Documenting the Ace Discourse: February 16 – 28, 2015

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”.

 

An Article

 

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.

 

Allo has always been a point of contention because of the claim that we’re appropriating from french canadian queer folks (even before all the other arguments). While I compared it to “cis” at the beginning of this, I think it is worth rethinking that – from my perspective, while “cis” has been fairly accepted in use by trans folks (even if cis people are still struggling with it), allo has not been as unanimously accepted by acespec and arospec folks. There have been pushes to change it, there were pushes to use “zed” instead. Even a year ago, I felt the need to look through other acespec blogs before using “allo” because I didn’t know if it was the accepted community term anymore. So, I do think, in this context, it’s very interesting that, while it’s completely possible and logical for Carrigan, an allo person researching acespec folks vaguely respectfully in 2015/2016, to know the word “allo”, he seems to have never had access to it. Where access was cut off was unclear, but it does show us a bit more about how closed off “allo” has been in terms of use.

 

(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).

 

AroAce Humor

 

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.

 

Conclusion

 

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.

 

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.