Ace, Just Ace: A Personal Response to the Combined Spectrum Model

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.

[Preview image by Rob Stanley, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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.

Phonetics

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.




16 responses to “Ace, Just Ace: A Personal Response to the Combined Spectrum Model

  • Siggy

    In the context of survey work, people have suggested that we use “acespec” in place of “ace”. There’s some justification for it, since our major goal is communication, which includes communicating with people who are not aware of the usage of “ace” to refer to the asexual spectrum. On the other hand, I pointed out that “acespec” is not that common, I mainly see it in association with aro complaints, and the parallel with “arospec” puts it at risk of linguistic drift (since “arospec” is sometimes used to refer to the aromantic spectrum minus aromantics). If the purpose is clearer communication, I have advocated just explicitly saying “asexual spectrum”.

    As for “a-spec” I have little use for it. Despite it being used widely in the aro community, I feel like it goes against everything I have learned that the aro community actually wants. They want inclusion of the aro spectrum to be deliberate and thoughtful, and not automatic or default. When “a-spec” is the default, many people will not even understand that it is trying to include the aro-spectrum, much less understand how to include the aro-spectrum properly. If I want to include aro people I say ace and aro, and nobody will miss it.

    • Coyote

      I think “asexual spectrum” is a perfect choice if the idea is spelling things out explicitly.

      And, yeah, agreed. That sums it up succinctly.

    • Blue Ice-Tea

      “As for “a-spec” I have little use for it. Despite it being used widely in the aro community, I feel like it goes against everything I have learned that the aro community actually wants. They want inclusion of the aro spectrum to be deliberate and thoughtful, and not automatic or default.”

      I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on the use of “a-spec”, but it’s worth noting that, for some people, “deliberate and thoughtful” arospec inclusion may be easier said than done. I’m thinking of the many aroaces I’ve seen make comments like, “For me, my asexuality and aromanticism are inseparable.” For people who don’t draw any line between their experiences as asexual and as aromantic, having one umbrella term for both may be more useful than trying to figure out which term applies in any given situation.

      As a quoiromantic, I have a similar problem. I suppose I am on the aro spectrum, and many of my experiences are probably common to other aromantics. But I also don’t neatly fit the standard understanding of what it means to be aromantic, and I’m not sure how welcome I would actually be in the aromantic community. So, for me, the broad, non-committal “a-spec” might be more useful than a specific “ace & aro”.

      And while I can understand in principle not wanting “aro spectrum” to be default – well, in the asexual community, being aro-spectrum kind of is the default. Yes, the community has spent years educating people about “romantic attraction” and creating visibility for alloromantic asexuals. But the assumption of most people is still that asexuals don’t want to date and aren’t interested in romance. I’ve even seen other aces express this assumption.

      It seems like the way we talk about aromanticism is very much governed by the norms of the allosexual community. Among allosexuals, aromantics are considered deviant, and so they have to assert and fight for recognition of their identity. But the same is not true in the ace community. You would never hear an ace person say to another ace person “You’re not interested in romance??? That’s so weird!” If anything, you’d be more likely to hear the opposite.

      In other words, aromantics and alloromantics are in opposite positions in the asexual and allosexual communities. Among allosexuals, everyone is assumed to be alloromantic and aros have to fight for recognition. Among aces, it’s aromanticism that’s considered the default and alloromantics that need to be recognised. And, yes, the ace community has done a pretty good job of recognising alloromantics, such that they aren’t really “marginalised” within our community. But, especially to outsiders, “aromantic” is still considered the default for aces.

      What am I trying to say with all this? I’m not sure. Maybe just a reminder that “ace” and “aro” aren’t as neatly parseable as we might like them to be. And that a word to include both may, in many cases, be desirable.

      • Siggy

        To clarify the scope of my statements, I was thinking of “a-spec” as referring to a coalition of people, rather than an individual identity. To use in a sentence, I might say “This is a blog for a-spec readers”. I think there could be some legitimate use cases for that, but as I said I don’t think it should be the default. Many ace communities are best left as ace communities, and should not falsely advertise themselves as catering to all a-spec people.

        “a-spec” as an individual identity seems less objectionable to me. I think there are a small number of people who use that as their primary identity, and still more who might use it situationally or as a secondary identity. I’m not exactly sure what the rationale is there, but I imagine it’s that people either don’t want to be specific, or cannot be specific because they don’t really know.

      • Coyote

        “I’m not sure how welcome I would actually be in the aromantic community.”

        Do you want to elaborate on that?

  • Siggy

    On a more tangential & philosophical note, it’s interesting to think about when generalizations are considered appropriate, even when they don’t necessarily include all the people they’re nominally about. “Americans love superhero movies” seems okay but “Americans live in California” does not, even though I’m not sure which group is the larger one. “A-spec” is constructed in such a way that any generalizations that only include aces or only include aros are generally inappropriate. On the other hand, generalizing about “a-spec” people when you’re really just thinking about people in “a-spec communities”, that’s considered more acceptable even though it likely excludes a much larger number of people.

    On a related note, the construction of “a-spec communities” is odd, since it includes communities that only serve ace people and communities that only serve aro people. Does that imply that any particular ace community is an a-spec community, or can the communities only be described as a-spec in aggregate? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Coyote

      Does that imply that any particular ace community is an a-spec community, or can the communities only be described as a-spec in aggregate?

      That’s what I tried to ask about, that one time the ambiguity came up in a WordPress post with a comment section. Like I said, that got deleted. Most of the time though this kind of discussion is happening on Tumblr, where popping in and asking for clarification would be even more difficult, unfortunately. But yeah, that’s also what I want to know.

  • aceadmiral

    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.

    lol @ people who don’t know this, but also: I take “acespec” as a direct attack on my, my community and my goals for said community, and I will fight anyone who comes along and tries to steal my hard-fought ground out from under me. (“asexual spectrum” is fine tho)

    That said, I’m not particularly fussed about “a-spec.” Like, there was this one time my brother and I got into a big fight about who had out mother’s nose, and it was ridiculously heated by the time we finally pulled out a mirror and discovered we both had our mother’s nose, and sometimes I see people being like “this is an ARO experience” and I’m just sitting there looking into the camera like I’m in The Office thinking about that dumb fight. (I’m sure it happens the other way around, too.) So, for some people, bludgeoning them over the head with “a-spec” is useful. But I only care for it solely in that political utility and no other :/

  • raavenb2619

    The use, meaning, and purpose of the term “aspec” is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I still feel like I have an incomplete answer. The only concrete, helpful thought I’ve had so far is to notice parallels to the larger LGBT community. When you have different people with different identities and experiences, you’ll have people talking over and erasing each other; but you’ll also (hopefully) have some similar experiences, a sense of solidarity, and be more effective at fighting against oppression experienced by the whole community as well as oppression specific to individual identities.

    Through the lens that “aspec” does or should to refer to a shared coalition made up of both aros and aces, we can notice some parallels. Frustration over “aspec” being used where only “ace” is intended or applicable is like frustration over “love is love” (a phrase that gained popularity in the fight for same-sex marriage) being used for the entire community. The push to expand the meaning of “aspec” to include more identities within the same named coalition bears resemlance the push to expand the meaning of “LGBT” to include more identities. A lack of overlapping experiences between multiple people grouped under “aspec” is similar to how multiple people grouped under “LGBT” might have no identities or experiences in common. People being conscripted to use “aspec” despite not identifying with the term is like people being conscripted to use “LGBT” despite not identifying with the term.

    I do think there is some merit to the idea of a coalition of aces and aros, since some acephobia is also arophobia (or so easily adjusted by substituting a word or idea that society does it automatically), and vice versa for some arophobia also being acephobia. Society often thinks and talks about “Attraction” as an experience that not shared by anyone who doesn’t experience sexual or romantic attraction, but struggles to distinguish between different the identities and experiences of anyone who doesn’t experience “Attraction” (ie anyone who’s “aspec”), so general “aphobia” is easily directed at identities with potentially no overlap.

    But I also think that more discussion about the current state of things, as well as what different groups of people want, is needed to reach any sort of solution that’s good for many people (including many different kinds of people).

    (Oh, and hello again! Long time no see.)

    • Coyote

      *waves*

      I figured someone might make that comparison, but I also see them as different in one important way: “aspec” doesn’t name anything, whereas LGBT has separate letters standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender. For “aspec” to be more parallel to LGBT, it would have to be AA. Or AAA. Or AAAA. Although the problem with that would be that you can’t tell what any of that stands for, either, since they’re all “a,” but at least that would make it clear if someone’s trying to expand it past ace and aro.

      Society […] struggles to distinguish between different the identities and experiences of anyone who doesn’t experience “Attraction”

      huh?

      • raavenb2619

        For “aspec” to be more parallel to LGBT, it would have to be AA. Or AAA. Or AAAA.

        That’s a fair point, but I also think that someone trying to expand it past ace and aro is pretty infrequent (at least in my experience). Of course, my experiences could be biased by my thinking that “aspec” and “aspec community” are needed in part due to the overlap between acephobia and arophobia, whereas there’s less overlap between oppression faced by agender people, for example.

        huh?

        Society often thinks about a singular form of “Attraction”, to the point that differentiated attraction has been talked about as “splitting” the singular “Attraction” into multiple components. This differentiation is still seen as unconventional/unusual/new. (See: most ace and aro people feeling like they have to give a lecture on multiple kinds of attraction when they come out to people)

        One consequence of singular “Attraction” being the established idea and differentiated attraction being less well-known and accepted is that society lacks the language to understand ace and aro experiences, especially the ways they can differ. For example, I think the assumption that all aces are also aro and all aros are also ace is due in part to the following: if an ace says “I don’t experience sexual attraction”, society hears them say “I don’t experience (singular) ‘Attraction'”; society then reasons that since what the ace calls “romantic attraction” seems to be a part of singular “Attraction”, then the ace must not experience the thing called “romantic attraction”; after all, didn’t the ace just say they don’t experience singular “Attraction”? Put another way, the conflation of sexual and romantic attraction into singular “Attraction” means that society is predisposed to assume that someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction also doesn’t experience romantic attraction. (And vice versa for aros being assumed to be ace.)

        Similarly, any negative stereotypes or perceptions of people who don’t experience singular “Attraction” (that they’re broken/can be fixed, that they’re young/childish/naive, that they should just try it, etc) are often applied both to people who say “I don’t experience sexual attraction” and “I don’t experience romantic attraction”, because society understands both those utterances as “I don’t experience (singular) ‘Attraction'”.

        Does that make sense? (The conflation of ace and aro identities and experiences in society’s eyes as “I don’t experience (singular) ‘Attraction'” is (in my opinion) perhaps the strongest argument in favor of some sort of mega-community/coalition between the ace community and the aro community).

        • Coyote

          Society often thinks about a singular form of “Attraction”,

          Society is an awful lot of people, and I’m not convinced there’s that much uniformity on this point.

          Re: the vocab lessons, I think it’s more the terms, not the concepts, that’s usually unfamiliar to people. Otherwise I wouldn’t have heard so many heterosexuals in my life readily referring to objects, animals, babies, people of the same gender, planets in space, etc. as beautiful/attractive/cute/pretty/handsome. That kind of nonsexual attraction isn’t an alien experience to a lot of folks. It’s just the way that aces in particular like to talk about it — and how naming an absence of sexuality puts people in a mindset to try and argue with us/look for “contradictions.” It’s no different to how some nb-skeptics will put really narrow expectations on what nonbinary people “should” dress or look or act like, even if they can otherwise grasp the concept of cis people looking and acting in a wider variety of ways.

          For example, I think the assumption that all aces are also aro and all aros are also ace is due in part to the following: if an ace says “I don’t experience sexual attraction”, society hears them say “I don’t experience (singular) ‘Attraction’”;

          I don’t think that fully explains it. Vocabulary aside, I think my culture already does make a distinction between, say, a childhood crush vs. calling somebody sexy, for instance, in that talking about children having crushes or childhood experiences of crushes isn’t necessarily a Sex Topic (unless it’s some anti-lgbt person talking about lgbt people). That right there is already acknowledging a range of experiences of attraction and degrees of connection to sexuality, even if it’s not using the fine-grained attraction subtyping terminology that’s really prevalent in the ace community.

          Another explanation, compounding the one you’ve offered here, would be that “sexual orientation” is generally assumed to be a bigger pool than the pool of people that one would actually want to date. (In other words, one as a subcategory of the other.) Asexuality is a sexual orientation of “none,” and you can’t have group of people fewer than zero, so people take it that this automatically determines our partnering interests, since (apparently) most people wouldn’t want to date someone outside of their own sexuality pool. Aces who feel otherwise seem to be fairly anomalous in that way.

          But, I dunno, we could get a non-ace/non-aro allo in here, see if we could get them to explain it. :b

          Similarly, any negative stereotypes or perceptions of people who don’t experience singular “Attraction” (that they’re broken/can be fixed, that they’re young/childish/naive, that they should just try it, etc) are often applied both to people who say “I don’t experience sexual attraction” and “I don’t experience romantic attraction”, because society understands both those utterances as “I don’t experience (singular) ‘Attraction’”.

          I’m pretty sure the stereotypes faced by aro allos are pretty different from the ones I deal with.

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    […] explained why they don’t use “aspec”.  Later, Coyote explained a few ace interpretations of love […]

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