Misc. Thoughts About The Klein Grid and Why Ace Communities Weigh Attraction So Heavily

This is a submission for the October 2021 Carnival of Aces on “Attraction”. If you follow the links in the prompts, and read the other submissions from this month, you’ll see much conversation about the fixation on attraction models and why they don’t work out for many people.

Today, however, I wanted to look at the flip side of the issue: why have attraction-based models caught on so much in the first place? One thought I have – which I intend to illustrate using the Klein Grid as a reference for conventional thought about the diverse factors of sexual orientation development – is that of the many factors that can be used to determine sexual orientation, attraction-based definitions are perhaps the more accessible for people with limited sexual and relationship experience, which includes a disproportionate amount of ace people as well as younger questioning people in general.

Let’s Talk about the Klein Grid

Whenever I attend general LGBTQIA workshops on sexuality models, they frequently follow a predictable pattern, beginning with the simplest grandfather of all models, the Kinsey Scale, maybe stepping through the Storms model, and eventually working their way up with the notoriously expansive Klein Sexual Orientation Grid. In this context, it’s often framed as an example of an overly-complicated graph that gets pulled out for laughs and as a cautionary tale about what happens when you nerd out about models too much. Instead, things like the genderbread person, which distills sexuality down into twin factors of romantic/sexual attraction to men, women, or nobody in a way that resembles many of the asexual community’s own approaches to sexual orientation theory, are often presented as the more reasonable compromise. But the more I reflect on it, the more I think that we may not be giving Klein a fair shake, and that the most laughable thing in the end is the idea that the experience of human sexuality and relationships is something that could ever be simplified into a clean, numerical measure (something the ace communities own misadventures with graphs has shown us).

While it may still be up for debate whether the numeral aspect of the Klein Grid can really be useful as an actual research tool or even as a personal identity model, I do think that it’s many rows and columns do serve as a good examples of some of the many, many different factors that go into a person’s sense of their sexuality, which can include anything from sexual or emotional attraction, to fantasy, to sexual behaviours, to community affiliations, to personal and political identification, and more. Understanding that different people weigh different cells more or less heavily also helps us to understand why multiple people can take the same experiences and wind up classifying them in completely different ways.

I also think the introduction of “past”, “present”, and “ideal” (future) components – which may or may not differ – and acknowledging that they all still have an influence on our concepts of sexuality is also important. That’s because at its core, sexual orientation labels are in large part a system for taking past and present experiences and extrapolating them to make predictions (or declarations) about the future.

Consider the following definition of sexual orientation from Wikipedia (emphasis mine): “Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction (or a combination of these) to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender.”

In order to draw a pattern (like a line), a person must have at least a few points of past data to extrapolate from. Once that data is gathered, however, you can attempt to fit a path to it, and then use the trajectory of that path to both communicate current trends and to predict future outcomes. When doing this kind of analysis, it also makes sense to weigh recent/current experiences differently than past experiences, especially since sexuality can often evolve over time.

However, this idea of “enduring patterns” presents a challenge for many questioning asexual people: how do you fit a path when you have almost no data points to fit it to, and at what level does an absence of data become an indicator in and of itself?

Uncharted Territory

Going back to the earlier example of the Klein Grid, one of the first things that jumps out to me is how some of these factors were much more easily identifiable for me than others, especially when I was a young, potentially asexual teen really questioning my identity.

The first problem was that as someone who has never had sex, the past and present sections of the sexual behavior section were right out – no data there. On the same lines, as someone who had never dated, let alone fallen in love, I had no data to input for the past and present of the emotional preference section either. And without any experience to draw on, I had no idea how to guess what my future ideal might be either! (In retrospect, that big fat nothing that remained a big fat nothing for years would eventually be a clear sign, but it wasn’t helpful at an age when many of my later-revealed-to-be-distinctly-not-asexual friends were mostly not having any sex or even dating yet either).

As a questioning person, the self identification row was just a bunch of question marks, because that’s what I was here to try and find out! So no help there either.

Finally, as a high school student, my social habits and lifestyle at the time were largely determined by who I had been placed in high school classes and after school activities with, rather than any more insightful groupings (I did more of that in college and especially as an adult). So those factors didn’t provide much insight until I was much older and more socially independent.

That basically just left sexual attraction and fantasy as the only things left that I could easily use as determiners. Therefore, should it really be so surprising that many other young, questioning aces with little else to go on have also fixated so strongly on attraction as the factor to weigh most heavily?

Stuck Inside Our Heads

I think one of the most appealing things about attraction-centered models of sexuality, for both questioning asexual people but also for younger or more inexperienced people in general, is that they are (at least in theory) the easiest factors to test and draw conclusions about, because they both begin and end inside your own head.

When it came to other things like “what gender do you prefer to have relationships with” or “what gender do you like having sex with” or “do you even like sex or dating at all?”, I have no way to answer that, because I’ve never tried dating or having sex enough to know for sure what I do or don’t like, and I possibly never will. 

I can of course still attempt to infer what I would probably like or not like, based on how much I like adjacent things that I have tried – as a lifelong picky eater, I already do the same thing when deciding which new foods I want to try. For example, just as not liking beef steaks makes me doubt that I’ll like bison steaks and thus decline to order it, my own apathy for kissing and petting let me suspect that actual partnered sex won’t be that much more appealing. But at the same time, the drawback that arises with that picky eater analogy is that even if inference works 95% of the time, I can also still name a dozen times when my own guesses about what I will or won’t like have been wrong.

Because of that, there’s always a lurking doubt and a constant anxiety that comes from never having actually tested that inference. Now, I want to emphasize that I don’t think that actually testing out whether I could enjoy sex is necessarily a good idea, since the potential negative consequences of pursuing sex or romance that I’m not sure about are much riskier than just having to spit out a mouthful of raw oyster that I just reaffirmed that I hate. So I’m mostly content to leave it as an unknown. But at the same time, that leaves it as shaky territory that I don’t feel comfortable building a sexual identity on. If you tell me to choose a label based on that, I’d have been once again left paralyzed and unable to choose.

Attraction and fantasy, on the other hand, are things that are far easier to experiment with (at least in theory) – you either feel them, or you don’t, end of story. No inferences needed, no pressure to “just try” some external action to prove or disprove anything – all you need to do (allegedly) is think about it for a bit. This makes it far more accessible for people who have no experience with the other categories to draw on. And since ace communities are disproportionately likely to have young people who also have less experience with sex and relationships, it makes sense on some level why attraction has become such a heavily weighted factor, above and beyond other potential factors.

In practice, of course, things rarely work out so cleanly, especially when it can be impossible to even nail down a clear explanation of what attraction is even supposed to be, other than an occasional vague “you’ll know it when you feel it?”. In addition, it doesn’t necessarily explain why “attraction” became so highly valued in ace community models and definitions while other internal-feelings-factors like “fantasy” remained afterthoughts. But it definitely provides more food for thought.

(note: this has also been posted to my pillowfort here, if you’d like to follow any additional discussion there.)

Oct. 30th Ace Activism Panel Discussion: Beyond Awareness

Come and see what I’ve been up to lately!

While I haven’t been as active as I used to be in the ace scene over the last couple years, I’ve called up several people who are more involved to talk about their experiences with ace activism, including how they got here and advice for the next generation of budding ace activists.

In keeping with the 2021 Ace Week theme of “Beyond Awareness”, we’ll also discuss our thoughts on the future of ace activism, including how we can expand our efforts to move beyond just doing basic 101 awareness talks.

About this event:

Sat, October 30, 2021
11:00 AM – 12:30 PM PDT
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ace-activism-panel-discussion-beyond-awareness-tickets-196690495567

Join us for a casual Ace Week panel discussion about the future of ace activism, and how to move “Beyond Awareness”.

Hear from members of the AVEN PT, Ace Community Survey Team, The Asexual Agenda, The Ace/Aro Scholars Support Network, Ace Los Angeles, and more.

In line with this year’s Ace Week theme of “Beyond Awareness”, we’ll be discussing the ways that ace activism can move beyond just focusing on basic 101-level awareness campaigns, including suggestions for promising avenues for future ace activism as well as areas of unmet needs that are often overlooked.

We’ll also discuss each panelist’s own experiences with ace activism over the years, and advice for new generations of aspiring ace activists on how to get started with ace community volunteering.

We will be opening up for audience questions and comments in the latter half of the panel. If you would like to submit any questions in advance, please email sennkestra@gmail.com. (You will also be able to submit questions during the panel).

More event information here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ace-activism-panel-discussion-beyond-awareness-tickets-196690495567

We Contain Multitudes: Asexual Community as a Coalition

When I was watching the recent HHA anniversary livestream earlier this month, the presenters highlighted an old quote from one of David Jay’s posts from the very early days of modern ace communities that really resonated with me. The quote occurred in response to an email thread about questions on how to create a universal definition for asexuality, a debate which continues to this day:

It seems like a common definition is sort of problematic. Because, in the end, we only sort of have a common identity. Asexuality means very different things to each of us, and finding a definition which is all-inclusive and still meaningful may be impossible. The reason that we’re forming a group isn’t because we have a neat, common identity but because we face a common set of issues. It seems like if we form a group it should be around those issues, not around some difficult-to-draw identity line.

– David Jay

It reminded me of a similar concept in my own local ace 101 outreach work for a while now: the idea that asexuality is not a single, unified experience, but rather a similar but varying set of experiences that have just enough in common that it makes sense for us to join in a single community – a coalition of multitudes of varied experiences.

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Why I Wear an Ace Ring

This is my submission to the June 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “pride.”

This post was originally inspired by this post from the Ace Theist. I may or may not have taken 7+ years to get around to writing it, but better late than never I guess?


Several years ago, The Ace Theist wrote a post about why they wear an ace ring, and why it’s more for themselves than for recognition, that really resonated with me, especially this passage in the conclusion:

When I first bought that black ring off Amazon, I wasn’t expecting anyone recognize it for what it was.  That’s not what it’s for.  From the beginning, that ring wasn’t meant for anyone else but me.  I had just comes to terms with the fact that I’m not heterosexual, that the existence of my orientation is something that most people don’t even know about, and I wanted to wear an ace ring as a way remind myself that I’m not the only one.

Safety in Subtlety

As a matter of fact, when I first started wearing an ace ring, it was precisely because I did not expect anyone to recognize it for what it was – it was something subtle, and safe, and with a level of plausible deniability that I could easily invoke if anyone asked me about. After all, I already wore rings and other jewelry on a semi-regular basis, so it wouldn’t be that out of place. If anyone asked, I could just say that I found it at a shop and thought it looked cool.

That made it the perfect token of self-recognition and quiet pride for me, as a teenager just tentatively starting to identify with asexuality, but sure as hell not ready to start coming out about it to anyone offline. I wasn’t ready talk about it out loud yet, or to name it in words, but the ring was still a physical, tangible way to silently shout out to the unsuspecting world that hey, I’m asexual, I’m not just confused, and I’m not alone.

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Carnival of Aces December 2018 Wrap-up: “Burnout”

Last month’s Carnival of Aces was on the topic of Burnout, which I am accidentally staying true to by posting this wrap up like 4 days late…

We received a lot really great submissions – A big thanks to everyone who contributed! If I missed any entries or got any names wrong, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

The next Carnival of Aces for January is being hosted by demiandproud, and the theme is “Asexuality as a Blessing”.

Also, as a reminder, we are always looking for more volunteers to host the carnival – there’s no one lined up yet past February, so now is a great time to volunteer. See the masterpost for details.

Without further ado, here’s all the submissions:

Today in Asexual Media Imagery: The Birds and the Bees

Apparently the hip 2018 trend in “omg they aren’t having sex” article stock photos is a feud between the birds and the bees. It’s like an evolution of the classic “stock photo couple standing as far from each other as possible” trope.

From the Atlantic:

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From Healthline:

From the Montana Kaimin:

Also, apparently the bird and the bee are a heterosexual couple, so if you write an article about whether gays and lesbians are having less sex you need to use two birds instead.

December 2018 Carnival of Aces call for submissions: “Burnout”

This is a call for submissions for the Carnival of Aces, a monthly asexuality themed blog carnival. You can find the roundup of last month’s submissions for the theme “Carnival of Aces” here.

Anyone can write a post – to be featured in the carnival, just post a link to your article here in the comments or shoot me an email at sennkestra@gmail.com. No worries if you don’t have a blog – we can host posts for you here as well.

Submissions are due by December 31, but if you think you might take a little longer you can just shoot me a message to let me know and I can hold a spot for you :)

This Month’s carnival theme is “Burnout”.

We’re now a few weeks out from Asexual Awareness Week – one of the most active weeks of the year for ace activists, bloggers, and other ace community members. But as amazing as it is, the frenzied pace of activities that week can also be a major source of stress that can put ace activists at risk of experiencing burnout – the state that results when the continued stress of an activity becomes overwhelming, to the point where individuals may find themselves less and less able to continue with it.

Burnout can manifest itself in many ways. Sometimes it’s like an exhaustion that just leaves you too tired to get anything done. Sometimes it’s a paralysis of indecision that causes you to freeze up for fear of making the wrong choice. Sometimes it’s clouding of judgement that leads you to  do or say things you wouldn’t do otherwise – which can even lead to lashing out at the people you were originally trying to help.

There are ways to try and manage burnout (by taking breaks, or venting to outside support groups, or being more selective about the projects you take on, etc.) but sometimes it’s unavoidable – and all you can do is figure out how to recognize it and move on from there.

For this month’s carnival of aces, I want to talk about the experience of burnout in ace communities – whether it’s burnout from big activist activities like hosting events or running blogs, or from the daily grind of microaggressions, not-so-micro aggressions and the constant cycle of coming out (or being unable to come out).

Some possible topics include:

  • What are some of the common signs of burnout?
  • Have you ever experienced burnout before, in ace activities or otherwise?
  • Are there any strategies that you find helpful in avoiding or delaying in burnout? Or, on the other hand, are there certain situations that you find make you burn out even faster?
  • One strategy for avoiding burnout is to give yourself breaks and less stressful distractions. Are there any activities that you like to use as a break from ace community stressors?
  • Another strategy for avoiding burnout is to have safe places to vent, away from the communities that are the center of the stress. Do you have anyone who you feel you can vent to like this?
  • Have you ever been able to overcome burnout and return to something you once had to drop? Or, are there any activities that you’ve had to just give up because of the risk of burnout?

ACHA-NCHA II and Asexuality: Initial Explorations

Since I don’t actually have time to do any deeper analysis anytime soon, here’s a brief peek at my initial graphic representations of data from the NCHA over the last several years, both before and after adding “asexual” as an option for sexual orientation.

As I’ve written before, the NCHA is a neat dataset because it’s a decently large, randomized, recurring survey that (as of the last several years) has collected data on asexual identity. The fact that it’s a biannual survey that switched from having only a few sexuality options to having both asexuality and several other emerging identities also gives some potential insight into how changing question wording changes responses – because while trends in sexual identification change over time, the ~6 month period between surveys is brief enough that you can at least make a reasonable guess that a large part of any discrepancies between the before-and-after results is likely at least in large part due to the change in survey structure.

For the chart below, I’ve broken out how the approximate percents for each sexual orientation category have changed over the years. Surveys from before the addition of asexuality are marked in red, and surveys from after the addition of asexuality are marked in blue. When reviewing the chart, however, please keep in mind that results here are affected by many factors, including sampling pools that differ somewhat year to year, survey structure, change in identity trends over time, and simple random chance; this preview does not include any analysis that could determine which changes are significant enough to be simply a result of chance so you have to take any seeming trends with a grain of salt.

*Please also note that I’ve taken a few liberties in grouping similar categories from the pre-2015 and post-2015 in order to save on space – these groups are not necessarily directly comparable due to differences in survey wording (especially in the case of “unsure” and “another identity”), but they are thematically similar enough that I find it interesting to group them adjacent to each other. I’ve also lumped together “Gay” and “Lesbian” in the post-2015 data for convenience when comparing to the pre-2015 group “Gay/Lesbian”.

**I also haven’t double checked for typos (hence the axis with decimal instead of percent units) so if you want to do any serious analysis, I suggest you start with the raw NCHA data here.

NCHA 14-17 TableNCHA 14-17 Straight ChartNCHA 14-17 Non-Straight Chart

If you find this kind of data interesting, definitely check out the original NCHA reports page. I’m also happy to share the excel files used here upon request.

Milestones and Priorities

This is a down-to-the-wire submission to the April Carnival of Aces, “All the birds but us…”.

For a long time – including the period when I started and was most active on this blog – I mostly thought about big life choices like having kids or a committed relationship as an abstract yes-no-maybe proposition. As a young person, the get good grades > get into college > pass your finals > get an apartment > get a job pipeline was clearly defined and kept me busy enough pursuing the next stop on the line that I never spent much time looking at anything further down.

But then, eventually I got my degree. And I got a job. And I got an apartment. And then  I found myself out of easy milemarkers to aim for next.

In the stereotypical american success story, the next big steps to aim for might look like this:

> Find a romantic partner

> Get married

> Buy a house

> Have a kid (or two, or three)

But now I’ve found myself stuck: As an aro ace, I don’t particular want a partner. Housemates are definitely nice, but I already have those, and the idea of something like a queerplatonic partnership is not unappealing, but it’s also not something I’m really motivated to seek out. And without a partner, the question of whether or not to get married is moot.

A house, on the other hand, is a milestone I’d very much like to reach. But I also live in the bay area, with no plans to relocate any time in the foreseeable future, and my income is about 3x too low to even start thinking about purchasing a house here. Which means that this milestone is effectively postponed for at least a decade or two.

So, then, that leaves kids. And that’s where it gets tricky. See, in theory, I do want kids. But my desire for children is a very conditional one: I don’t want to be a single parent by choice – I’d only want to make the choice to bring kids into my life if I had a dependable partner with which to raise them. Except, if you remember two paragraphs ago, I’m not really looking for a partner. So there’s a bit of a conundrum.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve found myself at a point where, instead of thinking about how to achieve new milestones – or even whether I want to achieve them – I need to start thinking in terms how much I’m willing to prioritize them above other things in my life, and how much work I’m willing to put into pursuing them:

Instead of asking myself, “Do you want to own a house” (yes), I need to ask myself, “Am I willing to change cities and possibly careers for the chance to own a house (A: short term, no, but I would be willing to reevaluate that in a few years if my social group starts to settle down and spread out).

Instead of asking “Do I want a relationship” (yes), I need to ask myself, “To what  extent am I willing to put deliberate effort into seeking out social spaces and proto-relationships that could lead to the type of relationship I prefer?” (A: not very much, especially not for anything past housemates. I’ve realized that while I like the concept of queerplatonic relationships as an abstract, it’s also just not something high on my agenda. Examples of items higher on my agenda at the moment include fairly trivial things like “make a postage stamp quilt” and “eat some cornbread with honeybutter”.)

Instead of asking “Do I want children?” (yes), I need to ask myself, “Do I want children enough to seek out and dedicated myself to a partner(s) solely to raise a child? Or enough to raise a child solo”? And although it hurts a little to admit, the answer here is again….I’m not sure I do. And that’s also something I’ve had to come to terms with.

It can be a little sad, sometimes, to realize that the numbers game and the difficulty of building alternative relationships just makes it that much more unlikely that I’ll ever meet some of these milestones, even though I’d like to. But at the same time, I think that the complexity of being ace and losing that default guide to life plans has helped in some ways, by leading me to actually sit down and hash out what my priorities are, not just what goals I’ve been taught should come next.

And while my current situation and priorities does mean that some of my original life goals have been set back or set aside, there’s still lots of room to build new ones. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, I’ve taken the opportunity to start pursuing new goals – things like finally taking a trip abroad that I’ve been wanting to try for years, or deciding to learn a new craft, or deciding to incorporate an organization.

 

“Asexual” Updated in the OED

(Take that, “but that’s not what the dictionary says” sticklers!)

This March, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which is widely considered the most comprehensive of authorative english language dictionary, released a new update that included major additions and expansions to sexual and gender identity terminology. (This is part of a series of ongoing revisions, with new releases roughly every three months, as part of the process of generating the third edition of the OED).

Part of this update was a major overhaul of the entry for “Asexual“, which has been greatly expanded from the original 1989 definition by the addition of several different “senses”, or possible meanings of the word. Each sense was also given additional dated historical use sample citations from various primary sources. [A/N The entry for “asexuality” and was similarly updated. I have not transcribed it here since it follows similar lines, but I could add it in a separate post if there is interest.]

The actual OED definitions are behind a paywall, but if you have a library card there is a good chance your library already subscribes, so you can login with just your library card number. If not, you can look below the read more to view the relevant excerpts with links to full PDF snapshots.

Overall, as an ace and an amateur linguistics enthusiast, I have to say I’m pretty well satisfied by this update – at least as far as “asexual” and “asexuality” goes. Now we just need to coax them into adding ace, aromantic, and all the other community lingo…

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