The discrepancies between our community’s self-perception and our international make up

The following is a guest post by Tristifere, aka Ace in Translation, who lives in the Netherlands, and has a tumblr and blog that you can follow!

I want to talk about how we think and talk about this agglomeration of online Anglophone communities and the differences between the international character of these communities and how we perceive ourselves (exclusively American/Anglophone). Though the discussion as contextualized by Katie and, to a large extent, by me, has been mostly about the interaction of the Anglophone communities with other language communities, or to how aces operate in different cultural settings, you cannot reduce the issue to that dynamic alone. We do have a tendency to place the experiences of non-native speakers as a phenomenon that’s happening outside of our community. But that is not the case at all. This is something that also plays out within the Anglophone communities. So this post will be concerned with the discrepancy between how we perceive our own communities to be – and how that affects our discourse – and how our communities are actually being used by non-native speakers of English.

I. What do I mean when I say the Anglophone communities are international?

Short answer: the Anglophone communities aren’t just comprised of people from Anglophone countries.

Long answer: though the majority of our community might hail from Anglophone countries, non-native speakers of English are part of this community – always have been – and that isn’t going to change in the future. While people from all over the world use the Anglophone communities, some nationalities are better represented than others. If you take a look at the recent publication of the visitor statistics of The Asexual Agenda, you’ll notice the following trends: the visits are mostly from countries with high proficiency rates in English, and by and large from countries whose international orientation is Americentric. The combination of these two dynamics explains why relatively small countries like Austria, Iceland and the Netherlands show up this high in the visitor statistics. I suspect AVEN membership statistics show the same bias.

So that’s who “we” are. But how do “we” use the Anglophone communities? We are supporting this community by running advice blogs, modding on AVEN, participating in in depth discussions; we help build and maintain these communities. On the other side of the coin, we needthese Anglophone communities as well, because we often don’t know where else to go. Just searching forsorry for my Englishon some major Tumblr advice blogs turns up the tip of the iceberg of non-native speakers accessing Anglophone resources. This is due to the relative invisibility of asexual communities and resources in our native language, or even the complete lack of of resources and communities. Anglophone discourse and resources are far more developed and far more visible than in any other language. So if you’re able to understand English, it’s very likely that you’ll turn to the Anglophone communities for your asexy needs.

One answer to this situation is to build communities in our native languages. And this is absolutely part of what we need to do (it is vital), but that doesn’t reduce the role the Anglophone communities are going to play for non-native speakers. Thinking we will quietly disappear when there are enough resources in our native tongues relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the English language and the Anglophone internet is used by non-native speakers.

More often than not, we find and access information first on the Anglophone internet. This ties into what Katie already wrote about the internet infrastructure being monopolized by Anglophone/American websites. This is very important to keep in mind, because that means the Anglophone asexual communities will remain the first port of call for many non-native speakers. Furthermore, you’re dealing with a dynamic in which the Anglophone communities (at the moment) are far better organized and more widespread, which gives it more credibility – and that’s not even taking into account that if something is written in English, it’s regarded as more authoritative. So even if the resources are available in multiple languages (and that isn’t the case for so many subjects), people are very likely to find us first, and on top of that are susceptible to think us more credible than resources in their native language.

The last, but very important thing that makes the Anglophone communities international is that English is the lingua franca of the world: if we want to organize international activism, exchange experiences, and create an international dialogue, English and Anglophone communities are going to play a vital role in facilitating this.

II. What do I mean when I say we perceive ourselves as exclusively American/Anglophone?

The falsehood of the universality of the American experience is already touched upon by Katie, but that won’t stop me from ramming it home that at the moment, we are explicitly presenting ourselves as an American movement. To illustrate this, I want to talk about the International Asexuality Conference in Toronto, and specifically about the Leadership Q&A panel. The reason for this is because it turns out to be a very good representation of what the average discourse in the Anglophone communities looks like. So instead of talking about our Americentrism in vague terms, I’m going to use this as a concrete example.

What can one reasonably expect when something is advertised as a leadership panel at an international conference? I’d expect a balanced panel that is representative in the nationalities of the panelists and which represents the issues from an international perspective.

Let’s first talk about the image we presented of ourselves just by the way the panel was organized. All three panelists turn out to be American. While I get why you’d invite these three panelists, it’s clear no one ever thought about how they were going to talk about international issues – at, you know, an international conference – if they were all limited to their own American experience. In the wider context of the conference, the image of Americentrism becomes even clearer. There were panelists and activists from many different nationalities present at that conference, so it was not an impossibility to ensure a more international perspective in the Leadership panel. And while three Americans are presented as “leaders of the community”, the rest of the world is put into a different panel called “Asexuality outside the English Language World”. That image is analogous to how many of us see our communities. Who are the in-crowd and the leaders: Americans (and to a lesser extent other Anglophones), who are outside: non-native speakers of English.

If you watch the video that has been put online (go on! The panelists are very engaging and talk about very interesting things), you’ll notice that, while they’ve done amazing community work, the panelists cannot adequately represent the international community with just the three of them. If you count how many concrete examples of resources or activism are applicable to people living outside the USA, you’re going to be very disappointed. If you’re looking for examples of activism or resources outside the Anglophone world, you’re not going to get anything.

Many great topics are touched upon – topics which are important to people all over the world – but as soon as topics are discussed more in depth, it is exclusively from an American perspective. Available resources for teens and their parents? Of all the great alliances and resources mentioned, the only ones available outside the USA are AVEN and the folders on the AAW website (and – if you’re able to ship it to your country – Ivy’s book). Making progress with inclusion in LGBT organizations? Good for you, but that’s not the reality for many of us outside the USA. The problem with the way these issues are discussed, is that the perspective given is treated as universal, instead of USA-specific. This is emblematic of Anglophone discourse at large. We’re constantly lying to ourselves by omission: whether that’s about the supposed universality of how we experience our sexuality, the perceived universal accessibility of the resources created or the assumed universal progress in ace visibility and activism. We are lying to ourselves if we pretend that what is happening in the USA is happening in the rest of the world as well.

There actually was a question on the panel (20:50 onwards) about asexuality on an international level, but the discussion that followed failed to address the complexity of this issue, and places the issue outside of our own communities. It was said that none of the panelists feel qualified to talk about this, as things must be very different in non-western countries. The immediate jump from a question about internationality – which encompasses all countries – towards a western vs. non western contrast, shows the underlying assumption to be that all western countries have a 100% overlap with the American experience, while the non western countries are always fundamentally different. This kind of thinking positions non-western asexual perspectives as the unknown, mysterious Other, while all the western perspectives are treated as a known quantity. Neither of which is a faithful representation of what’s going on. Furthermore, the non-western experience is at points conflated with the Anglophone POC experience, but just because you share a skin color doesn’t mean you share an experience. These assumptions and conflations don’t do justice to any of us. We must separate these issues.

III. Our self perception has to change

This huge discrepancy between what we think about our communities and the actual make-up of our communities needs to be addressed. English as a language has an enormous reach, and through that simple fact Anglophone communities will continue to be international and reach beyond the Anglophone world.

This means, most immediately, making room for more international voices and stop assuming the American/Anglophone experience is universal. I am very excited by the discussions on The Asexual Agenda and the call for international perspectives. I hope this will inspire more non-native speakers of English to share their perspectives with the Anglophone communities.

Secondly, I hope a more head on approach to the international character of our communities will open up more possibilities for international cooperation and exchange of experiences with activism. From a European perspective, I honestly can’t wait for a network of activists to start working on ace issues on a European level, or for aces to become involved in EU-wide LGBT organizations (after all, why fight the same battle 28 times, if you might get things done in one go). We have a wonderful and powerful tool in our international community for supporting each other, setting up projects that cross borders and generally sharing experiences on how to get things done, yet we’re hardly making use of it.

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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11 Responses to The discrepancies between our community’s self-perception and our international make up

  1. Arrela says:

    Yes, good. All of this. All of it. (Well, maybe apart from the EU-thing, I am a stereotypically EU-skeptical Norwegian.) I’m impressed by your ability to talk about this so fairly, I always just get so angry. Which is unfair of me, for I am rarely angry with any individual American, just at the system that awards Americans some kind of – privilege, almost, online, and at how unaware of it they generally are.

    • Ace in Translation says:

      I get the frustration (because of my own frustration, it took me quite a while to get the right tone for some parts of the post. I didn’t want to go j’accuse! and point fingers, but instead wanted to show what our community tends to do quite unconsciously).

      But honestly, I’m just as frustrated by non-native speakers not speaking up as I am by Americans/Anglophones who are oblivious to how the community tends to ignore part of the community. How are people supposed to know if you’re not talking about it?
      All the reactions I’ve gotten, as well as the reactions to Katie’s post, have been nothing but postive. People are willing to listen, so we have to be willing to talk as well.

  2. tschellufjek says:

    You don’t have to be in favour of the EU to appreciate the great cultural exchange happening within the EU thanks to the abolition of borders. It is especially a big chance for no matter what sort of activism.
    The anglophone dominance on the internet is not willfully imposed by English speakers. It’s just the consequence of their advance in the new technologies. It’s up to the native speakers of other languages to help progressing their countries in this issue. As Tristifere points out, the anglophone asexual community is a good starting point to get a multitude of informations and ideas and every non-native speaker who understands English is automatically part of the anglophone community. This is not negative at all as long as we manage to support our non-English speaking communities.

    • Ace in Translation says:

      Exactly, international and European wide activism is already a fact for other orientations (see organisations like ILGA), and proves to be highly beneficial. We can use the organisation and structures that are in place to our own benefit – regardless of whether or not you politically agree with those structures existing. Things like job protection for lgb people would not be in place in some EU-member states except for the Treaty of Amsterdam.

  3. Aqua says:

    I’ve observed that it may be kind of a catch-22 to try and expand resources in other languages. I remember on AVEN, I met someone who said that they were originally from one of the alt-lang boards, but switched over to the English board, because there are a lot more resources in English. They may have been far from the only one to do that. I’ve also met many others from countries that don’t have an asexual community in their native language.

    I wonder how many feel discouraged by the near, or complete lack of resources in their native languages, and feel like it’s much easier to exclusively stay in the Anglophone community? What can we do to help break that cycle?

    • Ace in Translation says:

      What you’ve just described is pretty much my situation. It’s not that I don’t like the Dutch AVEN, it’s just that it’s small, has little activity and the discussions aren’t that interesting to me. So I hang out in the Anglophone communities – all the while feeling guilty that I’m contributing to the problem of the Dutch community being small with few resources and little discourse.
      This is a catch-22, and there is no easy fix. It takes people who actively sit their ass down and start addressing the lack of resources and community in their native language (giving myself a pep talk here).

      I think the way to make it easier for people who are interested in creating resources and building communities in their native language to do so. So that would need things like making sure that they are able to find (1) eachother as well as (2) find information/tips on how to do activism/resource creation. My experience is that I do want to do something, but I’m pretty quickly discouraged because it’s just me (other Dutchies where are yooouuu!), and there’s so much that needs to be done (and half the time, I have no idea what I’m doing). Right now, I’ve started a WordPress blog and listen to the echo when I write in Dutch, hoping that it might set off something of a more indepth discussion of ace issues in Dutch. But I want to do more – I have plenty more ideas (just soooo little time). But I can’t do this alone, and I’m sure there are others thinking the exact same thing. I think the trick is to find a way to mobilize all the people who want to do something, but just don’t know how.

      So yeah, pooling information about how to do activism and how to create resources will help people who don’t know what they could do themselves (where do you start? how to make the best use of your own skills? how to identify what you and your native community needs, etc.) . And it helps connect you to others who are doing similar projects, even if it’s in a different language. So: instant support! Will be less discouraging!

      Another point would be a way to make it easier to locate people of the same nationality who are also interested in whatever project you plan to do. Right now, non-native communities are fragmented. One part is in the native-speaking community, the other part is largely invisible and stays in the Anglophone communities. Only a tiny fraction of people are active in both communities. So even if there are people enthusiastic about creating resources in their native language, there is the barrier in place that makes it hard to find others who are interested in helping out.

      • I don’t want to derail this thread onto an unrelated topic, but this particular discussion reminds me so much of my attempts to find other asexual Muslims. I think to some degree it is true of any small demographic group; since the asexual community itself is so small, some of the sub-groups are barely sustainable. There should actually be a large number of asexual Muslims out there, mostly living in Muslim-majority countries, but I have no idea how to locate them. The issues of language and cultural imperialism will eventually come up but I don’t think we’re even to that point yet. In the meantime, I post what I can and hope that others may find it and gain benefit from it.

    • Ekats says:

      I felt I should reply since I experienced something similar. I’m not a native English speaker, but I have had the opportunity to spend some time in the UK when I was younger, it’s something like a second native language for me. I research everything in English (I even google my symptoms in English xD), so naturally I came across the Anglophone ace community first.
      But then I came out to a friend who is not so proficient in English, so I looked up my ‘other native’ community to link her to some resources, and I was shocked how spectacularly it failed at conveying the richness and diversity of the asexual experience. It’s mostly asexuality 101 and an advice forum. Close to nothing on aromanticism (being aromantic, this is important for me). No research papers in that language, obviously. Articles in the press are also limited to ‘Hey look, these folks do relationships too but without The Sex!’
      Consequently, I still struggle to get my friend to really understand.
      That community does provide some level of support for people who are questioning their orientation, but doesn’t go beyond that, and ultimately fails to meet the needs of ‘established’ aces. To get in-depth articles and discussions about topics I’m really interested in (say, QP relationships, gender, compulsory sexuality, intersections between asexuality and this and that, and lots of other stuff), I can only ever count on the Anglophone community.

      I can see a few possible reasons for this:
      1) A lot less people contributing. This is an obvious one. Compare US + Canada + UK&Ireland + Australia + all the non-native members to just one small country.
      2) The country may be more conservative in some ways. For example, in my country (well, one of ‘my countries’), the whole gender-as-a-spectrum view isn’t really a thing, so discussions about, say, gender fluidity are just less likely to happen because of how people’s world-view is shaped. Same goes for non-normative relationship models.
      3) We have to keep in mind that a lot of the native communities are ‘babies’ compared to the Anglophone one that has had over a decade to mature. Think about what Aven was/might have been like in 2006 (I don’t even know really, I wasn’t around at the time :D).

      Long story short, I don’t really have answers to your questions, but factors 2 and 3 may be important to think about. Perhaps we just need to give it a few years. I’m inclined to think that we can only do so much to speed up the growth of a community, much like you can’t very well expect a child to act like an adult.

      (Tl;dr, I know. Sorry.)

  4. Pingback: Linkspam 1 | tschellufjek

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Oddly enough, even as a native English speaking American I’ve been frustrated with the lack of resources in other languages, too. I really want to learn how to talk about asexuality in other languages, and also use discussions about asexuality in other languages to learn them myself, for those I’m less proficient in. For a long time I’ve felt frustrated by the lack of any translations beyond the most basic ideas about what asexuality is, because it means I can’t communicate with my non-native friends about it in any way that is accurate and deep. So instead, I end up being assumed to be straight (since nobody assumes I’d be partnered to a woman, much less non-exclusively so), and if I try to correct that assumption, I have no accurate way to do it. A couple of times, I’ve tried to engage non-native English speaking asexuals in their own native language, but the conversation ended up going right back to English instead, for understandable reasons.

    What I think would really help encourage international growth is the establishment of some sort of organized translation project, including both foreign-language native speakers and native English speakers who can also speak other languages. I’d envision it as a web site with blogs in various languages showcasing finished translations on the front pages (the most important resources can be stickied to the top), integrated with a forum where people can go to post their translations for corrections and discussions of how best to translate difficult concepts. Then, people can work together to make blog posts in English on translation difficulties and cultural issues that affect their communities to make them more well-known in the Anglophone asexual communities, and make it more genuinely international.

    Just having a specific place where people can go to find and build resources for their own communities, that the Anglophone asexual communities actually know exists and could direct people to consistently, would really help a lot. It clearly doesn’t work to just stick some foreign language stuff on AVEN, and the sites outside of AVEN seem to be too scattered and unknown to really gain traction. So it seems like to me, the best option would be to build some sort of place specifically to become a portal from the Anglophone communities to those of every other language… and possibly even vice versa. Outsourcing some of the translation work to native English speakers trying to learn would also help take some of the burden off of the native speakers, who could then just focus on correcting translations some of the time instead of doing everything all on their own.

    Obviously, the problem with this idea is that it would take a significant amount of time, work, money to pay for website upkeep, contributors, and people with leadership/management/networking/web design skills in order to make it successful. Do we have those kinds of resources at present? I don’t know, but I really look forward to the day that we do!

  6. Isaac says:

    Not only the English asexual resources are wider and deeper than Spanish ones. When I looked for information about asexuality, the few Spanish resources, especially those not written by asexuals, made major mistakes. It’s not that one trust what in written in English in the same way some centuries ago people trusted more what was written in Latin, but that one naturally distrust a source with major mistakes, thinking “if it’s wrong in what I know, it’s probably wrong in what I don’t know.” Apart of this, it happened that the administration of AVENes was vacant when I decided to enter the asexual community and my account was kept unapproved for months. This contributed to my initial bias toward English-language community, but I wanted to fix the because of that I started blogging in Spanish. Nowadays the situation of the Spanish-language community has changed, and there are more resources in our language, including some not taken from English, thanks to the work of a few volunteers from AVENes.

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