The many ways to be a ‘gray-A’

I just came across this fascinating post. It’s worth reading in full. I have a lot of thoughts about ‘gray-A’ as a category – at some point I need to clarify these. The basic point in the post is the heterogeneity of ‘gray-A’ as a category. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is how it’s defined on the AVEN wiki:

Asexuality and sexuality are not black and white; some people identify in the gray (spelled “grey” in some countries) area between them. People who identify as gray-A can include, but are not limited to those who:

  • do not normally experience sexual attraction, but do experience it sometimes
  • experience sexual attraction, but a low sex drive
  • experience sexual attraction and drive, but not strongly enough to want to act on them
  • people who can enjoy and desire sex, but only under very limited and specific circumstances

Similarly, some people who might technically belong to the gray area choose to identify as asexual because it is easier to explain. For example, if someone has experienced sexual attraction on one or two brief, fleeting occasions in their life, they might prefer to call themselves asexual because it is not worth the bother of having to explain these one or two occasions to everyone who asks about their orientation.

My reaction to this category was complicated. I was initially struck by the obviousness with which I fell into it, though I’ve never felt any inclination to actively identify with it. The author of the blog post is criticising a tendency to impute homogeneity to those who are ‘gray-A’:

I am gray-A, and I am very vocal about it.  I’m not just a hypothetical counterexample, I’m right here and I won’t let you forget it.  I could write a long series about it, ranging from personal experiences to theorizing.  I can’t think of a better place to start than at the definition.

The first thing I tell people is that gray-A is that space between asexual and sexual.  This is a convenient lie.  It conjures up an image of a one dimensional spectrum, with asexuals on one end, and allosexuals on the other.  This allows for different kinds of gray-As, but it places the different kinds in a hierarchy.

[Image description: A one-dimensional spectrum from allosexual to asexual.  Different kinds of Gray-As correspond to different spots on the spectrum.]

But in fact there are many ways to be gray-A, and they don’t fall on a straight line.  A gray-A can:

  • Experience sexual attraction only infrequently.
  • Flip back and forth between experiencing sexual attraction and not, over a period of months.
  • Experience sexual attraction very weakly.
  • Experience attraction that may or may not be called sexual, since it shares some characteristics with sexual attraction, but not others.
  • Experience sexual attraction only in specific and narrow circumstances.
  • Be uncertain about whether they experience sexual attraction.
  • Experience sexual attraction, but be missing some other important component, like sex drive.

But there’s a degree of ambiguity inherent in this. There might be “many ways to be gray-A” but to what extent does this reflect identification and to what extent does this reflect categorisation? What fascinates me about the category ‘gray-A’ is the extent to which its coherency is consistent with its scope. I think an awful lot of people potentially fall into this category a lot of the time. But what does it mean to ‘fall’ into this category?

I had a thought provoking conversation with David Jay a couple of years ago about the potential benefits and pitfalls in using ‘gray-A’ as a category to promote asexual visibility. As the author of the quoted post puts it, “A gray-A is someone who finds asexuality to be a useful idea, in the sense that it approaches a self-description, even if it does not quite fit”. But ‘useful’ here is not something that is set in stone. Why is it useful for some people to define as gray-A but not for others? How should the variability of this category’s usefulness shape how we see the category itself?

It’s an elusive category. The author of the blog post I’m responding to is writing in opposition to a tendency to treat ‘gray-A’ as a homogenous category. But I suspect this tendency is motivated primarily by a desire to respect the category. Once you start recognising the heterogeneity of the category of ‘gray-A’, it seems to me that a fascinating space of questions begins to open up, pushing agains the boundaries of a dualistic discourse framed in terms of allo-sexuals and asexuals. What is a gray-A? A gray-A is someone who falls between ‘sexual’ and ‘asexual’. But what does it mean to ‘fall between’ these categories? This strikes me as a radically queer question. It also strikes me as a profoundly sociological one. This is a question which cannot be answered in the abstract.

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