The second session I attended was a combination session. The first half was about using fanfiction as a primary source for asexuality research by Jasmine Stork. The second part was a presentation by Dr. Ianna Hawkins Owen on Black asexual silence and the figure of the “Mammy”.
Asexuality Research in Academia
- A lot of research ignores content from the community because it’s “just for fun”, but there is significant value in this material.
- Online spaces and overlaps between them are largely ignored.
- Stork reviewed fanfiction on AO3, using the “Asexual Spectrum” umbrella tag. This tag is community sourced, with community members making connections between related tags.
- Shibboleths are beliefs and practices, clues, signals, and references, used to indicate inclusion or exclusion from a group, and also useful for discussing in-group differences. Cake, flag colors, etc.
- Example: Black/gray/white/purple color scheme is recognized by aces, hourglass symbol recognized as “Black Widow” by Marvel fans, recognition of both puts people in “Ace Marvel Fans” group, where these will go over the heads of people not in group.
- People have energy for doing things that they like and that other people like.
- Fanfiction can be used as an outreach tool. Write a story about Black Widow and Black Widow fans will read it, but you’ve piggybacked a little bit of asexuality along for the ride. Now those readers have learned about asexuality, even though they weren’t seeking it out.
- Authors are often clear to say “this is one example, but not the only possible manifestation.”
- Race does not get much attention. Main characters almost all white, side characters mostly white, even in places like Africa or The Bronx.
- Representation isn’t just in fan fiction. It can be in other media, like podcasts, videos, blogs, etc. Main topic is a movie or whatever, so that gets eyeballs, but subtopic can be ace/aro stuff
- This is all work, and this work can help academics do their job, because you’ve been doing it already.
Dr. Ianna Hawkins Owen’s talk was an exploration of Black asexual silence and the image of the Mammy, explored through the lens of a series of paintings. It was a powerful presentation, and one that I am completely unequipped to be able to summarize adequately. (Frankly, the world does not need another clueless white guy talking about things he doesn’t understand.) So, I’m trying to find another summary to point you at, one that would be more accurate representation of what was said than anything I could write up. I’ll update this post if I find one. In the mean time, I recommend you track down some of Dr. Hawkins Owen’s other work, as much of it touches on similar themes.