This post was written for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces on the topic of Resistance, Activism, and Self-Care.
Content warnings: discussion of anti-ace hostility and familial rejection, mention of sexual violence
It’s hard for me to pinpoint the moment when ace blogging stopped being fun and started being anxiety-inducing. By the time I was writing my Ace Survivors as Rhetorical Devices series, anxiety had me checking and double-checking and triple-checking and obsessing over every single word–I’m proud of the end product, but getting to that product required way more energy than it should have. But even before that, I think I was already starting to burn out.
It’s not hard to point at particular factors that led to burnout. There’s the fact that I’m a healer in a community full of people who would prefer to DPS, that I’m trying to heal while being hit with friendly fire pretty constantly. There are the waves of hostility/“ace discourse” (are aces queer, are aces oppressed, are aces invading LGBT spaces, are aces harming real LGBT people, etc.), which, while I’ve seen it all before, does wear on you, especially if your experiences are constantly being leveraged as “proof” of one thing or another. There are the stresses of school–I passed my qualifying examinations last year, which ate up pretty much all of my time for 9 months and then left me wiped out. Then the election happened in November, and I had to do crisis control in my immediate social circle (mostly successful) and try to shore up my already crappy mental health (less successful). Obviously I was going to burn out–it’s only impressive that it took this long.
More than that, though, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to talk about anything that matters to me in ace spaces. Part of it is just general anxiety and lack of energy. Part of it is that a lot of the conversations being held in ace spaces aren’t ones that interest me. But a large part of it is fear of the way anything I say can be used, especially in the constant, unending debates about asexuality.
Let’s take my family situation, for example. Those of you who have been following this blog for long enough may remember that I came out to my family a few years ago and then…stopped talking about it. Part of my silence was because it was too raw to talk about, but part of it was that I didn’t feel like I had the energy to discuss it with the required finesse. I knew that anything I said would have to be checked and double-checked and triple-checked and obsessed over, read and reread to make sure that I wasn’t letting anything slip, and vetted to make sure that my words couldn’t be twisted and used as “proof” of anything. After all, as constantly comes up in those fights on tumblr, nobody’s ever been disowned for being ace.
And here the anxiety comes in, the sense that I should soften my words or frame them differently, that I should add that I’m the one who cut off contact (sort of), that there were mitigating circumstances that were unrelated to my sexuality, that my coming out was only the precipitating event, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. Do I talk about the explicitly anti-asexual statements one of my parents made for years before I came out? Do I have to enumerate every part of the conversation, every mitigating factor and bit of ugly family history, that led to me fleeing my parents’ house? Does it change the narrative if I say that losing contact with my family has improved my well-being? If it’s overall a good thing (even if it led to a week of crying and sleeping on my friend’s couch), am I even allowed to talk about it or should I be spending my energy on more important topics?
When you’re hurting, you don’t want to spend a lot of energy figuring out how to present your hurt in a palatable way. So I just…didn’t tell anyone. Much of my immediate social circle offline doesn’t know–it gets awkward around the holidays, but otherwise I’ve gotten skillful enough at dodging the topic that no one catches on. It’s always weird for me to read the arguments that nothing bad has ever happened to anyone for being ace, when, arguably, quite a bit of bad stuff has happened to me for being ace…but if I say anything, I run the danger of becoming an Oppressed Lamp. It’s a profoundly messed up position to find yourself in–scared of how the community that is ostensibly supposed to be supporting you will weaponize your words even as that community is potentially the only place where people might understand what you’re going through. It’s an even more messed up position when you find yourself holding back so many words, hiding or eliding so many experiences for fear of what people might say, that you can’t really talk about much of anything at all.
This is all to say, I’ve disengaged from ace communities. Or, at least, comparatively disengaged–obviously I’m still engaged to the extent that I can run linkspam, but I read a lot less these days and (obviously) write a lot less. At this point in my life, I’m a lot less interested in debates and theory than I am in very practical questions: Where can people like me go to get support? What resources exist for people in situations like mine? How do we best support aces who need help? That isn’t what ace communities seem to be focused on right now, so I’ve stepped out for a bit. It’s a lot less stressful (and I need all the stress reduction I can get), but it’s lonely. I don’t have an offline community at this point, other than the LGBTQ friends I’ve surrounded myself with (none of whom are ace). I also don’t really talk about my personal life anymore–it’s easier to self-censor than to figure out how to frame everything.
Instead, I’ve been focusing on other things. I’m putting energy into making sure that my students get the education they need–recently, we’ve been working on thinking critically about primary sources and the perspectives and biases of their writers, a skill that has, I’m sure, absolutely no real world applications. I’m putting energy into trying to improve the (frankly dire) situation in my department–from making sure that students get the information they need for every step of graduate school to trying to convince the administration to occasionally pay us on time (the latter is harder than the former). As it turns out, doing crisis support for ace survivors makes me pretty well-equipped to deal with panicking grad students, and facing down department administration is nowhere near as nerve-wracking as getting up in front of a room of strangers to talk about my sexuality. I’ve also been writing a lot of fiction recently–mostly fanfic, but some not–and have been consuming a lot more media (books, TV, movies); when I was younger, escapism through fiction was my primary form of self-care, and it’s what I’ve returned to now. Mostly, though, I’ve been trying to keep my head above the water and keep surviving. It’s not particularly glamorous, but, as my friends keep trying to remind me, it’s a kind of resistance too.
I like stories with clear narrative arcs. I, probably like many other people, like being able to narrativize my messy and disorganized experiences into something with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Kid discovers asexuality, doubts it because of crappy boyfriend, but then triumphs and embraces ace identity. Trauma survivor forms a community and heals alongside like-minded others. Activist changes the world a little bit at a time.
I don’t know how this story ends. I’ve always liked phoenix imagery–burn out and rise from the ashes–but I don’t know if I’m a phoenix. Maybe I just burn out and that’s the end. I’d prefer not–that’s not a very good story and it would kind of suck for me. Or maybe I’m not burning out–maybe this is just a hibernation. It seems like the whole ace community is going through a bit of a hibernation right now; blogging, on the whole, has slowed down in the past year. Maybe we’ll come back in the spring, better and stronger than ever. I hope so. I hope that if (when) we come back, there’s more focus on support, more focus on protecting our most vulnerable community members, more focus on reaching out and connecting with other communities and sharing our combined resources. I hope there are more healers. We can always use more healers.