What price visibility?

In recent weeks, I’ve been involved in discussions over three different incidents of asexual community drama. First there was MAAPLE accepting support from UKIP. Then there was The Advocate’s #21AceStories series (while most of the commentary on this focused on the shortcomings of the author, who is not ace, a number of aces critiqued some of the statements made by aces who participated in the series). Most recently there’s the AVEN copyright saga.

What these three incidents have in common is that a group of aces (MAAPLE, the ace participants in #21AceStories, and members of AVEN’s World Watch forum, respectively) engaged in an activity intended to increase visibility of asexuality, but were called out for harming, or potentially creating an opportunity for harm to, other aces.

In the MAAPLE drama, the potential harm was to aces who are Muslim, Jewish, people of color, or of immigrant origin, all groups that have been targeted by UKIP. In #21AceStories, the ace participants were felt to present views harmful to aromantic and sex-averse aces. As for AVEN, while a wide range of individual bloggers had their copyrights violated, in some cases on very personal posts they were not comfortable having treated as “educational resources”, the most chilling effect is likely to be on ace survivors of sexual violence and others who post on highly sensitive topics or who write pseudonymously to protect their privacy or safety, who may no longer feel comfortable sharing their stories online when they can’t control how they’re shared.

It’s not a coincidence that these visibility actions ended up harming, or having the potential to harm, some of the most vulnerable aces in our community, or those who face stigma or marginalization in the larger society. In visibility work, there is immense pressure to present an unassailable image of asexuality. Aces whose stories don’t fit a particular narrative, or whose lives or identities complicate simplistic assumptions, are likely to be sidelined in visibility work. Much has already been written on this topic, so I won’t focus on it further here.

Both the MAAPLE and AVEN sagas are distinctive in featuring organized asexual groups or communities who were directly presented with critiques from individual aces about their actions, and who responded in ways that were felt to be insensitive.

In the case of MAAPLE, its representatives seemed more concerned about or fearful of a backlash from UKIP than about how aces targeted by UKIP would feel about the association, nor did they at any time feel they needed to do any damage control with these aces or their communities.

In the case of AVEN, those involved in the World Watch archiving project both failed to address specific critiques that were made and also gave the impression that they see the personal blogs of other aces as mere fodder for their project.

In both cases, one can easily get the impression that the aim of visibility is more important than the feelings of other aces. Even when told their actions were harmful, these groups failed to even acknowledge the validity of the criticism, nor did they express any real remorse, instead defending their actions on the grounds that their ultimate goal is to benefit asexual communities.

Is visibility worth it when we have to hide some aces away? Is greater acceptance in society really a benefit when only some aces are actually accepted? Do the ends justify the means when we associate with noxious groups along the way? Is publicity worth it when we stomp on the feelings of other community members to achieve it?

Who is left out by our actions? Who is silenced? Who have we hurt? Do we care?

That these three incidents all occurred within the space of a month suggests that asexual communities would do well to rethink the very foundations of how we do visibility work. The potential for harm will only increase the larger our community grows and the more we advance.

About Laura (ace-muslim)

Laura is an aromantic asexual, queer-identified, and a Muslim. She lives in the U.S., works in online tech support, and volunteers for a Muslim anti-racism organization. She blogs about asexuality, queer Muslim issues, and other topics at http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com and has written on asexuality for a number of Muslim sites.
This entry was posted in activism, Articles, asexual politics, Community. Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to What price visibility?

  1. Mxtrmeike13 says:

    Wow, I stop going on AVEN and reading The Advocate and look what happens…sheesh. If we can’t learn from other communities making the same or similar mistakes, what’s even the point of increasing visibility? I’d rather talk to every individual I meet in life and make sure I’m creating visibility that includes me than have these sorts of issues occur.

  2. elainexe says:

    Aces as a whole…are a very large group of people. There are so many people new to asexuality, and people who aren’t so invested in self-education/improvement, that I’m pretty sure these problems will exist in individual aces no matter what. So to minimize the problems, we would need to look at things at a more structural level.
    I’m reminded of Coyote’s Discussion Bubbles post. Aces are not united and not always so connected to each other. Individual groups can set their own policies. Of course as we’ve seen not all groups have good policies. And not everyone is part of a group.
    We have no higher authority structrue to unite all aces. Internal community problems have happened before, and….I don’t really remember much resolution. Perhaps because bad times are more memorable in general, or perhaps because I’m never close enough to these problems to see the resolution, I dont’ know. I don’t see ace community monarchies happening any time soon though, so the next most uniting thing would be intergroup diplomats. Or the ace UN. But that still takes some kind of authority.
    If we in different parts of the ace community came together and talked on some good community policies…well, it still would probably leave some people out. All of acedom can’t fit into one discussion.
    …I’m really not much of an organizer ._. Perhaps I’m just thinking too big here.
    But this is all internal. What about external?
    Though we may not have an all mighty ace government, the media always seems to go to AVEN like it’s the only thing out there. Is it worth it to invest in AVEN? (I mean, it’s not just a forum right? There’s other stuff on the site.) Can we work with David Jay or whoever else talks to the media to help shape our media image?
    Of course in the case of #21AceStories….people came to the author rather than the other way around. Community structures wouldn’t help the same way there. I really don’t know how I would prevent that.

    • elainexe says:

      Oops, forgot to add the link for Discussion Bubbles.

      • Yeah, I think the post about discussion bubbles is really relevant. One thing that’s become clear from the AVEN copyright saga, if it wasn’t before, is that AVEN can be very parochial, as Siggy put it. Although there are discussion bubbles on Tumblr, they don’t seem to take it as far as AVEN does.

        I don’t yet have any real ideas for structural solutions except to keep talking about the issues publicly and hoping that people will get the message to at least not be assholes to other aces.

        • Siggy says:

          That’s funny, because I remember thinking, in response to the Discussion Bubbles post, why are we worrying about all these tumblr bubbles, when the AVEN-Tumblr disconnect is much much larger? If we’re worried that a lot of people just have no awareness of advanced ace discussions, ace advice tumblrs are just small fries. AVENites just don’t click on external links very often. I’ve known that for years.

          When all you have is a forum, everything looks like it should be on a forum. There are all these cool things being written, maybe we can read them on our forum. We need a history archive, let’s put it on our forum. Some people have disagreements AVEN, let them launch an alternative forum. People outside AVEN are angry at us, let’s ask them to complain on our forum. I’m so done with forums!

          • Elizabeth says:

            And I just got a response that was pretty much “go start your own forum!” Which… I did. And it’s entirely beside the point, because what I’m talking about is the public contents of the RFAS website. *SIGH*

          • Sennkestra says:

            To be honest, I think there’s also a lot of disconnect because the Tumblr is full of extremely internet-savvy and well connected people who use lots of social networks, whereas AVEN is…much more varied. Like, we have people on AVEN who need help figuring out how to register because they can just barely use email. There are a lot of people for whom posting on AVEN is one of the first things they do as they’re first learning how to connect with people on the internet. There are many people for whom AVEN is the only way they ever connect with other people online – no facebook, no twitter, none of that stuff.

            The thing about things like joining tumblr or making RSS feeds of ace blogs or whatever is that these all require being very technically savvy, and also well informed about how to find good blogs and seperate active from dead, reliable from unreliable, etc. – and not everyone is. AVEN’s forum set up may not be the best for everyone (I’m just not a huge forum fan), but it’s contained and pretty straightforward format makes it very accessible for internet newbies or people who just don’t use social media or online communities much. Tumblr, on the other hand, is hella inaccessible to even many experienced internet users, and it takes a week or two of using to figure out what you’re even supposed to do with it. And other ace orgs don’t host their own communities, or don’t have active ones.

            And therefore,I think some parts of the more internet-savvy parts of the ace community can be kind of…overly harsh on AVEN members. Like, yes, the mods should know better, but many of the individual users who have posted full articles or who don’t understand why everyone is so upset aren’t just callous and selfish, they’re just not immersed in blogging culture 24-7 so they don’t know the expected norms. Like, I didn’t know that caring about linking and pageviews and shares were a thing until I’d been involved in internet communities for years.

            So in some ways AVEN is actually more varied than other communities, which are often all about younger, savvy internet addicts who know how to use tumblr and find blogs and all that. But AVEN is much more accessible and welcoming to people who don’t fit into that demographic, and I think it would be good for other parts of the community to remember that sometimes.

          • I appreciate the points Sennkestra made in their comment. However, at this point, the problem isn’t just a culture clash between Tumblr and AVEN, it’s that many bloggers have explained their concerns at AVEN, often at great length, and the response from World Watch forum members has been defensive and dismissive. It’s one thing to not know. It’s another to refuse to learn when someone tells you better. Right now, the impression many of us are getting from World Watch is that they are refusing to learn.

        • Elana says:

          I find it really interesting that AVEN would have more people who have trouble navigating the internet, because I tried to explore it at one point and found it really confusing. Blogs are a pretty easy format to at least read.

          • Sennkestra says:

            I think part of it is that a lot of people end up on AVEN because you can find it without a lot of google-fu skills – for example, from a link in a newspaper article (which does go back to how getting other resources mentioned could be useful). Also, if you mostly want to just talk to people, blogs aren’t really interactive enough, and it updates more often than individual blogs. I think it largely comes down to different formats suiting different types of people.

    • The North American Asexuality Conference was a bit of what you’re describing there. It was a bunch of aces from all over, literally sitting in a room and talking all weekend. You had AVENites and Tumblrines and offline group organizers and YouTubers and I think there was even a Redditor there. And it wasn’t “I’m AVEN” or “I’m Tumblr” and we all picked a side and had a dance off. It was “I’m asexual, now let’s make the world better.”

      And we need more of that.

      As far as AVEN goes, we need to find a way to show the media that they’re not the only thing out there. The way it is now, even if they were writing an article about The Asexual Agenda, they’d end it with “And for more information about asexuality, visit asexuality.org.” That’s just not healthy. It sidelines other voices and gives the impression that asexuality only exists on that one website. We need to build up other sources, not strengthen that monopoly.

      For all the press they get, they’re just not that great of an informational resource. They have a scattering of FAQs, but that’s about it. The wiki is in such bad shape that they’ve hidden it, and their links are the same set that were out of date when I first went there. Where’s the press kits? Where’s the multimedia video series? Where’s the teacher’s guide? Where’s the definitive book about asexuality? Where’s their organized outreach effort? There’s all this talk about a “Project Team”, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the results of these projects. They can’t even keep their front page updated. Certainly, without a doubt, the forums are the best place to get that initial “HOLY CRAP THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE LIKE ME AND I’M NOT ALONE!” feeling, but after that, what is there?

      It’s really a myth that AVEN is a “thing” beyond the forums. News articles talk about AVEN largely because other news articles talk about AVEN. But the emperor has no clothes.

      David Jay is another story. That guy knows how to work the media, knows how to get things done, and would be able to find a way to organize chaos itself if you gave him a whiteboard. The press talks to him because he’s good copy. Although I wish at times they’d find other voices (I mean seriously, why did they have to talk to him for an article on why the “Female Viagra” can be a problem for asexual women? There aren’t any ace women anymore or something?), he is very good at what he does. And, of course, whenever they talk to David Jay, they have to mention AVEN.

      But he’s not really all that involved with AVEN anymore, from what I can tell. At the conference, he was talking about flibanserin and its problems. He was talking about opposing the pharma-funded astroturf group that’s pushing for it. If AVEN were a strong organization at its core, and he were leading it, then we would all have seen the AVEN anti-flibanserin campaign, and we’d all be talking about it, and it would become this cross-bubble effort that we’d all end up a part of. But what do you find if you search for “AVEN Flibanserin”? Random stuff from 2010, a bunch of results with the word “avenue”, and that article about Flibanserin and Asexuality I mentioned earlier.

      (And for the record, no, I don’t want to destroy AVEN.)

      A couple of the talks at the conference did touch on talking to the media. (There may have even been an unconference session about it, I don’t remember.) Some takeaways: Steer the story where you want it to go, not necessarily where the writer wants it to go. Tag-team if possible, if you can find someone else who’s going to be interviewed by the same person, trade notes with them. Give them the questions so they can prep. Talk about what kept the reporter’s interest and what lost their interest. And finally, tell a reporter if they’re way off base about something. That might cause them to drop the story entirely, but it’s better for that to happen to have a horrible article released upon the world.

      • Sciatrix says:

        DJ hasn’t been directly involved with AVEN-the-online-community since at least 2007 or 2008, yeah. I wish people would be more open about that, partly for the reasons you mention but also because I have seen a lot of people get (I think unfairly) at his activism work because they associate him with some of the shittiness of AVEN-the-forums.

        They have a scattering of FAQs, but that’s about it.
        What’s better is that the FAQs mostly haven’t been updated since about 2006. 2006!

      • Sennkestra says:

        Funny that you should mention Flibanserin now, because this just went up yesterday…..http://aceflibanserintaskforce.tumblr.com/ (involving both some AVEN-associated people and some non-AVEN associated people)

        As for some of your complaints about project team, they’re somewhat crippled by the lack of tech admins – they don’t update the front page because they pretty much can’t, even though they’d like to. The technical back-end of AVEN is a mess, and the tech volunteers we have all have day-jobs and don’t have the time to do the months long thorough overhaul that it needs; and recent problems with some kind of hack/malware mean that we can’t update things even where we want to until the tech gets fixed.

        The PT is fairly active, but most of the PT work is on the back end – corresponding with researchers, corresponding with media, answering the many private emails that AVEN gets requesting help or information, etc. Other organized efforts are mostly through things like the conferences they organize (like, you know, the event that kicked off the whole Toronto conference you just mentioned)…., or submissions to outside conferences, etc.

        I definitely agree that the Project Team could do more (we had a lot of procrastination and inertia problems) but to be honest, in terms of organized ace activism, the PT is pretty par for the course. I think part of the issue for the PT is that it’s not so much the highly professional development team that people seem to assume it is as it is a testing/training ground for random members (especially newbies) on the AVEN forums who are interested in getting involved in ace activism for the first time, and it provides some structure for first getting involved. Many of the newbies eventually either learn that they don’t like acticism after all, or they figure out what they like, take on whatever projects they most cared about, and then leave to pursue some of those on their own while maintaining only loose connections to AVEN (which is, you know, what I did…you also get things like the Toronto conference and Creating Change submissions where they start off as PT projects working with a few other people, but eventually spin off into their own independent projects -which is actually part of the PT’s goals). Because of this the PT is constantly cycling in new and inexperienced people as well. I think people get unrealistic expectations of what we are and then shame us for not fulfilling them.

        As far as “Where’s the multimedia videos?” “where’s the press kits?”, etc. my answer is always- are you willing to help us make them? Most of the PT are people with full time jobs or classes that often have only a small amount of time to work on things. None of us are professionals, none of us get paid or any kind of compensation. Most of the team has no professional training in that area and has to wing it as they go. We would love to make more but there’s really nothing that make us any more capable than any of the other activists around here who haven’t bothered to do any of that either. If anyone wants to volunteer to make those changes and collaborate on making those new resources to host on AVEN, the PT would be glad to work with them. But, when push comes to shove, most people who demand that AVEN do things tend to become quiet when anyone asks what they’re willing to do to help….

        • Tristifere says:

          Sennkestra, I greatly appreciate these insights in how AVEN works. All I ever see is the front end, not what’s going on in the kitchen. I do hold AVEN to a higher standard than the rest of the ace community because it postures to be more professional. Having especially some of the admods respond so hostile or seemingly uncaring towards those of us who raised concerns was so antagonizing in that context.
          The Maaple and 21stories issues were – I think – defused quicker because those directly responsible responded quickly, genuinely wanting to engage (I’m still not sure whether the entire admod team is actually willing to engage with us in a discussion – though I’ve now seen some reaching out and engage – which I greatly appreciate). Besides, whether it was Eliel Cruz or the Maaple team, we talked the same social media language one way or another. Your stories on how AVEN works does help me understand more where they’re coming from and with what kinds of people I’m dealing with.
          Now that you mention it, I do expect people to be in the know on technical issues and copyright law, because where I hang out online (blogging, artist and writing communities), people just know. On top of that, the people I hang out with (not just online, offline as well) take intellectual and artistic ownership very seriously. Even if they don’t know the fine details of the laws and etiquette themselves, they are willing to listen to people who know more about it. It’s a shock to see so many people crawling out of the woodwork who are seemingly not giving a fiddle about it or a simply completely ignorant as to why their behavior is a problem.

      • Sennkestra says:

        Anyway, as far as trying to supplant the monopoly of AVEN in the media, in addition to already having the legacy and connections, a couple of the other reasons that AVEN still beats everyone else out in media requests:

        1. Branding: branding is super important. AVEN gets lots of rep because it looks shiny and professional, even if it’s a bunch of amateurs on the back end. To get more media, you want a site with an official looking logo, name, layout, etc. Asexual Outreach is doing great on this (beating AVEN, I’d say, actually) but most other ace orgs have a long way to go. Basically, you want to look like a professional organization, not a blog. Even if you think the FAQs are outdated, they’re easily quotable and on a well-designed background. People are impressed by that.

        2. Have networks of interviewees ready – one of the reasons many media go to AVEN is because they have a network of aces willing to be interviewed all over the world, and ready to go, and who we can contact without needing to post a call for responses on tumblr or whatever (which journalists could do themselves). Basically, we can find them who they need in ways they can’t. Many journalists want local aces in their area, or specific demographics (maybe ace couples, or ace women over 40, or male aces, whatever). They don’t just want to talk to the same few activist leaders over and over again. So far as I know, there are no other ace groups that have advertised networks like this unless it’s for local aces in their area only. AVEN also still has better international connections with other groups, including non english language ones, than many other groups do.

        (anyway, I have more thoughts on this but I have to to back to work)

  3. Pingback: After “Archiving” on World Watch is Adjusted, Still Asking Why | Demisexual and Proud

  4. Just a quick reminder to everybody on this thread that the point of this post is not simply to bash AVEN, but to discuss deeper issues that the AVEN copyright saga reveals, which we can also see from other groups that are not AVEN. My purpose in posting was to open a discussion about these deeper issues and I hope that the comments will touch on these deeper issues and not get stuck on bashing or defending AVEN.

    • Sennkestra says:

      Sorry, i know I get defensive of AVEN…I just find it frustrating when people bring up problems that happen to be related to AVEN, only for it to turn into “haha yeah AVEN is so terrible, glad we’re not like them” when the same problems occur in all the other ace communities as well – they just get ignored.

    • I want to apologize for sending the comments off the rails yesterday. I have adjusted my angry rant sensor and hopefully it’ll be better now.

      Also, I want to thank Sennkestra for the valuable behind the scenes perspectives. It was not my intent to outright attack AVEN. I really do believe it is an important site and has a lot of offer, despite the occasional problems.

      (Although, regarding the “Are you willing to help us make them?” bit, yes, I was. Back in 2011, I wanted to help write a book about asexuality, so I joined a collaborative effort on the forums to start putting one together. Things were starting fairly well, when a PT member dropped by and told us that writing a book would be too hard and that we shouldn’t bother, because we’d fail like everyone else had. That caused the project to disintegrate. Which is when I left the site and went off and wrote a book anyway…)

    • Thanks, both of you! Discussing AVEN and it’s structure and ideas for working with AVEN members and reps is important and need to be included. However, the number of comments devoted to the issue was getting overwhelming, and I hope we’ll be able to broaden the discussion going forward.

  5. Siggy says:

    I do think Sennkestra’s comments bring up some issues that are relevant to the question in the title. Many bloggers are highly educated and know how to advocate for visibility without leaving people behind (at least most of the time, not that we’re perfect). But lots of other people have difficulties, and still doing some visibility work is an important step in their personal development. They need space to make mistakes. This is the argument I made when I said visibility work must be forgiving.

    But we do need to correct people’s mistakes, or there isn’t really any development happening.

    • I think the main thing I’m getting from Sennkestra’s posts (and the information is very interesting and useful) is that if you want to do visibility work, don’t structure your organization like AVEN, lol.

      Right now, my primary concern is for AVEN’s World Watch forum to change their policy. I would also like to see some acknowledgment from anybody involved in this that they actually understand and respect the criticisms that have been directed at them. I offered an analysis in this post that I hope might help them (I assume they’ll come across it as part of the archiving project!) understand where I’m coming from in my criticisms of them and inspire them to take a different approach.

      However, at this point, they need to clean up their own mess. They’ve been given more than enough input and suggestions on how to do so and I feel at this point that it’s their responsibility to act on that.

      I was willing to be more charitable earlier on in the saga but at this point I’m pretty much out of patience. I understand that their cumbersome leadership structure means it may take awhile for them to come to any decision but they can at least stop making things worse by the way they’re responding to the critiques in the meantime.

      • There have been a few good posts today from an admin that seems to get what’s going on and seems to want to make things right. Although they preface everything they said with “This is my opinion and not the team’s decision”, I took it as a positive sign.

        I’d post a link, but the site seems to have crashed.

      • Sennkestra says:

        Lol yes never structure an activist group like AVEN. AVEN has a really weird legacy structure from when it was a tiny forum that didn’t do much activism, with David Jay as charismatic leader and several volunteer mods where everyone was friends. Then the PT got added off to the side to take over off-forum activism (including stuff like PR, conferences, media, etc), but they don’t actually have any real control over what happens in the forum itself – which is what most people see of AVEN – which often makes things awkward. And while DJ retains nominal control over AVEN’s servers and technically leads AVEN as an NPO, he no longer does much in terms of leadership unless people manage to drag him in for crises or he has a project he wants to use the AVEN name for, which means the top of the command structure is basically decapitated but can’t really be filled by anyone else, hence the endless committee bickering instead…

        So yeah, anyone founding an activist org should actually take the time to plan out a coherent structure, including strategies for succession as original leaders move on or have less time to manage things (lack of this is part of what’s messed up AVEN).

        Also, never ever use online popular elections as a method for appointing people to positions, especially if those positions require specific skills. Seriously. Between that and decision-by-committee-consensus, I have so much more appreciation for autocracy now.

  6. Sennkestra says:

    I think one thing the ace community in general could work on a lot is like….private and pragmatic diplomacy? Not sure what to call it.

    But like, one of the problems that I’ve noticed in both past and recent “crises” like this is that the disagreements play out entirely in public, and people pile on to attack or defend all the various parties, and all in all that’s really not a great situation for finding mutually acceptable solutions – it’s hard to negotiate in a friendly way with people when their friends are all popping in to tell you you’re the scum of the earth (while your friends do the same to them). Everyone gets defensive and emotional instead of being able to logically think about their flaws. And even if it is eventually resolved well, it leaves lasting scars of resentment in everyone who got heated on either side.

    Also, public responders who jump on tend to demand immediate solutions this minute, and with every hour that goes by, outrage increases and more and more people pile on. Quick within hours responses might work for individual bloggers who can reply ASAP on a whim, but that don’t work for larger orgs like AVEN (or GLAAD, or UC Berkeley, for those who remember that) that have several leaders who have to actually coordinate with each other to make decisions, and where response times are more likely to be counted in days than minutes. That results in rushed statements (like AVEN’s) that they haven’t really had time to think through and that can end up just making everyone angry for different reasons.

    On the other hand, a lot of issues can (and have been) solved more amicably by private communication, where people can take time to work things out behind the scenes and not have to worry about constant public backlash and harassment over every little thing. It gives people room to make mistakes and get explanations and ask stupid questions in private, and work out the early not-so-ideal emotional reactions (like many of the AVEN mods less than desirable reactions) in places where they don’t effect the rest of the community. It also gives people time to make sure they actually understand the issues before they decide what to do.

    But the problem is that most ace communities are not well equipped for that – many leading bloggers use pseudonyms and have no contact info other than unreliable tumblr ask boxes; teams like AVEN may have shared emails that don’t get checked or responded to anywhere near frequently enough and that only some reps have access to, so they rely more on forum posts; people may not even know who to contact for orgs like MAAPLE that didn’t list their leaders, etc. And that’s assuming they even think of the possibility of contacting them privately and waiting more than a day, which many don’t just because it’s not what they see everyone else doing. There aren’t many private correspondence relationships between leaders of different ace groups because so many of us started on public online spaces and just never thought to do anything differently.

    Like, because I was on the AVEN PT before, when I found out about the recent mess I was able to contact a few AVEN PT/Admod members and try to explain things to them privately, make suggestions, answer questions, etc. Which I like to think is maybe helping a little bit move things along a bit better than they could have, although still not ideally for my liking. But that only worked with the mods who actually replied – not the ones who I couldn’t contact or who didn’t see the messages in time or who didn’t care to engage. And it doesn’t work for any other bloggers who don’t already have the private personal contact info for AVEN leadership.

    But ideally, maybe when moving forward we can change that, and try to keep more active lines of communication open between different personalities, to be able to resolve things more pragmatically behind the scenes instead of spilling the hurt and anger all over everyone else in the community. It’s hard to promote because the successes are, by their nature, not noticed by anyone else, but I can promise they do work.

    (And like, I am totally at fault of getting caught up in the drama and doing the same things I complain about here, and I keep doing them, so know it’s hard to change, but I think it’s something for doing.)

    • Siggy has been very helpful in communicating behind the scenes with various figures at AVEN and had already conveyed various of my comments and requests to them both privately and publicly. In this case, it’s the lack of a satisfactory response to these private communications that pushed me to post more publicly on the issue.

      The funny thing is that I’m not usually the sort of person to be really active in call-outs. In fact, one of the things I find frustrating about Tumblr sometimes is how much time and energy is spent on “this is problematic”/”that threw somebody under the bus” when what I would like to see more of in ace blogging is personal experiences and sharing how to navigate life as an asexual person.

      I’m frustrated on my own behalf over the AVEN copyright saga, but I’m also concerned about the chilling effect it could have on vulnerable bloggers and on the ability of ace bloggers to talk about very sensitive, difficult, or personal issues. I really value the discussions that ace blogs have already had on these issues, and I value the bloggers who have led the discussions, and I don’t want to see them feel like they can’t blog anymore because they’re worried about their posts being copied to AVEN in this way.

      One concern I would bring up with private communications is that for an ordinary blogger like me who is not a community leader, I have no idea what is being said and I have to trust intermediaries to speak on my behalf. I do trust Siggy, but I don’t necessarily have the kind of relationship with others that I would be confident they are accurately representing my concerns in these private conversations I don’t have access to.

      • Sennkestra says:

        Out of curiosity, who are you contacting? I can possibly recommend much better people to contact – which is the kind of thing that I think needs to be better known (on top of trying to get everyone to respond well to communication, not just some representatives).

        • I think my comment wasn’t clear and I apologize for that. Since I do not have an AVEN account, Siggy has contacted AVEN admods on my behalf and on the behalf of other TAA bloggers. I’m not familiar with who holds what position at AVEN aside from what can be gleaned from reading recent World Watch threads and am trusting in Siggy’s greater knowledge of AVEN, it’s processes, and its people.

      • Sennkestra says:

        Maybe I’m not making things clear, but like, contact shouldn’t just be between “leaders” -representatives at organizations should be contactable by anyone (the problem is, right now they’re really not, unless you are someone like me who has personal connections – that’s something that really needs to change).

        And problems shouldn’t be solved only in private either. For things like, oh, deciding to make a new archive policy, that kind of thing is still better done in public. But the initial “hey, your policy has really negative effect, and you should change it, here’s why and how” and ‘;wait what, I thought it was good, why is it not” contact might be better started in private, IMO.

    • Siggy says:

      But from my perspective, this whole thing is exhibit A for how outrage can sometimes be helpful, even necessary. People raised the copyright issue in March, but AVEN didn’t actually change its policy until more people got angry a few days ago. Some AVEN admods wanted me to bring up the issue privately, but this is pretty much only in their interest and not my own.

      I don’t think people should ignore the realities of AVEN disorganization, but sometimes politicking just involves hardball.

      MAAPLE was another case study. People got mad, MAAPLE got defensive. People got madder and then changes happened.

      • Siggy says:

        Note: I bring up a lot of the more detailed concerns in private (e.g. which particular articles we want removed), and I’m polite in private communication. The point isn’t to harass individuals, it’s to turn up the political heat.

        • Sennkestra says:

          Like, turning up the poltical heat can be a valid option when organizations fail to respond to private communication. But the problem is that the time given to orgs/individuals to respond to initial inquiries is often like…a few hours, maybe a day if they’re lucky, which is nowhere near enough. And initial attempts to make contact are often though things like tumblr posts or forum posts which are really easy to miss, and there’s often little attempt at follow up. Maybe I’m just conflict averse, but I generally find instances of lots of angers (especially when it inevitably gets directed at bystanders, like…hating on anyone who uses AVEN or everyone who uses tumblr) and prefer to do everything possible to avoid that kind of situation, rather than seeing it as one of the first tools to pull out. (This is about conflicts in general, not just any specific one. It happens over and over again)

      • Sennkestra says:

        In the case of AVEN, anger got attention because interparty communication failed- my point is that if the community were better at things like that (on all sides), people might not have needed anger.

        But I don’t actually agree that more anger was what made these situations work. AVEN started responding after after people like me privately contacted admods and said “hey, look, people are upset at something you did, here’s links, you should respond, here are some suggestions”. Most of them didn’t even know that there was an issue going on at all until people like me sent links in private. (That itself, though, is a symbol of AVEN’s internal failure to communicate – messaging individual mods does not inform the rest of the leadership)

        And with MAAPLE, they didn’t make changes because people got madder. They made changes because people contacted them to suggest practical changes, and because enough time had passed for them to calm down after the initial feeling of attack and start to look at solutions. What got them past the defensiveness isn’t more anger, it was *time*. And as AVEN has had time to figure out what the hell they’re doing, we’ve seen their mods get better responses out too.

        Getting communication does require effort on both ends – the complaining party needs to be persistent and make sure they’re contacting the right people, and the other party needs to be receptive and respond. This failed because the complaining parties didn’t have the information available to be able to know who to contact to actually get things done, and because the other parties failed to notice/respond. We didn’t have the communication in place for it to work yet, apparently.

        But the thing with anger is that yes, it works – but it also causes massive collateral damage and hurts community ties. I just would like to reach a point where 1. Private communication is a more available option so we can avoid anger in the first place and 2. people are more willing to pursue it more strongly before resorting to public anger.

        • Elizabeth says:

          I want to just point out here that part of the point of public anger is also just to let other bloggers know what is going on, and to vent frustrations on a personal bog. In my case, there were people who were affected because they guest posted on my blog, people who were affected by being connected to me. They were, weirdly, even more affected than I was. And one of them, I had no way to contact. All I could do was make a post, and maybe they saw it, maybe not.

          The other thing is… there are issues like harassment as a result of people seeing things on AVEN that AVENites have no idea even happens—hence my bringing up the issue of PiF, who I would normally delete and ignore. LOTS of people lurk the AVEN forums occasionally, and some of them are mean. As a result of this though, I’m seeing several people in the thread pile on and really just try to harass me even more, because they’re sympathetic to PiF. One of them is the person who was posting all these articles in the first place, which SEVERELY erodes my confidence that any of this was done with good faith, or any kind of consideration for other members of the community at all. And it… really just proves my whole point about AVEN being a not-okay environment to share certain kinds of posts.

          Pretty much, I feel like many of the members of AVEN don’t even see me as a person, just a content-generating machine.

          I’m not going to quiet my anger over that situation. Implying that I should do so is, in a way, telling me how I should feel about abuse that is happening to me. It’s public because it’s aimed at the community members doing it, not just the mods. I’m allowed to feel angry about it. I have privately expressed to the mods (the ones that I know, anyway) that it’s not them that I’m so upset with. I know they’re doing their best to keep things civil—a lot of this happens late at night, and then is hidden as soon as a mod is available. But… it’s not really enough to keep that toxicity from seeping through (I really hate that AVEN’s software automatically checks “follow this thread” upon posting—if you forget to uncheck it even once…) It’s not a new problem, but just a reflection of the same reason why so many people have been driven off of AVEN over the years. Which… again proves my point about why AVEN is for so many people a really bad place to have to engage with.

      • Sennkestra says:

        I guess it’s frustrating for me because I’ve been in situations, many of which were when I was on the PT, where people on tumblr or sub-groups on AVEN or whoever got angry about something, but either 1. never got in contact with the party they were angry at (UC Berkeley) or 2. only got in contact by making angry posts (AVEN). In the case of Berkeley, I ended up actually bothering to contact them, and they were happy to change things since they hadn’t realized the years old page had anything outdated. With AVEN, I (and other PT members) have had the experience of metaphorically sitting down with admods and trying to get people to calm down and dismiss the tumblr posters that were just like “AVEN is horrible they all suck we hate them” and try to get them to listen to the ones that actually had substantive things to say. And like, from those experiences, I know personally that anger was not really helping get anything done. In fact a lot of work had to be done to mitigate the defensiveness that all the anger caused before we could get back to actually trying to respond. The most helpful were many of the people who made suggestions privately.

        But then other people involved don’t see that, don’t know the kind of internal obstructions and difficulties caused behind the scenes, and just see that something actually happened, so they think “Anger must have worked well! Let’s do it again”. When that wasn’t necessarily what happened.

  7. Jo says:

    It’s been very interesting following these three events. As someone who has done quite a bit of media work myself (both being interviewed and then written about, and also writing for sites myself), I think that it’s incredibly important for people who do put their hands up to have a really grounded knowledge of the ace community as a whole. Just that will usually ensure that people aren’t making basic mistakes or throwing groups of aces under the bus, especially when it comes to writing about asexuality for a non-ace audience yourself. I know that when I write about asexuality, my approach tends to be to focus strongly on my own story and experiences, while giving a very broad overview of asexuality as a whole. I try to focus more on some of the concepts around asexuality (such as differentiating between romantic and sexual attraction, or even more generally the diversity of sexuality for all people) rather than making sure to list, say, every different romantic orientation. To date, I feel like that tactic has worked relatively well.

    I think one of the problems about something like #21acestories is that the people who jump in and contribute might not actually have that much experience in the ace community yet. That’s speculation on my part, but also what largely seemed to happen with the Asexual Story Project that I started two years ago. I noticed after a while that many of the people who were submitting were very recent discoverers of asexuality, within a few months of having come to that identity. There’s only so much you can learn about the ace community as a whole in that time period – especially when there are not many ‘centralised’ and comprehensive sources. Another thing I noticed with that project was that a lot of the stories coming in were the same – about 80% were almost a reiteration of each other. Again, I think it probably comes down to experience, and the demographic that is most likely to submit something to the site. I think that’s what probably happened to #21acestories as well, especially if the author only took the first 21 people who put their hands up. If they had taken some time to sift through other submissions, I think they might have come up with a much more diverse picture, and thus a more representative picture.

    Anyway, I don’t think visibility at any cost is a good policy – but the last thing I wanted to throw into the ring is that I do think we sometimes need to make certain sacrifices in order to do good, 101-type visibility work. I don’t think it’s always helpful, for instance, for a 101 piece about asexuality to spend paragraphs explaining every single romantic orientation, to make sure that everyone is included. That’s as unhelpful as putting together a basic visibility project that only really focuses on asexuality and dating. I think there’s a way to do both the personal-experience-story that journalists and writers are most interested in, and still give a broad, basic overview of asexuality that shows that we are a diverse community, without getting laden down with terminology or ‘but some aces do’ in every sentence, which can be pretty confusing for the first-time reader.

    • I found your comparison of #21AceStories to the Asexual Story Project really interesting. I often think when I see the kinds of questions that are submitted to Tumblr ace advice blogs that the newbie generation of aces seem very different from me and I wonder if I’m an “old school” type of ace, LOL.

      I’m not really sure how to overcome the problem of aces with certain types of stories or viewpoints dominating media stories. Obviously, as you noted, if Eliel Cruz had done a more responsible job of curating the responses, that would have helped. But I guess there would need to be a team of more experienced ace activists who seek to get themselves included in these projects. As Sennkestra noted elsewhere in this thread, one thing AVEN has been good at is providing aces for interview requests. I think we need more of this, and a wider range of ace organizations doing this type of work. I think we’re at a point right now where people are starting to found these organizations but aren’t really able to get all of them off the ground and that means both ace communities and the media tend to fall back on the single source of AVEN.

      In my own work writing for Love InshAllah, I’ve taken the same approach that you mentioned. I talk about my own situation and perspective, while including just enough information to contexualize it for people not familiar with asexuality. This works well since LI’s format is the personal essay and my editor doesn’t want me to go very heavy on ace education there. I hope that this gives people an insight they may not often get into one way of navigating life as an asexual person. I’d like to see more essays and posts out there like this that aren’t just the usual Asexuality 101 presentation again.

      • Jo says:

        Yes, I often find that journalists also are not interested so much in the ‘here’s all the 101 you need’ approach, but in the personal approach, which they think is much more relatable and engaging (and I pretty much agree). I guess it just comes down to having enough people around who can bring different perspectives to the table, and are able to be contacted by media. And are able to say very consciously ‘this is my story – but it’s not the only story.’

  8. epochryphal says:

    “tumblrines,” lol.

    Three pieces to add:
    One, I have become *very* interview-shy because a reporter DJ recc’d severely misportrayed my gender and people yelled at the article for “picking your typical androgynous genderqueer” which — no, fuck you.

    So even though I have been immersed in and feel confident about portraying more of the ace community’s diversity — I’m not likely to step forward.

    Two, every time I whistle-blow, I get an initial “oh no that’s awful :(” and then either dead silence or “well…no one else has said anything…” and, regardless, exiled. It’s exhausting.

    Three, capacity to engage. Me: autistic, PTSD, survivor, blahblahblah. Interact with people? Gently educate them? It’s hard enough to send a single message of any tone (harder still to believe it will do any good).

    Disabled aces, survivors, and I’m sure many other marginalized categories? I bet you as a whole we have less capacity to engage — and are less safe — and less often sought out — and are constantly elided by other aces doing visibility.

    Yeah your vis doesn’t have to detail every romantic orientation, but how about mentioning autistic/disabled aces who find the whole concept inaccessible, yeah? And not leaving implied that Muslim, Jewish, and PoC aces exist?

    Tl;dr there are massive reasons why visibility fails (even around gender which we’re supposedly good at), this is why allyship is for and why listening to what marginalized folks write *on their own* w/out a reporter lens and boosting *that* is vital.

    • Elizabeth says:

      “Tumblrines” is adorable. But I’m gonna have to go one step farther and start saying “Tumblrinas,” hehe. And start referring to a tumblr song & dance.

      But yeah, all of those issues you raised are a big problem. There seems to be a cycle for many people who participate in journalists’ articles:
      1. New to activism, excitedly participate
      2. Journalist is irresponsible/unethical/pushes a specific agenda to an uncomfortable degree/also otherwise biased
      3. Participant is extremely discouraged, decides not to participate again

      So those of us who have experience participating are far less likely than those who don’t to do any kind of interview, much less mention any nuanced problems if they do, and thus there’s a cycle that perpetuates further bad media presentation. I’d like to get people to actively try to educate any journalist they encounter about the problem areas with most media presentations of asexuality. If it’s as simple as sending them a list of links to articles already written on the topic, that might actually be something we could reasonably get people to do. But it would need to be supported by a more active organization of “news teams” educating new activists.

      I’d like to see that kind of thing happen outside of AVEN, so that we can make them a lot less dominant in every media article.

  9. Sennkestra says:

    Re: visibility via journalism specifically

    Yeah – to be honest, the amount of visibility activism you can do through reacting to journalist requests is pretty limited. Most already have an idea of what they want (most commonly: adorably normative asexual couple, slightly quirky mixed orientation couple, or attractive young single person who doesn’t want sex OMG). We can suggest that they include other perspectives and put them in contact with more diverse voices, but when the article comes out, surprise surprise, guess who became the focus – not the aromantics or the older ones or the “weird” ones with “complicated” identities. (To be fair, there are some examples of journalists who do go for the non-cliche perspectives – but they are definitely in the minority)

    In the end, responding to media requests is still important, because the articles that don’t bother to speak to asexuals at all tend to still be even worse, but when you’re just reacting to their framing and requests there’s not much control you have over the situation.

    One of the big voids right now in asexual activism is *proactive* media outreach – sending out press releases with quotes from a diverse sample of asexuals, reaching out to journalist with suggestions for pieces on less-covered aspects of the asexual experience or less-mentioned subjects, trying to get ace-written pieces into larger sites etc. It’s more effective but it’s also much harder without experience in that area, and way more intimidating (so instead you get people like me saying “we should do this!”….and then not doing it).

    (Speaking of which, though…..anyone feel up to running or helping run a proactive Asexual Awareness Week media outreach campaign? Let’s make this the year!)

    • Elizabeth’s earlier post on media representation has a great discussion of the various issues that both you and epocryphal have mentioned.

      I personally don’t have any experience with media or journalists so I can’t contribute anything to that discussion except generalities. I do think that submitting personal essays to various sites, whether special-interest communities (like Love InshAllah) or big mainstream sites (like the New York Times’s Modern Love feature, which recently published Asexual and Happy) might be a more effective way of sharing ace perspectives and getting a diverse range of voices out than doing interviews or commenting on 101-level articles.

      I’m also interested in whether working to increase visibility in special interest communities over mainstream media sites might make it easier to avoid some of the traps of only presenting “unassailable” aces. That’s one example of what I meant when I said in the original post that we might want to look again at the ways we pursue visibility.

  10. elainexe says:

    So I’ve been thinking since yesterday. To sum up, the sentiment seems to be:
    1. Diversify where the media comes to for info/interviewees and directs people to in articles beyond just AVEN
    2. Be proactive in visibility efforts so we can make our own direction beyond the preformed stories of journalists, or beyond the randomized input in something like 21AceStories
    On the first point the difficulty is, AVEN is currently taken as THE go to place for asexuality, from outside the community and some inside. Being proactive may make some people notice the existence of other groups. But I still wonder about my first thought, investing in AVEN. If we work with AVEN, could they perhaps suggest to journalists that come their way about alternative, non-AVEN sources of information or people/groups to interview? Or perhaps if we create some separate group that ace bloggers and AVENites can get together in to coordinate visibility efforts, so that when people come to AVEN they can be redirected to this group? (But would the people at AVEN want that? I don’t know)

    • Sennkestra says:

      AVEN actually does have a broader media team – basically an index of volunteers who have indicated that they are willing to be interviewed, along with some info like geographic location and other basic demographics, to help fill specific requests. You don’t have to be on AVEN to join the media team, you just need to have some kind of connection to the ace community and leave some kind of contact info: http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/86097-join-the-aven-media-team/ (AVEN isn’t loading for me right now but I think that should be the right link)

      The main thing that AVEN’s media team lacks is specific media coaching to interviewees due to both the time and resources required to create such a training and the fact that most of us aren’t even sure what’s best in many cases. That’s another avenue for further exploration though, that could be done by any activist group.

      (AVEN also doesn’t evaluate volunteers much beyond checking that they at least vaguely know things about the ace community, because it’s tricky to draw the line between “actually dangerously ill-informed to be a media representative” and just someone who differs from the mainstream “unassailable asexual” mold, and evaluating every single member thoroughly would take a lot of time. But while AVEN chose not to do so, screening is a possibly helpful approach, it just requires more thought about standards)

      Creating alternate media teams is definitely a possibility – locally coordinated media teams are probably a good idea for regional ace groups, and something I hope to implement eventually. Another idea would be media team coordination for things like AAW – I like the idea of sending out press releases, if I have the time, and part of that is having some pre-selected quotable soundbites – perhaps we could recruit more aces to provide such soundbites and/or be available for further interviews?

  11. flergalwit / michaeld says:

    Hey all,
    A while since I wrote here last.

    1) The PT. As Sennkestra says, we’re not a trained team of activists. Indeed we’re all amateurs and some of us shy away from activism altogether and just focus on visibility and awareness. We deal with backend things such as media and research requests, and as mentioned a major project was organising the 2014 Toronto conference at the time of WorldPride (with a lot of help outside the PT obviously). I think it’s fair to say this caused a big growth in the Toronto ace community and enabled the 2015 conference (which we were not directly involved with).

    Yep, social media goes right over my head I’m afraid. It’s thanks to our social media rep on the PT that I have any kind of vague idea what’s happening. I’m pretty old school when it comes to the internet: usenet, forums, emails, skype and (to a lesser extent) blogs are what I can handle.

    2) We definitely tend to err on the side of inclusivity when it comes to the media team. We don’t want to be putting out a party line, and feel it is more authentic to basically promote anyone interested in discussing their experiences as an ace. Maybe there is some kind of training that could be done. (I think the most obvious resource would be a list of potential questions that could come up. What do you plan to say if they ask you something awkward such as do you masturbate (and e.g. it’s live so you can’t easily get out of it). That kind of thing.

    We’d actually be more than happy to give other communities coverage when it comes to media. Often we will get a media request and not be able to find anyone suitable on our teams. We usually do advertise on tumblr in such cases, but if you have any further suggestions for where we can recruit from, I’m all ears.

    3) The information on the front page is out of date (though I believe the FAQ was updated a couple of years ago – at least one of them). We’re just about to start revising the material on it, and if anyone here would like to get involved that’d be great. I’d also be interested in general input about what sort of thing could do with more coverage.

    4) I offered to host a discussion about the copyright saga to make sure that the concerns are listened to when it comes to drafting a policy. Honestly, I was not aware until a few days ago that there was any issue here. I must confess I missed whatever complaints came out in March; I’m not doubting they exist, but if they are publicly documented a link would be useful.

    I’d encourage anyone who wants to take part to contact us. I really do want to get to a good resolution here. (The offer is also open to the people who archive in WW: I do have a lot of respect for their project and I think it was done with the best of intentions to preserve the writings of the entire ace community, even though recent events are very problematic.)

    • Siggy says:

      The thread from March is here. Redbeard also mentioned making a request in April which was ignored.

      • flergalwit / michaeld says:

        I see. There’s no indication from the early part of that thread that the current policy was making anyone *unhappy*. The OP was rightly checking the legal aspects of it, and in hindsight their point should have been much more closely examined, but there was no indication any content creators had a problem with the archiving.

        From my perspective (as NAL etc etc, and I admit I didn’t look into it closely), my view was that “takedown on request” was probably a pragmatic solution that made everyone happy whether or not it dotted the Is and crossed the Ts legally speaking. It’s what much of the internet seems to do, for example the Google Cache and archive.org. It seemed reasonable to follow the same approach, at least as long as it appeared not to cause any issues.

        What I was not aware of at all until a few days ago was that the policy was making people from other communities *unhappy*. If I’d known that I (and I’m sure others) would have investigated this much more closely. Chalk it up to another failure in communication on our end…

        • Siggy says:

          “Takedown on request” honestly seems reasonable to me in most situations, except that here there was a systematic project to intentionally break copyright on a large scale. If it were just a few articles, I’d simply frown at it, but most bloggers didn’t really get mad until we compared notes.

          Earlier on in our discussions with AVEN, it really seemed like the general AVEN membership simply doesn’t get why we would ever be unhappy. Half of it was so ignorant as to be beneath me to respond. Admods are popularly elected by the same members, so it was reasonable to guess that they didn’t get it either. So by all appearances, it looks like whatever discussion the admods started in March must have fizzled because nobody got it.

          In light of recent admod interactions, it appears the admods understand after all, or at least enough of them do. That’s why I stopped making a big fuss. I still have a lot of contempt for the general AVEN membership on the issue though.

        • Elizabeth says:

          The point that Siggy just brought up, about the general AVEN membership… That is, for a lot of us, a gigantic issue with AVEN, and why having our writing spread there can be really awful for some of us. It’s not just the members but also the lurkers, who go elsewhere to agitate and harass us. I hope that my efforts to bring that dynamic into the light have helped the mods understand why it can be so negative to engage with AVEN. Many of us left AVEN because of the general atmosphere there, and sometimes because of issues with specific other members. So far in this discussion I’ve seen a handful of people with a grudge against us from the past try really, really hard to bring that into the thread. And also elsewhere—and when it happens off of AVEN, the mods are not really likely to see it. And of course it’s out of their control anyway.

          So I think that has been one part of the reason why the mods at AVEN have not understood why this whole thing has been upsetting to us—just not knowing about some of the history of problems many of us have had at AVEN, and how it has followed us. That sense of “they don’t get it” has been really pervasive throughout this whole discussion—I’m glad that we’re moving past that now.

          On the part of some members, and especially the mods, the archive project seems to have been done with good intentions. But the extreme resistance to considering a policy that considers content creators’ feelings on the matter from some members has made a lot of us feel like we don’t actually matter to them as fellow people, and fellow community members. Like our only value is what we can produce for them, and how they can use it—without even considering asking permission or following our individual wishes as stated on our content use pages. So in light of that, I would not agree that all of them necessarily had the “best” of intentions. I don’t think any outright malice was intended (on the part of those actually doing the archiving), but their response to this does indicate not only a limited understanding, but a selfish mindset on the part of some AVENites that prevents them from even trying to understand.

          Thank you for considering all this and engaging with us in a reasonable and fair manner. I hope my explanation helps you to understand where our bad feelings are coming from, and that it might help guide your policy (and enforcement) decisions henceforth.

  12. Pingback: If the bark on the trees were as soft as the skies | The Ace Theist

  13. Pingback: Panel Discussion: Have We Moved Beyond Just Awareness? | The Asexual Agenda

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