Re: Asexual Advice’s Official Response — Kiowa

This is a reply to AA’s post here, which was itself a response to my list of bad advice examples.

A note on formatting: for the most part, I’m going to try and address segments in the order in which they were written, but I might rearrange some things and put similar topics together so that I can respond to them collectively.  Also, I’m just going to quote the specific parts I’m replying to as I reply to them (the whole thing is too long to quote in full, so click the link for above to read their entire statement).

I was going to put my responses to each mod all in one post, but it got rather long, so this post will just be my responses to Kiowa’s section.  I’ve also written replies for Filbert and Di.

Asexual Advice receives on average 10-15 new messages a day, and usually anywhere from 25-75% of them are people describing their feelings, behaviors, dating history, etc and asking “am I asexual?” They are not looking for us to just say “if you think you are, then you are” – their problem is literally that they aren’t sure if they are! They don’t know what to think!

Right.  Those are, I would guess, either people very new to the community or people who haven’t interacted with the community yet at all (because, as you stated, they’re at peak uncertainty about just starting to identify as ace).  These are prime opportunities for an advice blog to serve as a gateway, as Arf describes in her Carnival of Aces post on Advice Blog Culture.  That’s a very important role to serve and could be a very crucial moment in some ace’s lives — which is why, I hope you’ll understand, I think it’s a position worthy of scrutiny.  Whether handled by advice blogs or not, it’s a very important, very delicate kind of work.

Some of the “identity policing” criticisms are based on (what seems like deliberate) misinterpretation of wording and failure to acknowledge context. […]

So we guide them with statements like “It sounds like you might be x” or “I think y might suit you.”

Yes, this is the thing I was criticizing you for.

If you thought I was putting words in your mouth, make no mistake: this, what you’re saying right here, is what I think you should stop doing.

I think — and I’m saying “I think” because you didn’t outright state your claim this way, so I’m having to make an inference here — you were saying that the “context” (of people being new and uncertain and not knowing what to think) makes it appropriate to tell someone “I think you’re probably X.”

If (if) that’s what you were saying (and if that’s not what you’re saying, I’m sorry for misreading you, and please let me know)… I wasn’t “failing to acknowledge context” because the context is not an excuse for identity-policing.  If anything, identity-policing people who are uncertain in their identities is worse than it would be otherwise.

If there’s some other context you believe distinguishes your SOP from identity policing, feel free to let me know.

Criticizing advice blogs for answering the questions they are asked in a way that points people towards terms that they might find helpful is a really weird notion, and I don’t think it’s helpful.

I’m honestly not even sure what you were going for with this statement (do you think I’m criticizing you for answering questions? criticizing you for pointing people toward terms?), unless you’d like to request clarification on the difference between identity-policing and pointing people toward terms.

You can call it prescriptivism if you want to

It is.

but questioning aces are not looking for 201 philosophies. They’re looking for 101 definitions and labels.

They sure are.

Since this is prefaced by you denying that you engage in prescriptivism, should I assume that you don’t think 201 talk and 101 talk can, do, or should influence each other?

They want to know: am I asexual or not?

They sure do.

Speaking of which, I’ve written a little about that issue here.

If you don’t like that kind of advice giving, then please, don’t interact with questioning folks.

…So you’re telling me that if I’m against identity-policing, I’m the one who shouldn’t be talking to vulnerable newbies.

Well, at least our opinion of each other is mutual.

Stick to the 201 discussions and wait for the questioning folks to figure it out and come to you.

Too late.

Questioning folks and baby aces need a foundation to build on,

Agreed!

and in the same way that we don’t teach theoretical physics or the effects of bias on history to elementary school kids, 201 ace discussions are not helpful to questioning aces.

201 ace discussions were pretty much what cemented my identity when I was questioning.

You can write that off as an exception, I guess, but I think you should revisit Arf’s essay I linked above, especially the part about being a gateway… not a wall.

Now, the specific asks they linked to…the first two are from 2014. I’m going to talk about them not here, other than to say that I wouldn’t answer those asks the same way today.

That’s great to hear!

The platonic attraction one I’m not satisfied with. I wasn’t satisfied with it when I queued it, but I was in the middle of answering it when I realized I needed to leave for work, and that was definitely a mistake. I’m still not sure how to best word my thoughts on platonic attraction, and I need to do more reading. I agree that it was not a great answer.

I’m glad you recognize this too.

If I could articulate the point that I was trying to get at, I’d do it, but I still can’t quite find the words for it. Something to do with a culture of toxic gender stereotyping.

Sounds like that could make an interesting post, if/when you get your thoughts sorted out.  Honestly, I really do think you’re on to something, even if I disagree with what you originally wrote.

The interaction with Arf I have a ton of regrets about, and I’m truly sorry about it. I will not do anything like that again. Arf, if you are reading this, I really wronged you, and I am sorry. I aimed to have a discussion with you, and I was invalidating and did damage with my words. I hope you can accept this apology.

I’m going to assume you contacted her through another means than in the middle of this long response not directed at her, but still, I’m relieved to hear this part as well.

I am not necessarily going to defend or critique the other examples offered, though there were some I think were fine and some that deserved some criticism. I simply don’t like the way that this article goes about criticizing them. There’s a bit of inserting words into advice givers’ mouths going on, which distorts the answers with the author’s bias. In the “misinformation” section, the first example is not advice, but someone admitting that they don’t know of an example of what the asker was looking for – and by publishing that as it is, someone else was able to provide the information. That’s responsible advice giving

Should I assume you think it’s unreasonable for a person running a blog dubbed “The Asexuality Blog” to have a passing familiarity with ace discussions, enough be aware that aces anywhere on the internet have written anything on sex-positivity before?

[As a sidenote, I think Sara was rather graceful about disavowing that mistake.]

So critiquing someone for acknowledging that they don’t know of any articles that match what the asker was looking for is pretty crappy.

Sure.  What I’m critiquing that post for is 1) that someone would write that answer after naming their blog THE Asexuality Blog and 2) that someone would write that answer without even doing a basic google search.  If you’re not sure why I’m criticizing it for those, then I’d be willing to explain more.

And it defeats the sense of community a little, doesn’t it, if every person has to have all the answers on their own and can’t throw something out there to hopefully have someone else to contribute.

Absolutely!  That’s why providing more links to outside writing (with more frequency than the current average, I mean) is a policy every advice blog should adopt.  I also think it would be better to have an actual comment section on each post, especially while Tumblr’s reply function is gone.  *shakes fist at Tumblr*

Dragging out two posts that are a year and a half old is frankly just a low blow. And those aren’t the only old posts in this article.

It’s a list of “examples of bad ace advice.”  Not a list of “examples of bad ace advice from recently in 2015.”

I get that you would prefer I’d have picked a cutoff date, but you haven’t stated why that is, just that some of the posts are old, so in order to respond to this more thoroughly I’d have to make guesses about what you meant, and I really hate to do that.

Yes, we need to not do that, but we also need to acknowledge that this is actually a really antagonistic way to go about that.

I can’t tell if “this” (in the “this is actually a really antagonistic way”) means the fact that I included old examples, or if you mean the post in general.

And this is a very public way of doing it.

Sure is.

We hashed out the issues then. I was clearly in the wrong, and I realized that. I worked to grow and improve myself. So dragging those posts out again is not simply a way of highlighting something we shouldn’t do. It’s also a way of implying that people can never, ever grow or move past their mistakes, and every time you mess up, it will haunt you forever.

…Huh?

…I mean, you can go ahead and feel embarrassed (I certainly would be), but since I guess this needs saying: yes, people can grow and move past their mistakes.  The post I made is just for highlighting things we shouldn’t do.

Now let’s go back to the subject at hand.

Read those old posts if you want, then come up with a version of bad advice that’s similar. If you have a timely example that hasn’t already been addressed, sure, bring it up.

It’s not a list of “examples of things that haven’t been addressed” (see: Shapes’ exchange with Arf).  It’s a list of “examples of bad advice.”

I’m a very literal person, you see.

Coyote dragged out two posts I made a year and a half ago that I definitely screwed up in… Are they aware of the back and forth I had with an anon that helped her get out of an abusive relationship?

Nope.

Is there something you want me to conclude from that?

Do they read the happy stories or mod appreciation tag, where followers share their success stories and thank us for our help?

I make a habit of not reading several versions of the same thing, but the good news is, you’ve pointed a way to help yourself deal with that demoralization and lack of praise you just mentioned a paragraph ago.

What about the other 15,000 posts we’ve made over the years that have given aces answers?

…Are you asking me if I’ve read the other 15,000 posts on your blog?

…No.  No, I can’t say that I have.

Sure, that’s not the point of this post, but by pointing at specific advice blogs, it feels like personal attacks, rather than a compilation of bad advice.

Yet, as you noted, that’s not the point of the post, because the point of the post is to be a compilation of bad advice.

But by all means, I won’t try to talk you out of feeling what you feel about it.

I would hope that’s not the intent.

Correct.  That’s not the intent.  The intent is to document examples of bad ace advice, and the intent of that is to show some recurring problems (not necessarily on the part of any one individual, but recurring across multiple blogs and across multiple years) that anyone accepting advice should be warned of and anyone giving advice should take note of as mistakes to avoid.

How many people are going to read this article and discredit all of the blogs linked?

*shrug*

I can’t say I share your concerns.  If however many people start to look at the blogs I linked more critically than they did before, that’s not a bad thing in my eyes.  A lot of bad advice goes unchallenged.  Maybe, as you predict, things will start to change.

Lack of timeliness and implications (even if not intended) that this is meant to discredit individuals and blogs could be about to drive off asexual advice givers. […] an article like this is a pretty compelling reason to get out of the business.

Can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

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7 responses to “Re: Asexual Advice’s Official Response — Kiowa

  • Kiowa

    I think my intent and your criticisms are actually more aligned than either of us realized, going into this. The true division we have seems to actually be word choice. What I intend and interpret as a suggestion of terms and a place to start looking, you interpret as a statement of identity. I did mention briefly in my original response how intent gets lost in a medium like this, and it’s incredibly frustrating when that lost intent is actually the issue at hand! When I say something like “It sounds like you’re describing x,” in my head it’s not a statement of fact, but sounding out a theory. Not a question, necessarily, but somewhere in between. Long form, my inner monologue is “Based on what the anon said, it sounds like x might be the closest term, and if I was this anon, this is probably what I’d resonate with, so that’s probably where I should advise them to start looking.” Which is probably less prescriptive, but also not exactly the most professional or confidence-inspiring phrasing ever to grace someone’s screen.

    I have certainly taken away from this whole experience that I need to be more thoughtful in the words I choose. Sometimes choosing a synonym within a sentence does change the interpretation of that sentence in the eyes of the audience, and that’s not good. I really and truly am not intending to tell people how to identify, just somewhere that might be a good place to start or possibly even be the answer to the question they’re asking.

    I have a question, now. I tend to start off with “I think” to convey that this is my opinion based on the information I have and nothing more than my opinion. I then like to use “might” or “possibly” to keep it as a suggestion, not a statement of fact. Is there some phrasing you find to convey the correct intent more effectively than that?

    As for the rest… there isn’t a time limit on bad advice, but there definitely is on callout posts – and whether it was your intent or not, the style of your post is pretty solidly in the callout category. By linking to specific blogs and discussing specific advice, this was not a general “hey, here’s things you should not do when giving advice.” This was also “and here are examples of people who did the bad things.” That’s where it turns into a callout. You said your intent was to discuss recurring problems – so you’ve seen more than one example. A specific post is not actually required. It shouldn’t be too hard to come up with a generic example. Without a specific post linked, the callout goes away, and all the implications I discussed before and the ones following cease to be a factor.

    When you call someone out in a timely fashion, you’re holding them responsible, and they have to either grow or face harsh criticisms. And while callouts are not always the kindest way to help people grow, they definitely do work. But calling someone out in an untimely fashion stops being a callout because it fails to account for growth that has already occurred. That’s where it turns antagonistic.

    I don’t disagree that there isn’t a lot to be learned from the mistakes many of us have made in the past. But if you don’t acknowledge that the people who made those mistakes learned from them already, then you’re implying that they haven’t. This is something that happens a lot on tumblr, and I understand that you aren’t particularly active there. But this is where callout culture goes horribly wrong. In the name of holding people accountable, the lack of timeliness and failure to acknowledge growth is at best a lack of research and at worst very damaging to people.

    I am concerned with the effects that callout posts like this have on individual people as well as blogs. Yes, we should be held accountable, but the way this post came across was rather unkind. My point behind the seemingly random list of accomplishments of Asexual Advice is that a few mistakes shouldn’t be allowed to discount that – but they can. The bit about what my marketing professor said refers to the fact that one post like this can do a lot of unintentional damage, and that damage is not easily countered.

    What we’ve seen happen elsewhere on tumblr is that someone makes a mistake, someone calls them out, and it turns into this giant snowball of nastiness that hurts the person who made the initial mistake. Yes, they need to know about it, but doing it an a very public way takes away control of the situation from both the person calling them out and the person called out. If just one wrong person gets involved, it goes from a discussion about the mistake and ways to improve to a smear campaign. Obviously, this is not your intent, and I hope desperately that the ace community will not fall down that rabbit hole. But knowing that that rabbit hole is out there can scare off people. If they think that making one mistake will result in a whole lot of ugly coming at them, they might quit doing the good things they’re doing just to be safe. And that notion is why this kind of public callout is concerning.

    None of us exist in a vacuum, so sometimes the best intentioned posts can have negative effects. We’ve had that with advice – otherwise, none of us would be here – and now you’ve had it with this post. What might have seemed like the best way to build this post actually comes across with a totally different intent. The intent of my original response was to point out that the specific way you structured and built your post felt hostile and has the potential to hurt people. The idea behind it and your intent is awesome and something we could really use. The execution, however, had the aforementioned implications and that’s where the issue lies.

    • Coyote

      “I have a question, now. I tend to start off with ‘I think’ to convey that this is my opinion based on the information I have and nothing more than my opinion. I then like to use ‘might’ or ‘possibly’ to keep it as a suggestion, not a statement of fact. Is there some phrasing you find to convey the correct intent more effectively than that?”

      Did you try reading all of this post yet?

      “By linking to specific blogs and discussing specific advice, this was not a general ‘hey, here’s things you should not do when giving advice.’ This was also ‘and here are examples of people who did the bad things.'”

      Well, yes. Giving real-life concrete examples was the point of the post.

      If you’re interested to know the reason for that, it’s because general “hey, here’s things you should not do” posts have already been written, multiple times over, and I haven’t seen any change as a result of that. I figured if I wanted to make an impact, I should try something different — like linking actual examples.

      “the style of your post is pretty solidly in the callout category.”
      “…That’s where it turns into a callout.”
      “But calling someone out in an untimely fashion stops being a callout”

      I was going to ask “well which is it then” but then it occurred to me that I don’t care.

      What I do want to know is this: Do you think it’s morally wrong to link old posts when saying negative things about those posts? Or do you think there are certain steps I need to take when linking to old posts while saying negative things about them? And what are those exact steps, if you don’t mind?

      “if you don’t acknowledge that the people who made those mistakes learned from them already, then you’re implying that they haven’t”

      If you’ve got a specific apology post/change post you want incorporated into the list of examples, you can add it in the comments.

    • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

      From my own experiences of running a very popular blog where people frequently ask for advice (autisticproblems), it’s very important to understand that when you are seen as a source of advice, things that you intend to be mild suggestions are frequently interpreted as rule of law. When you are an advice blog, the community you are in sees you as an authority, so your words carry a lot more weight than the words of a blogger who isn’t as popular. I frequently answer people’s questions telling them that I don’t know things (especially for “is X an autistic trait?” questions), and I link them to sources other than me, or I invite followers to respond to their question, whenever possible. asexualadvice is an authority figure, and you need to be much more careful with your wording on asexualadvice (compared to your personal blog) because of that.

      “one post like this can do a lot of unintentional damage, and that damage is not easily countered.”

      I’m curious: are you receiving harassing messages from people currently? Because if you aren’t, this argument of “You shouldn’t criticize people too harshly when linking to them, because it might make people harass them” is moot.

      And if you are currently receiving harassing messages, I’m very sorry that is happening to you, and I do not support anyone who would choose to do that. I disagree with you, however, that Coyote worded things in a way that could incite hostility in an otherwise-reasonable person. The parts of Coyote’s post about you focused on your actions and not your person. At no point did Coyote say “Kiowa is a prescriptivist” or something like that. Coyote stressed your actions, and that some of those actions were patterns, but Coyote did not in the post say anything that amounted to an ad-hominem or make any assertion of what kind of person you are.

    • Siggy

      Specific examples are very valuable. Case in point, part of the disagreement between you and Coyote is whether “it sounds like X is the closest term” counts as prescriptivism or sounding out a theory. How could we have revealed that disagreement without specific examples? In absence of examples, we’d all be agreeing that too much prescriptivism is bad, but also having a hidden disagreement on what kinds of statements are too prescriptive.

      I also disagree with the rather specific narrative you have there about what constitutes a callout. Consider another narrative: I discuss the sexism in Harry Potter, and provide specific examples from the books. Is that wrong because I’m not being timely? Is it a personal attack on Rowling? What if I made a linkspam discussing various kinds of sexism across a dozen different fantasy books?

      I think it is unreasonable to see it as a personal attack, because there were dozens of links to various advice blogs. Asexual Advice was featured most frequently, but you know, Asexual Advice is to the ace advice blog genre as Harry Potter is to the fantasy genre.

  • Kiowa

    I really appreciate you all taking the time to put all these thoughts together, and I think (and hope) I’ve learned a fair bit from reading them. Getting some different perspectives on the topic is quite helpful, honestly. Between the many different discussions occurring both publicly and privately on this whole shebang and real life stuff, I’m honestly ready to let this one lie. Any thoughts I have left on the matter are not easily articulated and therefore best left unsaid.

  • Kiowa and Prescriptivism: A Recap | The Ace Theist

    […] next day, she commented on my reply to ask how I would ask her to do things differently and told me that what I wrote was unkind, […]

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