Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Conlang for Your Heart

Conlang: A constructed language, or conlang, is a language whose features have been consciously constructed rather than developed naturally, as in most languages.
Asexuality: Asexuality is a sexual orientation (or something analogous to a sexual orientation) in which a person does not experience sexual attraction to anyone. Although many asexual people are aromantic--meaning that they do not experience romantic attraction to anyone either--not all are. People who are only minimally sexual, but not entirely asexual, are often called "grey."

One of the things that excites me about the asexuality movement is the attempt to create a new vocabulary for attraction. Many, if not most, of the ways we have learned to describe our relationships with other people are based on romantic and familial models, though we've generated a few others to describe sexual non-romantic relationships in the last few decades (friends with benefits, f*ckbuddies). And there are some institutional or quasi-institutional terms, too: mentors, sponsors, confessors. But there are few words or phrases for peer-to-peer relationships, and there are even fewer words or phrases for the kinds of bonds people have, irrespective of the particular activities that people do with one another. Asexual people, and especially aromantic asexual people, therefore have hardly a vocabulary at all to describe the different kinds of bonds they have with people. Making a new vocabulary is more urgent for aces, but it is useful for anyone who has informal non-romantic relationships . . . which probably includes pretty much everybody.

I encountered a "web of attraction" at the blog asexy beast. It consists of a spider's web with different points around the edge labelled with different kinds of attraction: sexual, romantic, aesthetic, platonic, physical, fantasy. The different components go unexplained, so we're required to use the author's commentary to try and make sense of the diagram. But I'm not wedded to the particular labels What was revelatory for me when I first saw the web was that all of these different kinds of attraction could be de-coupled. Until then I had been assuming that if I experienced a certain kind of attraction toward someone I really must be experiencing all of the others, since I had conflated them all. This became very confusing when my actual experiences did not line up: how can I be attracted to someone I don't find attractive? How can I be attracted to someone when I don't want to date them? etc. So long as I was grouping all types of attraction into one category and treating them as simply facets of a single experience, I was confusing myself. Seeing the web of attraction--especially in the context of asexuality--broke that conflation up for me. I have been able to make much better sense of my own experiences now that I am not reflecting on them with a limited vocabulary.

For instance, I am no longer especially confused or worried if I find a person attractive to the point of distraction but I do not have the slightest inclination to date that person: "thinks is cool" and "finds physically attractive" might be prerequisites to "wants to date" for me, but they are not sufficient, because "wants to date" is its own discrete and indivisible experience. But I'm simplifying a little--"finds physically attractive" isn't a single indivisible experience, either.

But of course different people will be experiencing different combinations of these forms of attraction, in response to different aspects of other people, so it will make sense for people to be developing their own vocabulary for their own use. The trick in making your own vocabulary is the danger that you'll try to project that vocabulary onto others (of which the problem asexual people encountered trying to explain themselves in sexual language is one example). I'm recommending that people make these vocabularies largely so they can explain themselves to themselves, and therefore it can be an entirely private language; however, teaching other people to speak your language could be helpful if you wanted to explain yourself to them and if you wanted to help them revise and improve the conlangs for their own hearts.

If you want to learn more about asexuality, I recommend checking out AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, and the YouTube channel Hot Pieces of Ace.

Although I have finished and posted this in response to a comment conversation at Unequally Yoked, I have been sitting on drafts of this for awhile.

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