And thank you to all of you who tell your stories, whatever form they may take!
(If your entry didn’t show up here, that means I didn’t see it. Please drop me a message or a comment and I’ll include it! Also, if you’re running a few days past the end of the month, that’s completely fine. Just send me a note and I’ll add you. And if I’ve misrepresented/missummarized any of your submitted posts, please let me know and I’ll fix that up.)
In the years since I discovered asexuality, I’ve heard a lot of stories and I’ve told a lot of stories. But one thing I’ve noticed is that we’re often reluctant to tell our stories. Sure, we’ll freely tell the story of how we learned we were asexual or how we came out, but beyond that, stories don’t get told in the same way, if they’re told at all.
Some stories don’t want to be told. They’re kept guarded and secret until they burst out in a moment of despair or are offered in a moment of empathy. These stories are not freely told, but rather, they are paid for in pain. Rarely, these stories are opaquely hinted at to keep them from getting free on their own.
Then there are the stories that we “tell”, but never really tell. They’re short, surface level anecdotes, and we only “tell” them when prompted. We’re giving answers or making points, but aren’t really telling stories.
Telling our stories is one of the most important things we can do. They show others who we are. They show others that they are not alone. And sometimes, they show us that we are not alone. Every piece of the asexual community started when a story was told.
I am like this.
I am like that, too.
So it makes me sad when I see stories that don’t get told or that only get told part way. We are here because of the stories that have been told, and it is our duty to tell our stories for the future.
A few years ago, there was an “Asexual Story Project” website that I hoped would bring some of these untold stories to light, but most of what ended up there was the same single paragraph story of the lightbulb moment or tales of coming out. Short and to the point and safe. Then there was a book called “47 Asexual Stories”. Quick responses to a questionnaire, typically no longer than a paragraph. Short and to the point and safe.
Short and to the point and safe. That’s all most of our stories get to be.
“How I Learned About Asexuality” or “How I Came Out” are stories that get told so frequently because they are universal stories and touch on key moments in our journey. But we also tell them because they’re typically uncontroversial. They’re a story you can quickly tell to a group of strangers in the back room of a former coffee shop in Seattle, and they’ll get you. We expect them to be personal and unique, so we allow them to be personal and unique. Whatever it entails, it’s not wrong, it’s not something that reflects poorly on asexuality. It’s just a quick tale of what happened. It’s short and to the point and safe.
Beyond that, and our stories become shorter and more general. Details become meta and abstract. We don’t tell our stories, we tell about our stories and end there. It’s like we’re trying to win Hemingway’s Six Word Story competition.
Had a girlfriend. That didn’t work.
I had sex. It was boring.
Why does she even love me?
I’ve got a sex free kink.
Don’t you dare try touching me.
I was broken. Now I’m not.
Short and to the point and safe.
We dare not tread beyond these narrow confines. Anything further and the I disappears, replaced by a “Some do, some don’t” we-ness. We fall into generality, into a 101 lecture. We become Ambassadors from Aceland: No longer individuals, but representatives of our community, forced to present the approved party line, to provide the big picture so people don’t get the wrong idea about what asexuality is. We censor ourselves or sprinkle our stories with “Not All Aces” caveats, because that’s what an Ambassador does.
We can’t talk about who we fell in love with, because some aces are aromantic.
We can’t talk about what feeling repulsed is like, because that would give people the impression that all aces hate sex.
We can’t talk about when we did feel attracted to someone, because being gray or demi makes things too complicated.
We can’t talk about where our “first time” happened, because that would be confusing and not “ace enough”.
We can’t talk about why we want kids, because we all know how babies are made and people wouldn’t understand.
We can’t talk about how we’re fine living alone, because some aces want relationships.
We can’t talk about our own lives, because they don’t fit the story we’re forced to tell.
I saw a post the other day where someone was explicitly asking for examples for things that “make the ace community look bad or lose credibility”. Beyond the face value horror of deliberately trying to be the respectability police, I wondered how many voices it would silence, how many stories would not be told. And the responses were things like “Not having a clear definition of asexuality” and “Too many micro labels”.
A good Ambassador is the flawless representative of the cleanest image. A good Ambassador sticks to the official story. A good Ambassador doesn’t rock the boat.
Fuck. That. Noise.
It’s your story. Tell it your way. Don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.
There are enough of us around now. We don’t have to be the Ambassador from Aceland all the time. No one ever appointed you to that position anyway. We don’t have to waste words by saying things like “This is my personal experience and all aces are different”. We don’t have to worry about whether or not someone will get the wrong idea about asexuality. We don’t have to omit things because they’re not ace enough. There are as many different ways to be asexual as there are asexual people, and it’s time for us to embrace and explore that diversity.
The Carnival of Aces is a long-running monthly asexuality-themed blogging event, run by The Asexual Agenda. Each month, the host picks a theme and puts out a call for submissions from the community, then collects the submissions into a roundup post at the end of the month. (Last month’s Carnival was hosted on The Demi Deviant, and the theme was Deviant Identities.)
The theme I have selected for this month is “Telling Our Stories“.
Over the years in ace circles, one thing that has always stood out to me is the power of the personal story of asexuality. More so than the academic encyclopedia articles or silly memes or 101 outreach pamphlet, the personal story is able to reach out and make someone truly feel that they are not alone.
I’ve recently started working on an autobiographical account of my own aceness, in all its awkward and embarrassing glory, and that got me thinking about the personal stories we tell and why we tell them, as well as the stories we don’t tell and why we don’t tell them. We’ll often freely talk about the lightbulb moment where we discovered asexuality, but usually skip the pain and heartbreak and confusion that we encountered along the way. But these are all valid parts of our asexual journey. So what goes into the decision around what we talk about, who we talk to, and how we tell these stories?
That’s what I want to explore this month. Not the personal stories themselves, I want to talk about the act of telling our stories.
Here are a few specific prompts, but please feel free to talk about anything else that might come to mind:
How do you decide which stories to tell and which stories not to tell?
Are there any stories you wish more people would tell?
Are there any stories you’re tired of telling or tired of hearing?
Who is your audience? Does the way you tell the same story change depending on who is listening?
What medium do you use for your storytelling?
Do you ever feel like you can’t tell your story?
Do you ever use the veil of fiction to surreptitiously tell your personal story?
How do you handle other people who may appear in your personal stories?
Why do you tell your story?
There are several ways you can submit your blog post for the carnival:
Leave a link to it in the comments below.
Email me at: a c e @ a s e x u a l i t y a r c h i v e . c o m
This session talked about some of the challenges and findings of the Asexual Census. It is an on-line survey of around a hundred questions, and it got about 10K responses last year. Because it is online and self-selecting, this can lead to some biases: People have to have Internet access, be involved in spaces where it’s publicized, be willing and interested in sharing information, etc.
Asking questions a different way can change the result. For example, a radio button forces a binary choice, where there may be overlap. Multiple choice can allow for contradictory responses. Freeform text can be overwhelming and confusing.
Skipping the question is not the same as deliberately leaving the question blank, but adding a “None of the above” response can change things.
The survey is for turning people into data. It’s nice to be heard and recognized and understood, but that’s not the point.
There is a high number of non-binary people in the ace community, so make sure your activism includes them.
What’s up with the “low” number of ace men in the survey? Is that a sign that ace men can’t discover asexuality? Don’t want to take the survey? Or are ace men actually more rare?
Repulsed people are 3x more prevalent than favorable people, so make sure your activism includes repulsed people.
There is a forthcoming paper on rates of depression amongst asexuals.
There should be an aro census, but reaching aro people is a challenge. If you target the aro community exclusively, you’ll miss many aro-ace people who aren’t in the aro circles. If you target ace communities, you’ll be overwhelmed by aro aces and it may not be truly representative.
This was mostly a presentation of the appearance of asexuality in articles from ages past. Some of the earliest were from the late 1800s.
Almost all of them were using asexual in a negative way. Most were misogynistic. Many were worried about the utter horrors that would be unleashed if gasp women were allowed to vote. It felt a lot like an accidental trip into the comment section…
One of the more interesting parts was a series of columns from a doctor in the 60s/70s who talked about asexuality in ways that we would recognize today, and was generally positive in what he wrote. He even had a section in a book where he talked about it.
I hope that this material all comes out someday because it was fascinating. I also hope someone writes a book on it all…
(Note: Session 3 was a working meeting and there’s no summary for it.)
People were worried about negative reactions when reaching out to queer groups, but negative reactions are rare.
Being ignored is common, but don’t assume intent behind being ignored. It’s possible the email was lost, the coordinator was busy, etc. If you’re ignored, try again.
When looking for strategies for dealing with anti-ace people, look for strategies for dealing with TERFs, because they’re usually the same people, same tactics.
Remember that you often can’t change the minds of entrenched assholes, so focus on those who haven’t been corrupted by hate yet.
Block liberally. You don’t owe assholes your time or energy.
Online, people are horrible. Off-line, people are usually accepting and welcoming.
Be visible if you can be. Many ways to be visible, stickers, shirts, marching in a parade, casually mentioning it to people. Having an ace presence matters, it shows people we exist and shows other aces that we exist.
You’re not responsible for completely educating others, but guiding them can help. Have a set of websites, videos, etc., personally curated content that’s relevant to you, and pass that along to people who are interested. Don’t have them do their own research or just drop them at the AVEN forums and wish them luck, because that won’t help.
Sometimes the upper levels of a group may be bureaucratic and resist inclusion, but lower levels are often supportive and recognize the need.
Hosting a brown bag at a local queer org can be helpful for reaching out.
Many queer groups want to be more ace inclusive but don’t know how.
Don’t assume that if a group leaves out the “A” that they’re being deliberately exclusive. Sometimes they think the Q or the + is enough. Sometimes they haven’t updated their website in years. Sometimes they just don’t understand but are willing to.
Sometimes just being there matters. “We’re here and that’s all there is to it.”
Sexual liberation means nothing if it doesn’t include the freedom to say “no”.
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.
This was a session for group organizers to trade ideas for ace/aro meetup groups. Here were a few of those ideas:
You don’t always have to talk about asexuality at every meeting all the time. Sometimes the meetup can just be a meetup.
Have a variety of activities: Dinners, game nights, movies, karaoke, food court get-togethers, discussion groups, new member welcomes, book club, potluck, etc.
Consistently have events, and plan events for the future. People are more likely to attend something if it looks like the group is active.
Specifically advertise some events as New Member Events, or have New Member time carved out of another event. This specifically invites people who haven’t come to something before a reason to drop by.
Occasionally have targeted, specific discussion topics, planned in advance. This will give people who are interested in that topic a reason to drop in.
Talk about your other events. At your karaoke meetups, mention the monthly discussion group, etc.
Encourage other people to organize events. The more events, the better, and the wider range of events and wider geographic area they cover, the better.
Personal connections with organizers lead to more popular events and a more active group overall.
Have events of different sizes. Sometimes a 6 person dinner is what people want. Sometimes a 30 person discussion group is what people want.
Asking for donations is fine, but asking for dues would exclude people who can’t/won’t pay. Tie the donation requests to specific events, like “We need $300 to march in Pride” or “Our meeting space is $30 a month.
Use on-line tools. Have a website, Facebook, Meetup, etc. You can use Rabbit for a simulated movie night or Discord for a group chat.
Flags are a must when you’re at Pride (even if you’re not marching!). They rise above the heads of the crowd, they’re colorful, and they say “I am here!” And when you’re aro or ace or anyone else with a non-rainbow flag, making a statement that “I am here!” is critically important.
The problem is that flagpoles are a pain. More specifically, getting the flagpole to and from the Pride event is a pain. Unless you happen to have a golf cart with you, hauling around a six foot pole all day is a non-trivial task. When you add in crowds and rides on public transit, the situation gets even worse.
So, what you need is a flagpole that collapses down and can fit in a backpack. They make telescoping flagpoles specifically for this purpose, but I have not had luck with them. I had one that was literally painful to use, due to a poorly designed clip. Then there was the one that kept collapsing itself during the parade, requiring constant adjustment. Other ones I’ve seen look incredibly flimsy. So I wanted something better.
The first thing I tried was PVC pipes. They sell threaded sprinkler pipes in two foot sections, and threaded couplers to connect them. Get three sections of that, and you have yourself a nice, strong flagpole that’s relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, the PVC isn’t telescoping, so when you break the pole down, you have three separate pipes you have to carry around. There’s also the problem that PVC pipes don’t have clips to attach the flag, but more on that shortly.
I needed something telescoping, so I’d only have to carry around one smaller item. I needed something relatively lightweight. I also needed something sturdy. Something like a monopod.
There are tons of sturdy, lightweight, relatively cheap monopods out there. This particular one also came with a carrying case, which can be a benefit when travelling to or from Pride. Hiking sticks might also work well.
Now, the problem with a monopod is that it’s not a flagpole. It doesn’t have any kind of clip to attach the flag to. One of the more common solutions is to use zip ties and tape. I’m not a fan of that method, though. It can only be used once, you need scissors or a knife to take it apart, and you end up with a sticky mess when you’re done with it all.
I prefer cable ties, like this one.
These are adjustable and reusable and easy to remove.
But, it’s not easy to attach or detach a flag when using a cable tie. You can’t just unclip it. You’d have to take the whole thing off just to take off the flag.
So, you need a clip.
Any clip will do. Carabiner, swivel hook, split ring, clasp, whatever. Anything that lets you easily attach and detach the flag.
So, you can see where I’m going with this, right? Put the clip on the cable tie, put the cable tie on the pole, and presto, instant flag clips!
You see, if you do that, you’ll have a cable tie that slips all over the place because cable ties might grip themselves, but they certainly do not grip a the smooth metal of a monopod.
You need something that does.
This is a non-slip furniture pad, but anything with a non-slip surface should work. Something like a jar opener or potholder pad, or maybe one of those counter liner rolls.
Once you’ve found your non-slip pad, cut out a piece, then cut two slits in the pad wide enough for the cable tie. Make one near either end, but be sure to leave enough material around the slit so the pad won’t tear apart.
Then thread the cable tie through the pad, then through the clip, then through the slit on the other side of the pad. If the pad you’re using only has the grippy non-slip surface on one side, make sure that side is facing “inward”, and the clip is on the non-grippy “outside”.
Now you have a reusable, non-slip clip. Time to put it on the pole and turn it into a flagpole!
Be sure to tighten the cable tie as much as you can. The non-slip surface won’t do much good unless it’s firmly gripping the monopod. Try sliding the clip around. It might still slide a little bit, but it should take quite a bit of force to get it to move.
For the bottom clip, you can either repeat the steps above, or you can skip the non-slip pad, and just go with the cable tie and clip. Gravity should help keep the bottom of the flag down. Personally, I’d do the non-slip pad on the bottom clip, too, to hold the flag’s edge tighter.
Congratulations, you now have a flagpole! Wave it with pride!
No, really, go wave it around like crazy right now. You’ll want to give it a good thorough test run to make sure it holds up. If there are any problems (like, say, the non-slip pad isn’t as grippy as it needs to be), it’s much better to find that out now while you can fix it than five minutes into marching in an hour and a half long parade.
And remember, it’s not just a flagpole, it’s a collapsible flagpole! Collapse the pole, roll the flag, and ride the subway or bus with ease!