Saturday, June 25, 2011

LGBTA: Building offline spaces

I wrote this essay for the Carnival of Aces.  I would very much like if it is not the only entry, so please consider contributing before July 1st!

Tomorrow I'm marching in SF Pride with an asexual group.  But why do I bother trying to educate LGBTQ people about asexuality?  The easy answer is that LGBTQ people are just as good targets for education as any other group.  The other answer is about community.

Building an asexual community is damn important, perhaps even more important than countering BS from external sources.   If you encounter erasure and alienation, coming home to a community you trust can make it better. To my mind, erasure is bad not merely because it makes people feel invisible, but also because it makes it hard to find and form communities.  Most of my life I felt confused, not as a direct consequence of erasure, but because erasure prevented me from learning about asexual identity and the asexual community.  Community matters.

Speaking of community, I'm aware that at least a few asexuals in the asexual blogosphere are here because they had some problem with the AVEN forums.  Let me tell you why I'm here.  I have never had any horrible drama on AVEN (sorry to deprive you of the schadenfreude).  There have been some people I've disagreed with, and people I've really disliked, but they never chased me away.  In fact, I'm still on AVEN, posting at the same steady rate I always have.  But I don't feel I have made any real friends or connections through AVEN.  The members of AVEN just seem like a collection of faces I recognize.  But there are too many of them, and they move too fast.  I treat AVENites as a means to finding ideas, and have trouble treating them as people in themselves.

This happens on every internet forum I've ever been on.  What can I say, forums just aren't my thing.  Blogs are my thing.  I feel far more connection to my readers and other bloggers than to any forumite.

But what about people who don't feel comfortable on forums OR blogs?  What if they don't feel comfortable on tumblr, on podcasts, on YouTube?  What if they don't feel much connection to any kind of internet community at all?  Such people, by their nature, have very little voice in an internet community, but we need to think of them.

I believe that many of these people who want offline spaces first consider joining the LGBTQ community.  It's what I did, anyways.  To a novice asexual, it made sense.  I needed a support group for minority sexualities.  LGBTQ was the only thing that offered it.  It also offered community centers, student organizations, counseling services, big national organizations, and political goals I cared about.  So I tried it, cautiously at first, going to a few student group meetings as an ally.  Long story short, it transformed my social life, and I found all the support I needed and more.

But I have read many accounts of asexuals trying the same thing, with horribly negative results.  It's unsettling to think that my success was dependent on a number of lucky coincidences.  Luckily, the group had at least heard of asexuality.  Luckily, they knew enough not to say horrible things about it.  Luckily, I identified as borderline gay and asexual after a few months.  Luckily, I'm not averse to sex.  Luckily, I had previous experience with student groups, and had the persistence to make the experience worthwhile.

The asexuals who are not so lucky?  Probably most are scared away by the very image of the LGBT community, and never even try seeing it for themselves.  Those who aren't scared by the image may find the reality even scarier.  There are queers who are naively sex-positive (because everyone wants sex).  There are gay people who don't believe in bisexuality, much less asexuality (if they've even heard of it).  There are queers who make lots of noise about hate, but think erasure is not worth mention.  I bet most asexuals don't even get as far as coming out to the group.

Remember, many of the people I'm talking about are novice asexuals.  It's true that there are all kinds of LGBTQ groups and spaces.  It's true that LGBTQ people need some spaces to talk about sexual things that would make most asexuals uncomfortable.  But do you think the asexual who is just stepping into a community for the first time appreciates that?  Who wants to deal with all that when you're just trying to figure yourself out?

My concerns are pragmatic.  Asexuals are wandering into LGBT spaces, either by accident, or because they have no better community to go to.  I would like it if the communities they wander into know how to deal with them.  Start by being educated.  Then make it clear that you're educated, so you don't scare asexuals before they even come out.  And if you can't provide a safe space, figure out where you can redirect them.  These are very basic things to ask for, but they could go such a long way to helping.

I found a community, and I want others to have the same opportunity.


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

This. Totally this. This is why I was so upset about the privilege stuff, because it felt like a step back where we really can't afford to waste time.

I think it's a process of asexual individuals and queer allies just gradually eroding away the views that asexuals aren't wanted or are too different. But that's just slow progress.

Ily said...

Indeed...I've had some minor issues with the AVEN forums, but nothing big enough to cause me to abandon them all together. But like you, I have a hard time seeing AVEN as a "community", just an ever-shifting mass of people who I don't know all that well. Maybe it felt more communal when I joined in 2005 and there were much fewer members. And while I'm a member of Tumblr and I post there, I definitely don't post enough to feel any sense of community there, either.

I would say that I do feel a sense of community through blogging, but it's not as strong as an offline community would be. Building communities is a frustratingly slow process, so it would be great if I could just fit into the pre-existing LGBT community. But I don't think there is one coherent LGBT or queer community anyway. And once you fragment it further, it's even more unclear where I would fit.