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:
- Only oppressed people ought to be included in LGBTQ spaces.
- Aces are not oppressed.
- Aces ought not to be included in LGBTQ spaces.
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.