Trigger warnings: discussion of sexual violence, including corrective rape and CSA, although nothing specific; policing of survivors’ reactions to sexual violence. If you think this needs more warnings, let me know, and I’ll be happy to add them.
In the last two posts I’ve outlined two of the major ways in which ace survivors are used as rhetorical devices–by using them to win political arguments and by creating a monolithic narrative of The Way Sexual Violence Happens to Aces. If you’ve read this far, you might be worrying about whether you’ve done either of these things in your own writing. You might be wondering how to avoid using aces as rhetorical devices while still writing forceful, argumentative pieces. This part is for you.
If you’re deciding to write about ace survivors, I think it’s really important to be aware of what we’re actually saying. It’s important to elevate our voices, rather than talk over us or link to that Huffington Post article yet again. (When I see people linking to that HuffPo article, it’s almost always in the context of someone using it to prove that aces are oppressed.) It’s important to remember that we’re part of the same communities as you, and we are reading what you’re writing. I see a lot of ace non-survivors writing about ace survivors as though we are incapable of speaking for ourselves, as though we are completely silent and these issues wouldn’t be discussed if it weren’t for intrepid non-survivors bringing them to light. That’s not the case. We don’t need to be saved and we certainly don’t need you to voice our concerns–we need you to listen to what we’re saying rather than making assumptions. The RFAS recommended reading list is generally a good place to start.
Reading work by ace survivors is also generally a good way to acquaint yourself with argumentative frameworks that include ace survivors but don’t use them as rhetorical devices. Remember in part 2 when I talked about how a lot of the time arguments that use survivors politically are structured like “Ace survivors. Therefore, [argument]”? Most writing by ace survivors doesn’t use that structure. Instead, it tends to use an “[Argument]. For example, some ace survivors…” structure. Compare “Aces are correctively raped. Therefore, aces are oppressed” with “Compulsory sexuality affects aces. For example, some aces are coerced into sex.”
In general, the word “some” is your friend. Ace survivors are not a hivemind, so if you’re making a statement that applies to all ace survivors, it better end “are all on the asexual spectrum” or “have all experienced sexual violence,” because there is almost no other statement you can make that would apply to all of us. I know that some people feel using words like “some” and “a few” reduces the impact of their words, but reducing the impact of your words is a lot better than making certain populations of ace survivors feel less legitimate by erasing their experiences.
Stop fixating on corrective rape. I get it, I really do; it’s horrifying and terrible and there are a lot of people who don’t realize that it’s a problem facing aces. But you’re not doing us any favors by only talking about corrective rape. There are a lot of ace survivors who have never been correctively raped, and those of us who have been correctively raped aren’t benefiting from you talking about how terrible and awful it is. We know how terrible and awful it is–we’ve lived it. Now, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do to support people who’ve experienced it? Are you going to accept our narratives even when they are complicated and messy and don’t demonstrate a clear causal relationship between asexuality and sexual violence? Are you prepared to support us through the (often long and messy) fallout, or do you just want to point at us as proof of whatever you’re arguing and then discard us once we’ve lost our utility?
Know when to be quiet. I think that some people feel like they have to be able to talk about every single subject, that by not talking about ace survivors they are somehow failing some sort of social justice test. That isn’t true. It’s better for you to say, “You know, I just don’t know enough about this topic to say something informed, so I’ll just sit back and wait for someone with the knowledge or experience to take this one” than to charge in spewing misinformation and ignorant remarks. You don’t have to know everything, and you don’t have to speak on every subject. Instead, boost the voices of those who are more knowledgeable and who do have experience. Link, link, link. Linking pieces written by ace survivors about their experiences is a better way to convey information, and is significantly less likely to negatively impact ace survivors than if you speak without understanding the full ramifications of your words.
That said, consider the safety of the survivors’ whose pieces you are linking. Elizabeth has written a longer piece on this topic, but, briefly, a good rule of thumb is that personal narratives are usually more sensitive than posts written specifically for educational purposes (like this one). If you’re not sure whether you should link a particular piece or not, ask the author for permission.
Note that while the above advice is mainly addressed to non-survivors writing about ace survivors, there are ace survivors who will use themselves or other ace survivors as rhetorical devices in their own arguments. In my experience, ace survivors producing this type of problematic discourse are not particularly common, but they do exist, especially people who take their own experience and extrapolate it to make a broad statement about the experiences of all ace survivors. If you are an ace survivor who is writing about ace survivors as a whole, let me add one more bit of advice especially for you: Be aware that your experience is not the only ace survivor experience, and the experiences of other ace survivors are more diverse than you can possibly imagine. If you’re presenting yourself as a spokesperson for all ace survivors, it is absolutely essential that you do your best to understand the diversity of other ace survivors’ experiences and represent them with compassion and understanding, even when their experiences, identities, and feelings are drastically different than your own. I think some ace survivors might try to generalize their experience to create a One True Narrative because they want solidarity, but I want to remind you that even if everyone’s experiences are different, there can still be solidarity in community. Even if no one else has had the exact same experience as you, it doesn’t mean you’re alone.
Beyond those guidelines, here are some questions to ask yourself before including ace survivors in an argument:
– Is the argument you’re making directly related to ace survivors? If not, why are you including them?
– Will making this argument directly benefit ace survivors? Will it benefit ace survivors specifically or aces as a whole?
– Will making this argument bring ace survivors under scrutiny and force them to prove that their experiences were “real” or “bad enough”? If so, what is your plan to mitigate that?
– Are you using ace survivors as proof of oppression or hardship faced by aces as a whole? Can ace survivors be replaced in your argument by an Oppressed Lamp?
– Are you using ace survivors for shock value or to cause feelings of pity in your readers?
– When you say “ace survivors” are you actually referring to a specific narrative or experience of sexual violence? Does the argument you’re making hold true for demisexual survivors of CSA who frequently have sex?
– Are you assuming that all ace survivors have a particular set of feelings about sex, e.g. all ace survivors are sex-averse? Are you assuming that all ace survivors have a particular set of feelings about anything?
– Are you assuming a causal relationship between asexuality and sexual violence?
– Are you only focusing on the instant of sexual violence? Are you thinking about what may come after that experience and how to support ace survivors through the fallout?
– Are you presenting one narrative of sexual violence against asexual spectrum people as “more important” or “more real” than other narratives?
– Are you presenting any statistics on asexuality and sexual violence? (This includes using phrases like “most” and “almost all.”) Where did you get your information? What is your sample size?
– Are you implying that there is a “correct” or “appropriate” way to be an ace survivor, e.g. saying that ace survivors should be sex-averse rather than hypersexual or that ace survivors should be sex-indifferent rather than sex-averse?
– Are you asking ace survivors of corrective rape to ignore any complicating factors in their experience of sexual violence? Are you only interested in corrective rape that fits into a politically useful narrative?
– If you are asking for people to support ace survivors, are you offering concrete suggestions or are you just demanding vague “support” or “protection”?
– Are you listening to and boosting the voices of ace survivors or are you talking over them or assuming that they don’t have anything to say on the subject? Are you linking to anything ace survivors have written or are you just linking to that HuffPo article again?
– Are you considering the safety of survivors’ whose pieces you are linking? Is linking their piece likely to open them up to scrutiny, victim-blaming, or harassment? If so, what are you doing to mitigate that?
– Are you collaborating with or getting feedback from ace survivors? Would you be embarrassed or uncomfortable knowing that we’re reading what you’re writing?
Hopefully this series has been helpful in explaining why using ace survivors as rhetorical devices is problematic and how to avoid those pitfalls while doing ace activism/blogging. I hope that this series will reduce the number of people using ace survivors as proof that aces are oppressed, or, at least, that it will be a useful reference for bloggers wanting to write sensitively about ace survivors.
If you are interested in further information on supporting ace survivors and/or making your communities inclusive, we have a #for supporters tag on our tumblr and an education section on our main website. Stay tuned for an updated linkspam for supporters in the near future. Several of us at RFAS are also happy to look over drafts of projects, resources, and/or workshops to check that they’re survivor-competent; here is our contact information. (Please be aware, however, that we are somewhat short staffed and run entirely by volunteers, so we may not always have the fastest response time.)
And to everyone who’s read all the way through this (honestly quite lengthy) series, thank you for sticking through to the end. I’m looking forward to working with all of you to make safer, more inclusive communities.