This post is for the Carnival of Aces. This month’s theme: Cross Community Connections.
Whenever an asexual person reaches out to engage with another community and advocate for an approach inclusive of asexuality, it’s always risky.
Reactions can range from eager acceptance, to confused tolerance, to a civil refusal to engage because it would constitute “mission creep,” to indignant outrage that anyone would dare suggest that even a small fraction of the community’s time could be spent on asexuality, to even—sometimes—outright abuse.
I’ve seen all of these and more over the past ten years. Lately, I’ve seen more success than failure.
Frequently, communities have no unified front. Different members have different reactions, and whether or not you make any headway largely depends on which people are in charge. If you get a bad response, it can sometimes be worth it to try again after the leadership changes. People do learn from their experiences, and although you can’t count on it, it’s possible that once a leader has seen membership drop due to intersectional frictions that were never addressed, they may become more willing to consider dealing with such issues.
Tenacity is important for making progress, but must be tempered with sensitivity. If leaders see you as someone who busts in like the Kool-Aid Man or pesters like a Sea Lion—someone with a pet issue trying to force the rest of the community to accept you as a member without regard for others’ boundaries—they may get defensive and become less likely to consider your points.
Sometimes their perceptions are unfair. Sometimes they want to exclude. Sometimes there are good reasons for them to do so. We should respect that decision even if we don’t understand or agree.
A thoughtful approach can make all the difference. To determine the best approach, I ask myself these five questions:
1. What are the community’s stated goals?
This can take the form of a mission statement, but some communities don’t have anything that clearly defined. Sometimes community leaders have inherited a mission statement, but want to take a different direction. Sometimes leaders have no clear goals, or don’t agree with each other. If you’re not sure about what a leader’s vision for their community is, ask them to tell you more about it. Try to find out whether their focus is broad or narrow—for example, is it just for lesbians, or is it meant to be for any “queer” person? Consider whether they are more interested in political change, providing support, or whether they just want to make friends. A support group may need to be very narrow in order for the members to feel safe enough to talk about their issues—try to find out what kind of support they provide, and what might be unwelcome. A political group may be focused on only one or two issues, and unwilling to address other issues for fear of narrowing their base.
2. Is the community inclusive?
What does the membership look like? Is it mostly white men, or is the group mixed along racial and gender lines? Does it reflect the demographic distribution of your area? This can tell you a lot about the group’s focus and outreach efforts.
If the group is an LGBT(+) group specifically, do they have any trans members? If so, approach them discreetly—make sure they know you’re their ally!—and ask how well they feel their issues have been addressed. In my experience, the level of inclusiveness an LGBT(+) group shows towards its trans members is the best indicator of how willing to address asexual members’ concerns a group will likely be.
If there are problem areas with one group, there are often other issues. If the community doesn’t have a very diverse mix, see if the leaders are interested in approaching different groups to find new members. It’s possible that they do want to have more diversity, but aren’t able to figure out where to focus their outreach to find those potential members, or how to convince them to join.
3. Are any members friendly and supportive of asexuality?
Try to get to know other members, and see if you can find any who support you. If you can, it really helps to have them backing you when you suggest that some time be devoted to inclusiveness and education about asexuality. They may even be willing to help you gauge the leaders’ attitudes towards the topic, or bring it up themselves.
4. Are you a good community member?
The more involved and supportive you are, the more they’ll see you as bringing valuable contributions to the community, and the more willing they’ll be to engage with your specific issues. If you show up to your first meeting and immediately ask that they do something just for you, they’re going to be more likely to see you as intrusive and insensitive to the rest of the community.
Of course, you may not be willing to get involved with a community that ultimately isn’t going to support you—and that’s your right! But if that’s the case, try to handle the subject delicately. Instead of bluntly asking, “Do you support asexual members?” try something like, “Would you be willing to consider devoting some time to educating members about asexuality?” Explain how others’ ignorance (or hostility) has been a barrier to your participation in the past.
5. Is it the right time?
Patience is usually better than pushiness. Consider the importance of the topic at hand. Is it emotionally heavy or time-sensitive? Don’t derail.
You may have to put up with more microaggressions, but if that’s the difference between gaining support and leaving the group, it could be worth it. If they alienate you so much that you don’t feel safe, then do leave! It’s their loss. If the leaders aren’t willing to address problem members, or able to make you feel safe enough to even bring your issue up, then that’s their failure as leaders. It’s entirely appropriate to let that failure be reflected by reduced membership count.
You don’t have to put up with hostility or hypocrisy, and calling them out is important work. Just keep in mind that focusing on your own issues while someone else has the floor can keep them from getting much-needed support, so weigh your decision carefully. If necessary, approach leaders outside of meeting times—and if you can, bring back-up! If the situation is so tense that a face-to-face conversation would be too uncomfortable, try emailing instead.
When all else fails, back off for a while. It’s not worth sapping your resources on people who just aren’t getting it. Realize that major changes take time—we’re talking years. The most productive thing you can do is try a different kind of activism in the meantime.