A/N: So, Tumblr’s seems to have have updated something on the site that now completely messes up the text order of posts on my main page (even if they display ok on the dashboard), so I’m crossposting my recent reply here for anyone who wants to read it in the actual correct order:
On November 19th, I sent this ask to Metapianycist:
Hello! This is nextstepcake messaging you from my home blog. I had a question about your coining of “allosexual” – was it at all inspired or influenced by Eve Sedgewicks work on the “alloerotic” at the time? There’s a new book out which has a minor citation that cite’s sedgewick’s work as the ace communities inspiration for creating the term, which doesn’t sound quite right to me, but I wanted to reach out to you first as the actual expert before making any comment in case it is in fact true.
The next day, they responded:
I checked my posts tagged allosexual to see if I could provide sources for you, and I found a post where I referenced scientific usage here. The work I cited at the time (I linked to this page) was the following, which uses the words autosexual and allosexual in its abstract, to describe sexual behavior as self- or other-directed, respectively:
I don’t think I have ever heard of Eve Sedgewick’s work on “alloerotic.” I was thinking only of “allistic” when I decided to create the word allosexual. Here’s a post from 2015 where I say I modeled allosexual based on allistic (which i did before I discovered the clinical/scientific usage): https://metapianycist.tumblr.com/post/130278620588/queerascat-epochryphal-epochryphal
I am very curious about this new book and its citations? Because it is definitely not the case that I referred to any academic work on sexuality/eroticism when I decided to coin “allosexual.”
To which I replied with a probably overly long response:
Thanks for the elaboration! That jives more with my own memories – I was one of the cranky people who complained at the time that allosexual was going to be confused with “allosexual” (as opposed to “autosexual”) in sexological works, which ended up not being much of an issue at all in the long run, but I remember that that point didn’t get pointed out until fairly retroactively after it started gaining traction, and even then all the citations of outside works (whether in favor or against the term) were all referring to the use of “allosexual” in sexology, and in my memory at least never mentioned Sedgewick at all.
Original Text of that Claim
Here’s the original excerpt that I was referring to – it’s from Ela Przybylo’s new book “Asexual Erotics”, which is heavily based on a feminist/queer studies approach that includes a lot of Sedgewick references and draws heavily on Audre Lorde’s concept of the “erotic”:
“…Further, spectrum labels such as “gray-A”present opportunities for troubling a stark division between people who are “sexual” and “asexual” because they challenge the sexual presumption, or the idea that being sexual is the default and neutral mode of being. As asexual writer Julie Sondra Decker indicates, another term that challenges the assumed neutrality around being sexual is “allosexual”, which, derived from “alloerotic” in Sedgewick’s work, has been in use by ace communities to refer to people who are sexual. (24)″
-“Asexual Erotics”, by Ela Przybylo (page 8 of the paperback edition)
The referenced citations are Julie Sondra Decker’s “The Invisible Orientation”, which defines allosexual but makes no reference to Sedgewick:
“In referring to people who do experience sexual attraction….other attempts to establish a name for the majority include allosexual (prefix allo- means “other”), consexual, monosexual, alisexual, *sexual, and even zedsexual (like a reference to the opposite end of the alphabet from asexual), but none of these are universally accepted as of this writing. (Allosexual is probably in the widest use, but because it is easy to misinterpret it’s meaning as “people who are attracted to all”, the term may fall out of usage)
– Julie Sondra Decker, “The Invisible Orientation”
(and yeah, that section is really showing it’s age now…)
The other citation is Eve Sedgewick’s 1990 “epistemology of the closet”, which uses alloerotic in an offhand way in a few lines during sections elaborating on the diversity of sexual experiences:
“Some people’s sexual orientation is intensely marked by autoerotic pleasures and histories—sometimes more so than by any aspect of alloerotic object choice. For others the autoerotic possibility seems secondary or fragile, if it exists at all.”
“Other dimensions of sexuality, however, distinguish object-choice quite differently (e.g., human/animal, adult/ child, singular/plural, autoerotic/alloerotic) or are not even about object choice (e.g., orgasmic/nonorgasmic, noncommercial/commercial, using bodies only/using manufactured objects, in private/in public, spontaneous/scripted).33 Some of these other dimensions of sexuality have had high diacritical importance in different historical contexts (e.g., human/animal, autoerotic/alloerotic). Others, like adult/child object choice, visibly do have such importance today, but without being very fully subsumed under the hetero/homosexual binarism.”
-Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Epistemology of the Closet”
For what it’s worth, I have only skimmed the introduction so far, because that’s the part that deals most directly with self-identified asexual communities, and also because I realized I should probably read Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic” first so I understand more of the references.
Overall, I think it’s mostly a pretty decent overview of asexual communities and terminology, especially compared to other academic works. It’s mostly just a few small points that really stuck out as like, “wait, no, what are you even talking about?”
There’s one other part, though, where they introduce a triad of “sex positivity, sex neutrality, and sex repulsion” as an observation credit to Mark Carrigan….which, well, he was the first to introduce those terms to academia, but he drew that dichotomy directly from asexual community discourse. Also, as you may have noticed, it perpetuates the common mis-assumption that “sex averse” or “sex neutral” are opposite ends of a single axis with “sex-positivity” (which is a wider movement outside of asexuality), whereas most ace activity community sources will contrast those first two terms with “sex favorability” instead (referring strictly towards attitudes of personal interest), with sex positivity and antisexuality as a seperate axis around attitudes towards the sexual behavior of others. To be fair, this is a problem that likely stems from the original Carrigan, which conflates “sex positivity” and “anti-sex” attitudes and “sex repulsed” and “sex neutral” as all part of the same spectrum.
On the other hand, many (most, actually) of the other sections describing asexual terminology refer to the popular “Taking the Cake: An Illustrated Primer” zine, or other community sources like AVEN, Decker’s book and the (A)sexual documentary, and do actually quite accurately credit and define ace community tecrminology and concepts.
Honestly, I want to say that most of the chapter is actually pretty decent. But that just makes oversights and dubious claims like the thing about allosexual and Sedgewick stick out like a sore thumb even more.
One guess as to how this happens is that, as a queer and feminist scholar, Przybylo was exposed to a lot of Sedgewick, and not as much exposure to online tumblr ace chatter, autistic community chatter, or sexological works. So if Sedgewick was the only place they had heard that term, they may have just made a careless assumption that it must be linked and never bothered to fact check.
If that’s the cause, I think that part especially irks me though because it’s not like this is ancient history where everyone is dead and we just have to make guesses while peering through the murk of centuries. It took me less than 24 hours to find the post referencing who coined “allosexual” in the ace community sense, shoot off a quick message, and get an incredibly helpful response with linked citations. These things are so easy to fact check, especially when so much ace community history is online and easily searchable.
On the other hand, though, Przybylo seems much more connected to ace communities and their discussions than most asexual research scholars, which makes me doubt whether this was really just accidentally cluelessness – I get the impression that they could have figured out where to check this info if they really wanted to. Which makes me wonder if instead, they deliberately chose to highlight a (plausible, if not actually correct) connection with Sedgewick in order to get buzzword points and queer/feminist scholarship cred and draw closer ties between ace community Sedgewick’s work to bolster their own references to Sedgewick elsewhere. Which, if it is the case, feels disingenious.
(However, to take my own advice, I’ll probably reach out to them eventually to suggest retracting that claim in any future publications / present my suggestions / ask if they have any alternate sources for that claim that they are drawing on – but I want to have time to actually read and digest the full book in case there’s anything else (good or bad) that I want to reach out about, or anything later that gives this more context. So I also want to be careful about drawing too many firm conclusions before we actually ask the author about it.)
The other weird thing about citing Sedgewick is that – Sedgewick doesn’t even seem to be presenting this as a novel term of their own invention? It’s just thrown out offhand as if the reader is already familiar – which they may well be, as alloerotic (and it’s counterpoint autoerotic) have been thrown around in sexological literature for decades before Sedgewick’s Epistemology of the Closet was published. So it’s weird to present it as if it’s a term they invented in any sense of the word.
Going back to a broader level, however – I think part of this stems from the widespread academic culture of disdain for more informal community sources, especially online sources like blogs – I suspect that’s why we see several references to zines (Taking the Cake, the Brown and Gray zine) and zero references to blogs or other online essays. It’s also likely why the sex-neutrality bit cites Carrigan’s paper rather than any original community source – the unfortunate fact is that loading up more academic and print secondary source citations and avoiding “unreliable” online and community primary sources is how you get things published in traditional academia. That leads to a push to try and find academics who are restating community claims who can be cited instead as “more credible” sources, even when they might be much less accurate.