[Carnival of Aces Guest Post] The Ace Community and Me: A Disconnected Past, and A Curious Present

This is a submission for the Carnival of Aces August for the topic of “What are you hoping to get out of the ace community” written by Henry:

I would like to thank Lib for posting this. Though you can find me in a couple places on the internet if you look for me, I didn’t feel any of them were a place to host this essay.

That fact is probably a pretty good introduction: you are about to read about my early struggles with asexuality, why I didn’t feel like the community spoke to me then, and why I am cautiously looking into it more now.

My full Nom de Plume is “J. Henry Waugh”, but you can call me Henry (he/him). Both are a reference to the titular character of a black humor novel ostensibly about baseball. Though the baseball is vividly described at first, the reader quickly realizes that it is all in Henry’s imagination.

Season after season is played in his mind, recorded in cheap print shop record books. All the events in every game are decided by dice rolls on his kitchen table. As the reader sees glimpses of what Henry’s real life is like, the larger metaphysical and spiritual questions of the novel take over. The reader watches as events in each of the two words unfold.

While many things about Henry are different than the person writing these words now (such as his explicit heterosexuality), his central emotional struggle is deeply felt by me. Just like him, I see myself standing across a great divide between fantasy and reality.

Fantasy is a world of powerful emotions, and sometimes vivid places and characters, but is unreal. Reality is a mostly drab and occasionally scary place, but all too real. This metaphorical divide encompasses many aspects of my life, including my sexuality.

I first heard of Asexuality briefly in a college course on Human Health many years before I applied any labels to myself. It didn’t seem like me — even though I showed many of the signs listed in famous posts.

I never understood why everyone else had the relationships they had. I was content to leave dating alone, and it left me alone. All I wanted, from my teenage years onward, were independence and space, with a few good friends to keep things interesting. It was everyone else who was weird for looking for relationships or sex.

That mystery got little of my attention, because I was focused on something else: an amazing technicolor fantasy land in my head developed over many years, with a baseball league’s worth of purely-fictional characters.

In media, the things they said and did would fall somewhere between uninteresting and repulsive. But within that headspace, it was all okay — better than okay. I could feel the joy, the energy, the passion and the lust they felt. The repulsion I experienced in life was nowhere to be found.

This “great divide” was how I fundamentally saw myself. It kept me away from the Ace label for years, just “doing my own thing” without a name. Even once I adopted the label, it then kept me away from the Ace community.

I’ve thought of myself as Autochorissexual since 2013. That’s when I first found AVEN, and after much reading links and contemplating, cold e-mailed Siggy with a question. He answered by showing me the study that coined that term. I am still grateful to this day.

Though that study has since been criticized, that word stuck. It is still the word I feel captures my great divide. It was a revelation, and a new way to understand many of my experiences.

Once I learned the basics and that really started sinking in, I didn’t become a member of the Ace community. Instead, I began to get less and less out of the conversations on Tumblr or AVEN’s forums (remember, this is 2013). This was for a couple of reasons.

First, a lot of the discussion focused on activist concerns: visibility, representation, terminology, community, inclusion, oppression, etc. Being relatively new, I felt ill-equipped to contribute. Even more important in retrospect, these issues didn’t speak to me because I didn’t feel oppressed.

My social privilege as a cis white man with a white-collar job gave me the lifestyle I wanted, and ability to “do my own thing” all alone without a problem. Sure, there was the occasional micro-aggression (“when you get married someday, you’ll learn that…”) but I had long been ignoring them or (sometimes literally) walking away.

If I felt anything after the joy of having a label wore off, it was a deep sense of uncertainty and fear. It came from the realization that I had misunderstood what sexuality “was” literally since childhood, and at a level far more deeply than I thought possible. This seemed like the perfect topic to discuss with Aces, but it felt closed off.

I read about how important it was to be thoughtful with your words. If you make a broad generalization, it will always hurt someone in the community. The AVEN forums had running meta-commentary on bans of newcomers who wanted to gripe in ways which, when unpacked, were allophobic. Tumblr had long arguments about the politics of having different opinions about sex.

Expressing my confusion and frustration felt like a very fine line – one I was ill-equipped to walk. The last thing I wanted was to alienate or anger the one group of people who perhaps understood me. So I kept it all inside, and said nothing.

Based on reading other Ace experiences, some may ask: didn’t I have other questions, or want interactions with people I wasn’t getting otherwise? Yes. That brings us to the second reason I never felt like joining the Ace community: my personal development was elsewhere.

Even before 2013, my main focus had been trying to understand the terrain on each side of the divide. As a part of that, I had instead followed my fantastic side to a very different community.

This other community is all about self-discovery and self-expression, and both is very open about sexuality and extremely non-heteronormative. Their art was the perfect thing to feed my imagination and my fiction writer’s pen. The friends I made were just who I needed. Not only could I talk to them about my imagination, but I could write very NSFW stories from it they would eagerly lap up.

In Ace spaces, meanwhile, there were different opinions on public expressions of one’s sexuality. Since I often felt sex repulsed in real life, I knew that I could cause people a lot of bad feelings, and wanted to respect those boundaries. So, once again, it felt like a fine line to walk – when it didn’t feel completely inappropriate.

Instead of trying to navigate all that, I simply stayed where I could find comfort and adoration. I did lose something, in retrospect: guidance in working out my private frustrations and lingering uncertainties.

I would read some famous Ace bloggers once in a while, but even stopped doing that after about a year. Their posts reminded me of what I was still feeling raw about, or what I was missing. It took years for me to make peace with all that.

***

After reading all that, it is reasonable to ask: so why are you here now, writing this? After much thought and multiple very different drafts of this part, here are my reasons.

First, this prompt was one I have wished for: “why aren’t you a member of the Ace community?”

I wanted to write something to register an answer that might be helpful for activists. Namely: my privilege protects me from acute community concerns, and my personal journey was messier than I felt community boundaries allowed for. That applies in both “too explicitly sexual” and “too angrily phobic” ways.

To be clear, I am not complaining about these boundaries. I found them quite comforting and safe at an emotional level, and recognize their value. That said, I remember someone previously advocating for some Ace spaces to allow feelings of disgust, anxiety, confusion, and a chance to work out allophobic impulses. That would have helped me back in 2013.

Second, I am more ready and curious after unpacking all that negativity and confusion.

It took years. I couldn’t have done it without some long conversations with (allosexual) friends from my other community, and simply experiencing more of the world than I had almost 10 years ago. While it would be rash to say “I’m over it”, I certainly have the ability to investigate sexuality and the Ace community again without turmoil.

Third, Coronavirus is putting the exclamation point on something I’ve been thinking about for almost a year: if I use my social privilege as personal shield, then it is only fair that I use it as a sword against injustice (if invited). As I have looked into helping various communities, I feel like I should see if I can do something for the community that gave me my identity and wisdom around it.

Fourth, I have a personal research question I am curious about. But I’ll wait and see how things go before talking about that.

Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “[Carnival of Aces Guest Post] The Ace Community and Me: A Disconnected Past, and A Curious Present

  1. “That said, I remember someone previously advocating for some Ace spaces to allow feelings of disgust, anxiety, confusion, and a chance to work out allophobic impulses. That would have helped me back in 2013.”

    One example that comes to mind is this remark by Emerald: “Speaking of the 2011 stuff, there was an idea going around about that time of ‘detoxing’: that aces can seem very anti-sex right after discovering asexuality, as a reaction to finding a welcoming community after dealing with sexual messages their entire lives. I haven’t heard anyone mention it since, but I think it was an important idea. I think we need spaces for people to [talk frankly about sex aversion]. I think that having a safe space to ‘detox’ would allow a lot of aces to become more comfortable with (other people having) sex, as well as being supportive of people who will never be comfortable with the idea of sex.”

    I believe this came up somewhere in the comments of an Asexual Agenda post at one point, but I can’t remember which one I’m thinking of. Anyway, I think this is partly a matter of audience issues — we need to be able to talk about things that can be potentially upsetting to other people, and so there needs to be a mechanism to appropriately silo it away from anyone who wants to avoid it, without treating it like some kind of awful taboo. This connects to something else I’ve been hammering on about for a while, which is that we need to be able to talk to each other outside of the spotlight.

    On a different note, some of what you’re saying here seems like it connects to the questions raised by Redbeard in his submission about how to get more people involved, so I hope you’ll keep looking into it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Carnival of Aces August 2020 Round Up: What are you Hoping to get out of the Ace Community? – A³

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