Labels, Labels, Labels

Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my views may have changed since this was first written.

This post is for the May 2015 Carnival of Aces.

I think I put across the impression that I like labels, but that’s not quite the case.

Don’t get me wrong – I love having tools to describe myself and my experiences. Beginning to identify with ‘asexual’ (which I did a year ago this month!) was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve met some great people, found a world that I finally understand… it’s been really awesome.

But sometimes I look at my labels and want to hit my head repeatedly against a wall. Calling myself ‘sex-averse/repulsed/indifferent/negative asexual, grey/wtf/demi/possibly lith/aromantic’… well, it’s a mouthful – and it’s a mouthful that tells me that a lot of the labels and models that I currently have access to aren’t quite working for me. As someone who needs an explanation for everything, I find it frustrating.

Of course, if this was my psychology class, someone would shout out that this whole labelling thing is clearly too reductionist to work – I should see myself as the confused creature I am and leave it at that – but there’s something very satisfying about being able to describe your experience in one word.

So what do I do? Do I pick one of these words out of a hat? Find the one that’s closest and hope it works for me? That’s sort of what I’ve been doing recently (if someone asked I’d probably just say ‘greyromantic asexual’), and it does work for the most part… but I’m an ace at heart, and the urge to find a model that works is consuming.

The problem is that I don’t have a clue how models even come about. Does one just throw it out there and see if people agree with your assessment of the situation? And where do you even get the ideas from?

I guess that the first step is to look at what isn’t working with what we’ve got currently.

The main problem I have with favourable/indifferent/averse or repulsed  is that I can’t put myself in just one of those categories for every situation. For some things, I’m severely repulsed; for others, I’m just a bit averse to the idea; on occasion I might even be described as ‘favourable’. The implications of ‘wanting to have sex’ for favourable and ‘sex-negative’ for repulsed make things even more complicated; using this frame of thinking suddenly becomes not just about how you react to or feel about sex, but about how likely you are to have sex and your political stance on it, which makes it a minefield to get through.

As for the attractions model… I almost feel bad for criticising it when I loved it so much when I first found it, but it just doesn’t work for me anymore. Aesthetic attraction, for me, seems most often to be more of an appreciation than some sort of magnetic force, and this model doesn’t explain why I can look at people and feel what I could only describe as sexual attraction while somehow knowing that this probably wasn’t what the rest of the world feels – that this attraction has nothing to do with sex but… something else. Or maybe it is sexual attraction; maybe it’s just too low-level to really make any impact. Perhaps it’s just a mixture of lots of different types of attraction. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I can’t split what I feel into sexual/romantic/aesthetic/sensual anymore. I no longer see a huge divide between romantic and platonic love, either, although the attractions are different enough. But if the model isn’t getting at what I want it to get at, what’s the point in using it?

I wonder if the problem with both of these labelling systems is the same; if creating systems that would make sense to a layperson work. By using words that are already in circulation, perhaps we’re forcing ourselves into boxes that don’t quite fit and mean different things to different people. While they’re relatively knew, places like arcresources and the aro community (which isn’t that new, but a lot of the terms are) seem to be doing quite well with simply making things up to fit the experiences they’ve had or see other people having; it takes away the problem of connotations, and allows people to make their own box. For those people like me who don’t actually understand their own feelings, that gives us a wealth of vocabulary we wouldn’t otherwise have that at least allows us to describe what we know we don’t feel.

It might make things more convoluted, but with how little I understand my own feelings, confusion is probably mandatory. The only downside is that this probably means that I can’t use the term ‘wibbly-wobbly’ for my romance/friendship model.

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One thought on “Labels, Labels, Labels

  1. I think I read and reblogged this on tumblr back when you first wrote it for the May 2015 Carnival of Aces, so over a year ago. But now it feels way more personally relevant? It probably felt a bit personally relevant back then too but now it’s like screaming at me “Ah this is kind of me”, especially in regards to aesthetic attraction being more like appreciation or all the confusing romantic orientation words. Thanks for spelling it all out like this. I really appreciated re-reading this today.

    Liked by 1 person

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