This is not a direct discussion of the “are aces queer” question. This is a personal reflection piece about what else has bloomed out of it like a fungus, modifying my relationship to all orientation labels other than ace.
CW: It’s anti-ace stuff, some of it directly quoted. Step carefully with the links.
Theoretically, you know, I figure things could have played out differently for me. Theoretically, I could have first identified as gay or bi or pan and only later came to identify as ace. Theoretically, I could have started at questioning gender and only subsequently considered my orientation. Theoretically, in another universe, I might even have identified as queer. Who knows. That’s not how it’s panned out for me in this life.
I started identifying as ace in a post-2011 world where “are aces queer?” was no longer solely an intracommunity conversation, and the resulting arguments have fundamentally shaped my relationship to all other labels. Straight, gay, bi, pan, queer: any way I might have related to these words has already been altered — modified — by the argument that an ace identity can’t stand alone.
The way this argument goes is that you can identify as ace, but it’s not your orientation. Your orientation has to be something else. As discussed in a previous post, the common line is that “sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to, not how.” The other common line is that “asexuality is a modifier,” of which I have compiled the following examples:
- “I don’t see asexuality as a separate orientation I see it as an orientation modifier.” (Feb 2014)
- “the definition of sexuality is literally the gender(s) you’re attracted to, so yes, ace is a modifier” (May 2016)
- “asexual is a modifier! […] ‘asexual’ cannot be used as a whole orientation” (approx. July 2016)
- “Asexual and aromantic are not orientations they’re modifiers.” (July 2016)
- “asexuality is a modifier and not an orientation” (July 2016)
- “reminder that asexuality isn’t a cohesive identity and can only accurately exist as a modifier to a pre-existing orientation or to describe a complete lack of attraction” (July 2016)
- “yea it’s a modifier […] so if asexual can be used as a modifier. it doesn’t make sense that it is also it’s own sexuality.” (July 2016)
- “Listen, sexuality orientations are defined by WHO you are attracted to, not whether or not you are sexually/romantically attracted to them. […] Asexual and aromantic, on their own, don’t define who someone is attracted to, they just modify it.” (March 2017)
- “asexuality is a modifier” (approx. April 2017)
- “Because asexuality does not affect your orientation. It is a modifier identity” (approx. April 2017)
- “asexuality is, in fact, a modifier to your actual sexual orientation.” (May 2017)
- “Asexuality doesn’t negate anyone’s actual sexual orientation, it modifies it (unless they’re aroace and that that is their orientation).” (June 2017)
- “Asexual or aromantic modifies the other orientation label.” (approx. July 2017)
- “Ace and other mogai identities are modifiers to orientations” (approx. May 2018)
- “Asexuality is a modifier… Orientations have to do with the subject of attraction – not the amount.” (Sept 2018)
- “Being ace is a modifier” (Dec 2018)
Across these posts, the case people are making is that an ace identity can only be appended and subordinated to your “actual” orientation. This has not been received well by those who don’t view the interplay of their identities that way. In my own case, the problem is different: these arguments are telling me I should be identifying with another orientation label that they consider more legitimate. Gay, straight, bi, or even aro — I’m supposed to be something other than and in addition to ace.
This impinges on me in three ways.
1. As I have discussed before, these arguments can be read in terms of compulsory romantic orientation. There have been times when those making the “modifier” argument might acknowledge that the answer to “who are you attracted to” can actually be “no one” — in which case they assigned the identity of “aro ace.” Implicitly (and sometimes explicitly), they are interpreting “ace” as rendering its accompanying label a romantic one. The possibility of aces opting out of romantic orientation is treated as tantamount to withholding their “actual” orientations.
2. In this context, though, I can’t rightly be assigned an orientation of “attracted to no one” because in fact I do experience attraction. What’s up in the air is how that attraction would be reclassified. Generally speaking, these people have been inclined to ridicule any attraction subtyping other than romantic or sexual, so presumably they would argue that my aesthetic & sensual attraction either isn’t really attraction or else shouldn’t be subtyped.
3. And that’s all before we get to the biggest snag: I’m gray-asexual. At best, I could hope that those taking the “modifier” stance would regard this identity no differently than they do “asexual.” I’m not optimistic, though. More likely, the identity of “gray-asexual” would be parsed as even more superfluous — as an admission that I’m not even a “real” ace, and therefore have no excuse to even “modify” my “real” orientation, let alone identify as gray-asexual and nothing else.
All together, I’ll tell you what it adds up to.
What it adds up to is the internalized voice in my head telling me I need to figure out what my “actual” orientation is. Whenever I’m not quick enough to tamp it down, it stalks my thoughts and pounces on anything it could use for evidence. It haunts me with doubts. It tells me to dig and dig and dig and dig and dig because surely I’ll eventually hit unearth something solid and if I don’t, if I stop, if I allow myself to rest and content myself with gray-asexuality alone, then I’m either a cis heterosexual in denial or a LGBT person in denial and for both possibilities I should be ashamed.
And if I am L, G, B, or T? The script has already been written for me. People who go from identifying with some kind of ace identity to a more canonized LGBT identity are supposed to look back with disgust and regret at time lost to “mogai hell.” It is, supposedly, a terrible and lamentable thing for people to go through multiple labels while questioning. Knowing this script inflects my thought process as I cycle through bouts of interrogating myself over whether I’m actually straight or gay or bi or what. In those moments when I land on interrogating some possible “sign” of being “actually” gay or bi, I remember compilations like these, and I remember how badly these people would want to throttle me, seeing me only as a failed version of themselves.
This helps bring back into focus that whatever I may “actually” be, I cannot entrust that part of myself to people like this. I must safeguard the tangle of my experiences from their efforts to seize control over the narrative. Either I follow their appointed script, or I let myself be seen as abdicating some responsibility to discover the “truth” — and I choose the latter. For me, the straight/gay/bi triad has been poisoned by its crusaders.
Here I’d like to take a page from Rubyfruitjumble, who once wrote:
if i wanted to, i could go through a list like that and choose a bunch of labels that might possibly describe me. i could say i’m like, a grey-homo-romantic, uh, demi-cupio-apothis-sexual? or, i could say that i’m a lesbian.
If I wanted to, I could lean harder into hyperanalyzing the exact specifics of every thought or feeling to cross my mind and stress even more over the question of whether I’m “actually” closest to straight/gay/bi… or, I could say that I’m gray-asexual. I can return to the word that actually brings me peace. I can decide that’s enough. Gray-asexuality is enough. I don’t have to concede to the pressure to identify with something else. I can give myself permission to rest.
Each time I lay off the flareup of straight/gay/bi interrogation and circle back to the identity that feels like home, I am reminded of how little that questioning actually has to do with my own comfort or desire and how much it is the consequence of external pressure. This has nigh irrevocably altered my relationship to all other orientation labels. My gray-asexuality has been, in a word, modified.
Hypothetically, things could have been different if my introduction to LGBT blogging had been different. Who knows — maybe my gender questioning could have taken a different path. Maybe the way I parse my own attraction and desires could have taken a different path. Maybe I wouldn’t have developed an aversion to the word “queer” because of how much I associate it with arguments like this. Who knows. Too late for that now. Anti-ace blogging was the modifier.