Recently, I expressed a desire to talk about “The Discourse”, that big flame war that occurs on Tumblr regarding the inclusion of aces in LGBT spaces. I wish to strip away euphemism, so I’m going to switch to calling it “The Ace Flame War”, with the understanding that I’m referring to that flame war, and not one of the numerous flame wars that occur elsewhere. My article received a mixed response, because many readers felt it would be unproductive to get down into the trenches of The Ace Flame War. To this I say, that’s moot because it’s not likely to happen. My style is is to instead make bird’s eye observations.
So, let’s make some observations of gender. Tumblr mostly consists of women. This is especially true of the ace parts of Tumblr, where women outnumber nonbinary people, who outnumber men. I believe it is also true of the “exclusionists”–the opposing side of the Flame War.
I’m a cis guy, and so this is a really glaring aspect of The Ace Flame War, that it’s primarily an argument between women and other women–with nonbinary people playing a significant supporting role of course. This leaves me in the position of seeing certain… ideas… that participants in the Flame War take for granted, but seem highly unusual to me.
It has often been remarked that ace exclusionists are highly analogous to TERFs (trans-exclusive radical feminists). Many exclusionist arguments are copied directly from TERFs. And many exclusionists are also literally TERFs who alternate between acephobia and transphobia, and biphobia as well.
But what is a TERF? These days, many people use TERF as a generic term for transphobia, but that is not what it is. TERFism is a specific variety of transphobia, whose roots can be traced to radical feminism in the 70s. Whether TERFs are actually feminists is a fraught question (one that I recently discussed with other bloggers), and a full treatment is beyond the scope of this post. But suffice it to say that most TERFs are women who at least think of themselves as feminists. They see themselves as guardians of women’s spaces from “male” trans invaders.
This is quite different from men’s spaces. The typical pathology of a men’s space, is that it proclaims its desire to be inclusive, while turning a blind eye towards the male harassers in their midst. This is a different variety of exclusionism, enforced not by self-proclaimed gatekeepers, but by an oppressive culture.
These two narratives–the gatekept women’s space, and the oppressive men’s space–are quite reductive. Not all men’s spaces or women’s spaces fit. I only claim that the latter narrative applies to my own experience.
I started out in queer undergrad organizations that were well-mixed in terms of gender. But my post-undergraduate experience has been almost entirely with male-dominated spaces (excluding ace groups). There was a queer grad student organization, a queer support group, queer themed housing, gay bars, gay clubs, and of course several gay friend-circles. Women were welcome in most of these spaces, but not sought out, and sometimes treated poorly, and thus mostly absent. My experience with queer women’s spaces is nil, because it is understood that if you’re a man, you must never go there. It is forbidden. You don’t go there in curiosity, you don’t go there in solidarity, you don’t go there at all.
My experience as an ace in non-ace queer spaces, is that nobody ever questioned whether I belong there. The whole exclusionism vs inclusionism question that occupies The Ace Flame War was a complete non-issue, and bafflingly out of touch.
If anything, the problem was the opposite, that some people seemed to believe that I belonged in those queer spaces even more than I let on. In other words, they believed I was just gay. The problem was not gatekeeping, but rather ignorance, assumptions–and sometimes a lack of consent culture. This was true of the mixed-gender student orgs, and became even more true as I moved towards more male-dominated spaces.
Why do gay men think everyone else is gay? Homophobes are gay. Bisexuals are gay. Aces are gay. The babadook is gay. Do lesbians ever do the same? I get the sense that lesbians would rather just kick everyone out who isn’t unequivocally lesbian. Thus we have TERFs, ace exclusionists, and narratives of bisexual traitors.
I reiterate that I have absolutely no experience in queer women’s spaces. I’ve been told that this is only a problem in certain kinds of women’s spaces, and ace exclusionists only represent a slice. (And what about trans and nonbinary spaces? I haven’t forgotten about them, I just don’t presume to know anything about them.)
So I’ll leave it to the commenters to analyze the tendency towards gatekeeping in queer women’s spaces. I’ll analyze the tendency towards assimilation in queer men’s spaces.
Queer men understand that the more things they can make gay, the more acceptable it is to be gay. Put another way, there is more space to be gay.
Got that? More people = more space.
While this idea gets applied in misguided ways, I think it has a lot of merit. “Space” is not a precious natural resource, it is an artificial resource created and consumed by humans. This is even more true nowadays, when all you have to do to create space is make a website, write a blog, create a group on social media. And wowee, aces are really good at creating spaces. To the extent that there is an ace culture, it revolves around creating spaces. Sometimes it’s all we talk about. The idea that the inclusion of aces will take up space, rather than creating space, that doesn’t make sense to me.