This is a post about “inclusion” as an ideological value and discursive formation in an asexual community context, as well as in neighbor communities with discursive spillover. The inclusion/exclusion axis has become extremely prevalent in certain pockets of the ace community in recent years, and as approach to ace issues, it’s become detrimental: it’s all but entirely overtaken how some people about anti-ace sentiment, it homogenizes “LGBT” as a fixed trait, it benefits the traitors among us, and it makes any other types of issues that much harder to recognize.
[This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]
Note that this post is very narrowly targeted at people who already know what I’m talking about, if only because I’m choosing to be lazy rather than hunt down proof of every single thing, so if you don’t recognize what I’m referencing here and decide to keep reading anyway, well, good luck.
Prologue: Applying Where It’s Less Applicable
In relation to asexuality, the inclusion/exclusion axis (and the ideological labeling of some people as “inclusionsts” and others as “exclusionsts”) has become closely wedded to just one topic in particular. Already, that’s a missed opportunity of its own: there are other, completely separate community issues where I think this language might be more relevant. For instance, ever since the development of gray-asexuality and demisexuality as identity terms, there’s sometimes been controversy and infighting over the inclusion of gray-asexuality and demisexuality under the asexual umbrella. This is one case that would make sense to read through the rubric of inclusion or exclusion.
Instead, though — as I expect you to already know, if you’re still reading this post — in the context of asexuality, I usually see people applying the inclusion/exclusion axis exclusively to the queer question.
By the queer question, I’m referring to “Are aces queer?” or “Which aces can call themselves queer?” — a close cousin to, though not exactly synonymous with, “Should an A for asexuality be added LGBT?” and “Are aces LGBT?” (whatever that means). These questions were originally part of an intracommunity conversation that looked pretty different than it does now. In 2011, though, the conversation took a new direction, as more and more non-aces began to discover the asexual community on Tumblr and involve themselves in discussing the question there.
At some point in all this, the conversation began to organize itself along certain discursive lines: the binary axis of exclusion or inclusion. I don’t know exactly when the terms “exclusionist” or “inclusionist” came onto the scene and can’t be bothered to find out, but my money’s on 2016.
1) Swallowing Anti-Ace
Unfortunately, this conversation became discursively entwined with escalating waves of anti-ace harassment (by the “anti-ace brigade,” as some used to call them) to the point that one’s position on the queer question (flattened down to two binary options) is now frequently equated with one’s view of asexuality itself (either accepting it or not).
The problem I’ve faced with this is that now, I can’t even talk about contemporary anti-ace views or online criticism of ace community language without that getting parsed in terms of answers to the queer question, even when that’s not what I was talking about. I’ve had more than one interaction where someone I was speaking with treated “anti-ace” as synonymous with “exclusionist” — not with the latter as a subcategory of the former, but as direct interchangeable synonyms. I’m sure some self-identified “exclusionists” would protest that this is unfair to them, and that’s their flag to carry — my beef is more that this equation means treating the queer question as central to every single ace issue.
As if there aren’t anti-ace ideologies, rhetorics, and acts of violation operating entirely independent of that. You know, that whole assortment of issues and abuses that people are always invoking to argue for how much we have in common?
Are we allowed to talk about other anti-ace issues without always making it circle back around to this?
2) Homogenizing “LGBT”
Gradually, it seems, the focus on the word “queer” has shifted slightly, and “LGBT” (or longer variants) have taken the spotlight. Now we’re not asking if aces “are queer,” because “being LGBT” is taken as a precondition of that question, and so instead we have to ask if aces “are LGBT.”
In order to do that, the question takes the notion of the LGBT coalition and turns it into one homogenized block, one singular property, a trait — rather than an intentional and deliberate and still-fraught-and-tenuous collection of multiple relationships.
In taking this homogenized view of the LGBT coalition (or “the LGBT community”), we inhibit ourselves from addressing more particular relationships, both in terms of locality (specific programs, specific centers, specific organizations) and in terms of identity: Communally, what can aces and lesbians offer each other? What can aces and trans people offer each other? And so on and so forth, through every particular variation.
Instead of trying that approach, though, all these passionate “inclusion” advocates are taking “the LGBT community” as some natural inherent truth — which only makes it easier on their opponents, by the way, seeing as their preferred definition lives right there in the letters.
Not only that, but you also have people using “LGBT” as some kind of abstract trait-adjective — saying “aces are LGBT,” whatever that’s supposed to mean — and saying it with a smile, like I’m supposed to be grateful. Like it’s not supposed to aggrieve me that this is what they’re accepting as the terms of the argument. Like I’m supposed to feel anything but despair at seeing that their armor is made of paper. I actively hate it when people talk like this, because if anything, it makes me feel more unsafe, not less. Strategize better, I beg of you.
When you accept that as the terms of the argument, you’re gifting advantages to your opponent, but you’re also forgoing other avenues you could have taken. Or in other words: stop talking about all “is” and “are” and inherent essential qualities. Enough of that. What do you want to become? Who do you want to introduce yourself to? What relationships to do you want to strengthen or create? What bonds and alliances can we forge, without relying on appealing to some notion of what was always already there?
(“But Coyote, we already were–” Listen, do you want results or not? Am I alone in always being a little put off by those relatives who’d say, “Oh, you probably don’t remember me”? Because they’re were right, I don’t. “I knew you when you were a baby!” Good for you ma’am but I don’t remember who you are and I’m still waiting for you to re-introduce yourself.)
3) Accommodating the Backstabbers
As a word of caution here, I haven’t been entirely persuaded that “exclusionists” are “the number one factor” in stopping us from working on intracommunity issues. Whenever someone proposes a single-factor cause to something so diffuse as this, I try to be, in a word, suspicious. What I will say, though, is that we’ve definitely got people who drag their heels about admitting fault or addressing anything they’ve done wrong, and those people get to personally benefit from any way to take the heat off. Especially if that means disproportionate attention going to external threats, to the exclusion (ha) of walled-off conversations amongst ourselves. That kind of situation would be mighty convenient for someone who isn’t willing to address intracommunity problems.
And we do, by the way, have intracommunity problems, in case you’d forgotten. Both of the “every community has these issues” variety and some that are more particular to us, like balancing space for aces of different sexual dispositions, the nuisance of compulsory romantic orientation, and the treatment of aro aces, not to mention those anti-gray issues I mentioned earlier. Hard to get people talking about those, though, when they’re convinced that there’s only one main ace issue (and it’s the LGBT question).
Worse, this fixation on defending ourselves has made many aces very psychologically comfortable with dismissing criticism of the community. Again, I’m not saying that the anti-ace brigade is responsible for “stopping” us from addressing these things — I’m saying that some of us happily let them. They become a convenient cover story, a justification, an excuse. For instance, I remember watching the digital broadcast of an ace panel where one of the White panel members 1) took it upon themselves to bring up the accusation that the ace community is racist, and 2) felt comfortable in laughing it off and dismissing that criticism as ludicrous. Without, you know, acknowledging or inviting the perspectives of aces of color in that, or, you know, ceding the floor to a person of color on that topic instead. An excessive community focus on external threats as the only real priority is a part of what allows people do pull crap like that and get away with it.
When aces dismiss or downplay our own intercommunity problems, we betray our fellow aces. The excuses aren’t the reason for the knife in the back, but they sure are handy as a cover story.
4) Masking Other Issues
In addition to all the issues above, the inclusion/exclusion axis makes other problems harder to address or to recognize, in two ways.
One: Angling for “inclusion” is the wrong approach for addressing certain problems, whether it has to do with the LGBT community or not. Switching to “inclusive language” can be easy for surface-level changes, but there are also situations where inclusion does even less than a superficial patch job. Sometimes, I don’t want to be “included” in the formula. I want to uproot and transform the formula itself. When people operate on beliefs like “we are all sexual beings” and “partner relationships are at their most healthy when they’re sexually active,” I don’t want some little asterisk in there noting that this applies to aces, too. I want somebody to take a wrecking ball to the whole thing and reassemble it from the ground up.
Two: I’m convinced that some people are so caught up in “inclusion” talk that it’s making it hard for them to notice other types of problems. For example, inclusion is not necessarily what’s at issue in communities where aces are already “included” and treated badly. This is again why treating anti-ace as synonymous with “exclusion” is a bad idea: As long as people aren’t “excluding” aces, it becomes hard to notice when they’re being anti-ace in other ways.
So like I said: the inclusion/exclusion axis is failing us. It’s not that the words themselves are bad to use, but the ace community has become far too careless in how it prioritizes that as a primary metric, and it’s high time to call that into question.