Open Discussion: What changes have you noticed over time in the Asexual Community?

A recent post by godlessace that linked to a discussion about changes over time in queer and feminist communities, and how those changes are perceived,  has kicked of a bit of a parallel discussion about how the asexual community has changed over time. It’s been getting a lot of cross-discussion, so we thought having a more linear discussion site mightbe useful.

The conversation on tumblr can be a bit hard to follow, so here are links to some of the tumblr replies so far:

1. godlessace, writingfromfactorx, and nextstepcake discuss whether changes move faster in online and/or asexual activist circles.

2. nextstepcake and writingfromfactorx discuss some of the thematic changes we’ve seen in asexual communities.

3. Captain heartless weighs in on ambiguity and definitions and how that’s changed over time, and I comment on some of my understandings about the purpose of AVEN’s definitional models.

(There are also some sem-tangential but inspired by this conversations going on here.)

So, readers: what changes have you seen over the course of your time in asexual communities? Do you think these changes move faster or slower than in other communities you’ve been in?

25 thoughts on “Open Discussion: What changes have you noticed over time in the Asexual Community?

  1. I thought it was interesting how Next Step: Cake had a slightly different perspective, where the major changes were the loss of AVEN mantras, and favoring more specific terms over ambiguous ones. Both trends ring true, although they aren’t the themes that stick out to me. I suppose it’s because I never really internalized the AVEN mantras, and because I felt like I preferred the more ambiguous terms even relative to the context of 2009 (“demisexual” was fairly common back then too, and was often attached to the very specific Rabger’s model).

    I would also caution against the narrative that’s starting to form in this conversation–where we used to have these perfect mantras which were degraded over time as they were passed from generation to generation. I think there are probably at least some advantages or tradeoffs to recent trends, and I don’t want this to turn into a glorification of the “good old days”.

    • Yeah, I think my nostalgia filter is going pretty strong in a lot of these comments.

      Like, I know at one point I complained a bit about how there’s increasing infighting and definitional changes (or so it seems sometimes) around the issue of favorable/indifferent/repulsed aces.

      But on the other hand, “back in the day” we had the same problems, and maybe even worse ones even, around the issue of libidinous vs. nonlibidinous aces, with erasure and accusations of “talking too much” and “appropriating the community” and “not real asexuals” and “being bad representation for us” and all that, often with things getting a kinda vicious. And as a libidinous ace who sometimes felt pretty upset at some of those things, It’s really really nice to be in a community where no one really cares whether or not you have a sex drive, and where it’s practically taken for granted that of course asexual people can have sex drives or not and it’s all fine.

      Another change is the fact that the community has really spread out enough that there are dozens of different ways to interact with it – the fact that we can even have the kinds of tumblr conversations that started this are a huge improvement that wouldn’t have been possible when I first found asexual communities. Back then it was, well, you could go on AVEN, or you could go on one of the splinter forums that mostly just talked about how different they were from AVEN, or you could go to events organized by AVEN…and aside from a few personal blogs, that was about it. (There were still some other communities, but they were typically very small and sometimes hard to access).

      Now, however, I can go read threads on AVEN, or I can browse my tumblr feed for awhile, or I can check my blog feed, or I can go chat with some skype groups, or see if anyone’s in any of the IRC channels, or I can check the reddit page or several of the facebook groups or I can check for the next offline meetup….the number of options is just dizzying. And as someone who, it turns out, doesn’t actually like interacting with forum style communities that much, having all these other options become available has been a really useful thing.

      And on a final optimistic note, while it’s not necessarily something about the asexual community itself, the changes in how other queer communities and other communities in general react to asexuality has also changed a lot! Even if they aren’t always as inclusive as they could be, almost every local queer/LGBTQIA event or group I go to now has at least a vague awareness of asexuality, and many are starting to mention asexuality and include asexual content without even having to be prompted, which is like…really good but also feels really weird at the same time, just cause I’m not really used to it yet. It’s such a difference from when I started coming out, when almost no one – even in queer communities – knew anything about it or what it was. Now I get even non-queer people recognizing asexuality by the flag colors alone, which is something I never really even dreamed could happen!

      • I am having so much nostalgia. SO MUCH.

        Truthfully though I feel like the asexual community (if not everything) tends to operate in a cyclical way- like the libidinous/sex averse thing. And for what it’s worth, I seem to recall hearing that the non-libidinous asexuals were sometimes called “unicorn nazis” on AVEN, so things seem quite a bit better these days (don’t get me wrong, I disagree with the non-libidinous exclusive position, it just sounds like it was a pretty bitter fight).

        And the extra visibility is great! More often than not, people I meet today tend to have heard about asexuality before- but they just tend to think it means “doesn’t have sex”/”doesn’t have relationships” (and I’m not even sure how they only got that? Other than by assuming they knew what it means and failing to google or ask anyone?).

        At the meetup at my university now, there are freshmen who seem to know as much about their asexuality as I did when I was close to graduating. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it, because they all seem so old (in how much they know), despite being so young. But it’s great, because it means they don’t spend as long as I did being confused. So to some degree, being ace today- even just, what, 5 years later- seems a lot better. But then again, it’s not like I’m actually in a position to know that. I just hope it actually is better.

        • Weeeelll, the unicorn-nazis thing WAS a thing, but that wasn’t all nonlibidinous aces, that was a specific faction that went by the Non-Libidoists who held that ONLY nonlibidoist asexual people were really asexual. This did not go over well in the long run. But yeah, that wasn’t necessarily something that people threw at aces who just didn’t masturbate.

          Also feeling A+ on the extra visibility, even though it really turns MY head like nothing else. I always need to take some time to adjust when someone knows what asexuality is before I break out the whole spiel–even if it does turn out to be someone who immediately smiles and goes “Oh yes! I’m a great fan of Dan Savage!” as happened recently. The increases in likelihood of someone knowing what asexuality means are just phenomenal.

          • It occurs to me that the proliferation of many specific labels may have something to do with the extra visibility. See, to my mind, it’s hard enough to get people to learn just *one* word. That was basically why I neglected to talk about gray-As in my early workshops despite identifying as one. All the standard romantic orientation labels are already a lot for people to swallow.

            But because of the great growth in awareness (at least in certain spaces, if not in general), the current generation has higher expectations. Now it seems more allowable to have more words. And I suppose that once it’s allowed, a lot of people discover that more words is exactly what they want.

          • I should say that I reject a narrative where we were very conservative with our words until the younger generation started coining things left and right. Asexual history is marked by a constant growth of vocabulary. We take terms like romantic orientation and gray/demi for granted, but those all arose from earlier generations of coin-happy aces.

          • I think one of the things that’s interesting about asexual community labels recently is the way that we have a lot of like…parallel growth of labels, as opposed to hierarchical. Like, when I look at things like the gay and lesbian community, there seemingly tends to be a gathering around one specific word(gay, lesbian, etc.), but with more words for subtypes under that (butch, femme, bear, twink, otter, leatherdaddy, whatever). The early asexual community developments seemed similar – subclasses like aromantic, heteroromantic, libidoist, etc.) Whereas with recent developments in, there’s a lot of more things that are alternatives rather than subclasses (sapiosexual, cupiosexual, autochorissexual, etc.), which is the part that seems unusual (but not bad! just different) to me. I can’t say more without looking into the history of the queer community more,but I’m not sure there’s every been a similar trend there.

        • Also, because this just occurred to me–yeah, I think you have a really good point there about asexual communities operating in cyclical ways. I remember commenting on AVEN sometime pre-2010 with a “Yeah, now it’s aromantics vs romantics, and before that it was libidoists vs nonlibidoists, and before that it was something else, and then it was aromantics and romantics again” on a post about a current fight. Cyclical flareups of intergroup tensions aren’t actually NEW, you know?

      • Merging asexuality with LGBT/Queer/etc. is by far the biggest trend going on right now. This doesn’t just lead to finding more acceptance at local queer events, it also means that aces are much more educated about queer stuff, and adopt queer rhetoric. It means we deal with queer backlash, and have to adopt new rhetoric to respond to it. It also means that the cultural trends in ace communities are no longer our own, but part of the larger online queer discourse. For instance, we know that “call-out culture” comes from contemporary trends in the larger queer community. I wonder if the desire for more specific labels also comes from that somehow.

        • Another positive thing about ace communities these days: I never have to deal with that cadre of aromantic/heteroromantic cis dudes who kept arguing that it would be really awful if the asexual community associated in public with LGBTQ spaces, because that would make aces look bad. Or something. A+, would avoid again.

          • I agree with how great it is to not have to debate about associating with LGBTQ spaces/groups. It was nice to be at a meet up on a campus with ten or so people, and have no one even question being part of the LGBTQIA resource center.

          • I definitely have had to deal with homophobic aromantic/heteroromantic cis aces in the past year, and I’ve heard similar stories from other LGBT aces. So I think it mostly depends on the space you inhabit. (But, overall, it seems like there’s a lot less of that online, and most of the time there’s pretty significant pushback against those sorts of people.)

          • (Also, I should clarify, usually those individuals aren’t arguing against LGBTQ inclusion for aces, but rather are concerned that someone might think they’re gay but they’re noooooooot gaaaaaay. Occasionally followed by a rant about how terrible it is when people think they’re gay ’cause they’re nooooot gaaaaay, they’re just not like that, okay, ew, no, and then they turn to me and go “Right?” and I go, “UH.”)

        • Huh, I wonder about the specific labels thing. I actually don’t see much of that in other general queer/lgbt spaces, but I DO see a lot of it in trans* spaces, especially those dealing with nonbinary genders. And considering the large number of asexuals who also identify as nonbinary genders, there’s probably more than just coincidence there.

  2. A trend I noticed about half a year ago was an almost childish attitude towards sex, which at first I had taken as a jokey attitude, but over time I started to see just how serious the problem was and it had gotten to the point where if any mention of sex or sexual related items were discussed it was normally in a negative light, with ignorant and inaccurate discussion that bordered on fantastical unrealistic scenarios. An example would be similar to – Sexual interest, in the form of being asked out on a date ‘all-the-time’ described as borderline assault on a person’s asexuality, despite all of these people not knowing that the person being asked out was in fact asexual. And there were many others which at the time were so numerous that I started to avoid AVEN.

    These days that attitude seems to have been dropped, with sex being discussed on a mature level, issues of intimacy are treated more seriously, and more asexuals are realising that being comfortable about their sexuality means not making a big deal out of the interactions of others.

    I have also noticed that we’re now trying to separate sex from sexuality, more asexuals are starting to identify with the fact that they do not find any ‘gender’ attractive, but regard sex as a possibility.

    The benefit of this definition, in my opinion, is that the asexual community will be able to greater distance itself from this idea that asexuality is caused by [insert reason here] and will be able to reclaim it’s role in the sexuality spectrum as the opposite of pansexuality.

    • I think there’s this very long trajectory of becoming more accepting of aces who have sex, since before even I joined AVEN in 2009. I mean, circa 2006 there was the Nonlibidoist Society, which wasn’t really mainstream even back then, but just seems symbolic of how the conversation used to be about libidoist vs nonlibidoist aces. And over time it’s shifted to be about aces who like sex or don’t, and aces who are repulsed or not. The emergence of demi/gray labels is a part of it. The emergence of the repulsed/indifferent/favorable trichotomy (instead of the repulsed/indifferent dichotomy) is a part of it. Even the emergence of Tumblr is part of it.

      And I was part of that movement too. I fought for that. I’m gray-A. I’m sex-favorable. I spent some time chronicling the history of the Nonlibidoist society.

      But this is a really good example of exactly what Julia Serano was talking about. We had really good reasons for doing what we did, based on our context, but that doesn’t mean it would never lead to negative consequences. Nowadays, it’s a trend on tumblr to shame sex-repulsed people, or suggest that they try sex, and it’s a common belief that sex-repulsed people are in the minority, rather than being about half the community.

    • For what it’s worth, when I did go on AVEN I felt like there was always a tendency for new asexuals to need to “detox” and sort of vent frustrations about society. And sometimes this could come off as a “childish” attitude towards sex, but I usually just ignored it and assumed it was really about venting. It was really jarring sometimes though.

  3. Also, another more minor change: It’s been interesting watching how the term “Ace” has evolved.

    Like, even when just used a simple shortening of “Asexual”, does anyone else remember when people used to use abbreviations like “Oh, I’m A.” or “I’m Ase.” ? I used to see them infrequently when I first started joining asexual communities, but as far as I can tell at this point those alternates are basically completely gone.

    Also, I remember being at the unconference where someone (I think it was David Jay?) first proposed using “ace” as an umbrella term to include everyone in the community, including grey-asexual, demise, asexuals, etc, rather than it only being an abbreviation of “Asexual”. It’s been kinda cool to be able to see that trend develop basically from the very beginning.

  4. One thing I’ve been wondering tonight is if my impressions about asexuality- and even the community- have in part changed because of people outside the community knowing about it.

    Basically, in the past I’d only ever hear other aces define or use asexuality in ways I didn’t like- because everyone else didn’t know the word (they would just say it’s not a thing). So outside the community, it was whatever I defined it, and in a way that may have actually made it easier to build safe spaces outside the ace community (assuming the people I’m talking to are receptive). But now, I hear people outside the community trying to police my definition (in the same way people inside the community have), and maybe that makes me notice the policing more. Basically, I wonder if the community could stay the same but my perception of it would change simply due to misunderstandings being more common outside the community.

    This is despite the fact that misunderstanding asexuality is probably a step forwards from never having heard of it.

    • Huh, I feel like the thing that made it start hitting home for me was almost the opposite – it was when I started seeing things I usually expected from non-asexuals being said by community activists.

      (As a note, I’m telling this anecdote to talk about what makes things stand out to me; I don’t think it’s necessarily part of a trend)

      Like, one of the first times that really struck me as “wow, things are changing” was the first time I ever went to an asexual-awareness event in my area that was not run by:

      A. Me
      B. Someone who had personally taught me about asexuality
      C. Someone who I had personally taught about asexuality
      D. Someone who I knew well and had worked with before on asexuality projects.

      Specifically, it was supposed to be a workshop about the asexual spectrum, by people who identified as either grey-A or demi I think. (and I got the impression that they had also found asexuality by means other than AVEN, which was also a bit new for me)

      And at that event I was sort of weirded out because like, these were asexual community advocates that were stating things that I thought only confused non-asexuals would say – things like “aromantics are asexuals who don’t have relationships”, or implying that all aces lack sex drives, things like that. While they were good about the parts that dealt with demisexuality and the “grey area” spectrum, they were lacking knowledge about the types of things that are like, in the AVEN FAQs, so it was a weird mix of 201 focus without 101 knowledge.

      And while I don’t think that was necessarily any part of an overall trend, it was meaningful as the point when I just really thought, “wow, this is not what I’m used to”. Like, on the one hand I was excited that people besides me were getting into activism. But on the other hand, as an aromantic asexual with a sex drive, I was just like woah hold up what did you just say? It was completely different from my experience with, well, anyone else I’d ever interacted with offline. While I see those attitudes a lot in newbies (which is a natural part of the process) I don’t expect to see it in activists. And it’s one of the things that makes me nervous (even if it’s not a justifiable fear) when people coming from different ideals start getting into activism.

      I guess the takeaway for me is that what gets my emotions up the most is the opposite: hearing non-aces say things I disagree with or try to police me doesn’t bother me, because I expect it. But when I start seeing thins among fellow aces, that’s when it starts to hit home.

  5. I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on why, but sometimes, especially looking at some of the advice and 101-resource blogs on Tumblr I feel like I’m “old school” and I’ve only been on Tumblr since June 2012! (I lurked around asexual blogs from late 2011, however.)

    One thing that’s changed for the better is the amount of 200-level (and above!) writing that is now out there, especially on intersectional identities. I’ve complied links for Asexual Awareness Week two years in a row and there were three times as many links in 2014 as in 2013. I was really blown away by it.

    I also think it’s easier (at least for me) to find a sub-space within the community that has the kind of discussions that I want and need to follow and have it be active. That’s another change for the better.

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