Monday, 15 November 2010

Operational definitions: Where things get technical

First- time for a short squeal of delight. A personal first: Someone I know mentioned the split between romantic and sexual attraction without being asexual or, to my knowledge, knowing an asexual. This made me fiercely happy. It also gave me the perfect conditions with which to bring up asexuality for the first time with my LGBT, but various people interrupted and the topic moved on to something different.

Anyway, I’ve been stumbling across a new way of defining myself for a while now, and I think I’ve finally got it sorted. It reconciles asexual and homosexual in a way that demihomosexual never did for me.
It’s based on the idea that sexuality has a number of ways of defining it, subtly different in ways that normally don’t matter. The three which I’m largely thinking of are:

The social constructionist:
Sexuality is defined by identity, feelings, belonging. It isn’t prescriptive or intuitive. Whatever labels fit, stick. It’s also very generic and vague, offering absolutely no definitions of what sexuality is, how important sexual attraction is, etc. In being open, it is blurred and unspecific. According to this definition, I’m asexual.
The asexual:
A definition of sexuality created by people who were told about sexual attraction in the assumption that they’d already know about it. A logical, thorough image of sexuality, like painstakingly painting around something invisible. Very much based on the word attraction. Compartmentalised, due to the difference in the romantic and sexual feelings of many of its creators. I’m guessing I’ll get a bit of flak for saying that asexuality doesn’t reflect reality, but my point is that nothing does. Not completely. I think the asexual theory is utterly awesome because it’s the only one that really looks deep into the complexities of what orientation means. Under the asexual definition, I’m homosexual.
The behaviouralist:
Defined entirely by how you act/want to act. A pretty sucky approximation for orientation, but it has in its favour the fact that it’s actually more important than orientation, in a real-world kinda way. In this sense, I think I’m bi.

The nice thing about this is that it gives me a reasonably succinct description of my sexuality that invites dialogue and hints at the complexities involved, while referencing all the identities that are important to me (my preferred label, my technical label, my behaviour). It’s way better than the “Don’t know, not sure how to say it” that I’ve been trying for recently, which is so difficult to make not sound defensive. Instead, I’ve got “depends on what definitions you use. From a general understanding, I’m asexual. From an asexual understanding, I’m homosexual. From a behavioural understanding, I’m bisexual.” Which is- well, it’s the most compact I’ve got it since I gave up being asexual, and it makes me feel so much happier than any partial label.


  1. On the first: oh, that is fantastic! One of the things I really would like to do is create a space for either aromantics in general or people of mismatched sexual and romantic orientations, sort of like AVEN was for asexuals. I feel like a real space for those kinds of discussions could be helpful for a LOT of people.

    On the actual meat of the post: I actually really like the description you give of asexual definitions of orientation being like "painstakingly painting around something invisible." Because really, that's what happens when people talk about something you don't experience as though it's universal. And of course no definition of a thing which is not actually experienced by the people trying to define it is going to be perfect.

    And hey, compactness is always good, especially when you have to encompass such a difficult topic as sexuality into the whole thing.

  2. It'd be so wonderful to have a resource for people with compartmentalised sexualities (I like my word compartmentalised, but we'd need something snappier. And robes). The problem is that it'd be so, so difficult to really take off, considering how much comes from AVEN, and how unlikely it is that anyone with non-asexual compartmentalisations would find it. I'll talk to the guy who made the comment, see what he knows that we don't.
    It'd be wonderful to have another community coming from asexuality, using that theory, that isn't asexuality.

    "no definition of a thing which is not actually experienced by the people trying to define it is going to be perfect."
    It's a wonderful irony of the asexual community that I think we've managed to define what we don't know in more detail than the people who know about it.

  3. I like "compartmentalized" better than "mismatched or aromantic," if that helps. (Robes! Like wizards!)

    And yeah, it really would be hard to make take off. But I mean, I have a friend that I heavily suspect is aromantic heterosexual, and I was looking for resources for her a few weeks ago, and there was almost nothing for me to shove at her that made any sense if you're not coming at it from a position which is steeped in asexual culture.

    I actually was seeing a bunch of compartmentalized-sexuality type secrets over on the Queersecrets tumblr--I don't know if you saw that? I mean, people specifically identifying as heteroromantic homosexual and vice versa, mostly, but a couple of other sorts as well. (I saw a lot of people going "oh... I'm this. FUCK." Which makes me think, you know, support systems are probably going to be really useful.)

    I have absolutely no idea how something like that would take off, though. I know that there's been a lot of spin-off asexuality forums recently, what with AVEN being rather drama-filled of late, but all of them are pretty quiet right now. I think the main problem there might be making such a place visible to compartmentalized-orientation people, and I'm not sure how one would go about doing that without a fairly active and committed group of posters around to keep the conversation going.

  4. Yeah, compartmentalised is better than mismatched, and would kinda do for a technical term. However, I think the very idea of romantic or affectional orientation, (which is possibly as well known as asexuality), would be a good thing to build the community around (and then make it clear that the focus is on any kind of different orientation).

    So how do you make a forum? I'm guessing it's kinda difficult/time-consuming?