Is it Worth Fueling the Fire?

Around 3 years ago, the Tumblr asexuality tag exploded when “FatherAngel,” a catholic priest, began posting his opinions and beliefs about asexuals into the tag. He responded to a question about whether or not asexuals should be allowed to marry by saying asexuals were broken and “wrong.” He was convinced that asexuals have a disorder and that they should not be allowed to enter into an asexual marriage because “people change.”

He said that asexuals would eventually begin to want sex and would end up coercing their partner into having sex. As someone who was reading his original post, it seemed like he was saying that people who claimed to be asexual were just trying to trick their partners so that they could force themselves on them later on.

Of course, the asexuals on Tumblr fought back. They began sending FatherAngel angry asks, wanting him to retract what he said. The fight between FatherAngel, his loyal following, and Tumblr’s asexual community blew up. Both groups said many things that shouldn’t have been said and the fall out was ugly.

At the time, I ran an asexuality blog and made sure to tell any newly-identified asexuals to stay out of the asexuality tag. I made it my job to find things that helped build asexual pride in them and hide away all the hate. Eventually, I was forced to block FatherAngel myself. The things he was saying about asexuality made me sick to my stomach and definitely triggered me.

I no longer have a Tumblr because I disagree with some of Yahoo’s views (Yahoo bought Tumblr in May 2013), but I find myself thinking about FatherAngel a lot- especially the last few days.

Recently, Dr. Ruth, a sexologist and advice columnist, posted on Twitter:

Once again, asexuals fought back. Of course they did. You can’t belittle someone’s sexuality on a public platform and expect to get away with it. And this wasn’t the first time Dr. Ruth publicly disagreed with Asexuality. In 2011, she told a woman who was questioning whether or not she as asexual that the reason her husband didn’t arouse her was that they just weren’t compatible. She “challenged” the woman to spend time to thinking about sex every day to stimulate arousal. She even accused the woman of not having complete orgasms. Here is a blog with more information.

I once heard somewhere, “It’s okay to not have an opinion if you don’t have enough information,” and I think this is particularly true in these types of cases.

Both FatherAngel and Dr. Ruth have a public forum with a large following. Instead of admitting that they didn’t have enough information to comment, they stood happily and declared their ignorance of asexuality.

So asexuals have to fight for their right to not be declared broken by public ignorance.

But I always have to ask myself, “Is this really helping?” If you search FatherAngel’s tumblr for “asexuality” you can clearly see that he has never stopped responding to “angry asexuals.” (I must admit that he has heavily edited his responses to the original questions and they are far less condescending now. However, this only makes the asexual community’s responses seem blown out of proportion.) He has never stopped posting his opinion that he is right and we are broken. His more recent posts say things along the lines of “the Catholic church has no stance on asexuality,” but that doesn’t mean we have won. He continues to feed our anger either way.

And can we really expect any different for Dr. Ruth? Will she just take this extra publicity and run with it? Is she actually learning anything? Will she try to claim, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” In fact, in this Time Out NY article posted on 20 Aug 2015, Dr. Ruth says she has never been stumped. But obviously she has.

I admit, that I sometimes become tired of this fight. Don’t get me wrong- I think it’s important and that we should never stop trying to educate others, but sometimes I am concerned that the amount of correct information going out into the world is so small compared to the amount of ignorance that comes out every day.

When we fight against the people with large audiences, how can I be sure we aren’t just fueling their fire? Sure, what we are saying is true, but that doesn’t stop them from rolling their eyes and telling us shove off. We can try our best to remain calm and explain what they got wrong, but we have no way of knowing if we are being seen among those who are just spewing hate right back.

How can we use those who call us broken to build asexuality up without having them burn us down in the process? There has to be a way to shine a light on the arguments that arise from the situation. We need to make sure that we, as a community, stop ourselves from blindly name-calling and tossing out threats. If we stoop down and just scream back, then aren’t we part of the same problem? Aren’t we just going making the initiator roll their eyes and scream about the “PC Police?”

But when we are faced with those who would rather condescend to us than listen to what we have to say how do we keep ourselves from losing focus? Sometimes I feel like I can’t look past the dehumanization being thrown at us. At that point, educating those types of people can begin to feel like a strain.

What do you think? How do you deal with the fire?

About dcbilliot

D.C. recently graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelors Degree in English. She identifies as a demi-romantic asexual, but spends her time dabbling in WTFromanticism. She spends her time working with her university's LGBT group in an attempt to get more asexuals involved. While in the organization she has led educational workshops about asexuality and is also a mentor and panelist for them. In her free time, D.C. reads, crochets, or plays video games and board games. She has been told she gives off a "lesbian vibe" and an "anime vibe."
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25 Responses to Is it Worth Fueling the Fire?

  1. Funny, I just posted something on my ace Tumblr last night about this sort of situation, though I suppose on a microscale. I peruse the #asexuality tag on Tumblr a lot to find folks who might need a kind word or some help – but I always also come across a lot of ace hate. Last night it really got to me, and I ended up getting off Tumblr because I was too angry and sad. So I posted something to my ace blog telling folks to be careful when they’re looking at asexuality stuff online, because they’ll inevitably come across that hate. I said it’s good to try to fight it with logic and reason when you can, but that it’s also totally okay to just… not. To ignore it in order to protect your own emotional and physical energy. I fight for aces a LOT online… but some days I just have to bow to the ignorance and give myself time to heal from the blows.

  2. Aqua says:

    I think it’s worth trying to fight back against the misconceptions they spew by correcting them. If they’re willfully ignorant, then they themselves aren’t going to listen, but at least it could change the minds of other people who are reading the comments. I agree that we shouldn’t resort to threatening these ignorant posters, and I understand that to continue dealing with people like them isn’t for everyone. It is very draining to deal with.

  3. Sennkestra says:

    While I think that major figures like FatherAngel or Dr. Ruth will not be convinced by aces pointing out their errors, it’s not so much about them – it’s about all the other people who will be seeing their posts, who might be more on the fence and could be convinced by an ace perspective. It’s also about showing any aces on the wayside that hey, not everyone thinks these things, there are people who support you.

    And it’s perfectly possible to respond to these kinds of things firmly, or even with anger, without turning things into an insult hurling match (my preferred style is spamming people with academic or historical links to show them exactly why they are wrong, but that’s because I’m a huge nerd).

    As for whether it’s “worth it”, I think it depends on how you are with internet debates. If you are uncomfortable with debating people or getting attention from haters, but feel like you should respond, it’s probably not worth it for you,and you might be better off just brushing it aside – plus someone else will likely get to it eventually. If you’re someone like me who considers arguing with strangers on the internet an enjoyable hobby, it might be more worth it.

  4. Siggy says:

    The thing about FatherAngel, is that it stretches belief to say that “Asexuals shouldn’t get married because they’ll coerce their partners into sex” is a common misconception. It’s too out there to be common. I think anything more than a moderate response to FatherAngel could even be harmful because it gets other aces upset at ghosts. It can have a distortive effect. Are we trying to argue against society-wide attitudes, or just against a few loud individuals?

    I think a similar thing happens with queer exclusion. There’s a particular set of arguments that Tumblr folk have over whether asexuals are queer, and yes it’s worth fighting those. But if you actually try going to queer groups, the most common kind of resistance really isn’t the same at all, in my experience. For one thing, college queer groups are much more male-dominated.

    I’d be far more willing to say Dr. Ruth’s tweet represents common attitudes. So, uh, I guess pile away?? :\

    • epochryphal says:

      more male-dominated? that’s a really interesting statement, contrary to my experience but i’m sure there’s sources — i’d be v interested

      • Siggy says:

        My source is my experience. I’ve seen several queer student groups that suffer from white gay cis male syndrome. Particularly the “general” group at my university. I heard really bad things about a cal-state college group once too, and they basically only had a general group.

        Anyway, given that Tumblr seems to be <20% male (judging from AVEN Census results), being more male-dominated than that isn't exactly hard. TERFism and related attitudes are not nearly as popular among men.

        • queenieofaces says:

          My experience is the same. I went to the big fall party for the LGBT grad organization at my university, and for the first two hours it was me, one other woman, and then a bunch of cis men circling each other. I’ve found that, say, bi organizations tend to be a lot less male-dominated, but if it’s generic LGBT, yeah, it’s mostly men.

          • dcbilliot says:

            I find that so interesting. At my University last year, the LGBT group’s leadership team was mostly women. We were struggling to pull guys in. Luckily, we got a couple for this year, but it is still mostly female. We even have the whole LGBT mixture in there.

            I think it would be harder for me to participate in the group if it was mostly cis, white gay males, but that could be just because I have heard the stereotypes of them over and over.

        • Sciatrix says:

          My experience is that groups which are organized primarily around socializing and meeting each other tend to be skewed towards men and groups that are organized more around activism or doing things tend to be women. YMMV, though.

          • Sennkestra says:

            At least in terms of my local campus groups, it felt like there was a definite gender split between the more “party” based gay frat and coop scene, and the more “discussion/theory/activism” based campus student groups – the former was extremely male dominated, it seemed like, but the latter had a much better split. (On the other hand, that kind of served us well, imo, because the frat and the coop drained off a lot of the stereotypical “heavy-drinking white gay guys who just want to party and aggressively hit on people” which I see members of other campus lgbt groups complain about.

          • Carmilla DeWinter says:

            Yeah … Pride: Lotsa white guys getting drunk. Local activism network: 30-40% cis-women, 20% trans*folk. Rate of ace hate from actual activists: zero.

  5. parlance1 says:

    I pick my battles, but I definitely think it’s worth it. As a Black woman and an ace, I often question if speaking out is a thankless task. But once in a while, I see responses or get feedback that tells me someone’s listening, learning and passing on their knowledge.

  6. Is Father Angel actually a “major figure”? I could never quite figure out if he was really a priest or someone pretending to be a priest or just a run-of-the-mill troll. (Some of the things I remember seeing him say or reblog seemed very unpriestly…) As far as I can tell, his influence extends to his Tumblr followers and (if he’s actually a priest) his flock in Fresno. In any case, he’s no Dr. Ruth. Dr. Ruth is known and respected by millions. The woman practically invented sex. Father Angel at least has a claim of church doctrine to hide his intolerance and ignorance behind, but Dr. Ruth has no excuse. She should know better.

    I think I’m sort of responsible for turning the Dr. Ruth remarks into a Big Thing™. And that was definitely the right thing to do. Dr. Ruth is the sort of person who can be an ally and should be an ally and would be a huge voice on our side if she were an ally. When someone that visible says something like that, basically telling everyone that she wishes we didn’t exist, we need to object. We can’t just let it slide. She should be better than that. (cf. Dan Savage, who went from saying things like asexuals shouldn’t inflict themselves on normal people to, literally just this week, giving advice to an asexual dom who wants to inflict pain on normal people, largely because of a community outcry of “Dude, WTF, you’re supposed to be better than that”.)

    Even if Dr. Ruth doesn’t change her ways, this is an opportunity for educating people who follow her. They’ll see this and might be interested to know what’s going on and want to learn more. They’ll see all the people who are saying “Words like that hurt” and “I used to be broken”, and change the way they talk. And people not even interested in Dr. Ruth will hear the commotion and get involved and will likely be on our side. And then someplace like writes an ace-friendly article about it and posts it to their half a million Facebook followers. Not too shabby ROI on a couple of tweets I wrote one Tuesday night when I should have been sleeping. (Will HuffPo pick it up next? Maybe if we make a little more noise…)

    And I think that’s another huge difference between Dr. Ruth and Father Angel. Dr. Ruth doesn’t have an agenda beyond education. Fans of Dr. Ruth aren’t going to be dogmatic and inflexible like fans of Father Angel would be. When you speak out against something Dr. Ruth said, people are going to be more likely to be accepting of what you have to say. When you speak out against something Father Angel says, you are going straight to Hell for Apostasy. People like Father Angel probably aren’t worth engaging with, because standing firm actually benefits them, because they’re standing up for what they believe in. Where someone like Dr. Ruth would get penalized for standing firm, because they’re seen as ignoring reality or being stuck in the past. To put it another way, Father Angel speaks the infallible Word of God, while Dr. Ruth just speaks with a German accent.

    Now, I must say that the insults some people have been throwing her way are inappropriate and must stop. There’s no reason to attack her in a case like this. Stand up and be seen, yes, but I haven’t seen anything that warrants being disrespectful about it. (Frankly, the whole thing was probably just the Social Media Director/Intern anyway, and not the Doctor herself.)

    • Elizabeth says:

      She should be better than that. (cf. Dan Savage, who went from saying things like asexuals shouldn’t inflict themselves on normal people to, literally just this week, giving advice to an asexual dom who wants to inflict pain on normal people, largely because of a community outcry of “Dude, WTF, you’re supposed to be better than that”.)

      She should be, but I have to say I am not at all convinced there’s even the slightest possibility of a chance that she would change, given her other recent comments. (BIG TW: RAPE CULTURE) In light of that, her comment about asexuality sounds legit, not like it was a social media director or intern. Dr. Ruth seems to be getting more and more dogmatic as she ages (and my therapist has repeatedly complained about her, lol).

      All that doesn’t mean it’s not productive to challenge her, though. I agree that it was the right thing to do. The coverage of her screw-up is really good, and will influence people who hadn’t even heard about the whole thing, and possibly also introduce a lot of people to the concept of asexuality.

      I’m less sure of the productiveness of challenging someone like FatherAngel, who definitely does not command as much cultural attention as Dr. Ruth—I had never heard of him until this discussion, and I still don’t really know who he is. Just some guy with a large tumblr following is not as important to challenge as a cultural icon, I would say. I feel like challenging someone like FatherAngel directly on tumblr is more dangerous and possibly less productive than making a post like the one D.C. has just made. I think it might actually do more good, in that situation, to take the whole thing to an audience that is not FatherAngel’s, because his audience is really unlikely to be convinced, while a different audience can actually learn from it. It could still be productive to an extent to challenge him, but there’s also the cost of splash damage to consider on tumblr, with the whole thing potentially just amplifying acephobia and making tumblr aces feel the environment is too hostile. At a certain point, I do think it’s better to disengage—but where is that point? I don’t know, exactly.

      • Sennkestra says:

        Part of the issue with FatherAngel was that he was posting in the ace tags, and posting about things other people posted in the ace tags – and at this point in the ace community, the tags were slow enough that many more people used the tags as a major way of keeping track of the community. So it wasn’t going to be contained in his corner anyway.

    • Tristifere says:

      Glad you mentioned Dan Savage. Reading this excellent post (welcome to the new TAA contributor! great first post!), I kept thinking of him. I first heard of him when I came to the asexual community, and he was pretty much seen as arch-enemy no1. Repeatedly calling him out and engaging with him seems to have worked. I’ve also seen him give ace friendly advice.

      • dcbilliot says:

        I can’t believe I didn’t even think of Dan Savage while I was writing this. I’m glad he seems to be changing. I watched (A)Sexual on Netflix for the first time last year, and some of the comments he made in that documentary really did a number on me. I still pass on the idea that I don’t believe (A)Sexual is a good documentary for newly-identified asexuals (for comments made by both Dan Savage and David Jay). To be honest, I must have been repressing that memory.

        • Sennkestra says:

          Out of curiosity, what didn’t you like about DJ’s quotes? I don’t really remember anything that was a problem, other than that it happened to end at a sort of low point in his life, which was a bit of a downer (things got much better later! It was just off camera…).

          I do agree though that it’s not a very good education/intro film – it doesn’t actually spend much time explaining things, so it’s more like a biography of some people who happen to be asexual, rather than about asexuality in general. I think it’s a good insight into some of the negative things asexuals have to deal with, but it can be a bit of a downer and doesn’t really help answer any other questions. (It works great as a companion piece to a panel or speaker who can explain all the other 101 though)

          • dcbilliot says:

            Yeah, it was the end that really got to me. It’s not that it’s problematic or anything. He just begins to sound really defeated and begins to question if he’ll ever have relationships in the way he wants relationship. Many asexuals will get into that themselves, so it’s good to see that feeling from someone who is a big figure in the ace community. It helps people feel like they aren’t alone or weird for feeling that way, but at the same time I’m not sure newly-identifying asexuals will benefit from having those feelings thrust on them without being prepared for it or warned about. Hell, I was 5 years in to identifying as Asexual and wish someone had prepared me for those last scenes. It was a bit anxiety-inducing.

    • [So, haven’t heard anything about HuffPo, but it sounds like Salon is going to run a story about it next week…]

  7. On one hand, it’s always good to struggle against individuals with large followings who are using those followings to do harm to your community. On the other hand, there are literally still people who exist in real life who don’t think gay people are real. So it’s like, you don’t want to expend all of your energy reacting to every single instance of acephobia, big or small, because then you’ve lost valuable spoons you could have used to do ACTUAL activism.

    When individuals like Dr. Ruth or groups like GLAAD start erasing asexuality or wishing that we didn’t exist, though, it is not only recommended but necessary to fight back, if only for the fact that these are the people and groups that shape the public’s opinion about us – more so than Jezebel or Wired or Vice articles about us, more so than the work folks in our community do (as kinda sad as it is to admit).

    But to be honest, for me, whenever I find myself in this position of saying “YO YOU’RE BEING A DUMB,” I find I’m never doing it to try to change the other person’s mind. Essentially I feel like a lot of the time I’m saying to the gathered audience, “This person or group has lost credibility in trying to erase the existence of over 7 million people. Do not listen to them.”

    I have a distinct feeling that this is problematic.

  8. demiandproud says:

    First reflex is “Don’t feed the troll”, which I think is definitely the best if you don’t have much time or energy to invest in turning a discussion around.

    But then… some of the best articles, videos and blog posts out there I remember starting with “Let me take ___ saying ___ as an occasion to discuss this really important topic.” The creators’ attitudes vary from righteous anger about the misinformation to patient enthusiasm about the topic and explaining it, but it generally makes for good reading/viewing.

  9. Tristifere says:

    I’m cautious about getting involved in such arguments myself. Not because I don’t like a good internet argument (I do), but I really dislike the mob mentality of social media.
    I’ve had several instances where I was having a civil discussion with someone, but at the same time, others were sending unfiltered hate to that person. In other words: there was a mob attack and I was seen as part of it, despite being civil myself. I get people are upset, but the result was that the civil voices were seen as being the same as the hate – because it was coming from the same group. It makes people even more defensive, and even harder to have a discussion. I think that these types of call-outs stop qualifying as “activism” as soon as the call-out turns into a mob attack. What’s productive about these mob attacks? It won’t change the mind of the person you’re attacking, and it won’t make an audience look favorable on you when your community is seen throwing swearwords, hate and generally assholery at someone.

    It’s one of the reasons why I don’t engage in these types of arguments anymore (that and I got better things to do than telling some ignoramus that they’re an ignorant twat over and over again in pointless discussions that drag on forever). I don’t want to be part of a mob which also harrasses someone with hate and mud-throwing.

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