Back in 2014, the ace community as a whole started talking about the trichotomy of sex-favourable, sex-indifferent and sex-repulsed aces, and the problems of making space within the ace community for aces who might fall under any of those hats, and thus might have different or even conflicting needs. This quite quickly became emotionally-laden, as summed up in Siggy’s post on the see-saw cycle; more importantly (and more problematically), almost all of these conversations were predicated on the existence and mutually exclusive nature of this trichotomy.
Recently, Talia posted about not knowing if any given ace might like sex without asking them, using Schrodinger’s cat as an analogy for any given ace’s position on sex. While the basic thesis of the post (that you can’t know someone’s opinion on, really, anything without asking them) is very true, this has brought the trichotomy back into clear focus, with blurring of the lines that only goes one way. That is: Talia mentions in their post that repulsed aces might want to have sex (so they’re presumably not defining ‘repulsed’ as ‘not wanting sex, thanks bye’, although I think that’s a pretty common definition), but they don’t suggest that it might go the other way, that sex-favourable people might not want to have sex. Instead, they mention in a comment that ‘I am not sure how often other sex-favourable aces think about sex, but it’s definitely on their radar and they definitely care about it’, and suggests that if someone doesn’t, then they might be sex-indifferent or sex-neutral. I think this is an example of the trichotomy being twisted to fit somewhere it doesn’t: either these do describe your willingness to have sex (in which case, ‘repulsed but also favourable’ doesn’t make sense), or they don’t (in which case, the assumption that sex-favourable aces have sex on their radar and care about it falls down).
When I started dating my ex, in 2012, the general tenor of the ace community at the time was that you had three options if you wanted to date someone: date an ace (who presumably wouldn’t want sex, not that that caveat was ever given); be polyamorous so that your non-ace partner can fuck someone else (because having sex is a need, etc); or compromise and have sex yourself (because: need). My ex wasn’t ace, and I was too insecure to be poly, so… (To be clear, I of course can’t blame the ace community for my own decisions, even if they were flawed, but I do wonder sometimes what I’d have done if I’d had a community that more strongly underscored that I didn’t have to have sex, and that not wanting to was a good enough reason.)
In 2014, then, I felt that I had to claim the identity of sex-favourable; after all, I was sexually active, which seemed to be the only criterion, and a lot of the early discussion was framed as sex-favourable aces not letting sex-repulsed aces have space or resources, so it would be wrong not to identify myself, lest that make me take up space or resources that weren’t mine to use. Ironically, I felt a lot more alienated from the community during and after those conversations; I was taking up too much space in the ace community mostly by existing (and so should withdraw, and for some years I did), and beyond that, people had repeatedly suggested that the ace community should have sex-optional subspaces for repulsed aces only (such as ace-muslim’s comment here, though I should stress that she wasn’t the only one and I am not trying to criticise her specifically).
You can’t quite square this circle: either anyone with any sort of not-100%-repulsed actions or feelings, past or present, can be lumped under sex-favourable, or sex-favourable only means people completely unaffected by compulsory sexuality and in no need of resources and sex-optional spaces. And as Siggy pointed out, the set of ‘people completely unaffected by compulsory sexuality’ is an empty set, and the set of ‘sex-favourable aces’ is absolutely not a subset of it. Plenty of people have also talked about the issues with assuming that anyone not 100% repulsed is favourable (or maybe indifferent, but with the same results) and up for sex all the time, with the flipside being that any aces who have sex or have had sex – as I mentioned above – are automatically assumed to be sex-favourable (or even grey-ace).
Of course, those assumptions aren’t unique to the ace community, nor did they originate there. As Queenie points out, one of the mainstays of compulsory sexuality is that once you’ve consented under one particular set of circumstances, you’ll always consent under those circumstances. This is also reflected in both purity culture (the marriage debt, etc) and in sex-positivity; it’s not surprising that we replicate these assumptions in our own taxonomies, but it’s also not helpful.
Where does this leave us, then? If we pick apart this trichotomy, what are we left with? I don’t have an exact answer for this, but one thing I do know: we need to stop segmenting and siloing our narratives based on the perceived immutability of this taxonomy. I’ve sketched out how I fell into the narrative of ace has a partner → ace has to have sex → ace has to be sex-favourable → ace never has any complicated or upsetting experiences with sex and never needs any resources or sex-optional spaces (and any experiences or thoughts this ace does have are appropriative and attention-seeking). I’m sure this is not unique, and I think that taking care to leave our narratives open – to avoid assuming that the only people who need our resources or words are one adjective or another – can give our community, and by extension the people in it, a broader spread of possibilities. From 2014 until a few months ago, I read so many narratives and posts and resources by and for sex-repulsed people that could have helped me, and reminded myself that I wasn’t allowed to think that I might be allowed to use them; I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.