Directions for Ace Community Advocacy

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.

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image by DBPerko, CC BY-NC 2.0.]

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.”


10 responses to “Directions for Ace Community Advocacy

  • aceadmiral

    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.

    So, I agree in principle with your concerns about the wisdom of pursuing the Equality Act thing, but I want to push back a little on the idea looking at different causes on a purely efficiency-based scale. Like, to take Redbeardace as a specific example, the legal area seems to be one that really excites and motivates him, and that erotic energy may not necessarily be fungible. Even though I have criticized his conceptualization/presentation of the topic in the past, he has gotten people talking about things, and he has won some symbolic victories that it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to try for. Even though getting Ace Week officially recognized by the State of Washington is not an “efficient” use of time, because even he admits in his post on how to do it that it’s basically a really nice form letter, it energized a lot of people and–more importantly to my mind–it energized him.

    Now, Redbeard is not the kind of guy who really needs “permission” to pursue things, but one of the things that concerns me most about what I see in the community is that people think there’s visibility or nothing. There are a lot of people who I think are hesitant to contribute to the community because they feel like they don’t have the expertise or the status or whatever, and then on the flip side you have people who have no idea what they’re doing accidentally becoming these high-profile representatives and doing the sorts of things Bummer WordPress Aces have to write Mean Blog Posts about. One way I think to get out of this trap is to broaden the areas in which people can contribute, and that just by the nature of math needs to include both “efficient” and “inefficient” areas.

    Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed me being a Bummer on the one sentence of the post I slightly disagreed with instead of the rest of it that I wholeheartedly endorsed o/

    • Coyote

      lol @ the Przybylo joke and “Bummer WordPress Aces”

      See, if it’s just “legal issues” more generally, then sure. I think there’s legal issues that are worth pursuing as a form of ace advocacy. Given the correlations between aces and singleness, for example, I think it makes sense to look at health insurance issues related to that.

      If it’s a matter of energizing people on the road to something else, then, well. I’d like to talk about what that something else should be.

      Setting that aside for a second — that’s an interesting point you raise about… people being unsure how to contribute. For some, I think some of the suggestions in the prior post could apply, but maybe it would also be good to invite some more brainstorming on what else there is, in the approachable mid-levels between full-blown “activism” and doing nothing. But maybe that’s a conversation worth giving a separate post.

      • aceadmiral

        If it’s a matter of energizing people on the road to something else, then, well. I’d like to talk about what that something else should be.

        I’m kind of of-two-minds about this, because especially for political activism, I think what Redbeard has set up is textbook get-em-in-the-door kind of stuff, and legislation like this has always really been very energizing and attracted attention. But I’m also afraid if this fails (and I suspect it might), that will turn people off, especially if we don’t have anything else waiting in the wings. Like, to use my own path, I got on board with the ERA (#ERANOW), and was introduced to other causes and expanded my circle outwards from there. In 2019, the ERA and another bill I cared a lot about didn’t get through, but there was always that “come back again next year” option–that worked this year (although neither is done yet alas). You can’t really do the same thing about amending the definitions in a bill once it’s passed.

        There was a third thing that was achieved, and the group sent out a wind-down email like, “we did it! Here are some other good causes to support” and I think that’s really the potential here–building connections and coalition. But we are inherently at a disadvantage being an international community, so that makes things harder. I think the target of federal legislation was in that strategic sense a good pick, because you can at least involve all US aces. Like, the discussion on PF talked about municipal action, which would definitely be more effective–but how many people do we realistically have who are ready to go to their municipal government and advocate? …Redbeard himself? So to get people acclimated and to empower them, I think counter-intuitively we do have to start off with something larger in scope but less likely to succeed. But your point is well-taken that we have to set up these satellite causes to keep people engaged whenever, however this ends.

        But maybe that’s a conversation worth giving a separate post.

        I agree it might deserve its own post. But to pull from what I said above, in order for people to contribute at lower-to-mid levels, there have to be the key people organizing and driving the project–and those people need to get experience somehow.

        • Asexuality Archive

          My motivation in pushing for changes to the Equality Act was mostly because I saw it as an “easy”, yet urgent opportunity. It’s a train that’s already moving and headed in the right direction, so all we’d have to do is jump on and get carried along for the ride, and if we don’t jump now, it leaves us behind forever. In the process, maybe we’d get people inspired and build those connections that we’d need to work on The Next Thing(s). And I think whatever those things are, they’d be easier if we could point to a federal law that explicitly includes us to show that We’re Important.

          Even if that law is mostly decorative at the end of the day…

          And I was pushing for it because it seems like so many people think that the entirety of Ace Activism is:

          1. Yelling about The Discourse.
          2. Begging Twitter to “verify” AVEN.
          3. Hating Bughead.

          I’d hoped that maybe it would help people realize that there are other things they can be doing. Like actual activism things. Like you said, “get ’em in the door”.

          As far as whether or not the effort will fail, I’d say that it already has. No one else has picked it up and started running with it. I can keep yelling into the wind about it, but that’s not going to do any good. I’ve written my members of Congress, tried reaching out to a few organizations who are driving the Act forward, and that’s about as far as I can push it alone. It’s not something I can lean on AO about, because it’s not really in line with our mission and is the sort of thing that might fall afoul of what you can do as a 501c3. I was hoping that maybe I could ride a wave of interest that would come out of the DNC this week when they’d highlight it, but… I think it got mentioned once? In passing. (If you didn’t watch, there basically weren’t any queer issues mentioned. It felt like the message was “Mayor Pete married a man and look here’s Danica Roem for three seconds, so we’ve won and there’s nothing left to do.”) So, yeah. I don’t really have much energy to keep that going.

          (But hey, at least there won’t be anyone disillusioned when it fails since no one’s interested in the first place.)

          Anyway, outside of all that…

          Yes, we need more people doing more things. How do we get there? How do we get ace and aro activists embedded in the places that matter? How do we coordinate and amplify the things that need to be done? How do we get good ideas into the hands of the right people who can make things happen? How do we encourage more people to try? What is standing in the way of doing whatever and how do we deal with it?

        • Coyote

          Big questions.

          It’s debatable what counts as the “places that matter,” but I’ve named here some of the areas that concern me, so, I’m standing by the CE thing as one method to explore.

          Amplify, that’s one thing. Coordinate, though, that’s a very different thing altogether. I can’t speak to any particular expertise on that. What I will say is that I’ve been quietly coordinating a minor project on Pillowfort that I hope to later amplify on Twitter/Tumblr, and we’ll see how that works out. Hopefully I can have more to report by then.

          And as for what’s standing in the way, well. You said it yourself, I believe. But in addition to that, I also think a part of how we identify problem points/areas for collective action kind of hinges on being able to identify certain patterns in the problems we face, which requires divulging intimate information about ourselves through a lot of personal stories, which requires being able to tell our stories in the first place.

  • Elizabeth

    In the comments of that post, Aceadmiral and I discussed the possibility of introducing ace-affirming programming into CE for mental healthcare providers.

    Oh, I must’ve missed that conversation when it was happening, so thank you for pointing it out here. I actually tried to do this locally several years ago, partnered with a local therapist who applied for a license so that we could set up some training sessions that would actually give CE credit. It… did not go well. No one was willing to show up for it, and the therapist who had agreed to work with me was… uh. Very bad at actually scheduling things and being practical, which was her whole end of the bargain. I don’t really want to get into too much detail, but I was very angry with how it turned out, and it was a big factor in contributing to my own activist burnout. I would offer to help with this kind of effort, but I’m not sure that my experience with trying this would actually be useful at all, considering how it just… didn’t really go anywhere. :/

    • Coyote

      Oh wow. Thank you for attempting it, all the same!

    • aceadmiral

      I was very angry with how it turned out, and it was a big factor in contributing to my own activist burnout.

      I’m sorry that happened :/ Looking at the example CE materials, I was… not impressed with their quality, compared to what I’d seen in the legal field. Like, a lot of them (and I assume more now with all that’s going on) seemed to just be a wall of text the person would read and then take a little multiple-choice quiz at the end to certify the hours. Like? How much nuance can that bring?? I dunno, I want to say I’m surprised about what happened with you, but just scratching the surface, it seemed to be very soup-sandwich, so I’m not.

      • Elizabeth

        Yeahhh it felt extremely unprofessional, and I was like “this can’t be how it’s supposed to be, can it??” Disappointing to hear that that sort of thing is widespread.

        Worth noting if you’re planning to work towards this is that it took a veeeeeeery long time for this person’s license to actually be approved in the first place too, I think it was over a year??? But I can’t tell if that was because the process of approval took that long, or if it only took that long because the paperwork didn’t even get filled out and submitted for a long time. Still, if possible look for someone who already has the necessary license.

  • Carnival of Aces August 2020 Round Up: What are you Hoping to get out of the Ace Community? – A³

    […] of up we have Coyote, the author behind The Ace Theist here on WordPress, with “Directions for Ace Community Advocacy”; It’s a quick read that brings up several advocacy points the community needs to be thinking […]

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