Tl;dr Looking back at the Ace Discourse in January 2015 has shown a number of themes including discussions around the term “allo”, definitions of asexuality and identifying acephobia. There also appears to be a large changeover in people.
The past while, I have been writing some thoughts on how to go about looking at ace history and managing some of the problems that arise. Most of that was about having touch with older ace history, before the contemporary ace community was built. However, I want to look at some more recent ace history now.
As I started on a new project that’s looking specifically at acephobia on tumblr, I started realizing how little has been documented about what has been titled the Ace Discourse™. This is a huge problem because a lot of people now involved The Discourse were not there when it started on its current trajectory, especially the younger acephobic people who have now become a sort of “mob” primed to attack acespecs (let’s talk about how disturbing that is, shall we?). Additionally, many of the acespecs who were part of earlier Discourse are no longer active or, like me, wade in now and then, but have pretty much blocked and ignored anything particularly exhausting. And this has left younger acespecs without historical background or connection with those “early” acespecs.
I’m not the only one noticing this. There’s been a recent uptick in conversations around history of The Discourse. In particular, I recommend reading this beautiful reflection from aro-soulmate-project and some of the links in it. The thing is, when I read other people’s histories, I realized that my memory of events didn’t always line up. For example, a common thing I hear from others is that the term “cishet” was created by trans people. My first memory of seeing the term was from an allo cis person using it to exclude acespecs from queer communities. I also have many memories of me and other trans people asking cis people to stop using cishet because so many cis queer people were using it to separate themselves from other cis people and justify their transphobia. I don’t know where the term came from, but my experience with it, as a trans person, has always been negative. Whether or not it was made by a trans person, it has outgrown that history and has been no good for me and other trans people.
The nature of tumblr allows for multiple histories to exist. Even with the Ace Discourse as a single concept, depending on who we follow, block, and interact with, even that experience can be completely different. I’ve had a strange, outsider relationship with a lot of ace culture, so I know my experience may not be what is commonly accepted as “normal” by the community as a whole, but it still is part of the history. So, I’ve decided to look back through posts as best I can and document one perspective of the Ace Discourse from someone who was around near the beginning of the current Discourse (there were discourses before then that I wasn’t part of). I am looking through my archive, trying to pinpoint which major posts and themes crossed my radar, and I’m using this space as a chance to share what I’ve found and reflect on it.
My own memories
Memory is faulty as fuck, but it’s a good starting point. While, there is clear record of the term “discourse” being used earlier than 2015, I do not really remember the term being fully put to use as “ace discourse” until about 2016 (going through my archive will offer interesting answers here). Now, of course, we have the beautiful #ace discourse tag.
I joined tumblr in 2012 (important because I was not in any asexual circle or community during the creation of the term allo/allosexual). From my perspective, there has always been attacks on acespecs. However, it tended to be one of many different kinds of conversations going on. A lot of acespec conversations I was part of in the 2012-2015 period was about AVEN. Tumblr, in particular, was the place that acespecs went when they didn’t feel comfortable with AVEN’s vibe and that meant that a lot of us were aroace, trans aces, and aces of color (I’m happy to talk more about my personal feelings with AVEN, but it tends to boil down to “every time I go on those forums, there’s no one particular thing that bothers me, but I feel icky afterwards, so I’ve decided not to interact with it”).
Yes, there were people claiming that aces weren’t queer, and the great allosexual debate would come up every few months (more on that later), but we were also a kind of ace “counterculture”, people who didn’t fit into the “main” acespec culture and were having conversations around intersectionality and queerness. Whether or not they were thoughtful, I have no recollection, we’ll find out when I look back more.
And then, January 2015, the allosexual debate started again. For those who do not know, “allosexual” is a term created by the acespec community to describe people that experience sexual attraction, just as we have “straight” to describe people who aren’t gay, lesbian, or bi, “cis” to describe people who aren’t trans, etc. When it was created (and every few months since), it has been pointed out that French Canadian queer folks use the term “allosexuel” to mean “queer” due to tight restrictions on loan words in the language. The argument was that aces were “appropriating” the term, but, of course, the underlying message was “how dare straight cis people use the word queer!” There’s a little more complexity here (who uses allosexuel, how terminology crosses languages), but it does show us already how much acephobic people wanted to rip away our right to normalizing terminology, and our presence and validity in queer spaces.
I didn’t realize at the time that the January 2015 argument was any different, but then, months later when that conversation appeared to have devolved into your average “aces aren’t queer” garbage, it started to feel like a bigger problem. A year later, the conversations were still happening at an alarming rate, but had completely shifted to queerness and away from the term “allosexual”. That’s around when I started to completely cut out. I tune in every few months now. Some conversations I do remember from tuning it were: trans people asking cis people to stop using cishet because it allowed them to separate themselves from their cis privilege, the claim that queer was for “SGA [same-gender attracted] and trans” people only, the constant suggestion that ace people aren’t oppressed (and some very reactionary responses from acespecs), the growth of the term “exclusionist”…and, of course, moments that should have been historical, but really just became another excuse for an argument, such as the Trevor project recognizing and including asexuality (which many have cited as a huge instigator in The Discourse and I definitely agree with.)
And now, we have people proudly identifying as “exclusionists”. And while “exclusionist” has become a term for someone who excludes acespec and arospec folks, it’s also used when referring to excluding certain types of trans folks (usually the nonbinary ones), bi folks, and basically anyone who isn’t “truly” queer. Yuck.
January 19th – 31st, 2015
So, this a slow-going project because there is so much material to sort through. It takes a long time. But I do have some very early, preliminary findings from this small period of time which can hopefully set some groundwork for the future.
The one thing I noticed immediately was how many blogs were deleted. By my count, at least 10 of the acespec blogs which were consistently blogging around The Discourse and acespec and arospec themes back in January 2015 have been deleted. This does not necessarily mean that the person is gone or that there’s anything suspicious in this decrease. People do change their blog names regularly and tumblr’s been on a decline for a while, people are leaving for many reasons. There’s no real way to tell without a lot more data, but I do think it’s worth noting.
For one, a lot of acespec folks have mentioned and discussed discourse-related burnout. It is not an isolated problem, many acespecs burnout when it comes to managing the discourse, and that can lead to someone deleting their account or moving to a new one.
Secondly, some of these blogs are what I would call “cultural hubs”, as in, they were center places for acespecs on tumblr to go for information, for community, or to rant/discuss acephobia. This includes http://ace-arophobic-quotes.tumblr.com/ and, while the glorious Asexual Alligator still stands, it is inactive. As these hubs dropped off, new hubs had to form, which has altered the landscape of acespec culture on tumblr. During this process, arospec-specific cultural hubs have started to emerge separately from acespec hubs as well, completely altering the way acespec and arospec communities interact, perceive themselves, and perceive each other.
Finally, the amount of folks dropping out of the discourse between January 2015 and now suggests that the people involved in The Discourse at the beginning and now are different. This makes sense considering conversations around burnout – an acespec engages until they burn out, but there are always new, younger acespecs to start engaging. More importantly, a lot of the acephobic people on the other side of the discourse are currently 17/18 years old. While it’s possible they were around during the beginning of The Discourse, it’s much more likely to consider that a similar phenomenon has happened for acephobes. The acephobes perpetuating The Discourse now are not necessarily the ones that started it.
Even in such a short time period, I did pick out some common themes. What was being discussed in Acespec Land back in January 2018?
As noted, the conversation around the use of “allosexual” was a hot topic, not just in terms of claiming aces were appropriating it from queer French Canadians, but also the general fight to have a term for non-acespec folks. (For any trans person who has had to deal with the “cis is a slur” nonsense, this is a very familiar conversation with a new coating of paint, wheeeeeeeeeeee!)
Another post that blew up was around the definition of asexuality. This particular post caused so much commotion, the original poster eventually made a follow-up post to admit being wrong in some ways and look at the topic of libido and asexuality with more nuance.
And there was regular discussion around identifying and challenging acephobia and arophobia. This example I find interesting because it reminds me Steven Moffat’s famous “asexuals are boring” quote (and may even be a response to it) and I have a vague memory of “asexuals are boring” being a much more common form of discrimination in the past. Now, it’s devolved into a general “acespecs do nothing, what’s the big deal?” on top of other forms of acephobia.
This is just the beginning of a very long investigation. Hell, this is the kind of thing that someone with time devoted to the project would take years on. I don’t have time, I’m just doing this for fun, so it goes slowly and carefully and I’m taking a lot of detours. But, this history needs to get detailed and archived. It’s so easy for things to get lost on the internet if they are not carefully filed and I refuse to allow more acespec and arospec history to be lost.