A theory about queer/ace politics

The politics of whether aces “count” as queer is a tiresome subject for many people in the ace blogging community.  People have been arguing about it since 2012.  And you can’t treat it as a dry factual question, because it’s very emotional and raw.  It’s not just a linguistic debate about the definition of “queer”, it’s about whether people acknowledge our lived experiences, or dismiss them as if we’re straight people trying to downplay our privileges.

But I have a different perspective, having participated in these arguments since before 2012.  To me, these are not the same tiresome arguments we’ve been having forever.  The arguments have changed.  They are completely different from how they used to be.  And I have a theory why.

Location Location

For those unfamiliar with these arguments, I offer a brief illustration of how the arguments changed.

Pre-2012:

Ace 1: I think asexuals are queer because we deal with a lot of similar issues to queer people.
Ace 2: But queer communities are all about sex, and what if people think we’re just closeted gay people.  They already think we’re closeted gay people!

Post-2012:

Ace: Asexuals are queer because we deal with a lot of similar issues to queer people.
Non-ace: You don’t have a right to appropriate the queer slur!  You might have problems but you’re not systematically oppressed!  Hetero cis aces are just straight!

Notice the big difference?  Before 2012, this was an argument that aces had among themselves.  After 2012, it became an argument between the aces and non-ace people.  The change is clearly a result of the community shifting over from AVEN, an insular forum community, to Tumblr, a large social networking platform.

But the change is not just about who’s doing the arguing.  People on AVEN certainly had interactions with queer people offline.  If the predominant reaction from queer people was to argue that aces were wrongly appropriating the queer identity, then this argument would have trickled back to AVEN.  So there’s more to it than just location.

Queers Divided

People in the ace community like to lament about how divided the ace community has become, but I’ve long argued that the community is very unified.  The “queer community” on the other hand, is not unified at all.  If you think that the ace community is diverse while the queer community is monolithic, you are suffering from out-group homogeneity bias badly.

The queer community is so divided, in fact, that I do not even have the ability to enumerate all its parts.  But here are some broad categories to start:

  1. Queer student groups
  2. Professional activist groups
  3. Male social groups
  4. Female social groups

I’m not even getting into the many divisions among trans people because… daaaamn.  The main point here is that male groups and female groups are different.  Lots of people in college don’t see just how different they are, because the gap doesn’t really widen until after college.  Queer women and men don’t interact, have different politics, and have different characteristic reactions to asexuality.

Before 2012, people on AVEN were primarily interacting with queer student groups, and also with the general public image of queerness.  Naturally, the public image of queerness is dominated by queer men.

After 2012, ace communities started to interact a lot with people on Tumblr.  I have no intention of mocking or belittling Tumblr, but we all have to admit that Tumblr’s demographics are skewed from the general population.  Tumblr is overwhelmingly dominated by women.  And that makes all the difference.

The Gatekeepers and the Borg

I had a friend in college who used to joke, “Bisexual men are really just gay, and bisexual women are really just straight.”  I told him that was a stereotype and not actually funny.  But it illustrates an important difference between gay politics and lesbian politics.

In gay politics, the straight world is absolutely terrified of The Gay.  Men cannot express affection for each other.  Men cannot express femininity.  Even a lot of aces used to be afraid of associating with queer groups for fear of being infected with The Gay.  Gay politics are a reaction against this homophobic attitude.  Come on, just accept the gay!  No need to stop at bisexual or asexual!  You’re gay and it’s okay!

I’m less familiar with lesbian politics, since I’m gay, not lesbian.  But there’s a long history of women-only spaces.  There’s a history of female/female intimacy being depicted solely for straight male titillation.  There’s a history of gay men dominating all the mainstream spaces, and queer women having to fight for scraps.  As a result, queer women are notorious for excluding trans women from their spaces.  They have moral panics about pretendbians and bicuriosity.  And now they’re worried about supposedly straight ace infiltrators.

In short, queer women have a tendency towards gatekeeping, while queer men have a tendency towards… whatever the opposite of gatekeeping is.

So that’s why aces on tumblr and other woman-dominated spaces have need to fight a lot of queer gatekeeping.  That’s also why if you interact with queer groups offline, the problem usually disappears.  And that’s why I have always shrugged off the trolls of Tumblr as undeserving of my emotional energy.

The idea that aces are too privileged to be queer is laughable, from my perspective.  Queerness and its image is dominated by white cis gay men, who are just about the most privileged of the entire bunch.  For better or for worse, queerness does not put the most oppressed groups first, and never has.

And that’s my grand theory.  If I’m wrong, tell me.

Further reading: Queenie’s linkspam on asexuality and queerness

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9 thoughts on “A theory about queer/ace politics

  1. Elizabeth October 27, 2015 / 5:45 am

    I think this theory has some basis in fact, but it still generalizes queer women’s groups as too homogeneous as well. There are lots of different kinds of groups with different styles. I tend to only hang out with queer women’s groups offline that are trans-friendly (since obviously that would be a deal-breaker for me and my partner otherwise) and they’ve been perfectly fine with asexuality. (They’ve had lots of drama about interpersonal issues and money though, to the point where half the group would stop talking to the other half, and eventually the groups dissolved.)

    I think it’s more that the types of queer women who are the loudest about asexuality on tumblr are the ones who have the most exclusionary politics. Tumblr tends to amplify the voices of the worst people, and allow them to shout down and intimidate the more accepting ones. It’s a major flaw in the site’s conceptual design that the creators didn’t take any of that kind of abuse/harassment into consideration and build in any mechanisms to mitigate it.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. queenieofaces October 27, 2015 / 6:34 am

    I just wanted to add to Elizabeth’s comment that I’ve found bi spaces super welcoming to aces whereas lesbian spaces…not so much. (I’ve also found bi spaces pretty trans-friendly overall, but most of the bi spaces I’ve been spending time in have trans and/or non-binary folks in leadership positions. Also also, it’s worth noting that how trans-inclusionary a space is seems to be correlated to how welcoming to aces it is, at least in my experience.) Granted, I’m bi spectrum and ace spectrum, so obviously I’m going to seek out bi spaces over lesbian spaces, but even on tumblr, I see a lot more bi folks arguing for ace inclusion than against it.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. onlyfragments October 27, 2015 / 7:42 am

    The thing about Tumblr is that it reaches such a large portion of young aces, which is why I feel it deserves more of my emotional energy than other aspects of queer community. It’s great that real-life spaces are more inclusive of aces, but a lot of “newbie” aces or questioning aces go to sites like Tumblr first for validation or advice… and that’s where they see this hideous acephobia. Some teenager questioning their asexuality/queerness may never make it to a real life queer group or support system if they see so many posts online telling aces they aren’t queer and they need to shut up. So while Tumblr is definitely skewed, and definitely biased, it’s still very, very powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Siggy October 27, 2015 / 8:13 am

    @Queenie & Elizabeth,
    Of course, I’m suffering from a lack of real experience with queer women’s communities. In my experience, queer male spaces don’t clearly differentiate themselves on how trans or bi friendly they are.

    @OnlyFragments,
    Yeah.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sennkestra October 27, 2015 / 12:02 pm

    I tend to deliberately avoid queer women’s spaces for various reasons, and obviously don’t participate in men’s queer spaces, so I can’t really comment on that aspect. Though I feel like mixed gender groups seem more likely to be general groups that default to “ALL the queer people!” rather than “we only want Ls” or “we only want G’s”, which sometimes makes them more inclusive in general.

    But re: Queenie’s comment, I’ve definitely also noticed that bi/non-mono groups are generally much friendlier with ace groups, both offline and online. And i wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that many of the arguments against ace inclusion are the same ones used against bi inclusion affects that.

    I also find that for queer/lgbt groups in general, bi and trans inclusiveness and friendliness are generally good barometers for ace inclusion (esp. looking at their level of awareness of/inclusion of nonbinary trans people).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sennkestra October 27, 2015 / 12:12 pm

    I also think that there may be a difference based on whether it’s a more casual social/dating market oriented space or whether it’s an activist/political oriented space. While both types of spaces can be either welcoming or opposed to aces, they seem to do so with different levels of vehemence, maybe? Socially-oriented groups seem to be more like “Why are you here??? Seems pointless and weird. Well, whatever” and shrug it off. Whereas activist oriented groups are much more likely to be like, personally offended and inspired to embark on a crusade against the “invaders”. So I feel like offline spaces – which imo tend to be more social – tend to be less likely to care enough to argue much about it even if they disagree, whereas political spaces (like tumblr) are more likely to be be offended enough by the idea to make it into a war.

    Plus there’s just the fact that yelling at a hypothetical ace to get out of your theoretical spaces online is a lot easier and has fewer negative social consequences than actually making a scene in the middle of your physical LGBT group meeting and trying to throw out an actual ace that’s standing right in front of you….

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Siggy October 27, 2015 / 12:56 pm

    @Sennkestra,
    That’s a good point. Even though aces had been interacting with queer communities prior to 2012, probably most of those interactions were offline.

    Like

  8. Coyote October 28, 2015 / 7:06 am

    Out-group homogeneity bias! Thank you for introducing me to this term. *nabs and runs off with it to bury it for the winter*

    Also, I’m surprised you didn’t comment more on… what ostenisibly looks like a shift from “The Gay is a threat to us aces” to “you aces are a threat to LGBT people.”

    Liked by 1 person

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