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Ace Week

October 28th, 2020 The History of the AVEN Triangle

If you’ve ever spent any time on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, you’re probably familiar with their site logo (often referred to as “The AVEN triangle”) - an upside-down equilateral triangle, with a gradient that transitions from black at the bottom point of the triangle to white at the top. What you may not know is the history of that symbol, and it’s rise and fall as a major ace community symbol, and it’s lasting influence on overall ace aesthetics. In this article, I’ll review some of that history.

Modeling Asexuality: The Creation of the AVEN Triangle

The history of the AVEN triangle is closely intertwined with the history of AVEN itself, which was founded by then-college-student David Jay in 2002 (for more on that time period, check out the general historical resources here).

On this early iteration of AVEN, David Jay included a few “Information on Asexuality” pages that included some of his speculative theories of asexuality - including one page to explain what he referred to as “The AVEN” Symbol, which he also used as the site’s logo at the time:

The AVEN triangle in 2002 with the words

The AVEN triangle in 2002

In this page, David Jay explains that the AVEN symbol originates from one of early asexual communities favorite activities: making graphs

David Jay starts by showing how current conceptions of asexuality have evolved from limited conceptions of mutually exclusive “homosexual” and “heterosexual” binaries, to the idea of more of a spectrum, with “homosexual” and “heterosexual” at each end but also a range of bisexual experiences in the middle (basically the Kinsey Scale). 

He then, however, proposed further building on that by adding a second, vertical axis for “intensity”  - with the traditional sexual orientation terms at the top, but a new data point for asexuality at the bottom. Because David Jay theorized at the time (we’ll get back to this in the next section) that less and less attraction would also mean less gender preferences, he presented asexuality as a single point, resulting in the familiar triangular shape - with the bottom then colored in to emphasize the asexual portion.

You can read an archived version of the full original explanation (with pictures!) here.

However, as more and more asexual people joined the site and began comparing notes on their various experiences with asexuality, it soon became clear that the AVEN triangle as a model of asexuality had several shortcomings, which brings us to the topic of our next section.

Shades of Grey: The AVEN Triangle Gets a Makeover

Over time, as early asexuality communities began to take shape, David Jay began to realize that his previous model of asexuality—which he has noted had primarily been based on his own personal experiences as what we would now consider an “aromantic” asexual—contained assumptions that didn’t fully mesh with the stories of the other new asexual identified individuals he was finding community with.

In one conversation about the symbol in 2004, David Jay addresses many of the concerns that led him to disavow that original underlying model:

There are, however, a coupla other problems with the symbol, namely...it's based on a limited system that I don't agree with anymore. It implies that asexual folk can't experience gendered attraction, which many do. Also it uses a binary notion of gender, and the whole idea of having a scale from 0-10 of sexual intensity is also problematic.

-AVENguy (source)

Changes to account for this began in another thread later that year, when AVEN put out a call for graphic design help as part of an overall site revamp, and another user KAGU143 (known at the time as Greybird) noted that they had just been about to make some alternative suggestions. As they later recalled:

It used to be a triangle with a solid black tip. The problem with that was that it was either/or and didn't have a place for those who have asexual tendencies but aren't quite 100% asexual.

I came up with a prototype drawing that had the black tip blending into grey instead of having a sharp dividing line between black and white, Dargon fixed the graphics, and DJ liked it so he changed it on the site.

-KAGU153 (source)

When the new “AVEN 2.0” site layout went live, the previous version of the logo was replaced by this new gradient version:

The AVEN triangle sit on the left of the words

The gradient is added in 2005

The original explanations of the AVEN symbol as a model of a/sexuality were also de-listed from the home page as part of the update, and eventually removed from the web entirely a couple years later.

While the symbol would garner a few additional updates during later site revisions in 2009 and 2013, these mostly involved minor cosmetic differences (like darkening the gradient, adjusting the proportions of the triangle to eventually be more equilateral, and de-emphasizing the darker borders):

On a dark gray background are the words

AVEN triangle revision from 2009

On a purple background, the AVEN triangle sits on the left with the words

AVEN triangle revision from 2013

Thus, while the triangle remained a popular symbol of both AVEN and Asexuality, it was deliberately abstracted into a more general symbol rather than a graph or model.

That said, while the AVEN triangle model is no longer formally endorsed by AVEN or David Jay, it’s not uncommon to continue see it (or something very like it) continue to pop up in other asexual 101 explanations and back-of-napkin scribbling as a popular explanation of the asexual spectrum.

It has also left a lasting impact on asexual identity in the form of “Grey-A” identity labels, which are directly derived from discussions of the “grey areas” in the middle of that AVEN triangle gradient.

It also continued to live on as a general abstract of symbol asexuality for some time, before eventually narrowing in scope once again to represent AVEN specifically rather than asexuality as a whole, which is how it is seen today.

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