“My Identity Is Not An Umbrella Term”: Asexuality and my role as a demisexual person

This post from The Thinking Aro is very important

“Asexual” is not an umbrella term.

“Aromantic” is not an umbrella term.

“Ace” is not an umbrella term.

“Aro” is not an umbrella term.

A demisexual is not an asexual. A gray-asexual is not an asexual.

A demiromantic is not an aromantic. A gray-romantic is not an aromantic.

“Ace” is short for “asexual,” not for demisexual or gray-asexual.

“Aro” is short for “aromantic,” not for demiromantic or gray-romantic.

I’ve been thinking about this post every day since it originally went up, and I want to do bunch of things here.

Most importantly, signal-boosting. You should all read the whole thing. It may not be an easy read for you if you are (like me) demi or grey-a, but it is vital that you do so. There is a lot of white-hot anger here, but please don’t let that make you disregard it; know that that anger is coming from a place of hurt, and a place of marginalization, and recognize it and own it as something you may have contributed to. You may disagree with some of the rhetoric used, but please do not focus on the details here, because the point being made is far too important to waste time splitting hairs.

This post is important to me, because although I have definitely had instincts telling me that it would be somehow appropriative of an experience I do not really have to describe myself as ace or asexual, I also know that I have not always been vigilant about listening to that voice inside me.

This post reminds me that while I am demisexual, and that is a real thing, and it is a thing that it is important to talk about, and it even makes me a part of the asexual community in some ways, none of this makes me asexual.

This post reminds me that my primary relationship toward asexuality and asexuals and aromantics should be one of allyship, not that of a peer. I do not know what it is to be asexual or aromantic, and I never will. And my demisexuality does make me privileged relative to asexuals; society is better set up to accommodate my experience of sexuality and my ways of organizing my life and relationships, and being understood is easier for me than it is for asexual people.

This post reminds me that it is important to keep asexual and aromantic narratives in the centre, to boost asexual and aromantic voices as much as possible both within and outside of asexual communities. Demis and grey-as often outnumber aces and aros, and our voices threaten to silence those most marginalized among us, and we need to pay attention to that tendency and do our best to stop it.

This is also complicated for me, because most of what I write about comes from a place rooted in lived experience, but what I can do, and need to make more explicit effort to do, is always, always take the time to step back and acknowledge the ways in which my experience is not an asexual experience, even while it may contribute to a larger examination of sexuality that includes asexual experiences.

This post has deservedly humbled me, and I am writing this to commit to remembering this feeling, and moving forward with it in my heart. I hope that some of you will hear its call as well.


  1. Hmm… as a grade-A asexual person, I’m torn by this. One the one hand, I totally understand where the author is coming from. On the other, since allosexual and asexual can be seen as very binary terms, I also understand using whichever one works best for you as an umbrella term on top of your actual identity. It does cause confusion, I know… hmm. I’m going to have to ponder this.

    1. I’d definitely be interested to hear what your pondering brings out! I do think it’s a complicated issue with some real grey areas as well; I just couldn’t turn away from the very real and legit feelings in the original post.

  2. Tbh, as someone who has only struggled more with the question of whether I’m asexual or demisexual since I discovered asexuality, I find this very excluding.

    My main quandary in determining this is that I am a CSA survivor since age 3. I have literally no way of knowing where my CSA ends and my asexuality begins. I don’t know if I’m sex repulsed or triggered by seeing people performing (real or acted) sex acts in front of me. My abuse primarily consisted of my being coerced to masturbate in front of my abuser–so is that why I find partnered sex more appealing–less terrifying and intimidating–than masturbation? Or am I allosexual and sexually repressed and in denial? Am I sexually attracted to my partner, or am I aesthetically attracted to her and just like having sex with her because I’m in love with her and like the emotional closeness? How does one know the difference between aesthetic and sexual attraction, especially when the idea of sexual advances by a stranger–no matter how physically pretty, I don’t care if it’s Angelina Jolie or Mischa Collins–makes them (me) want to put a back against my wall and arm myself with a knife just in case?

    I understand why this blogger feels defensive. But in trying to hammer down exclusive, utterly clear definitions of what is and is not asexuality, they are erasing and quite possibly excluding many asexual people with CSA or SA in our histories, with mental illness, with enough shades of gray in our lives that we haven’t lived the normative asexual experience. I deeply dislike the idea of labelling someone “not asexual enough” based on a strict set of standards. That kind of policing is just awful.

    So am I supposed to call myself pansexual and get constantly policed by people who say I can’t be because I rarely have sex–like before I IDed as ace? Am I supposed to accept policing from people who think I’m not ace enough, call myself demi when I’m not sure it’s true to placate others’ insecurities? Can I no longer call myself ace because I’m not 100% sure that’s where I fit?

    This is why I mostly just call myself “queer” these days. It leaves so much less room for people to argue with and police me, and tell me how I’m allowed to self-identify. I need umbrellas, because edging my way under them is the only way I’ve never been able to get a foot in the door of the queer community. Not all of us fit into a neat little box–not even once we’ve discovered identities that feel like they fit pretty well.

    1. Thank you so much for mentioning this – it is definitely true that in general one of the things I’ve always liked about asexual communities is the lack of label-policing. The usual attitude is that if a label is useful for you in some way (either for yourself, or for communicating something about yourself to others), you should use it, and if it isn’t, then you shouldn’t.

      Having room and being welcoming for people who don’t know what’s up with them is definitely very important, and I’m not totally sure how to reconcile that with the Thinking Aro’s post, either. Though, I do still think their points with respect to people who are definitely demi are pretty on point, in that I definitely do need to be better at not over-stepping myself, etc.

      And I mean, I definitely feel you on the importance of umbrellas, since I use them in most of my identities. I don’t know what your feelings are about grey-asexuality as an umbrella for questioning potential aces? My gut tells me that the problem with grey-a as an identity is that it is less effective as a tactic for shutting down unwanted attention/advances than a straight-up asexual identity, but for general self-understanding purposes, it might still be helpful for you? <3

    2. ER, maybe a more concise way of putting some of that would be to say that I am not totally convinced that the suggested to solution to the Thinking Aro’s sense of marginalization within their own community may not be quite the best, but that I still think the general sense of the very real need to maintain a focus on the asexual parts of asexuality is extremely important. Bleh.

  3. I’m highly dubious of the identity policing in the linked post. I identify as ace, but I did go through a long period of wondering whether or not I’d ever experienced sexual attraction, and so the fact that the definition was very flexible did help me become comfortable with the idea of being ace. I don’t think making the definition stricter has enough advantages to outweigh the disadvantages to questioning/unsure people who may be turned away from identifying as ace for fear of being appropriative even though the community may be able to help them (and they the community). There are massive issues in society with respect to sexuality, and policing the definition of aceness won’t resolve them.

    Also, personally, I’m worried about the problem of proving a negative: identifying as bi/pan/lesbian/gay/straight is all based on experiences of attraction. Asexuality is built around the lack of said experiences. I get as annoyed as anyone if people say “but how can you be sure/just wait a bit longer and see” when someone comes out as ace (and hence this bit is strictly about myself, other people may have entirely different experiences/thoughts), but truth is: personally, I am not 100% sure that I will never experience sexual attraction. I don’t think it’s likely that I will, given that I haven’t so far, but I do think it is possible. And the idea that the identity police will kick me out of the asexual community if that ever does happen is really quite scary. In the end, what is the difference between “never having experienced sexual attraction and not expecting to” and “having experienced it once in a lifetime, and not expecting it to repeat”? (Other than being certain what sexual attraction feels like, which would be exciting :P) I just don’t think it’s possible to draw a line between “‘true’ ace” and “ace-spec but not ‘true’ ace”, and I think it’s a really terrible idea to try. (The “true” being so dodgy it gets double scare quotes.)

  4. I’m glad to see a bunch of comments here, because I had so much to say when I first read this post of yours this morning, but it felt too daunting to be the first commenter considering the content of what I wanted to say. I already had read this particular post from The Thinking Aro, even if I haven’t read much of their stuff lately… and it had made me so uncomfortable and to see you praising it, well… it definitely took me aback.

    Now I’ve had way too much time to think and I have written WAY TOO MUCH below. Please forgive me. I could’ve made this my own blog post but… whatever I’m just posting it here.

    I’m not sure if you read this: https://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/%F0%9F%96%87/ (the blog post by Coyote in reaction to something Jo said, and also all of the comments…) But while I take note of your: “You may disagree with some of the rhetoric used, but please do not focus on the details here, because the point being made is far too important to waste time splitting hairs” I feel very uncomfortable with the entire post, as a whole, with the entire point being made. I don’t think it’s splitting hairs.

    I stopped following The Thinking Aro back when they were The Thinking Asexual, stopped wanting to read their blog a while ago, and a large part of the reason why is because of this kind of sentiment, this elitism, this gate-keeping and taking what are sometimes good ideas way too far. Queenie quoted another one of The Thinking Aro/The Thinking Asexual’s posts here: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/ace-survivors-as-rhetorical-devices-part-two-using-ace-survivors-to-win-political-arguments/ as an example of using Asexual survivors of rape and sexual assault for… for shock value. There is just so much to The Thinking Aro’s posts that warrants criticism, and this is DEFINITELY one of those posts.

    I think I agree, much more strongly, with THIS reaction post: https://fractalofloops.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/come-stand-under-my-umbrella/ than I do with yours. Dendritic Trees says, “I will say this for The Thinking Aro, they always make me think, even if sometimes, what I’m thinking is, ‘please stop’.”. I feel the same way.

    It would be easier for me if all asexual people were exactly like me, yes. It doesn’t really matter if that’s true. Of course it would be easier if I could come out as asexual and it was possible that someone would really know exactly what that meant for me. But that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where some asexual people masturbate, but others not only don’t but also CAN’T. We live in a world where some aromantic asexual people knew that they never wanted to even try dating, ever, possibly before puberty, and other asexuals got married and then later found out about asexuality at age 40 after decades of difficulties and may never decide to look into romantic orientations at all to see what does or doesn’t apply to them. We live in a world where some asexuals enjoy sex but still identify strongly with the asexual community, while others are extremely sex-repulsed. We live in a world where the definition of asexuality is in flux: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2015/11/21/ambiguity-is-ordinary/ and where sex-favorite aces who do not identify as gray do exist. Etc, etc, etc.To act like there is one idea of an unassailable asexual, a gold-star type that is “really” asexual, and everyone else should just count as gray dismisses the truth that so so many asexuals who are NOT gray experience: http://queenieofaces.tumblr.com/post/96381155003/august-2014-carnival-of-aces-round-up

    So I’m pretty sure it hurts EVERYONE, not just the gray-As and demisexuals, to identity police in this way.

    And why can’t “ace” be a good umbrella term, even if we accept the idea that maybe asexual itself isn’t an umbrella term?

    This makes me think of something like “bi” meaning bisexual, and a biromantic asexual being told they aren’t allowed to consider themselves bi.. it makes me think of aces not being allowed to use the word queer to describe themselves, or of all sorts of other gate-keeping. Ace did come from phonetically shortening Asexual, yes. But asexual is also an adjective evolved to mean something broader as far as I can tell, an umbrella or spectrum or set of related identities. That idea is widespread, and I think ace should definitely be allowed to encompass that. And I don’t really see how it’s a huge problem to just let that be.

    I think if the word “asexual” itself ends up sort of being an umbrella-ish term too, it’s also going to do more to help people than it is to harm them. I think an Asexual group that meets, in person, also should welcome demisexuals and gray-A people, or an online forum catering to asexuality should expect people with related, gray, demi, etc identities to probably want to post, especially if people who are still figuring themselves out are going to be welcome. Especially since it can take time and trying on different identities before figuring out which one really fits.

    I do think you’re right that within this problematic blogger’s mess of an angry post there is something to take away. Actually, maybe that is more true when it comes to THIS other post of The Thinking Aro’s, from November: https://thethinkingasexual.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/the-asexual-and-aromantic-identity-spectrums-dont-make-sense/ because it’s a bit less angry.

    Personally, I think from an analytic, philosophical, cautiously skeptical mindset it is usually a good thing to question things instead of taking them for granted, to consider if maybe our categorization systems need changing, etc. I would love to have a conversation about it, I would. But to just tell your fellow demisexuals that they are hurting asexuals when they use the terms ace and asexual as umbrella terms in their own lives, to sometimes describe themselves… I don’t agree with that. I am asexual, even a type of asexual very similar to how The Thinking Aro identifies (not interested in sex, romantic relationships, etc) and I don’t think any demisexual people were hurting me. I think it’s *certainly* hard to be asexual, especially this kind of asexual. But I don’t think that any of this stuff which The Thinking Aro was describing has really been the root of the problem.

    1. Thank you for your comment here. Sorry I’ve taken so long to formulate a response!

      I think the general sense I am getting from everyone’s responses here is that the level of identity policing indicated in the original post is very very bad, and I definitely agree with that, because leaving room for questioning and uncertainty is really important in these kinds of identity spaces, where we’ve been raised a world that implicitly and explicitly gaslights about te existence of asexuality in the first place, so a lot of uncertainty comes with the territory and should never be used to invalidate anyone’s identity (I feel extremely similarly about gender identity, too).

      It’s made me reconsider exactly what it is that resonated with me about the post in the first place – I do think that it is important for me, as someone who is definitely demisexual, and not asexual in the strict sense, to remember that distinction is important, and to remember that in many ways I am privileged relative to other folks in asexual communities, and that was the main point I was trying to commit myself to remembering when I wrote this post.

      But yes, also, I am very glad to have been pulled up short on implicitly supporting the rest of the content of the original post :)

  5. As an asexual person I have always known asexuality as an umbrella term.

    Most ace people, when finding out asexuality, will be questioning whether or not they have actually experienced sexual attraction.

    Asexuality, as such, covers the sexuality quoisexual. It covers rarely feeling sexual attraction, it covers not feeling sexual attraction until a strong emotional bond is formed.

    No sexuality or gender identity has an entire community that experiences it exactly the same. The term bisexual can cover from hetroflexible to homoflexible. It’s an umbrella term for anyone who feels comfortable under it (Dont label people as any sexuality, if they feel uncomfortable with it. dont erase their identity).

    I’m nonbinary. It’s an umbrella term. It’s also the entirety of my gender identity. No term under the umbrella is what I label myself as, instead, simply: nonbinary. I do not get mad at genderfluid or demigender people calling themselves nonbinary because: It’s a spectrum.

    Asexuality is an umbrella term and unites grey-a, demisexual and asexual people under one common title.
    As an asexual: The poster of My Identity Is Not An Umbrella Term, is undereducated on these terms and very angry and dismissive of demisexual people.

    If you fall under the asexual umbrella, You have a right to the label asexual

  6. I’m pretty much as asexual as they come – no sexual attraction, no libido and sex-repulsed. Personally I’m fine with demis or grey-aces calling themselves ace, but not asexual. But I’m not going to pitch a fit if you call yourself asexual – I’ll just be confused.
    A few years ago, though, my reaction was quite different. I used to think only aces with no libido or sexual attraction at all should call themselves that. I felt very alienated by the “asexuals can masturbate too!” sort of thing in the awareness messages, because I couldn’t relate to that at all. I felt like people were ‘stealing’ my label and using it to describe experiences that were almost as foreign to me as allosexual experiences.

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