different times now, so I decided I might as well put together a post on the subject for future reference. Basically, this is a post about that whole “oriented” business and everything that’s wrong with it.
[Crossposted to Pillowfort.]
In the ace community, the explicit recognition of more than just “sexual” elements to “orientation,” alongside the recognition of more than just sexual & romantic attraction, has sometimes led to some aces identifying with three or more separate orientation labels. For a long time, though, no particular way of talking about such labels has caught on, which has made it difficult to talk about issues with the romantic-sexual-labeling focus as an ace/aro community norm.
Since approximately 2017, though, there’s been a new development. Good news: a new term for these kinds of nonstandard/tri-label identities is being popularized!
The bad news? It’s accompanied by the following three problems:
One, the name. The Tumblr blogger who popularized their model for tri-labeling has chosen the term “oriented” as its name. Even before we get into any of the other issues, this is absurd. Anyone who has “an orientation” 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” makes it sound as if other aro aces don’t have orientations, which unfairly implies that identities under the aro & ace umbrellas don’t themselves count as real “orientations.”
Two, identity policing & prescriptivism. The originator of “oriented” supports identity-policing who can call themselves oriented. This comes across both because of the heavily prescriptivist way they define it and because they’ve outright tried to discourage the “wrong” people from using it.
There are two main elements to how the definition of “oriented” has been proposed, both reflecting a deterministic outlook on attraction: A) experiencing “attraction that’s neither romantic nor sexual, but is significant,” and B) “aroaces who do not experience any kind of romantic/sexual attraction.” The problem lies in how that second part is defined and discussed.
That same page further elaborates:
This label was specifically created for aroaces who do not experience any kind of romantic/sexual attraction, though it fully welcomes those who do not know whether they feel such attraction or not. To avoid confusion between oriented aroaces and folks on the aroace-spectrum (demi/gray/etc.), please use “gay/bi/pan/etc. a-specs” for the latter group.
There are multiple issues with this.
One, the use of “spectrum” is wrong. The statement above is using “aroace-spectrum” and “a-specs” in the broken-up way that implies aces and aros are somehow not a part of the asexual and aromantic spectrums, which makes no sense. The entire point of the terms “ace spectrum” and “aro spectrum” is that they’re umbrella terms for the whole thing.
Two, the use of “aro ace” is wrong. Talk like this is acting as if only “people who do not experience romantic/sexual attraction” are allowed to call to call themselves “aro ace” — despite the fact that the reason the ace community adopted the term “aces” in the first place was in order to be an umbrella term for the entire group of people on the asexual spectrum.
Three, the understanding of grayness is wrong. The parenthetical here, “demi/gray/etc.,” in context, strongly implies the author sees the divide between “aro aces” and “folks on the aroace-spectrum” as a matter of “romantic/sexual attraction.” This is oblivious to the fact that “those who do not know whether they feel such attraction or not” is itself a type of gray experience. The other problem with this implicit interpretation of grayness is the umbrella crunching. Although “experiencing attraction” is a commonly-cited basis for not identifying as “asexual” or “aromantic” exactly, “experiencing attraction” may not be why some people identify with grayness at all. Take me, for example: I have written for years about how I don’t want my gray-asexuality to be reduced down to “experiences sexual attraction infrequently.”
If you want to make a distinction between “asexuals” and “gray-asexuals,” you can do that using the terms “asexuals” and “gray-asexuals.” Even then, though, you should understand, “asexual” has long been used in different ways by different people. Just because the “no sexual attraction” basis has gained a lot of traction doesn’t mean it’s the only legitimate way to come to an asexual identity. For instance, “not wanting sex” & “not caring about sex” can also be important to some aces in what they mean by calling themselves asexual, and it’s prescriptivist to attack that. The same could be said for aromanticism as well.
Accordingly, as to be expected based on the above, the originator has maintained that they support policing who can use “oriented.” When it comes to grayromantics, gray-asexuals, or aromantic asexuals who identify as aromantic asexual for reasons other than attraction, the idea of expressing their tri-label/multi-label identity this way will simply be met with “nope!” In one specific case, they directly told a grayromantic that they “wouldn’t be comfortable” with them using it.
Three, spawning alternatives. One of the consequences of enforcing this absurdly narrow way of talking about tri-label aro aces is that, upon being policed out of it, one gray-ace aro ended up proposing a whole new term just to mean the exact same thing for gray people: “angled.” The problem with “angled” is that, instead of trying to challenge the identity policing, it wholesale buys into the original prescriptivist framing. The originator who is working to get it into circulation continues to say things like “oriented is only for aromantic asexuals,” “oriented is only for people who are flat out aromantic asexual,” and “oriented is only for flat out aroaces.” And as a consequence of that, in turn, you also end up with people who aren’t sure which one to use.
Being realistic here, the fact that there are gray-aces who’ve felt a draw to the concept should itself be evidence of something we already knew: the ace umbrella is an umbrella for a reason.
[Update 12/12/19: There is now another term, “thelo,” coined in response to “oriented,” “angled,” and “electio.” The definition offered for thelo is an aro ace who experiences weak/fluctuating nonromantic-nonsexual attraction, which apparently isn’t already covered by the first three somehow. The reinvention treadmill keeps on turning.]
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