Another post about ace advice blogs.
Say you’ve got a new ask message in your inbox. Say it contains a fairly basic question, something that’s easy to answer or explain, about something that’s not to hard to pick up on your own if you’ve been around the ace community for a while. You start drafting a response and write up the technical answer to the question itself. That’s step one. To all the people running ace advice blogs, I wish I could ask: What’s your step two?
In Arf (of Demigray.org)’s massive piece on advice blog culture, she wrote that one of the functions of advice blogs is that they can serve as gateways and community hubs:
Advice blogs are most often patronized by people new to the community who are just learning the ropes. People who are at least somewhat knowledgeable may find following an advice blog to be a repetitive, overly basic experience. Thus, advice blogs are typically a gateway to the asexual community, helping followers connect with others like them.
Advice blogs may do this by serving as a repository of experiences. I have received several messages in which anons said that following my blog and reading about the experiences of other anons helped them clarify their own experiences and feel less alone. Every so often, someone will even want to submit their own story of how they came to discover their identity. This story might get reblogged or commented on by other readers.
Advice blogs help make connections. Sometimes, followers comment on my posts to say that they share the same experience as an anon, or they reblog to elaborate on their own story. My ask posts are frequently reblogged, indicating that the ask and/or my answer is helpful to that person in some way—maybe it helps them clarify something or reassures them that they’re not alone in their experience.
Advice blogs can also help plug readers in to greater asexual community discourse. An example is the cupioromantic debate on Asexual Advice. Whatever opinion they ended up having, readers were taken beyond asking “what does cupioromantic mean” and on to “how is cupioromanticism affected by amatonormativity?” Some anons even submitted their own opinion as asks, allowing them to be heard even if they didn’t have a blog. Providing a platform for discussions like these is a great way to ease new aces or casual activists into broader discussions and 200-level topics in the asexual community.
All of that sounds like pretty beneficial, desirable stuff to me. It also aligns with what I’ve suggested about how — for some people, at least — discovering stories can be a crucial part of identity formation and adopting a new label. Sometimes seeing the abstract definition or getting the technical answer, true as it may be, isn’t enough.
Which brings us back to the question: after you’ve supplied the technical answer, what’s your step two? Are you linking any stories? Directing people to any resources or perspectives outside your own? Guiding readers to anywhere besides your own blog? If advice blogs are most often patronized by people new to the community who are just learning the ropes, people who haven’t discovered much beyond 101 info, what are you doing to bring them into a broader sense of the community and to connect them to other parts of it?
I have no doubts it can be done. Queenie should be everyone’s role model for this, see Exhibit A: avoiding Platonic declarations about abstract truth, providing multiple narratives (as Sennkestra recommends) as different possibilities to consider, linking to an outside piece on one of the experiences/identities like the one asked about, etc.
So while providing a platform for anonymous visitors to air their thoughts and share their stories is all well and good (and something that should certainly continue), and while I have nothing against blogs providing a doorstep for leaving untraceable messages, it’s occurred to me that if an advice blog hosts any and all discussion and storytelling on its own url and never leads newcomers beyond itself, that’s not a gateway. That’s a wall.
Which is to say, people will bounce off it without going any further. This is especially true when the majority of input from visitor and followers doesn’t come with usernames attached. The anon option on tumblr has its uses, but it’s not great for community building. It’s a step one. It’s a start. But it doesn’t make connections. It’s hard to engage someone further on a subject when you don’t know how to get in contact with someone beyond using the same blog as a middle man, submitting a message that begins “to the anon who wrote…”
Advice blogs can play host to debates, certainly. But if it just becomes a thousand anons writing letters to the editor and taking swipes at each other, as I’ve seen happen from time to time, that’s not what I’d call “plugging readers in to greater community discourse.” It might bring a 201 topic into a 101 space, but it doesn’t necessarily expose new aces to “broader discussions,” which I take to mean discussions with broader reach and many participants beyond a single advice blog, unless the mods of that single advice blog actually take the extra steps to direct attention to those other participants.
Which is always something I’d like to see more of.
It’s easier than ever to keep track of what everyone is saying now, too, thanks to Siggy’s ace feed package, which basically gives you a tumblr dash for ace sites that aren’t tumblr.
I want every ace advice blog to reach the potential that Arf describes. But I’m not sure what, if anything, they’re doing to get there.