For a few weeks I cracked down on my PhD work and took some tentative steps back into vegan activism. I get to talk about how problematic it is that animals are considered property? I get to frame this as violence? I was so giddy I was practically jumping up and down during animal rights week in the class I’m a Teaching Assistant for. Then, on the morning that I first started writing this post, reality hit; I haven’t opened up this blog for several weeks and oh have you all been busy without me!
In thinking with this month’s Carnival of Aces topic on asexual culture, what exactly have you all been doing? What am I doing, when I jump into the discussion with a post like this?
The more writing by asexual people I read, the more I am convinced that no theory can explain exactly what asexual culture is. Following Noy Thrupkaew’s amusing refusal to define slash in “Fan/Tastic Voyage” I would say, asexuality is queer. Asexuality isn’t queer. Asexuality is about sex. Asexuality’s not about sex at all. Asexual culture lets us work out who we are. Asexual culture limits who we might become. Asexual culture is that mountain of blog posts that I need to read. Asexual culture is what happens between those posts, in the comment sections.
I have two thoughts about this and they are very much in tension.
One, isn’t it kind of amazing that the asexual community produces so much knowledge? We are a community consistently involved in our own meta-analysis and I have learned so much more from asexual people about asexuality than I have from the dozens of academic articles that I’ve read. I have no doubt that this is a culture, and a thriving and self-critical one at that!
Two, where did I get the idea that if I’m keeping up with asexual culture, that’s going to come at the expense of my knowledge of every other culture? As soon as I read about what asexual people are writing, I’m already always behind on what my fellow vegans have to say. What about my desire to learn about how disabled people think? I’ve already given up on that before I’ve even begun. I’m worried that if I were to try to keep up with every group that I’m interested in and technically a part of, my knowledge would be so shallow that I wouldn’t have anything useful or insightful to contribute. I’d be silenced by my own doubts before I speak. Someone else has probably already said it (I just haven’t read it yet). I fear I can never really be at home in asexual culture if I want to also try to be at home somewhere else too. No wonder I rarely meet other asexual vegans – who has the time to engage with both cultures in their complexity? Why does it have to be this way though? Why should I have to choose?
I often return to “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Borges in my moments of frustration like this. Borges writes a fictional story about an indefinite library that seems to go on forever. The library is ‘total’ because its books contain every possible combination of letters. Somewhere there is a book that tells a “detailed history of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, a faithful catalog of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogs, a proof of the falsity of the true catalog… the gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary upon that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, [and] the true story of your death.” But, those books are all out of reach for the exact reason that they are there – because the library is ‘total’ (and all of the other books that make them possible are in the way). The beauty of the library is also what makes it horrible.
For me, the ever increasing complexity of asexual culture is what makes it both awesome and terrifying. To use Borges’ library as metaphor, asexual culture is a self-producing library that is writing itself, but it’s always ahead of me, and I will never get to the ‘end.’ That is the power of indefinite things. There really isn’t an end.
When I think about asexual culture I imagine our many customs. We have ace rings, many of us welcome new aces with cake, and everyone knows AVEN exists. Maybe we experience asexuality very differently because I have a high sex drive and you might not have one at all, but we were both probably offered cake when we first came out online. Who chooses what counts as the constant cornerstones ‘we all know’ is definitely worth questioning (as are those ‘cornerstones’ themselves), but of interest to me right now is, what happens to the parts that don’t count? What about those blog posts that pop up once in Queenie’s Linkspams, only to disappear into the abyss of Tumblr next week?
It’s not the ideas that go around and around that scare me; if I miss them once I’ll see them again. The parts of asexual culture that I’m worried about are the ephemera, which José Muñoz is quoted in Alexis Lothian’s article “Archival Anarchies” as defining as, “all of those things that remain after a performance, a kind of evidence of what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself. It does not rest on epistemological foundations but is instead interested in following traces, glimmers, residues and specks of things.” Alexis Lothian describes ephemera in fan culture as “archived only in feelings, by the impressions they leave behind.”
Part of my inability to keep up with asexual culture has much to do with its indefinite and ephemeral qualities. There is so much, an incalculable amount, and much of it exists only as untraceable impressions on what comes to count as culture itself.
Lothian concludes on ephemera in fan culture by writing, “the appropriate archival software for these transformative ephemeral pleasures is yet to be developed – or imagined. If we want to contemplate the possibility that ephemeral conflict, online sex, and other deviant practices might function to undermine dominant sexual, gendered, racialized, and economic ways of being, both on- and offline, we must pay attention to what subcultural activist archive fevers overlook.”
In returning to asexual culture, I wonder about our future and what we might be tempted to overlook. Is Queenie on top of ephemera and has she developed an appropriate archival software in the form of Linkspams? A list can’t capture everything, but it can lead us back to those traces, glimmers, and specks, for as long as their authors want to keep them online. The otherwise overlooked is put into the spotlight.
Or, are the specks of asexual culture to be found somewhere else and by their nature will not be recorded?
I’m probably not the best person to answer complex questions about asexual culture right now. My mind’s already darting ahead, thinking about a new vegan zine that I recently submitted to. The editors of Complicating Veganism asked for intersectional opinions that complicated veganism and centered marginalized voices. I got to think about my veganism, asexuality, and disability simultaneously and am still so excited – just like I am over my crush on the academic field of Critical Animal Studies, which rejects single-issue politics “in favor of alliance politics and solidarity with other struggles against oppression and hierarchy.” Certainly some people are thinking about asexuality and other topics simultaneously; Laura’s blog posts on being asexual and Muslim and Siggy writing about asexuality and atheism come to the forefront of my mind. I’m sure there are many others. I could also do this work, and comfortably too if I wanted to write about feminism or being nonbinary trans. But why do I wince internally every time I write the word vegan on this blog?
The edges between vegan and asexual culture feel jagged and like they don’t fit together, as if they were incompatible. I’ve briefly mentioned before that we need to build better bridges because the bridges that already exist feel too fragile and the leaps too large to make. I still feel this way and worry that without intersectional activism that really makes an effort to stretch across boundaries, we will continue to fail to deal with oppression on a systemic level.
Am I stretching too far though, already assuming asexual culture is an activist culture? Do we want to learn from and in solidarity with other activist cultures?
If my optimistic assumption is correct, might being in solidarity be as simple as posting intersectional linkspams and asking other groups to do the same? I hope so, but it seems much too early to tell.
For right now, I am excited about the ephemeral and indefinite qualities of asexual culture – these qualities contribute to our thriving and self critical culture. I am deeply worried by the ways in which asexual culture could be incompatible with certain types of activism and I think there is so much more to explore here. What do you think?