I’m writing this post for my readers who are NOT asexual, demisexual, gray-sexual, aromantic, demiromantic, or gray-romantic. This post is also probably not for anyone who identifies as queer or trans. This is a post for romantic-sexual people who don’t buy into asexual/aromantic identity discourse and who don’t buy into queer theory either. Which is to say, this post is for the vast majority of human beings alive on this earth.
If you’re on the “asexual spectrum” or “aromantic spectrum,” there’s a very good chance that this post will piss you off. I don’t care if it does because I think what I’m about to say needs to be said. And despite the fact that this post is about you, it’s not for you—because I know most of you are not willing to hear or think about what I’m going to say. I’m not here to change you or convince you of anything.
If I’m right, what I’m going to explain in this post is what allo* people have been trying to tell asexuals (and demisexuals and gray-asexuals) for as long as I’ve been active in the online asexual community. It’s the reason that some allo* people are really angry and annoyed and offended by asexual discourse and asexual-spectrum identities, why they don’t respect those identities, and why they don’t see those identities as legitimate. So I don’t expect the following to be news to allo* people who read it, but hopefully, I’ll do a good job of articulating what they’ve been trying to get across all this time.
Questioning the Asexual+Aromantic Community’s Human Sexuality Model
There are two different ways that we can define the word “asexual.” They are as follows:
- Asexual – not sexually attracted to anyone
- Asexual – not attracted to either sex
The asexual and aromantic communities currently use the first definition, and this is significant because it ultimately leads to the rest of the asexual community’s model of sexuality.
If “asexual” means “not sexually attracted to anyone,” that leaves romantic attraction unaccounted for, and thus, the idea of romantic orientations was born. We have hetero-, homo-, bi-, and aromantic asexuals because we defined “asexual” as “not sexually attracted to anyone” and up to 75% of self-identifying asexuals still feel romantic attraction and desire romantic relationships. Because these romantic asexuals started using romantic identity labels, it logically forced those of us who didn’t want any kind of romantic relationship and did not feel romantic toward others to claim our own additional label: aromantic.
The popular definition of the word “asexual” just so happens to coincide with the model of sexuality currently popular among queer-identified and trans individuals: claiming that the “sexual” in heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual refers to the kind of attraction felt and not to the biological sex one is attracted to. QT people insist that romantic and sexual attraction are based on gender identity alone, that biological sex has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation, and linguistically, this replicates the same meaning of the word “asexual” for all the other sexual identity words.
- Heterosexual – sexually attracted to the opposite gender
- Homosexual – sexually attracted to the same gender
- Bisexual – sexually attracted to two genders
- Bonus that only exists in this model: pansexual – sexually attracted to all genders
So the asexual community’s definition of “asexual” complements the QT community’s model of sexuality. It is not the original model by which humans understood sexuality. In fact, it’s extremely new. The original model and the one that most of the world still understands their sexuality by, is based on biological sex and not gender identity.
- Heterosexual – attracted to the opposite sex
- Homosexual – attracted to the same sex
- Bisexual – attracted to both sexes
In fact, the words themselves are linguistically constructed according to these definitions. Breaking them down into their component parts and tracing the etymology, this is what you find:
hetero – from Greek heteros meaning the other (of two), another, different; second; other than usual.
homo – from the Greek ‘homos’ meaning ‘same’
sex – 14c., “males or females collectively,” from Latin sexus “a sex, state of being either male or female, gender,” of uncertain origin. Meaning “quality of being male or female” first recorded 1520s. Meaning “genitalia” is attested from 1938.
ual – a variation of the suffix “-al” that means relating to, process of, or an action.
The point being that the “sex” in sexual orientation words never referred to “sexual attraction” but to the sex one was attracted to. The attraction being romantic and/or sexual was implicit, which is logical: why would you need a specific term to describe being nonsexually and nonromantically “attracted” to males or females or both? Attraction is generally understood to be romantic and sexual, whereas preferring to be friendly or to socialize with males or females or both is based on factors other than involuntary attraction.
If we use this model of sexuality, it naturally and inevitably follows that “asexual” means “not attracted to either sex.” If “asexual” means “not attracted to either sex,” then the only people who can call themselves “asexual” are people like me, who don’t feel romantic or sexual attraction or desire for partnered romance/sex. Using that definition of “asexual,” the term “aromantic” becomes unnecessary.
No more hetero-, homo-, and bi-romantic asexuals. Likewise, no more aromantic heterosexuals, homosexuals, or bisexuals. All of these folks would become part of a spectrum of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, their different preferences for sex or romance unlabeled. We would understand that there are straight, gay, and bi people who don’t like sex or who don’t like to be romantically coupled, and that would be that. No need to add a new identity label for every single aspect of a person’s sexuality. No giant gap between the romantic “asexual spectrum” people and all the other human beings that feel romantic attraction. No giant gap between the sexual “aromantic spectrum” people and all the other human beings that feel sexual desire.
The split-attraction identity model would collapse. If you feel both romantic and sexual attraction, even if there’s a difference in who you’re romantically attracted to vs. sexually attracted to, you would simply be one of many types of bisexuals. Why? Because if “bisexual” means “attracted to both sexes” and the attraction is generalized, there’s room for all kinds of attraction experiences under that label. The only qualification is that you’re attracted to both males and females. Bisexuality doesn’t require an equal and identical attraction to males and females. Whether you’re attracted to men more than women or women more than men, whether you feel both romantic and sexual toward males and females or romantic to one sex/sexual toward the other, you’re attracted to both sexes, so “bisexual” covers you.
Demi and Gray Are Not Orientations
I’ve already pointed out the reason that demisexuality and gray-sexuality (along with demiromanticism and gray-romanticism) are not sexual orientations: these labels describe HOW people experience sexual or romantic attraction, not WHO they’re attracted to. Demi and gray are modifiers of a person’s sexual or romantic orientation: hetero, homo, or bi. Sexual orientation is about WHO you’re attracted to, not HOW you develop attraction, and because demis and grays do experience sexual and romantic attraction, they are no less straight, gay, or bi than all the other sexual and romantic people who experience attraction more frequently or more easily or who simply don’t call themselves anything other than straight, gay, or bi.
There are people who call themselves asexual, demisexual, or gray-asexual, who are under the false impression that they are different from everyone in the world who doesn’t. The same goes for aromantics, demiromantics, and gray-romantics. In other words, there are people who can and do fit right in with the 99% of human beings who identify only as straight, gay, or bi—not asexual or aromantic or demi or gray—but who believe and present themselves as being fundamentally different from that 99%. This is made possible by the relative meaninglessness of asexual and aromantic identity terms: without specificity, without concrete definitions, these identities can mean anything, so ultimately, they mean nothing. They’re supposed to describe people who are innately different from alloromantics and allosexuals, but instead, they don’t really describe anything other than people who believe that they’re different, even if they’re not.
Demi and gray identities speak to a phenomenon spawned by identity culture: that of micro-labeling yourself to specify every detail of your sexuality. To be fair, demi and gray identities inevitably popped up out of asexual discourse not just because of identity culture but because of the sexual attraction model that the asexual community uses. “Demi” and “gray” can’t exist if “asexual” is defined as “not attracted to either sex.” If we defined “asexual” as “not attracted to either sex,” demis and grays instantly disappear into the straight, gay, and bi groups they already belong to. Demis and grays experience sexual attraction (or romantic attraction, in the case of the “aromantic spectrum”), and if straight, gay, and bi are defined as “attracted to the opposite, same, or both sexes,” without specifying what kind of attraction it is and how it is developed, demis and grays are already covered. Demisexuality and gray-asexuality are not orientations in and of themselves. They’re descriptors of orientations. If we returned to the sexuality model that’s based on general attraction to the sexes, then the fine details of a person’s sexual attraction patterns or romantic attraction patterns would have no bearing on their label.
A straight person who wants to fuck someone she met three hours ago and a straight person who wants to fuck someone only after they’ve dated for a year are both straight. A gay person who feels attracted to three strangers a day, every day, and a gay person who’s only been attracted to a few people in their lifetime are both gay. Somebody who falls in love slowly and somebody who falls in love quickly are both people who fall in love. Somebody who falls in love twice in a lifetime and somebody who falls in love ten times are both people who fall in love.
An Unfair and Inaccurate Portrayal of the 99%
This leads me to a problem that the asexual community, including demisexuals and gray-sexuals, have had for a long time. They believe in a characterization of allo* people—people who aren’t on the “asexual spectrum” or “aromantic spectrum”—that treats 99% of humankind as a homogeneous group with a singular and consistent pattern of sexual desire and behavior, often basing that characterization on the most sexual individuals and on male heterosexuality specifically. The “asexual spectrum” doesn’t acknowledge any differences between male and female sexuality, between heterosexuality and homosexuality, between sexual behavior and experiences in different cultures of the world. The asexual-spectrum assumes that anyone who doesn’t identify as asexual (or demi- or gray-) wants, needs, and enjoys sex on a regular basis, or otherwise that not wanting, needing, or liking sex regularly means that you’re on the “asexual spectrum” and don’t know it.
In other words, they refuse to recognize that allo* people can feel indifferent to sex, can dislike sex, may only be sexually attracted to what few romantic partners they have in life, can prefer masturbation over partnered sex, can have very mixed feelings and experiences with sex, can lose interest in sex with age, can experience “sexual attraction” not as specifically genital in nature but as a combination of feelings that have nothing to do with sex that point to sexual activity as a result, can actually rarely or never feel sexual attraction by merely looking at an attractive stranger, etc.
What I’m trying to say is that asexual discourse strips all of the nuance, the complexity, and the variation out of human sexuality and assumes that there is one concrete, simple, specifically and exclusively genital experience of sexual desire that all allo* human beings experience the same way from the time they start puberty until death or old age. And because they, the self-identified asexuals and demisexuals and gray-asexuals, don’t experience whatever they decided is sexual attraction or don’t experience it the way they assume allosexual people do, they can claim these “asexual spectrum” identities and believe that they’re categorically different from allo* people. That they are not straight, gay, or bi the way allo* people are straight, gay, or bi, even if they have romantic feelings or sexual feelings (in the case of “aromantic spectrum” folks). This, of course, is what leads to all of that “allosexual privilege” bullshit, the idea that asexual-spectrum and aromantic-spectrum people are somehow uniquely oppressed or discriminated against by not just straight people but all allo* people.
Some of this is reinforced by language, by the defining of “asexual” as “not sexually attracted to others” and the re-defining of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual as “sexually attracted to the opposite, same, or both sexes” (or, in the case of QT discourse subscribers: opposite, same, or two genders). But even if you put the language problem aside, you’ve still got all these baseless assumptions about the majority of the species that supposedly “asexual spectrum” and “aromantic spectrum” people don’t even know about from experience because they don’t feel what allo* people do, in the way that allo* people feel it. And they certainly didn’t consult the allo* population before deciding what allos* feel and thus, how they (the asexual/aromantic spectrum) are different.
So where did the asexual and aromantic spectrums’ definitions of sexual attraction and romantic attraction and their characterization of allo* people come from? What is it based on? Television? Movies? Novels? Observation of the allo* people they know, that wasn’t followed up with in-depth conversation? How can the asexual and aromantic “spectrums” be confident in their ideas of sexual and romantic attraction and how allo* people experience it, if they haven’t done extensive research and interviewing of allo* people? I’ve seen with my own eyes self-identified asexuals, aromantics, demis, and grays dismiss what allo* people have to say about sexual and romantic attraction–mostly when they challenge the identity of an asexual, aromantic, demi, or gray with that information–but we’re supposed to know better than the entire allo* population what they feel and that we’re not feeling it? How?
Personally, I think it makes a whole lot more sense to define “asexual” as “not attracted to either sex” instead of “not sexually attracted to others.” I believe and support all the allo* people in the world who define their own sexual orientation as being attracted—sexually or romantically or both—to people based on biological sex, not gender identity. I think it would be far more efficient and reasonable to see “romantic asexuals” and “aromantic allosexuals” as members of the straight, gay, or bi categories that their romantic or sexual desires put them in, rather than create a chasm between romantics who don’t want sex and romantics who do, or sexual people who don’t want romance vs sexual people who do. I think it’s better to treat heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality as broad categories that include a wide range of feelings, desires, and behaviors, including a strong aversion to sex or romance.
Do I think there’s any chance in hell of the asexual community or the “asexual spectrum” giving up their discourse and their model of sexuality, of people in that community giving up their identities and adopting an understanding of themselves as straight, gay, or bi people who aren’t sexually inclined? No. I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed, and we’re stuck with what we’ve got. I don’t recommend trying to argue with self-identified asexuals, aromantics, demis, and grays about switching to a different model of sexuality if they aren’t open to considering it. It’s a waste of time.
But I wanted to write this post so that I could tell you, allo* readers (who haven’t bought into the asexual/queer/trans model of sexual identity), that I finally understand what you’ve been trying to tell me all these years. I understand where you’re coming from. I see the holes and the flaws in popular asexual discourse, and I don’t think that the asexual community is right about you. I don’t even think that they’re right about themselves, in many cases. (And I can hear all the “identity-policing” sobs in the distance, but the fact is, if you base your identity on a flawed conceptualization of reality, then your identity will be flawed too. A bullshit framework is not any less false or flawed just because it validates your identity, and despite what identity culture preaches to its congregation, identity is not sacred or beyond criticism.)
I acknowledge that there are billions of ways to be sexual and romantic. I acknowledge that “seeing a person and wanting to have sex with them” is a crappy definition of sexual attraction that doesn’t actually apply to all sexual people. I acknowledge that sexual desire and sexual activity and how one feels about sex varies from person to person, that male sexuality and female sexuality are different, that being straight is not the same as being gay, that the way sex works for women or gay people or POC is not the way it works for men and heterosexuals and white people. I acknowledge that there are a lot of allo* people who don’t really care about sex, who don’t need it, who can live without it peacefully, who are even critical of sex. I acknowledge that there are allo* people who are indifferent about romantic relationships or critical of them, who are happier being single than coupled, who choose to be single, who have never been in love and aren’t interested in it.
Self-identified romantic asexuals and aromantic allosexuals are not categorically different from all the non-asexual, non-aromantic people in the world. Romantic asexuals may be very different from a lot of people who want sex, and aromantic allosexuals may be very different from all the people who can and do fall in love. But they’re also similar and sometimes identical to other romantic and sexual people who—surprise, surprise—don’t like sex or romance or choose not to participate in it or don’t feel that they’re necessary.
I have a theory that a lot of self-identified romantic asexuals and aromantic allosexuals would feel strong resistance to giving up their asexual or aromantic identity because they believe that identifying as simply straight, gay, or bi means they are obligated to have sex or romantic relationships. They think that if they don’t specify their disinterest in sex or romance with a label (or, in the case of demis and grays, their lack of frequent interest in sex or romance with strangers), that they’re telling the world that they ARE interested because interest in sex and romance is supposed to be the default in humans. But you don’t need an extra label to tell people you interact with or date or have sex with, that you aren’t interested in sex or romance. People who don’t feel sexual or romantic toward anyone have always existed, for thousands of years before the labels “asexual” and “aromantic.” There are plenty of people who don’t label themselves asexual or aromantic (or demi or gray) today who are minimally interested or completely uninterested in sex or romance. And that’s the point. The asexual community’s assumptions about what all non-asexual, non-aromantic people want and feel, which they define themselves against, aren’t actually true.
And how fucked up is it that anyone feels like they need a label to justify not wanting sex or romantic relationships, within a certain timeline or with strangers or at all? Why are we playing into compulsory sexuality and compulsory romance, into a culture that coerces everybody into sex and romance and heterosexuality specifically? Why hasn’t the asexual community and the aromantic community decided to fight for all people’s right to reject sex and romantic relationships and to question the authenticity of their own unexamined desire for sex and romance?
Maybe if they weren’t too busy assuming that all allo* people naturally need and love sex and romantic relationships, they would.