Siggy wrote:I'm really happy I started this thread now. I'm kind of in awe of some of the longer-time members and their knowledge of community history. And they seem to be quite in awe of you, paranoidgynandroid.
I know it's not as if you single-handedly did it all by yourself, but I'm very grateful that the asexual community has inherited this culture of inclusiveness. I would not have done well in an anti-sexual community.
No it certainly wasn't all by myself, not at all, DJ was already involved with LGBT groups and using the language of sexuality (the Kinsey Scale etc) rather than anti-sexuality. At that time I ran my university's LGBT society and the sexuality student helpline, so we were already sharing a common language. I recall being excited to find someone else who was on the same page as me and already a step ahead of what I was doing in activism. I think the difference between us was that DJ was talking about things in a non-reactionary matter of fact way (very good for talking to the LGBT community and the media), where as I was reacting to the anti-sexual tone of the existing community. I considered saying that I thought sex was a good thing and that asexual people could enjoy romantic relationships to be a radical act, that's why I put those front and centre. I was tired of the judgemental, puritan attitude I perceived and wanted to bring sex positive queer politics into a group were it wasn't uncommon for people to write at length about how sexual people were stupid and asexuals were superior because they weren't distracted by sex.
And of course we weren't acting in a vacuum, the earlier sites and communities and the hours of discussions we'd had with people in communities like Haven, Sphere, LJ, our university LGBT groups, and of course the early AVEN forums, all influenced our opinions and helped form and develop our ideas and directions. My FAQ was designed to express the feelings and experiences of everyone I'd talked to, and even those who I felt would benefit from being included in asexuality but had never felt comfortable joining the discussions or taking on the identity at that point (or if they did weren't talking freely - as I said, the positive reaction and relief from certain community members and lurkers was strong after my initial LJ posts and then later the FAQ, so they were always there but not open about it).
Siggy wrote:It interests me that some of the inspiration came from discussions of non-binary gender. I'm not sure if you keep up with AVEN, but there's currently a thriving community of trans and genderqueer people there.
I do take a peek into the AVEN forums every so often, but there's so much discussion there that I can't say I keep up. I'm not surprised that non-binary gender is a common topic and there's a thriving trans and genderqueer sub-group. As I said, I'd previously come from the early genderqueer community where it wasn't uncommon for people to talk about non-gender going hand and hand with being non-sexual, or at least to talk about the possibility of being non-sexual as we considered sexuality to be an aspect of the complicated multi-stranded model of sex and gender within which any of those aspects can be absent. I also think that if you've questioned one part of your identity, you're more likely to be open minded to recognising other ways in which you're different from the norm.
For the record, I believe that DJ had already been in contact with trans people before he contacted me, I recall the definition already said 'not attraction to other people' rather than 'to either sex'. But yes, I'd come from a community that was already critiquing the concepts of hetero- and homosexuality from a transgender, third gender, non-binary perspective, so I reacted very positively to DJ's early What Is Asexuality theory page with the diagrams and progressive levels of complexity, but also wanted to take it to new levels (at which point the triangle stopped being a diagram and became more of an abstract symbol).
For those interested, DJ's pre-forum community AVEN page as I'd have seen it is available on the Way Back Machine here: http://web.archive.org/web/200203241806 ... leyan.edu/
You'll also note that the links section is still up and that most of the other contemporary 'early asexual' sites give much more complicated but inclusive definitions that include people who experience sexual attraction but have very low sex drive. Although if you actually read DJ's theory page, he says that asexuals by his model are along the Kinsey Scale of attraction but that as intensity of sexual feeling drops, the actual orientation becomes less and less relevant, so we converge into a point.
I think the sheer easy simplicity of 'not sexually attracted to other people' is a strong point of AVEN's message, especially when taken as a logical extension of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual etc. It's easy to sell that definition to the rest of the LGBT community, but I think the reality of human sexuality is more complex. Identities tend to be defined simplistically while behaviour is always more complicated, which is why I took the point of view of going into great detail about definitions, identity and behaviour in my FAQ - that's where people with doubts tend to go.
paranoidgynandroid wrote:I'd also consciously made the decision not to be a visible asexual activist as I felt my third gender identity would likely confuse the issue, and there were already others who made much more effective 'poster children' out there spreading the happy face of healthy asexuality.
That reminds me of something DJ said in the October 2010 issue of AVENues
David Jay wrote:From a framing standpoint the fact that I’m young, white (it’s less of a thing now but probably helpful because there is social privilege associated with that), male, straight looking and what I’m told by most people is that I’m considered attractive? Mostly, for reasons that are really messed up, lets me speak with a lot of authority.
I agree with that. Also society tends to rob women of their sexuality (just look at Stephen Fry's recent comments about women wanting relationships, not sex), the same is true of older people. Being a young college age man saying you're happily asexual is playing against all of society's stereotypes and prejudices. So yes, it's messed up, but in a way it's extremely effective as it derails most common objections.
It's difficult for a trans person to be so effective, especially when trans women are even more assumed to be sexless and 'castrated' by society and even the medical specialists who act as the gate keepers of transsexualism. At the time I was concerned with 'passing' as being naturally androgynous and not wanting to disclose my biological sex, so that would've become the story - and I was very aware that an asexual androgyne on American television had previously confused the message, causing people to conflate androgyny with being sexless and without sexuality.
paranoidgynandroid wrote:I was sad to hear that there had been an influx of anti-sexuals overwhelming AVEN to the point where Apositive was created as an intentionally sex positive reaction to the primary asexual community - it's history repeating itsself, just what I was doing when I set up LJ Asexuality and helped DJ set up AVEN's community. I'm glad to see that AVEN was eventually claimed back and now there are a number of different places to talk about asexuality.
History repeats itself more than once. The other day, I met someone from AVEN Israel (she's here talking to DJ
), and we started talking about the Israeli community. She said many of the members of the small Israeli community are somewhat anti-sexual, and she felt like she had to guide them towards more inclusivity. She doesn't go on English AVEN much, because it's cumbersome for her to read, but when she does, she finds it inspirational. She would go back to AVEN Israel and tell them about how English-speaking AVEN openly talks about sex and masturbation without everyone being all grossed out about it.
I do actually believe that part of the experience of growing up asexual in a highly sexualised society tends to cause some natural backlash and if there isn't a concious effort from the community builders and curators to keep things positive, inclusive and non-elitist, this sort of undercurrent will naturally arise. It's a very seductive idea to turn something you've long been ashamed of into something that makes you feel superior to those around you, and I think you absolutely have to put sex positive and anti-elitist messages into your literature and choice of language to counter act that.
It's also highly likely that people who've felt pressured by society into having sex that they didn't enjoy are going to react negatively to any discussion of sex, and join in on posts attacking how horrible and icky sex is if these are allowed to become common.
In a way, it's bizarre that my first posts on the subject of asexuality go into such detail about how brilliant I think sex is, but at the time that was a radical act and tended to get people responding very positively. I was being reactionary, but in doing so I was trying to cancel out an already reactionary community that was fixated on attacking the sexuality of others, rather than talking in constructive ways.
Looking at the archive
of the "Asexuals" LJ community, it doesn't look quite
as bad as the official description would suggest. It's kind of mixed. They seem to be pro-masturbation, at least.
The Asexuals community still exists today: http://community.livejournal.com/asexuals/
It even still gets some infrequent posts. The difference is that now days everyone writing there is asexual as I defined it, whereas when the community was founded it was for people who chose not to have sex because they thought it was a wonderful and meaningful thing that had been made dirty by society. Of course, many people who found the community and posted there treated it like it was for people who had low sex drive, but there was always a mismatch between what they were looking for and what the community was supposed to be for. See my original message introducing LJ Asexuality to LJ Asexuals: http://community.livejournal.com/asexuals/52272.html
- For contrast here's a post from the day before, which likely came as the straw that broke the camel's back for me: http://community.livejournal.com/asexuals/52135.html
I've always believed that the space in which a community resides and the language it uses are extremely important. When I was involved in my university's LGBT society I was quite preoccupied with the students who were in the closet, questioning themselves and looking into the society from the outside, as well as trying to make the society actually inclusive of all queer sexualities and transgender identities rather than treating them as 'other flavours of gay'. The messages you put in your literature, on your homepage and your FAQs will decide whether people ever make their way into the community. You get things wrong and you can make people feel worse - they found community and belonging and then immediately got told their non-sexuality wasn't the right kind, they're not asexual enough, they're not asexual in the right way. It's not a competition, communities should help people to find commonalities and understanding.
Get the language and the message right, get the culture to be positive and inclusive and that's a strong foundation for a community to form and keep on helping people. Even if, like me, you then move on from the community, you know it's still there for those who need it (and should you ever need it yourself in the future).
Like I said when I unlurked, I've been checking in on the asexuality community now and again for years (after avoiding identity politics for a couple of years around 2004). It's a testiment to the strength of the foundations we built back then that I've never felt the need to butt in and post on my previous return visits. Just this time I saw someone interested in the history of how the whole thing got set up, so I thought, hey why not?
So thanks for posting this topic