Question of the Week: October 28th, 2015

What sort of ethical protocol do you think people researching or reporting on aces outside of our community should follow? 

When I started doing academic research on asexuality I found myself regularly criticizing academics and building my arguments about what asexual discourse should look like by citing ace bloggers. I was, and am, really excited about the critical theory that we are making in our own community.

By the time it came to publish my research I had shifted to writing and reading about animals and they pose many important questions of representation. How should we represent beings very similar to us, but also extraordinarily different, and appropriately discuss their interests on their behalf? There is a huge difference between what animal welfare and what animal rights people say animals want. I began to wonder, what would conversations about how to represent ace people look like? I’ve seen conversations about ace 101, but what about how academics can ethically write about ace people? What about reporters?

I came across many questions about representing aces in my academic research. Does the motive of the author matter? How explicit should it be stated? Where does my own asexuality come in? Should I avoid citing certain people or make sure I cite others? Can I appropriately cite whole sections of their work or only paraphrase? Do I need their permission? Should anyone I cite read my whole paper before I try and publish it? How much editing control should they have? How can I recreate the ace context that makes ace ideas meaningful in the first place? What arguments in the ace community must I bring up and what arguments should I avoid? What do I need to keep in mind to best represent self-identified asexual people instead of pushing my own agenda of becoming a legitimate academic?

I continue to think about these questions but haven’t come up with any satisfactory answers. What about you?

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary trans, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing World of Warcraft 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
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4 Responses to Question of the Week: October 28th, 2015

  1. Sennkestra says:

    Honestly, my standards for most asexual research are pretty low. At this point I’d be happy with people just properly citing the information they already include (there’s a common problem of researchers making ‘common knowledge’ statements about asexuality, and then just vaguely citing something like “AVEN”…even when AVEN’s actual public materials might take an opposite view. Or where researchers make a claim, and cite it as being part of something else they already cited (like a paper by Bogaert, or the Ace census, or whatever) even though that source says nothing of the kind).

    So yeah, I’d start with asking all researchers to remember to follow like, basic standards like not making up citations, cherrypicking data, or asking obviously leading questions.

  2. Sennkestra says:

    I’d also like to see researchers do more to engage with more segments of the ace community, not just people who read the AVEN announcements forum. There’s really no excuse for doing quantitative research with tiny sample sizes anymore, especially when using internet recruiting anyway. If the Ace Census team can get several thousand responses so easily, I expect researchers to put in the effort to get at least a few hundred. (though of course this doesn’t apply to qualitative or in-personal experimental studies).

    I’d also like it if researchers would spend some time actually following current ace community conversations, instead of just relying on secondhand quotes from other papers, the AVEN FAQs, old AVEN quotes they find from the mid-2000s, or their own imagination. That way they’d perhaps be able to avoid the trap of declaring a ‘novel theory’ that’s been passed around in ace community for years already. In addition, the ace community has already done a lot of work in collecting things like media representations, historical data, and other resources that I think could be useful for researchers.

    (Also, I have many opinions about research, so apologies in advance for comments spam…)

  3. thegirlwhoknitssweaters says:

    I’m not very familiar with this kind of academic research, but there are two things I see within the community and beyond that I find particularly problematic, and that I think are important to avoid in any kind of academic writing.

    One is the conflation of “asexuality” and “aromanticism”–by which I mean that people often use the world “asexual/asexuality” when they really mean “aromantism/aromantic” (the fact that my browser recognizes the words asexual and asexuality, but doesn’t recognize aromantic or aromantism should give you a good idea of why this is a problem). I think this is due in part to the fact that, for many people, their sexual and romantic orientations are the same–but this is not true for everyone, and these ARE two separate orientations and experiences, and I think it’s important to recognize that. Conflating the two terms not only erases aromantic-spectrum people, but is also harmful to both alloromantic ace-spectrum people, and allosexual aro-spectrum people.

    Therefore, I think it’s important for anyone who writes about asexuality/the ace spectrum to know at least the basics about aromanticism/the aro spectrum, so that they can be as precise and accurate as possible in their research. Of course there IS some overlap; the dividing line between romance and sexual attraction is often a very personal one, but there is still a critical distinction.

    I have seen a growing acceptance of ace-spectrum orientations and greater awareness of them, but I have not seen a corresponding reaction for aro-spectrum orientations (the fact that Google Chrome will recognize one but not the other as an “actual word” should serve as a pretty good example of what I mean). I think the conflation of the two terms is largely to blame for this lack.

    The second thing is something I am guilty of myself, although I am trying to improve. Although asexuality can be used as an umbrella term, it is also a spectrum–there are orientations that exist besides 100% ace and 100% allosexual. I think this is often forgotten and erased (this is also true for aromanticism and the aromantic spectrum!). It seems to me a bit like using “gay” to mean “lesbian, gay, bi, etc…”, or even just to mean “gay or lesbian,” which is obviously erasure both ways. Again, there is some evidence for this just in the fact that demisexuality is not a recognized word by my browser, while asexuality is (gray-asexuality is just made of two words my browser recognizes, so it won’t throw an error–but it, too, is separate from being purely asexual and can be erased by the “umbrella” use of the term asexuality).

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is to say what you mean and mean what you say–get your terminology correct, and do your research. Remember that asexuality is different than aromanticism, and that both are a spectrum–people exist all over it, and it’s important to remember and respect that.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Well, but to be fair asexual has existed as a word for a very long time before it was ever used in the way that the ace community uses it now, so I don’t think asexuality being accepted by the spell checker is good evidence that our usage of the term has become accepted.

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