[A]sexuality,  Japan[ese],  Mental [Un]health,  Queer[ness]

landscapes and fissures: navigating ace terminology in Japanese & English

the following post was written for the May 2018 Carnival of Aces on the subject of “Nuance & Complexity“. it may or may not be cleaned up and cross-posted to the YouTube channel Queer As Cat in the future.


some feel that people in (English-speaking, anglophone) ace communities are “overthinking” things. that the amount of words and identities (also referred to as “microlabels”) which have been coined in such communities is not only “overdoing it,” but even potentially harmful. i’d hope that this would go without saying (but understand that it doesn’t), that i disagree with the former and vehemently reject the latter. regardless of whether i or you or that random person over there petting the stray cat that’s out in the street right now feel such terminology to be useful to us personally, the fact remains that others do and there is immense value in that.

having said that, i’ve found myself caught between a rock and a hard place and eventually at a crossroads in terms of engagement with ace communities over the past two years, and while i could point to any number of reasons for this, terminology (and subsequently identity or “labels”) is one such reason.

you see, while some struggle navigating the abundance of terminology, identities within primarily anglophone ace communities (namely Ace Tumblr), i am seemingly stuck navigating what feels like a landscape in which there is a stark absence of terminology with which to describe myself or my experiences.

actually, scratch that.

the terminology exists, but rather than say i’m navigating “a landscape”, i should say that i’m navigating “two landscapes” and that despite the (eventual) existence of terminology which i could theoretically use to describe myself, there’s always something (or rather, many somethings and even someones) that inevitably renders such terminology inaccessible and / or uncomfortable. unfortunately, i have found neither of the two landscapes that i inadvertently straddle to be entirely comfortable at times and a good deal of that involves terminology…

as an English-speaking, American expat living in Japan, one landscape that i navigate (or rather, inhabit) is online and offline ace communities / spaces in Japan(ese).

for those unfamiliar with ace terminology in Japanese, in Japanese the term アセクシャル (“asexual”) refers to someone who doesn’t experience either sexual or romantic attraction, ie. a person who in English is commonly referred to as “aromantic asexual”, meanwhile someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction but does experience romantic attraction is referred to as ノンセクシャル (“nonsexual”).

as an English-speaking ace, i very much do lay claim to “asexual” as part of my identity. however, as someone who has zero desire to specify one way or another the quantity, quality or frequency of their (lack of) experience with “romance”—as many aces are inclined to do and the most ‘mainstream’ Japanese terminology relies upon you doing—and who feels that they should not have to in order to engage with the ace community—navigating Japanese ace spaces and terminology (in general) can be jarring to say the least. yes, the landscape of Japanese ace terminology is ever changing, increasing and expanding; in fact, i’ve quietly mused now and again about how conflicted i feel about my own (and The West in general’s) inadvertent role in all of that and i am likely to continue lamenting, musing about that for the foreseeable future.

over the past 4 years that i have engaged with Japanese aces on and offline, a lot has changed. a LOT. however, i still end up at offline meetups where it is proposed that a separate meetup be held for ノンセクシャル / “nonsexuals” because holding a single アセクシャル / “asexual” meetup for everyone results in some aces feeling some kind of way at the end of it. or alternatively, “asexual” events where there is a default, unspoken assumption that if you’re there it’s because you don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction or are questioning your experience of both—but! but! if the organizer is On Their Game, there’ll be one or two question(s) among the pre-decided topics of discussion that acknowledges that yes, there might be “nonsexuals” there, let alone people who don’t exactly fit into such a framework of asexuality at all.

meanwhile, on the other hand, there is the landscape that is anglophone ace communities, with its plethora of terminology, framework of asexuality as a “spectrum”—or as Japanese aces are just beginning to refer to it, a “gradation”. so much mental and emotional effort and time put into sussing out things that many aces in Japan are only just now beginning to touch upon. so much terminological real estate exists in anglophone ace communities as to be mind boggling at times—especially in comparison with the landscape that exists here in Japan—and yet it’s in navigating anglophone ace communities that i find myself struggling to not just throw up my hands in frustration and walk away from it all the most.

despite the abundance of terminology—or rather, in spite of the existing framework of asexuality (and aromanticism) as existing on a “spectrum”—something that in and of itself i personally have issues with, but that is a topic for another day—almost the very same divide that exists within Japanese ace spaces when it comes to romantic attraction (or rather, the lack thereof) exists within anglophone ace spaces, except within the anglophone world that divide is complicated all the more by the abundance of terminology, identity politics and community history (among other things) that ace communities in Japan cannot help but be distanced from, for various reasons.

“The Great Divide,” as i have come to refer to it as, is but one of the many fissures in ace communities that i feel myself as not only navigating, but quite literally inhabiting and i am Tired.

rather than identifying as アセクシャル / “asexual” and having to deal with subsequent assumptions about how i feel about intimate relationships, my experience of romantic attraction (whatever that even is) and so on, in anglophone spaces i’ve been faced with having previously identified as a “biromantic ace” and having to deal with subsequent assumptions about my experience with romantic attraction (ie. how “normative” it must be) only to finally drop “-romantic” all together and still have assumptions made about me experiencing romantic attraction, let alone in a normative way.

in anglophone ace spaces, one seemingly has to explicitly reject the assumption that one experiences romantic attraction, as one is assumed to be alloromantic (ie. to experience romantic attraction) by default within anglophone ace communities just as surely as within society at large.

just as surely as one is assumed to be allosexual (ie. to experience sexual attraction) by default within society at large.

and in not replacing my discarded biromantic identity with aromantic, grayromantic or some other identifier to explicitly reject assumptions about being alloromantic by default, i have apparently rendered myself unfit (according to some) to discuss issues relevant to me that also happen to be relevant to aromantic aces. go figure.

with the steadily increasing repertoire of terminology within ace spaces—but especially within Ace Tumblr specifically—i’ve noticed something that (to me) is rather interesting. that is, provided that i’m not just imagining it, there seems to be a noticeable decrease in usage of the umbrella terms “gray(a)sexual” and “gray(a)romantic” in recent years that i feel corresponds with the steady increase in so-called “microlabels”…

or perhaps it’s just a matter of the area of the internet / Tumblr that i frequent…?

it has gotten to the point that both terms almost feel “dated” to me, in a way. whenever i do come across someone using either term in reference to them self or others, i feel like i could venture a guess as to when they first began interacting with anglophone ace communities and my guess usually isn’t far off.


either way, be there an abundance of terminology available to me or a severe lack thereof, i have found myself in varying states of Discomfort within “the” ace community cross-culturally and internationally for a long time now; a part of which (more or less) has come to a head in recent years and i am still coming to terms with that, unfortunately. terminology, identity and the complex, intricate nuances of both may be but one part of that Discomfort, but it is a big one.

one that, at least for now, i have decided to disengage with almost entirely and have found myself to be better off for it.

besides, “queer ace” fits just fine.

YouTuber and Blogger, Vesper is an American expat currently living in Japan.


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