The Uphill Climb it Would Take to Repair the Welcome Mat

I don’t know that I should be writing this here, but it’s like I was telling the Elizabeth the other day: I want so badly for the ace community to be in a state worth returning to.

Bear in mind, I don’t want to sound overly nostalgic here. There’s a lot of things about prior years that I don’t miss. There’s also a lot of good things about the present moment that we didn’t have ten or even five years ago, and I appreciate the value in new developments like that. Looking back over my shoulder with nostalgia goggles on would be a mistake.

So that’s not what this post is about.

The lament of this post is more specifically about what happens post-burnout, post-trauma, to stem the rate of turnover and open up the way back for those who’ve dropped out of contact for their own well-being. That is to say: What happens to people who were driven away by early squabbles that have only gotten worse? What happens after a community fails so badly to take care of its own? For those who’ve taken an extended leave of absence, what would it take to repair a welcome mat after it’s already been beaten to shreds?

I don’t know the answer to questions like these, but I ask them here because for much of the ace blogosphere, I’m not sure they’ve been on the radar. There’s general acknowledgement that people get burnt out, yes, but not as much discussion on what happens next. Issues steeped in cruelty get discussed more in terms of arguments for/against or in terms of the general contours of that cruelty, without regard for how to make space for those driven off by exactly that. Or rather, if you’re looking to engage with ace blogging outside of recurring pain points that invite incapacitating anxiety, the most you’re afforded is shallow “positivity” blogging (which itself could be the subject of a whole other post).

So I worry — I worry that without developing any kinds of strategies for return and recuperation, we risk making the online ace community permanently useless, if not permanently hostile to our own people.

Around 2012-2015, when I first got into ace blogging, things weren’t uniformly good, but they were… different, in some ways, and one of the things that most shapes my impression of how things have changed is how many people are just… gone. Backed out of involvement in one way or another. Stopped blogging about ace things, or stopped blogging at all. This isn’t to say I expect people to blog about ace things indefinitely, mind you. The point is just that I notice, and I think about it.

More specifically, I think about what it would be like to come back under present conditions. I imagine it would be like that scene from Community where a guy steps out to go grab pizza and comes back to everything on fire and in chaos. Maybe that’s too dramatic a comparison, I don’t know. What I do know is that there are people who’ve left because of things that have only gotten more unavoidable since then. It seems like a self-perpetuating problem, in a way, because if the ubiquity of a trigger is keeping people from coming back… well. It’s hard to hear about that from people who aren’t posting in the first place. It’s hard to listen to the voices that aren’t there.

I don’t even know that anyone would come back, even if we patched up the welcome mat. I’m just saying that it seems like we should try.

In writing this, I’m not sure how many people will see it the same way. For one thing, like I said, it’s difficult to attend to silence, especially if you never knew anyone who’s since gone quiet. It’s not like there’s only One Reason people step back, either. But there’s also this issue, too: I’m not even sure what to do or how to do it. From where I’m standing, it’s looking like a steep uphill climb. I’m just wondering about where to even start. How can we make space to welcome people back while also letting them sidestep the sore spots?

Consider this post a submission to the Carnival of Aces, or inspired by the call, anyway. I’m not sure how well it really fits the theme. When I first read through the list of prompts, I considered writing something more straightforward, like comparing Ace Tumblr with Ace Pillowfort, for instance, but I don’t really lurk enough ace tumblr blogs anymore to do justice to that. And y’all already know what I think about Tumblr anyway. I went with this other, more tangential collection of thoughts instead because it feels like an important topic to broach, and this prompt gave me a good enough reason as any to broach it.

Preview image by Kevin O’Mara, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

15 responses to “The Uphill Climb it Would Take to Repair the Welcome Mat

  • aceadmiral

    In trying to formulate a response to this post, I find myself having a whole bunch of clarifying questions that are pulling me in a lot of directions:
    What does a successful “return” look like? Is it that they return to the type of participation they had before, or could it differ in any/all aspects?
    “a community fails so badly to take care of its own” – “Taking care” in this area is always going to be difficult because of the inherent risks of the activity. Is it necessary to increase care in this area specifically, or would it be satisfactory to increase support in other areas as more of a counterweight?
    “I don’t even know that anyone would come back” – If the terms they were participating on were unsatisfactory to them, then what would be the motivation to come back? Wouldn’t that necessitate a lateral move, which seems outside the scope of this post?
    It seems to me that there are already some spaces where this work is being accomplished, but there is a second problem of communicating that to those who have left (and convincing them it’s true). Is that part of the scope of the question?
    There are reasons for burnout that aren’t about pain/trauma per se. Are they included in the scope of this post?

    Or, in other words, yep, I agree with you it’s a large, complicated problem that feels completely overwhelming to try and solve! :P

    • Coyote

      Some of these questions are steeped in metaphor enough that, uh… I’m not sure exactly what you’re getting at, I’m afraid. I’ll answer some of them though.

      What does a successful “return” look like?

      Fair question. I wouldn’t want to put a definite checkbox around it… What I have in mind is just that people feel welcome to connect and participate in ways that suit them. Hence the metaphor of the welcome mat. I mean… it’s not a Job, you know? It’s not about Output. It’s more just that… I hate to leave people feeling like potential connections are closed off to them.

      So that’s always going to be something that only each individual person is in a position to assess for themselves. If you’re asking for my external perspective, then — I guess I’d feel like someone is “back” or “around” if I see them around in comment sections. Although obviously there’s things that go on outside my own personal neighborhood, too, so it’s not like I’d always know.

      There are reasons for burnout that aren’t about pain/trauma per se. Are they included in the scope of this post?

      Mm, yes and no. The scope of this post is… “things we can do something about,” I guess, and as I recall you’ve alluded to some thoughts about what’s included in that. Care to elaborate? :b

      • aceadmiral

        So, I am taking this comment as giving me free rein, and if that’s not what you meant to do–too late!

        A lot of my thinking on this subject is based on reading I have done about traditional forms of organizing non-profit organizations and what functions they served/why people were part of them in the first place (and their decline in the U.S. over the later half of the 20th century). Most people, when they think about a non-profit think about charities and churches (and the charity work churches do)–your 501(c)(3)s. But as that 3 implies, there are ton of other types of non-profits, and a lot of those types of organizations–unions, civic leagues, fraternal orders, credit unions, co-ops, etc.–have become essentially alien to most Americans under 40. The history and attendant wherefores are outside the scope of this comment, and also I confess that I still do not quite have that instinctual understanding despite being a member of some of these groups, but I think what’s important to look at is, what do these groups do?

        The church ladies show up at your house with casseroles if there’s a death in the family. The unions have a strike fund and make sure no one goes hungry if there’s a labor dispute. The credit union organizes your communities’ financial power into something that can actually be used for the benefit of your community.

        Okay, those things are big and hard when you’re not centrally located (although, as many people will attest, I have mailed many pastries and I WILL MAIL AGAIN, so maybe feeding each other isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility.) But there are other things those organizations do that are not so dependent on geography.

        The civic league does, yes, give rides to the polls on election day, but it also does the work of tracking down official’s positions and compiling them in a single document so that the busy working adult can spend minutes instead of hours on it and still feel informed and empowered to make an educated decision. The fraternal organization does, yes, have a place for socialization and camaraderie, but it also gives scholarships to help young people in the local community pursue their dreams of education. The church ladies can pray for or together with someone who’s going through a loss. There are plenty of functions the asexual community could serve even while not being local with the proper organization if we wanted it (including, perhaps, deploying local volunteers with said casseroles).

        All of these things are outside of most of the current activities of the community, though, which have much more to do with advocacy and thereby carry certain risks; you make yourself vulnerable when you share your personal story and ask for other’s validation in a way you’re just not when you’re baking a dozen loaves of banana bread. You don’t need to even be harassed or invalidated to get burned out from this sort of participation, or even to feel like it never did much for you in the first place. But saying “if you burn out from advocacy, why not help me bake instead?” is not a return and it doesn’t heal the underlying damage and make the person able to engage in advocacy again if that’s what they wanted to do.

        [And lucky for you I have a class in 5 minutes that I have spent my prep time for irresponsibly #NoRegrets, so I will leave this as part 1 :D]

        • Coyote

          I see… The ace community needs more banana bread.

        • aceadmiral

          Well, it does, but is that germane to your post

        • Coyote

          Evidently it is!

          Okay but more seriously: What I’m hearing is that you see a route for more practical cooperation/organizing for more immediate needs, not just dedicated activism on ace things specifically…. as well as more general socialization with aces even when it’s not about the asexual spectrum specifically. Am I getting that right?

        • aceadmiral

          Yes! Especially if we want to keep people who have been in the community a few years/secure in their identities/over 25/etc.

        • Coyote

          Hm. True. I remember suggesting mutual aid groups a while back, which I think usually gets done on a more local basis. Theoretically it would be possible to scale that up for a more remote/diffuse network, although that imposes various logistics hurdles that would make me inclined to restrict it in some way.

          In terms of just socializing online, I thought for a second here about creating a PF comm called something like Less Hate More Cake, but with how chill PF is, I’m not sure if that would even be necessary.

        • aceadmiral

          Yeah, I think we’d have to look at a lot of different types of groups and take more of an a la carte approach just logistically. There is also the question of what the needs are that we would need to meet, and that’s also a tough problem precisely because of what you point out that it’s hard to listen to the voices of those who aren’t here.

          I will reserve your second point for part 2 of my comment, which will likely not be forthcoming until later this evening or tomorrow.

      • aceadmiral

        [Part 2] Okay, supposing that all of that other stuff is irrelevant and we are limiting ourselves to the more traditional areas that I clumsily and not-completely-accurately termed “advocacy” in the last comment:

        A. There are several paths to burnout

        A lot of the time when people talk about burnout, they have online harassment and flamewars in mind, and while that is certainly the fastest path there, it is not the only one. The Carnival you linked gave some examples of the other ones, but there are two others I’d like to single out in particular: hostile work environment and no new material. The latter I think is pretty straightforward: you get stuck in a rut, there aren’t really many people around you providing stimulating ideas to bounce off of, you get bored and frustrated and leave. By hostile work environment, I (cheekily) mean that for various reasons the community itself can make you feel unwelcome. Maybe for some demographic reason, maybe because you’re TAA your ideas aren’t popular, maybe because you’re just bad at making friends. No one is harassing you, but you’re also not getting any positive return on the effort you put in.

        There are steps we could take to counter all three of these situations, but they would of course be different. It seems like this post is alluding mainly to the first, but looking at my own case, it was hostile work environment that pushed me over the edge, and its no new material with a side of ennui I struggle a lot with now. To be clear, all three of these stressors have existed simultaneously at various points in my asexual career, and harassment was in absolute terms the most stressful–but it wasn’t the proverbial straw, you know? And, of course, people other than me could likely name more stressors.

        So, are other stressors relevant? Do we maybe even need an integrated strategy? Or should we be focused on this one thing right now and set the rest aside for later?

        B. Even if you build it, they may not come

        One of the most frustrating problems I see in the asexual community I see right now (and, incidentally, the subject of my contemporaneous comment on the post you linked lol) is that the communications systems function extremely poorly. As you have pointed out before, our community memory is… olds yelling at people in reblogs, apparently, and our community norms have been diluted as the communities have become more diffuse. Even when there are good initiatives, no one seems to hear about them. So supposing we do spruce up the welcome mat, is anyone going to notice? I think there’s an argument to be made that it would be an essential part of sprucing up the welcome mat, but also one that could be made to exclude it.

        The other prong of this is, supposing one does create such a space–I would list PF as an example–how do you ensure that as the community grows? Do we need to think of that before we can ethically put out the welcome mat again? Like, PF is chill now, but does it behoove the community on PF to make a community like the one you suggest in order to have it to fall back on in case calamity befalls it? It’s really difficult to guarantee anything, but in conversations I have had trying to gently invite people back to ace blogging, I think showing that one is at least thinking about medium- and long-term concerns would be a big help.

        • opisaheretic

          “Hostile work environment” matches my experiences at my school’s LGBTRC. Nobody was mean per se, but getting people (including volunteers!) to say hi when you walked into the room was like pulling teeth. Other people I talked to have the same problem. When you’re putting effort into socializing and you rarely get positive feedback, it’s just hard to justify returning.

  • Anagnori

    The reason I left Tumblr was because of a problem I’ve now realized is pervasive across social media: communities aren’t contained. Everything you post is “in mixed company,” and features like reblogs and retweets only make it worse. It’s easy for a post to spread far beyond its intended audience, and outside of its intended context.

    It’s one thing when you’re a small-time blogger and no one gives you much attention. But the longer you’re in a community – any community – and the more recognizable you become to others, the greater this risk becomes. The more people follow you (literally or figuratively), the bigger the proportion of strangers will be, and the greater the risk that some of your followers will be hostile.

    When I stopped regularly posting, I had about 4,000 followers, but virtually all of them were unknown to me, and I felt like I had to write every post to be 100% ironclad so that it couldn’t be misrepresented. My blog was supposed to be mine, yet I couldn’t write freely on it anymore. I couldn’t be myself, couldn’t be an ordinary person who made mistakes or misspoke sometimes. I’m not normally an anxious person, but anxiety spiked every time I posted. I left to put my mental health first.

    This isn’t a problem with the ace community in particular. It’s a problem with any platform that lumps disparate communities together, and any platform where mass anonymous harassment is feasible. I think the best thing for the future of the ace community, and LGBTQIA+ communities in general, is to adopt a mix of both social media (for “mixed company” discussions) and more private media like forums and Discord servers. There’s AVEN, of course, but we need more options than that, and options that aren’t publicly viewable.

    Part of the problem is that visibility goes hand-in-hand with being targeted, and people find many reasons to target others. A minor mistake can be blown out of proportion, and accusations of bigotry and abuse can become hammers. When the internet acts as a mass game of “telephone,” nuance disappears between “This person said something ignorant or messed up once,” and “This person is harmful, and you’re harmful if you support them.”

    Another part of the problem is that people’s expectations of online community don’t match the reality. The internet has always been a hostile place, and not just to ace people. Supportive communities, online or offline, need leaders, moderators and members who actively support each other and push out malicious actors. Social media is a convenient place to gather, hence its popularity, but it is not a good platform for sustaining a real community.

    I’d suggest community activists try to build/expand Discord servers, forums, and other ace-specific groups that require accounts to view, and use social media mainly for educational purposes, outreach, and things you don’t mind sharing in mixed company. An environment where you hang out with your ace buddies and talk about ace issues among yourselves probably needs more privacy in order to be able to talk freely and sustain relationships. (I’d also want it to be clear that all ace-spec, questioning and non-ace people are allowed to join these groups – the account requirement is to prevent mass outside harassment.)

  • Carmilla DeWinter

    So, I can only comment from my limited view of the German ace communities.

    First, there’s a plural now. We’ll never go back to where there’s one AVEN forum and a handful of blogs. There’s overlap, but there are ace people who are only on one medium and who somehow never seem to realize that there’s ace content elsewhere. There’s people who only parcipitate in offline meet-ups and who need the opportunity to find these meet-ups via Google, not some social media account. Etc. I notice this myself, given how I’m much more likely to follow a fellow wordpress account than someone on Tumblr or whereever.

    Second, people fade in and out of various spaces. A number of my fellow German bloggers have stopped writing — less from burnout and more because blogging actually takes time and effort and sometimes you have to prioritize –, but I’m managing to stay in contact with some of them via other communities. (This also takes time and effort.) Our one org with an actual adress has managed to create a decent overlap between offline spaces, the AVEN forum, the German aspec Discord and various social media and other LGBTQ orgs. (Time, effort and people who are willing to talk to more than one subset of “the community” in potentially hostile environments.)
    People quitting any blog seems more the norm than people keeping a blog for years, too. You can’t lessen the time and effort needed, and therefore there’s no welcome mat to repair for those who prefer to spend their time elsewhere.

    Third, unmoderated spaces: What aceadmiral said. Unmoderated spaces aren’t a good place to build community.

    Fourth, there was a distinct lack of offline spaces even before the pandemic.

    Possible solution to keep communities functioning: Active networking.

    Drawback: Takes time and effort. (This is purely an observation and not meant to guilt people. I realize both time and spoons are sometimes limited.)

  • Carnival of Aces Round-Up: Comparing Ace Spaces – Ace Film Reviews

    […] Coyote wrote about the need to make the online ace community more welcoming to returning members in “The Uphill Climb it Would Take to Repair the Welcome Mat”. […]

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