All right, time to continue a look through the history of the Ace Discourse. We’ve made it all to the end of February 2015. Wow. We’re going to fast /end sarcasm. If you’re playing catch-up, you can see all three installments of the project here.
Now that I’m starting to collect material regularly and have a stronger base, I’m changing it around a little bit – instead of simply doing a survey of what happened during a time period, I’m going to look at the BIG topics over a period of time. This means I’ll be doing a bit more back and forth with time. For example, I’m holding onto some of the discourse arguments and examples (including that old nonsense of whether or not kinky is queer) I found in this second half of February to see if they grow in March. Then, I can cover it all together, deeply, instead of briefly mentioning each thing multiple times.
So, this time, we’ll be looking at two things – an old article I was featured in that was published late February 2015 and specific kinds of ace humor that seemed to be happening in late February 2015. Like a lot of what I’ve looked at so far, neither of these things are explicitly Discourse, but they relate into the Discourse and give us a sense of the conversations and culture we had back then.
However, I do want to note one contextual thing – late February is when I started my personal campaign against “cisphobia”. Basically, I discovered I was following a whole bunch of people who unironically believed “cisphobia” was a horrible, terrible thing, and I went on a spree of blocking and gently reminding people that “cisphobia” was not a thing. At all. I think this is important because a lot of the Discourse I see nowadays seems to forget that there was (and still is) controversy over the word cis. It’s also interesting to compare timelines. The use of “cis” dates back to the 90s and people were complaining about “cisphobia” in 2015, a good twenty some years later. “Allo” dates back to 2012ish. That means we’ve probably got at least another ten years, if not more, before “allo” is a vaguely accepted term in queer and lgbt+ spaces. And honestly? I just did an incognito google search for “cis” and the first relevant result was Urban Dictionary which claims it is used derogatorily and the second most popular definition says it’s “Typically used by whiny tumblr users who complain about not being accepted for who they are and yet bash these “cis” people for being born and being okay with the sex they were born with.” (does anyone even use Urban Dictionary anymore? I haven’t touched it in years, I’m surprised it came up).
It definitely puts the Discourse into perspective, both in terms of how exclusionists seem to forget this when they are off complaining about the term “allo”, and in that it makes me a little calmer. Us trans people deal with cis bullshit every day. Us acespecs and arospecs can deal with allo bullshit. I’m just living a different moment in that trajectory than I did when it comes to the term “cis”.
So, a big idea I want to talk about here is this article that was published late February 2015. Young, sophomore (2nd year) me is featured down at the bottom. People that know me will probably recognize the hat. It didn’t really take off through tumblr, but it does makes the rounds now and again and I get that weird out-of-body moment of going “oh right, that’s me!”
I want to share the article because I believe it shows the overarching context we were in at the time. I was asked to participate because of my role as the ace representative at my university. My main involvement in asexuality was in-person interaction, away from any online Discourse that may have been happy. Mark Carrigan, who wrote the article, is not asexual, but one of the leading academics studying asexuality in, as far as I can tell, a non-invasive or pathologizing way (disclaimer: I have not read all of his work). Even while some of it definitely reads as outdated and a bit confused, I still feel good about the experience of the conversation and photo session I had with the photographer and the final product. That’s big. We talk a lot about visibility and representation, and I think we have an example of what was good representation back in 2015. That’s not now. I’d be pretty unhappy if this was published today, but I’m glad it was published, and I’m glad it still exists and is still accessible.
There are two particular quotes I want to pull out from the article and link into Discourse. Our first one is simply,
“The problems faced by asexuals have more to do with invisibility than they do with phobia, though.”
This is interesting because it shows a pattern I’ve witnessed in the acespec community a lot in which we downplay the discrimination we face. As this article exemplifies, for a long time, it was understood that invisibility was completely different from discrimination. The terms “acephobia”, “arophobia”, and “aphobia” did not exist. More importantly, acespec invisibility and erasure was not considered systemically in the way that we are able to see acephobia, arophobia, and aphobia in relationship to amatonormativity and heteronormativity.
While it’s frustrating to realize how long we’ve been lessening our own discrimination for so long, it does make me happy to be able to point out this change. Nowadays, I see conversations about how acespec and arospec invisibility is part of a much huger oppressive system. I see young acespecs and arospecs identifying and calling out their discrimination. And, while the Discourse sucks, I am really happy to see how our community knowledge has shifted to be specific about the harm it’s doing. I’m not sure if it’s a direct response to the Discourse, but I feel like this change is possibly related to increased visible hate towards acespecs and arospecs.
And then Carrigan asks, “For instance, what do we call people who aren’t asexual? I’ve tended to switch between saying “non-asexual people” and “sexual people”, despite the former feeling clunky and the latter strangely broad.”
Huh. So, when I started this series, I did point out there was a debate going on about the use of “allo” in this general time period. More importantly, allo is a term that was accepted and used by the ace community in 2012. It has been a huge point of contention throughout the Discourse. And yet, a researcher who has spoken with many acespecs seems to have no idea that the word exists. Why is that? Was it a term that was only common in certain circles of ace communities? Or, did aces not share the term outside of ace spaces regularly? I know I definitely used the term back then, but I can’t remember if I used it during this interview or when I presented an Ace 101 at my university.
(side note: if you read the article, you’ll noticed I identified myself as agender. I did that for a little while before realizing the word made me uncomfortable. You can see my full reasoning of why I am not agender here).
While the article shows us some context and some of the external environment, what was actually happening in acespec communities on tumblr? The big trend I saw in this time period is the growth of ace humor. Now, completely honestly, I am always late to the game on things like that because I’m always a bit on the outskirts. So, we can safely assume that ace humor had already been growing for some time, and that it hit the point where it reached folks on the outskirts in late February 2015.
Of course, the big pun that started showing up (and has diminished recently, which makes me super sad) is that of “aro” and “arrow”, a good example being here. That then allowed for the “aroace arrow ace” type jokes which cropped up all over the place. I experienced them a lot within fandom – Fraction’s Hawkeye was just wrapping up, it was beautifully purple (and, thus, ace), and so there was definitely a subgroup of folks claiming Clint Barton as the ultimate “aroace arrow ace”. I have also seen that outside of fandom contexts, that just happened to be my entrance into aroace puns.
We also see the growth of using humor to comment on stereotypes, like this example. This tells us that, even if there’s still an overarching inability to name systemic oppression/discrimination, acespec and arospec folks were very aware of the stereotypes, prejudices, and assumptions made about acespec and arospec identities.
I also want to recognize that both of those examples were aro-focused. As I previously noted, this is the period of time when arospec folks started to build a distinct identity and community outside of acespec identity and community. While I’m looking at both, and The Discourse affects both, it is wort noting how we do have aro-specific posts, building up that distinction.
The Otherworldly/Ace Problems
And then we get to something that I can only class as humor, and I’m going to call it “otherworldly exaggeration”. Here is a great example of what it looks like. The general idea of this otherworldly exaggeration is that acespecs and arospecs claimed the invisibility forced on us by manifesting it into a surreal, otherworldly, empowering form of expression. Yes, we’re invisible. Yes, that makes us magical, godly, otherwordly, incomprehensible, etc.
This may also be part of why dragons are such a notable part of acespec culture. I fucking adore it.
There are a great number of examples of folks posting this kind of humor, but I fell particularly down the rabbit hole of Ace Problems and want to do a brief spotlight on that particular blog. Ace Problems would list out the “problems” that came from being asexual and, thus, having magical powers, continuing an building on this brand of otherworldy exaggeration. This and this are some examples of the problems that come from have ace powers.
I went back through the archive a little bit and discovered that Ace Problems hasn’t really published an actual problem since February 2015. Instead, it shifted into an ask blog – first, continuing the otherworldly exaggeration by answering asks specifically about ace powers and other “otherworldly” asks and then, moved towards real life advice around friendships, coming out, accepting ace identity, etc. The blog has now been inactive for about a year, purposefully left up to remain an archive of everything it has held.
This pattern – of creating posts, having questions and posts solicited through asks and engagement instead of creating them, and then slowly transitioning form the original intention/style of the blog into an advice blog is interesting and one I want to return to once we get into that moment when advice blogs became popular (I’m curious to see if the timelines line up).
It’s not enough information to give us a full landscape of a longer timeline, but it gives us one possibility that has existed.
More importantly, it suggests that late February 2015 was probably a time of peak for this otherworldly exaggeration – it had been building previously and then, not only was it so popular that it reached outskirts folks like me, it was then able to self-sustain from engagement, without making any new posts. I’m not sure if the lack of new posts is due to this increase in engagement (or the engagement a result of the lack of posts), a personal change of interest on the part of the moderator, or the beginning of the decline of otherworldly exaggeration. I don’t have that information, But hey, otherworldly exaggeration sure was popular back in February 2015.
To wrap it all up, late February 2015 has shown us a few things – 1) Acespec and Arospec folks did not really claim discrimination or discuss invisibility in terms of systemic oppression at this time. 2) While a hot topic, the term “allo” did not seem to make it very far outside of specific ace-controlled circles and specific anti-ace circles, it was very insulated. 3) Aro identity formed distinctly away from ace community space in a strong way throughout February 2015. I expect this will continue to grow with time. 4) Ace humor was big back then (and still is now), particularly the use of “otherworldly exaggeration”, which was a way to reclaim invisibility forced on acespec and arospec folks.
Basically, some interesting finds. I find the humor one particularly interesting – of course I was there when we were all talking about surreal, otherworldly nonsense (it was beautiful), but I had forgotten exactly how big it was. It really was an important part of ace tumblr back in the day, and I’m glad to have found it again.