I’ve heard many people say that they don’t like to speak of a single asexual community, that they prefer to speak of multiple asexual communities. I disagree that this is necessary. However, I’m glad that some people take the multiple-communities perspective, because it’s one that is worth seriously considering.
There are many groups where people speak of a single community, even though this doesn’t really make sense. For instance, we recently had Bisexual Awareness Week, and I noticed this GLAAD article speaking of the “bisexual community”, as a way of referring to people who are bisexual. But there isn’t a clear bisexual community in the US, and to the extent that there are bisexual communities, most bisexuals aren’t part of them. Furthermore, this is a major component of bisexual erasure–there is a lack of social support!
Another “community” which is not really singular is the “LGBT community”. I think this idea comes from national orgs and student groups, which often at least nominally include all gender and sexual minorities. But when you leave college, you realize that there are actually quite a lot of entirely separate L, G, and T communities with very little to do with activist aspirations, and absolutely nothing to do with each other. It’s okay to speak of LGBT people as a group, but what glues those letters together is not a single community.
So, you see, when I say that it is sensible to talk of a single asexual community, that’s not a default position. I’m actually trying to say something meaningful about the state of asexuality. I’m saying that there is a single cohesive community, with enough connections to tie it all together.
The important thing to know about the asexual community is that it was dominated by AVEN for about a decade. This makes sense, given what we know about asexuality. Asexuality is an option we need, but because of extensive erasure, it’s an option we’re not permitted in most cultures. But as soon as we create a subculture where that option is permitted, it becomes a seed that grows and grows. AVEN was that seed.
So for a long time, everything was an offshoot of AVEN. For instance, there were quite a number of alternative forums, usually based on some disagreement or other with AVEN. Despite reacting against AVEN, they were still undeniably AVEN-like in their approach to asexuality. And in order to acquire new members, they had to advertise to AVENites. Even non-English communities generally borrow heavily from AVEN, as we have been finding out. Even offline meetup groups, they used to begin with people sharing their AVEN names. I can’t imagine any other meatspace group doing such a thing, unless it’s a meetup of xkcd forum-goers or something.
The one community that has been able to buck the trend is the Tumblr asexual community. Originally, Tumblr was just another offshoot, consisting mostly of people who left AVEN for various reasons. But I knew that Tumblr was really coming into its own when there appeared a lot of people who were encountering asexuality on Tumblr first, people who had never looked at the AVEN forums. Tumblr is no longer a reaction, it’s its own thing.
But it takes more than a few years for distinct communities to form. AVEN and Tumblr are still fully aware of each other, and they still maintain pretty much the same definition and conceptual understanding of asexuality and its facets. We’re still more like a community with two rooms, rather than two separate buildings entirely.
I should give a few caveats about what it means to say that there is one asexual community. That doesn’t mean we can’t also talk about multiple asexual communities, all of which are part of a larger whole. And the other thing is, the asexual community is distinct from asexual people. There are plenty of self-identifying asexuals who are not attached to any part of the asexual community, often because they prefer to lurk, or because they lost interest some time ago. Moreover, (and I know this idea is verboten in some spaces) there are some non-asexual people who are part of the community.
Lastly, there is some sensible resistance to the idea that we can generalize across the entire asexual community. Especially if you only pay attention to one part of the asexual community, you may simply not know which aspects are unique to that part of the community, and which parts are generalizable. For example, the overemphasis on asexuals who like sex is mostly a Tumblr thing. The desire for a much more precisely worded definition of “asexual” is mostly an AVEN thing. These are important cultural differences, and it is important to at least occasionally think of asexual communities as multiple rather than singular.
Nonetheless, I am unapologetic about speaking of one asexual community. The singularness of the asexual community is one of the things that makes asexuality unique, and it is one of our strongest assets.