Why “What Is Allosexuality?” is the Wrong Question (and Hurts Graces)

So I wrote a post responding to elainexe’s “Allosexuality and Compulsory Sexuality” (pondering about how we define allosexuality as reactive) back when I first saw it…but, tumblr ate it.  Now to recreate.

I think this is the wrong approach to take.

Now, it’s absolutely a common one, and I see it everywhere.

But I most strongly remember an AVEN thread in the brand-new Grey-A subforum, in which asexual and non-ace-spectrum identified people…were viciously tearing apart greyness as a valid identity, because it must be postulating all allosexual people as hypersexual, and trying to distance oneself as “not like THOSE people,” and a faulty limited oppressive sex-shaming understanding of sexual attraction.

(I dug up those threads: the big pile-on/first. thread. in the forum, and my response; and Siggy’s attempt to address it followed by more of the same offenders.)

((Also, I just checked, and that subforum has now been subsumed by “The Grey Area, Sex, and Related Discussions”; the top two pinned threads are for “Sex-Favorable” and “Kink/BDSM.”  If you don’t see why that’s conflating greyness, with having sex, with being non-ace-spectrum…please read a bunch more about greyness. See below.))

Okay, so now that I’m upset about that again, back to elainexe’s post, and the idea of defining allosexuality.

We aces have set a point past which you become allosexual.

Have we?

I contend that no, we haven’t.  We follow self-identification, and identity-as-tool models (largely because of David Jay).

We define (or at least, I and my circle do) “allosexual” as “not ace-spectrum,” as “ace-spectrum” as “finds asexuality a personally useful and relevant concept.”

Sure, there are plenty of ace-advice blogs (as have been recently discussed by Coyote, and Siggy and other Asexual Agenda bloggers, as often run by new and inexperienced aces) that will try to set points.  To draw cutoffs and demarcate the boundaries of identities.  To define allosexuality as “x% sexual” or so forth.

But, I contend, it’s not grey folks doing that.

It’s asexual people, theorizing about allosexuality and maybe greyness.

Look:  Grey discourse exists.  It’s in queenie’s linkspam, it’s in my grey tags on tumblr and my ace tag on here and especially this linkspam post and this tiny post, it’s in Coyote’s gray-asexual tag and especially this post and this one and above all this one, it’s in the old Knights of the Shaded Triangle forums and the DemiGrace forums, it’s in Siggy’s blog when you search “gray”… It’s in the Asexual Agenda’s Gray-A and greyromanticism tags.

When we write, we write about greyness as confusing, as ambiguous, as fog and as ocean-depths, as feeling not asexual but related.

We sometimes talk about frequency/rarity of attraction.  Or narrowness of circumstances.  Or intensity of attraction.  Or attraction feeling disconnected from everything else (libido / motivation to act / general sexuality / etc).

We rarely, rarely talk in terms of a binary spectrum from 0 = asexual, to 100 = allosexual, and give ourselves a %.  (What is this, the Kinsey scale?)  Even metaphorically.

It’s usually, when we get down to it, (and yes I am postulating here based on all the conversations I’ve had and read,) not about feeling “less sexual” per se — maybe at first, as the only way to conceptualize it — but about feeling like sexual attraction is weird, is complicated, is not as simple as everyone seems to make it out to be, is…kind-of-alienating kind-of-relatable-maybe.

(That’s probably more heavily tilted towards the “ambiguous/unclear/wtf is sexual attraction/quoi?” folks like myself, and might leave out some folks.  But seriously, the numbers thing?  The rating ourselves, in comparison to sexy allosexuals?  Not common, despite what asexual people seem to think.)

And I can’t help but wonder if, since Western culture has been so thoroughly saturated with compulsory sexuality, our thoughts of what constitutes “normal” amounts of sexual attraction might be skewed.

Probably.  That certainly was my experience reading AVEN six years ago.

But so what?

So what if ace-spectrum people’s perceptions of “normal” sexual attraction are skewed?

If a grey person’s perspective is skewed — do we question their right to identify as grey?  Do we say “nope, sorry, go learn what sexual attraction is really like for most people and that includes you, these tools aren’t for you”?

If an asexual person’s perspective is skewed — do we lecture them to learn more about and be more sympathetic to non-asexual people, and debunk stereotypes?

Because those are the responses I’ve seen.  One seem more lenient than the other?  More accepting of a (by naming it, therefore chosen) identity?

I would also like to consider what makes someone gray-A.

Identifying as gray-A.

That’s it.  That’s the only thing.

Is defining a normal amount/manifestation of sexual attraction meaningful?

Not really.

Yes, a lot of people want to, in order to quantify and figure out where they are.  It’s a common question by grey-area folks trying to figure out if they’re valid, if they’re allowed to identify as grey, or if they don’t qualify because they experience too much (and it is always about “too much and too often,” not about too clearly or in too broad of circumstances or too intensely).

But that’s, I argue, because of anxiety about being allowed to use an identity tool, to say this is important and makes sense to them — or be called…you know. Special snowflake, sex-shamer, prude, who-do-you-think-you-are that’s-just-normal.

Questioning-grey folks are seeking a threshold of acceptability.  Not of actual definition.

(Especially since the definition gets so damn mangled into “rare/infrequent attraction.”)

If we conceptualize a normal that we think is high enough, might we also be part of the narrative of compulsory sexuality in this one way?

Paraphrased: “If we define ‘normal’, or allosexual, as high, is that reifying compulsory sexuality?”

This I think is a wrongly directed question.  Do we, as ace-spectrum folk, have the structural power to reify compulsory sexuality?  No.

That said, can we do damage by making it Our Model that all allosexual people experience High (normal being High) levels of sexual attraction?  Yeah, that sucks, actually (especially to people of color and other sexualized groups).

So no, we don’t want to define a Spot on the Meter of Sexual Attraction that is sufficiently High that it demarcates the boundary of allosexuality.  Both because it hurts other marginalized folks, and because it hurts grey folks too.

Do people come to identify as ace because they feel alienated or hurt by compulsory sexuality?

This is a great topic and question, because I’m absolutely certain that people who don’t identify as ace can and do feel alienated and hurt by compulsory sexuality.  And I’m also certain that some people come to identify as ace not for this reason (or at least not solely this reason).  So the research questions would be, how strongly is this a motivator to identify as ace, how do different groups process it differently, and what other ways to folks come to identify as ace(-spectrum)?

But in light of my topic:  This has little to do with defining allosexuality.

(Unless you wanna define allosexuality as, “not alienated or hurt by compulsory sexuality,” which would be quite wrong and contradict many many people’s experiences.)


Ultimately… Trying to define allosexuality, is always about trying to bound greyness.

I get that it’s a method of wrestling with “what is greyness anyway?” and trying to wrap your mind around it.  It’s very natural and common as a response.

But even if you’re questioning-grey (or long-id’d-grey for that matter), I dare say: this question isn’t going to help you.  Not if it’s about %s and numbers and drawing a line and making a rule.

What can help, I’ve found, is framing allosexuality as this:  “Not having persistent questions about, or spending much time thinking about, the experience of sexual attraction, without external prompting.”

Because honestly, that’s what I’ve found to be the difference.

And that’s way, way different from “how much sexual attraction do you experience?  (if above X you cannot rightfully be called grey.)”


ETA: I wrote this largely because elainexe’s post got picked up by the Ace News linkspams, with no commentary, and that freaked me out.  Also, please check out Coyote’s excellent, concise context notes.


8 thoughts on “Why “What Is Allosexuality?” is the Wrong Question (and Hurts Graces)

  1. Mm. Hadn’t seen that post yet, but I went and read it after reading this one, and… yeah. May write more later.

    Anyway, I think allosexuality serves a similar purpose to the term “nuerotypical.” There is no Normal Brain, but there are psychiatric and cultural expectations as to how “average” brains are supposed to work, and nuerotypicality just puts a name to that. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mm, I think I agree – I was considering making an analogy to allistic, actually, and how there are plenty of other neurodivergences that face different struggles (just like allo queer folks, poc, trans women, etc still face a lot of shit from compulsory sexuality), so trying to define “allistic” itself without just using “not autistic” is easily harmful.

      That, and like “cis,” my definition of “isn’t intenally prompted to think hard about x experience” works decently well (for now, while fewer people are exposed to ace/trans theory, and few who are then question their own identities, and few of those come out with the same one).

      Liked by 3 people

      • I guess I’m not really comfortable with “doesn’t have to think about x” definitions, because I sort of had the opposite experience on both axes – despite being asexual, I actually never really thought that much about sexual attraction until I encountered asexual communities where people talked about it a lot. It may have been partly because I (incorrectly) assumed that everyone else just thought the same way, or that I was lucky enough to be in an environment where my experience and behaviors weren’t framed as weird or even brought up that much. I never really had that existential angst over sexual attraction – I talk about it more because I’ve picked it up as one of my geeky obsessions.

        On the other hand, I actually thought about gender and had a lot more struggle figuring out what I was gender wise – but even after all that I still ended up deciding that the “cis” side of things was still closer. And there are other people who I know that have gone through that questioning experience only to decide that they were still straight or cis, but a lot of them feel like it’s inappropriate to talk about it – many only mention it if someone else does first. (I like ranting though so I haven’t really cared).

        I guess the “doesn’t think about x experience” definition strategy is uncomfortable for me because for people like me, it either makes [incorrect] assumptions about our internal experiences, or denies our personal identity decisions. It also makes queer/trans spaces even more uncomfortable for questioning people at a place like I was a few years ago, because it increases the pressure on questioning people to just “be trans” or “be queer” or “be ace”, etc. But the whole point of questioning is that you actually don’t know what fits you best yet! And I feel like defining anyone who even thinks about gender/sexual attraction as trans/ace takes away their ability to choose for themselves.

        Like, sort of in the recent discussions about “cis-by-default” and more so in some other past experiences I’ve had, there’s a trend sometime for people to react to my had-gender-issues-but-still-cis identity with things like “but you experience x! That still counts as trans! you don’t need to be afraid to be trans! that sounds totally trans! Have you thought about whether you’re actually trans?” And while I know it’s a well meaning attempt to be inclusive -that may be helpful for some people – what I hear is “the choices you have made about your identity are wrong, and we know better”, which is not welcoming at all.


  2. “We define (or at least, I and my circle do) “allosexual” as “not ace-spectrum,” as “ace-spectrum” as “finds asexuality a personally useful and relevant concept.” ”

    For what it’s worth, this has always been my personal favored definition as well.

    Also, while it’s not very good as a definition per se, the metric I’ve always thought of as useful personally for things like determining which side of the fuzzy grey borders you fall under is “does it feel like lying when you say “I am x”? For me, the thing that settled asexual as an identity for me was that it was the thing that felt the least like I was lying.

    I think it’s not necessarily good as a hard and fast rule for everyone, but it can be one way to approach thinking about the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

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