Writing From Factor X

November 16, 2011

Let’s Not Generalize, Please

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.

9 Comments »

  1. “which is one of the things I miss about forum formats.”

    COME BACK, COME BAAAAACK

    Comment by Cat — November 17, 2011 @ 1:07 am | Reply

  2. I can’t say that I have noticed more generalizing lately than usual. Mostly I’ve noticed that it’s really quiet lately. Did everyone migrate from blogs to tumblrs? Tumblr is awful.

    But I know what you’re talking about. There are definitely some things ace people say that is not very welcoming to asexuals who have sex. I’ve always been unhappy with the repulsed/indifferent dichotomy, because it assumes asexuals only occupy that narrow range. It’s disheartening to hear asexuals talk about sexual diversity and complexity, and yet leave out the possibility that an asexual may actually like sex, as if it never entered their mind.

    I also don’t like when people write me off as gray-A. It’s okay to note that I’m gray-A, but it’s not grounds for writing me off. Like, I’m still here, and gray-As are still a thing. Also, I don’t like when people assume they know the reason why I identify as gray-A. It’s not just because I’ve enjoyed sex.

    Did you know that there’s a new gray-A/demi forum on AVEN? How’s that for a partially separate space! Unfortunately I think the result is very 101ish; it is AVEN after all.

    Comment by Siggy — November 17, 2011 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

    • Partly, maybe? I guiltily think that activity might be harder to find right now because I’m not doing linkspams–I don’t think anyone else is coordinating the blogosphere enough that people who aren’t already following particular blogs can easily find new posts, and I find that having a bunch of frequently posting blogs stimulates other people to write because conversations get started and people bounce off each other’s ideas. Tumblr’s format is awful but at least the tagging system makes it easy to find posts on topics of interest. (Hopefully I’ll start linking things again in the new year, when I am less overwhelmed.)

      And yeah. You also often get, and I’m guilty of this too, people who write something like “asexuals can even enjoy sex!” and then don’t actually follow up on this when discussing ace experiences. I’m not quite sure how to fix that, though–I’m not sexually active, my own position on the repulsed/indifferent scale is… complicated, and I feel like I don’t have much to say substantively on that topic because it’s so much not my personal experience that it feels like speaking for other people. I feel similarly about kinky aces–I’d really love to see more kinky aces writing about their experiences with kink, but I’m at a loss for how to encourage that. I don’t want to speak for people, but I also don’t want to unwittingly perpetuate a culture of erasing certain experiences, you know?

      People writing you off for being grey-A is seriously not okay. Aaaaaaargh. I’m sorry that happens to you.

      I had heard about the new forum! I had also heard that it got embroiled in drama from the usual suspects being assholes shortly after it formed. Is discussion actually happening there?

      Comment by Sciatrix — November 17, 2011 @ 8:27 pm | Reply

      • As I saw it, people had conflicting views over the purpose of the gray/demi forum. Some people took it as an opportunity to ask, “what is this gray-A thing?” This is an understandable, but mistaken view. It wouldn’t be sustainable for it simply to be a series of interviews of gray/demi people. I suppose the “usual suspects” didn’t help, haha.

        Anyways, I think the drama is pretty much over now. There are a lot of threads on the theme of “Am I gray-A?” which is great, but doesn’t personally interest me.

        Comment by Siggy — November 17, 2011 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

    • FWIW, sometimes I talked about a repulsed/indifferent/interested… trichotomy. If that’s a word.

      Comment by Aydan — November 18, 2011 @ 10:08 am | Reply

  3. I agree with this completely. The bizarre, exclusionary behavior you’ve mentioned is the reason I’m not very active on AVEN or on the ace community on Tumblr.

    Comment by notthemarimba — November 17, 2011 @ 9:56 pm | Reply

  4. I have noticed recently that I get a lot angrier than I used to when generalized into non-existence, maybe because it’s worn me down over time. Things like this hurt me worse when they comes from other aces. There are so many hurtful stereotypes that come from outside ace communities. Seeing communities I’m part of then perpetuating erasing stereotypes is especially frustrating. The thing that really hits me nowadays is anything about all aces reveling in sleeping alone. I wish I was sharing my bed, and I hate assumptions that as an ace I’m supposed to be happy to have it to myself.

    On the particular topic of sex … There have been times that I’ve wanted to talk about sex, sort of, and stopped myself because I figured people would not want to join in or would find it intrusive. To be fair, I am awkward and self-conscious and assume those two things about everything I write; when it comes to me this issue might be more my personality than the communities I’m in. (Though there’s a possibility that my personality combined with an attitude of ‘don’t talk about sex’ exacerbates my problem.) I really would like a discussion in a non-Tumblr ace space about what “sexually active” means or can mean, for example. But I haven’t.

    Having general spaces actually be general would probably be a good starting point for being able to have those kinds of discussions. I think we have fewer general spaces than a lot of communities, which might be one of the issues. It seems like it’s hard to amass enough people to create and sustain a general space. And the spaces that we do have, have no apparent investment in being safe spaces (or can’t be, like Tumblr).

    Comment by ace eccentric — November 18, 2011 @ 2:42 pm | Reply

  5. It’s also odd that people are supposed to be one thing: repulsed, indifferent, interested, enthusiastic. Like you can’t be many or all of them at various points (or even at the same time).
    I’m largely and rather pointedly indifferent, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never enjoyed sex, or never found it annoying and unwanted.

    I also don’t know why I’m not supposed to understand sex jokes or what kind of stuff people find sexy. I think I’m pretty practised by now in figuring out what other people mean and getting the point of things even if they don’t apply to me (especially since I had extra practise because of being autistic too).

    Actually discussing the various aspects of having sex while ace in detail is something I would be interested in, but I always think that other people probably don’t want to read about it, especially in detail.

    Comment by Norah — November 18, 2011 @ 6:03 pm | Reply


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