Aftermath of the 2011 Ace Tumblr Debacle

This is going to be part 1 of a series I’m writing about, of the asexual community history since 2011.

2011 was a controversial year in asexual community history, especially for the tumblr asexual community. Epochryphal detailed the clashes and controversies that happened that year, and a post on The Asexual Agenda asked about this largely forgotten era of asexual community history.

Every community has its growing pains. 2011 was a year of a lot of growth for the asexual community, especially the tumblr community, which grew in prominence, and would rival AVEN by 2012. Up until then, AVEN was seen as the asexual community (aside from some splinter groups that formed in response to it) It was the year that (A)sexual was released, introducing so many people to asexuality for the first time.

Tumblr’s highly open format made it easy for many asexuals to get involved in the asexual community, but that same format makes it very open to outsiders. Some of these outsiders wanted to learn, and be allies, others were detractors, and there were a lot of detractors that year, in what some call “The Ace Tumblr Debacle”, or “The Great Ace-Hate”.

I first found the asexual community in the second half of 2012 through tumblr, and I remember that most of the issues of 2011 were still being debated. The flames only died down somewhat. 2012 was still a rocky year for the tumblr asexual community, but also for AVEN (but that’ll be for part 2).

The “Are aces queer” debate was still going strong. I read a lot about it, and it made me feel a lot of self-doubt. I wasn’t sure of my romantic orientation, but actually hoped that I wasn’t heteroromantic, because I thought I’d have no other community I could turn to. Just because a heteroromantic asexual person may pass for straight, doesn’t mean they will fit in heteronormative society. Aromantic asexuals at least also have the aromantic community, which was starting to emerge as its own separate community that year, and the homo/bi/panromantic and transgender asexuals might also have the LGBT community.

Asexual inclusion in the LGBT community was extremely controversial in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, I don’t remember how well-received the asexuality panels at WorldPride 2012 were by the tumblr LGBT and asexual communities, nor how much positive or negative hype the events would have, except from the discussions on AVEN. If anyone can fill me in on that, that’d be great. What I remember is that by 2013, this controversy died down a lot. It’s not gone, as there are people on both sides still debating whether asexuals should be included, and to what extent, but a lot more LGBT groups and resources have become asexual-inclusive since 2012 or 2013.

I saw that the “sexual privilege”/”allosexual privilege” concept was still widely debated, but as of 2012, I saw that it was being discredited more times than not among asexuals. However, I missed out on #Damn My Asexual Privilege.

The controversies on what to call non-asexual spectrum people, and particularly the term “allosexual” were still roaring on in 2012. By late 2012, “allosexual” became the most preferred term to use in the tumblr asexual community, and has only started to be used by a sizable number of people on AVEN. Its usage on tumblr isn’t really controversial anymore, but it is on AVEN.

Some of the controversies within the tumblr asexual community in 2011, and its aftermath, were a learning experience for us. Some of the asexual community’s detractors were just willfully ignorant and hateful, not willing to understand asexuality, and what it really is, not just believing the misconceptions, but also furthering them. There was the “Anti-Ace Brigade” back in 2011, which Emerald wrote a brief account of,  in her account of the 2011 ace tumblr debacle. She listed many of the terms that were proposed for non-asexual spectrum people, but there’s no easy label, and asexuals were still getting a lot of flack over this issue, despite honest efforts made to try and come up with something other than “sexual”.

I hardly witnessed the Anti-Ace Brigade, or what they did, since they were hardly around by the second half of 2012. I’ve heard of them from some posts from 2011 that were still around, and there was a blog calling out what they did, but it was gone by the time I found it. Someone I followed had that blog linked on theirs, but I never saw it myself.

By that time, asexuality was gaining a lot more understanding on tumblr. There were still long ways to go, and demisexuality was getting most of the flack in particular. I’ve seen some people outside the asexual community say that they accept asexuality, but not demisexuality.

Some of the detractors, and their complaints were legitimate though. As more outsiders became exposed to the asexual community, the more troublesome rhetoric the asexual community had, came to light.

Those who made legitimate points showed that we needed to work on our rhetoric, because some of it was alienating to other groups, while some of it was unclear, and easy to take the wrong way. Not being clear enough meant not being adequately able to challenge the misconceptions, and some of the major ones were asexuality as a phase, as internalized homophobia and/or misogyny, and that it must mean sexual puritanism. With those misconceptions, why would feminist and LGBT groups want to ally with asexual groups? This issue got resolved to some extent, but not without some collateral damage in the process.

The rhetoric of “sexual privilege”, which suggested that asexuals are oppressed on a systemic level, by allosexuals, was alienating towards the LGBT community for suggesting that they have just as much systemic power that heterosexuals do, on the basis of their sexuality.

There are some issues with calling non-asexual people “sexuals”. Many people, especially LGBT, POC, and women on tumblr expressed that they disliked being referred to as “sexuals”, because of how loaded of a term it is. Many alternatives were proposed, but it wasn’t fair for asexuals to keep getting attacked after trying to come up with a new term.

The “Are aces queer?” debate briefly started up again last year, but more nuanced than it previously was, now that two important concepts were elaborated on:

  • The pressure for asexuals to prioritize one part of their identity over another.
  • Asexuals for whom romantic orientation personally isn’t an applicable or meaningful concept.

As someone who doesn’t feel like romantic orientation is a very applicable concept personally, I was so happy to finally be accounted for in the 2014 debate. I remember that quoiromantics weren’t accounted for in this debate as it was raging on in 2011 and 2012. I just didn’t see any others, nor did I know of that label myself, so I felt pretty left out, yet pressured to know which communities I was “allowed” to associate with, on the basis on my romantic orientation.

Everyday Feminism published an article supporting the concept of “allosexual privilege” in 2014, but by that point, nearly no one was in favor of the concept anymore. When I saw it, I was like “Whoa! Allosexual privilege is still a thing?!” The author of that article meant well, and is right that asexuals are marginalized by society as a whole, but the reasons why don’t fit the oppression/privilege dynamic.

I read through that article, and was in the process of writing a response, but what it boiled down to is that most of the points listed were heterosexual privilege, but more specifically, the privileging of white, cisgender, abled heterosexuality. Sexual relationships are expected by society, but they’re not all valued equally, due to heterosexism, cissexism, racism, and ableism. It also doesn’t take into account allosexuals who don’t want sex, as they’re also harmed by sex-normativity. Pianycist thoroughly explained why it’s not a viable concept:

The major reason that allosexual privilege is not a viable concept is that there are groups of people who are demonized or pathologized for their sexualities regardless of what they are: allosexual trans women, allosexual black women, and allosexual people with disabilities, to name a few groups… People with disabilities (especially if intellectually disabled and/or LGB*) have been forcibly sterilized for expressing any sexuality… Allosexual privilege as a concept fails to account for that there are groups of people who are punished for expressing what would be otherwise socially-sanctioned sexuality.

If there’s anything that can be learned from the 2011 and 2012 debacles, and their aftermath, it’s that some controversial topics will never go away in asexual spaces, but it has done a lot of good to refine our rhetoric, which is now a lot more nuanced than it used to be. I saw some of that change happen between posts I read from 2011 and from 2012.

In part 2, I’ll write about the new set of controversies that erupted in the tumblr community in 2012.

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5 thoughts on “Aftermath of the 2011 Ace Tumblr Debacle

  1. queenieofaces

    There were actually a few more instances of the “are aces queer” debate that you didn’t document here; almost everything on this list was written during one of its reoccurrences: http://queenieofaces.tumblr.com/post/86705530338/teeny-tiny-linkspam-on-asexuality-and-queerness The big one I can think of was the one immediately following the article in The View, which came out near the end of 2012. The debate starts up again once every 6-12 months, though.

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    1. Aqua Post author

      Oops, I missed those, but thanks for pointing them out. I knew of the biggest ones happening in 2011 and late 2012, and that the debate briefly erupted again in the summer of 2014, but not that timeframe most of those posts were written in.

      I witnessed the big one in late 2012, but just watched as it happened, and didn’t try to get involved.

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  4. ettinacat

    My biggest problem with the arguments against allosexual privilege is that the same objections apply to heterosexual privilege, too. For example, I don’t see straight trans people as being privileged over gay trans people.

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