In Flux: A Gray Manifesto

It occurs to me that although I started this blog specifically to talk about issues that affect gray-asexuals, I haven’t actually addressed the issue directly, except on my about page.

So to rectify this, I want to go into more detail about my personal identity, my political identity, and my reasons for choosing to present myself to the public the way I do, even though that public identity is too stark to match up with my true identity.

I am out as an asexual to everybody I associate with for long enough that the subject comes up (which is usually fairly quickly, though not in the case of professional associates and extended family members). I am out as gray-asexual to only a select few. This is because most people do not have enough of a conceptual background in asexual discourse to understand what I’m talking about, and do not care to acquire it. Which is just as well, because most of the time I am not willing to spend so much time educating others on the particulars of my existence, especially when they would like as not reject it anyway. I only trust those details to those few who are either asexual themselves, show a keen interest in asexuality, or those I would be intimate with. In that latter case, I will quite patiently and persistently attempt to build understanding, but it’s an absolute deal-breaker if I ever determine that it’s impossible to create. No exceptions.

A certain portion of the people I come out to refuse to believe that I’m asexual. Usually if that happens, I distance myself from that person, except if it happens to be a family member or someone that I have to associate with for some other reason. I have been called delusional for expressing my identity as an asexual person, but nothing could be further from the truth. The people who say that are so totally clueless, they have absolutely no idea what goes on in my head. How could they? I am so careful of expressing it, there is no way they could understand.

There is a tendency for people who have just recently learned of asexuality to dismiss the idea, and in doing so they also dismiss the people as naive, unadventurous, narrow-minded, or whatever else. To those people, any explanation of asexuality is not an explanation of something carefully examined in a clear-headed manner, but a rationalization of something that is untrue, a covering-up of repressed reality. To anyone who has any real understanding of and experience with the asexual community, the idea is laughable, but for these people with such a shallow notion of what asexuality is and what it means to be asexual, it is the truth.

To express my grayness to these people would only further strengthen their conviction that asexuals are just a bunch of people who can’t accept themselves as they are. It would take too much effort to rid them of that notion, so usually I just don’t bother; the one time I did, I tried and failed hard. It requires a total mastery of articulation, an ability to excise one’s thought process from one’s head and lay it out so soundly that there can be no doubt of one’s reasoning. I don’t have that ability. And even if I did, it’s exhausting and painful to do, all the more if the person doesn’t appreciate what a tremendous effort it takes. I can’t, and won’t, deal with it unless I am dealing with a truly exceptional person. Otherwise, it is not worth the effort.

While many would take my grayness as a sign of something that I’m repressing, I see it as a sign that I’m staying open to all possibilities. Asexuality is not a concept I cling to, to the exception of whatever potential I might have to enjoy sexual fulfillment. On the contrary, I actively examine myself on a regular basis to determine that I am indeed being true to myself. Many times people have said to me, “Have you ever considered that maybe [you were traumatized/you haven’t met the right person/etc.]?” as if the thought has never occurred to me, or ever even been brought up to me, before. Yes, I have considered it. Of course I have considered it—how could I be so thoughtless as to not consider it? I will not say I have considered everything, because that’s just inviting something I hadn’t considered to come and prove me wrong, but I have considered my own orientation, in all fairness, damn near exhaustively given the evidence I have, and I continue to examine it as new evidence comes to light. I have in fact engaged in more vigorous introspection with regard to my sexual orientation since I began identifying as asexual than I ever did before. Asexuals are a highly diverse group, and even knowing I’m asexual is not enough to know what other preferences I have, or where my limits are with regard to physical activity. Arriving at the conclusion that I am asexual was not the end of the road—it was just the starting point.

Before I realized I was asexual, I actively refused to deal with sexuality of any kind. I was celibate, and would remain so until I met this mythical “right person” who was supposed to awaken my sexuality. Until that happened, I wasn’t interested in dating or anything. And I intended that even when I met this person, I would wait to have sex until I was absolutely certain I was ready for it, and until we had developed a relationship that could safely support it (even then I had abandoned the arbitrary after-marriage limit and decided to rely instead on my own personal judgment). This way of thinking was taught to me by the religious community that I grew up in, and although I realized fairly early that I wasn’t actually religious, I accepted it simply because it seemed the most prudent thing to do. Eventually I realized that my idea of sexuality was completely different from the rest of my peers’ experiences of it, and that essentially, I was wrong. I still didn’t understand how I was different or why, until a few years later when I began lurking on AVEN. The ideas expressed there gave me a framework for understanding something that I could never have previously explored, because I didn’t have the instincts or experience to know what everyone else meant, so I couldn’t even begin to define myself.

After identifying myself as asexual, I stopped thinking of myself like a little flower bud that would one day bloom, like something incomplete and immature. All those romantic notions about meeting the “right person” to sexually initiate me went right out the window (especially since shortly after that I began dating a fellow asexual). Ironically, now I do believe I have met the right person to sexually initiate me, but being with him didn’t magically make me sexual. It wasn’t like I imagined at all; but now I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, it was identifying as asexual that led me to stop thinking of myself as celibate, and thus opened me to the possibility of engaging in sexual activity.

Of course, I am not just ace, and that’s the end. No. It doesn’t work like that. Since I gained a basic understanding of what sexuality is, I have continued to try to further that understanding to the best of my ability. The problem is, my identity as an asexual person is contingent on the frequency with which I experience sexual attraction, and given that I don’t supposedly experience sexual attraction (at least not frequently or intensely), how am I, in practice, supposed to even know what sexual attraction is?

In order to be sure I’m being true to myself and not just in denial, I constantly monitor myself to be sure this mental construct I call my identity is consistent with reality. There are times when I think I might have experienced sexual attraction, but on some level, I continue to think, “What the fuck does that even mean?” I mean, it’s like, I look at someone and feel some sort of mental arousal (that is to say, arousal of imagination) towards their body, but although I would like to get physical with that person, I don’t really want to have sex with them. At the same time, I wouldn’t necessarily mind going all the way, if that’s what they wanted to do. It’s just not really what I personally have in mind.

When I was younger, I never really experienced this. There were a few people that I thought were beautiful, whom I would covertly stare at whenever I could get away with it, but that’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t want to touch them. I didn’t want to talk to them. I didn’t get any butterflies or whatever. They were just pretty. When I first began identifying as asexual, this purely aesthetic attraction was all I had experienced (well, that and intellectual attraction, but we’re talking about physical things here). Back then, I couldn’t imagine myself ever having sex with anyone, so it was pretty clear to me that I was asexual. But since I allowed myself to consider the idea that maybe I could have sex with someone even if I’m not sexually attracted to them, my imagination has gradually opened up to the possibilities.

Every time I consider the possibility that I have experienced sexual attraction but not recognized it for what it is, I ultimately conclude that what I have felt is basically sensual, rather than sexual. But there is some level of overlap between sensuality and sexuality, and what I perceive as purely sensual, most people probably would think of as being sexual, so in that sense, I’m in a sort of gray area already. In theory, I can make the distinction between these different types of attraction, but in practice, it gets more muddled, especially when you throw in the level of emotional connection I have with that person into the mix.

In most cases, it’s pretty cut-and-dry in terms of emotions, because the people I think are hot are people I don’t know. With M (the only person I know in real life that I have ever felt that physical/sensual attraction to), it’s much more difficult to determine what’s what. When I first met him, the possibility of getting into any sort of interpersonal relationship with him was just about the farthest thing from my mind. If I was attracted to him at all, I just thought he had a nice voice. Other than that, I thought he was weird (I mean that as a compliment), and I was glad that he was at least not as annoying as my other classmates, but I wasn’t particularly intrigued. I must have recognized on some level that I had piqued his interest, though, because shortly thereafter I had a dream in which my subconscious mind basically predicted exactly what happened between us (on an emotional level, in that strange symbolic way that dreams operate).

After having that very strong intuition about him, I started to pay more attention to him. It was only then that I started to be attracted to him, mostly because of his intellect and personality. If I had never met him, and just seen a picture of him, I would never have given him a second glance, but because of the blunt force of his personality, I eventually began to consider him more and more attractive, physically speaking. His body type is not what I would normally consider attractive (and yet it is, and it’s weird, wtf—and his personality is also one I’d both expect and not expect to fall for, how confusing!). Sometimes I look at a picture of him and think, “How in the hell am I attracted to that?” His parents have two very different body types, and they combine in him in some awkwardly disproportionate, not terribly attractive ways—broad shoulders, girlish waist, knobby fingers, protruding veins—and yet there is a certain beauty to it that I’ve learned to appreciate, I suppose in part because I do tend to like Japanese features, but mostly because of this emotional connection I have to him. Apparently I just have a weird sense of what’s attractive though, because the general consensus seems to be that he is hot (whatever that means).

Looking back on it, I guess we always had an unusually touchy-feely relationship, because I remember him starting to invade my personal space from the very first day we met. Usually I keep a pretty wide bubble of space around myself, but I pretty quickly got used to him touching me in ways that nobody else was allowed to do, and eventually in less innocent ways as well (which I really wasn’t too thrilled about at first). As my attachment to him grew, so did my desire to be physically close to him, but I held back because I didn’t want him to think it was sexual. (He did anyway.) At the same time, I was considering whether or not it would be a good idea to try having sex with him, just to see what it was like, maybe get used to it enough that if I should get into a relationship with a sexual person later on, I would be able to accommodate them. In a way, I also wanted to test myself to see how far I could go without getting hurt. I tried to communicate with him several times and failed, because I had never tried to articulate any of this before, and in some ways I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. Several times I came to a decision by myself, but then when I went to talk to him about it, he pissed me off and then I was no longer sure if I wanted to have anything to do with him. Back then, I was really pretty tense about it, because I had no idea what was going on, or if it was worth it to continue, if I wanted it to continue, or even if he would agree to continue if I asked. But at the same time I felt intuitively that it had to go on, that it was very important to for us to continue being whatever we were, and that we would definitely meet again.

Eventually we came to some sort of elephantine barely-spoken agreement, that much to my annoyance he didn’t discuss with me, so I was never entirely sure if he truly understood what I wanted. (Although, how could he understand when I only had a vague idea myself? Still, I had hoped that in discussing it I could illuminate a little more of what I was thinking.) I didn’t really have the chance after that to bring it up to him in person, due to the circumstances, and for the next six or seven months we lived in different cities, and communicated only over the internet. During this time, I began to really miss seeing him in person, hearing his voice, feeling his touch. All the while I was still falling ever more soundly for him, until eventually I had to admit to myself that I was in love with him. I began to actually want to have sex with him, purely out of the desire to make him happy, all other practical considerations aside. Which is, ironically, exactly why I thought I would want to have sex back when I was too young to understand that sex was something that other people actually enjoyed, rather than just The Thing You Do. (Funnily enough, what with all the ads about How to Have Better Sex, it seemed like something nobody really enjoyed that much to begin with.)

This newfound altruistic desire, plus my sensual attraction to him, plus my idea that I would like to acclimate myself to it enough that I could actually enjoy it at least on a physical level (certainly never got to that point), all combined in such a way that it seemed as if I might have been developing secondary sexual attraction to him. I didn’t know. I still don’t know, because since the relationship was cut off so suddenly, I can’t discount it as a possibility that I might have developed a kind of sexual attraction to him entirely contingent on my emotional attachment to him, had the relationship continued. Near the end, I was conflicted, because I wasn’t entirely sure that my desire to have sex with him was still purely altruistic, or if I was beginning to attach an emotional significance to the act myself. It’s quite possible, I suppose, that that basically is the definition of sexual attraction, at least of a certain kind. I still do have trouble figuring out what exactly “sexual attraction” is supposed to mean, anyway. It’s more than just wanting to have sex, because it involves certain reasons for wanting to have sex, and not others. I am fully aware that some of those reasons are emotional rather than physical, and it’s those ones that make me wonder if, should the definition of sexuality be expanded somewhat, maybe I might count as a sexual person.

The problem is, it’s hard to get people who identify as sexual to clearly elucidate what those reasons are, and exactly what emotional significance they attach to sexual acts. I can’t really compare my own experience if I don’t know what they’re talking about, after all. Fundamentally, though, I don’t see sex and love as being connected. I can be in love with someone without ever wanting to have sex with them (and in fact, even if I want to in theory, in practice I tend to be bored and detached), though when I’m in love with someone I do tend to want to be physical with them on some level, even a level that borders on sexuality. I like what most people consider foreplay, but to me it’s not really foreplay—it’s just play. It can physically arouse me, but not really to the extent that I want to “get off.” Mainly I just ignore physical arousal when it happens, or I don’t even notice it. I know I can get off because I’ve been able to give myself orgasms before I even knew what the word meant. I just don’t ever really feel the need for it, least of all when I’m with other people. I dislike penetrative sex because it’s awkward and painful, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do during it. It’s possible that I could learn, but ultimately I just don’t feel any reason to try. Even if I manage to enjoy it someday, it’s not going to be something that I miss when I’m not having it. (Well, it’s possible I suppose, but I *highly* doubt it.)

It seems to me, that what I enjoyed about having sex with M the one time I did enjoy it (on a non-physical level), was more the sense that I was (finally) with him (again) than any real desire to do what we were doing. He was good about keeping me engaged that time (rather than thinking about homework), and we had had a long make out session before, so I was more than happy to oblige him even though it was painful for me. I enjoyed it because I love him, and I love that I can do something for him that makes him happy. Because he approached it in a way that my efforts seemed appreciated, I could keep up my enthusiasm, but later on, under much less ideal circumstances, that enthusiasm dropped considerably, and ultimately broke my confidence. None of that seems like an attitude that a sexual person would take, so ultimately, after so much consideration, I still have to conclude that I’m asexual, even if I’m a slightly borderline case.

It’s possible, again, that I’m actually “demisexual” (I kind of hate that word, but how else to describe it?), but I can’t know that for sure until I get into a sustained, safe relationship (not necessarily a romantic one, but I’ll discuss that later) with someone I love (though that person would have to be sexual, or else it wouldn’t occur to me to want to have sex with them in the first place) in order for me to see how my emotions toward that person develop. For now, I’ll rely on inertia, assume my feelings would stay status quo, and say I’m A. Even if one day I do end up identifying as sexual, I would be hyposexual at best, so I do think it’s still important to be able to describe myself in terms of having very low sexual desires, and the asexual community has given me the tools to do that. Again, I can’t even imagine myself in any sexual situation without that kind of consideration and flexible working-around-it approach.

I’ll wrap this up, because it’s long enough as it is and my thoughts are starting to unravel. I’m not sure if any of this has been even remotely coherent, since as it occurs in my head, my thought process tends to be quite circular, and often I will be thinking about the beginning of my train of logic concurrently with its conclusion, while leaving out the steps in between. This is why I am so inarticulate when I try to speak, because I need time to organize what I’m trying to say and fill in the (humongous) gaps. And this subject is particularly confusing, even for me, so I’m not sure if it makes any sense at all to other people. The ultimate point of this little exercise in futility is to show a little bit of what goes on in my head, and how my identity is not a single decided thing that I don’t even think about, but something, by contrast, that I am constantly thinking about, to the degree that the questioning is simply a part of me, a part that keeps me on the right track (and it’s not just asexuality, either; I always try to stay self-aware). Sometimes I will go through periods where I’m leaning more towards thinking that I might almost be sexual (or rather, be able to form a sexual identity if I wanted to go through all that work), and then other times I think, “Who am I kidding? There’s no way!”

Oddly, being with M has both confirmed and called into question my asexual identity many times over. Although I’ve thought at times that I might be developing secondary sexual attraction to him, at the same time, I never felt more asexual than when I was lying in bed with him, wanting to do nothing more than lie there and listen to his breathing, feel the warmth of his body. My sexual identity is in constant flux, and ultimately, I have learned to embrace that changeability as part of my identity, rather than worrying about “solving” the conflicting desires once and for all. It’s almost like embracing a range of different moods, rather than trying to figure out which is more me: me when I’m happy, or me when I’m mad. I am who I am, no matter what mood I’m in. The way I present myself to other people has more to do with how I need them to approach me, than how I really think of myself. I am fine with painting myself in stark lines, if it gets someone to stop making false assumptions. To those who can handle it, I will reveal myself in all my true, glorious colors.

So Joy Davidson can suck it. I’m pretty damned open-minded and flexible, and this is not a sign of repression but a clear-headed examination of subjective reality.

2 thoughts on “In Flux: A Gray Manifesto

  1. Nice manifesto! I have the tendency to think everything into a bloody pulp, and when people ask “have you considered…”, it always takes me a while to realize that they can’t actually see into my head. (Also takes me a while to realize that not everyone over-analyzes everything as much as I do…) I liken it to people that say, “You know, you’re breaking out a little…” as if you didn’t already know and were self-conscious about it!


  2. “I like what most people consider foreplay, but to me it’s not really foreplay—it’s just play.” Yeah…. Exactly. Just play, as in, not having to lead to some mythical “more”… Perfectly satisfying in and of itself. An exploration, a sensual communication. Acknowledging each other’s physical presence, being in that space together. Nothing to achieve.


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