The ace flag, along with its purple/white/gray/black color scheme, has been the most successful ace symbol in all of history. This is worth celebrating! Unfortunately there are no longer many people around who remember how we got the flag in the first place. As someone who was there when the flag was chosen in 2010, I’d like to pass down the story.
In those days, AVEN was by far the most popular asexuality website. And the most widely known symbol of asexuality was the AVEN triangle. The triangle was inspired by an old model of asexuality, where the white part represented the heterosexual-to-homosexual spectrum, and the black part represented asexuality. By the time AVEN gained popularity, the model itself was long defunct, but people still had an understanding of what the colors originally meant.
The AVEN triangle was not the only symbol. People would share all sorts of graphic design and art projects on the AVEN forums, which featured a few common motifs. There was the ace playing card (especially the spade). The capital A. The black ring. There was also a preponderance of purple, because of AVEN’s purple site design.
David Jay, the founder of AVEN, used purple because of an obscure legend about how amethyst could prevent a person from being drunk. But not many people knew that, so to most people, purple was just loosely associated with AVEN.
An asexual flag was first suggested in May 2009, as far as I know. This led to a poll in December 2009. Most of the early designs are lost to expired image hosting services, but a few of the candidates are still visible.
Although this is just one example, it illustrates the design philosophy of the earliest flag designs. The designs are much more complicated than the eventual flag, and incorporate older asexual motifs such as the triangle gradient and spade. Also note that the color scheme had not yet solidified.
None of the proposals were very popular, and the poll didn’t go anywhere.
The final push for a flag
In July of 2010, AVEN users standup and Bristrek spearheaded an effort to decide on a flag once and for all. The discussion was spread across multiple threads, and involved three stages of polls. After this long process, in August 2010, people finally announced the asexual flag we know today.
We’re all critical historians here, so let’s try to understand the motivations behind this process. The obstacle to creating a flag was that the most vocal AVEN members tend to disagree about everything. Some people thought the flag was pointless. There was also the concern that people outside of AVEN deserved a say on the matter as well. The solution was a poll that was promoted to every major ace community that they could think of, including non-English communities (although only in the final voting round). Only then could the flag have the legitimacy to satisfy critics–although some would be dissatisfied anyway.
One interesting wrinkle, is that the flag color scheme had already been solidified some time after the 2009 vote, and before the 2010 discussion even began, and we don’t know why. In my personal recollection, there was an AVEN thread where we discussed the best colors for bracelets, and agreed upon the purple/white/gray/black color scheme. But I’ve never been able to find this thread, and it may have been lost in the AVEN server crash of early 2010. For a second opinion, I asked my friend Sciatrix, and she doesn’t recall any specific thread, but recalls people just coalescing very quickly around the one color scheme.
In any case, when standup and Bristrek created polls for the flag, all the candidates used the same color scheme, although some had more shades of gray. The winning design was the “A1” design, one of the simplest ones proposed. Many of the other designs also used stripes in various configurations, and some incorporated more complicated patterns or older asexual motifs. Unfortunately the other designs are all lost, and I’m describing from memory.
Although the flag was created in 2010, it first existed as a digital design, and it would be a little while before we saw real flags. But we had one at the 2011 San Francisco Pride parade. The photo at the top is from 2012. And, as of 2017, I own my own little flag, thanks to Redbeard.
The ace colors
I think history shows that the colors are the most important part of the flag. The horizontal stripes echo the design of other LGBTQ flags, but more importantly, the stripes are just about the simplest conveyance for a color scheme. Early on, many people preferred more complex or “interesting” designs, but it turns out that a simple design empowers us to create infinite mutations. For example, if you like ace and dragon motifs, you can draw ace-shaped dragons using the flag color scheme.
The historical record is clear about what the colors originally meant. Purple was taken from the AVEN site design, and symbolized “community”. White, gray, and black were taken from the AVEN triangle, and they symbolized allosexual, gray-A, and asexual people. Some years later, I would see some backlash against the white stripe representing allosexuals, because the flag isn’t for allosexuals. All I will say about this, is that it wasn’t a major concern in 2010, and it speaks to a cultural shift in ace communities.
As an enthusiast of aesthetic color theory, I love the ace colors. The interesting thing about gray-scale colors, is that many people think of them as “colorless”, but this isn’t entirely justified. Gray-scale colors are a balance of yellow and blue. How much yellow and how much blue is an socially constructed standard, set to the blackbody spectrum of an object at 6500 degrees Kelvin. So what we have are some colors which are popularly perceived as lacking color, even though when you dig deeper you realize they are something more. And if people don’t see what the fuss is with gray-scale, the color purple (“community”) comes to the rescue, bringing the whole scheme into focus.
This is just my interpretation, not at all originally intended. But it illustrates how the simple design of the flag gives us the freedom to relate to it in our own ways, not entirely bound to history.