CDA for Dance: A Moment of Change

Tl;dr The moment of change in this piece is built through the nexial connections between performer, movement, and sound. Energy builds, which creates a suspicious value system that suggests modern and sexy is desirable and that this is the opposite of “traditional”

This is a longterm project that uses choreological theories (of which I am not an expert) as a framework to apply discourse analysis to dance. I am using this video as a guinea pig and source. Here are the earlier parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In part 3, we were looking at the nexial connections of different strands of the dance medium. In short, strands effect and interact with each other and these form connections. As a quick reminder, the most common nexial connections are:

The performer-movement connection

The performer-sound connection

The performer-space connection

The movement-sound connection

The movement-space connection

The sound-space connection

I discussed the connections in italics in the last post, looking at the role of shoes. I will discuss the bolded connections in this post, about the moment of change that happens in the middle of the piece.

The overlap is obvious and worth noting – we are really looking only at connections that don’t include space. While it could say something about genre, I can think of examples worth discussing around this piece and space. I believe the reason this is the case is because this video has less space choices which connect to what I have chosen discuss. That does not mean space is not a strong player in this video, the piece, Michael Flatley’s work in general, or Irish dance as a whole.

So, the moment of change. What is it? It’s super obvious – the dancers dramatically rip off their clothes, music and lighting change, and the type of movement the dancers are doing shifts. But, while I say it’s obvious, that’s important to question: What is it that makes the change so obvious? What causes the change? What is the change saying?

I would additionally question: What are the paradoxes in these changes?

Let’s look at some nexial connections to get a better idea.

Movement – sound

Before, I discussed a very direct movement-sound connection in which movement produced sound through the use of hard shoes. This time, we are looking at a moment in which a change in sound occurs at the same time as a change in movement. I do want to reiterate, however, that movement accompanies the music in the standard way for Irish dance throughout the entire piece.

Here’s what I said about music before:

“There are two parts of the music. The first part is slower and features a flute, light, airy, and sweet. This highlights the “innocence” of the section and is in direct contrast to the second part, which starts with an electric guitar while the tune is played on a fiddle. The use of electric instruments for a “traditional” form makes everything a bit edgy.”

The change in sound here is one from something generically Irish (“traditional”) to something on electric instruments, modernized to feel a little edgy.

What about the steps? All the steps in this dance are heavy jigs (the “heavy” refers to the shoes, and for music people, jigs are in 6/8). But it gets faster! The first part is slow treble jigs. These are most common in competition settings – the music is slowed so that the dancer can double time their sounds and make more intricate rhythms. The second part is made of steps that are sometimes referred to as “fast treble jigs”, “double jigs”, or, to get my point, “traditional jigs” or “beginner jigs”.

I went down a rabbit hole trying to find a source for what I’m about to say and, sadly, with my current resources, I was only able to find wikipedia. So, to quote wikipedia:

“Beginners will do a treble jig at traditional speed (92 bpm), while more advanced dancers will dance the non-traditional (slow) treble jig at 72 bpm.”

The slow treble jig at the beginning is a newer, “non-traditional”, flashy dance while the faster jig is not only traditional, it is now usually only danced by beginners (ie. You start learning traditional things and then get to progress into the present day, contemporary dances). This is the paradox: while the music goes from “traditional” to “edgy modern”, the dance goes from “non-traditional/flashy” to “traditional/beginner”.

Keep in mind, though, that the average Lord of the Dance audience member knows fuck all about the difference between different types of jigs. Excitement here is built through speed, which is something most people can recognize, whether or not they know a lot about Irish dance, as opposed to technical skill, which would require the audience to know a little bit more about the steps they are seeing.

But, there is one exception to this pattern, and that’s the sexy shoulder roll step. The step itself actually doesn’t break Irish dance form as much as you’d expect – the big leg circles echo back to a lot of circling and sliding motions that have existed in Irish dance for a long time and we’re always big on stamping – but the shoulder rolls do break form. They reference much more the “commercial dance” of music videos than Irish dance, in which we don’t really do things with our shoulders at all. So, even while traditional steps are used to allow for speed and an increase of excitement, the edgy modernity of the electric music is still reflected in the dance through this one step.

Sound – performer

Costume is the other major element which shifts during the moment of major change, along with the movement and sound. In this video, the dancers are wearing simple dresses with celtic knots on them. They are not the full-on Irish solo dress, but the shape and designs do reference the standard Irish dance costume. It’s hard to see with the lighting, but I believe the dresses are also green, a color often used to symbolize Ireland, bringing us once again back to the idea of this being a way to present Irishness.

Our soloist, however, starts out in white, a common Western symbol for purity. When the dancers take off their clothes, they are casting away symbols of Ireland/tradition and purity/innocence. This is reflected as the music goes from sweet and light to driving and switches from “traditional” to “modern”. However, while the sound is simply a switch from one to the other, the performers actively remove one costume for the other, suggesting agency and choice in the decision (I’ve already vaguely discussed the fact that these dancers all appear to be women and are taking their clothes off under the direction of a man).

This agency, which recorded music cannot express, emphasizes the change and adds to the excitement of the moment, much as the increase in speed does.

Performer – movement

The change in movement discussed before is as much in relation to the change in costume as it is to the change in music. When the performers take off their first costume (symbols of purity) to reveal a “sexy” (ie. some skin shows) black (sparkly!) costume is when the movement changes and includes our awkward shoulder roll.

However, the soloist does “coy” and vaguely sexy movements with her arms throughout the whole dance. Blanketed by the illusion of innocence that comes with the costume, the movements don’t appear edgy, challenging, or modern, but sweet and naïve. When she strips away the costume, revealing her secret, sexy appearance, the same movements take on a different meaning.

Note the value system in place: the moment of change is an energy build, it’s presented as positive. It’s saying – modernity is good, moving beyond tradition is good, sexiness in Irish dance is good. This is desirable. Even while Flatley positions himself as an ambassador of Irish culture, he is also critiquing it, suggesting that Irish dance would be better by adding in electric music, revealing costumes, and awkward shoulder rolls intended to be sexy.

I may have some opinions about that.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s these three strands combined that make the moment of change what it is – the movement, sound, and performer both reflect and challenge each other, changing at exactly the same time. This builds energy and creates a value system in which certain choices are presented as desirable or better. Ouf.

Order is super important here. In general, energy and excitement build in any piece as it progresses. This doesn’t always lead to marking one thing as desirable and one thing as lesser, as in this example. However, it does mean that we would be seeing something completely different if the first section was second and we saw the second section first. Movement would go from “traditional/beginner” to “non-traditional/flashy”, the music would slow down instead of speed up and also go from electric and edgy to sweet flute music, and performers would be putting on their costumes instead. What would that say?

Next up, we’ll stop looking at the strands of the dance medium and get more nitty gritty about the movement.

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My weird connection with the “main” online asexual community

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.

 

some September readings

[cw: discussions of racist, transmisogynistic anti-trans violence]

So, September was a month to look back into history (it was on accident! I know October is LGBTQ history month in the US). It also was a chance to look at the trans lives we also lost in late August that I missed at the time. These days, I feel like every year we’re saying “this is the deadliest year for trans women” and  we’re constantly saying “there is a crisis for trans women of color” and, instead of getting better, it gets worse and worse and worse. This has been a terribly deadly year for trans people in the US and internationally. Vontashia Bell, on this list, was eighteen fucking years old.

 

So, as we head into US LGBTQ History Month (and the UK’s Black History Month), let’s remember the history we’re making right now. This a dark moment in history, particularly for trans women of color. Let’s do better.

 

I went back and forth on whether or not to include folks from outside the US. In the end, I decided that there is no reason not to include a name on this list, because these are names we must honor. That said, I do usually focus on murders in the US because there are so many murders worldwide that no single person could keep track of and honor them. I’m in the US, so these are the murders most relevant to me. The fact that I cannot truly honor every member of my extended trans family who is murdered is disgusting.

 

Lost this Year

 

Esra Ateş (Istanbul, Turkey)

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Begüm (Bursa, Turkey)

Read More

 

Vanessa Campos (Paris, France)

Peruvian sex-worker

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Statement from Acceptess-T (in French)

 

Dejanay Stanton (Chicago, Il)

Loved to travel

Read More

 

Vontashia Bell (Shreveport, LA)

Eighteen years old

Read More

 

Shantee Tucker (Philadelphia, PA)

Straight-talker, worked in an area beauty store

Read More

 

 

Reading

 

Almost Forgotten Voices: The Transvestite Magazine of Weimar Berlin

 

“From 1919 until February 1933, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty separate homosexual German-language journal titles appeared in Berlin, some weekly or monthly and others less frequently. These supplemented, of course, Berlin’s first homosexual periodicals: Adolf Brand’s Der Eigene and Hirschfeld’s Jahrbuch. By contrast, there were practically no such journals published anywhere else in the world until after 1942.” (Robert Beachy, Gay Berlin)

 

Whitewashing HIV History

 

“At that time, no one knew what HIV was. It would be another 12 years before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a mysterious pneumonia and immune deficiency that had afflicted “five young men, all active homosexuals.” Deaths started mounting in 1981, and HIV would not be identified by scientists until 1984. In 1987, HIV was found in Rayford’s tissue samples. Very few noticed.”

 

Kimberlé Crenshaw and Lady Phyll Talk Intersectionality, Solidarity, and Self-Care

 

“We spoke with Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Lady Phyll to talk about the gifts they’ve given to a generation of Black LGBTQ+ people: the tools to dismantle the master’s house, and a blueprint for the promised land to be built on its grave thereafter.”

 

The Real-Life LGBT Outlaws of the American West and Writing Queerness Back to Historical Fiction

 

“Here’s the setup of my soon-to-be-published novel, The Best Bad Things, in a nutshell: The year is 1887, and in the wild west of the Washington Territory, a hard-boiled, rule-bending Pinkerton’s detective goes undercover to infiltrate a smuggling ring. The detective’s name is Alma Rosales. She’s Latinx, she’s gender-fluid, and she’s queer. One of my writing friends and I fondly call her the “manic pixie butch stud.” I’m kind of in love with her — and I hope you’ll love her, too.”

Carnival Outside the Binary: Expression

 

Tl;dr Expression is complicated, especially when we are conditioned to judge ourselves based on society’s expectations for trans people. I’m slowly learning not to care.

 

This was written for the September Carnival Outside the Binary hosted by the wonderful Carnival Outside the Binary.

 

So I decided to do this whole Carnival thing, even though I’ve never done it before (despite admiring and following the Asexual Agenda‘s beautiful Carnival for years). So, this is fun! I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut recently, so trying a new format (even if it is just me writing a blog post based on a prompt), is a good nudge out of the rut.

 

Sooooo…expression. This is something I’ve written a lot about in terms of presentation and perception and what it means to be a FAAB feminine nonbinary person. It’s a neverending cycle of frustrations with others and myself – why can’t other people see me as trans? Why can’t I just look more trans? Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.

 

And it becomes that much more heightened when you go on stage, because then everybody is looking at you.

 

The thing is, I’ve kind of given up on caring what cis people think. The smart ones, the ones I prefer to surround myself with, see me as trans. The decent ones that I don’t really feel like risking our relationship with (ie. Bosses, coworkers, doctors, you know…) see me as a woman because I haven’t bothered to tell them anything else, but they’re generally decent about me being me. The clueless ones see me as a woman even after I’ve told them I’m nonbinary. Such is life surrounded by cis people.

 

The thing that hurts is when trans people see me as cis.

 

It doesn’t usually come as someone going “nope, you’re cis”, it usually comes in how trans people talk about transness – when “gender nonconforming” is equated with trans, leaving no room for those of us who may appear “gender conforming”, when we claim that the ideal of a nonbinary identity is for a cis person to not know whether we are a boy or a girl, when we continue to fall into the myth that there is a “nonbinary” form of expression…

 

We spend so much time saying you can never know a person’s gender and yet, we still regurgitate this myth of androgyny and confusion of gender expression that it becomes a form of judgement. Hell, I find myself judging. I can be sitting there in a skirt and heels and judge the person sat right next to me wearing the same thing for not being trans enough. I have to bite my tongue and remind myself that they are probably thinking the exact same thing about me, that I am thinking the exact same thing about me, and if I can’t even accept my identity, how the hell can I expect others to?

 

I’m not saying this to put a flashing neon sign over my head marking me as “transphobic”, I’m saying this because I think it’s important to understand that, no matter what is being said in the trans community, our greater Western society is still conditioning us to expect certain expressions from trans people. I have been conditioned to expect trans people to look a certain way. When we don’t, I am conditioned to question our transness, even myself. The person doing the most harm to me is myself.

 

A better way to put that: Society has taught me to hurt myself because I don’t fit the mould it wants me to be.

 

(Side reminder: Androgyny is safe for cis people. It means they know who we are. When nonbinary people can be anything, from androgyny to hyper masculine to hyper feminine to anything else we can imagine, that’s terrifying for cis people because suddenly the trans person could be anywhere. )

 

Unlearning that bullshit takes a lot of time and energy. It’s work. That’s all. Hard, difficult, frustrating work.

 

But now, I’ve taken to flaunting my femininity. It’s an age-old queer tradition – take the thing that people judge about you and flaunt it in their faces. Make it so they can’t ignore you, make it so there is absolutely no way it’s a mysterious elephant in the room. If I enter a queer space, and especially if I’m entering a trans space, I go all out – heels, skirt, sometimes even make up (to be fair, I hate make up and am lazy as shit).

 

Here’s the thing: I know when a trans person looks at me and doesn’t see me as trans. I also know that that means they’re not the kind of person I want to spend time with and there are plenty of other trans people who do see me as trans.

 

If someone can’t see what I’m telling them, that’s their problem, not mine. My femininity is my power. My expression is not my gender, not by a long shot, but it makes me feel good and I love it and so I will keep expressing the way I am.

 

And, you know what? My expression and gender don’t need to have anything to do with each other unless I want them to.

 

So, at the end of the day, no matter how frustrating and painful it can get, I know it’s not my problem and that, as long as I feel good, am not hurting anyone else, and stand in solidarity with all other trans people, I’m good, expression be damned.

Documenting the Ace Discourse: January 2015

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

Preliminary Thoughts

 

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.

 

Notable Themes

 

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.

 

 

Conclusion

 

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.

“Learn your history”

Tl;dr Asking younger queer folks to “learn our history” without really understanding the depth of the question easily becomes a form of gatekeeping instead of an invitation into queer culture.

 

So there’s this thing that happens that I feel very strongly about because it’s one of those things that appears really clever on the outside and actually is super harmful to young acespec, arospec, and nonbinary people (and, being a young aroace nonbinary person, I might have a personal stake in the issue). It’s this thing where older queer people look at us younger queer folks and tell us to “learn our history”.

 

Now, if you’re not aware, I love history. I love studying history. I love learning history. It’s one of my absolute favorite things. It’s so meaningful to me, as a queer person who does not always have touch with my culture, to have a history and a culture I can write myself into. AND, as a traditional dancer, I experience the importance of history and lineage every day.

 

Every queer person should be able to learn queer history. Queer history is our touch with our long erased and invisible community. Taking that back what has been erased is an act of power.

 

But, I bristle every time an older queer person tells me “you young folks need to learn your history” because what I hear isn’t an invitation into the community, what I hear is a door. What I hear is, “if you don’t learn our history, you don’t get to be part of queer culture”.

 

For some people, it’s even “if you don’t learn our history the way I tell it, you’re not queer like I am.”

 

Historical knowledge has become a condition for queerness and I’m not ok with that.

 

Let’s talk about how difficult it is to access information on queer history. Especially for young queer folks who may not have regular, safe, private access to the internet, there’s really no way to know queer history. And even for those with internet access, a lot of our history is in books hidden in academic libraries, in oral history projects that sometimes only exist in one place or context, or in incomprehensible papers on “queer theory”. It’s not easy for a young person, especially ones who don’t have support (and thus, are the ones most in need of our community), to “learn our history.”

 

Let’s also talk about how the people most faced with these demands are young acespec, arospec, and trans folks and how those are identities that have been most denied historical record. Yes, we are still talking about how Stonewall has been whitewashed and turned into an emblematic moment for cis gay men (what?!). Yes, we are talking about how discussions about the AIDs crisis still mysteriously forget about the trans women harmed (and still facing harm) by HIV/AIDs in favor of stories about (you guessed it) cis gay men (certainly, cis gay men were deeply, deeply destroyed by AIDS, but to simply ignore the trans people who were part of that story is a different kind of destruction). Those are the two big examples that are thrown around by older queers the most, but let’s not stop there.

 

What about Magnus Hirschfeld? This is the guy who performed the first modern gender affirming surgery. Or, Alfred Kinsey, creator of the beloved Kinsey scale? Both of these people also included asexuality in their research. Hirschfeld even used the term “asexual” (Kinsey just called it group X, but hey…it’s there). How have we forgotten that?

 

And what about nonbinary identities? Isn’t it interesting that when nonbinary people in the western world are expected to justify the history of our identity, we almost always end up using non-western examples? Non-western examples that couldn’t possibly be nonbinary because the concept of nonbinary exists because of the Western gender binary. Instead of recognizing that history and culture exists in context, instead of having examples within our own cultural context, we have to drag other cultures into a Western lens and use a vaguely orientalist method to have touch with our history.

 

And through all of this is painful, obnoxious whiteness. Queer people of color are either ignored or used to support white queers. And that’s not a way to do history.

 

History isn’t neutral. The people being told to “learn our history” aren’t necessarily the ones who have access to it. Often, it’s the ones being denied a history and then told to learn the “mainstream”, whitewashed cis gay allo history.

 

While we’re at it, let’s also talk about how older queer folks don’t have a fucking clue about the culture us young queer folks have been creating. How “learn your history” has become shorthand for “I’m too lazy to learn all these new words and ideas you’ve been making, learn mine instead”. How this is specifically used to attack acespec and arospec communities (who have been building models and creating words and defining our identities pretty damn well, in my opinion). How I often find myself biting my tongue as an older queer person completely misuses a term, rants about how they didn’t have to deal with pronouns during their time, or describes gender in terms of how someone looks, thus completely disregarding and ignoring my own transness.

 

Older queer folks are gems. They hold a living history that academia and official historical records have denied us. They have built our community for us and given us our culture. I am forever in awe and eternally grateful.

 

And honestly? Most older queer folks don’t tell me to learn my history. They tell me how excited they are to see a new generation of young queer folks being badass and epic. They tell me their stories. They tell me our history. Or they help me find it when I ask.

 

But there are the gatekeepers throwing around their age as an excuse to judge young queer folks. I cannot respect any older queer person that demands things from me in the name of “respect” who can’t be bothered to get to know my community and my culture.

 

So, here are the questions I now consider whenever an older queer person thinks that younger queer folks need to “learn our history”:

 

  • What history exactly do you want me to learn?
  • Where can I learn this history properly and truly without whitewashing, orientalism, or erasing trans, acespec, and arospec identities?
  • Will you take some time to learn about my queer culture and what it means to be a young queer person in 2018?

 

Most answers to these questions will be honest, open, respectful and allow for dialogue, so it is easy to know when someone is being an asshole and when someone truly wants me to learn queer history.

 

So “learn our history” isn’t a bludgeon we get to use on each other. It’s not even a command or a request. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we have been denied history for so long and we are taking it back. Let’s not twist it into a way to gatekeep.

Some August Reading

August is HOT (so were June and July). I’m not one for the heat, but I did get some good reading done. We’ve got some conversations around trans representation (and how to do it right), asexuality, and queer history. And a small tribute to the incredible dancer, Angela Bowen.

 

Lost this Month

 

Silva, Galway, Ireland

A friendly person who enjoyed cooking

Read more

 

Casey Hoke, Los Angeles, CA

Trans activist, artist, and speaker

Learn more about his work

Donate to the Pride Center at Cal Poly Pomona in his memory


Dancer, Professor, Queer Activist Angela Bowen Dead at 82

 

“Most recently a professor at California State University, Long Beach, Bowen taught in the English and the women’s, gender and sexuality studies departments. Bowen was a beloved fixture on campus who passed on her organizing and activism to her students. Bowen’s career in higher education was just one of many acts in her 82 well-lived years.”


 

Reading

 

‘Interstate’ Proves that Trans Inclusion Makes Better Musical Theater

 

“So I think it proves that, when people say, “Oh, there’s nobody who can fit this role” or “Oh, you’ll never be able to cast this,” you just have to try a little bit harder. You just have to be committed to doing that, because they’re out there, and it’s important to cast somebody who is a trans person in a trans role.”

 

This Guide to Trans Inclusion in the Media May Change Hollywood As We Know It

 

“According to TRANSform Hollywood, 80 percent of Americans say they don’t personally know a transgender person — not at work, not at school, and not in their families. “That’s where Hollywood comes in,” says the guide. While many Americans might simply be unaware of trans people in their lives who aren’t publicly out, or whom people assume to be cisgender, those who say they don’t know a trans person will likely learn everything they know about trans people from film and television. That’s why it’s so important that the people they see in these roles are trans and represent the reality of what that means — and ideally, what being trans could mean in a world free of transphobia and rampant discrimination.”

 

Ace Jam created a space for games with asexual characters

 

“Ace Jam, then, was an important step in bringing attention to a-spec people, and creating more respectful media that reflects them. The jam page curated helpful resources for developers wanting to create well-rounded characters without resorting to tired tropes. It also encouraged developers of all skill levels to take part without pressure or judgement, empowering many developers who are themselves asexual or otherwise a-spec to take part.”

 

“Bi Ace… is that a thing?” 

 

“For a while, I thought I was exclusively into men. Then, for two years, I thought I was only into women. Fast forward a bit, I discover that I’m into no one physically, but I do like the way certain faces look, both male and female. And that was confusing at first. We’re conditioned to associate the acknowledgment of a nice face to sexual attraction. It’s a part of heteronormativity that is taught to us and projected onto us from the time we are born until we die. I’m still working on convincing my friends and family that you can like someone’s face and never want them to be anywhere near you. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

 

Hugh Ryan Recounts Our Forgotten Queer History—And Makes Us Remember Our Past

 

“I think the importance of queer history is both seeing actual queer people, like we are today, functioning in the world and understanding how their lives and their actions and their identities changed all of history, but also seeing queer people who are not like us and that show that what we think of as the way sexuality and gender functions has not always been the case.”