So right now, Tumblr is my primary ace community. I haven’t been too active in the blogosphere recently, mostly because of work. And I want to talk a little bit about some things I’ve been noticing–mostly in this community, but this is something I think is relevant to all ace communities. It’s not like I didn’t see similar dynamics during my time at AVEN, for one thing.
I keep seeing things in the ace tag like people saying “aces don’t get sex jokes!” or “aces don’t think about sex so they’re surprised when other people bring it up!” And “all aces are totally grossed out by sex all the time!” And people making jokes about “asexuals love cake so much it’s like they’re sexually attracted to cake!”
And I was thinking about community norms, and the kinds of people who tend to speak up in the ace community. And in particular, lately I’ve been wondering exactly where our sexually active aces are, and thinking about the ways in which people might feel more or less comfortable about speaking up in our community. I had a conversation recently with a close asexual friend of mine who has sex, who enjoys sex, and who often feels uncomfortable discussing their experiences in ace spaces, and that worries me. That tells me that there is a problem that we should be working on.
Look. When you say “you know you’re ace when someone makes an innuendo and you think of something completely unrelated to sex?” That erases the experience of a lot of aces. Mine, for one–I usually see the innuendo. Or not being able to comprehend “sexy”–oh, come on, I can tell when someone is gorgeous and I’ve never had any trouble understanding what “sexy” means, if only from the way others use it. Hey, we keep talking about the fact that there are asexuals who have sex and asexuals who enjoy it! Let’s remember that when we’re talking about what an asexual experience is. Even in jest–jokes do a lot to set the tone and culture of a particular space.
Can we please try, when we discuss ace experiences and in particular asexual experiences, to remember that asexuality comes alongside with a host of very different experiences? Generalizing one’s own experiences and tendencies onto an entire sexual orientation, particularly one with the level of diversity we have, is a bad idea. People are going to feel erased. They are going to feel uncomfortable, and they are going to feel less likely to want to speak up. Communities should be safe for everyone, and part of that is not constantly joking that a particular subset of ace experiences are the only or even the main ace experiences.
And admittedly, walking that line between catering too far to one subgroup of aces in a community space is hard to do. But I think it can be done. There has to be a line between saying “repulsed asexuals are really all mentally ill, not actually asexual” (which I have seen), and “asexuals who have sex are not asexual, they are at best grey-A” (which I have also seen). There has to be a place in the middle ground where all experiences of being asexual and grey-A can be affirmed in at least some space, even if it takes multiple spaces to do that. And I do think that multiple spaces might be what is required here.
Tumblr happens to be terrible for creating clearly defined spaces for discussion, which is one of the things I miss about forum formats. Elizabeth wrote a really important post about defining the purpose of spaces for discussion a while back, and I think that post is very applicable for ace spaces, too. Face it: ace spaces must serve conflicting community needs. Some aces, particularly asexuals who feel pressured to have sex they don’t want, need a place to blow off steam and bond about their lack of interest in sex. I’ve written about detoxing and why it’s important to have spaces where that can happen. On the flip side, though, we need spaces for people who are dealing with the issues that being a sexually active asexual can bring–issues like negotiating compromise, affirming asexual identities, and discussing personal experiences with sex. And some of these spaces need to have warnings: detoxing can feel very hurtful to sexually active aces and *sexuals, for example, and repulsed aces should have the option to avoid graphic material they may or may not be comfortable with.
What can we do to solve this? For myself, I think that the best thing to do is try to make clear decisions about the kinds of discussion a given space is set up for. Let people know ahead of time whether a space is going to be a place for detoxing or whether it’s a safe space for emotional support or whether it’s a place to discuss issues of personal sexuality or what. I think the blogs actually do a better job at this than any other space I’m part of–I know, for example, that when I go to Verbs, Not Nouns I’m going to see discussion of kink from an asexual perspective. And for general spaces–treat them like general spaces that are set up to welcome and address all ace perspectives.
If we’re claiming to be talking about all asexuals? Let’s remember that the only thing tying us together as a community is that lack of sexual attraction thing. Everything else is open for debate.