Some time ago, my friend SlightlyMetaphysical created a Google Map attempting to list all offline asexuality meetups, permanent asexuality-focused groups, and ace-friendly LGBTQ+ organizations. I think this is a very important idea, and I’ve added every friendly group I can think of to it. I’ve also encouraged everyone I know to do likewise. I believe very strongly that resources like this map are important because of their potential to create more offline ace-friendly spaces.
For one thing, I believe the ace community needs to develop more offline resources. There needs to be more offline networking among aces, and more building of easily-identifiable spaces to do that networking in.
Online resources are good for lots of things. They’re good for reaching a lot of people with relatively little effort and for allowing people in very distant locations to talk to each other. The anonymity factor of the Internet is also good for some people who are very shy and afraid to enter asexual spaces, or for people who want to read posts without necessarily interacting with anyone, or for people without access to offline spaces.
Offline resources are good for other things, though, and I don’t think that online resources can compensate for them. Offline resources are better at creating solid support networks for individuals. For one thing, many people find it much easier to relate to other people face-to-face than with the barrier of a screen in front of them. This is particularly true of very emotional issues. Many people find reassurance much, much more powerful when it’s done in person than when it’s conveyed through a screen. In person, you can offer hugs and physical comfort and use nonverbal communication to convey support a lot more effectively than you can on the Internet.
Physical spaces can also feel more comforting and safe than virtual ones. It can be very relaxing to have a room in which you can walk and talk about your problems and know no one is going to tell you that they’re unimportant. It’s easier to feel safe when you’re surrounded by physical bodies of people who are there to back you up. Enforcing the safety of offline spaces is also easier, largely because it’s far easier to block access to them. It’s also harder for people with vendettas to find out about them and make them unsafe in the first place.
For another thing, long-distance partnerships are a lot more difficult to maintain than significant relationships that manage to be in the same geographical area. One of the biggest problems faced by romantic aces in particular regarding dating is that it’s hard to find other aces to connect to (and possibly crush on or want to date) in their area. That means most of the people around them are allosexual people, and then they get to choose between negotiating the problems that come from relationships with mismatched sexual orientations or negotiating the problems that come from long-distance relationships. Creating offline spaces means that aces who would prefer to date or form other significant relationships with other aces can actually meet people in their area.
And of course not everyone is really Internet-focused. Offline spaces help provide a friendly space for people who really don’t care to spend a ton of time on the Net, too. Even if none of the other concerns I mentioned above existed, this alone would mean that offline spaces are important and that they need to be created and maintained in different cities. People who don’t particularly like the internet deserve community too.
Unfortunately, offline spaces are a little harder to get moving than online ones. Finding a place to meet can sometimes be expensive, and getting lots of people together in one area takes a little more organizational savvy than creating an online space. You also have a smaller pool of interested people than in online spaces, simply because an offline space is accessible to far fewer people than online ones.
I’ve seen two general paths that people follow to set up offline spaces that are specifically ace-friendly: liaising with local LGBTQA groups, and forming ace-specific offline meetup groups that are organized through the Internet. I’ve actually done both of these in the past. Before I moved to a new city, I was pretty active with my campus’ LGBTQA group and helped raise the profile of aces with them, and before that I used to go to AVEN-centered meetups in the Big City located a few hours from my university city. Both approaches have their pros and cons.
The biggest advantage of approaching local LGBTQA groups and finding out whether they’re friendly to aces is that all the existing infrastructure for an offline space is already there. After all, they’ve been meeting for a while, or you wouldn’t know they were there to begin with. You don’t have to advertise to let people know where you are because that’s already happening.
The downside is that approaching LGBTQA groups can be pretty scary. My personal opinion is that most campus groups are likely to be friendly to aces, but I have no experience with non-campus-affiliated groups. This might therefore be a harder option if you’re not attached to a university. Most LGBTQA groups are also focused on other issues already, and if you’re trying to get something specific to aces done—say, you’re trying to get your group to explicitly change their website to welcome aces so you don’t have that “people aren’t sure if the group is welcoming” problem—sometimes it can be hard to get that to happen amid all the other things going on. It definitely helps to pitch in on the other things the group is focusing on getting done, though.
On the other hand, there are groups that form by advertising and organizing online for people to meet up with. AVEN is the most common place I’ve seen as a place to advertise these kinds of meetups, but I have also seen people use Meetup.com. These are nice because advertising is relatively easy to do and there’s a mechanism for targeting interested parties, and you don’t really have to put yourself out too much to set things up. They’re also asexual-centered by definition, and because you’re starting the group from scratch you really get to set the tone of it to a greater extent.
Unfortunately, if you don’t hang out on AVEN you’re often essentially out of luck when it comes to being notified about these, since the Meetup.com-centered ones are much less common. My experience with AVEN-centered meetups is also that there tends to be a lot of people going “we should meet up soon!” and a lot of agreement without anyone really sitting down and saying “We should go on X day, at Y time, at Z location,” so it’s really hard to actually nail down a time and place for people to be and meetups don’t happen anywhere as frequently as people proposing meetups do. Meetup.com also charges between $12 and $19 a month (depending on how many months you pay for at once) to host meetups, so there’s a fiscal obligation there as well. And both formats share the problem that people who aren’t using the internet for their social connection have a hard time finding and accessing them in the first place.
I don’t think I know anyone who has formed an offline asexuality group without either asking a local LGBTQA group for support or advertising in online spaces like AVEN or meetup.com. If you do, please share your experience! I’d love to know how you did it.
I still miss having offline spaces to interact in. So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. After all, the only way to get offline spaces is to build them, one step at a time. If you’re in the Austin, TX area and you’d like to chat, come hang out at a coffee shop with me! I’ll be doing this at the same time every month, trying to build a space. If you live in a major city with an active ace group, feel free to leave your meetup times in the comments!