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 for “sorry for my English” on 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.