Tl;dr I have a lot of anxiety around engaging with the main online asexual community due to my personality and needs for validation, but I’m learning that it’s important to talk about my aroaceness, so I’m going to talk about it online anyways. I don’t need to engage with the main community to have a community.
I’ve been recently reminded of all my anxiety around the asexual community because I’ve been posting more and more about being aroace and things relating to and affecting both the acespec and arospec communities and, as a result, managing that anxiety a lot more than usual.
I pretty much tapped out of trying to engage with the main online asexual community a long time ago. I want to be clear: this is not a condemnation of the asexual community. I think it’s great! A lot of this has to do with my personality not quite matching up healthily with the predominant culture in the space. It’s not on me to change my personality and it’s not on a community that’s both strong in numbers and constantly under attack to completely change their culture. We just don’t quite line up. That’s ok.
A lot of my anxiety came from being young and in need of validation. It’s scary being ace on the internet. It’s even scarier being aroace on the internet. When I said things relating to my aroaceness, I needed validation, I needed to feel like the acephobic and arophobic people out there weren’t right.
Except the asexual community is both insular and big. It centers around a few specific cultural hubs and a list of names that keep appearing and appearing and appearing. Those names do change and are replaced, but that takes a lot of energy and effort on the part of the people with those names. It takes a lot to be heard in the asexual community. I did not have the energy or skills to be heard, I just needed to be heard.
The constant silence I got led me to doubt myself, assume that everything I wrote was Wrong (according to the big names in the ace community), and question everything I wrote. I could never just write something about being aroace.
I would try to put in the energy. I would get halfway through a post for the Carnival of Aces and then abandon it in panic, I would write a comment on someone’s post and then delete it, I’d write something long and angry and then not tag it, so that no one would ever find it because I assumed it was probably wrong.
And, it’s all exacerbated by the Discourse, of course. When a community is constantly under attack, it doesn’t have room to grow. There was no way anyone else in the asexual community could have done what was necessary to validate me. More importantly, I felt my responsibility as a public voice that much more harshly. Anything I did could be attacked. Acephobes saw me (and every other acespec) as representative of the entire community (which I didn’t even feel a part of). Any mistake could have terrible consequences, and that was more enough to keep me from writing.
There is also this pressure to show a united front against our attackers. When someone steps up and says “hey, actually, this is not quite me”, it feels like that makes asexuality more confusing and easier to break apart and challenge. I didn’t want to be that person.
Off the internet, I spent (and still spend) loads of time in queer spaces – I was the asexual rep at my university for a year (an experience that I don’t really want to get into ever), I had my trans communities, I had my queer dance communities. I currently work at the amazing queer theater organization where I once interned (and, as an intern, gave an “Ace 101” to almost the entire staff, including the executive artistic director), artistically, I got to be part of the first ever Dancing Queerly in Boston. Hilariously, as much as acephobes like to tell me “go outside more and look at the real world”, I spend a lot of my life as the only acespec, arospec, and (as a result) aroace in queer spaces. I know what the “real world” is like as an aroace.
And it’s been very confusing because I feel so disconnected from the acespec community and yet, quite often, end up being the friendly aroace token in offline queer space. On the internet, I am called “cis” for daring to speak of my aroaceness as queer (if, for some reason, you haven’t seen the title of this blog, I am very much Not Cis). Off the internet, allo queer people (who definitely don’t know what “allo” means) are asking me for the pronunciation of the term “acephobia” and asking me how to define “ace erasure”. In both spaces, I am mostly interacting with allos. I am scared to interact with acespecs, and yet, somehow, still part of and speaking from the acespec community. (My current lack of interaction with arospecs, especially allosexual arospecs, is more out of my own mixed feelings around the push to separate aromanticism from asexuality. I get it, but I’m not sure if I can be part of that and I’m just figuring myself out there).
At the same time, I’ve met a number of acespec trans folks who also don’t engage with the main online asexual community (and, interestingly, tend not to have ever been super involved in AVEN either). These offline encounters came through queer space and was the validating experience I was not getting from the online asexual community – people with my experiences. And it wasn’t just people with a similar gender to mine, or aromantice acespecs, it was just people whose personality may not have aligned with the main online asexual community, same as mine. And, in an in-person, small group setting, I could be seen and heard in a way the internet does not allow for.
So, while I am slowly finding a tiny acespec community that does work for me, why the fuck have I started writing about asexuality on the internet again?
It’s because I’m still almost always the only one. Offline, I am the person actively trying to make space for acespec and arospec folks. From facing disregard and silencing to managing the level of ignorance of allo queer folks, I’ve realized that I cannot afford to be quiet about my aroaceness.
More importantly, I’m realizing that even if my experiences aren’t the exact same as other aroace folks, it’s that much more important to share them because there might be other people with experiences similar to mine who are also hiding back in the shadows, feeling like they have a less of a right to speak because they don’t align with the more vocal experiences. We’re not Wrong. And there’s no shame in being Wrong, we’re looking at things from a slightly different perspective.
And then, quite recently, someone equated ace people with nazis and that was the last straw.
See. I’m allowed to enter queer spaces because of my transness, not my aroaceness. Once I’m in the space, I’m allowed to be aroace, but I never get to enter a queer space because I’m aroace. That’s disgusting. I can’t keep quiet about that bullshit anymore. Even queer allo folks that include acespec and arospec identities in queerness see acespec and arospec identities as needing less attention than other queer identities, and my aroaceness is shoved into a back closet while everyone focuses on my transness.
I am part of a community that is constantly attacked and yet, that attack is often ignored or invalidated because it happens “on the internet”. One post I wrote recently on tumblr has incited people asking me to “turn on location” and threatening that they are “outside my house”. There’s nothing fake about that, just because it happened online.
We have a habit of discounting online experience, but the asexual community is, first and foremost, an online community. As an aroace person in both online and offline queer spaces, I need to bring my offline experiences online and my online experiences offline because that’s how we see the whole picture.
So, I’m not going to shut up about it. I’ve been the annoying trans person for years. But I’m also the annoying aroace person. No one gets to ignore that part of me.
I’m still not going to actively engage with the main online asexual community. I know my limits and boundaries and what is good for me. But I’m not going to hide from it either. My experiences are important. I have shit to say. I don’t really need the validation that I needed before or worrying if what I say is Wrong because someone equated my identity with nazism and nothing I say about asexuality will ever be that despicable.
And I know now that there isn’t any one, single community. I’ve found some of my people. I might find some more by writing. I definitely will find some more as I get older and grow and learn.
The takeaway from this is simple: There’s no single community for everyone. The greater queer community is made up of a myriad of tiny communities, and so is the asexual community. Just because my personality doesn’t line up with the most visible and vocal asexual community doesn’t mean there isn’t a community for me or a space for my voice. It’s just about finding the context that works for me.