Visibility is a trap

[Note: This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]

This is a post about “visibility” as the name of (and approach toward) a type of primary community goal. While in the drafting stages, I had considered naming this post something more simple, like “on visibility” — but it occurred to me that a potential reader just might think this was simply yet another post on “why visibility is important,” and it is not. This post is not pro-visibility. This is a post inviting the reader to consider the potential for visibility to become a trap.

The impetus for this post comes from two sources. One is that, while pursuing “visibility” has been the received wisdom in ace communities for a long time now — even the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, founded in 2001, has it right there in the name — only just recently have I learned that it’s a stated goal for some parts of the aro community, as well. I won’t take that survey as representative, but I will take it as indicative — showing that, because people are still talking about needing “visibility,” there’s still a reason to talk about the language of “visibility” as a community goal.

The second source of impetus is a realization I had about ace Tumblr. About a week before those aro community survey results were published, I put together a rough community timeline for my post on reclaiming “SAM,” and in that timeline, I left a part of the summary simply at this: “2011 happened. 2011… kept happening. 2011 never stopped happening.” And upon writing those lines, I realized I used to think of the anti-ace alarmism on Tumblr as distributed in waves — because that’s what it felt like at the time. But referring to them as “waves” would imply that they ever let up, when in hindsight, it… never really stopped. This Question of how to position asexuality amid straightness and queerness, specifically as a trojan vector for anti-ace hostility, well predates the discourse meme of 2015, mind you. Since 2011, the fire’s been burning, and over the past eight years it seems like it’s only gotten worse.

As best I can tell, the year 2011 is special because that’s the year something… changed. It’s not that people weren’t asking The Question until then — they were, and Siggy has written about how the conversation around it looked completely different pre-2011. What changed wasn’t that someone thought to ask. What changed, roughly speaking, was who joined in to answer. In Aceadmiral’s account of events:

2011 was the year that some aces decided to come out of the ace-exclusive spaces of AVEN and the ace blogosphere and make themselves heard. 2011 was the year that people everywhere started hearing about us. 2011 was the year that we were finally taking up space, and it was enough that we started to be noticed.

If you will permit me a generalization on the topic: 2011 was the year Aces Got Noticed.

…Or maybe they weren’t, really. But they were getting noticed more than before, comparatively, anyway. Getting… seen, if you will.

I’ll tell you one thing: there was a time, maybe around 2012, when I would have to hunt to find ace blogs on Tumblr, and I practically never saw a mention of asexuality outside of the ace blogosphere. By 2017, it’d gotten to the point where I so wary and jaded about branching out from the few-and-shrinking Tumblr blogs I was already watching, I started writing reminders to myself to stop venturing onto non-ace Tumblr blogs at all. Because whenever I’ve stepped off the familiar path on that site, it’s felt like only a matter of time before I’m smacked in the face with some kind of post attacking or making a mockery of aces or ace language. We’ve now achieved enough “visibility” for that. Congratulations.

For the record, I’ve centered these above descriptions around what happens on Tumblr for three reasons. 1) It’s one of the “most widely followed online asexual communities,” according to the 2016 census. 2) While I can’t tell when, exactly, Tumblr got popular with aces, I suspect it may have been sometime around 2011, the year when the platform itself started getting popular. 3) This anti-ace harassment campaign — ostensibly premised on The Question — has been disproportionately located on Tumblr. While I don’t doubt that it has spread elsewhere, and while Aceadmiral even attests that it wasn’t born there, it has thrived on the Tumblr environment.

Let me say one thing about the Tumblr environment, on that note. If Tumblr is good for one thing, it’s circulation. It’s spreading things. It’s making things “go viral.” It’s sending your message flying from hand to hand. It’s serving it up to more and more eyeballs at an exponential rate. It’s a vehicle for visibility.

Visibility is a trap.

The title of this post is a reference to a famous quote from French social theorist Michel Foucault, and more specifically a section of his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, in which he contrasts the principle of the dungeon against the principle of the panopticon. The principle of the dungeon involves three functions: 1) to enclose, 2) to deprive of light, and 3) to hide. The panopticon is the same but different. The panopticon encloses the prisoner, but its lighting is bright, and it exposes more than it hides, facilitating constant surveillance. The panopticon makes the prisoner inescapably visible. And in Foucault’s summation, visibility is a trap.

When we speak of an identity’s “invisibility,” as in “ace invisibility” or “aro invisibility,” as a primary community obstacle, we invoke the principle of the dungeon. We metaphorize the problem as going unseen, wreathed in shadows, relegated to dark corners and going unacknowledged — (not-so-)incidentally paving the way for some kind of grass-is-always-greener malice envy.

It’s understandable that this language could easily take root on Tumblr, where a post “not having enough notes” is code for “people don’t care as much about this topic as they should.” But it’s also disastrously ironic. It’s ironic because on Tumblr at large, users recognize that getting too many “notes” (too much circulation, too much attention, too much visibility) can be a bad thing. Why else would people make jokes comparing “when you make a tumblr post that gets a lot of notes” to failing a stealth mission? Why else would people openly talk about not wanting and hating it when their posts get “too many” notes? Or lamentations on the consequences? Or “since that post my life has never known peace”? Or “it’s probably best if everyone would stop reblogging my posts forever”? Or offer condolences when someone else’s post becomes popular?

I don’t need to invoke a complex sociological analysis here. Tumblr users already understand this. Visibility is not an unequivocally good thing.

Other communities have discussed the drawbacks, as well, and rejected “awareness” as a basis of advocacy. In the autistic community, it’s been written on again and again how “awareness” is not necessarily the same thing as acceptance — and in fact, they’re frequently even contrasted as completely different, even mutually-exclusive things. I wouldn’t go that far exactly, but it’s worth noting how “awareness” has not always been benign.

The (in)visibility paradigm has been questioned and probed at within the asexual community, too, here and there. I think of Aceadmiral’s post on wanting more than “to be seen” and Vesper’s post on visibility as a double-edged sword. I’m also reminded of Elizabeth’s post on how linking to ace resources during a fight can cause splash damage, creating “visibility” in the form of hostile traffic.

…But as far as I can tell, the paradigm of the dungeon remains in circulation, going largely accepted by many, and not just with aces. The thinking goes like this: we are enclosed, deprived of light, and hidden — “invisible.” The solution, then, is to bring us into the light and make us more “visible.” Ostensibly, this is supposed to make our lives better.

But it hasn’t, won’t, and can’t, because all that does is exchange the principle of the dungeon for the principle of the panopticon. Visibility is not freedom. Visibility can be a trap.

For that reason, I want better ways to talk about community goals than “visibility.” I want better ways of identifying what we’re up against than “invisibility.” It’s not that people simply don’t know. It’s not a set of issues that’s purely informational. Our ideological opponents are not something that can be defeated by simply putting the word out there. We cannot Horton-Hears-A-Who our way out of this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. No amount of “We are here! We are here! We are here!” will stop people from responding, “I know, and I despise you for it.”

My hope is that people of any identity, not just aces, can take something from this. While you could argue that it’s none of my business whether aros use the paradigm of the dungeon, since I’m only quoiro (& whether or not quoiros get claimed as a part of “aros” apparently sometimes depends on rhetorical convenience), it pains me to see missed opportunities to learn from our mistakes. And for that matter, it’s high time aces came back to this question ourselves. Aces love making models, so riddle me this: How do we model the essential structure of what’s happening to us?


72 responses to “Visibility is a trap

  • Sennkestra

    One of the things that I think ace and aro activists (including sometimes me) who look to AVEN as a model often forget is that it’s not just about visibility, but about visibility *and education*. Visibility gets people to pay attention to you for a moment, but you need to use that moment to actually educate them in some way, whether it’s to advise them on how to support aces in their lives, how to avoid stereotypes, how to avoid accidentally excluding ace people, direct them to further resources, or whatever.

    Basically, visibility can be a useful tool when it’s seen as a means to an end, rather than an end itself – it needs to be just one part of a larger plan that carries a specific call to action for people to take. Forgetting that call to action is how you end up with dozens of viral tumblr posts that say things like “Wugs exist!” and “Wugs are valid!” and “Respect and Support Wugs!” and yet not a single link to anything that will tell me what a wug is, why I should care about them, or what concrete actions I actually need to take to support them even if I wanted to.

    The other thing that I think is worth of consideration when we talk about visibility and awareness is: who are we trying to become visible to, and what exactly are we trying to make visible? Because I think there are two main kinds of visibility activism. on the one hand, there’s the standard, outward facing “hey look, wugs exist!” type of visibility and education activism, which can lead to all the risks above, and which has diminishing returns – especially when you hit the point where your target already knows that wugs exist but just doesn’t care and/or actively lashed out at them. (which also ties into the common internet adage, “when you have a debate, don’t bother trying to convince your opponent – you’re actually trying to convince the undecided audience.”)

    On the other hand, there’s also another kind of visibility/awareness activism that I think is often neglected (including, again, by me) but which is much more important, which is inward facing awareness and visibility – the kind that say, “Hey, do you think that you might be a wug? Well fear not, there are others of us our here just like you! And here’s all these resources we’ve made for you! [add link here]”.

    • Sennkestra

      (Of course, all that strategy I mentioned above is reliant on having organized campaigns and resources like educational resources or community support groups or resources for professionals etc. to actually point people to, which….are almost completely lacking when it comes to the aro community especially, but even for asexuality they can be thin on the ground still. So I think maybe I come back to your main point which is that we need to focus on making those resources first, before we even think about making them visible or not.)

    • Coyote

      Re: education, I’m ambivalent over whether highlighting that angle (“educating”) resolves the problem or not. On the one hand, “Learn about us” is at least a step further than “Look at us.” On the other hand — and this depends on how it’s used and how people are thinking of it, but I’ll still say it — I think “education” to a lot of people has a neutral, informational valence, like introducing something that people might simple not have been aware of before. And in some cases, yeah, that’s what’s called for & is enough. But I *don’t* think the issues aces face as aces are simply a lack of information. I think there’s also elements at play that are ideological and systemic. And I don’t think “education” is a good word for “challenging bad existing ideologies” and “organizing to transform systems.” …Not the worst possible word choice ofc, but… not a good match, and kinda implies different framing, I think.

      Basically, visibility can be a useful tool when it’s seen as a means to an end, rather than an end itself – it needs to be just one part of a larger plan that carries a specific call to action for people to take.

      Agreed.

      On the other hand, there’s also another kind of visibility/awareness activism that I think is often neglected (including, again, by me) but which is much more important, which is inward facing awareness and visibility – the kind that say, “Hey, do you think that you might be a wug? Well fear not, there are others of us our here just like you! And here’s all these resources we’ve made for you! [add link here]”.

      Oh god yeah… speaking of… That’s something I still get annoyed with when I see it: when a tumblog styles itself (or a post) as an Archive or Resource and yet has hardly any links. “Welcome to the wug community! I’m not going to introduce you to anyone or even show you the door though. You’ll just have to wander around the building until you find a way in on your own.”

      • Sennkestra

        Yeah, I think you are definitely right in that education isn’t the answer to the whole problem or even most of the problem – it’s just one that I think is one of the more achievable steps for early stage communities and one of the places where properly-targeted visibility can still be useful, which is why i wanted to mention it. But as you mention, it doesn’t at all negate the need for non-visibility focused work and doesn’t even come close to solving all the issues aces face.

        I think when it comes to outreach activism (as opposed to internal community networking and resource building), there are sort of two angles: education and persuasion – I only really addressed the first one above, and I think what you are getting at is the second:

        Basically, education is for showing people who are already friendly *how* they can support you; persuasion is for showing people who are neutral to hostile *why* they should support you (or at least stop throwing rocks at you at a bare minimum). And since you can’t persuade everyone to like you, it also involves persuading those who are more sympathetic to help enact structures or norms that can help protect you from the ones who are more hostile. (and on the more strategic side, it involves figuring out what actions we want to persuade people to take).

        Ace vis/ed models like the one AVEN used were really geared more towards the former (education of people who are already sympathetic), because it had the biggest payoffs in the early stages of activism. But as you mentioned above, the needs of the current ace (and aro) communities call more for the latter sometimes, and I’m not sure we’re any good at it yet.

    • assignedgothatbirth

      ‘ Forgetting that call to action is how you end up with dozens of viral tumblr posts that say things like “Wugs exist!” and “Wugs are valid!” and “Respect and Support Wugs!” and yet not a single link to anything that will tell me what a wug is, why I should care about them, or what concrete actions I actually need to take to support them even if I wanted to. ‘
      (Is ‘This^^^^’ too cliche now?)
      I have a lot of Thoughts™ on positivity posts and performative activism. One day I’ll get around to writing the actual post…

  • Sennkestra

    Also, since I totally fell into the trap and started talking about visibility again, here are some examples of non-visibility related campaigns I want to see just off the top of my head (ranging from the totally doable to the farfetched but optimistic) – I’m saying ace here for brevity but it applies equally to aromantics or other groups:

    Community Building: More and more diverse spaces
    – More offline social spaces/groups, especially in areas that don’t have them yet
    – More niche social spaces/groups, both offline and online – things like for aromantics, or PoC, or younger aces, or older aces, or male aces or trans aces for lgbt aces or sex-repulsed aces or other contingents that may have specialized needs.

    Community Building: Mutual support orgs and legal resources
    – mutual aid + support organizations for aces who may not have traditional family or partner support structures to rely on, especially as they get older.
    – legal education and legal aid for people in nontraditional relationships who may need to DIY their own relationship rights via forms like power of attorney, health plan directives, and more.

    Policy Goals: Fighting Medical Pathologization
    – keep an eye on the development of and promotion of drugs like flibanserin/addyi and whatevers next in the pipeline and campaigning against them if appropriate
    – keeping an eye on developments in professional resource texts like the DSM or the ICD and campaigning to influence changes as appropriate
    – More research and documentation of medical pathologization, and how to recoghnize and counter it

    Policy Goals:supporting and Advocating for legal recognition of nontraditional family and relationship strucutures
    – propose and support legislation and corporate policies that disentangles things like health insurance, hospital visitation, etc. from romantic/sexual/married relationship
    – propose and support initiatives like San Francisco’s designated person form that allows you to designate sick leave to be used for any individual, not just a spouse or family member (but expand it to more than one!)
    – propose and support legislation to recognize non-consanguineal family relationships

    Outreach Campaigns + Cultural Competency Training:
    – More campaigns to work with, educate, and co-host events with local LGBTQ community centers and other groups
    – More campaigns to work with, educate, and co-host events with other specific community groups like youth groups, poc orgs, etc.
    – More campaigns to work with, educate, train, and index professional service providers like teachers, doctors, therapists, social workers, etc.

    • Coyote

      !!! Now You’re Thinking With Portals

    • Asexuality Archive

      I’d also recommend a policy goal to revamp the wording of many anti-discrimination laws to be more inclusive. A quick glance at California state law looks like it says ” ‘Sexual orientation’ means heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality. ” No asexuality (or, for that matter, pan, etc.). Washington is similar, except it says that gender identity is included under the definition of sexual orientation, as well.

      • Asexuality Archive

        And for that matter, I don’t know if there are any jurisdictions that include protections based on romantic orientation. I can imagine a dark future there: “I didn’t fire you because you’re sexually attracted to other men, I fired you because you’re romantically attracted to other men. Nothing in the law says I can’t do that!”

        • Coyote

          Interesting example of how raising “awareness” of romantic orientation could backfire if possibilities like these aren’t accounted for.

  • aroacepagans

    I think a difficult thing when it comes to visibility, is that whether or not it garners hostility, increased visibility is still needed to build numbers.

    For every 10 people who respond to an aspec identities with “we know you exist and we despise you for it” there will be 1 other person who sees those aspec terms as says “hey that’s me!” and I that’s what I think most aros are looking at when they talk about increasing visibility. They had a hard time finding a term that fit them so now they want the term aromantic to be easy to find for anyone else it might be helpful for.

    Using the example of aces, you said that ace visibility bread hostility, which is true, no one’s denying that, but it’s also important to recognize that that same visibility lead more people to identify as ace. Just look at the asexualcensus. In 2011 77.4% out of 3436 participants identified as ace or aspec but in the 2016 survey about 86.6% of 9869 respondents identified as asexual or aspec. Now I’m sure some of that can be attributed to increased circulation of the survey, but 6’433 more respondents after only 5 years with a 9.2% increase in people identifying as ace and aspec is uh… a lot, so I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that some of this increase can be attributed to heightened visibility.

    I mean on a personal note, I would still be deeply confused about my identity and forcing myself into uncomfortable romantic and sexual situations if it weren’t for increased ace visibility on Tumblr. So even with the backlash as it was, I think there were tangible benefits to that visibility for a lot of aces and we can’t overlook that. And yeah, you’re right, that visibility also caused a lot of damage to the ace community that we’re still recovering from, but that wasn’t the only result.

    As Sennkestra points out there’s a distinction to be made between inward and outward visibility, but I’m honestly… not sure where that line is drawn. How do you make an identity simultaneously visible to those who need it and invisible to those who will be hostile? How do you reach out to the aros struggling for vocabulary in the farthest places while still staying closed off enough that you won’t see any backlash? Honestly, I’m not sure that you can.

    And if there isn’t a good way to do that then the question becomes, are we willing to face the backlash if it will help other aros find a community? And that’s a very big question that everyone will have a different answer to.

    So while I see the point you’re getting at with “visibility is a trap” I think that’s maybe an oversimplification of the issue. Visibility, even without acceptance, has both benefits and drawbacks and it’s important to look at both when making decisions around community activism.

    • Coyote

      Using the example of aces, you said that ace visibility bread hostility, which is true, no one’s denying that, but it’s also important to recognize that that same visibility lead more people to identify as ace.

      The reason why I don’t think “visibility brings good things, not just bad things” is a refutation of my argument is because I’m less interested in convincing people “visibility is bad, avoid it” and more interested in convincing people “visibility should not itself be The Goal.” Acknowledging that visibility has downsides & that it brings results counter to What We Want indicates that the *name* of What We Want is not “visibility.”

      I mean on a personal note, I would still be deeply confused about my identity and forcing myself into uncomfortable romantic and sexual situations

      And see, this is what I’m trying to get at. This just came up in the PF comment section as well. People are in these kinds of situations, to begin with — what do we call these situations? What is happening to cause them? That’s what I’m interested in fighting, as a community. I know there are situations where introducing the asexual/aromantic labels hasn’t stopped that, which tells me that the absence-of-name — salient though it is — is not the root of the issue itself. Ergo, I want more precise, better models of what’s going on.

      So while I see the point you’re getting at with “visibility is a trap” I think that’s maybe an oversimplification of the issue.

      Yes.

      Visibility, even without acceptance,

      Ah! See. You’re already more on the same page with me than you made it sound like, if you can conceptualize the two as different. That’s another part of what I’m getting at.

      • crou

        …more interested in convincing people “visibility should not itself be The Goal.”

        Where are you meeting people who think that visibility should be our one and only end goal?

        Ah! See. You’re already more on the same page with me than you made it sound like, if you can conceptualize the two as different.

        …and where on earth are you meeting people who can’t distinguish between these?

        • Coyote

          I’m a little confused by the formatting of this comment, but if I’m correctly understanding what’s a quote and what’s not — I guess I can cede that “people who think that visibility should be our only end goal” and “people who can’t distinguish between visibility and acceptance” aren’t specific people I can point to. What I can point to, instead, is people do name visibility as a “community need” and at least one person now who has told me that they’re most interested in prioritizing visibility because “people are gonna hate us anyway.” The former is from an anonymous survey, and the latter is Tost.

        • crou

          If you’re really struggling to recognise your own text, paragraphs in italics are quotes.

          The fact that some people recognise visibility as a community need – which it is – does not mean that we believe it is the only need the community has. Even someone saying that they think visibility is the most important thing to the community is still not saying they think it’s the only important thing.

          If that’s the strawman this post is arguing against, then rest assured: like you, I can’t think of a single example of anyone in the aro community who actually thinks visibility is the be-all and end-all.

        • Coyote

          The fact that some people recognise visibility as a community need – which it is

          I disagree.

          Or rather, among the things that might be labeled “community needs,” I don’t think “visibility” is a good word for what goes there.

    • tost

      100% agree with the forespeaker and I’m more interested in helping other aros find the identity and communities. people are gonna hate us anyway if they’re so inclined

      • Coyote

        Well, color me confused, I guess. Is this a response borne of exhaustion, or is “combating the emotional and material toll of amatonormativity and helping aros not hate themselves” just an uninteresting goal to you?

        • crou

          It seems to me to be a response indicating that, like so many of us, tost is fully aware of the negative aspects of visibility but still believes better visibility is a net positive for the aro community.

          Visibility has its drawbacks, but our communities literally would not exist without visibility, because we wouldn’t have been able to find each other.

        • Coyote

          While I understand that you’re inviting me to read Tost’s comment charitably, the words “I’m more interested in helping other aros find the identity and communities” and “people are gonna hate us anyway if they’re so inclined” do not really contain or suggest “full awareness of the negative aspects of visibility” as something being expressed. That’s not to say I don’t think Tost is aware — that’s just to say I’d rather them speak for themselves on that.

          Back to the actual comment, should I read your support here as agreeing that “people are gonna hate us anyway if they’re so inclined,” i.e. minds can’t be changed at all whatsoever, or would you diverge on that?

        • tost

          What?? I don’t… understand how you arrived at this conclusion.

        • Coyote

          I don’t understand how you arrived at yours either, so we’re in the same boat on one thing!

        • tost

          and yeah, what crou said

        • tost

          idk where this is gonna nest, but okay, I’m incredibly frustrated, because you took my words, thought of the worst possible thing I could mean and asked if that’s what I meant. no. that’s not what I meant. frankly it makes me want not to explain, bc idk what kind of conclusion you’re gonna jump to next.

          I’ll try again: i think visibility is an important goal (out of *multiple* goals), it’s not the endgame and I’m not sure where you got the notion that it is. the endgame is acceptance and normalization. but we can’t have that without visibility first. you can’t (general you, the society) accept and start treating as normal something that you don’t know that exists. this is why visibility is the first step – we’re no longer the weirdo loners no one knows. we’re the neighbours, the friends, the tumblr bloggers you (general you, I know you coyote you dislikes tumblr) like.

          so, first step – visibility, through which we also can help aros discovering their identity become less confused and lost and find support and acceptance within our communities. and the education is also done though visibility efforts – we’re not just saying “aromantics exist!! be aware!!”, we’re explaining what aromanticism is, which is also education. and obviously the more visible, widespread, strong and public we are, the more accepted we’re gonna be.

          you can’t tell me that anyone (any group) got accepted by staying quiet when they don’t conform to the society’s rules of how they should want to live their life.

          and lastly – ofc I didn’t mean that minds can’t be changed by saying that “people who are so inclined are gonna hate us anyway”, I really have no idea how you arrived at that. it’s a gross generalization anyway. what I meant is that some people are always gonna dislike others being different and trying to convince *everyone* is an unrealistic goal. and what I aim for is acceptance from the society, but I’m not gonna try and convince every last person who doesnt want to listen to anything I say anyway.

          *I can’t believe I have to say this* (and I wouldnt have to if you didn’t decide to take everything I say in bad faith), but “combating the emotional and material toll of amatonormativity and helping aros not hate themselves” is actually an important and interesting goal to me too :)

        • Coyote

          Well. Thank you for taking the time to explain, even if it was unpleasant for you to do so.

          “the endgame is acceptance and normalization. but we can’t have that without visibility first.”

          I disagree. I think. But it could be that we’re using “visibility” to mean different things. What are you using it to mean?

        • bydontost

          tbh I understand visibility as most of those kinds sennkestra listed in this comment https://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2019/04/08/visibility-is-a-trap/?unapproved=9873&moderation-hash=3d9f03ef52d00ec5e5e1dbbc13b285b8#comment-9833 , especially community, personal, experiental and educational visibility – those are my understanding of what visibility is

        • Coyote

          Okay. That helps to know. And your thoughts on my response to that comment?

      • Coyote

        These comments are getting too far nested so I’m replying upthread for formatting purposes.

        Re: above, is “combating the emotional and material toll of amatonormativity and helping aros not hate themselves,” to you, then, a good goal worth setting? I ask because I interpreted “people are gonna hate us anyway if they’re so inclined” to mean “convincing people not to hate aros is not a worthwhile goal,” and so the two stances to me look incompatible because “aros” are a subcategory of “people” — convincing aros not to hate themselves = convincing some people not to hate aros.

  • Elizabeth

    Been frustrated with this for a long time too. Reminds me of when TAA did this panel discussion. But I think I worded the prompt questions for that one poorly, so it didn’t quite get across what I was trying to discuss.

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that even before 2011, hostile responses to asexuality were still very common, and proportionately speaking, probably even more common compared to positive/neutral responses. It’s just that it wasn’t happening on a large scale yet, so it was coming from people you interacted with (and had reason to come out to) and a handful of random interment strangers who found a blog post from some google search. So the persuasive work (that Sennkestra was talking about) was still just as important back then, but since we didn’t really have a foundation already built up, it was a lot more difficult to even get to the persuasive part of the conversation, because we were still at the “introducing new concepts” stage with people. And most of the time, people would just find some way to dismiss the entire concept and then stop listening.

    • Elizabeth

      …actually thinking about that again, maybe it’s not really that we didn’t get to any persuasive part of the conversation, because ALL the conversations were so very defensive. It’s just that what we were trying to persuade people to do was just listen, and not immediately decide that asexuality isn’t real. The bar was REAL LOW, and now that it’s higher… well.

    • Coyote

      But I think I worded the prompt questions for that one poorly, so it didn’t quite get across what I was trying to discuss.

      Ah, sympathies, I’ve been there. …very directly, in a way. This very post is kind of a more polished version of a similar idea I tried to get across a couple years back. >>

      It’s just that what we were trying to persuade people to do was just listen

      …Yeah, the general premise of “what if the things you thought you knew about human sexuality were wrong” seems to elicit a lot of resistance, in a way that, for example, “what if the things you thought you knew about cellular biology were wrong” does not so much. Since a lot of that resistance seems to be still around (and may well be for the foreseeable future), I’m… well, I’m interested in recognizing and framing that conflict *as a conflict,* as opposed to getting more eyeballs on a page or filling empty minds with education.

      • Elizabeth

        “I’m interested in recognizing and framing that conflict *as a conflict,* as opposed to getting more eyeballs on a page or filling empty minds with education.”

        Yes!!

        This whole… way of framing it like we just need more eyeballs, as if all we need people to do is see us, and then they’ll… be supportive? I guess? Or something? I honestly am not really sure what the goal is when it comes to activist work that’s purely focused on visibility/awareness… Anyway, this whole way of framing the situation is really reminding me of back when we discussed people giving relationship advice like “just talk to them about it!” without considering that talking isn’t a magic solution, and it requires a non-hostile conversation partner. If someone is abusive or otherwise not engaging in good faith, then that conversation’s going nowhere. It requires a different strategy.

  • Siggy

    I vaguely recall conversations with David Jay, where he compared “visibility” as a motto, to “pride” as used by the larger LGBT community. “Pride” is a way of countering shame, and “visibility” is a way of countering invisibility. So with just a single word, we’re able to clarify our goals and how they might differ from those of the LGBT community. Otherwise, the story becomes, “Why are asexuals even here? Nobody’s being shamed for not having sex.”

    Of course, people are shamed for not having sex, but that shame wasn’t, and still isn’t visible. In order to move beyond “visibility” as a motto, it’s not enough for us to achieve visibility. We need our non-visibility-related problems to achieve visibility too. So, as much as I don’t care for the emphasis on visibility, I think we’re going to be stuck with it for quite a while longer.

    • Coyote

      Of course, people are shamed for not having sex, but that shame wasn’t, and still isn’t visible.

      …Can you explain more about what this means?

      • Siggy

        I was looking through our archives to see if I could find related posts, and here’s a great example of how “visibility” has often been used. The article, written by Katie, is titled “The importance of visibility”, and begins with a not-getting-it quote from Dan Savage:

        you’ve got the gays marching for the right to be cocksucking homosexuals, and then you have the asexuals marching for the right to not do anything.

        Katie goes on and on about all the different problems aces face–not all of which are related to visibility at all. But I feel Katie’s argument makes sense, because even if a problem is not directly caused by invisibility, we still need to make that problem visible to the Dan Savages of the world. I don’t think we’ve yet succeeded.

        • Coyote

          Hm! I wouldn’t have framed that as such. I mean, to me, what that is is sardonic minimization. The Dan Savage of that era was pretty open about finding asexuals kinda icky, “such a dodge” (i.e. possibly repressed), and unworthy to “inflict” ourselves on “normal” people. So of course he’s not acknowledging the problem as a problem. He was himself a source of the problem! Making the problem “visible” to him would have involved holding up a mirror, in that it would have to go hand in hand with convincing him that his own outlook on asexuality was cruel.

          [cw: sexual assault talk + victim-blaming]

          I’m also reminded of, for instance, a time several years back when I used to read the #asexuality tag on WordPress — I found someone who’d used the tag and subsequently got an argument with him over whether or not asexuality “needs a movement” (I forget the exact wording, but he was reacting to that HuffPo series). The funny (well, “funny”) thing about him was that he spat some line about “why do you need to tell anyone, no one cares” and yet just a couple lines down, was making some kind of comment blaming the victim in cases where coming out as asexual was met with sexual assault — something like “you should have known what to expect.” I pointed out to him that he was demonstrating the exact attitudes that it was necessary to fight, disproving his own claim that “nobody cares.”

          (The other funny thing about that conversation was that a couple posts later, he had come around to identifying as gray-asexual himself. Whoops!)

        • Siggy

          Yep, back then Dan Savage really was full of contradictions. Similar to the anti-ace people of today.

          I feel like the problem with replacing “visibility” with some other motto, such as “pride” or “equality”, is it might just provoke anti-ace people into arguing that aces never suffer from shame or inequality. Which, they’re probably doing anyway, but you know, why fuel the flames.

          I dunno. I’m thinking of “visibility” as a political slogan, but even if it’s an effective slogan, that doesn’t mean it’s great for insiders to think of it that way.

        • Coyote

          For context: I was thinking of this post mostly as addressed at intracommunity discourse (discourse-as-in-talk) — so things like “What are the community needs of greyro/aro-spectrum folks? More recognition and visibility,” as determined by Yarrow’s aro community survey. This seemed like less about political slogans and more like individuals’ own orientations toward defining what the “community needs” are.

        • Siggy

          Makes sense. As long as “visibility” remains a political slogan, we should be perpetually critical of visibility as a primary goal. I feel like I hear this conversation every year when TDOV rolls around, haha. Would be nice to see it more often in ace spaces.

  • Siggy

    1) It’s “the most widely followed online asexual community,” according to the 2016 census, well eclipsing AVEN as the most prominent point of community contact.

    As your local survey representative, I feel obligated to point out that the survey cannot be used to demonstrate this point, because recruiting effectiveness differs across communities. AVEN, Facebook, and especially non-English communities should not be underestimated. Carry on.

  • Sennkestra

    Looking at the post again and more of the comments – are you more looking to decenter visibility as a goal and replace it with other types of non-visibility-related goals (like community group and resource building, or legislation, or the other examples I gave earlier)? Or are you looking to keep the components of “visibility activism” but make them more specific or call them something else?

    I can think of ways to seperate out specific subtypes of visibility activism – like:

    – Representational Visibility: looking for more visibility via ace characters in fiction or real aces in the news, who can serve as examples to other aces or potential aces, as role models, or as educational figures.

    – Community/Organization Visibility: making community spaces visible so that people know where to find them

    – Personal Visibility: making individuals own identities more recognized and respected

    – Educational / Concept Visibility: making basic asexuality 101 facts more visible and in your face to encourage people to read or follow them, making common models and terminology more visible to avoid having to explain them every time.

    – Community norm visibility: making ace community norms about how to treat asexual people and what kinds of behavior are unnaceptable more visible, and thus making violations more visible as well.

    – Experiential Visibility: making specific narratives or experiences visible, i.e. promoting 20 kinds of grey-ace experiences instead of just one grey-ace stereotype

    etc.

    And these could perhaps each be given their own names in a way that avoids the word “visibility” if you wanted to. But on the other hand If you’re trying to find a quick shorthand that can refer to all of these goals, it’s hard to find anything else short and succinct that will convey the same message (especially in a survey where you don’t want to have to include a checklist of 100 possible very specific activism goals). And if the problem is being too short and catchy and not specific enough, I don’t think that’s an issue unique to “visibility” as a goal…

    • Coyote

      are you more looking to decenter visibility as a goal and replace it with other types of non-visibility-related goals (like community group and resource building, or legislation, or the other examples I gave earlier)? Or are you looking to keep the components of “visibility activism” but make them more specific or call them something else?

      Could be a mix of both, really.

      Ex. representation — there’s good representation and bad representation (well, that’s an oversimplication, but, there’s good and bad elements that can surface with representation — I’m thinking here of Voodoo from Sirens for example). That’s another angle where the issue isn’t just “are we being shown at all” but also “how are we being framed and portrayed?” And likewise, more generally, re: personal visibility — I don’t think making an identity more “visible” is the same as making it more “respected” or accepted. Would changing the name of the goal change the practice of the methods? It depends.

      it’s hard to find anything else short and succinct that will convey the same message (especially in a survey where you don’t want to have to include a checklist of 100 possible very specific activism goals).

      So like the word “activism”?

  • Sennkestra

    Also from another angle, to take a conversation from TDOV / trans conversations, I think it may also be useful to consider other conversations about “hypervisibility” – i.e. the kind of unwanted, un-asked for visibility that puts a target on your back and often consists of unwanted “visibility” from hostile groups, such as the hypervisibility of trans women in conversations about gender, or of black people in american conversations about race, etc.

    I think it can definitely be worth drawing a distinction between that type of unasked hypervisibility (like when hostile anti-ace groups focus in on and talk about the ‘threat’ of asexuals using LGBT spaces in a way way out of proportion with how many aces are probably even in those spaces and how often the issue might even come up) and the visibility that comes up in ace-led activism, which I think implicitly refers to *making visible the images of ourselves as we want to be seen*….but that still draws on a visibility model – it just complicates it rather than refuting it.

    • Chrysocolla Town

      Instagram just recced me the book “Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility”, which seems eerily relevant, in case any of you has access to it.

      • Coyote

        What is critical in our contemporary moment of neoliberal trans visibility and respectability politics is not only an understanding of the struggle against hyper-incarceration, HIV criminalization, and the prison–as both a necropolitical institution and a racialized and gendered apparatus–but also a commitment to disability justice and healing justice, following the legacy of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and the liberatory and revolutionary trans political horizon they envisioned when they formed Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). One of the traps of trans visibility is that it is premised on invisibility: to bring a select few into view, others must disappear into the background, and this is always a political project that reinforces oppression. Trans visibility upholds what Audre Lorde calls a “mythical norm,” while its discourse and politics reinforce what Herber Marcuse calls “repressive tolerance.” The violence of colonialism and racial slavery, through which Black, queer, and/or trans identities have been forged, cannot be addressed through the politics of trans visibility. Trans (neo)liberalism and its attendant visibility and respectability politics not only obfuscate liberatory trans politics–such as those emergent in the Stonewall uprising–but ultimately offer little recourse to those of us most targeted by the prison regime and white supremacy under the guise of feminism.

        –Che Gossett, “Blackness and The Trouble of Trans Visibility,” Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility

  • Sennkestra

    Anyway after typing ll of that I think I got a bit distracted by the first line, because in the end of the post and your later comments it seems like the most of the problems cited aren’t necessarily about whether “visibility” should be a goal for activists, but whether “invisibility” should be how we describe the ultimate root of some of our problems, which I think is sort of a different conversation.

    Also, for all that there’s all the discussion of how visibility alone can’t solve anything, the post in question also cited like 6 other activist goals alongside visibility, so I think that’s maybe already understood?

  • demiandproud

    I’ve thought about this on a more personal level, where it becomes “Do I want to be out, do I want to pass or does it not matter?” It’s helped me to run through the following checklist, if any of them are no, that’s a no-go on being visibly ace, even if only to consider the question. Maybe it’s useful on a community level too.

    1. Am I safe?
    2. Do I feel it’s right to speak up?
    3. Will it do more good than harm?
    4. Is it worth the time and energy required?
    5. Do I know what to do and say in this context?
    6. Do I have a receptive audience?
    7. Do I have a safety net if this goes badly?

  • luvtheheaven

    Lots of great comments here. I’ll just mention that there is a reason TAAAP changed it’s “Awareness” part of it’s former name to “Advocacy” after much discussion/consideration/voting and it wasn’t only to try to differentiate ourselves more from Asexual Awareness Week.

    “we also realized that the word “awareness” is simply not broad enough to capture all that we do. While educating people on the basics of asexuality is still an important part of our goals, we also aim to ensure that asexuality and aromanticism are integrated into queer communities and that our experiences are not forgotten or ignored.”

    https://taaap.org/2018/11/12/introducing-the-ace-and-aro-advocacy-project/

  • Vesper

    i haven’t had a chance to read thru all of the comments on this post, so this is purely me reacting to the OP itself, but… gawd, am i beyond done with “visibility” as a buzzword for advocacy / activism. so done. it really does frustrate me how married some people and organizations are both to the word itself and to the idea that increased visibility is a means to an end– especially given that that marriage to that word and notion seemingly always fails to consider the present realities of those of us who are already [hyper]visible in the literal and / or figurative sense of the word, nor account for the all-too-real consequences of what increased visibility would mean for us.

    i really wish that people and organizations would divorce themselves from “visibility” as a rallying cry & goal, and instead say what they more often than not usually mean when they use the word– that is “awareness”, “acceptance”, “understanding”, etc. [/rant]

    having gotten that off my chest (sorry), i don’t actually have an answer to the question you posed… discussion of “visibility” is often exclusively a thing in the context of societal / intercommunity / extracommunity goals…? and i’ve always concerned myself almost exclusively with intracommunity goals, preferring to leave the former to those with the motivation and drive for it. i’ll have to come back later and read others’ comments and ideas…

    • Coyote

      Yeah, there has been… a lot of “but what do we call it, if not visibility?” and “but visibility has good effects too” and “but visibility is a necessary step along the way” and “but you can’t accomplish other goals without visibility” in people’s engagement with this post, which. Well, goes to show for me how ingrained this way of talking/thinking is, even when I’m asking folks to please set it down for just a second.

      Maybe the problem here is that I didn’t make a graph.

      • Sennkestra

        I think I kept getting derailed/confused partially by the other comments but partly I think I was getting confused by what the main proporsal in the original post was – the first few lines are about “visibilty” as being problematic as a *name* for certain types of goals/activism, which is what lead to the question of “ok but then what do you call those goals?” or “how do we reframe [the kinds of activities that people refer to tas visibility]”? And Coy it sounded above like you didn’t think awareness was a better explanation either, which would have been what I’d think to call it some of that otherwise, but I’m admittedly not sure if I’m remember or interpreting that right.

        But then the latter part of the post is more about talking about different goals / highlighting that the things described ‘visibility activism’ won’t solve problems like active hate, which (at least under my understanding, which maybe is different?) is not something ‘visibility activism’ was ever expected to solve in the first place? Which I think is where some other comments are coming from – like, “yeah of course it doesn’t fix that problem, that’s not what it was intended for?” Which I think is part of a different conversation.

        I also think that ties into things like comments about shelter beds on PF that feels like it needs to be a seperate conversation, not about how we conceive of visiblity as harmful or not, but about how much attention we give to other important goals and methods like material support that have nothing to with what we call visibility/awareness/messaging/media/whatever types of activism.

        (Like, my understanding of visibolity – which was maybe shaped more by an older backend AVEN approach than the tumblr apprach, which may be a part of it) is that ‘visibility’ type activities were never supposed to convince any haters – that takes more work – but rather to reach more friendly audiences who were already ready to listen).

        • Coyote

          The main proposal of the post was (supposed to be?) an invitation to reconsider “visibility,” in general. But, mm, where I’m at right now is thinking that apparently I also need to ask individual people what they may mean by “visibility.”

          Anyway, I’m mulling over whether or not to make a followup post that would… I don’t know, maybe talk about some different ways of talking about things.

        • Sennkestra

          I think it’s not a bad proposal, it’s just…so broad that there’s like, dozens of aspects and interpretation to consider and I’m not sure which ones were even talking about at any specific point in the discussion. So breaking it up into specific pieces or having specific examples for consideration might help guide it more if it comes back up again in the future?

        • Vesper

          the fact that you can’t even make a post about “visibility” without it resulting in this level of confusion is telling, eh…? i’m not sure that any level of graph-making skill would have helped you avoid that… which exemplifies the problem.

          if you do make a followup post delving into the details… may Cat God have mercy on your persevering soul.

        • Coyote

          hah! It’s too late, I’m already three diagrams in, I’m gonna have to publish these somewhere.

  • Frameworks of Visibility vs. Acceptance | The Ace Theist

    […] a followup to my previous post on “visibility,” this post features what I should have started with in the first place: […]

  • Carmilla DeWinter

    Reblogged this on Carmilla DeWinter and commented:
    Geiler Scheiß wie immer von Coyote.

  • epochryphal

    accusing coy (who is very open about leaning towards long prose and asking clarifications) on ir own post of bad faith after anonymously leaving a short message which, yes, can be interpreted in multiple ways especially by people coming from a different community + understanding + neurotype, is… pretty bad faith of you, to assert im is not genuinely trying to understand your point/disagreement.

    it’s especially suspect given how two other anons (one with a link but only to a gravatar) join you in this thread to accuse coy of willfully misrepresenting both you and the community – arguing coy has no legitimate reason to say ir’s experienced people prioritizing visibility over all else, as if ey should have citations but you don’t need to because your experience is obviously more general and coy is strawmanning not sharing ir truth.

    like, the hostility is palpable and is really not being returned, and it’s shitty, y’all.

    • Coyote

      I dunno if any of them will see this, but thank you for posting it.

      • epochryphal

        bluh especially since the reply/nesting didn’t work. anyway, it was also meant for you, to highlight how suspect this behavior is, because i know it can prompt a lot of self-doubt and worrying.

        there is certainly the possibility they’re just exhausted, aggravated friends who can’t understand why you hold views so contrary to their own and seemingly concerned with ridiculous non-issues, but the accusing you of chronic ad hominem seems… unfounded to me, and like they certainly don’t intend to point out any basis for it because it’s supposedly obvious, so even if they do genuinely believe that i don’t really think they’ve tried to understand you nor are they trying to communicate with you.

        like, i’m wary of being all “nah you’re good there’s no reason to self-reflect” but these were really hostile in tone and the way they engaged with your post/ideas was confusing to me as well and they responded with anger at being misunderstood and. unless something changes i just don’t think there’s anything fruitful to learn there?

  • luvtheheaven

    Because of the recent news of asexuality being featured in a Budweiser campaign, I said to a friend I wasn’t sure what I was thinking of it all just yet and felt kinda torn but also worried that it was… Not a great thing and as a way to aid the conversation linked to this blog post of yours. I was told they couldn’t read this post of yours right away though because “my eyes cant pick up that grey well”. I didn’t realize the accessibility of this post might not be the greatest till they said that. I thought you might want to know.

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