We Contain Multitudes: Asexual Community as a Coalition

When I was watching the recent HHA anniversary livestream earlier this month, the presenters highlighted an old quote from one of David Jay’s posts from the very early days of modern ace communities that really resonated with me. The quote occurred in response to an email thread about questions on how to create a universal definition for asexuality, a debate which continues to this day:

It seems like a common definition is sort of problematic. Because, in the end, we only sort of have a common identity. Asexuality means very different things to each of us, and finding a definition which is all-inclusive and still meaningful may be impossible. The reason that we’re forming a group isn’t because we have a neat, common identity but because we face a common set of issues. It seems like if we form a group it should be around those issues, not around some difficult-to-draw identity line.

– David Jay

It reminded me of a similar concept in my own local ace 101 outreach work for a while now: the idea that asexuality is not a single, unified experience, but rather a similar but varying set of experiences that have just enough in common that it makes sense for us to join in a single community – a coalition of multitudes of varied experiences.

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Why I Wear an Ace Ring

This is my submission to the June 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “pride.”

This post was originally inspired by this post from the Ace Theist. I may or may not have taken 7+ years to get around to writing it, but better late than never I guess?


Several years ago, The Ace Theist wrote a post about why they wear an ace ring, and why it’s more for themselves than for recognition, that really resonated with me, especially this passage in the conclusion:

When I first bought that black ring off Amazon, I wasn’t expecting anyone recognize it for what it was.  That’s not what it’s for.  From the beginning, that ring wasn’t meant for anyone else but me.  I had just comes to terms with the fact that I’m not heterosexual, that the existence of my orientation is something that most people don’t even know about, and I wanted to wear an ace ring as a way remind myself that I’m not the only one.

Safety in Subtlety

As a matter of fact, when I first started wearing an ace ring, it was precisely because I did not expect anyone to recognize it for what it was – it was something subtle, and safe, and with a level of plausible deniability that I could easily invoke if anyone asked me about. After all, I already wore rings and other jewelry on a semi-regular basis, so it wouldn’t be that out of place. If anyone asked, I could just say that I found it at a shop and thought it looked cool.

That made it the perfect token of self-recognition and quiet pride for me, as a teenager just tentatively starting to identify with asexuality, but sure as hell not ready to start coming out about it to anyone offline. I wasn’t ready talk about it out loud yet, or to name it in words, but the ring was still a physical, tangible way to silently shout out to the unsuspecting world that hey, I’m asexual, I’m not just confused, and I’m not alone.

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Differentiating Attraction/Orientations (Or, the “Split Attraction Model” by any other name is so much sweeter.)

This is my entry for the April 2020 Carnival of Aces on “Names,” hosted by Jam.

Many of you may be familiar with the term “Split Attraction Model” (SAM), which is often used to refer to the idea in ace communities that there are multiple types of attraction – especially sexual vs. romantic attraction – and that some people may therefore use two (or more) different labels to refer to their romantic and sexual orientations.

However, as you may or may not also know, these terms have also been the subject of some criticism – especially regarding the fact that it’s not actually a good proxy for describing the ways many aces use romantic, sexual, and other attraction/orientation concepts, and that it was in part coined and popularized by anti-ace trolls, I’m not going to provide an in-depth discussion of the many reasons some people don’t like using “SAM” in the post, but I do recommend checking out the links above.

Instead, I want to focus on advocating for the kind of phrasing I do like to use: specifically, the concepts of differentiating attraction and differentiated orientations.

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“Identities are Tools” – and sometimes you need a whole toolbox

This is a submission for the February 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “Identity”.

There is a common saying in ace activism that “identities are tools”  – that rather than trying to figure out which box is the “right box”, an identity should be something that you should pick up if it will be useful, and feel free to set down if it isn’t.

I want to take that analogy a step further, and talk about how when it comes to identities – and tools – there’s no single all-applications solutions. Instead, we often need a whole toolbox, wherein each tool might be used a little differently.

Here’s just a few of the examples of the tasks you might need different identities/tools for:

  • Identity can be a tool used for personal/internal validation. Just knowing about an identity concept can help prove to you that you aren’t alone, that you aren’t just broken, that maybe the reason you weren’t fitting into any of the other existing boxes was because there was an even better box that you just didn’t know about. Identities can serve as a framework that help us understand and process our own internal feelings and experiences – even if we never say them out loud.
  • Identity can be a tool used to find relevant content. Once you have a new term/identity for a specific experience, it allows people to index content associated with that experience, and also to search for it. If you have an identity label, you now have something you can type into google or look for it as a tag to try to find writing, or resources, or communities, or research related to those experiences.
  • Identity can be a tool used to connect with like-minded communities. Just as you can use a term as a search term to find relevant content, you can also identity terms to find and connect with like-minded people – both by searching for communities associated that term, or by using that identity to broadcast about yourself, hey, I am x which means I experience x’! If you are also x, we might have something in common!
  • Identity can be a tool used to communicate something different about yourself to others. Just as identity can be used as a way to signal something about yourself to people who might feel the same, identity can also be a way to signal to others that something about your experiences might be different from theirs.

Identities are also like tools in that they vary in how often they are useful to you and how suited they are to the task at hand:

  • Some identities are general-purpose tools, like swiss-army knives – they’re easy enough and useful enough to carry around with you every day, and they are generalizable enough that they can be useful in almost all situations. They might be useful for all of the situations described above, and might often be the first thing you grab.
  • Some identities are more specialized, like a 1.5mm allen wrench – you probably don’t use it very often, so it sits at home in a closed box in the closet a lot, and when you do take it out it’s only for a few specific purposes, maybe just one or two out of all of the above – but when you need it, you’re glad you have it on hand.
  • Some identities aren’t the most appropriate solution, but they can get the job done – like using a hammer and a flathead screwdriver to try and chisel off a piece of rock. It’s not what they were designed to be used for, and it’s maybe not the tool you would prefer to use, but when it’s all you have access to in the moment, you know it’s available as a backup.
  • Some identities are more sentimental than useful (and that’s okay). Sometimes you have tools that once worked great, but now maybe they’re a little loose or a little rusty or no longer work for what you need them for – but they mean something to you on an emotional level, enough that you may want to keep them in your toolbox to have them close to you, even if they don’t get much use these days.

To try illustrate what I mean, and extend the metaphor even further, here’s a few examples of how this works out for me in practice:

  • Some identities – like “asexual” or “mixed race”  – are my workhorse multi-tools; they serve as a way for me to find community, groups, and resources, as a way to find people with similar experiences, and as a way to communicate with other people that no, I’m not interested in dating your friend, and no, I’m not hooking up with anyone anytime soon, etc; or that actually, my name isn’t pronounced like that because it’s not white, and that’s why some parts of my family look the way that they do.
  • Some of my identities are more specialized, like my allen wrenches – there’s a lot of them, but they’re small and they all mostly sit in a box gathering dust until I find a use for them. Examples of things like this include things like “quoiromantic”, or maybe “agender” which I find useful for finding content that appeals to me (and for validating the fact that no, I’m not crazy, other people feel the same way, but don’t find as useful for communicating something about myself to others.
  • Some identities are more like improvised tools – I often find myself falling back to using “bisexual” on limited forced choice surveys the same way I occasionally use a rock to bash in stakes when nobody remembered to bring a hammer. It’s not the most accurate, and it’s not the one I’d prefer to use, but when it’s all I have access to, it can still get the job done well enough – after all, 0 and 0 are pretty much the same, so technically I am equally attracted to all genders…..and that’s close enough for some jobs.
  • And some, like “libidoist asexual”, are frankly mostly sentimental – I only ever used them in a very very specific context (like early 2010s AVEN TMI threads”,and these days don’t really find it useful for anything, so I don’t share it – but I still hold a soft spot for it in my heart.
  • Other identities are like using power tools vs. manual tools – both will work, but one might be better for speed and efficiency (like just calling myself “mixed race”) and another might take longer but be better for getting something installed carefully when it matter to get everything just right (like clarifying that I’m specifically of mixed 3/4 white and 1/4 4th gen okinawan-american heritage).
  • Sometimes you have two or more identity tools (like “atheist” and “nonreligious”) that are maybe like slightly different colored handles on your two hammers but in general are useful for the exact things and a relatively interchangeable – it doesn’t hurt to have duplicates around to spare!

In the end, I have a wide range of tools in by toolbox – the more I gather, the more likely I am to have something on hand if I need it – or if I run across someone who looks like they could use it too.

Readers – what tools do you like to keep in your toolboxes? Are there any that you find yourself using in more unusual ways?

Diverse Community Spaces Are Not “Comfortable” Spaces – Nor Should They Be

This is my submission for the January 2020 Carnival of Aces, for the theme of “Conscious and Unconscious Difference“.

While we’re talking about difference, I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about what it means to be a part of a diverse community – like the ace or aro communities – that can contain a huge number of different experiences, with people of all different sexualities, genders, racial identities, ages, coming together to discuss the one or two shared aspects of their experiences that they do have in common. However, even within those shared experiences of asexuality or aromanticism, there can still be considerable variation.

For example, among asexuals, some come to the identity because they don’t feel sexual attraction; others don’t like sex itself, others prefer not to pursue sexual relationships (regardless of whatever other internal feelings they have, some just find it hard to figure out any answer to “what gender of people are you attracted to” other than just, “none?”. There’s also huge variation when it comes to whether people feel averse/indifferent/favorable or just confused when it comes to sexual acts, what kinds of relationships people prefer, and more.

The same goes for the aro community, which brings together both asexual and allosexual aros and also those who don’t quite fit into either end of that spectrum. It brings together some people who have never felt romantic attraction in their life, with others who don’t even know what romantic attraction is supposed to mean. Some choose to pursue sexual relationships, some pursue non-romantic, non-sexual platonic relationships, some prefer not to define their relationships in such terms.

Also within both spectrums are people who identify in the “grey areas” around the fuzzy edges of each group – maybe not quite close enough to feel comfortable using the label without amendment, but close enough to still find it’s concepts useful with a few modifiers.

In effect, it can be helpful to think of these groups as “coalitions” – comprised not of a single group of people with a single identifiable shared experience, but as constellations of related experiences that are just similar enough to find it useful to develop new shared concepts, terminology, and support spaces. (For comparison, consider LGBTQ or queer communities – despite covering a hugely diverse range of experiences, from gay cis-men to bisexual transwomen to queer-identified nonbinary people and more, these groups still find it useful at times to all come together at times under one umbrella and one shared identity.)

However, the thing about diverse, coalitional spaces is that they can also be uncomfortable – because meeting a diverse array of people includes meeting people who’s ways of thinking and expressing themselves might be fundamentally different from yours, and who might force you to reconsider some of your previous assumptions, which can be an inherently uncomfortable process. It can definitely be an uncomfortable feeling when you start encountering perspectives from other community members and find yourself struggling to understand or relate to them. However, I want to challenges the idea that this discomfort is always a bad thing to be avoided. Sometimes, a little discomfort is a healthy and necessary part of growing into a new community and an ever-changing world. 

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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:

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 sennkestra@gmail.com. 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?

Carnival of Aces July 2015 Wrap-up: Asexual History

It’s a bit late, but here it is!

Last month’s Carnival of Aces was on the topic of Asexual History, and we received some great submissions. A big thanks to everyone who submitted! If I missed an entry or got any names wrong, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

The next Carnival of Aces for August is being hosted by writer-ace, and the theme is “Ideals

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

Without further ado, here’s all out wonderful submissions: