One of the reasons I think The Asexual Agenda has declined in relevance, is that we never really addressed The Discourse.
By “The Discourse” I refer to the ongoing flame war that has consumed ace communities on Tumblr. To learn more about The Discourse and its history, I recommend this article on aro-soulmate-project and the links therein, all of which I found via jotdancing. The short version: The Discourse is about a group of people who are basically like TERFs, but antagonistic to ace and aro people. Precursors to The Discourse date back to 2010, but many people trace the current iteration to 2015, when it was likely sparked by The Trevor Project deciding to include ace people.
The Discourse is obviously important, from several perspectives. First, it’s important to the people who have actively been involved in the flame war, people who witness it on a regular basis, and even people who hear about it incidentally or second-hand. It’s important to all the ace communities that have been shaped by The Discourse. And finally, The Discourse is a forecast of the future. Ace activists of my generation have long speculated that after fighting ace invisibility, we might end up fighting ace antagonism. Such speculation seems much more concrete nowadays.
Some people have referred to The Asexual Agenda as a refuge from The Discourse. But if we’re a refuge, it’s only by accident. Why haven’t we talked about The Discourse?
The failed research project
I have suggested The Discourse as a topic many times in the backchannel. But nobody wants to talk about it. The first reason is that many of our writers are totally burnt out on The Discourse (some having written about it in other contexts, but others burnt out from just hearing about it). The second reason is that many of us don’t see much of The Discourse, and don’t feel qualified to talk about it. In other words, we haven’t seen enough to talk about it, and yet we’ve seen enough that we’re already sick of it.
I observe that blogging tends to be a thinky medium, and The Asexual Agenda is an especially thinky blog, but The Discourse is not much of a thinky topic. Ace/aro-antagonistic people are wrong, obviously wrong, in ways that are not always interesting to deconstruct. Their shifting set of arguments and ideas seem more deserving of the attention of a mockery-based blog like We Hunted the Mammoth.
I also observe that The Asexual Agenda tends to attract writers who are much older than the ace Tumblr median. So yeah, we’re too old for this shit.
But The Discourse is still important, so the task of writing about it fell to me, the person who never seems to get burnt out (or at least, is bad at detecting it). In 2016, I publicly promised that I would blog about it. And I tried, I really did.
My first strategy was to do a bunch of research, so I could explain what it was, and why it was wrong. Then I felt that I should play to the strengths of this blog by focusing less on arguments, and more on the historical background. Then I had a few interactions that reminded me of how many people hardly even understand what The Discourse is, so I was thinking I would explain the background on a basic level.
But my research was a disaster, and huge time sink. There was a flood of contemporary commentary, usually overly-focused on countering some particular argument, assumed that the reader was already aware of precisely what they were responding to, and just lacked any larger perspective. It felt impossible to make sense of the thing with only a simple research project. The only way was to live through it, and then later reflect back on the experience. Which is how we’re getting histories of The Discourse now.
So I abandoned my research. Later I had this idea of interviewing someone, instead of doing research. But the last person I asked didn’t respond, and I never got around to asking more. I think what really helped, was finding the links at the top of the post, which released me from the obligation of having to write my own background. Now I feel like I should just say something, even if it’s only a personal narrative of my research.
Feels bad to be three years late.
The central problem is that The Discourse, while all-consuming on certain parts of the internet, is just a distant rumor to me. I just don’t follow any of the relevant tumblr blogs–not because I’m particularly tired of seeing The Discourse, but because (what’s the nice way to put it?) I just don’t like the content of the blogs that tend to discuss it. This is a matter of personal taste, but I don’t like to read blogs that post ten things a day, especially not memes or affirmations, or reblog chains. I want content that’s more reflective, long-lived, and curated to be reader-friendly.
But I still see rumors of The Discourse on a frequent basis. I recall one time a friend encountered an ace exclusionist comment, and he felt it was so absurd, so contrary to his entire life, that he went on a huge rant about it on Twitter. And I said to him that it wasn’t just one comment, it was this big flame war on Tumblr (and yes it really is that ridiculous). He didn’t know! I often skim news articles to see if they’re notable enough for our linkspam, and this is a common theme. Some people refer to The Discourse as if it’s the only issue anyone talks about; other people seem to have encountered only a comment or two, and found it so infuriating that it warranted a little rant in a news article.
From the snippets of commentary I hear from Tumblr, it seems that people think The Discourse is so dominating that it is suffocating ace communities. But it’s not every ace community. In fact, some of us feel quite isolated from The Discourse, and confused about what’s going on. But we still hear about it, and it still impacts us, and we still understand that it’s important.