Thinking of Asexual Culture as Indefinite, Ephemeral, and Sometimes Incompatible

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 politicsin 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?

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing Blizzard video games and writing fiction. They are working on a PhD in Environmental Studies where they think a lot about oppression as intersectional and impacting identities differentially. Talia has a particular fondness for asexuality, fandom, and Critical Animal Studies. Their personal blog is petuniaparty.tumblr.com
This entry was posted in activism, asexual politics, Community, Intersectionality. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Thinking of Asexual Culture as Indefinite, Ephemeral, and Sometimes Incompatible

  1. elainexe says:

    Some very good points you bring up about ephemerality. I have definitely had those feelings about keeping up with discourse, even though I read pretty much every day. I wonder, am I missing something somewhere? And, will I forget what I’ve read?
    I don’t know if I would call ace culture an activist culture. There are certainly many people who are activists, and thus there’s an environment for it. And we talk to each other. But there are a variety of reasons people come together, like validation and a feeling of community. The people who frequent The Asexual Agenda though– I think we might have a good crowd here for activism. And certainly not limited to here.

    I personally make a lot of connections between topics through Islam. The intersection between asexuality and Islam is very relevant to me. And also the treatment of animals is an important subject in Islam, though I’m not vegan. I don’t know if I could connect asexuality to the treatment of animals directly, but I wonder if it’s feasible to build double bridges. And would that even be meaningful? Would asexual-animal activism even mean anything if it’s through an intermediary? Or could I only frame it in terms of Islamic activism? I don’t know. I’m leaning towards not so meaningful, but it’s the best I’ve got for those two examples.

    • Talia says:

      Like you, I also wonder, will I forget what I’ve read? To try and mitigate this worry I take detailed and extensive notes on everything that I read that I might want to return to later, but that opens up its own host of problems (including now I have so many notes I have to make a meta-archive system for my notes that were supposed to be a personal archive to begin with).

      You bring up some good points about ace activist culture and I think I need to reflect on that some more. Perhaps I’ve gone into this assuming I’m an activist, I’ll do activist work, the people I talk to and read appear to be activists, and The Asexual Agenda looks to me like activism… but yes, for so many ace people validation and a feeling of community are why they’re here. Validation has always been a political project for me, because I need that validation for a reason (there is something wrong with our culture, not me), but many aces may not see validation that way. I’m not sure what to do with that thought. Does it mean it’s important to encourage shifting ace culture in an activist direction, or is that not useful or meaningful? Lots to think on.

      By double-bridges do you mean bridges from asexuality to animal activism and bridges from animal activism to asexuality? Because if so, those are definitely the sorts of bridges I think would be the most important. I think there really needs to be a desire to connect and learn from on both sides. I’m also doubtful of asexual-animal activism through an intermediary; I think it would have to come from inside of those communities.

      The way I connect asexuality to veganism is that we are all concerned with privilege, agency, self-determination, and oppression in different forms. Off in academia I frame asexuality as an identity people choose and animal as an identity forced on those we call animal. When I think about the strong drive for self-identification in the ace community, I think about how we can come to understand that forcing labels and treatment on other groups can be problematic, but that only works as long as we’re willing to include animals in our circle of concern (and to even see animal as an identity is a huge stretch!). That’s a very big bridge to build. I’ve yet to make these connections explicit and explore them properly in my writing on this blog and I think I spend so much time saying to myself, “why do these connections feel strange? Why do I feel uncomfortable?” instead of actually making the connections haha.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Regarding activist vs. community culture, I think they’re very intertwined in the ace community. Like, I think there is overall a sense of needing each other, needing community and harmony/friendship, and it’s almost like supporting one another becomes a form of activism in and of itself. A lot of people are not necessarily in the ace community to do activism themselves—or at least activities traditionally coded as activism—but will definitely contribute their support and thoughts to those who are more willling/able to be on the “front lines” of ace activism. There’s a lot of “you could do [x] better” and whether or not people listen to that is the problem. Then there’s also the issue of almost being forced to do at least some educational activism if you want to be out to anyone at all. That leads to a lot of average aces who may not be that interested in activism generally doing that sort of… micro-activism?… work—and often not in an ideal way, so lots of isms get perpetuated by people who aren’t really interested in large-scale activism, and are not keeping up with blog posts that explain why saying such-and-such is harmful, etc.

        It’s definitely hard to keep up! I tend to go through phases of focusing intensely on the ace community discussions, and then backing off and focusing on something else (because yeah, can’t do all of it at once—but I will say though that it’s even harder to keep up with other communities), and it’s always hard to catch back up when I come back to it—which means I have to focus on it a lot again. Especially when so much of happens on tumblr, which is very prone to link-rot. So much of it really does feel ephemeral, but I’ve sort of tried to make peace with the fact that I’m just one person, I can’t be everywhere at once. There’s always going to be something that I miss. But hopefully, others will eventually draw it to my attention, or the key points in those discussions will come up again. It often feels like our discussions are cyclical because there are so many of them that they have to be repeated every so often.

        I often forget things I’ve written about before, or become better-educated and then change my mind about them. There are plenty of isms I’ve unwittingly perpetuated, and a lot of my early writing was pretty muddled—I was basically just thinking through things more so than coming to solid conclusions (even though my style of following things logically all the way to wherever tends to come across as “this is what I think and I’m committed to it” instead). So like… I don’t care if people don’t really link to such old discussions? If specific discussions are ephemeral and forgotten, I’m fine with it. If anything, I get more concerned when really old posts get linked around, and worry that outdated ways of thinking are poisoning current discussions. Most of it is better off fading to make room for better versions of those discussions. The key ideas, the things that touch a nerve, tend to stick around or get rediscovered later. So… that’s why I tend not to be worried about ephemerality so much.

        I’m interested in reading about your ideas connecting asexuality and veganism. I’ve never understood why people make such a separation between human and animal, because humans are animals. So I always try to make a point of saying “other animals” instead. A lot of that kind of human-vs.-animal rhetoric strikes me as very anti-evolution, which obviously I’m against. I think all of these different kinds of activism are and should all be connected—otherwise, do we make progress at the expense of others? But maybe part of why it feels so strange to connect them is that common idea that each cause must compete with other causes. Time is limited, so we can only each focus on a few at a time, but that doesn’t mean that focusing on one comes at another’s expense—there are other people to fill in. Doing activism for one thing that’s also informed by another kind of activism is a really good thing overall, I think.

      • elainexe says:

        Oh, I was thinking two bridges with a layover at Islam Isle in the middle ^^; But yeah, your conception there would be ideal, with two-way bridges.

        I didn’t consider those types of connections as you have with asexuality/veganism.
        Probably because when I think of communities working together I often think of intersectionality. Like, I’m an asexual Muslim. There are things that impact me that hit both of those identities. But for something like asexuality and animal activism, I have to go about it differently as a human rather than animal (though “human” being separated from animal is certainly something to question too). It’s like….privilege, agency, etc.–it’s an appeal to higher concepts, fundamental concepts found running through asexual and animal activism, and other activisms. And I think that’s the kind of feeling I have connecting things through Islam, which is often concerned with social justice.
        Perhaps we can consider there are multiple types of bridges to build. Bridges build around dismantling kyriarchy, and bridges concerned with more specific intersections. Like a spider web of bridges….some might be built towards the center to fight all oppression, and some might be part of the spiral, connecting individual things.

        • Talia says:

          Elizabeth: I really like this idea of supporting one another as a form of activism. I once came across a blog whose sole purpose was to support vegans because they said so many other people do activism to make people vegan – what about people that already are? I agree that this isn’t traditionally coded as activism. I wonder here what definition of activism I’m mentally referring to when I write this…

          Your point that aces are forced in some way to do educational activism every time they come out really resonates with me. I think this is what I meant when I thought of the ace community as overtly activist – because we are all called on to be activists and to represent, whether we are ready to or not, and whether we want to or not. There is so much bound up in this. When I come out to people, I often find myself having to re-educate them about asexuality, explain how complex it really is, and undo all of that micro-activism that came before, that often ended up reducing asexuality to behaviour. Usually I just put all my energy into not being frustrated. Do you know of anyone who has written about this topic? I want to do some more thinking about it.

          The discussions definitely feel cyclical. I was thinking of this when I wrote the blog post, specifically because every once in a while sex-favorable asexuality becomes very popular and I feel personally invested in that topic (which happened right before I wrote this post). I was going to make a list of all of the cyclical topics, because that would be interesting to keep track of, but I didn’t have the time to for this blog post. Perhaps a future project: documenting asexual community trends.

          I also like your idea of thinking of ephemerality as “most of it is better off fading to make room for better versions of those discussions.” I think I’m so concerned about my own always-becoming failure to keep up with ace culture that I’m not recognizing how ephermerality may be useful in the bigger picture.

          I’ll let my ideas about veganism and asexuality mull a bit, but I’m sure I’ll post about them here eventually. The human/animal separation that so often infiltrates our language and culture bothers me a lot too! Sometimes I say other animals and sometimes I say nonhuman animals. I’m reading Jacques Derrida right now, who has this huge problem with the term animal, but he doesn’t offer a satisfactory alternative. Still, Derrida has this beautiful way of thinking about humans and other animals as not necessarily the same (because we are different), but not so different that humans are one thing, completely separate from all other animals (because that’s not true either). I think the biggest problem with my blog post connecting veganism to asexuality will be all my rambling; I get excited and side tracked very quickly with academic jargon and abstraction. I’m still learning how to convert that to blog-style thoughts. Following that habit, to build on your idea that we often feel like causes must compete with each other, I often think of the following quote by Cary Wolfe: “for what does it mean when the aspiration of human freedom, extended to all, regardless of race or class or gender, has at is material condition of possibility absolute control over the lives of nonhuman others?” And I definitely agree with your thoughts about doing activism that does not come at another’s expense and is informed by others 🙂

          elainexe: Yes, you’re right, that animal activism works differently in intersectionality than asexuality and Islam do. Maybe that’s why the edges between asexuality and veganism feel jagged to me, when they don’t between asexuality and transgender (because I am both of the latter, and thus am advocating from the inside, for myself). That is one of the fascinating cruxes of animal advocacy though – how do we advocate for nonhuman animals without speaking for them? Animal rights rarely recognizes this question as important (they like to speak for animals), but some feminists and ethologists do.

          I absolutely love the idea of a spider web of bridges. That’s really beautiful.

        • queenieofaces says:

          I just wanted to say I love the image of spider webs of bridges, oh my gosh. That’s a beautiful way to think about it.

  2. Mxtrmeike13 says:

    Reblogged this on Genderweird and commented:
    Fantastic read! Seriously, check it out.

  3. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    As one who’s been reading ace-related stuff for internet-ages (more than four years), I’d say, I do forget stuff. I’m sometimes surprised about some blog post I wrote a couple years ago. I’ve given up on keeping up with everything – Facebook already is a Library of Babel, let alone twitter and Tumblr.
    There are vibes that remain, thoughts and ideas that linger, but I couldn’t tell you for my life where I found them first. Ephemera indeed.
    Also, as both a blogger and offline activist: Sometimes the offline activism gets difficult for the exact reasons you named. Imagine three asexuals at an info booth in Germany. If someone asks them a 201 question – like any kind of discussion of nomenclature – you will have three different answers depending on the resources the asexual has consulted, and how well the ace in question knows English.

  4. queenieofaces says:

    It’s funny how a lot of people seem to be thinking of me as some kind of asexual archivist–I definitely didn’t intend to fill that role, but it seems like a lot of people look to my linkspams for that. (Also, I have come to realize that I have a VERY good memory.) I think, to some extent, the culture of linking keeps things from dying–if I like to someone, you can follow that link back to the post which will then link to three more posts which will then link to two more posts which will…and so on. So I think, at least among the more referential bloggers, these things won’t die. The ones I worry about are the bloggers who never refer to anyone else and write as though they are the first and only ace blogger in existence; they’re the ones who are most likely to miss or forget things, I think.
    …that said I totally have an initiative to get people to be more aware of asexual history and pre-existing asexual discourse that I will be unveiling…soon, hopefully.

    Also, side note, I know a ton of asexual vegans and vegetarians, including some who blog about it quite frequently (Sara of The Notes Which Do Not Fit is the first one who comes to mind). Maybe we’re hanging out in different spheres?

    • Talia says:

      My brain was stuck on your Linkspams (I’m really theoretically excited about them as a meaningful archive in practice in case it wasn’t clear haha) so I hadn’t even extended my thoughts to all of the linking that goes on within posts. I like the idea that the culture of linking keeps things from dying, but I’m sure only things that we find worth referring to – and maybe it’s okay to let the other stuff fade away if no one wants to keep talking about it. I also worry about ace bloggers who don’t refer to anyone else. Ages ago when I used to just blog about veganism, this was certainly me, and since then I’ve always been haunted by the fear of sliding back. Oh and that sounds like a very exciting initiative! If you want any help with it let me know. I very much look forward to seeing the unveiling.

      Yes, I think we are in different spheres. Now I’m doing some thinking about what my sphere actually is haha. If you can think of any other out asexual vegans and vegetarians off the top of your head let me know. I’d enjoy looking them up to compare notes 🙂

  5. Pingback: April 2015 Carnival of Aces Masterpost: An Asexual Culture? | Asexuals involved in BDSM

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