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.



“Asexual” Updated in the OED

(Take that, “but that’s not what the dictionary says” sticklers!)

This March, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which is widely considered the most comprehensive of authorative english language dictionary, released a new update that included major additions and expansions to sexual and gender identity terminology. (This is part of a series of ongoing revisions, with new releases roughly every three months, as part of the process of generating the third edition of the OED).

Part of this update was a major overhaul of the entry for “Asexual“, which has been greatly expanded from the original 1989 definition by the addition of several different “senses”, or possible meanings of the word. Each sense was also given additional dated historical use sample citations from various primary sources. [A/N The entry for “asexuality” and was similarly updated. I have not transcribed it here since it follows similar lines, but I could add it in a separate post if there is interest.]

The actual OED definitions are behind a paywall, but if you have a library card there is a good chance your library already subscribes, so you can login with just your library card number. If not, you can look below the read more to view the relevant excerpts with links to full PDF snapshots.

Overall, as an ace and an amateur linguistics enthusiast, I have to say I’m pretty well satisfied by this update – at least as far as “asexual” and “asexuality” goes. Now we just need to coax them into adding ace, aromantic, and all the other community lingo…

Read More »

Feedback Wanted: Issues Aces Face

Back in 2016, I created two quick slides listing common ace issues for a general asexuality 101 presentation at Creating Change:

At the time, the main issues I highlighted were:

  • Rejection, Denial, or belittlement of ace identities and experiences
  • Limited research data
  • Difficulty accessing competent healthcare
  • Limited public awareness
  • Lack of community resources
  • Lack of good representation and role models
  • Lack of good models for nonsexual or nonromantic relationship
  • Sexual harassment and sexual assault
  • Pressure to be more sexual/sexually active
  • Intersectional issues (heterosexism, cissexism, racism, ableism, etc.)

Now, I’m hoping to re-use these slides to make some more general stock presentations, as well as individual handouts (which would also include additional text). But before I do that, I wanted to get feedback from other community members on how you feel about this current list:

  • Is there anything that seems to be missing?
  • Is there anything that you think could be grouped together under a broader heading?
  • Is there anything that seems oddly specific or oddly irrelevant compared to the other items?
  • Is there anything that you think would be better called something else?

I am looking to keep the total list to no more than 10-12 (fewer is better) for brevity’s sake – this is meant to be a brief overview, not a deep dive, which is when I am trying to group together similar issues when possible. The original slides came with additional verbal explanations of each item, and any handouts would have some explanatory text added, so the general “name” of each issue can be fairly vague (ex. “lack of community resources” includes things like a lack of offline groups, lack of historical documentation, lack of experienced leaders, lack of assets like money, physical spaces,  and print resources, etc.).

As an example, some feedback that I have gotten already includes a suggestion to include something about the pressure to be an “unassailable ace” and stand in for the whole community, and to consider combining pressure to be more sexually active with sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have to offer!

(also, if you have thoughts on specific sub-issues that you think are most important to  mention in any verbal explanations or additional explanatory text, feel free to mention those as well – I’m not quite at that stage yet but I can definitely file away any comments for future reference)

Take the 2016 Ace Community Census!

It’s that time of year again – we are now recruiting participants for the ace community census!

The ace community census is an annual survey by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network which collects valuable information on the demographics and experiences of members of the ace community. It is the largest survey of ace communities and creates a valuable pool of data for future ace community activists and researchers.

The survey is open to anyone: ace, non-ace, or still questioning, as long as you are over the age of 13 we want to hear from you! We want to get a wide variety of responses from as many parts of the community as possible, so we encourage you to share this link with any other ace individuals you know or any ace communities you participate in.

Click here to take the 2016 Ace Community Census!

For answers to common questions about the survey, please see the FAQ here.

Any results and analysis will be published on


Source: Take the 2016 Ace Community Census!

Wanted: Aces and Aros at Creating Change 2017 in Philadelphia!

Hello followers! If any of you are thinking about attending Creating Change this year or plan to submit proposals, please hit me up! I’m part of a facebook group for Aces and Aros at Creating Change and we’ve just started the process of proposal drafting, so nows the time to get connected – we’d love to get in touch with any of you who might be there.

The group also does a lot of planning more casual stuff at CC like group lunches and dinners and hangouts in the ace suite, so you should totally join even if you just plan on attending and not running a workshop.

Aces Wild will also be hosting an ace/aro suite this year which will most likely be open to non-badged attendees – it’s pretty sweet (get it?).

If you’d be interested in joining the facebook group, shoot me an email at for an invite.

About Creating Change:

CC is the big annual conference for all the big-name LGBTQ organizers, with an emphasis on professional development, and it’s happening in January 18-22 in Philadelphia for 2017.

It’s one of the best ways for the ace community to form connections with big-name LGBT leaders and formal LGBT organizers. It’s also super expensive to attend (like $200+ reg fees, plus travel and hotel costs….) but there are some limited student and low-income scholarships and the like – though I’ve heard they are hard to get so if you want to try for one you should apply as soon as they open.

You can also volunteer a certain number of hours to get free admission on the days you volunteer.