In the Feb 2022 Call for Submissions, I invited all to conceptualize asexuality through a lens other than attraction. It is not as if this has not been done before. It most certainly has, but those conversations perhaps did not gain as much attention as they deserved. So, for my contribution, I decided to look through a few past carnivals that had potentially relevant themes for the kind of discussion I was looking for. I am including links to the carnivals and to a few posts that I wanted to highlight because I thought they were interesting. Of course, I have not captured everything. I only looked at carnival submissions and only the ones that are still available (many posts are no longer available). I also did not look through every single carnival. Regardless, I am putting this linkspam out there to encourage all to go back and look at some of these articles that have discussed asexuality from diverse perspectives.
For the April 2014 Carnival, VioletEmerald (the host) encouraged participants to use an analogy lens: think about their life experiences and whether they could think of something unrelated to sex, attraction, etc. that was similar to their asexual experience. To that end, there were two pieces (one by VioletEmerald and the other by Sara K.) that compared the experience of asexuality to the experience of not drinking or not liking alcohol. (There was a similar article in the December 2011 Carnival on Attraction in which Audacious Ace compared the asexual experience to the vegetarian/pescatarian experience.) Also in this carnival, Queenie, Jo, and Hezekiah discussed how their life experiences have shaped their experience of their asexuality and are inseparable from it. The first two posts emphasized how saying “asexuals are just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction” minimizes the complex experience of asexuality.
January 2015 – Robin Enby – “Nonbinary people and asexuality”
The January 2015 Carnival included several posts that explored asexuality through a gender lens (or more like through a genderless lens). Gender and sexuality do tend to go hand-in-hand in cishetallo narratives: people can express their sexuality through their masculinity or femininity, whether that is through appearance or through gender roles. Most of the submissions in this carnival were from people who identified as non-binary / agender / intergender / genderless, and they wrote about why it was difficult to separate out that gender identity from their asexuality. (Reading through the posts in this carnival reminded of Blue Ice-Tea’s posts on gender, which are about thinking about herself as a “woman” without identifying with a gender.)
Relatedly, the May 2019 Carnival also had posts on similar themes. Danielle shared snippets from a research project about how traditional gender norms have affected how aces view themselves or understand themselves. Demiandproud wrote about finally being able to separate “feminine” and “sexual”: “After I discovered I was demisexual, I gradually stopped worrying that I somehow presented myself as sexual. Being “feminine” and being “sexy” diverged in my mind for the first time.”
May 2015 – Becoming a Person – “Identities, Labels, and Models”
Many of the posts in the May 2015 carnival explored asexuality through a relationship lens (or through a lens of how you relate to other people) as well as through a lens of life experiences.
Queenie’s Five Factor Model of Relationships (which I’ve referenced in my original “Beyond Attraction” post) was written for this carnival. I think this model, and the related Anatomy of Relationships model are much more useful concepts in understanding what you are and what you need rather than trying to understand whether or not you experience “romantic attraction” (or how you experience it). What’s really relevant, is what you need from relationships.
Sara K. talked about the fact that the asexual identity is salient only because we live in a world in which we are a minority: we need a word to communicate how we differ from “the norm” and to find others who can relate to our experiences. lengray talked about understanding their aro-ace identity through the relationships that they’ve had or that they’d ideally like to have. Coyote explained that to understand asexuality (or any other label), the definition itself might not be enough. Sometimes, (and I daresay, usually), what is required is exposure to the stories and experiences of those who do use that label. And I will pull out a quote from VioletEmerald‘s submission that captures all of this:
“The fact that I have no sex drive feels likely extremely related to my asexuality in some way, but practically speaking, it is usually irrelevant. What is more relevant is the fact that I’m not looking to be in a typical sexual relationship so if you suggest it then I’m going to turn you down. What is more relevant is the fact that I don’t relate to comments about how hot the actor is in my favorite TV show. What’s more relevant is if I want to fill out my sexual orientation on Facebook or at a doctor’s office or when filling out a long anonymous survey for my roommate’s psychology class, I wish there was a “none of the above” option, but it’s not there, and I’m stuck. What is more relevant is that the community of like-minded people I personally happened to find weren’t other people with no ability for arousal or orgasm — it was a group of people who have “asexuality” in common, regardless of any other factors we may or may not have in common like romantic orientation, libido, sex-aversion, or a number of other factors.”
October 2015 – From Fandom to Family: Sharing My Many Thoughts – “Aromanticsm and the Aromantic Spectrum”
Many of the posts in the October 2015 carnival used an attraction lens, focusing on romantic attraction; but I’m not going to focus of those. But there were some posts that looked at relational lenses. Laura said: “as someone who is aromantic, I relate to others in a profoundly non-normative way … I don’t understand how to build the kind of relationship that I want.” Kiowa talked about her relationship(s), but concluded that even if she didn’t understand what “romantic attraction” is, she could understand that her real need was commitment. Writer Ace tried to figure out their orientation based on their past relationships. Elizabeth also talked about her relationship and how she and her (for lack of a better word) partner had to learn to navigate it when the traditional scripts for romance weren’t working for them. Rotten Zucchinis talked about attraction having nothing to with wanting/forming QP relationships: “For me it’s all about the interaction, and whether on a very basic the interaction “works”.“
Talia thought about it in terms of preference: “Since I didn’t have a preference, that must mean I liked everyone! In retrospect it would have been good to ask myself, do I not have a preference because I’m equally romantically attracted to people regardless of gender, or do I not have a preference because I’m equally romantically attracted to no one?”
Rotten Zucchinis took a political view of orientations: “the creation of “sexual orientation” was a by-product of a struggle and resistance against state-sponsored violence (and the violence of medical pathologisation).” (Source: Jonathan Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality, New York: Dutton, 1995.) The conceptualization of orientation began when social and political systems tended to dictate a narrow way of being, and conceptualizing orientation was a way for people to even consider the fact that there could be different ways of being.
November 2015 – (A)Sex and the City – “Reasons I Should Have Known I Was Asexual” & January 2017 – Ace Advice – “Many Ways to be Ace” & November 2017 – WUT – “Questioning, Exploration, and Mislabeling”
As the titles of the themes of the November 2015, the January 2017, and November 2017 carnivals would suggest, there are a lot of contributions in which the authors discussed discovering their asexuality based on their life experiences, how they viewed the world and society, and how they related to and interacted with others.
I won’t summarize them because I’ve already given some examples of articles that use this lens. However, I will give one shout out to a powerful story by WUT (heads up for tw) who says “[exploration is] not always just finding a label that fits: it’s also about accepting yourself and defining your boundaries.”
April 2019 – From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts – “The Five Love Languages”
Love Languages are one of the ways to understand or conceptualize your identity/orientation and I had written about them in my (original) “Beyond Attraction” post and in my post about what affection means to me. Even if love languages are not comprehensive enough or even if they don’t take non-American cultural norms into account, they provide a useful tool to understand individual differences. And understanding individual differences is important to understanding what makes you you.
August 2019 – The Demi Deviant – “Deviant Identities”
In the August 2019 carnival there were 2 submissions with an interesting societal lens. Ace wrote about alienation as part of their asexual experience and Demiandproud wrote about how asexuality enables us to challenge societal assumptions: “Asexuality upsets both traditional and modern ideas about sexuality, often at the same time.“
January 2020 – Ace and Aro Acts – “Conscious and Unconscious Difference”
Sennkestra described asexuality with a wide lens: “Among asexuals, some come to the identity because they don’t feel sexual attraction; others don’t like sex itself, others prefer not to pursue sexual relationships (regardless of whatever other internal feelings they have, some just find it hard to figure out any answer to “what gender of people are you attracted to” other than just, “none?”. There’s also huge variation when it comes to whether people feel averse/indifferent/favorable or just confused when it comes to sexual acts, what kinds of relationships people prefer, and more.” And also added: “In effect, it can be helpful to think of these groups as “coalitions” – comprised not of a single group of people with a single identifiable shared experience, but as constellations of related experiences that are just similar enough to find it useful to develop new shared concepts, terminology, and support spaces.”
Sara K. used a lens of being able to relate to others in a post titled “We’re Bad at Understanding Behavior Based on What We’ve Never Experienced.” Perfect Number‘s post with a personal story illustrates Sara K.’s point.
January 2022 – Bring on the Pigeons – “Divergence vs Convergence”
And last but not least, in the most recent previous carnival, we talked about experiencing asexuality in either a convergent manner or a divergent manner with other experiences (e.g. aromantcism, gender identity, and so on.)