)My Carnival of Aces and Carnival of Aros contribution for the February edition hosted by TAAAP.
Despite the fact that I have spent the last year in knots over starting to identify as panromantic and as queer as consequence of that, because loaded term, I cheerfully announced I considered aromanticism to fall under the asexuality umbrella two posts ago. By the same token, non-cis identities are in my mind closely related to the asexual community because that’s where I met multiple people speaking about it, even if only in the blogosphere.
So here’s me reflecting on my own language because that’s very, very healthy and also, I hope it will make me a more polite individual. Let’s take this in steps, shall we?
Concerning both aromantic and non-binary identities I am an ally, not a community member. I meet them in the ace community but I should really pay more attention to the fact that that’s not all they’re part of… identities are layered.
I have seen the term a-spectrum floating around as umbrella term, and if I may quote the a-positive tumblr FAQ*: “The a-spec refers to anyone who feels they are absent of a usual part of the identity. It includes Agender people, who feel they lack/are absent of gender, Aromantic people who don’t feel romantic attraction, and Asexual people, who don’t feel sexual attraction. It also includes Demisexuals and Demiromantics, who feel that they partially or fully lack romantic and/or sexual attraction until they have formed a bond with an individual.” (I’d like to add grey- labels here, at the very least.)
My use of asexuality as umbrella term comes in large part from first changing my sexual orientation and only recently adopting a solid romantic orientation, meaning it still feels small and strange. I shouldn’t let that feeling translate into failing to recognise aromantic as equal to asexual.
We are progressing in our understanding of a-spectrum identities. All the more reason for me to pay attention and move with the times, rather than get stuck on how I spoke and thought when I entered the community.
I feel the distinction between sexual and romantic orientation is most important when you are a-spec on any level. I tend to talk about “orientation” or “nature” (geaardheid) if I talk about the two in general to outsiders. But now that I’m settling into the panromantic orientation I feel it’s as much a part of me as being demisexual. It even matters more in terms of why I feel queer and why I have issues with my church.
So I’m glad people are shedding a spotlight on the importance of romantic attraction and whether they feel it. I need some educating as well and that’s talking as member of the ace community.
* To be clear: I haven’t read the blog so I don’t know if I can recommend them but I liked their definition.
The words I’m considering helpful in coming out and discussing not having sex in various contexts.
Asexuality – a natural or biological inclination to rarely or never feel sexual attraction. In short, the label for people who Mother Nature or God or evolution designed to be inclined not to have sex. Not an essentialistic description of entire races or genders or other groups. Not “lacking in functional genitals” or “lacking in libido” or “unattractive”. It is instead a useful term to say “I do not actively feel lust or arousal towards a person of any gender” with several labels available to give that more nuance, such as “rarely” or “in these very specific circumstances”.
Its primary use is describing “not (being inclined to) having sex” as a state of being, an orientation.
Celibacy – the choice to temporarily or permanently disengage from sexual activity. In short, the label for people who for personal, religious or other reasons decide not to have sex. This word lacks the implication “purity” has that one is better. It describes behaviour or a decision of an individual where “chastity” is more likely to be used in a judgment call. It lacks the deterministic implication that it precedes marriage.
Its primary use is in being the best candidate for a term to describe “not having sex” as choice and conscious behaviour.
Repression (when discussing sexual behaviour) – being barred from either wishing to engage in sexual behaviour or acting upon a desire to be sexually active. Can occur for an individual or in a community. Mental conditions or subconcious choices may lead to it, such as high stress or internalised queerphobia. Social limitations may include peer pressure or a criminalisation of sexual behaviour. May have neutral but, more often, a negative connotation.
Its primary use would be in describing a state of “not having sex” that is not by choice and feels more as stemming from experience/the mind/circumstances than natural/biological.
I find this third word to be more problematic… Because for others I think it may be as toxic as abstinence is to me. Plus there’s the conflation of asexuality and sexual repression that’s used to deny asexuality as a legitimate label.
Trigger warning: explicit discussion of Christian prejudice around sex.
I have come to find these words so poisoned by their current usage that I believe I need to give them up if I talk about not having sex.
Purity/Chastity (in English among Christians) – While these used to mean “being good and whole” and “choosing to act righteously” they are now both used foremost mean “not having sex except with your spouse”. Purity (culture) has come to describe the collective of conservative individuals and institutions that enforce this norm at the cost of personal freedom, human rights and individual welfare. I hate this perversion of two useful words, for a state of goodness and courteous behaviour. Now they’re just a verbal and mental chastity belt for the unmarried. I hate the moral stance and community associated with this word. I believe they act in direct contradiction to how Jesus would act.
Abstinence (among Christians) – If I translate it to Dutch (onthouding) and back to English I get “keeping away”. Its general use I don’t mind. In fact, I agree that it’s easier to keep away from (food, gaming, alcohol, sex) completely than to limit it, if something is harmful to you. In a religious context, I’d equate this to fasting, to abstain from something to improve your life or facilitate meditation.
I dislike abstinence when it refers to not having extramarital sex. The enforcement is always external. Parents, employers, schools, law makers and even health insurance companies are told to make younger people abstinent. They can choose their religion but not their relationships, it implies. They are helpless victims in the face of their own sex drive (boys) or predators (girls). That anything sexual is considered sinful unless “sanctified” by marriage doesn’t help with the fear-mongering.
Virginity – Virgin (maagd) meant only maiden or damsel-in-distress in old-fashioned Dutch when I grew up. When we spoke about morally correct behaviour, both in church and in school, we used the terms “sexually faithful” (to describe the ideal the church was striving for) and “sexually active” to describe someone who is having sex and a denial to describe the opposite. Emphasising it’s behaviour, not magic transformation, for good or ill.
I have found this emphasis on sex as activity and choice to be very empowering. Discussing sex as physical intimacu and what that means is a positive and constructive way to discuss biblical ideas without judging people. It’s also closer to the source material, the emphasis on well-considered and respectful behaviour in a relationship. Not an obsession with the preamble or the legal institution. It also allows for the discussion of how other people may make other choices because they follow other principles without condemning them out of hand.
A second reason I dislike the concept of virginity is because I believe it leads to superstition and false teaching.
Superstition: ‘virginity’ is an abstract, near-magical thing you can lose, akin to holiness, which elevates you above the rest of humanity. If you have it, it makes you an object to be protected or sacrificed or violated.
False teaching: correct sexual behaviour is more important than any other choice you make. It may condemn you to hell regardless of anything else you do in life. It supersedes even your choice to become a Christian. So long as you only have heterosexual intramarital sex God will love you best.
If being an asexual Christian has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not a better person for not wishing to have sex. I’m an equal mess of good and bad to any other human, with my own unique failings.
For December’s Carnival of Aces, I wanted to consider the question: have I ever experienced burn-out in ace activities? And, well, there’s three false claims I’ve been beating my head against over and over again: having sex is wrong, queer people are evil and everyone wants to have sex.
It’s exhausting and self-defeating.
The most succesful strategies I have are:
a) to have a strong and clear conviction on the topic so I don’t feel overwhelmed in the face of others’ opinions and prejudice.
b) to express my views in a way others understand while still respecting their opinion, because both of those are important to me.
I need to define my position on this topic in four contexts. As family or friend, I have conversations about love, loneliness and longing. As a panromantic demisexual, I blog about my personal reflections in the online asexual community. These both feel safe and supportive.
I also live in more public domains. As a partially closeted queer Christian, I have a love-hate relationship with my congregation and the worldwide church. As an asexual-spectrum person I engage with a society where not having sex is a deeply strange. These are the two contexts where I want to choose my words with care to say exactly what I mean.
So let’s talk about good and bad words for “not having sex.” In separate posts, I will list the top 3 words that frustrate me and the top 3 words I find most helpful. Why “not having sex”? Because that’s basically the topic of any conversation I have in the public domain about asexuality.
After that, I want to be done running in circles of worry on this topic and at the very, very least move reflection and writing and discussion in a more constructive direction.
I’ve come across lists of labels for (a)sexual orientations and gender identities several times. I took note of the terms ‘gynesexual’ (attracted to femininity) and ‘androsexual’ (attracted to masculinity) as a nice pair of terms to use as an alternative to heterosexual and homosexual.
I like learning words that strike me as useful. Especially because I believe one of the chief contributions the ace community makes to mainstream society is new vocabulary. It deconstructs orientations, attractions and relationships and then offers new words for the components people don’t normally distinguish from each other.
Then I watched So… is the Doctor Gay Now? A Doctor Who Ramble by the genderfluid Council of Geeks. I’m going to go with ‘they’ for a pronoun since they present as “inbetween” (their word) for most of the vid.
They considered whether the Doctor’s gender switch between their twelfth and thirteenth regeneration (Peter Capaldi to Jodie Whittaker) made them gay. The Doctor, after all, has (mostly) been attracted to women (Rose, River Song). They say that, yes, technically, she is now, since gay, homosexual, means “attracted to people of the same gender” and the Doctor’s attractions don’t change along with her gender identity. So, while The Doctor’s a woman, and has been portrayed as being attracted to women, she would now fall under that header.
However, that’s mostly because of the limits of our language. Council discussed how they themselves usually decline to answer yes or no to the same question. Days they’re a man, they’d be a heterosexual man, days they present as feminine, they’d be a gay woman. Instead, they answer “I am attracted to women.” Not quite the same. They wondered whether there was a label for that. Which set my mind to shouting “ooh, ooh, gynesexual” and prompted me to start writing about it.
Because useful words deserve a spotlight.
I’ll be curious to see if the BBC dare let the Doctor be attracted to women on screen while she is a woman herself. I think I agree with Council. They’ll most likely skip over it entirely during this regeneration and keep her relationships platonic, like in the classic Doctor Who series.
I found it interesting too that at this point they called the classic Doctor “asexual.” It’s the context in which I’ve seen asexual used most often while I was searching for material for my Carnival of Aces contribution, something on asexuality in Holland before 2010. Prior to that year most people spoke of asexuality as the opposite of sexualised, sexually attractive or sexually active.
Marga Klompé was the best example I came across. She became the first female minister in the Netherlands in 1956. In an interview, Mieke Aerts described her as deliberately having an asexual persona and that she never leveraged being a woman in power. Aerts wistfully reflects that a more sexualised society makes that almost impossible. This was the most common use of asexual in Dutch until 2010. Then articles started appearing by people identifying themselves as asexual in the sense of not feeling sexual attraction towards others and, in most cases, happily not having sex.
Let’s dig a little more into the Doctor as member of a race of Timelords. It’s an alien race who have multiple bodies of any gender over the course of their lives. In the video, Council questions whether that would make labeling attraction to any gender meaningless. Presumably, they’d only identify as sexual or asexual, romantic or aromantic.
But even inside the narrative there’s hints of more. Though the ninth Doctor disparages labels, he does say Jack is omnisexual. Assuming that’s the equivalent of pansexual, I’m going with gender mattering at least somewhat in attraction and that labels still function, even if they’re more fluid in who is what.
I do think that if all members of a species can switch genders several times, it makes ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ problematic as words. You’d have to switch labels to describe your preferences every time you regenerated. So words that only take the gender to which a person’s attracted into account seems ideal. It would make sense, if linguistically Timelords also identified primarily as male or female, that they could adopt gynesexual and androsexual as labels for being attracted to either gender. Gyneromantic and androromantic for the other level of orientation and ace, aro and bi and other words already in use would nicely round out the list.
What I also like about these words is that there’d be no majority. Yes, most women’d be androsexual and most men would be gynesexual, for the sake of procreation, but there’s no single label for the majority like there is when you use heterosexual and homosexual.
“Interview: Marga Klompé kon nog aseksueel zijn” Koos Neuvel. Vrij Nederland. 18 februari 1995. p 76.
Two idle trains of thought collided in my head. One was that I usually refer to myself as demisexual with “insiders” (the asexual community and close family) and asexual with “outsiders” (everybody else). The other, well, my language studies included a lot of crossdisciplinary training. We wallowed around in anthropology long enough to internalise several core concepts, such as etic and emic. Etic labels are imposed on a community by an outside observer. Emic categories are what a community develops internally.
Awsum Can Haz Werdzª
It’s no secret that the asexual community spent a lot of its early years generating words. These primarily helped people identify themselves and talk about themselves amongst each other. Here’s a glossary on the Asexuality Archive and the “Everything Asexual and Aromantic” series if you prefer to watch a video.
With the versatility of the English language, these words quickly became versatile, gaining colloquial versions, used as adjectives (ace person) as well as nouns (all the aces)… Several have become mainstream enough that they have been put into or expanded upon in dictionaries, such as the OED last month.
Ace or Queer Sociolect
All this leads me to consider… Is our language distinctive enough to consider ourselves, as a subculture, a speech community? Do we have enough a unique enough vocabulary and set of syntactic oddities to be a sociolect?
Another possibility came up when I did a little bit of digging. Apparently there was a queer sociolect in the sixties and seventies, called Polari. One paragraph this blog article caught my eye:
“Even though a secondary language was needed to support it, if well informed, a person could communicate heavily in Polari. However, its use in more modern times is questionable. Why? The language code would work in binaries (male/female, homosexual/heterosexual, masculine/feminine) and didn’t allow for description of non-binary classifications. For example, words to explain gender fluidity, bisexuality, asexuality etc., just didn’t exist.”
So another possibility is that now, four decades later, we filled a so-far-empty niche in a broader queer sociolect, and contributed a couple words to mainstream English in the process.
I am not at all qualified enough to offer any conclusions on this subject. As language geek and demi/ace person I did want to put the question out there, however. It creates a space to describe how I identify myself.
I, Ace or Demi person
Let’s say the asexual community is a speech community, or part of one. Let’s say the vocabulary we’ve generated has become an ace sociolect or part of a queer sociolect. In that context I am able to express two distinct levels on which I speak of my identity.
Namely, as an informed insider trying to decribe myself towards outside observers, I say I am asexual. This fits in a larger (etic) set of labels, known as sexual orientation, that is familiar to most English speakers. I only need to define the single new word in order for them to fit me into their world view, and then get accepted or rejected.
Among insiders, the asexual community and its allies, such as my close family, I choose a different label. I say that my asexual identity is primarily demisexual. I can add a gender identity and romantic orientation to further specify what I think I am. Thus making use of a far more nuanced set of labels we created to talk amongst ourselves.
Thus some old theory I learned in college and my thoughts on ace identity intersected. I thought in sharing it might be of some use. And, well, it just tickles my fancy how much we’ve been able to affect language, over the years.
ªprovided by the Lolcat Translator