In the call for submissions for the August 2020 Carnival of Aces, one of the prompts invited us to consider what is and isn’t working, in terms of ace community advocacy — and what we would like to see make a comeback. It’s a daunting set of questions to tackle, but I want to comment on a few select things here: certain ventures that I think have been a misguided use of energy, and others that deserve their due, plus a few projects I’d like to see initiated, revived, or given more support.
Let’s start simple here: I could stand to see the end to poorly-planned and severely-mismanaged social media events. Let’s learn from our mistakes, not just repeat them, please. We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect, but we can at least be receptive to criticism.
Speaking of criticism, though, it’s not all created equal. Sometimes there’s been a glaring discrepancy between the intensity of backlash and the severity of what it’s responding to. For instance, I’m thinking here of some recent Twitter shenanigans on the topic of demisexuality, in which a certain ace activist (Yasmin Benoit) got browbeat over something that really isn’t even that big of a deal. This incident is what prompted Siggy to write about how disidentification with asexuality can be essential (see more comments on Pillowfort), which is also the perspective I associate with Arf of Demi Gray, the individual behind Demisexuality.org. The point here is that if you talk to actual demi- and gray-asexual people, there are some for whom a statement like “There are demisexuals out there who don’t feel very asexual, and that’s cool too” is actually an accepting statement, not an anti-demi one. And while demi- and gray-asexuals do need and deserve support against anti-gray attacks within the community, we deserve support that actually respects the diversity and complexity of our experiences, rather than misrepresenting that genuine support as just another attack.
Yasmin Benoit’s original remarks there are nowhere near as concerning to me, as a gray-asexual who does identify as ace, than the threat posed by the misguided backlash, denying us autonomy in how we conceptualize and navigate our identities. No doubt it’s a response born out of ace community hypervigilence — the ongoing psychic wear and tear and emotional rawness that comes from being constantly beset by threats from all sides. And that, itself, is concerning.
Still, if people are already chomping at the bit to cry foul on each other, I wish that could be redirected at actual missteps like accepting corporate sponsorship from a beer company.
If you’ve been on the same page with me so far, this might be the place where I lose you. Recently, very recently, Redbeard posted a call to “fix the Equality Act,” referring to a proposed anti-discrimination bill in the United States, and as an activist strategy I think this is something worth questioning. The spirit of this challenge is, of course, to benefit the ace and aro communities by naming us explicitly as protected groups. But I have my concerns about how that strategy actually plays out in practice. I’ll link again some quotes from critical legal scholars Michelle Alexander and Dean Spade here to give you a sense of where I’m coming from on this. Essentially, if we want to improve our prospects as a whole, I’m not convinced that pursuing anti-discrimination law is the most efficient use of energy.
In the Carnival call for submissions, Lib also asked about what we do support, and so here I’ll give some shoutouts. I appreciate the work put into initiatives like The Ace Community Survey, the annual Ace Week, the Aces & Aros Groups List, and Resources for Ace Survivors. I’m also looking forward to reading Ace by Angela Chen, an ace journalist I got to meet in person at the NYC Ace & Aro Conference last year, and that’s something to check out if you’re interested in keeping up with asexuality books.
In this post I’ve been reiterating some of the same things from In Sickness, but I’d like to expand on some of them, as well. In the comments of that post, Aceadmiral and I discussed the possibility of introducing ace-affirming programming into CE for mental healthcare providers. I see mental healthcare as a key issue for the ace community for a number of reasons — because it can be psychologically damaging to be trapped in a sexnormative culture, because it can be difficult to access treatment for other mental health issues when anti-ace narratives stand in the way, and because “low sexual desire” is officially pathologized as a disorder in the DSM. For all these reasons and more, I think ace advocacy should be prioritizing therapy as an important area of concern. For instance, one of the strategies available to us would be to coordinate on developing ace-affirming CE programming. It seems Angie Foster-Lawson has already started on this, and I think this is an area where it would make sense for more aces to get involved.
On that note, I also think the ace community has been overall too quiet in its response to the approval and marketing of flibanserin, the “libido” drug that some aces have been getting Facebook ads about. Whatever happened to the Ace Flibanserin Task Force? …No, really, who was behind that exactly? I never did figure that out. But the way I see it, drugs like that (and the ethos of curative violence they represent) pose a concrete and alarming threat to the community. This is, again, one of the many reasons why it’s important to steer therapists toward the paradigm of ace acceptance — because otherwise, it may not occur to them to respond to “I don’t want anybody that way, I think there’s something wrong with me” with “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The things I’ve outlined here aren’t intended as an exhaustive or exclusive list of priorities. It’s just that I think some of these deserve more attention than they’re getting — and definitely more attention than certain other things are getting. We don’t need a constantly-rescheduled American-only ace-themed holiday sprung on us. We don’t need perfectly decent posts getting jumped on just because everyone’s hypersensenitized. We arguably aren’t likely to benefit much from anti-discrimination law. What we do need is healthcare that actually meets our needs and eases our burdens, without the threat of pathologizing our sexualities and reinforcing the notion that we are “broken.”