In a recent post on AVEN, Asexual Curiosities asks, “Protesting AVEN? Wishing something would change? Wishing there was SOMETHING you could do?” A number of valuable suggestions are offered, and I wanted to continue this discussion, drawing on my own experience on AVEN’s Project Team (PT). I will do this over a series of posts, as I have a great deal to say. In this first post, I will discuss my own background to establish my perspective on the matter.
When I first found asexuality nearly five years ago, AVEN was pretty much the place for asexual organizing with the small exception of LJ. The forum was too big, and I never really was able to feel connected there. The first time I really felt connected was through working on some pieces for AVENues, and then I dived in and got involved on Apositive in the first several vibrant months of its existence, and then my primary involvement was on the asexual blogosphere. Even though AVEN was without question the hub of asexual organizing, I didn’t really feel an important part of it until I joined the PT two years ago.
A PT position provides an interesting position for understanding AVEN’s politics—I have obligations to the site, I have access to the admods only forum and I’ve developed relationships with a number of PT and admods, but my PT duties often give me the option of being more or less involved in any particular bit of drama that arises. The experience has taught me a great deal about group dynamics, about the workings of power, and how those who have power find themselves greatly constrained in what they can do with it. Because of issues of confidentiality regarding the admods forum, all posts in this series have been run through one of AVEN’s admins to make sure that nothing I say would constitute breaching.
In thinking about how we can improve AVEN—and how we can improve the asexual community more generally—I find helpful two basic assumptions. These are basically truisms, but are worth making explicit.
1) Finding problems with the system is a vastly easier task than finding politically viable solutions to those problems given the many constraints on the system.
2) If you have problems with a system or institution, there are basically two possible strategies: A) reform it or B) destroy it (or at least discredit it).
To take an example that I’ve spent a lot of time with, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistial Manual of Mental Disorders, a profoundly influential classification of mental disorders in the US) has enormous problems with it—this is openly acknowledged by many of its chief architects. For those with political interests relevant to it, some attack the credibility of the DSM (and possibly of psychiatry or even all of the mental health professions as a whole). Others take a more limited approach, and focus on specific areas and try to think carefully not just about what’s wrong with it, but what can be done to improve it.
My preference is almost always for reform. The question, then, is how this can be brought about. I’ve seen a number of people try to do this, but I have only seen a handful of attempts that seemed to have any promise of success and a great many more that, in my view, do more harm than good. In my future posts in this series, I want to discuss 1) various approaches to improving AVEN and which have more or less potential for reform, 2) what I believe is necessary for developing viable alternatives to AVEN, based on past successful and failed attempts, and 3) discuss potentially productive ways of addressing the specific criticisms currently circulating.
(Note: As I don’t have a tumblr account I regularly post with, I would prefer for responses to be in the comments here rather than on tumblr).