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).