A post about community-building & advocacy as a work in progress, talking about matters of age, time, history, community memory, genealogies, appeals to tradition, coalition building, and constitutive rhetoric. Or in other words, a post about how some things are actually newer than you think — and that’s okay. Partly inspired by Laura’s contribution to this past January Carnival of Aros.
[This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]
Yearning For History
For many of us, knowing your community’s stories, its history, is a part of feeling connected to & knowing what it means to be a part of that community. I also put some value on these things myself, which is a part of why I hate when community memory is chronically disrupted or impeded.
So it’s been… dismaying, to be honest, when I’ve encountered people acting invested in the abstract notion of history in a way that’s apparently either superficial or just misinformed. Wanting to learn about the past is one thing — treating the past as a way to legitimize us is another.
The most prominent way this manifests, that I’ve seen, is deploying little fragments of the past as a “take that!” against anti-ace bloggers. For example, take a look at the number of notes on this photo from 1973, which inspired someone to jokingly remark, “Wow, David Jay really time traveled back to 1973 to start inventing asexuality.” Similarly, over in this other post, the 1972 “Asexual Manifesto” is treated as just more fodder for the gristmill: One of the responses treats the essay as evidence that “we are not just Tumblr trenders” (something you don’t need a document from 1972 to prove, if that’s important to you — you already acknowledged AVEN, after all). Another response even makes the (technically inaccurate) claim that “associating sexuality and sexual attraction to something bad has never been inherently part of asexuality.” Both of these react to a piece of historical trivia primarily in terms of how to shoehorn it into counterarguments that isn’t even suited for. Both reflect the outlook that the past exists primarily a rhetorical resource for justifying ourselves.
None of this is necessary.
Like I’ve said before — things are not inherently made better or worse by how old they are. Some things are just young, and that’s okay. The appeal to tradition I associate with these arguments — this treatment of the past as a proving ground, of age as itself a credential — isn’t just a logical fallacy. In our case, it’s excessively conservative thinking for community that, by necessity, needs to concern itself with disrupting tradition.
Not all investment in history looks as adversarial as this. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only examples I’ve run into of people seeming to overstate or overestimate the extent of asexual history, even in the act of expressing curiosity about it. For instance, consider this other post that begins “I really want to know about aspec history. What did our aspec forebears talk about? What was their culture like?” This whole post had me very confused what the author must’ve been led to believe about the topic in the first place. The tags, though, suggest a particular point of reference: “#like you know how sapphics would like exchange violets? #or the unique complex culture of butch and femme lesbians #did we have anything like that?”
That’s not exactly how these things work, I’m afraid.
But one of the other things that confused me most about this, besides the apparent expectation that we should have some parallel equivalents to another community’s traditions, is the use of the phrase “aspec forebears” itself.
Expecting (A Spec)tacle
Here’s a bit of history for you. Do you know where the word “aspec” comes from? Unlike “asexual” (which is over a hundred years old) and “aromantic” (which emerged sometime about 2005), the term “a-spectrum,” also shortened to “a-spec” and “aspec,” was created in late 2015 on Tumblr in response to anti-ace/anti-aro bloggers conflating asexuality and aromanticism. Because of this, it’s still mostly used by niche Tumblr communities.
Personally, I associate it mainly with 1) not knowing what people are using it to mean, and 2) people getting mad at other people for using it wrong, i.e. using “aspec” about things that are ace-only and not relevant to all aros. It’s such a regular point of contention with some folks that I’m not sure why anybody still bothers with it. In fact, in retrospect, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that a term born of an aro/ace conflation… would itself cause a lot of friction over aro/ace conflation.
Since I haven’t really bought into the concept, I don’t identify with it myself. I’m a gray-asexual, or a gray-a, or an ace; that’s it. And I find myself confused at this recurring expectation that, de facto of identifying under the asexual umbrella, I’m also expected to think that things for “a-specs” are intended for me.
So in this November Carnival of Aros post, when I read this part–
My wishlist as an allo-aro who must interact with the a-spec and aromantic communities is singular: an a-spec audience. A supportive, responsive audience that recognises the a-spec community’s current tendency to overlook, disregard or paraphrase allo-aro expression, and will make a concerted effort to promote and support the creating of allo-aro content, resources and communities.
–my response was a resounding…. “huh?“
Setting aside, for the moment, this curious use of “audience” as opposed to “community”: Is this directed at me, as an ace, or only at the “a-spec” community, which I consider myself only a spectator to? Are all aces here being conscripted into this notion of a shared singular ace & aro spectrum? Does “a-spec” only pertain to the people who identify as “a-spec” (as the phrase “asexual a-specs” implies)? Or is something else going on here, as implied by the use of “aspec” and “aro/ace” as if they’re interchangeable?
Only K.A. Cook can clarify hir intentions, of course, and for the record, I did leave a comment on the post — which currently is awaiting moderation — back in December. I’m highlighting this post only because it’s another example of the pattern: treating the concept of the “a-spectrum” as if it’s a done deal, a full-fledged spectacle, a built prexisting thing stretching back long in time, as opposed to something which is only four or five years into newly being created.
(It’s also a coalitionary movement that’s rather niche in its emergence, and I have to wonder how much some people realize that not everyone under the asexual umbrella has even been properly introduced to it in the first place. Even aces like me, who are conceptually aware of a push for a collective “a-spectrum,” aren’t informed enough about what’s even going on there to make a commitment one way or another.)
Academia might have skewed my perception of time, but for comparison: the contemporary asexual community has been building steam for approximately twenty years. It’s frankly astonishing how much has been accomplished in that short a span of time at all. And there’s still so, so much work left to be done.
Stepping In On a Work-In-Progress
The bad-faith reading of this post would be “you’ll take what you can get and you’ll be grateful.” This would be reading too much into it, because there’s a difference between aspirations and expectations. And from my perspective, a reminder to keep expectations in check can be necessary, sometimes, because understanding the gap between where we actually are and where we want to be is an important step in getting there.
Moving forward, I think it remains important that we regard community efforts like ours as still new, still young, still an active work-in-progress — still in a nascent state of becoming. I’m not suggesting that we be satisfied with where we are, but that we recognize what little gains we’ve managed, those could not have been accomplished without deliberate work over a significant stretch of time. And however little we’ve built, it’s important to keep that in perspective with the fact that we simply haven’t been at it for very long.
This is not something appropriate to paper over by speaking as if our community is older than it is. In fact, with the way that things have developed in the Tumblr bickerfest over “inclusion,” I’m concerned that some people are being severely misled about the extent of our actual history. The youth of any given community should not be regarded solely as a drawback or a detriment to its credibility. It shouldn’t count against us out of some misplaced reverence for the passage of time. It simply is what it is.
It also means that we’re still setting the tone and deciding the course for what we want this community to become, and there’s a certain invaluable potential in that. Our choices right now matter, in that we are still creating today what might be remembered tomorrow, making what will be the history of the future. It may be daunting, but I think there’s some value in that, too. I think there’s a special value in beginnings.
Even if you disagree, of course, I can make peace with that difference of perspective, as long as you can also recognize, for all its pros and cons, we are nonetheless very much still operating at a stage of beginnings.