Although zebras may be black and white, a lot of things in life are not — including when it comes to (a)sexuality, which is why we have words for the gray areas. Unfortunately, not everyone is on the same page about that. You probably already know what overt anti-grayness looks like, but even in communities that claim to support us, there can be a lot of more implicit ways to send a different signal. Here are fourteen signs that grayness isn’t entirely welcome in your communities.
Note in this post, I’m focusing on gray-asexuality, and I’m using grayness to talk about both gray-asexuality as an identity and grayness as an umbrella category for other identities like demi and lith. People among the latter may not necessarily answer to “gray-asexual” per se, but they can still be affected by anti-grayness as a phenomenon.
1) Making everything about “attraction.” Attraction-based essentialism means crunching the umbrella of grayness down to one specific narrative, which both ignores existing gray-a narratives and can discourage questioning aces from identifying with it. Communities which use the term “SAM” (not to be confused with romantic orientation) are generally operating on this kind of mindset.
2) Reserving “ace” for just asexuals. In actuality, “ace” is an umbrella term, and anyone who identifies with the asexual spectrum (whether “asexual” specifically, something else, or not sure on a more specific label) should be welcome to it. I’ve been identifying as ace and gray-asexual for approximately eight years, and you’re not taking it from me now.
3) Shrinking the spectrum. When someone treats a phrase like “the asexual spectrum” as if it excludes asexuality, they are trying to undo our catch-all term for both asexuality and its wider umbrella of related identities. People have started doing this in a way that treats the distinction between asexuality and gray-asexuality as a hard binary with a sharp dividing line, which necessarily ignores the meaning of a gray area. The red flag to look for here is any use of the term “acespec.”
4) Rejecting the spectrum. This doesn’t necessarily mean objecting to the word “spectrum” itself — in some cases, people have argued for using the phrase “the sexuality spectrum” instead. When promoted as an alternative to “the asexual spectrum,” this would have the same effect as above, and it tends to involve over-emphasizing dissimilarity between asexuals and gray-asexuals.
5) Redesigning the flag. The ace flag has stripes to represent the entire asexual umbrella, which has long been a reason that anti-gray types take issue with it. If someone is promoting a flag for just asexuality or just gray-asexuality, it’s worth asking why they don’t want us together.
6) Binary thinking. If everything is black and white, then people aren’t making room for grayness. This may not involve direct hostility against gray-asexuals — in some cases, people may have just forgotten that we exist. In effect, though, this may still involve negating our experiences.
7) Denying gray diversity. For instance, this can include A) treating “experiences sexual attraction infrequently” as the only reason people ever have for identifying as gray-asexual, B) equating grayness with sex-favorability, C) treating gray-aces as if the are any asexual experiences they categorically don’t share or can’t relate to, or D) partitioning out gray-asexuality as a “unique experience” that consists of just one single, specific thing. The whole point of gray identity is that it’s a gray area, so don’t underestimate gray diversity.
8) Oversimplifying any part of sexuality as always clear-cut, simple, and obvious, while ignoring experiences of ambiguity. Ambiguity, fuzziness, and a continuous state of “between” can be a big part of gray-asexual experience — gray is in the name, after all. So when people treat questioning aces as if it should be easy to figure out whether they “experience sexual attraction” or not, they are not accounting for cases where the answer doesn’t feel clear-cut and may never be.
9) Spreading misinformation about where gray area labels come from. For example, when people assert that “demisexual” came from a roleplaying forum (incorrect) or that “lith-” appropriates from lesbians (not exactly), they are usually arguing that people shouldn’t identify that way. If you see someone circulating any of these stories, be sure to take a closer look at the evidence.
10) Calling gray-asexuality “normal” in the snide way, where the implicit message is that the label should not exist. In actuality, people with the “same” experiences may choose to use different words, and that’s not necessarily a big deal. When people sound the alarm about this possibility, though, I think what they have in mind is a definition where gray-asexuality is specifically and exclusively about “infrequent sexual attraction.” What they don’t understand is that’s just one gray-asexual narrative, and it doesn’t really get at the core of gray-asexuality: both identifying and disidentifying with asexuality in a way that’s experienced as an adjacent “gray area.”
11) Demanding specificity to gray-asexuality in the form of a label such as het, gay, or bi. It’s one thing if an individual gray-a uses multiple labels, but if someone refuses to recognize gray-asexuality as a “stand alone” orientation or calls it a “modifier,” then they’re imposing a framework on us that we may not necessarily identify with. My orientation is gray-asexual. If that breaks something in your data table, then that’s on you.
12) Grouping gray-asexuals apart from asexuals and instead with non-aces/allosexuals. For example, categorizing us and others as people who “experience sexual attraction” (we don’t necessarily). It’s not bad for individuals to compare experiences, of course. What’s suspect is when someone emphasizes a categorical difference between us and asexuals to the point of dismissing us as fellow aces.
13) Silencing disidentification with asexuality as a part of gray experience. Reacting to anti-grayness may train people into the habit of emphasizing how ace we are, but it’s possible to go overboard. Gray-asexuality is by definition a gray area, and a degree of disidentification is a part of that. The degree can also vary between different people and across different points in time. None of this as much of a misrepresentation or invalidation of grayness as telling gray folk that they shouldn’t feel that way.
14) Pushing people toward grayness because they don’t “qualify” as asexual. Sometimes people will treat it as some kind of threat or insult to gray-asexuality if the “wrong” people identify as asexual rather than gray-asexual. Identities like these are subjective, and which labels feel useful (and where and when) is a personal judgement call. Trying to police people into gray-asexuality is still an anti-gray problem because it treats gray-asexuality as something that can be externally assigned by others, which also means thinking you’re entitled to take it away.