Many Forms of Resistance

This post was written for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces on Resistance, Activism, and Self-Care.

My undergraduate Environmental Politics class was many years ago, but I still vividly remember my Teaching Assistant saying you need to read the newspaper to be political. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get the mark I wanted. We started every tutorial with the news. While my peers proudly rattled off facts about another new disaster for participation marks I did my best to zone out and ignore everyone. I would have left the room if I wasn’t afraid of losing those participation marks. Six years ago I didn’t know much about my triggers or trauma: I just knew reading the newspaper or accidentally looking at the television when I went to the dentist’s office sent me into an emotional tailspin. For years I carried around an internal monologue that I was not political because I couldn’t keep up with what was going on. I was uninformed. I was ignorant. I was part of the problem. In today’s political climate the shame and frustration of six years ago comes back to me with renewed vigor when I purposely avoid glancing at the news televisions in the gym, but I have also learned a lot since then.

Last year my supervisor asked if I considered applying to be a Teaching Assistant for a politics and social justice course. Social justice is right up my alley but I told her the newspaper story and said “I don’t like politics. It’s not for me.”

My supervisor smiled in her knowing way. “The work you’re doing is politics,” she said.

I remember hesitating.

For as long as I can remember there has been something inside of me compelled to respond. I’m not always sure who exactly I’m responding to. Western culture? An individual? Beginning in my teen years this response manifested in forms of resistance that said “no.”

When I was seventeen I went vegetarian to say “no” to death. At eighteen I became vegan to say “no” louder. I didn’t even know why at the time. The theory that animals are not objects, not on earth to kill and use for human pleasure and convenience (and many of us believe this about other humans, and beloved pets like dogs and cats, but harder to accept it is also true of pigs, cows, etc.), would come to me much later from people like feminist writer Alice Walker and legal scholar Gary Francione. In the beginning I had no philosophical reasoning; there was only a visceral “NO.”

My interest in asexual activism, feminism, disability, and other topics similarly came from a heart felt rejection of the world around me. Academics and people on AVEN often excluded me from identifying as asexual. In university a professor would not accommodate me because a new trigger wasn’t on my list of formal accommodations and she didn’t want to “enable me.” My frustration reverberated and years later when my academic research shifted to include accessibility for trauma and triggers it felt right. I had been on this path for a while.

My saying no manifested in many forms: volunteering at an animal sanctuary, submitting to AVENues, joining The Asexual Agenda, founding and acting as the co-president for two vegan-feminist university groups, hosting activist workshops, and designing an easy vegan meal plan. At one point I even drew comics. They’re probably still on the internet, disrupting “animal lover” groups with vegan sentiment. In that moment of hesitation with my supervisor it all came back to me with a rush. I had considered all of my efforts resistance, sometimes activism, but never politics. Politics was what made it into the newspapers I couldn’t read without being triggered. Politics was important. What I did was something else and with those thoughts I had been delegitimizing my own effort for years.

In the last year my activism (and politics, I still must remind myself) has not been very “active.” I no longer sit at a table and talk to university students about veganism and feminism. Instead I write the materials people who sit at those tables give out. In metaphorical (and sometimes literal) terms I’m baking cookies not holding up protest signs. I organize events to socially support activists rather than speaking to people who don’t agree with me (the supposed target audience of politics and activism). I don’t write blog posts as often as I’d like. One day I’m going to write another post about Anthony Bogaert or intellectual attraction, but when? My PhD research occupies most of my reading and writing time. Even though my current research is political in itself (using fantasy fiction to teach the theory of intersectional politics across trauma and species) it’s a lot of sitting around at a coffee shop drinking black coffee and writing about magic and dragons. Often it doesn’t feel like I’m “doing” something. Instead of socializing animals at a sanctuary I’m cuddling with an adopted bunny at home because I’m the one that needs a hug (luckily my bunny loves hugs too). Sometimes my activism looks like ignoring emails because I’m doing yoga. Over reading week/spring break my resistance looked like ignoring everything and taking a mental health week.

One thing the asexual community has taught me is that there are so many different ways to be. When researching asexuality in my Masters I described our community as a multiplicity. To me asexuality isn’t just experiencing no sexual attraction. It’s also not experiencing no sex drive. Rather asexuality is identifying as asexual AND experiencing no sexual attraction AND experiencing no sex drive AND not wanting to have sex AND on and on. The “AND”s are different, sometimes even contradictory, but they do not cancel each other out like in a dualism or hierarchy. There is a multiplicity with many plateaus (I couldn’t help myself). Coming to terms with the many ways to be asexual has helped me come to terms with my own activism: sometimes its high energy and I feel like I’m “doing” something. Other times its not flashy, noticeable, or even seemingly important. Sometimes it matters to me and no one else. There’s room for all of it, in myself, and others.

To end I’d like to think about a quote that’s stuck with me. Last year a Tumblr user asked Neil Gaiman: “When does one start calling themselves ‘a writer’? When is one qualified to do so?”

Neil Gaiman replied: “When one decides one is a writer.”

I’ve always loved that. Neil Gaiman, with his multiple shelves at the nearest Indigo, thinks I’m qualified to be a writer. I’d like to think the answer to “when does one start calling themselves an activist or saying they are involved in resistance” is when you decide you are (and possibly before that too).

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing Blizzard video games 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
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7 Responses to Many Forms of Resistance

  1. Great post! I especially like the Gaiman quote that you ended with.

  2. queenieofaces says:

    I really like these reflections on the many ways to resist, since it parallels a lot of thoughts I’ve been having. I’ve been using Elizabeth’s healer metaphor a lot recently, because I’ve found that I’m very well-suited to be a healer and very poorly suited for a lot of other “activist” work. Especially with the focus on phone calls (I have a lot of difficulty with phone calls for various reasons) and protests (I have PTSD so…good fricking luck to me) in the current political climate, I often feel like I’m not “engaged enough.” But I’m good at the support side (turns out I’m one of the few if not the only person in my department who knows how to deal with people in crisis) and I’m good at educating students to be better at resisting (immediately after the election we had a class where we talked about how to resist authoritarianism…in ancient China, because I was banned from talking about contemporary events, but everybody knew what we were really talking about).

    • Talia says:

      Thanks! I went back to Elizabeth’s healer metaphor after reading your reply and it resonated a lot with me right now. I share your difficulty with phone calls and protests. I can’t imagine attending a protest for anything. You’re doing such important support work! I think it’s awesome we are discussing the many ways we are doing non-stereotypical activist work and in the process challenging that we’re not engaged enough. Sometimes I struggle with that feeling too and it feels good to be open about it here.

  3. Sara K. says:

    It’s worth noting that news (in newspapers, on TV, etc.) is designed to provoke emotions such as fear in order to get more eyeballs, and thus more subscriptions/advertising revenue, etc. That is why there is way more news stories about gruesome crime than, for example, street trees, even though knowing about local street tree policy may be more important than knowing about the details of a specific instance of gruesome crime which happened a thousand miles away. News media is also often designed to addict consumers and make them want to consume more news, rather than to inform or educate.

    A couple months back, I read an interesting essay about why people ought to stop watching/reading news because it is bad for their metal well-being, time spent reading/watching news is time that is not spent on activities which might be more educational/informational than consuming the news (reading books, for example), and watching/reading the news does not make people do more for their communities than they would otherwise. I cannot find the essay, but a quick query in a search engine reveals that quite a few people have written essays about why giving up on the news can be a good thing. I still read some news sources, but that essay did persuade me that abstaining from the news can be a good thing for some people.

    • Carmilla DeWinter says:

      Incidentally, when I was reading the local newspaper every day, I was less interested in and engaged with politics than I am now.

  4. Pingback: February 2017 Carnival of Aces: Resistance, Activism, & Self-Care | The Asexual Agenda

  5. jotdancing says:

    I really feel your description of resistance – my parents like to tease me because my first word was “no” and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to reinterpret my no-ness as resistance and actually a pretty positive thing. It’s lovely to see that experience of just saying NO put into words.

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