Queer spaces don’t work like that

I’d like to continue my series on “The Discourse”, that big flame war that occurs on Tumblr regarding the inclusion of aces in LGBTQ spaces. I wish to strip away euphemism, so I’m calling it “The Ace Flame War” rather than “The Discourse”.

The two “sides” of The Ace Flame War are often referred to as inclusionists and exclusionists (“ace inclusionists” and “ace exclusionists” if you want to be specific). If we had to classify ourselves, the entirety of this blog would fall on the inclusionist side, because that’s the ace-positive side. However, I have some disagreements with inclusionists, because they appear to have made a series of concessions to exclusionists over the years.  Not to make any sweeping generalizations about inclusionists, but it’s irritating when our interactions often amount to them complaining that I haven’t conceded the same points they did.

Case in point, consider the following exclusionist argument:

  1. Only oppressed people ought to be included in LGBTQ spaces.
  2. Aces are not oppressed.
  3. Aces ought not to be included in LGBTQ spaces.

From what I’ve seen, inclusionists have responded by rebutting point 2 (often by linking to personal accounts without permission). And they appear to concede or ignore point 1.

That may sense in the context of a flame war. After all, flame wars aren’t about finding the truth, they’re about making whatever argument is most politically expedient.  But look, I’m not part of that flame war, I don’t need to conform to its constraints.

The very first thing you should know about LGBTQ spaces, is that there are too many kinds to talk about all of them. There are support groups, social groups, discussion groups, activist orgs, and even stuff like gay bars or nightclubs. Few of these spaces include the entire LGBTQ umbrella. Sometimes spaces are designated for a particular subgroup, sometimes they have climates that are unfriendly to certain groups, and sometimes what the space is doing is mostly of interest to certain subgroups.

While I can’t make a generalization across all kinds of LGBTQ spaces, one thing I have great difficulty imagining, is an LGBTQ space that excludes people because they are not oppressed. Frankly, that just doesn’t make sense for most kinds of spaces. In a social space, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re friendly. In an activist space, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re helpful. Perhaps the only kind of space where it matters, is a support group.

But can you imagine? A new person walks into a support group, and the support group begins by grilling them about how much oppression they’ve experienced? Hey, maybe it happens somewhere, but I doubt that this support group would survive for very long, and it’s certainly not a space worth fighting to be part of. The thing is, “oppression” is a property of populations, and when you enter a group, you’re always doing it as an individual, not a population. Although I would say aces experience oppression as a group, perhaps some individual aces are well off and not in need of a support group. The aces who are well off are generally not the ones who try to join support groups, and thus gatekeeping serves little purpose.

I have an instructive anecdote, about the time that I joined a support group. It was a group for gay/bi/queer men in their 20s, run by the local LGBT community center. (Note for the non-regular readers, I’m a gay guy in addition to being ace.) I joined because I used to be part of undergrad queer student orgs, and felt a little lost after graduation. But the group wasn’t a perfect fit.  And it had nothing to do with asexuality, it had to do with class.  I felt rather better off than most of the other people, because I was an overeducated grad student, while most of the other people were blue-collar workers.

It was slightly awkward, but there’s always going to be some variance in the difficulty experienced by different members of a support group. It’s best not to dwell on it, because that discourages not just those who are most well-off, but also those who are least well-off. And in this case, the difference wasn’t even that big. Most of the problems we discussed were ordinary ones that I could relate to: coming out as a young adult, navigating gay spaces, dating, finding friends. And there was a strong social component too. When I finally felt like I was on better footing in my life, that’s when I stopped going.

All these people who argue about whether aces are oppressed enough to be included in LGBTQ spaces… have any of them actually tried participating in a support group? Do they know anything about the LGBTQ spaces that they’re supposedly protecting or trying to gain access to? It sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like a proxy battle for some unrelated issue.

And from what I’ve seen, many inclusionists understand that it’s not about LGBTQ spaces. Some inclusionists openly admit that they’re not personally interested in participating in LGBTQ spaces, and some admit that they’re not personally interested in identifying as queer. The Ace Flame War is not about LGBTQ spaces, it’s about ace-antagonism, something we all have an interest in fighting regardless of our relationship with LGBTQ spaces.

But even if you don’t care about LGBTQ spaces, even it’s not about LGBTQ spaces, LGBTQ spaces are something I care about, and I want people to stop spreading misinformation about them. Reject portrayals of LGBTQ spaces as homogenous entities. Reject the narrative that LGBTQ spaces commonly police their boundaries on the basis of oppression. Reject pronouncements about LGBTQ spaces that lack grounding in real experiences within those spaces.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
This entry was posted in Articles, asexual politics, Community, LGBT and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Queer spaces don’t work like that

  1. Coyote says:

    That may sense in the context of a flame war. After all, flame wars aren’t about finding the truth, they’re about making whatever argument is most politically expedient.

    Speaking of which, I’m currently haunted by a post I saw recently that actually used the word “glee” to describe the blogger’s own reaction to…. finding survey statistics on high rates of [bad thing] happening to aces, relative to other groups. This was being celebrated. Because it would make a convenient rhetorical point. Similar type of thing happened at the ace meetup I went to recently and I was too taken aback with the suddenness of it to even respond… Using abuse/violence victims/survivors as rhetorical devices has gotten really, really entrenched within these arguments, it seems.

    …All in service of an argument over a question which, to begin with, is already insufferably abstract.

  2. Cracticus says:

    A few loose thoughts on the matter:
    What do exclusionists think of the people who have the better life they’ve been fighting for. Are they no longer queer?

    I think the most logical counter argument to “aces aren’t welcome in queer spaces” is that we are. Not everywhere but the number of places that welcome us are growing. Yet so many people are so caught up in the idea that an oppression ticket is required for entry, they hardly ever make that point.

    The idea that oppression is required to be part of community isn’t limited to queer spaces. I’ve seen some asexuals try to exclude grey-folk under the misguided premise that we can have “normal sex” and therefore aren’t suffering enough.

    I will admit, as a result of the flame war I’ve caught myself thinking a L,G,B or T person is worse off than an ace facing the same thing, before realising that’s not how that works.

    • Coyote says:

      I think the most logical counter argument to “aces aren’t welcome in queer spaces” is that we are.

      I get the sense it’s not just an “is” argument — folks are also arguing over whether the way it “is” is also the way it should be.

  3. raavenb2619 says:

    Nice blog post, can I share this on Tumblr? Also, I’m not sure if I caught a typo at the very end.

    Reject pronunciations about LGBTQ spaces that lack grounding in real experiences within those spaces.

    do you mean “pronouncements”?

  4. Sara K. says:

    “The Ace Flame War is not about LGBTQ spaces, it’s about ace-antagonism”

    Yes, this. Or perhaps I would say that the Tumblr Ace Flame War is really about whether or not people can discuss asexuality in a positive way on Tumblr. I only look at the Tumblr Ace Flame War indirectly, but I get the impression that even if all of the Tumblr aces collectively conceded ‘aces are not oppressed and not queer and don’t belong in LGBTQ spaces’ and then continued to discuss asexuality in a supportive way, the ‘exclusionists’ would find some other angle of attack. Because it’s not about the LGBTQ spaces, it’s about letting aces have *any* space (on Tumblr).

    • Coyote says:

      For this reason I don’t see why people involved — people who have every reason to be aware of that — *continue* to call them things like “exclusionists,” as if that’s really what’s at issue. I’ve even made posts before about people being specifically anti-ace and had people respond with things like “yeah I hate exclusionists.” Nobody was even talking about exclusion. Bud, the thing at issue here isn’t that they’re telling me I can or can’t go certain places. It’s that they hate me for just being ace.

      • raavenb2619 says:

        I’ve seen a few people try to shift the language to something like “aphobe”/“acephobe”/“ace antagonist” on Tumblr but the inclusionist/exclusionist mindset is really entrenched

        • Coyote says:

          “Aphobe/acephobe” has a completely different problem — the whole “framing a phobia as a moral issue” thing — so that’s not any better, in my eyes. I’d got with “ace antagonist,” but… mostly I prefer adjectives over nouns.

          Hey, speaking of, since I was recently wondering aloud where “aspec” came from… do you know who got the ball rolling on using “inclusionist/exclusionist” language?

          • raavenb2619 says:

            Could you say more on why you don’t think aphobe/acephobe is a better term? I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

            My guess is that ace inclusionist/exclusionist is inspired by bi exclusionists since I’ve seen people draw parallels between what’s happening with aces not being “queer enough” to be in the community and what used to happen (occasionally still happens?) with bi people. So maybe it’s from ace Tumblr circa whenever the Discourse started?

          • Coyote says:

            Depends on what you mean by “circa whenever the Discourse started.” People on Tumblr arguing viciously over whether or not “asexuality is queer” — specifically in the way where the “no” response is framed as protecting queerness rather than protecting asexuality* — is older than people calling that “the Discourse.” So do you mean 2011 or before, or do you mean 2015?

            *People were arguing about it before that, too, but the arguments pre-2011 among aces, especially on AVEN, operated on very different terms, as Siggy can attest.

            Anyway, I had a whole argument with Siggy once about the -phobia suffix that concluded with us both making concessions to each other. You can read the comment chain if you’re interested. My current thinking is that I already have to remind people enough as it is that health is not morality, so I’d like the language I use to leave no ambiguity on that.

          • raavenb2619 says:

            So do you mean 2011 or before, or do you mean 2015?

            My gut feeling is that the inclusionist/exclusionist rhetoric comes from 2015, but I feel like, logically, 2011 or earlier is more likely to be right. That is, the language existed in 2011, but became popular in 2015.


            reading through this, you make some compelling points, but I think that people who come across terms like homophobia, transphobia, aphobia, etc don’t consciously connect them to phobia as a medical term, because they have separate meanings even if they have similar suffixes, sort of like how people these days don’t consciously connect “internet” and “interpersonal” despite their shared prefix and etymological history. Do you know if there’s any research on unconscious connections/biases due to the shared suffixes?

          • Coyote says:

            don’t consciously connect them to phobia as a medical term

            Sure they don’t. People don’t consciously connect the concept of soulmates to a bad ideology either, but that lack of conscious connection doesn’t discount the fact.

            Do you know if there’s any research on unconscious connections/biases due to the shared suffixes?

            I’m not sure what you’re asking for here.

          • raavenb2619 says:

            I’m not sure what you’re asking for here.

            something like Project Implicit (Harvard’s hidden bias test thing)? I’m not sure how you would design some sort of scientific study to determine whether or not the etymology and shared prefix of phobia as a medical term with homophobia et al causes an unconscious connection, affects people’s behavior, and/or leads to negative treatment or discussion of medical phobias, but Project Implicit is the closest thing I’ve heard of that might be able to measure it.

          • raavenb2619 says:

            Anyway, I had a whole argument with Siggy once about the -phobia suffix that concluded with us both making concessions to each other.

            I just had a thought, how do you feel about a phrase like “aromisia” instead of “arophobia”? Is it better? Does it still have some problems? (I ask specifically about aromisia because that’s really the only time I’ve seen the -misia suffix used, but it could probably replace most/all of the -phobia suffix words)

          • Coyote says:

            Seems fine to me.

  5. Pingback: Disidentification with asexuality is essential | The Asexual Agenda

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