The Ring Theory of Activist Venting

The ring theory of activist venting, which I’ll explain later in this post, draws it’s inspiration from a very insightful article from the LA times that I encountered a few years ago.  The article describes cancer-survivor Susan Silk’s “Ring Theory of Kvetching” which states, roughly, that when it comes to dealing with the stress of personal traumas like cancer, financial crises, or the death of a loved one, support should flow towards the person most affected, and complaining should be directed away from them. Here’s the full explanation of the theory:

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

In it’s original form, the ring theory of kvetching is largely a framework for dealing with individual traumas, like chronic illness or loss of a loved one. But it’s one that I think can be easily adapted to other circumstances, and which I’ve personally found quite useful when it comes to dealing community-based traumas, especially when it comes to activism that’s focused on serving marginalized or vulnerable communities.

The Ring Theory of Activist Venting

In the case of activism especially, I rely a lot on a similar concept which I think of as “The Ring Theory of Activist Venting”: when stress starts to build up in the course of activism, and I need to vent about my frustrations, my goal is always to vent outwards, in order to keep the blowback from hitting the very people I’m trying to help – especially when in a position of power or leadership that just amplifies the risk of doing harm if blowback isn’t properly contained.  (And to avoid situations like this [content warning for some swearing] where the OP definitely could have used a better support network for venting, and where honestly I probably could have as well.)

The ring theory of activist venting operates similarly to the ring theory of kvetching, but it also has a few additional considerations:

Rule 1. Activist venting is for protecting your constituents

This is a specific strategy that’s mostly meant to apply to activists who feel frustration or the need to vent about things that they can’t change at the moment, or that they logically know that they don’t want to change, and who need ways to do that without getting inthe way of supporting their constituents. As activists – or as people – situations outside our control inevitable cause frustration, which can build and build and build – and sometimes you just need a release valve. That’s what venting is for (or kvetching, or complaining, or seeking empathy or validation, or whatever you may call it). Examples of things to vent about might be frustration over things like newbies who keep asking the same questions over and over again, or community members who criticize activism campaigns in opposite and conflicting ways, or people in vulnerable situations who thus don’t have the energy to always maintain a proper veneer of  ‘politeness’. These are all things that either cannot be helped (like the fact that vulnerable people in need of help don’t always have the energy for social niceties) or that should not be changed (like the fact that newbies like to ask questions).

Targeting your venting outward is meant to help us cope with  situations in which someone may be a cause of frustration, but is not to blame – and therefore should not be targeted by any fallout. The mantra of the ring theory of activist venting is much like the mantra of the original ring theory : “Support in. Venting Out.”

It is not, however intended as a way to avoid dealing with actual materials concerns, like sexual harassment or  racism or harassment of other community members – those often require more direct action. (Although sometimes venting a bit first can help make sure you’re in the right place to respond to more serious issues appropriately and effectively).

Finally, if you ever get to a point where venting is stressing you more instead of calming you down, or if you find that venting to certain people encourages problematic patterns in your own behavior, then it has ceased to serve it’s purpose (of protecting you and your constituents) and it may be time to consider other vectors of releasing stress.

Rule 2: Venting should be kept away from the spaces in question

Venting frustrations is, in my opinion, best done in more private spaces where the venting is not likely to be seen by the communities being cited as the source of the frustration. At best, it will just kindle more drama and give you more things to get stressed about; at worst, it can silence vulnerable groups and prevent them from ever gain asking for support for fear of getting lashed out at again, or for fear of being a ‘bother’.

In its purest form, and for especially sensitive topics, this can mean venting to just a few supportive individuals in a private chat, or to offline friends who never interact with the communities in question. In it’s most minimal form, it means at least venting to personal side blogs instead of official or organizational fronts.

Rule 3: Venting should always travel upwards, or outwards

One of the things that distinguishes activism from personal trauma is that the circles are often separated not just by distance but by power, and that’s especially important to take into account when determining how to vent. Whether it’s formal group leadership, or even just presenting oneself as an authority on some niche subject by answering questions on a blog, doing activism often means taking a position of some power over others – and as Uncle Ben always said, with more power comes more responsibility. In general, the circles of venting should generally extend either up the chain-of-power/responsibility for a group, or to those outside the power structure entirely.

Going up the chain of responsibility means, for example, that if I’m volunteering to answer emails and I’m getting frustrated by repetitive questions that are already answered on our 101 handouts, I might vent that frustration to other mods, who are at the same level of power as me and higher than the cause of the venting – so I don’t let that spill out on to the asker themselves, or even on to other unsuspecting members who are below me in the chain of responsibility. If I have a frustration with other mods themselves, I might vent to a higher level admin. (The other advantage of venting up the chain of responsibility is that, generally speaking, those at a higher level are the most likely to be able to actually do something to ameliorate whatever is causing the frustration in the first place, in instances where doing something is actually feasible.)

Of course, sometimes going up the chain of responsibility isn’t always an option – whether it’s because there is no higher power available, because you are the higher power, or because the group dynamics are such that there is no way to vent without causing even more problems. In that case, the best alternative is to vent outside of the power structure entirely. In my case, that often means venting to my very non-asexual, non-aromantic roommates – who may not know anything about my particular ace or aro community org politics, but who can at least offer emotional support and a sympathetic ear while I get my need to rant out of the way, and who are at little risk of being personally affected by anything I say.



Posted in aromantic, asexual, Asexual Activism, Awareness Outreach and Education, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Carnival of Aces December 2018 Wrap-up: “Burnout”

Last month’s Carnival of Aces was on the topic of Burnout, which I am accidentally staying true to by posting this wrap up like 4 days late…

We received a lot really great submissions – A big thanks to everyone who contributed! If I missed any entries or got any names wrong, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

The next Carnival of Aces for January is being hosted by demiandproud, and the theme is “Asexuality as a Blessing”.

Also, as a reminder, we are always looking for more volunteers to host the carnival – there’s no one lined up yet past February, so now is a great time to volunteer. See the masterpost for details.

Without further ado, here’s all the submissions:

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Today in Asexual Media Imagery: The Birds and the Bees

Apparently the hip 2018 trend in “omg they aren’t having sex” article stock photos is a feud between the birds and the bees. It’s like an evolution of the classic “stock photo couple standing as far from each other as possible” trope.

From the Atlantic:


From Healthline:

From the Montana Kaimin:

Also, apparently the bird and the bee are a heterosexual couple, so if you write an article about whether gays and lesbians are having less sex you need to use two birds instead.

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Addyi/Flibanserin mini-update

I haven’t had the time or energy to keep up as much as I’d like with developments with flibanserin/addyi (yay burnout!), but I was curious and decided to do a quick little search today – looks like the horrible “find my spark” promotion is gone now at least!

Unfortunately, it has since been approved in Canada, and without strong prohibitions against drinking alcohol – despite the fact that combining alcohol and flibanserin is known to cause dangerous side effects.

After valeant got sued for giving up on it, Addyi/Flibanserin rights have returned to a reborn Sprout, the company that originally launched the drug before being bought by valeant.

Their new site is only somewhat misleading instead of very misleading, but it’s also really ugly. It also worryingly (and perhaps dangerously) encourages women to bypass their usual physician to speak to a sprout-recommended telemedicine provider. As the Hastings center asks,

“Are the doctors on this telemedicine portal really going to counsel patients adequately and explore other options for addressing low libido (such as identifying whether the symptom is a side effect of a libido-killing medication or recommending sex therapy) or are they only going to prescribe Addyi?

The telemedicine portal is a way for Sprout to sell the drug directly to a patient without involving her possibly reluctant personal physician….“

Also, you’know, consider the fact that low libido itself often isn’t even a problem in need of treatment at all?

I worry that aces and others who may have a low libido or sexual desire for whatever reason might receive poor guidance from any medical professional not already familiar with them and their concerns, especially one who is being promoted (and perhaps directly or indirectly compensated?) by Sprout itself.  (On top of all the concerns that aces have with even regular medical practitioners.

(I’m tempted to submit a fake request or two just to see what they would tell me, but I need to think a bit about the risks/legality involved with that first and also I think there’s a ~$50 charge at some point in the process.)

There’s also this suspicious new marketing campaign, which could use more looking into.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

December 2018 Carnival of Aces call for submissions: “Burnout”

This is a call for submissions for the Carnival of Aces, a monthly asexuality themed blog carnival. You can find the roundup of last month’s submissions for the theme “Carnival of Aces” here.

Anyone can write a post – to be featured in the carnival, just post a link to your article here in the comments or shoot me an email at No worries if you don’t have a blog – we can host posts for you here as well.

Submissions are due by December 31, but if you think you might take a little longer you can just shoot me a message to let me know and I can hold a spot for you :)

This Month’s carnival theme is “Burnout”.

We’re now a few weeks out from Asexual Awareness Week – one of the most active weeks of the year for ace activists, bloggers, and other ace community members. But as amazing as it is, the frenzied pace of activities that week can also be a major source of stress that can put ace activists at risk of experiencing burnout – the state that results when the continued stress of an activity becomes overwhelming, to the point where individuals may find themselves less and less able to continue with it.

Burnout can manifest itself in many ways. Sometimes it’s like an exhaustion that just leaves you too tired to get anything done. Sometimes it’s a paralysis of indecision that causes you to freeze up for fear of making the wrong choice. Sometimes it’s clouding of judgement that leads you to  do or say things you wouldn’t do otherwise – which can even lead to lashing out at the people you were originally trying to help.

There are ways to try and manage burnout (by taking breaks, or venting to outside support groups, or being more selective about the projects you take on, etc.) but sometimes it’s unavoidable – and all you can do is figure out how to recognize it and move on from there.

For this month’s carnival of aces, I want to talk about the experience of burnout in ace communities – whether it’s burnout from big activist activities like hosting events or running blogs, or from the daily grind of microaggressions, not-so-micro aggressions and the constant cycle of coming out (or being unable to come out).

Some possible topics include:

  • What are some of the common signs of burnout?
  • Have you ever experienced burnout before, in ace activities or otherwise?
  • Are there any strategies that you find helpful in avoiding or delaying in burnout? Or, on the other hand, are there certain situations that you find make you burn out even faster?
  • One strategy for avoiding burnout is to give yourself breaks and less stressful distractions. Are there any activities that you like to use as a break from ace community stressors?
  • Another strategy for avoiding burnout is to have safe places to vent, away from the communities that are the center of the stress. Do you have anyone who you feel you can vent to like this?
  • Have you ever been able to overcome burnout and return to something you once had to drop? Or, are there any activities that you’ve had to just give up because of the risk of burnout?
Posted in carnival of aces, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

There once was an ace who wrote Limericks…

This is my not-so-serious entry for this month’s Carnival of Aces, which has the theme “Asexuality and Poetry”.

I’m ace and while writing a limerick,
I feel like I’ve drawn out the short stick,
because rhyming asexual
with something not “sexual”,
Sure leaves me with not that much to pick.

The rhyming is best for the aro
whose options aren’t nearly so narrow
Just as “aromantic”
Has lists quite gigantic
Just use all the rhyme guides for “arrow”.

My cousin once met an asexual,
Though their talks were entirely textual,
She soon made a pass,
Sought a date, but alas,
Her wooing was quite ineffectual.

There once was a fellow on AVEN
who was constantly rantin’ and ravin’
‘Bout the mysteries of sex,
Which he found too complex,
For good cake is all he’s ever cravin’.


Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Guess “everyone” doesn’t include me

The scene: a monthly happy hour at a bar after work with a few other coworkers, including one who has just joined the company a couple weeks ago, and all of whom were hired after me (and who thus may never have seen all the “asexual” bits all over my resume).

After around twenty minutes of chit-chat, we hit a lull in the conversation. Then one of my coworkers has a great idea:

“I know, let’s trade bad date stories! Everyone has one of those!”

…Except for me, apparently. So when the conversation worked it’s way back around the table to me a few bad date stories later, I got to be the buzzkill who just sort of had to mumble, “Actually, I don’t date…” and get completely frozen out of that chance for social connection-building.

While extremes like this are fortunately a rare occurrence (as most of my coworkers are also nerds who can usually be swayed into other, safer, topics), it’s things like these that can kind of serve as a jarring reminder that yeah, sexual-/amato-normativity still goes strong and that I will continue to be the odd one out. And it’s been a painful reminder that while lack of dating and sexual experience as a college student isn’t particularly noteworthy, that becomes less and less true for me every year that I grow older.

It’s also a reminder of the awkwardness of the perpetual coming out cycle. When I first got hired, I was sort of out by default since my volunteer work with asexual groups was one of the few work experiences I could list on my resume, which was passed around to everyone currently in my department at the time, so I never had to worry about coming out. But over the course of several years and new hires, there’s a lot of people who may not have figured it out yet, and I’m never sure how ready I am to bring it up for the first time.

On the one hand, I don’t mind being open about it to strangers all the time, and it’s not even like I expect a very bad reaction – one of the other things that happened at that happy hour was another person being loudly out as polyamorous and everyone seemed to take it totally in stride, so I don’t think being ace would necessarily phase them that much either.

But at the same time, I’ve had enough experiences with dropping the ace-bomb and completely derailing otherwise lighthearted conversations or social connections that I’ve become wary of coming out in any setting that seems too sensitive, especially ones linked to the workplace. (So, thanks be for communicating via social media and the internet, and their nice safe layers of time delays and geographic distance to water down the awkwardness). But that means that when I get blindsided by things like this, I still freeze up like a deer in headlights and just mumble whatever evasive answer pops into mind first. Even if I know that it’s just going to prolong the do-they-or-don’t-they-know agony.

(Also, From another angle, I feel like it’s also just further contributed to my overall wariness of all-women spaces – these things rarely seem to happen to me in mixed company. Possibly because the presence of other genders preserves a level of social restraint and prevents the kind of “female bonding” intimacy that inevitably lead to expectations of shared experiences that I just can’t fulfill, whether it’s because of the aro-ace thing or the genderfeels are complicated thing.)


Posted in aromantic, asexual, Genderfeels, Storytime, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Running out of Mile Markers

When I was a younger ace, I often treated things like “would you like to have a queerplatonic partner”, “would you consider legally marrying a partner?” or “do you want to have kids?” as abstract yes-or-no propositions – and the answers seemed like an easy “yes”, “yes” and “yes” at the time.

Now that I’ve reached the ripe old age of my mid-twenties, it’s started to sink in that these questions aren’t quite that simple. Part of that realization stems from the fact that I am having to confront those possibilities head on for the first time, as actual current possibilities rather than abstract considerations for a future me.

As a student, it was easy to think of these decisions as simple, binary, and abstract, because I knew I had no plans to act on them anytime soon – I didn’t even want to think about settling down with a partner or having a kid until I finished my education and had a job.

At that point, I was still progressing at a standard pace through all the typical life milestones – Graduate high school. Get into college. Pass the next midterm. Pass the next final. Get a degree. Then, time to find any job that will pay. Then, as my old roommate left for grad school in another city, it was time to find a new apartment and new roommates. Then time to find a long-term job that could be more of a career. When I was focused on all these immediate goals, it was easy not to think that much about all the other questions about kids and partners and houses and such that I had tabled for an abstract “future me”.

Within the last couple years, though, as the new grad chaos has settled, I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine – I have a good apartment, a job I like, stable roommates and active social groups. And when it comes to next steps, things are….much less clear. I’ve already reached all the easily achievable milestones, and now I’ve found myself in uncharted territory.

That means seriously thinking about not just “if” I would like kids or partners or a house or a marriage – it means thinking about things like “when” and “how much” and “at what cost”. And as I’m taking into account things like the realities of how much I’d have to change my lifestyle to find and form a partnership, or how far I’d have to relocate to own instead of rent, or how much of an economic hit it would be to have dependents, things that seemed like easy “yes”es have become a lot more uncertain. It’s come with the reality that even if I like the idea of something, I’m not sure I want it enough to put in the labor and make all the sacrifices that might be required to achieve it.

At the same time, it’s also the first time I’ve really experienced a long period of life with no immediate milestones ahead to strive for, and I’m still not completely sure what to do with myself.

And this isn’t just an ace thing, necessarily – I think this is the kind of existential crisis that a lot of young adults go through. But I think that being ace – and perhaps more importantly, being aro – adds another level of complexity to the situation. So while things like “Would I be willing to move just to be able to afford to buy instead of rent” are common problems regardless of sexuality, other issues like “how do you go about finding and evaluating potential life partners/co-parents if you have zero interest in casual dating or romance, but also are nowhere near ready to settle down just yet?” are not so common, and just make things all the more complex.


Posted in aromantic, asexual, Storytime, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Random Musings: Microlabels as a derivative of the Tumblr tagging system

I’ve put absolutely no structured thought into this yet, but there’s a thought that sort of bubbled up to me as I was reading through some of the recent “then and now” posts like this one, which mention the great proliferation of hyper-specific identity labels that has occurred in the more recent years of the ace community. And I started wondering if that proliferation was encouraged at all by the nature of tumblr’s tagging infrastructure, in which having a single unique identifier is often the easiest way to build conversational communities.

To start off with a definition – when I say “microlabels”, I’m thinking of labels that are meant to convey very specific flavors of ace-spectrum community experiences, rather than just degrees of asexuality/aromanticism (as “grey-A” or “A-spec” do) – things like “autochorissexual” and  “aceflux” and “cupiosexual”, etc. One could argue that this is a trend that started with the much earlier creation of “demisexual”, as a label that was created to carve a very specific space out of the asexual-to-grey-A spectrum. There’s a lot of them now, although many are so specific they may be used only by a handful of individuals or even a single coiner.

In my head, I tend to think of microlabels as different than modifiers like “aromantic” or “sex-averse”, in that they tend to replace rather than supplement ace identity (“Hi, I’m Andy, and I’m autochorissexual”, as opposed to “Hi, I’m Beth, and I’m an aromantic asexual”, but modifiers and microlabels are likely affected by the same factors and may function in similar ways.

(It’s also important to keep in mind though that the distinction between labels, modifiers, and microlabels in this post is completely subjective and arbitrary, and some of this may just be me being a curmudgeonly old fart shaking my head at the kids these days and their new-fangled slang)

In general, I get the impression (although I haven’t looked at it empirically) that the creation of new microlabels for specific ace experiences is much higher on Tumblr than it is on forums like AVEN or blog platforms like WordPress. Some of this may simply be a factor of ace community growth and tumblr’s overall popularity (more users = more labels), but I wonder if the specific infrastructure of tumblr way have contributed to the growth and popularity of microlabels. Specifically, the following factors:

  • On forums like AVEN, or even on blog posts, commentary on shared experiences was often organized and developed around threads, where many users could chime in and go back and forth – but tumblr’s reblog tree structure makes ongoing conversations unintelligible, so another method is needed to aggregate commentary on shared experiences
  • Tumblr doesn’t really have threads, per se, but it does have “tags” – the ability to assign a few key words to each post for searching and sorting purposes.
  • On Tumblr, therefore, the alternate solution is often to have a specific “tag” for each chared experience – and tags both reflect and are reflected by new identity labels.
  • Tumblr’s search function is also abysmal, which further encourages the use of tags to access new content
  • Posts only index the first five tags, which further encourages users to condense as much information as possible in a single tag rather than multiple tags.
  • Because most users only see content from users they follow, there is increased fragmentation of the community which means that many disconnected splinter groups may develop unique terminology for similar or overlapping experiences, thus increasing the total number of terms.

In general, my hypothesis is that the importance of “tags” to tumblr’s infrastructure may encourage the use of “tag-like” hyper-specific microlabels among communities who use it – because they spend so much time thinking about keywords while blogging, the “tag” approach carries over into their thought processes for identity description as well.

At this point, I have no real backing for this hypothesis either way, but I’d be curious to hear others’ opinions on the subject.

For anyone curious, the post that prompted this line of thought was this one from Rotten Zuchinnis, although it touches on the subject only briefly. They also have an older more in-depth post that analyzes the proliferation of hyper-specific identity labels through the lens of neoliberalism, which is  good reading and food for thought on other possible contributing factors.

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“Greatest Hits”: Help from followers needed!

Hello readers!

After over six years of running this blog, even I can’t remember what all I’ve posted here. So I figure now is a good time to start collecting some of the most popular and/or useful things I’ve written here into one place where they’ll all be easy to find.

I have my own favorites, of course, but I’d like to hear what (if any) other posts people have found useful:

  • Are there any pieces of writing that you really like?
  • Any linkspams that you find useful?
  • Any linkspams you’d want to see updated for 2018?
  • Any posts you commonly find yourself referring people to?
  • For the tumblr crowd: anything you’ve seen me post on tumblr that deserves a more permanent home here?
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