Saturday, May 3, 2008

Open Forum: Affectional Orientation

I came across an interesting Wikipedia entry about this term called "affectional orientation".

"Affectional orientation (or romantic orientation) is an alternative term for sexual orientation. It is based on the perspective that sexual attraction/desire is but a single component of a larger dynamic. To holders of this view, one's orientation is defined by whom one is predisposed to fall in love with, whether or not one desires that person sexually. Lately, the predominant use of the term "sexual orientation" is considered to reduce a whole category of desires and emotions, as well as power and connection, to sex.

The term affectional orientation is also used by those who consider themselves asexual and only feel emotional and/or physical (aesthetic) attraction. The terms used for different affectional orientations are usually the same as those for sexual orientations; though "homoromantic", "biromantic," "heteroromantic," and "aromantic" have gained some popularity. Asexuals sometimes incorporate colloquial terms to describe both the romantic and sexual components of their orientation (e.g. gay-asexual, bi-asexual, and straight-asexual).

There are also those who hold the view that one's orientation is defined by whom one has affection for and that their sexual attraction (or "drive", perhaps more appropriately) is dependent upon affection for another human being's personal qualities, regardless of their sex, gender or even outward appearance altogether. This use of the term does not require falling in love but is still based on a personal affection. One might now consider the phrase "conditional sexual attraction" to describe the experience of those who are otherwise asexual, as opposed to "primary sexual attraction" used to describe people who are "sexual"."

So what do you guys think? Do you think that the term "sexual orientation" defines our relationships purely on sexual terms and negates the whole aspect that Queer relationships are based on love, sex, financial stability, family, etc. Should we be using the term "affectional orientation" as opposed to "sexual orientation" or are both legitimate in different settings? Thoughts? Comments?


Eralk Fang said...

I think both are legitimate in different settings. As a heteroromantic asexual, I know that affectional orientation and sexual orientation are two very different things to me. I imagine for most sexuals their specifics of attraction are going to be a blend of affectional and sexual attraction. Hmm. Looking at it as a spectrum- affectional on one side, and sexual on the other side, most sexuals would fall in the middle, and asexuals more on the affectional side.

Queers United said...

I think "affectional orientation" is a great term because it can incorporate both sexual and non-sexual aspects of a relationship. It also is easier to digest for our critics. Are we trying to pass a law on sexual orientation or affectional orientation, both are the same thing but one implies that it is only based on sex and the other shows that relationships are based on love, sex, and a combination of other elements.

Anonymous said...

Affectional orientation itself is vague and moves in the direction of new "vague" language in an attempt to minimize the so-called "categories" that people feel boxed into. An individual can be affectionally oriented toward a plethora of diverse individuals over the course of hir lifespan, so what exactly would "affectional orientation" describe? It appears to merely convey the same idea that "no term can be completely descriptive and all individuals are somewhat unique." In essence, it seems to make itself redundant and counter to its own philosophy. How exactly could it be used (barring by asexual individuals) to describe anything about a person? An individual would still have to go into detail about what they find attractive. "Sexual orientation" merely describes what sex an individual is attracted to, be it male, female, both, or agendered individuals. It conveys simple information and can be elaborated on if necessary.

I believe that descriptive terms such as "homoerotic" and "sexual orientation" serve a purpose. They describe the behaviors of individuals as well as explaining very real prejudices that can be held against them. It's important not to give terms like these power beyond the behavioral patterns they describe. They do not describe who a person is. Who a person is is always defined in detail by the individual hirself and that requires time and would be uselessly described in a two-word term like "affectional orientation."

While people may not enjoy being "defined" by simple terms, they are necessary for giving indications of basic and natural opinions. They are necessary for demographic information and necessary for the basic ways in which we identify ourselves and distinguish ourselves from others. An individual forms hir identity by being aware of the "other" and by no means is the simplistic distinction between self and "other" a bad thing.

What I am wary of is a growing insistence on replacing terms that are meant to convey very basic information for terms that are intentionally vague due to the uniqueness of individuals. That may be fine in a social realm of discourse, but it's completely useless in the realm of information conveyance. "Affectional orientation" tells me nothing about an individual. As an example, a employer or institution discriminates largely based on sexual orientation, that is, non-heteronormativity, and less so because the individual in question is attracted toward someone's personality. If AO is to be used in place of SO in those cases, then it poorly defines the policies in place that are designed to protect from that specific discrimination.

eriktrips said...

Choosing a term for oneself is of course a relatively open process and deciding to be more interested in defining one's affections than one's sexuality specifically can certainly be a reasonable personal choice.

Here's why I won't be doing it though: I find that affection is something that I share with all kinds of people, mostly in non-romantic relationships (i.e. "friendships"), but those relationships are actually more important to me than sexual relationships at this point in my life. Defining myself according to whom I pursue intimate relationships with, though, is only an effective political act when I choose to love someone who is politically untouchable--say, a drug addict, or a criminal. In my day to day sociability, I find that I can "love" just about anyone I want without political repercussions, as long as any possible erotic overtones are carefully channeled or blocked.

Sexuality is important to name, I think, precisely because it is a politically explosive topic and precisely because sexual relations with the "wrong" gender are what have come under attack in Western modernity--not alliances of affection. Men can express affection towards each other, albeit not in an overly-demonstrative way in many sub-cultures, but usually without worrying about persecution. However, the moment that affection becomes in any way erotic, it is subject to societal policing.

I'd think that "Erotic Orientation" would be the most inclusive denomination for this particularly politically sensitive area. I think that "Affectional Orientation" cedes too much to those who are uncomfortable with the erotic dimension of "same-sex" relationships. Although the effort to police erotic attachment can certainly spill over into what might more widely be called "Affectional" behavior, I think that "Affectional Orientation" would not be that useful as a distinguishing term.

It's the sex that is the "problem" as far as those who oppress us are concerned. "Affection" is usually non-threatening, and a label that implies that we are just being affectionate might sidestep the political problems of erotic involvement, but it wouldn't solve those problems nor make them disappear. So then, how would we deal with them, given that they would still be there?

Queers United said...

"As an example, a employer or institution discriminates largely based on sexual orientation, that is, non-heteronormativity, and less so because the individual in question is attracted toward someone's personality. If AO is to be used in place of SO in those cases, then it poorly defines the policies in place that are designed to protect from that specific discrimination."

You raise an interesting point about workplace discrimination. I am not sure how courts would deal with situations where "affectional orientation" were the policy instead of "SO". But since sexual attraction, and behavior based on sexual attraction/orientation falls under affection, my guess is "affectional orientation" would protect Queers based on sexual as well as any emotional aspects of their relationships.

Anonymous said...

I think both terms are great in different contexts-- I consider myself bisexual, but tend to romantically lean towards women (the same sex). I think both sexual attraction and romantic tendencies are important to discuss, but one or the other can't really be eliminated, as they're both important considerations.

Anonymous said...

I think that romantic and erotic orientations would be useful, but more useful if they described those attracted instead of if those persons were "the same" or "different" from you - as the term "heteroromantic" only has any easily meaning because we already know the term heterosexual.

I think the following set of terms would make more sense to add to the lexicon (and could be seen as more detailed terms to go along with, not replacements for, the term sexual orientation:

androerotic: finding males erotic
gynoerotic: finding females erotic
panerotic: finding everyone erotic, er I mean people erotic in multiple configurations of genitalia.

androromantic: preferring romances with men
gynoromantic: preferring romances with women: panromantic: romance with anyone! (well, anyone who meets my high expectations ;)

When looking for prefixes, I came across this blog post, which is not mine, but seems relevant:

Hezaa said...

When forced to label myself with a sexual orientation, I identify as pan-asexual. I like people without reference to gender. I object to defining myself as "panromantic" because I've gotten to a point where the line between friend and lover is blurred into a spectrum. I don't like how others want to define all relationships as strictly friendship or strictly romantic--it dichotomizes the diverse array of human relations.

Margaret said...

It seems to me that as a term, "affectional orientation" is already trying to cover too many bases. I need more specificity, not just more terminology.

Plus, I don't see what it adds that isn't already covered in the Klein Grid.

Sarah said...

What is the Klein grid?

Ry said...

Well, it's a particularly small grid... (sorry, 2 years of german have made names like that a bit funny)


Ry said...

Well, it's a particularly small grid... (sorry, 2 years of german have made names like that a bit funny)


A.J. said...

I'm homocynical

Anonymous said...

For my whole life this is what I've always felt about my orientation: I prefer the people who I love, whether a woman or a man.

Anonymous said...

How is someone who does not find men or women sexually attractive, but who feels an overwhelming affection towards a girl at this moment in supposed to define themselves? I've been attracted to a guy in the past year too but I felt nothing sexual.

Miyamashi said...

I rather like this term. As someone who defines my sexuality as based on the idea of "I could never say I couldn't love someone based on his or her gender", this means a lot to me. Sexual orientation is what turns you, but this idea of affectional orientation appeals to me, because it doesn't necessarily negate sex (in my case, quite the opposite), but it states that love is a greater motivator than sex, and that sexual attraction may be swayed by love. :D

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