On Diagnosing a Suffocation

A post about changes (or not) in the ace blogosphere, or, in other words, about a state of “we aren’t talking enough on” intracommunity problem topics.

Mostly, though, it’s just a response to this tumblr post.

What drew my eye in particular was this part added by user warriorsdebt: “In short, in a twist that should surprise absolutely nobody at this point, the exclusionists who will scream until they’re blue about the problems in aspec communities are also the number one factor stopping us from solving them.”


Well, before getting into sorting and ranking, I wanna take a step back and ask, what are (some of) the factors stopping us from solving community problems?  Why aren’t we “talking enough” about homoantagonism, sex-shaming, racism, and everything else?

I might be lacking perspective here, having gotten involved in the ace community around only… maybe five years ago, but, to start with, here are a few broad-strokes categories I might point to:

1) outside chance factors, i.e. individual aces are individually quiet because of more pressing personal issues, more pressing political (+ not-ace-specific) issues, chronic illness, activism fatigue, depression, moving, surgery, etc etc etc (– and don’t discount this one just because it’s not community-actionable); 2) platform mechanics, i.e. that special combination of “a big chunk of ace community activity happens on tumblr” and “tumblr as a platform enables and facilitates some kinds of interaction more than others,” which I know y’all have heard me complain about enough already but that’s part of it, okay; and 3) community attention, which I’m using here to mean the mass pattern of choices people make about what to share and circulate. ‘Cause a lot of “talking” on tumblr isn’t talking — it’s reblogging what other people have said, which amplifies a message but doesn’t (in my perspective) constitute quantitatively more “talk” (if you can quantify talk at all). And when what you’re talking about is perceptions of how much talk-on-topic is happening, that kind of thing plays a part, too. Not only do those patterns themselves further an impression, but people also respond to those impressions in their decisions about what to post about (– after all, if you see that something is an ongoing Hot Topic, then it’s reasonable that you then might be more likely to write a flurry of posts about it).

Under the community attention category is where I’d put waves of anti-ace antagonism, in that paying attention to it can sometimes crowd out other topics.  And to some extent, I think there’s something to what warriorsdebt is saying — “We do not have the liberty of discussing things among ourselves on this platform unless they are literally one on one private discussions, which doesn’t really do much to foster community awareness or change.”

( Hold on, I need a moment to put away my “what will it take to spark a mass migration off that platform then” soapbox before I get going again. )

Anyway. Distractions from and defensiveness against antagonization movements is part of it, sure. And it’s not like sincere talk on these community-critical topics isn’t happening. For example! Here’s something asked for in the OP, re: aces of color: Interrogating the Whiteness of the Asexual Community was posted on “The Asexual” just last month. It was included in a weekly linkspam by The Asexual Agenda and also reposted by Vesper queerascat who pointed out a similarity between what was said in Paramo’s article and a recent video of their own.

Now, I’m not highlighting these just to say “hey but look people are talking about it though” because OP didn’t say the talk isn’t happening, just that there should be more. I’m highlighting these 1) because it’s a recent example that sprang to mind, 2) because it deserves more attention, and 3) because of that platform issue warriorsdebt alluded to. Take a look at each of those links again. Notice that they take the form of 1) an original separate website, 2) a wordpress blog (with a tumblr mirror), 3) a tumblr link post, and 4) a tumblr post embedded with a video that was originally posted on youtube.

On the page where Paramo’s article is posted, as of this current time of writing, the comment section has all of one comment, and it’s from Vesper.

While I’m hesitant to hold this example up as itself emblematic and representative of community apathy (it might be, it might not be, I don’t personally know how to assess that), I do think there’s something to consider here.

That comment section is quiet. It has not one piece of anti-ace input in it. And it is something hosted elsewhere than tumblr.

Again, I think there’s something to the idea that tumblr is presently a hostile environment generally inhospitable to ace community problem-solving. We can attribute that to the latest wave of anti-ace aggression. And we can also, additionally, attribute that to tumblr-as-a-platform being inhospitable to conversation-having, generally, and also to the sheer apathy or inattention of the community itself. The OP even acknowledges “I don’t know if we aren’t having that many of these intracommunity discussions because we’re all so focused on defending our place in the wider queer community right now or if they are in fact happening and I just haven’t seen them.”

I think it’s worth asking, then — what do we see? How do we decided what sites to check, what blogs to follow? What are the patterns of choices we’re making wrt where to direct our attention? The people who do want that intracommunity criticism to happen — why aren’t they seeing it or being connected to (as much of) it when it happens?

As for me, I’ve been out of the loop for a while here, so I have no final Answer to provide and am… probably part of the problem in some ways. I will instead close on another question:

What’s the tumblr etiquette for letting someone know you’ve responded to their tumblr post but not on tumblr?

21 responses to “On Diagnosing a Suffocation

  • Siggy

    Worth noting that a year or two ago, I really wanted to write about “the discourse” because I felt that it was an important topic that got almost zero discussion in the blogosphere, and a lot of people didn’t have a clear idea of what it even was… and then I abandoned this idea because I felt that I hardly saw anything about the discourse, and thus could not write competently about it without doing more research than I had time to do.

    I don’t know, some people on tumblr seem to think ace exclusionists are everywhere, but really no. You’re just standing in the center of it.

    • Coyote

      This comment is kind of hilarious.

      But yeah, vantagepoint can have a big influence on what you see… which, to me, raises the question of how the more antagonism-immersed folks could get to a place where they’re less immersed, or if they are choosing to instead stay where they are (whatever “where” may mean abstractly, not just platforms but also tracked tags and social groupings etc.), then what’s keeping them there, at least.

      Also I am still mad that this wave has been dubbed with a term used differently in my field. Imagine if instead people kept calling it, I don’t know, “the velocity.”

  • luvtheheaven

    As long as you have a tumblr account you can message privately to let someone know you replied to their post off tumblr. Etc.

    Michael Paramo has a huge Twitter following and gets more “comments” there than on his website. Which I agree is frustrating because that doesn’t promote continuing conversation.

    I’m guilty of being sucked in by some of “the discourse” as a topic worth looking deeper into instead of just ignoring it, as arguments I worry sound good at first glance and worry will become too persuasive to too many people so I feel obligated to fight since I’m in a position of relative privilege, being sure of my ace identity, sure of my positions on a variety of what is brought up too… I see the harm possible and see that these posts have enough “notes” that they’re not just two haters bullying but rather a community of folks who strongly wish aces didn’t exist so much so they sometimes have convinced themselves our specific orientation really doesn’t. Idk, it gets addictive, paying attention to this stuff, and I’m not creating my own blogs to combat it but I might follow a blog or two that does, etc.

    Like… I don’t know. I just have a lot of feelings surrounding these things and it’s hard to redirect my feelings once they’re already one place, if that makes any sense. It’s kinda like how I do fandom and all sorts of other aspects of my life too though. Fandom especially being relevant since it’s also a tumblr related thing. I can have strong feelings stirred by what I see and it just is a tornado that keeps picking up speed at that point.

    Also tumblr just made everything worse by adding in:
    Where basically what’s already popular is all anyone will see and super difficult to break in to popularity.

    • Siggy

      I don’t think it is bad to get “sucked in” and write about discourse stuff. As mentioned above, I wanted to write about it too. It’s a really important developing trend, and I feel sure that it will hit mainstream at some point.

      But what I find frustrating is that people are clearly devoting so much energy to it, and constantly complaining about how much energy they devote to it, and yet not a fraction of that energy seems to be spent on actually useful things, such as educating outsiders about the subject, understanding the extent of the problem, or developing consistent resources. Sometimes I hear from aces who have encountered ace exclusionism for the very first time and they’re just gobsmacked by how detached from reality it is, and I have to explain, yeah this has been a thing on tumblr for years, but that’s like all I can say about it. I know more about TERFs than I know about ace exclusionists despite being an ace activist and not a trans activist, that’s how bad it is.

      In the OP Coyote talks about how ace exclusionism can suffocate other conversations. But I think what’s ironic is that ace exclusionism even suffocates useful conversations about itself.


      I am not super convinced that Tumblr’s new dashboard feature is actually a problem–or to the extent that it is a problem, it doesn’t seem to be contributing to ace community problems. It’s probably bad if you’re a new creator, but there’s nothing about new creators that makes them inherently different or better than old creators on ace issues. I remember back when Tumblr’s tags only showed the newest things first, and that might have been better for new creators but it’s really hard to argue it was good for the ace community. It meant a large segment of the community was always preoccupied with responding to the latest “new creator” who decided to troll the asexuality tag.

      This feature hasn’t been rolled out to me though so I reserve judgment.

  • AceAdmiral

    I agree with all of this so much–especially with regards to their being bubbles on tumblr that people seem to be stuck in. I see this quite a lot in the scholarship applications especially. The topic for last time was “what’s something you’d like to see built in the community that it doesn’t have now,” and probably 80% of the responses I wrote were “yeah, you’re right, have you seen the work XYZ is already doing about this?” And I’m not really up on anything!/took the entire first half of this year off. (Nobody wrote back that they were glad to hear of it and had signed up to help that project, either, but that’s a different tangent.) Luvtheheaven is right, too, that no matter how bad Tumblr is, Twitter is almost worse for facilitating discussions.

    Also, I think there’s something in the validation economy that’s sort of sprung up to shore up the people engulfed in The Discourse. Not only are we giving our attention to fighting with people, but then what we have left seems only capable of handling happy one-line posts–which are them passed around even more widely. Obviously there is a need for this kind of stuff, attested by its wide circulation, but in its own way I think it can be stiffing too…

  • queenieofaces

    Here’s my cynical two cents: “People aren’t talking about X enough” is a fast and easy way to signal that you consider a topic important without having to do the work of A. checking that anyone is already talking about it (after all, you said “enough,” so even if people are talking about it, they could be talking about it more!) or B. doing anything concrete to fix that problem. Maybe that’s a really jaded way of looking at it, but I’ve been blogging for more than 5 years at this point and hanging around ace communities for another two, and that entire time I’ve seen the same exact comments about aces of color and ace survivors, REGARDLESS of the amount of content being produced about either. Rather than shouting into the void that there should be more content for X, sharing/discussing/engaging with the content that there is for X to make it clear that you want more of it is a much better and more productive strategy.

    • Coyote

      I had an inkling of something like this but wasn’t sure… thank you for putting words to it.

    • Sennkestra

      This is exactly it. And it’s not just an ace thing, or a tumblr thing, it’s a general…human’s with biased social networks who don’t bother to look outside thing.

      It reminds me of the sister phenomenon of like, seeing people on facebook decrying “why isn’t the mainstream media talking about this??” (when in most cases that’s actually not the case, and can be disproven with a simple google search).

      The problem there isn’t one of content creation so much as it is content curation, especially on platforms like facebook, tumblr, blogs, etc. where your feed is entirely determined by who you choose to follow (as opposed to places like AVEN or reddit, where what everyone sees the same content). Tons of people may or may not be talking about it, but you won’t see that unless you make at least a little bit of effort to find and follow the places that have that information, which usually takes a simple google search or two and maybe like 5-10 minutes of skimming links at most.

      That aspect of content curation has both it’s good and it’s bad sides – on the one hand, it has a positive effect of allowing people who do want to talk about those issues to curate a following of other people who also talk productively about those issues, without as much of the derailment or getting drowned in other posts you don’t care about that can hamper discussions on places like AVEN, which is I think at least part of why it seems like there were better conversations about race once tumblr got popular. (And as much as i hate how tumblr splits conversations into trees of seperate threads, it does admittedly make it easy to curate a conversation by only promoting threads that don’t have gross or derailing responses)

      On the other hand, it means that if you don’t make at least some active effort to curate your feed to include topics like race or ace survivors or international news or whatever issue you claim to care about, you can end up isolating yourself in a social bubble where you can be out of touch with what other corners of the community are saying.

  • Linkspam: Friday, November 10th, 2017 | The Asexual Agenda

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  • Vesper

    personally, i couldn’t disagree more with the first quote that you gave from warriorsdebt re: “…the exclusionists who will scream until they’re blue about the problems in aspec communities are also the number one factor stopping us from solving them.”

    sure, Tumblr ‘discourse’ / exclusionists are *a* factor that is getting in the way of us addressing community issues, but to consider it “the number on factor” is both laughable and insulting to me. such a claim does nothing but make the person with such sentiments, usually aces, feel absolved from any accountability *they* may have regarding whatever problem they’re seeing affecting the ace community.

    and i say this both as someone who was actively watching ‘the discourse’ unfold until earlier this year AND as someone who has yet to actually be attacked by so-called exclusionists for discussing the very issues that the OP refers to– but instead has been attacked numbers times *by fellow aces* when talking about those very issues that apparently people aren’t talking about enough. i’ve seen several posts going around similar to the OP you linked to and have even had asks sent with similar sentiments, and i must say…. i couldn’t be any more fed up with the notion that exclusionists are The Thing “stunting community growth”, as someone once put it, when what has made it a struggle for me to continue discussing intracommunity issues isn’t exclusionists anywhere near as much as it is fellow aces.

    warriorsdebt: ““We do not have the liberty of discussing things among ourselves on this platform [ … ] because we are always monitored, and that scrutiny has violent consequences.”

    …mmm, right. let’s not pretend like exclusionists are the only ones doing the monitoring in which such scrutiny has violent consequences.

    …….okay, that rant was a long time coming. sorry for unloading it here.
    *copies it and pastes it elsewhere for my own future reference*

    anyway, you pointed out the lack of discussion in the comments section of Paramo’s post and i’d also like to point to the lack of comments on my YouTube video regarding the same topic. usually the comments section on my videos are abuzz with at least superficial discussion and commentary on whatever the video is about, but i’ve noticed that whenever a video specifically addresses something race related? crickets. those videos also tend to get fewer views than on average. i feel like there are two main reasons for this. 1) the vast majority of people who watch my videos and/or interact with my Tumblr posts are white; 1.5) which becomes all the truer when said content is not only about race but also about asexuality, thus consumed primarily by white aces specifically; 2) because they are white, they are less inclined to interact with something that’s specifically addressing race for a number of reasons. that is, unless it is a link spam about resources specific to aces of color that they can just reblog and call it a day.

    i feel like there’s a definite pattern to how the ace community does or doesn’t consume and / or interact with anything that is specific to being both a person of color and ace that makes the emptiness of the comments section both on Paramo’s post and on my YouTube video not the least bit surprising to me.

    • Sennkestra

      Yeah, I think it’s a good point that while exclusionists can be one factor that makes some people hesitant to talk about race, it’s definitely not the main one. Case in point: AVEN has been around for like 15 years at this point, and at no point in that time has it ever had any significant problems with hostile “discourse” from non-aces of the type that’s all too common on tumblr (although that hardly makes it a paradise – it just means that intra-community struggles are the bigger problem and the bigger impediment to progress). And yet despite that, tumblr (with all of it’s flaws) has still produced far more worthwhile discussions of asexuality and race in like 5 years than AVEN has done in 15, at least in my opinion.

      So while it’s observably true that worries about discourse did have something of a chilling effect on some ace writers, it’s nowhere near the magnitude of the other forces (white apathy, regular old racism, non-ace-discourse related internet antagonism, social bubbles, structural platform issues) that have been standing in the way of good conversations about asexuality and race since before the discourse even existed.

      • Vesper

        actually, i have hardly seen Tumblr ‘discourse’ / exclusionists take up the topic of race and asexuality at all. when i have, it was done specifically by / from the point of view of someone of color who formally identified as ace until they left the ace community and identity behind because of racism within the ace community /prior/ to this latest reiteration of ‘the discourse’. personally, i wouldn’t give ‘the discourse’ or exclusionists much credit for ‘stifling’ discussions re: asexuality and race specifically, aside from the indirect effect it’s had in making some people more hesitant to put themselves out there in discussing asexuality period.

        also, just wanna clarify (not to you specifically, but in general) that minus the latter part of my comment above that was in response to the examples that Coyote gave re: intracommunity discussions of race, including my video, i didn’t intend for any of what i said to be taken as being specific to the topic of race. i had and have many things in mind when i say that i’m fed up with how exclusionists and ‘discourse’ are being scapegoated for the supposed lack of intracommunity discussions– which in and of itself is an intracommunity issue imho.

    • Rachel

      Vesper is 100% on point with how white aces (the majority of the community) tend to tune out race-specific content.

      There is a definite vicious circle going on:

      1. White aces passively wait for stuff on racism and asexuality to be written

      2. APOC posts something about racism and asexuality

      3. White aces mostly ignore it

      4. APOC see that it’s a major case of diminishing returns to write about asexuality and racism

      5. APOC are less inclined to write about racism and asexuality in the future

      The only way out of this hole, that I can see, is that white aces need to pay more attention to this stuff when it comes up. But even if white ace viewership does increase, how should white ace commentary on these issues be steered? Would it be better for white ace readers to just read and not comment, or comment even if they have nothing to add more meaningful than a “thanks for posting?”

      • Vesper

        personally, i do not expect nor particularly desire commentary from white aces on whatever i’ve written specific to race and asexuality. while i certainly do not mind “thanks for posting” comments, more often than not the commentary that i get is along the lines of “why bring race into this?” (which i’ve also gotten on literally anything i’ve made / written about racial issues ever, mind you) or “how can i help you?” and as i mention in my video, the last thing that i want after having put a lot of work into the thing being commented on is to have to play the role of educator to someone even if they do have nothing but the best of intentions at heart.

        rather than comment when there’s nothing meaningful to say, signal boost what ever it is that you’d be commenting on. //actively// help disseminate it via reblogs, retweets, bookmarking it and sharing the link with someone who might need it when appropriate to do so, etc– don’t just make an otherwise empty post calling on others to signal boost things, as people often do on Tumblr and as queenie points out below can be…… eh at times. i also appreciate likes when such passive feedback is appropriate (which it isn’t always). in my video (linked in the OP), i also gave tips re: how those who are not a person of color themself can help those who are.

    • queenieofaces

      Here to add that I’ve had similar experiences when I’ve written about being mixed race. There’s a lot less engagement in the form of comments, but also fewer reblogs and likes, which makes the insistence that we should be boosting the voices of aces of color seem…hmmmmmmmmm, how do I put this…….performative, at times.

  • Rowan

    I think also more – burnout from ace exclusionists preventing talking, rather than the direct effect posited? not sure if I’m making sense – like, there are so many people yelling about things, saying do this and do that and the fact that you have not already done them makes you already wrong, is a mental barrier even if they do not find you and attack you personally. (I don’t do much aceblogging anymore partly because I’m not sure I have much/the right things to say – aceblogging went on a direction in about 2014/2015 that I still don’t quite understand, and I don’t want to Get It Wrong – but also partly because, yeah, that barrier. Impossibly high activation energy, etc.)

    And also, yeah, tumblr is a shit medium for seeing if people actually *are* talking about X.

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  • aceadmiral

    1) outside chance factors (– and don’t discount this one just because it’s not community-actionable)

    Sorry, I was just re-reading this post for unrelated reasons, and not to get up on *my* hobby horse on a three-year-old post, but: isn’t this community-actionable? Certainly not completely, especially due to geographical constraints, but when one talks about why a person might be in a community in the first place, helping to mitigate these kind of hardships tend to be at the top of the list, and yet our community does very little to nothing about them. Especially given the likelyhood of aces being in shallower social support networks, it is (obviously) incomprehensible to me why more people don’t seem to care about them, but maybe… using a framing like this could be helpful in pitching the idea? So, thank you for the new idea to noodle from an old post :D

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