Journal Club: It’s easier to just say I’m queer

Ace Journal Club banner

This month, the ace journal club discussed

“‘It’s easier just to say I’m queer’: Asexual college students’ strategic identity management” by Mollet (2021). (requires journal access)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

This qualitative study used interviews of 12 asexual college students to explore how and why they did or did not come out, and compared it to the framework of strategic outedness from Orne 2012.

Strategies for coming out (or not)
– The paper discussed three strategies: directly coming out, concealment, and the use of clues.
– Interviewees tried dropping clues, but this often backfired because people weren’t aware enough to pick up the clues.
– Concealment is a strategy of not coming out.
– Some concealment strategies reminded us of the (non-ace) women in last month’s journal club, some of whom tried to conceal that they weren’t into sex. In Mollet’s article, one of the women described concealing her asexuality from her boyfriend (and obviously more going on here we don’t know about). This reinforces the overlap in ace and non-ace experiences.

Coming out as queer
– As suggested by the article title, some interviewees felt it was easier to come out as queer.
– One interviewee described three motivations: safety, reducing the labor of educating others, and resonance with queer theory.
– The author described this as a concealment strategy. The journal club also discussed cases where coming out as queer may not be a concealment strategy–if someone feels “queer” is their most salient identity.
– The paper also described students as managing the tension of identifying with the LGBT community, while also dealing with the fear of not being accepted in that space.

Coming out and activism
– The introduction briefly describes the history of coming out in LGBT communities since 1969, but we felt it missed a key point. Early on, coming out was an activist strategy, not necessarily done for the good of individuals, but for the good of the group. Later, in the 90s and onwards, coming out was portrayed as a step in individual self-actualization.
– When the ace community came of age, coming out as self-actualization was the dominant narrative. So despite the focus on visibility, many aces only come out if they feel it’s necessary for their own self-actualization–which many people may feel it is not.
– To the extent that aces feel that coming out is good for the community, they might feel more pressure to come out. Of course, this places a burden on individuals, which may or may not be warranted.
– The activist value of coming out is different for aces than it was for gay people in the 70s-80s. For gay people it was important for many people to come out so that people got social exposure. For aces, the main purpose is education, and the value of more aces coming out is showing the diversity of the community.

Graphs of orientation
– Out of the 12 interviewees, three of them drew graphs to explain their orientation. One of the graphs is reproduced in the paper as a figure.
– This is a practice that we are well familiar with, although some academic readers might be encountering it for the first time.
– We weren’t sure about the choice to actually reproduce one of the graphs. The graph in question is a bit idiosyncratic, although perhaps most such graphs are.
– The takeaway is that people’s experiences of disclosure necessitated strategies like these to educate people.

Living a lie, and explosive knowledge
– Two narratives from conventional models of coming out are “living a lie” and “explosive knowledge”.
– In ace narratives, coming out can very much fail to explode. The author drew parallels to ace experiences with disbelief and invalidation, but to us, these don’t really feel explosive and instead felt like chronic, ongoing burdens, which is not a pattern the author named. (Sexual violence, on the other hand, strikes us explosive, though depending on the context, it could also be part of a chronic affliction for some people.)
– Some aces may or may not feel they are “living a lie” if they don’t come out.

– There’s a table of each interviewee’s “salient identities” in order of salience, as well as “additional identities”, but it wasn’t clear how this information was extracted from the interview.
– The study frames itself as grounded theory. Grounded theory is a method where you avoid starting with a literature review, and do not use theory to interpret the data: you generate theory from the data and then see how it connects to the literature. However, the study explicitly uses a particular model to structure and interpret the interviews, described as a later stage of analysis and only those findings are presented, so it is unclear why the author chose to describe the method as grounded theory.
– The first page explains that the author will use “asexual” to refer to the asexual-spectrum, while using “ace” to refer to the more specific identity of asexual. This is the reverse of the usual distinction, and we found it confusing.

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.
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