an asexual Whiteness

I’m not sure I want to say what finally convinced me to type this out, so… I’m not sure where to start.

…Let me try it this way.

Several months ago, I was reminded of the song One Night in Bangkok.  I was reminded that I used to love that song, and I was reminded of what I liked about it so much, and I realized that it would be a convenient example for explaining the manifestations of racism that pose particular temptation to White aces.

(I didn’t make the post at the time because I didn’t think I was equipped, as a White person, to write an adequate public explanation of Why This Song Is Racist, and I couldn’t find an adequate public explanation written by anyone else.)

But the point I wanted to make is that, despite all the writing that has been done on asexuality and race, White aces don’t seem to fully grasp what it means to say “the asexual community has a racism problem.”

Because I know there are a lot of well-meaning White aces who think, “Well, yes, everywhere has a racism problem.  It’s not just the asexual community.”

Right, but also wrong.

Right because White aces aren’t the only people doing racist things.  Duh.

Wrong because that’s a mental dodge and because that characterizes racism-in-general as synonymous and interchangeable with the-racism-of-White-aces when, at this point, I’m thinking, it’s not.

The latter draws on the former, no doubt about that, but it’s not simply a matter of overlap (ex. “this racist person is White and also an ace”) because being asexual, and viewing the world through the lens of both-asexual-and-White, affects what kinds of racism filters through as the most convenient to us as White people.

What I’m saying is that as much as there’s a White gaze, there’s also, within that, an asexual White gaze, an asexual Whiteness, and an asexual way of being racist, and I may not know how to go about this exactly, but I think White aces need to have a conversation with each other about that.


32 responses to “an asexual Whiteness

  • DG Arf

    This is a good point! It’s similar to what I think of as white liberal racism or white feminist racism. These are all progressive movements with typically liberal values but they contain a different type of racism which is more subtle and insidious than stereotypical conservative racism (ex: Trump). There are different kinds of racism that are informed by the individual’s other identities or the movement’s dominant demographics.

  • Sciatrix

    YES YES YES THIS. God, the panel last night irritated me on that front, and I’m glad you’re drawing this out in discussion. Racism is a broader social problem, but of course it’s going to manifest in each subculture and sub-community in specific ways. We’re never going to be able to engage with racism in ace communities if we don’t confront and face the ways that it persists in those communities.

    • Sennkestra

      I haven’t actually watched the panel yet – would you say it’s worth watching the recording at this point or not really?

      • Laura (ace-muslim)

        The discussion covered a wide range of issues and some of it was very good and I think worth watching. I personally think it’s worth skipping through the cringe-inducing parts for some of the good parts (I particularly liked when the panelists talked about their personal experiences).

    • queenieofaces

      The sea of white faces staring back at me from my computer screen while people talked about how the asexual community doesn’t have a race problem may have been more irony than I was prepared to handle. I mean, this is pretty par for the course in terms of awareness work for me, but it would have been nice to, I don’t know, let the people of color on the panel (and there was more than one APoC on the panel! so that would have been eminently doable!) chime in about whether the ace community has a race problem rather than having the white aces hand wave it.

    • DG Arf

      I’m just thinking out loud here but… Maybe it would help if we could pinpoint specific incidents of racism/racist ideas and even collect them somewhere? Because I can’t really think of any off the top of my head and it’s hard to think of ways to solve something I can’t pinpoint. Also I *personally* haven’t seen a lot of racism in my circles so I’d like to see what others have experienced (most often what I see is erasure or invisibility which is a little different). Maybe a model similar to Queenie’s most recent ace survivors post where clear examples are picked out and analyzed? And honestly I wouldn’t mind if white aces did this bc like I said for whatever reason I don’t see racism too often so it would be nice if whoever saw it could pick it out.

      • Coyote

        I know the icannotaven tumblr has some, but what with how ace tumblr distances itself from AVEN, that might not be helpful for an ace tumblr audience… I could probably illustrate one of the concepts I had in mind while writing this post, though. I recently thought of another song that has the same issue as ONIB & that should be easier to find adequate critiques of.

        • DG Arf

          I’d be interested in that, though what I had in mind was something exactly like icannotaven but for Tumblr. I don’t really follow many 100-level ace Tumblrs anymore so if there’s racism going on there I’m not aware of it. Unless everyone here is talking about AVEN?

          • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

            It’s not just AVEN. thingsthatmakeyouacey has a whole tag called race and ace about racism in asexual movements, and how racism is heavily intertwined with a lot of concepts in asexual communities and even how asexuality is defined. It’s very, very worth reading.

          • DG Arf

            I have read many of their pieces and to be honest I don’t agree that some of the things they say are racist, are racist. I’ve always been too scared to disagree, though.

      • queenieofaces

        I feel like a lot of aces of color have written about this at length (I know I certainly have written about being tokenized on panels; I have more I could say about racism in ace activism, but I’m not sure I’m at the point that I’m ready to say it), but…folks aren’t listening. And doing the equivalent of my ace survivors series would require a ton of labor (emotional and scholarly) on the parts of aces of color. My ace survivors series took about 7 months to write. Which is a pretty considerable amount of time, and there is even MORE to talk about with regards to race. I would be even more worried about the backlash against the author and/or all their work being entirely ignored.

        • DG Arf

          You’re right that there are articles about the general patterns of racism. I just haven’t seen anyone on Tumblr calling out other Tumblr users for being racist. Like there are plenty of examples of posts on Tumblr where bloggers identity police, treat survivors poorly, etc. so it’s easy for me to connect the abstract concept to specific incidents. Also I’m not asking for proof because I don’t believe that it happens, it’s just that I personally have a hard time thinking of ways to combat racism unless I see specific examples. Also, I am specifically talking about Tumblr—AVEN has racist threads that are super easy to find, and experiences like being tokenized are good examples of it outside Tumblr—but now I’m wondering if when we talk about racism, are we even talking about Tumblr? If so, then I would like to see specific posts so I know what we’re talking about. Hopefully that made sense.

      • Sennkestra

        Have you seen the post that Queerascat just put together? It was just a few hours ago, so you may not have seen it yet:

        It’s about race in the ace community in general, not necessarily examples of racism per se, but it’s a good resource if you want to start reading up on what kinds of things people are referring to. I definitely saw some posts on there that I know talk about some of these issues. They are also taking suggestions for posts to add if anyone has suggestions.

        • DG Arf

          Thanks Sennkestra. I guess I’m just having a hard time connecting general discussions of racism to specific incidents. Like there’s a lot of discussion re: the general patterns of racism but I haven’t been linked to specific posts on Tumblr that are racist, if that makes sense? Like if we were talking about identity policing or how ace survivors are treated, it would be easy to find individual posts to critique, but I’m interested to see, for example, a list of posts from advice blogs (since they seem to be problematic) in which the advice blog mods are displaying racist ideas. Also to be clear, I am talking about Tumblr specifically and I’m wondering if others have seen racism on ace Tumblr or if most of this behavior happens in other spheres. I also want to add that I’m not demanding that people put in the labor to find these for proof, it’s just that I personally have trouble figuring out solutions unless I can see clear examples of what exactly we’re supposed to be fighting, but I haven’t seen many if at all during my time on Tumblr.

  • Elizabeth

    Yeah, I was also not too happy with that part of the panel, so I’m really glad you brought this up. I hope that it starts to click for more people and we see less of the “well that happens everywhere” dodge in the future. We don’t have to solve ALL the racism everywhere else before we start to address it in our own community, which is what it sounds like people might be suggesting with comments like that. We can address how it specifically manifests in the ace community and work towards lessening that now.

  • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

    I agree with your general point, but I disagree on “White aces need to talk to each other about this.” White aces need to pay attention to what aces of color are saying (especially what they identify as racist in asexual discourse), first and foremost. I am white, and no amount of me talking to other white people has ever resulted in me understanding racism in asexual communities better. Reading the words of aces of color did that. White aces should use their white privilege to boost the voices of aces of color on this subject.

    • Coyote

      …Yes. Ideally.

      Hm. Let me think about what I was trying to say.

      What I was thinking, which may or may not be correct, is that when there are White aces who read, say, this, and come away thinking “I don’t get it,” I don’t necessarily want them to call upon APoC to hold their hands and engage in the exhausting labor of explaining every little thing to them after they’ve already put out so many thorough explanations to begin with. I want White aces to take some of that burden off them, to shoulder some of that labor, without further exposing aces of color to the racist flailing that happens in the process of getting someone White and especially clueless to, well, get with the program, so to speak.

      In practice, though, I am not sure how to go about that, since blogs/public ace spaces are so, well, public, I don’t know how to actually take White aces aside and sort these things out amongst each other.

      I’m not sure what I’m saying is coherent, however, much less correct.

      • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

        Ah, yeah, I didn’t mean to place the burden on APoC. My way of engaging with other white aces about racism in asexual communities has been to reblog the words of APoC and credit APoC for my understandings of things. (And if someone comes to my askbox to ask me to explain something, I’ll do so to the best of my ability, and suggest further reading to them.)

      • Sciatrix

        I find it’s easier to do that offline for sure. I think correcting people is loaded on Tumblr and there are structural problems with the way the platform is built that make that fraught (and frustrating!), but it’s certainly possible to check people who are being kind of racist online as a fellow white ace in other spaces. It helps to be able to link to the words of PoC if they’re relevant to informing the discussion, but you can also do things like analogizing to the way that people stomp on discussions of ace or queer issues, or make ace and queer people uncomfortable.

        Sometimes I use what is effectively forced teaming to check white people who are running off at the mouth. Frequently I frame things in terms of rudeness and the signals that people are sending. I try very hard to modulate the level of open anger to the person I’m talking to and the amount of listening they appear to be doing–that’s harder to do and costs more emotional labor, but since it’s not my oppression it’s relatively cheaper for me to do it than to someone who is actively dealing with the many small insults of racism, you know? Whatever it takes for me to either make the person listen (if they are well meaning) or quit fucking up in my space (if they’re apparently not well meaning; I do that less ofen).

        I also get a lot of mileage out of the concept of calling in these days. Yeah, tiptoeing around the feelings of white people who are panicking and having a lot of trouble admitting that they fucked up on racial grounds can be kind of annoying… but you know, as an ally, sometimes it’s worth doing for me in order to encourage them to not fuck up in the future.

  • Renayko

    (I apologize for the length) I’m going to start a little off topic here: I think the ace community has a problem with overly strict definitions and who can fit within those. Not to mention there’s an expectation of how asexuality is experienced. There’s a typical ace narrative that more or less assumes you’re white, cis, able, neurotypical, and not a survivor.

    Anyone who openly deviates from that narrative in a significant way and actively talks about it can be tokenized, invalidated, shunned, interrogated, etc. When Alok Vaid-Menon wrote that piece “What’s r(ace) got to do with it?” a few years ago about how being ace and a male assigned Asian person caused them to feel alienated in the ace community, white aces (myself included) were absolutely confused, if not actively hostile.

    In cases like that I think one of the issues is a simple lack of understanding of what some of our fellow aces experience outside of their asexuality and how those experiences mix. I imagine it’s hard to openly be an ace of color who doesn’t experience acephobia that’s influenced by racism or vice versa. Yet as a white ace I never HAD to think about that until I was confronted by an ace narrative (in my case the one by Vaid-Menon) that was so foreign to me I didn’t know what to make of it.

    Another issue then is being willing to learn about it instead of writing it off. When I first read Vaid-Menon’s piece I went digging in the notes to find responses and related blogs that could give me some insight. I knew that I didn’t have the full picture and I did the little extra leg work to come to the realization that oh, aces of color (can) have very different relationships with their sexuality due to racism and differing cultural expectations. The thing in my case though was that I was already “indoctrinated” into a more social justice mindset where I accepted that racism was real and kept an open mind towards new information.

    I imagine it’s hard to keep an open mind when you’re ignorant of other experiences and have very strict definitions of what is/isn’t ace. It’s probably even harder when you’re actively resistant/incredulous towards the existence of concepts like racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

    We need to, as a community, actively talk about and broadcast a more diverse set of experiences. We need to normalize them much more than they already are. Treating the voices of APoC (or another minority) as a niche thing that’s only brought up when it’s relevant/convenient/”interesting” is dismissive if not actively harmful. I’m sure there are other and even better ways to make the ace community more race friendly but that’s all I can comfortably offer as a white person myself. (Though I agree with Arf that it’d be lovely to have some sort of archive showcasing prejudice in the ace community.)

    I also think we in general need to loosen our idea of what constitutes as ace, cool it on this “ace police” mindset, and ask ourselves what we’re trying to achieve. Take me for example, I’m a mentally ill ace whose demisexuality may very well be a result of my mental illness and I correlate the two very closely. There are definitely aces out there who would look at my statement and see me as a threat to credibility because I contradict this idea that asexuality is never a result of mental illness. But why? The only reason an ace like me would be a “threat” is if our community is significantly more focused on looking good to non-aces than building a community where all aces feel safe and welcome to exist.

    • DG Arf

      Good comment. I really think a simple and effective step anyone can take towards combating racism (as well as other isms) is broadening the range of experiences that can fall under one label.

  • anonymous ace

    I’m an ace POC and I find these discussions about racism, which crop up every once in awhile, extremely depressing. Conversations usually revolve around white aces saying that their community is dominated by white people and has a racism problem, and some sort of conclusion that white aces sex-shame non-asexual POC.

    It’s well meaning and legit to root out racism in the community, but do you see how 1.) the continued definition of asexuality as whiteness and thus opposed to POC and 2.) stereotyping POC as non-asexual, makes asexuality inaccessible to POC? POC are as acephobic as white people, and if asexuality is a white community, where are we supposed to go?

    As an example, the recent rehash of whether allosexual is an ok term to use or not. A few months ago, quite a few ace POC submitted stories about being asexual but living with hypersexual stereotypes – so you would think that white aces would figure out that being asexual does NOT ever protect us from sexualized racism. Yet I continue to read blogs and reblogs of “POC and women aren’t privileged for being sexual!”, which would seem to imply that ace POC are somehow privileged over non-asexual POC – a nice invalidation of ace POC experiences of acephobia, racism and often misogyny as well. Or the conclusion that using the word “allosexual” is racist, which implies that all POC are non-asexual and all aces are white (who’s oversexualizing POC now, hmmm?)

    And the white ace bloggers who always express so much concern about racism in their community just went along with this stuff, written mostly by acephobic white people (and a few acephobic POC), which amounted to invalidation of ace POC.

    • Coyote

      Thanks for commenting. I’m not sure I see how saying nonace POC aren’t privileged would imply that APOC are — I took it as a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing. But I’m pretty ambivalent about that aspect of the allosexual feud, so thanks for weighing in. I hadn’t noticed a pattern like that in who was saying those types of things.

    • Sennkestra

      Yeah, I think there’s definitely a problem where sometimes white aces get really enthusiastic about fighting racism in ace communities, but don’t always stop to talk/listen to other PoC aces about how best to actually do that (or, alternately, find one or two ace PoC writers who agree with their predetermined beliefs and proceed to ignore or fight with or shut down any other ace PoC who don’t necessarily agree with those views).

      I think it gets further complicated by the nature of the internet, where often you can’t actually tell what someone’s racial background is unless you’ve known them for long enough to see a mention of it somewhere, so to be fair many people may think that they’re reblogging things from PoC even when they aren’t. (While personally, I don’t necessarily think that author racial identity should be the only factor in whether to take opinions seriously, it is still a big factor worth considering.) And of course, PoC experiences are going to vary wildly depending on the actual specific circumstances, plus the fact that even PoC from similar bckgrounds and experiences won’t necessarily agree…I think that the attempts to discuss the “one true ace PoC experience” sometimes trip people up into overgeneralizing.

      I do think it is sometimes a bit like what some bloggers have been pointing out about rhetoric around mentally ill aces and ace survivors – a lot of the times, some conversations are less about practically providing support for PoC aces, and more about assuaging guilt over being seen as “too white”.

      (note that this isn’t about any specific posts, just about general issues I’ve seen in various conversations over the years.)

      • anonymous ace

        Sennkestra – thank you, I agree.
        Coyote – I’m sorry, I feel like I just come to your blog and whine. But the statement that POC are criticized for experiencing sexual attraction and are criticized for not experiencing sexual attraction – that basically erases ace POC experiences of acephobia. (To avoid opening that can of worms, I’ll refrain from comparing LGBP POC with ace POC, and we’ll just compare heterosexual POC with ace POC.) This implies that we have it the same as heterosexual POC.
        Yes, heterosexual POC experience racism and especially for women, sexualized racism, in a way that heterosexual white people do not. But asexual POC (and certainly LGBP POC) are marginalized both within their own communities and in wider society in a way that heterosexual POC are not. Being ace does not give me any privileges over heterosexual POC. No one is going to stop and ask me if I am asexual before fetishizing me, sexually harassing me, or subjecting me to any sort of sexualized racism particular to WOC. And similarly, acephobia and sex normativity hurts me, it is never “all white people are sexual beings, but if you aren’t white, it’s ok if you never experience attraction or have sex”, it’s just “all people.”
        I don’t experience less racism and sexualized racism because I am ace, and I don’t experience less acephobia because I’m not white.
        Do you consider your experience to be the same as that of a white heterosexual? I don’t think you’d have this blog if you thought so. The same is true for many ace POC.

      • Sciatrix

        Yeah, I would like to see more pausing and listening overall. I think that’s a real weakness of online spaces. Thank you so much for your comments, anon; I think they have been very helpful.

        One thing I think a lot of white aces don’t think about so much is that, mm, it’s hard to judge how all POC feel on a topic from the writing of just one person. You know? And the other thing about amplifying on tumblr is that because you don’t know who is signal boosting a particular post, and because much of that signal boosting doesn’t contain discussion, a lot of the context and nuance gets lost. And then there’s the third thing; I personally have learned way more about race from sitting and listening to friends of mine, or people on other boards, talking about how they feel to each other (not necessarily to white people!) and listening or reading the conversation. For me, a weakness of both tumblr and traditional blogs both is that it’s hard to see those conversations happening, and quick sharing of those conversations can really shine a (majority white) spotlight on them and make them uncomfortable or centered around whiteness again.

        An additional thing that I think a lot of white aces do not think about is that it’s often scary or taxing to step into the spotlight and speak up for All PoC Aces (or All Latin@ Aces, or All Korean Aces, or whatever–PoC isn’t a monolith, as you say!). And I think for all the, mm, well-meaning desire of a lot of white aces to improve this problem, there isn’t a lot of recognition of the small microaggressions or negative reactions that ace PoC voices can face, both from within and without the ace community, for speaking about their problems and their own issues. There isn’t a lot of good support for those aces, especially if they are shy or otherwise don’t want to feel like they’re speaking for everyone. So on that note, I’m doubly glad you’ve contributed here, anon, because I know that bringing that perspective here can feel awkward or just plain weird.

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