She says that one of the reasons for making the post was a debate between us conducted privately. The disagreement between us on the matter is somewhat difficult to precisely characterize, as can be seen by how she describes the matter:
He [me] raised the idea that some asexuals actually define themselves as “not sexual” which, not to put too fine a point on it, to me seems just as much a so-vague-it-becomes-nonsensical definition as it would be to claim a definition of sexuality so broad as to make it possible to claim that all humans are sexual (in a non-scientific context).My point is a factual one--some people who identify as asexual think of themselves as being "not sexual." As such, the disagreement seems to largely be a matter of responding to this fact. (She see's it as a problem. I don't.)
Now, one thing I find interesting about this is that in private discussions with people in the asexual community, I have now corresponded with someone who expressed utter shock at the possibility that some asexuals think of themselves as "not sexual," and I have also corresponded with someone who was genuinely surprised to discover that not everyone who identifies as asexual thinks of themselves as being "not sexual." This suggests to me that this is a matter worth trying to better understand; I think it is a matter of better understanding the diversity that exists within the asexual community--diversity that does not fit nicely along the better known classificatory schemes used in the asexual community (i.e. romantic orientation, gray-a, demisexual, etc.)
In discussing the matter, I have no intention of trying to address the question of whether asexuals are "not sexual." I've utterly beaten that topic to death in a 16-part series (summarized here) in which I conclude that the question of whether asexuals are "not sexual" is basically incoherent and unanswerable because different people have different ideas of what it is to be sexual, and there is no real way of figuring out who is "right." My intention, instead, is to try to better understand the matter, address the Gray Lady's concerns, and hopefully to foster critical reflection on these issues.
The arguments that she makes are essentially, that a) "asexual" means "lacking sexual attraction" and does not mean "not sexual," b) that saying someone is "not sexual" makes no sense whatsoever and is so incredibly vague that it's not worth asserting, and c) we should therefore police each other on our usage of "asexual" and insist that we only use it in the sense of "lacking sexual attraction."
Regarding the third point, I confess that I take a fuzzy approach to the meaning of "asexual." It does not have one single precise meaning. Many people who use the term (perhaps most) regularly use it in different senses. This certainly includes myself, and I see no problem with this. I think that one major problem with the Gray Lady's argument is that she fails to take into account (or views as a problem we should try to fix) the massive polysemy that exists in natural human language. (For an idea of just how massive it is, see section 3.2 of Unnatural kind terms and a theory of the lexicon by GM Green.)
Polysemy has to do with how the same word can mean many different but closely related things. (It is contrasted with homophony which is two word that mean different things and happen to sound the same.) This can be illustrated by the word "bank." This can be a place by the side of a river or it can refer to a financial institution. Thus, to interpret the sentence "I'm going to the bank" we have to figure out which meaning of "bank" is meant. (This is homophony.) However, the word "bank" can refer to an actual building or it can refer to the more abstract notion of a financial institution. In some contexts, it is possible to distinguish between these. But in others, it is impossible and it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that in a given context, people are generally able to figure out what you mean.
When I talk about asexuality, I could be talking about it as a sexual orientation (but I've previous written about how this has multiple senses here and in following posts), as a social movement of sorts, as an identity, or a number of related things. When I talk about "asexuals" I myself do not know the precise limits of the terms meaning. It clearly means "people who are asexual in some sense of that term." But there are multiple perfectly sensible ways of defining asexuality (Discussed Reflections of defining asexuality). And if we define "asexuals" as "people who experience little or no sexual attraction" you still have the problem of "What is sexual attraction?" To be completely honest, I have no idea. As such, I'm not entirely sure who all is referred to by the term "asexuals." But both I and readers have a general, intuitive enough sense of the meaning of that term that coherent, intelligible discourse is perfectly possible. (I hope!)
The same issue applies to the term "sexual." In saying that someone is "not sexual," there is no reason to think that this has to mean "not sexual in any conceivable sense of the term." That's not how anyone uses it. They are relying on a (somewhat vague but intuitive) idea of sexuality involving attraction, desire, or something--and they're saying that someone who is asexual is not sexual in that sense. The point here is similar to the one with the term "asexual." "Sexual" can have a number of possible meanings in different contexts.
I don't think that this settles the matter, but hopefully it can clear things up a little and provide some food for thought.