This is part 1 of my entry for the May 2015 Carnival of Aces: Identity, Labels, and Models.
The key reason for using the labels we do, is that we find them useful.
A label that is personally useful:
- Closely defines a person’s experiences: This is self-explanatory.
- Helps them make sense of what they are: one of the greatest examples is when someone may knew what they were, but felt lost without a label for it. For example, some asexuals knew that they were asexual before knowing of asexuality as the label for it, but before knowing of the asexual label, they thought they were the only ones who felt the way about sex that they do. They may have thought they were broken, and alone, and were the ones who had to change.
- Or they find the label first, its definition, and see that their experiences fit under that label all along: Before then, they had a less accurate idea of themselves, and may have also felt broken and alone because of it. Some asexuals, before knowing of asexuality, thought they were simply straight, gay or bi people “doing it wrong”.
Depending on which parts of one’s identity that they prioritize, they may find more specific labels more useful for the parts of their identities that they more strongly prioritize.
For me, most basic part of my sexual identity is identifying as asexual. I don’t experience sexual attraction nor have any intrinsic desire for partnered sex. I can relate to many of the common experiences that other asexuals describe, on the basis of their asexuality.
For my romantic orientation, I’ve taken to identifying as quoiromantic, though I feel that gray-romantic would still work well enough. I find it very useful to have a label that’s more specific, and speaks to the particular experiences I’ve had, being uncertain whether I experience romantic attraction or not, but since I don’t prioritize my romantic orientation as high as my sexual orientation, I don’t mind sometimes using an umbrella term.
For some time though, I didn’t bother to label my romantic orientation, because I didn’t find it useful, although I tried to. The reason why I tried to focus on my romantic orientation, and prioritize it, was because this was back in 2012, when the debates over asexual inclusivity within LGBT spaces were still extremely heated (or more so than they are now). That put a lot of pressure on me to be certain what my romantic orientation is, and identify with it at least as strongly as my asexuality.
I didn’t know whether I actually experienced romantic attraction, nor towards which gender(s), and I didn’t know that there was a term for it, nor did I know that was valid. So I switched from one romantic orientation label to another, but I doubted whether any fit, so I thought none of the romantic orientation labels fit me. I felt isolated within asexual spaces because of this.
Of the four groups listed in “Prioritizing Identities”, I most closely fit under group 4 (with a bit of group 2), but I wasn’t fully aware until that post was published, that was actually a valid viewpoint to have, and that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way! When I made my comment on that post, I still wasn’t fully aware that having an uncertain romantic orientation was valid either! I felt affirmed when I saw others post that they too, are in this kind of situation.
In 2012, I didn’t outright say what I label my romantic orientation, and felt like I couldn’t until I found the gray-romantic label the next year. I thought it was close enough, and find it useful, because it doesn’t specify which gender(s) I’m attracted to (if any), but specifies that I may experience romantic attraction to a limited degree. To me, that’s what matters.
There are some labels I could use, but don’t feel much of a need to. I could identify as nonlibidoist, but to me, whether I have a libido or not isn’t a significant part of my sexual identity. It’s a useful enough label for fitting my experiences, but since whether I have a libido or not doesn’t feel like a significant part of my sexual identity, I don’t feel as much of a need to use a label for it. Few people in the English-language asexual community think it matters anymore outside of discussions about the subject, since the ABCD Types model fell out of favor several years ago.
I’ve seen others specify their aesthetic, sensual, and platonic orientations. I don’t specify mine, because I haven’t felt any need to. Others may find labels for those concepts useful, because they prioritize those concepts as being a significant part of their sexual identity.
In roughly the past year, many more sexuality labels have emerged, including some to describe specific points in the asexual spectrum. Many of these gained popularity on tumblr first, but have also spread to some other asexual spaces.
I’ve seen some people on AVEN identify as cupiosexual instead of asexual on their profiles. They may find that more specific label more useful than identifying as asexual, but I’ve also seen those who could be considered cupiosexual still identify as asexual instead, either because they didn’t feel the need to adopt a newer label, or they didn’t feel the need for a more specific label.
When using a label, someone wants one that’s personally useful, and generally one that’s also practical. However, a label can be useful without necessarily being practical!
What does it mean for a label to be practical? A label that is practical:
- Is understandable to others in the community, or related communities, without excessive explanation: This criterion may not be perfect, because in general, coming out as asexual still requires explaining it to other people, but if someone says they’re asexual in asexual spaces, it’s understood what they mean right away.
- Some would also say that a practical label is understandable at face-value to people outside the community: This might not always apply, because some people do only use certain labels within the community that they’re a part of.
- Isn’t a loaded term, or is relatively neutral in connotation: Loaded terms are easy to take the wrong way, so anyone knowingly using a loaded term, needs be prepared to explain what they mean, and why.
- Is easy for others, whom might not use the label, understand how someone else can find that label personally useful, compared to other alternatives.
When someone uses a label that’s impractical, conflict can arise between someone who finds that impractical label to be useful, and those who just see it as impractical. This is an issue I’ve dealt with first-hand.
In terms of identity, I prioritize my asexuality over my romantic orientation, over libidoism or nonlibidoism. However, above asexuality, I prioritize the rejection of sex, which might or might not be celibacy, depending on whose standards you’re using. Because this is what I prioritize first, I want to be as specific as I can. Specifically, I rejected sex for life, and for non-religious reasons, so I find it important to have a term for this.
However, this is what has put me at odds at being understood even in the asexual community, and I learned the hard way that this isn’t a familiar concept even to the asexual community, and that the one label I’ve known for the rejection of sex I was specifically trying to describe is largely impractical, and feel conflicted because I still find it useful. More about that in part 2: “Practicality is also relative”.