Aces Have More Than a Day: Failures of Community Memory & Advocate Integrity

Given that everybody makes mistakes, what do we do once we’ve made one? Ideally, we apologize, make things right if we can, and commit to doing better in the future. In other words, everything that didn’t happen after Faith Cheltenham erroneously claimed that BiNet USA owned legal copyright of the bi pride flag, kicking off a chain of baffling missteps that may have permanently damaged the reputation of the entire organization. It’s one thing to spout out nonsense on the internet, but it’s chilling when the person doing so is operating at the helm of an advocacy group and stubbornly doubling down against all legitimate criticism.

This incident was still fresh on my mind when I learned about another, completely separate fiasco unfolding in the ace community: one part ignorance of the past, one part refusal to heed other’s concerns, equal parts unnecessary stress and headaches for everyone.

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image by Kishjar.]

This is a post about “Ace Day,” an ill-conceived idea that was plagued by mistakes by the beginning. It all started in 2015 when a single Tumblr blogger made a bunch of questionable choices all at once, and when other aces pointed out the problems, they created even more. Eventually this user did apologize, months later, but lessons learned here weren’t learned by everybody, and now it’s happened all over again.

The Origin Story: “Ace Visibility Day” 2015

When Sara of “The Asexuality Blog” (yes, they really named it the asexuality blog) announced that “Ace Visibility Day” would be happening on April 8th, the idea drew criticism from multiple different angles. First off, it was unclear what the point was supposed to be. Besides that, Sara’s inexplicable decision to assign symbol groups left some aces unclassifiable. More importantly, though, it was interpreted as a transparently opportunistic attempt to piggyback off of other events.

Overall, this criticism was handled badly. To aces who said the classification scheme left them out, Sara/TAB told them to just pick one. To aces who objected to the shameless copying on the heels of Blackout and the Transgender Day of Visibility, Sara/TAB replied that “it’s not a selfie-driven movement.” Eventually, some of the message got through, “Visibility” was taken out of the name, and the proposed date got rescheduled (to a date that sometimes conflicts with Mother’s Day), and then it got rescheduled again (now conflicting with American Thanksgiving) — resulting in three scattered attempts at “Ace Day” in one year.

In any case, launching “Ace Day” in 2015 came off as redundant considering that we already have more than a day: Ace Week (originally “Asexual Awareness Week”) was founded in 2010.

For what it’s worth, Sara/TAB did eventually release an apology in June 2015. The apology addressed the symbol assignment issue, the issue of timing, and even their own mistakes in responding to the criticism. Overall the tone of the piece reads with humility and self-awareness, genuinely contrite despite hoping to move forward with the event.

Participation and involvement with it eventually petered out after that, especially once “The Asexuality Blog” disappeared. By 2018, we really had every reason to think the whole thing was dead.

The Necromancy: “Ace Visibility Day” 2020

Now, all of the sudden, people are trying to bring “Ace Day” back, with many of the same problems in tow. This month the FYA and AVEN twitter accounts began posting about “Ace Day,” misleading those who didn’t know any better into thinking this is simply an established event. Once again, these attempts to get the idea off the ground were announced on very short notice, effectively springing it on people and giving advocates little time to prepare anything beyond the level of a Twitter post. “Visibility,” scheduling conflicts, confusing date changes — the whole gang is back again.

Previously, Sara/TAB had stopped centering the word “Visibility” in response to those raising the TDoV issue, but with the new stab at revival, that change didn’t stick. On May 8th, Yasmin Benoit announced a call to get #AceVisibilityDay trending on Twitter. While this was not the first use of the hashtag, it did become an influential one. Subsequently the hashtag did start trending, and now people think that’s the name.

The return to the May 8th date presented a new scheduling conflict and a new opportunity to ignore criticism. This particular date happens to conflict with Victory in Europe Day (commemorating the end of World War II), as pointed out by European aces. To fully understand what this means for the ace community, too, you need some additional context: For years now, it’s been a known issue that the ace community is disproportionately Anglophonic and focused on America, with a need for more international voices. You could look at this as a good opportunity for ace advocates to decenter American perspectives and listen to aces from other parts of the world. FYA has responded to this criticism by saying that “Ace Day was never designed as an international holiday.”

To her credit, Yasmin Benoit (who is based out of the UK) seems to have taken that criticism more seriously. On May 11th, she posted a new poll about when to reschedule. She then backed down from her involvement in the rescheduling effort the very next day. So which day is it now? Who knows. At this point, “Ace Day” getting continuously rescheduled is its longest-running tradition.

The same basic problems here keep cropping up over and over again. Popular bloggers who want “Ace Day” to be a thing keep simply declaring it, usually on very short notice, with a focus on hashtags and very superficial online engagement. Because of the lack of forethought or planning, “Ace Day” attracts criticism and keeps having to be rescheduled. When the community voices its concerns, first Sara/TAB and now Rose/FYA have responded to criticism dismissively. Sara did at least finally realize this behavior was wrong — but those lessons went unheeded by Rose/FYA, who seems set on pulling “Ace Day” out of its grave and repeating their predecessor’s mistakes.

How to Break the Cycle

While mistakes are a part of life, they don’t have to be as cyclical as this, if only people had known what to avoid — or what to do next. 

Some of the problem can be attributed to a gap in community memory. Before this month I honestly wouldn’t have thought this little Tumblr fiasco from five years ago was important to draw attention to, but apparently I was wrong about that. It’s partly because most aces aren’t remotely aware of the original story that a handful of ace advocates were able to necromance the idea, stringing a bunch of others along like this all over again. 

Studying the original mistakes could have benefited those who launched the revival effort, too. If those community advocates had looked closely at how it all played out the first time and tried to learn from those mistakes, maybe the revival effort could have been a little more well-organized this time. Announced further in advance, for instance, with more planning to iron out the problems beforehand.

One of the worst parts, though, isn’t just the initial problems themselves, but the response once those problems are pointed out. It’s an important life skill to know how to take criticism with humility and grace. Especially in a leadership position or position of influence in community advocacy. I’m happy to report that some of our activists have in fact proven their integrity in this regard, and I think it would be fantastic if others would learn from their example.

Apart from that? Let “Ace Day” stay in the ground. We don’t need it anyway, because we’ve already got a whole week.

Acknowledgements: Most of the links in this post were derived from this timeline put together by Sennkestra. Prior to posting, I shared a draft of this post with Siggy and Sennkestra in order to solicit feedback and fact-check how the information was presented. All remaining errors here, if any, should be understood as solely my own. See also Siggy’s post about these events for his own account of the situation.


5 responses to “Aces Have More Than a Day: Failures of Community Memory & Advocate Integrity

  • Ace Day was incompetently organized | The Asexual Agenda

    […] well as any errors–are my own.  Coyote separately and simultaneously drafted an article expressing their own viewpoint, to which I gave […]

  • aceadmiral

    Apart from that? Let “Ace Day” stay in the ground. We don’t need it anyway, because we’ve already got a whole week.

    We do, and also that day on that pride calendar and people going to actual pride events and the #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike campaign and on and on. When the thing was first conceived of in 2015, maybe not, but now? Spoiled for choice. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with these selfie campaigns–certainly a lot of people on twitter and instagram love them (for reasons that are beyond me)–but honestly platforms like those work better with a general hashtag (not an organized day) that can be pulled out and deployed as necessary. The situational reaction of hashtag and it’s organic trending are two of the things that are actually good and unique to twitter. Ace Day doesn’t work for a lot of reasons, but a big one is that it’s the wrong tool for the job–something that maybe wouldn’t have been obvious in 2015 but should be now.

    • Siggy

      Ace Day doesn’t work for a lot of reasons, but a big one is that it’s the wrong tool for the job

      I agree. In principle, I don’t have an issue with having more “day” events outside of Ace Week. But activists ought to first identify their goals, and ask themselves if a “day” event is really the right tool.

      For an externally facing “visibility” event, a day or a week makes sense, because outsiders are not going to sustain their interest in the subject year round. But for an internally facing event about celebration and pride, that’s something that people can and should maintain perpetual communities for (kind of like #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike, if I’m not completely misunderstanding that community).

      Although, maybe there’s also space for a “day” event targeted at aces who otherwise don’t participate in ace communities.

  • raavenb2619

    Thanks for the link to this. Are you okay with me a) posting a link to this and saying that it has a recent example of fya being problematic, and/or b) mentioning that you sent me this as a recent example?

    (On a side note, I’m hoping to catch up on your writing when I have time, hopefully this month. Would you say it’s better for me to start at the most recent stuff and work backwards in time, or start at where I stopped and work forwards in time?)

    • Coyote

      Thanks for reading.

      I’m ambivalent, honestly, because it really doesn’t have anything to do with the aro complaints, except that it demonstrates an example of something that was mentioned here. Wouldn’t be surprised if the pattern is similar with the aro-related stuff that other folks are thinking of. On the other hand, I have the same complaint about several folks in the aro community itself. So, I mean, if the idea is “build a case against Rose,” I’d rather it be “build a case against acting like this in general.” But the link itself I think is good to be shared. See also Siggy’s post, too, which more directly responds to some of the fallout.

      (Also, I don’t know where you left off, but I mean, you can do what I do and just read whatever catches your interest.)

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