There’s been a fair amount of discussion about activism in the ace blogosphere recently, whether it’s how to run a panel at a conference, the difficulty of being an activist, or information on AAW’s new status as an NPO. Since I’ve been doing a bit of activism this past semester, I figured I would write a post about a type of activism you (yes, you!) can do from the comfort of your room: email activism!
While offline visibility is really important, not all of us are up to that. Getting up in front of a bunch of people and talking about your sexuality is a little bit terrifying, and even the idea of walking into the university LGBTQ office to talk to someone about adding resources for aces can be nerve-wracking. The nice thing about using email to communicate is that you have the time and space to think about your responses or step away and calm down if something goes terribly, terribly wrong. (Plus, you don’t have to use a phone! Anything that doesn’t involve a phone gets 400 points in my book.) It’s not a huge time commitment, you can do it anywhere that has a computer and internet access, and if you’re not okay with being 100% out 24/7, generally the only people you will have to out yourself to are those who are reading the email.
So how do you do activism work via email?
Step 1: Pick your target.
Maybe it’s the LGBTQ center at your university. Maybe it’s an LGBTQ resource center in your community. Maybe it’s the local branch of PFLAG. Maybe it’s a neighborhood LGBTQ organization. Wherever it is, do some research first and make sure that A. they aren’t explicitly non-ace and B. they are an appropriate place to email about asexuality. A university LGBTQ center that vows to support people of all genders and sexual orientations in its mission statement? Probably a safe place to email. A community club for bisexual women? Not an appropriate place to email.
Step 2: Be polite.
This should be obvious. You are asking for a favor from whomever you are emailing; they are not obligated to give you anything. Say please and thank you. Phrase your request in such a way that you’re asking them for a favor, not demanding their attention. I tend to overdo it a bit by American standards—years of formal Japanese have taught me that you’re never just requesting assistance, you’re asking people to seriously inconvenience themselves for you if they would be so kind—but a little bit of politeness goes a long way.
Step 3: Make sure to mention how you are involved in the community the organization you’re emailing services.
If you’re emailing a university organization, make sure to mention that you’re a student at the school. If you’re emailing a neighborhood organization, make sure to mention that you live within the community the organization serves. Basically, you want to prove that you’re not just some random person who decided to email a random place to demand stuff.
If you’re emailing on behalf of an ace organization–whether it’s a university club or a local meet-up–make sure to mention that as well!
Step 4: Have a goal.
What are you trying to accomplish? You can’t just email and say, “Hi, I’m asexual,” and then wait for them to do something. (I know this may seem obvious, but I have actually had people ask me about this.) You need to have a reason you’re contacting them and suggestions for how to fix/improve/do whatever you’re contacting them about.
Here are some things you can email them about:
– “I was wondering if asexuals are welcome at your meetings. If they are, would you mind adding that information to your website/pamphlets/[whatever else]?”
– If they have a resource list on their website: “Would you mind adding resources on asexuality to your website?” Offer to send them a resource list if they don’t already have one.
– If they provide links to local LGBTQ groups on their website: “Would you mind linking to [local ace meet-up] on your website?” Make sure to give them some information on the group!
– Now that Asexuality Awareness Week has a set date, you can also email places about potentially running an event during AAW, if you are okay with offline activism or if you know other aces in the area who would want to run an event.*
You should prepare to do 85-95% of whatever needs to be done. If you want them to add resources to their website, have a resource list on hand.** If you want them to put on asexuality-related programming, either be prepared to run it yourself or already have someone lined up to run it for them. If you’re contacting them about ace-negative wording in their resources, make sure to cite the problematic bit of the text and suggest a rewording.
Step 5: Prepare to follow-up.
Some people might not email you back. Some might turn down your request for whatever it is. But some might ask for more information. Be prepared to give that information. Have resource lists on hand. Have a linkspam of pamphlets (AAW has some good ones). Compile descriptions of ace-related programming that has happened in your community or elsewhere. Have some newspaper articles on asexuality on hand just in case.***
Also, if they email you back, remember to thank them! Even if they turn down your request, it’s still good form to thank them for their time (assuming that they didn’t, say, threaten to burn you at the stake).
Step 6: Revel in your activism.
Or not. Your choice. I personally enjoy reveling.
One final thing: If you are the sort of person who likes seeing examples, here’s an email I wrote to the GSRM center at my university earlier this year:
I was looking over the [university GSRM center] website, and realized that there is a section on Boston/Cambridge BGLTQ resources. It looks as though there aren’t any resources for asexuality on your website currently, but I was wondering if you might consider adding New England Aces to your list of Boston/Cambridge resources–we’re a Boston meetup group for people on the asexual spectrum. Our page on meetup.com is http://www.meetup.com/NewEnglandAces/. We have regularly scheduled meetups once a month in Central Square, as well as outings to asexuality-related events and queer conferences (several members of our group will be presenting at the Five College Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference in Amherst this March). Since people on the asexual spectrum often have a great deal of trouble finding support and resources, linking to New England Aces on the resource page might help some [university name] students find a safe space to talk (even if it’s off campus).
Thank you for your time,
They wound up adding New England Aces to their website, emailed me back about resources, updated their website to include asexual resources, and hosted a panel on asexuality later that semester, so I think we can consider that a success!
Anyway, now you know how to do email activism (in theory). Now go forth and revel in your newly acquired knowledge (and email some folks, if you so desire)!
*This should be obvious, but if you’re volunteering other people, make sure they’re okay with it first.
**Here are some resource lists you might find helpful:
The Asexual Agenda’s 101 resource list
Swankivy has a whole list of links on her website
Harvard’s asexuality resource list
WSU’s asexuality resource list
(Those last two may be especially helpful if you’re trying to convince a university center to add resources.)
If you have other resource lists, drop ’em in the comments, yeah?
***The Asexual Agenda’s weekly linkspam is a good place to look for articles on asexuality.
This is all really good advice. I love email communication because face-to-face and telephone communications come with a lot of social anxiety for me even in normal situations, and that can be magnified to unbearable levels when you’re trying to coherently explain asexuality and why they should care and what they could do in person, while outing yourself. That can be a horrible situation to be in without having a basic reassurance that they take ace identity seriously and want to help.
However, I think it’s worth pointing out the limitations of email communication. A lot of people don’t necessarily check emails that regularly, especially volunteer-run groups and especially university student-volunteer-run groups. The only three data points I have on this are fairly negative:
Before me and a couple of others got involved in our university LGBT, they checked the email account sporadically at best. Even now, we always read the emails, but because we work as a group, often no-one feels happy to write an answer or give a definite statement of our position.
When I volunteered for a non-university LGBT charity via email, they didn’t get back to me. When I walked in about a year later, I was welcomed and rushed through the volunteer sign up process with admirable speed, and they told me that they’d recently had a change in management and the old management left a massive email backlog.
A friend of mine emailed her university LGBT asking if they were ace friendly, because of the aforementioned anxiety of turning up and outing yourself. They never got back to her, but when she sought them out several months later, they were welcoming and ended up doing a whole heap of ace stuff with her.
So it seems fairly likely that even an ace-supportive LGBT space might just not be web-savvy enough to realise they’ve got to check their emails. If so, I can think of a couple of alternatives:
-You can suck it up and go to see them, depending on your anxiety levels and social skills. But that has the problem of giving *them* a 30-second window to make up their mind about something they might never have heard of, which could lead to worse results.
-If they have a facebook page, you can message them privately. If they have a facebook group, you can privately message the admins. Either of these could often be checked more than email.
-You could go to any one-on-one confidential, non-judgemental support sessions they run, and ask there.
-You could turn up to the events they run, especially the social ones, and get to know people. You can judge the flavour of the group, get yourself some allies and work slowly- don’t hide the fact that you’re asexual but wait until you’ve been out a while before saying ‘hey, I noticed that the resources you have aren’t clear on whether you are ace-supportive. It made me really nervous about coming. Can I suggest a redraft…’ (this is a massive amount of time for reward unless you wanted to hang out with the LGBT anyway).
-I guess you could send them a letter which either gives your email address but not your postal address or gives your email address and specifically invites them to carry on the conversation through email.
Ok, this comment turned out really long. Think I’ll stop writing now. But, yeah, don’t assume you’ve lost just because you never get an answer to an email.
All excellent advice! One thing to add to the first suggestion: you can drop off some pamphlets at the center, which allows you to not do the whole socially-anxious-elevator-pitch thing and also gives them time to think it over. Plus they can decide to put the pamphlets out later, which they can’t really do if they tell you no upfront.
I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had such negative experiences with people not responding to/checking their email! I must admit that I’m a little surprised, though, since in my experience (with n = 10-ish) student-run organizations have been really good at responding to emails quickly. Perhaps I have only gone to universities with high concentrations of tech-savvy students?
Thanks to this post, I just emailed a local youth support center that I connected with at my local pride last weekend with some basic resources and an opportunity to act as a resource myself. Fingers crossed that this goes well… the person I talked to told me to email them so hopefully they’ll be responsive!
Oh, fantastic! Hopefully it goes well!
Please enroll me in all of your group emails. Thank you
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