Thursday, July 29, 2010


AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, is a good resource. The wiki is wonderful and everything else is a pretty cool 101 resource. But the forum? Not so great. It made me uncomfortable for awhile, but I could never quite put my finger on what. Thankfully, Kaz did it for me. (emphasis added)
Because most minority groups, they have their spaces where everyone is going to be on their best behaviour and try to do educating of the clueless and then they have their spaces that are minority-and-clued-up-ally-only where people can let off steam and clueless privileged people who wander in can expect to get blasted. AVEN is trying to be *both* the great centre for education and visibility (in the name!) and the centre of the asexual community, and when you think about what that means it’s clear it can so very easily lead to shutting down of opinions that aren’t nice clean friendly we-all-love-sexuals-really and forcing all asexuals to be nice and polite.

AVEN is a Public Relations site designed to educate and spread visibility of asexuals to sexuals. It is not a support forum designed to create a safe space for asexuals to talk about their problems and experiences without fear of being silenced. Unfortunately, to the detriment of the entire community, it tries to be.

AVEN was my first experience in a minority community. It predates transgenderism and a few other things, and it has GREATLY skewed my view of how minorities are supposed to treat the privileged majority. On AVEN, if a confused sexual comes in and asks for education- the thread is often dropped (or at least paused) to do so. If a sexual doesn't like the wording of something, people have to either change their wording or explain why it's okay until the sexual accepts it. The idea that asexuals are somehow obligated to educate and work around what sexuals want us to do is extremely prevalent. So, when I come into other communities that aren't that busted- I am completely confused about why the minority isn't obligated to educate the majority. AVEN trained me to be so completely accustomed to putting the majority first that I still have a hard time understanding why I'm not obligated to educate people.

It treats sexuals the way it should treat asexuals. Sexuals have an area that's primarily for sexual people. Sexuals are allowed to say just about whatever they want, and if someone takes offense to what they say (such as how they had to rape their husband and insist love isn't possible without sex) that person is attacked because "sexuals are in a lot of pain!". I've seen sexuals gang up and accuse asexuals of being evil deceivers, with a mod only stepping in when they decided the asexuals were getting out of hand.

There's also the problem of trying to keep up the appearances other ways. There's a great deal of emphasis on how asexuals are "healthy" and "normal" (aka. able-bodied and neurotypical enough) and haven't suffered from sexual abuse. Aside from erasing and sometimes silencing people for whom this isn't true, it also makes us major jerks. It means that all sorts of -isms are allowed on AVEN so long as they're -isms that the majority accept- because we can't be seen as supporting anyone the majority doesn't like!

In-fighting is a near-constant. Every month there's a new definition of what a "true" asexual is. It goes something like this: Only aromantics are true asexuals. No, no, aromantics are frigid, emotionless robots- only romantics are. Only virgins are really asexual- but wait, how can you know you're really asexual if you haven't had sex? Asexuals who have sex aren't really asexual, no- only the ones who enjoy sex aren't asexuals, repulsed asexuals are just broken and need to be fixed, libidoists aren't asexuals, non-libidoists aren't really asexuals, etc. On and on it goes. Occasionally demisexuals and grey-As get yelled at for being there. No group is immune (except sexuals). And when we run the gamut- lather, rinse, repeat. I think most of it's started by new-comers who are trying to feel better about themselves or don't understand asexuality and are asking a genuine question ("but how can you be asexual if you have sex?"), but it sparks major fights in the community.

There is a long-time moderator who openly attacks various groups of asexuals, such as the repulsed. She was also allowed, in the mod area, to get away with saying this: "seeing all these gender dysphoric/depressed people is exactly what people who think asexuality is a pathology expect to see". She's essentially demonizing transgender people and people with mental illnesses by saying that associating with them ruins asexual acceptance. She's implying that our acceptance is more important than theirs. From someone else I might have given the benefit of the doubt and tried to get a clarification- but this is a person who has made it clear that anyone she doesn't agree with is unacceptable. This person also almost became an administrator, even after this happened, just to let you know how much the other admods are concerned by her actions.

The Untoward Lady put why this much intolerance (and accepting this much intolerance) within a community is such a problem: "Families who hurt each other are not families. Friends who bully are not friends. Communities who's members seek out and destroy each other are nothing more than groups of people with similar goals." Obviously she was not talking about asexuality, but it applies to every community that allows this to happen. And AVEN allows members to gang up on "less acceptable" members. I've had people tell me that even though they need support, they feel they can't get it from AVEN.

And why does having an asexual-and-ally-only space matter? Because there are some things that cannot be talked about while educating the majority. For various reasons- either because people who aren't as educated about the issue can take it the wrong way, because it may seem offensive, because they simply don't want to hear it and will silence anyone who tries, because people simply don't feel comfortable talking about some things when they can be interrupted with demands to educate.

I don't know of a solution to this problem. AVEN has made it clear time and again that they don't feel [group]-specific areas to be acceptable (unless it's sexual-specific. Sexuals deserve a safe space on an asexual forum, but asexuals don't), I think partly because they refuse to acknowledge that asexuals might have things to say that they wouldn't want to say in front of sexuals out of fear of this making us "look bad". AVEN is, by far, the largest resource for asexuals. If anyone is to come up with a safe space for asexuals (a real one), it essentially has to happen on AVEN. But I've seen far too much to believe that's likely to happen.

As for why it has to happen on AVEN- I'll use dating sites as an example. There are some asexual dating sites out there like Acebook and Asexualistic. But I've mostly seen disappointment with them, and people still want to add in a dating section on AVEN (or the aromantic version). I've yet to see another asexuality site thrive without basically becoming AVEN lite with all the same users and ideology and problems. AVEN has become too much of a monolith in the asexual community for anything else to be really successful.

This is not a good situation. This is extremely toxic to our community- and something needs to be done. Unfortunately, I don't know what can be. Which makes me very, very sad for the asexual community.

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