How we talk about asexuality: reflections on workshop structure

Most of you have probably seen at least one workshop about asexuality. Either you saw it at a conference, or there was one held for Asexual Awareness Week, or maybe you just watched one online. However, you might not have given much thought to the particular structure that the workshop uses. In fact, the workshop structure says a lot about the rising awareness of asexuality.

I used to run asexuality workshops, in the period 2010-2014, and those workshops follow a very different structure from most workshops today. Basically, I would lecture people. Then they’d ask me questions. These days, the most common workshop structure appears to be a panel, which makes my lectures seem so quaint.

The purpose of a lecture is to convey a small, but reliable amount of information to people who otherwise know nothing. The audience didn’t even know enough about asexuality to ask questions. If I did nothing but answer questions, the audience would just ask, “Well, what is it?” and then I’d have to deliver the same lecture anyway.

In contrast, a panel conveys a larger, more complex body of information, but does so in a more haphazard way. Sometimes the panelists you have simply don’t include all the diverse corners of the ace experience. That’s statistics for you. Also, the audience frequently gets stuck on some trivial detail of one panelist’s experience that is particular to them. But all of this is okay, because asexual resources aren’t so scarce that the audience can’t learn more on their own.

Of course, my old workshops did not rely purely on lecturing, nor do today’s workshops rely purely on panels. I used to print out snippets of asexual experiences and have the audience read the snippets out loud. (I didn’t know enough ace people in real life to get together a real panel.) As for the panels in workshops today, they are often preceded by short lectures to bring everyone up to speed.

But aside from panels and lectures, there is a third workshop structure: the group discussion. Either you have the whole group talk to each other in a moderated conversation, or you split people up into little groups.

The thing about group discussions, is you need a critical density of people who know what they’re talking about. It’s not especially productive to have people simply share their ignorance with each other.

Discussions also work best when they’re not part of general asexuality workshops, but more specific asexuality workshops. “What is asexuality?” is not a good question for discussion. A better question is, “What are the issues relating to representation of asexuality in video games?” And to discuss that question, we need a workshop not on asexuality, but on asexuality and video games. We already do these kinds of workshops at ace conferences (at least we do it in SF), but I’ve seen a few appearing at other conferences (the video game one is a real example).

This Asexual Awareness Week, if you go to any workshops, pay attention to their structure, and think about what it says about asexual awareness.

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
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4 Responses to How we talk about asexuality: reflections on workshop structure

  1. Interesting post! I submitted a proposal for an asexuality and religion workshop for Creating Change. It largely falls into the “group discussion” structure, but aims to have presenters providing information that the participants can then discuss among themselves. I based the structure on a non-asexuality workshop I recently attended that I thought was useful for getting people to engage with issues they might not know a lot about, but have some background on.

    • Siggy says:

      I hope it goes well! There have been a few cases where I thought that group discussions didn’t work because they were too ambitious/optimistic. But they’re great when they work.

  2. In my country we haven’t even reached the lecture phase, but what i’ve seen [from España and México]( as been mostly lectures, and one (in Madrid) that seems to have also incorporated group discussions on experiences with monosexism and allosexism (previously explained).

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