Why I don’t talk about race anymore

Peace wrote a pretty good summary of asexual people of color (POC) issues, and I’m not just saying that because I was cited a few times.

This is entirely tangential, but I was reflecting on how I became a voice for asexual POC, and how unworthy I feel to be such a voice.  I don’t talk about asexuality and race anymore, for the same reasons I don’t talk about my experience with sexual assault.  There just isn’t a whole lot to tell.  I was not traumatized by my assault, and I did not encounter difficulties due to being asexual and Asian American.  But I know that other people do have such problems, so I end up mostly talking about other people’s experiences.  And that’s really not ideal.

Here’s what happened:  In 2011, I wrote a post about race and asexuality.  It was actually in response to a Carnival of Aces prompt.  I wasn’t the only one who talked about POC issues, but I did it on Blogspot.  Blogspot is just really googleable for some reason. (Tumblr is not: take note!)  Apart from the Carnival of Aces, basically nobody was talking about asexual POC.  So even though I wasn’t trying to speak very loudly, in the silence it sounded like a shout.

I wasn’t really speaking from personal experience.  I could predict asexual POC issues because I was part of an ethnically diverse queer community at UCLA, and we talked about queer people of color (QPOC) all the time.  Honestly, I’m a bit burnt out on the subject.  As asexuals, we don’t really need to reinvent the wheel, we can borrow from the massive amount of discourse that already exists on QPOC.  It’s just another advantage of making connections between the queer and asexual communities.

But even though I wasn’t speaking from personal experience, I guess it’s good that I did it anyway.  I hope I encouraged other asexual POC to speak up, and speak about their personal experiences.  Or maybe I had nothing to do with it, fine with me!  Now that many other people are speaking, I can shut up.  Maybe things are getting better these days–the other day I saw a standard news story about asexuality, and the main person profiled just happened to be Black.  Great!  Don’t get complacent!

———————————————

I have one other thing to say, that I do not entirely agree with every single thing people say about asexual POC.   For instance, Peace claims that asexual activists “have taken credit for spear-heading the critique of the sex-positive movement” (ie away from Black women activists).  I don’t know of anyone who has ever taken credit for such a thing, and frankly the idea seems nonsensical.  Similarly, I disagree with some of the points made by GradientLair, Alok, and even Ianna Hawkins, whom I interviewed.  I also wish we had a more sophisticated discussion of the fact that the asexual community is an international one (AVEN especially), and how ethnicity doesn’t always translate across national borders.

Actually I just disagree with people all the time.  I disagree with things said here on The Asexual Agenda on a regular basis.  I don’t really speak up about it much, because I think it’s part of the culture we have, that people don’t like to openly disagree with each other.  If you agree with someone, you leave comments saying, “This.  This so much.” and if you disagree with them, we don’t hear from you.  I don’t know, maybe I’m used to atheist culture where it’s the exact opposite.

The point is, I wish we had some livelier discourse, including people who disagree with each other.  But it’s hard to do this with POC topics, because then we just end up with a bunch of white people saying they disagree with POC people, because they think racism was solved decades ago, and the solution to racism is to ignore it.  Ugh, the thought of it… maybe we’re better off without the lively discussion.

When we talked about QPOC stuff at UCLA, there was plenty of lively disagreement–how could there not be, with so many people?  How did we manage? Oh yeah, we had safe spaces!  Unfortunately, it’s harder to do this online, and there hasn’t been enough sustained activity in the spaces that exist. But special shout out to the asexual POC tumblr and the asexual POC AVEN thread!

Dammit, I hope this post doesn’t become a hit on Google!

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
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12 Responses to Why I don’t talk about race anymore

  1. notunprepared says:

    I’m white so I’m going to leave the race stuff alone for other people to talk about, but about disagreeing? I think people within the community should speak up if they have different thoughts about something. It’s good for us. Here on the net we’re really used to having people from outside the community disagreeing about asexuality and being dicks about it. It could be really good for the community if we were to have more people who are part of the community debating things.

    I think there’s also a problem where we have an ‘image’ of every asexual thinking along the same lines and having the same thoughts about issues. We’re homogenous. Except that’s not right. There are thousands of asexuals on Tumblr alone, and we all know how big AVEN is. Every person has different opinions, if we could collectively encourage people who disagree to speak up (and then listen to them without shutting them down) the quality of discourse would increase.

    • Siggy says:

      So you also get the impression that people in the asexual community aren’t disagreeing enough? Sometimes I worry that I’m the only one who thinks so.

      Part of the problem is that when there’s a culture of people keeping disagreements to themselves, then anyone who expresses their disagreement is seen as especially critical or contrarian, even when they don’t want to make a big deal out of it.

      • ace-muslim says:

        Of course, this can link back to Queenie’s post about Tumblr culture. To what degree are people not disagreeing because they think they might be called out? I’ve seen a number of comments from sex-averse and/or aromantic aces who feel alienated by certain types of discourse but don’t feel comfortable speaking up about it.

        • I have definitely observed the Tumblr culture aspect of fearing to disagree, but I think that in the ace pockets of Tumblr, it might be related to that the ace tags have frequently been full of anti-asexual sentiment for the past several years. Now it’s mostly trolls trying to get a rise out of aces (and asexual elitists), but as recently as two years ago, it was people constructing long arguments for why the idea of asexuality is harmful to women, POC and queer people, who would yell at us for saying “sexual” (to mean “non-asexual”) and then mock asexuals for coming up with alternatives. I am really glad those times are over, but I feel like the period of time when asexual people on Tumblr openly disagreed with each other most often was probably during that time. A lot of the fear to openly disagree is due to Tumblr culture in general, but some of it might come from fear that current detractors will use the diversity of opinions among asexuals against asexuals. (example: “Asexuals can’t even decide on ONE definition of asexuality! This proves that they’re just attention-seekers.”)

      • For what it’s worth, I also feel like we could use more disagreement and argument- although, obviously, it has to be good argument, not “racism is dead” type arguments.

        In the context of race though, I feel like I can’t contribute or argue well because 1) I’m white and don’t feel like I have the background or knowledge to be helpful, and 2) even if I did have the background and knowledge to be helpful, on Tumblr that wouldn’t help, due to some of the Tumblr culture issues (basically that Tumblr requires perfection, which I assume I can’t get on racial issues because they are incredibly complicated and I don’t have the life experience to guarantee that I have perfect ideas [and I’m not sure anyone does- see the discussion about POC being used to mean “black” below, for examples that don’t involve white people]).

  2. I have generally had or seen very lively 201-level discussions whenever I have been at a Boston ace meetup.

    I think the only sort of place where we can hope for such lively discourse online at this particular part in time is probably through WordPress-style blogs. I feel pretty confident in my ability to voice disagreement and be taken seriously on blogs like this one when I have an objection; I don’t have that same confidence in Tumblr (where a post can be ignored, or dogpiled on for a minor lapse in judgment, or viciously mocked by anti-ace folks) or in forums (where a comment on a post can be ignored or easily missed).

    • Siggy says:

      In my experience, too, this basically isn’t a problem offline. If you say something wrong, or something that others disagree with, they’re not going to kick you out or ostracize you when you’re right there. Also, there are often newbies present, so we have to give at least enough leeway for the newbies.

  3. queenieofaces says:

    I…sometimes feel odd about ace PoC discussions, because a lot of the time people are saying “PoC” but they mean a very specific subset of PoC (most often Black). So they’ll say things like, “PoC are hypersexualized,” which isn’t true for all groups at all times in all contexts. Perhaps this is just me standing on the outskirts, though–being a mixed race person who has spent significant time living in Japan and studies a field that is dominated by Japanese men with the occasional white guy and the very, very infrequent white woman means that I probably have very different experiences than most people. Mostly, I feel like my experiences can’t be generalized to all Latin@ aces, let alone all aces of color, and when I see other aces of color trying to generalize their experiences, it makes me kind of uncomfortable. (Nuance: Still a thing I’m pretty much into.)

    I don’t really talk about race that much, though, ’cause A. I feel like my experiences are so specific that talking about it probably won’t help anyone and B. I feel like I’m constantly having to play catch-up to learn the “right” way to talk about race. Because despite, you know, not being white, I never learned “how” to talk about race–the majority of the race talk I heard growing up was my mum making fun of how white my dad was in Spanish. So I don’t feel like I even have the right vocabulary to talk about what I’ve experienced. Perhaps part of that gets back to the points you were making about social justice as a cryptolect.

    I also find the whole “ace activists are stealing sex-positivity from Black activists” rhetoric odd, ’cause I’m not sure I’ve seen any ace activists claiming to be the inventors of this discourse? Or even to be spear-heading the critique of sex-positivity? Perhaps I’m reading the wrong things, though.

    • ace-muslim says:

      Yeah, I haven’t seen examples of that either but I don’t spend a lot of time browsing the ace tags these days so it’s possible I missed that. I think that the asexual critique is fundamentally different from other critiques that have been made and I’m glad to see it being introduced into the discussion.

    • Siggy says:

      POC is a great term because it creates solidarity between many nonwhite peoples, but it can elide many important differences. Asian Americans have some very different problems than Black Americans (and it also depends on what part of Asia we’re talking). When we talk about problems that are specific to one ethnicity, I think it’s best to be explicit about it, the same way that it’s best to say “LGB” instead of “LGBT” when we’re not really talking about trans people.

      I think QPOC often have systematically different experiences, but that individuals may not always follow the trend. In my experience, the purpose of offline QPOC spaces (which are often specific to a certain kind of POC) is not just to focus on these systematic differences, but also just to have some sort of basis–any basis–for a community. Like with the queer Asian groups, many of us don’t face particularly extreme difficulties, but we share an interest in Asian culture, food, and stuff, and we’re just happy to see other queer asians. Online, people are primarily interested in talking about shared oppression.

      It doesn’t make sense to take credit for spearheading the critique of sex-positivity, because sex-positivity has been around since the 60s! How can anyone think they’ve spearheaded the critique in the 21st century? It looked like Peace’s examples of Black women criticizing sex-positivity were from the last few years…

      Besides, credit for critique doesn’t seem especially important. When I criticize something, a major goal is to have the critique to be replicated (or “appropriated”), and who gets credit is besides the point.

      • queenieofaces says:

        Yeah, agreed about offline QPoC spaces. I went to a mixed race queer caucus last year, and that was incredibly helpful for me, precisely BECAUSE it wasn’t focused around discussing oppression. (Especially since a lot of the people at the caucus voiced discomfort with the idea of their identities as PoC being defined by oppression, since being mixed race can mean that you might pass sometimes or all the time or none of the time, and then that can quickly turn into “real” PoC policing which spaces you’re allowed in.) I wish there were more spaces like that for aces of color, but I guess since there are so few of us who are vocal at this point, most people are focusing on pinpointing sites of oppression. I should really make an effort to put together an aces of color meet-up day in Boston, but there are so few of us that I’m not sure how well that would work at this point.

  4. iamvincentliu says:

    You know why people don’t speak up when they disagree with things? People come to attack, especially if they disagree with something that is SJ or PC.
    I sometimes get hate because I post or comment something wrong about race, and I am not male and not white. I don’t get it. I don’t identify with the POC community, but all this crazy SJ makes me identify with it more, instead of just being a “person”.

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