Thoughtfully Advocating for Inclusion

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.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is an American starving artist creative type who is often mistaken for a lesbian, due to the fact that she is more-or-less engaged to a lady. She is actually panromantic, asexual, and polyamorous. She is formally trained in creative writing with a focus on non-fiction and poetry, and amateurishly designs websites. She has a blog called Prismatic Entanglements, where she mostly writes long-winded personal essays and social criticism. In her spare time, she enjoys coming up with new Pokemon strategies and never going to church.
This entry was posted in activism, Articles, Intersectionality. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Thoughtfully Advocating for Inclusion

  1. Pingback: Thoughtfully Advocating for Inclusion | Prismatic Entanglements

  2. epochryphal says:

    Mm. I would simply add, even places that are eager to have you, may be uninterested in understanding or accommodating your experiences. They may be glad to check off a letter and “have” asexual representation, but there’s no guarantee they’ll do anything else. Even if you host workshops they might not show up or get it.


    • Elizabeth says:

      Yeah, that’s totally true, and an experience I’ve had as well. For the sake of brevity and a narrow focus, I kept it out of this post. But it’s probably worth writing about that, too! Maybe I will later on.

  3. Sennkestra says:

    Some excellent advice!

    I think one tip that I’d like to add, from personal experience, is 6: Make it as easy for them as possible.

    While many organizations are interested in doing more for asexuality, they may not have the time or will to do a lot of work towards that end – which is where us asexual activists come in. If you are able to do the lion’s share of the work, organizations are much more likely to to take the steps to become more inclusive.

    For example, with many orgs, if you just show up and say “you should do more asexual themed programming!” they’ll probably respond with a “yeah, that’d be a cool idea”….and then nothing will happen because none of them know how to do asexual programming, and so it gets ignored in favor of other more familiar needs and projects.

    If, on the other hand, you can show up with a presentation and lesson plan and an available speaker and ask, “hey, I’d like to see more ace programming, and we’d be happy to do all the planning and publicity if you’d let us have a schedule slot at one of your meetings?” they’ll usually be happy to – if all they have to do is give you a date a room and a time, that doesn’t cost them much. And it benefits them by having someone else take the lead so they can take a week off!

    Similarly, if you want them to have more informational resources, it’s way more likely to succeed if you just show up with a bunch of pre-printed pamphlets in hand, or a pre-written blurb you’d like to see somewhere on their website – making it so all they have to do is let you put those brochures on a table, or so all they have to do is copy paste some text. If you just ask for more resources but leave them on their own to find and print them, it probably won’t happen.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yes, absolutely! I think maybe there’s another point hiding in your comment too, which is that it helps to have clear goals for what kind of inclusion you want from the group before you ask for anything. Of course, each group is different and will have different things they can and can’t provide, but there are also situations where you don’t know exactly what to ask for, because there are so many different things you could work on, and unless you’ve got some sort of Super Network the group probably can’t focus on all of them at once. So thinking about what kind of support you need the most and finding good ways to work towards that can help you decide how to make it as easy as possible for the group.

      It’s worth noting that a lot of my experience with local groups happened before there were pamphlets widely available, and much of what was available needed serious revision. We used to have to write our own–and still do, in a lot of cases! There aren’t yet many pamphlets geared towards therapists/violence advocates, for example, although I know some people who are working on it. So you may end up finding that the foundation for what you want doesn’t exist yet, and you’ll just have to work up to it. In that case, it can help to network with other asexual activists online. Send out emails asking around for the type of thing you’re looking for, or asking about anyone who might know. In a lot of cases there are local activists who haven’t shared the resources they’ve created that widely, or who would be willing to work with you to help create something.

      I think it’s important to remember that while, yes, you want to make it as easy as possible for whatever group you’re approaching… you also don’t have to work alone. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to do everything by yourself, but if you reach out to other activists–and friends you’ve made in the group–you can ease that burden. In many cases, whether or not you have others collaborating with you can make or break a project.

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