When I picked “leaving” as the theme for the March Carnival of Aces just a few months back, little did I know that March would become a time of not leaving. This month, Siggy has picked the theme of “quarantine,” and I’m taking that as an opportunity to reflect here on the implications of contagious disease for a geographically-scattered community, as well as some potential directions for ace advocacy in the area of health & medical issues.
[Note: This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]
The ace community has been a disproportionately digital one since 1997, and in some ways this is both its biggest drawback and its biggest strength. For me, the ace community is one of few areas of life that’s somewhat less affected by social distancing: it’s not necessarily a lot of work to move things online when they’re mostly already online to begin with. In the context of a pandemic, it actually comes in handy to for me have access to a community that’s so disproportionately digital, with no risk of contact with germs. And of what offline activity there is, some of it’s not hard to relocate. For instance, my old meetup group (that I no longer attend due to moving away) has recently started a discord server in order to stay connected.
On the other hand, aces’ overall geographical diffusion poses obstacles for some of the more concrete, material payoffs of community and connection. For instance, in that same discord server, I’ve seen some folks arranging no-contact dropoffs/sharing of resources like sourdough starter, and that’s something I can’t participate in from hundreds of miles away. There are some things where physical location actually makes a difference. And the more scattered and separated we are, the less it feels like we can intervene in those ways, with overall less ability to directly share material resources with each other. You might be able to donate $5 over the internet, but you can’t exactly wire somebody an inhaler, a homemade loaf of bread, or a couch to sleep on.
It may have occurred to you in reading this, though, that just because something can’t be done over the internet doesn’t mean it can’t be arranged through the internet. So that brings me to why talk about this here at all: in the call for submissions, Siggy asked, “What would you like to see from ace communities and activists right now?” As Redbeard has mentioned, some people — not everyone, but some — do have more time than usual right now to devote to ace community projects. And given that time and energy are finite, I think that it’s important to assess how exactly to best address our needs. So for the purposes of brainstorming, I’ll get into some specifics here:
What I would like to see from ace advocacy right now is both 1) to move away from/think more critically about the merits of visibility politics, flag culture, inclusion theater, or anti-discrimination laws, and 2) to move toward more deliberate, coordinated action on health & medical issues, e.g.,
- to support and advocate for universal access to healthcare, regardless of employment or marital status — especially given that, according to what we know from the community survey, aces are disproportionately unmarried and single.
- to distribute more information and resources on accessing mental healthcare as an ace and/or sexually inactive person. Some aces face psychological issues or problems that are complicated by identifying as ace or navigating a sexnormative society, imposing barriers to treatment. One of the simplest places to start on this issue would be to compile more advice and formalized leaflets on finding an ace-competent therapist. On the flipside, we could also build and distribute professional training modules to instruct therapists on how to become more ace-competent (in, ideally, a little slicker of a format than a blogpost).
- to distribute more information and resources on navigating sexual healthcare as an ace and/or sexually inactive person. To be blunt, this community is disproportionately made up of people who either don’t have sex or who have non-normative sex, especially the kind of sex that isn’t always recognized as “sex,” which may make many sexual health guidelines unclear. What kinds of exams, testing, interventions, precautions, etc. do we actually need? And how do you deal with a doctor who wants to deny or put you through treatment that doesn’t actually suit your life or your priorities?
- to collectively prioritize our mental health by redirecting more energy off Tumblr. I am serious about this because rampant burnout is a real threat the community. I’m not just talking about advocacy and activism here, either. Even just as a way to personally socialize and recharge, Tumblr can be costly, and for that reason I’d encourage the entire ace community to branch out and explore other options.
- to advocate for further changes to the DSM definitions of sexual disorders such as HSDD and FSIAD, which nominally make an exception for asexuality but still pathologize low sexual desire. Ace advocates have made interventions here before; several years ago, a small taskforce put together a report for the Sexual Disorders Subcommittee of the DSM-IV-TR Review Committee, and the “half-successful” results of that effort earned us that nominal asterisk of acknowledgement. As these links explain, though, those changes aren’t enough to protect aces from curative violence, especially when you factor in the people who haven’t even heard of the asexual community in the first place or who believe in any of the assorted myths (ex. “you can’t be asexual if you’ve had sex,” “you can’t be asexual if your sexuality was something different before”) that hold us back from identifying with it.
- to organize mutual aid and COVID-19 relief, locally or otherwise. Naturally this doesn’t need to be ace-specific, but for some of us, the preexisting network of a local ace meetup group could be the perfect place to start. Here’s a list of pandemic-related mutual aid projects and resources. Here’s a PDF of virus-safety advice on food & supply distribution. Here’s a guide to mapping your support network. And while no viral illness is an ace-specific issue, arguably getting sick does pose a particular kind of burden on people who are especially isolated in their living situation. As Caleb Luna has pointed out, the security of someone to count on when you’re sick or care for you in a crisis is something that may be harder to access when you’re perpetually single or not close with family, and that alone should put it on the radar of ace community advocacy.
Some of these objectives could conceivably be coordinated solely online. Some of them can’t. Again, I think the ace community’s digital interconnectivity poses some unique opportunities and challenges for us in terms of advocacy. Frankly, I do also like Redbeard’s idea of an online aro/ace conference, too — so by no means should anyone take this particular list as exhaustive. Besides that, though, for the purposes of this post, I’ve tried to point out some additional, health-oriented projects and objectives that I’d like to see the community begin or return to work on.