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.
For those unfamiliar with these arguments, I offer a brief illustration of how the arguments changed.
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!
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.
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:
- Queer student groups
- Professional activist groups
- Male social groups
- 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