A post about identifying with the asexual spectrum as a specific and isolated concept, apart from any version of a composite “a-spectrum” — i.e. why I don’t identify as “aspec.” Today’s post is brought to you by an exchange on the TAAAP Pride Chats server after I mentioned this in passing. I don’t consider my disinterest in the model particularly noteworthy, since I know it’s not just me, but multiple people in the channel expressed curiosity about it (and it’s also come up elsewhere), so I’m writing this post as my own explanation.
First, a simple timeline: this model showed up only after I already started identifying as ace. I joined the ace community sometime in 2013 or so, and the idea of a combined “a-spectrum” didn’t get created until years later. I’m not sure when exactly I first encountered the term, but I know it must’ve been at least by 2016, as you can see in this exchange here where it caused some confusion between me and a commenter. There I was trying to talk about ace things, and this person thought I should be talking about “aspec” things instead. More on that later.
As someone increasingly aware of this model, I don’t feel any reason to identify with it personally, and I mean to resist any efforts to force it on me, for reasons I’m going to elaborate on here: a lack of personal utility, actively negative associations, conceptual problems, and phonetics.
Personal (Lack of) Utility
As the saying goes, labels are tools, and for me, the term “a-spectrum” isn’t a useful tool for accomplishing anything that I want to do.
The labels I do claim (like “asexual spectrum” and “gray-asexual”) are more direct and specific; you may not know exactly what these mean just by looking at them, but there’s enough information in the prefix and suffix combination that you can intuit at least something. I identify with these labels specifically out of disidentifications with and alienations from sexuality, not out of some more generalizeable “lack” or “absence” experience.
By comparison, “a-spectrum” is much more opaque, nonspecific, and unintuitive. It doesn’t even name what it’s about. In fact, if I didn’t already know its discursive context, I wouldn’t even be able to tell this was an orientational identity concept at all. It could be an physics term for all I know.
This one reason alone isn’t the death knell; it’s simply one piece interwoven with the rest, such as…
Negative Associations with Conflation
Simply put, the combined spectrum model is making people miserable.
Okay, no, that’s not quite right. That’s an oversimplification of something more complicated. Let me back up and explain.
Personally, the main way that I have encountered this model is in the context of fights & grievances about people using it incorrectly. Some clueless person uses “aspec” where it looks like only “ace” is intended or applicable, and then everybody has to once again rehash why that’s a problem, since ostensibly the “a-spectrum” is meant to combine the ace and aro spectrums both. I say “ostensibly” because if it’s so important to preserve the singular combination (notice it’s never the “a-spectrums” plural), you’d think it wouldn’t be important to differentiate between the two, but of course it is.
This is what I associate “a-spectrum” with. Well, this and misinformation. This fight, this same fight, over and over and over again. Maybe it would be different if I had other reasons to be invested in the model, but as it is, when the main thing it seems to be good for is producing hurt and strife, I have to wonder, why do we even have that lever?
Origin Story: Why Do We Have That Lever?
And as I’ve said elsewhere, this conflation problem with the model is ironically predictable given that the term “a-spectrum” was born of that conflation to begin with. Take it straight from one of the model’s creators: “a-spectrum” was created because anti-aro and anti-ace bloggers were using “aroaces” to mean all aros & all aces. So in response to people incorrectly reducing the asexual & aromantic spectrums to a single unit, they decided to… create a term for the asexual & aromantc spectrums as a single unit. …Yeah, that’ll show ’em.
Conceptual Problems with Collapsing the Spectrums
Although “a-spectrum” was originally created as an alternative/replacement for the mashup “aroaces” (interpreted as “all aros and all aces”), that’s not always how the term gets used. I’ve encountered people arguing that it should include other types of identities that happen to start with “a,” on the basis of a shared lack of… things… and this makes it difficult to know which groups are even under discussion unless it’s spelled out. More importantly, if people do want it to be more expansive, then it stands to reason that just as many people should be objecting every time it’s used for just the asexual & aromantic spectrums, which happens more often than the expanded uses. Yet even among the people who believe in expanding it, there’s no consensus on which a-groups should be collapsed into The Spectrum. I once created a thread on Arocalypse to ask about this and, well. If anything, people have only doubled down on making that place feel like a cliquish nightmare.
Let’s set that aside, though, and just talk about collapsing the spectrums of aromanticism and asexuality. Does that make sense to do? The combined spectrum model asserts the answer is yes, and I think that’s worth calling into question. The combined spectrum model would place my own disidentifications with sexuality along the same continuous spectrum as the aro identities of those who’re having to repeatedly and emphatically reiterate that they’re not ace. Aro allos & I largely agree that my ace identity is a point of difference between us, and yet the “a-spectrum” model says that it makes us the same.
Given the context we’re operating in, I don’t see how that tracks.
First, a word on progeny. In response to all the misuses of “aspec,” there’s been a rash of posts urging people to adopt “acespec” instead if/when all they’re referring to is the asexual spectrum. Frankly, I hate this. “Acespec”? The hell? It’s ace. Just ace. Ace already refers to everyone on the asexual spectrum. No chopped-off half-suffix required. If someone is using “ace” in a way that excludes gray-asexuals, tell them to fix it.
Phonetically, though, by proposing “acespec” to distinguish from “aspec,” people are just making things more confusing on account of how, for me, those two would be pronounced exactly the same when spoken out loud.
Setting all that aside? I think “aspec” just sounds bad.
Conceptual Problems, Pt. 2: Discouraging Specificity
But wait, there’s more.
Toward the beginning of this post, I mentioned a scenario where I thought I was talking about terminology for ace-specific issues, and I received a comment from someone who responded by talking to me about “aspecs,” implicitly conscripting all aces into the combined spectrum model. Initially I was going to write a section about my concerns that this might happen, but then I realized that it had already happened — to me. This misunderstanding that played out between us has probably influenced me to worry about more misunderstandings like it in the future.
In short, when aces are conscripted into the combined spectrum model, I worry about the prospect of ace-specific things being externally rebranded as “aspec” things and then being judged out of line for being ace-specific. This is why I tried to ask K.A. Cook exactly what ze meant by “a-spec spaces” or “a-spec audience” that one time, and for whatever reason that comment has since been deleted.
Note that this isn’t a question of whether the ace and aro communities should work together — I don’t categorically object to expanding ace projects, events, discussions, etc. and engaging in coalition work (such as TAAAP itself). When I asked, for instance, “When should ace groups expand to include non-aces?” my thinking was that the answer would lie somewhere between “always” and “never.” My point is to mark that expansion as a transition and a deliberate change, appropriate in some cases but not all.
Negative Associations, Pt. 2: Ingroup/Outgroup
Oh, and one other thing.
Personally, I can’t help but think of “aspec” as the trendy recently-emergent language of the kind of people who call me (as in, me personally) an “outsider.” Which, you know. Is a thing that happened.
In every possible way, “aspec” is not my language. Not only is it just… not how I talk, nor a model that works for me, but it’s also precisely the kind of vocabulary I associate with people who are hostile to my own ways of communicating and navigating identity — people who foist their models on me, object to my attempts to renegotiate those models, and look down on me for things as petty as using the wrong website. These are things that aren’t necessarily true of everyone who uses the word, but those negative associations have formed nonetheless.
That’s Why I’m Just Ace, Not “Aspec”
Between the negative associations with hurt and outrage and trendy in-group language and all the other problems this model has introduced, what this amounts to is that I personally disidentify with the combined spectrum model. Please do not use it for me. Please do not use it expecting me to think you mean me. What I am is ace — just ace.