This entry is for the July 2015 Carnival of Aces: Asexual History
One of the asexuality-related topics I’ve blogged about is the history of the online asexual community. I find it so interesting being a community with a social movement surrounding it that have changed so much in a relatively short amount of time, but also because it’s important to write about it so that the newer generations don’t forget.
I’ve only been involved in the asexual community since late 2012, so there are still a lot of gaps in my knowledge, but I’ll be happy to get input from long-time members in the community who could fill in the gaps.
The asexual community as we know it, originated online, and is still predominantly organized online, because of how geographically scattered many asexuals are from each other. Other groups, such as the LGBT community, and the groups within it, have been large enough and visible enough to have their own communities, and their own spaces in-person.
The internet has allowed for people to find others like them. The online asexual community started with a handful of individuals who wrote about their experiences, which made others realize that they felt the same way. Its origins in English can be traced back to an article written in 1997 called “My Life as an Amoeba”. In its comment section, many commenters also came forward about feeling the same way. Some may have known of their asexuality, but didn’t have any name for it, while others just realized it from reading that article, and the other comments.
History for a community that is predominantly organized online, moves very quickly. It’s easy for so much to be lost. Sites have come and gone,and archaeologists have the challenge of documenting history before it disappears. So few people are left from the early days of the online asexual community, so few people are left to give first-hand accounts of the earlier eras of its history. Those accounts are highly scattered, many may be in long-buried, very difficult-to-find threads in different places on AVEN, and some may be from asexual sites that are long gone.
A project has been made to archive all of the known zines. The zines are important in showing a “snapshot” of the asexual community as it was during the time they were written.
AVENues (note: at this time, the archives page is down), the newsletter written by various members of AVEN, is also important in showing the trends and issues of earlier eras of the asexual community’s history. It’s unfortunate that it hasn’t been active in a few years now; the last issue was published in 2013.
Documenting the earlier eras of the asexual community’s history is also an important way of getting others to understand and appreciate what it is currently. It can seem like so much of the current culture of the asexual community, such as the etiquette surrounding it, and the models and terminology we often use, have been firmly established for a large percentage of its history, but it hasn’t.
It still may not be perfect, but writing about the earlier eras shows the newer generations to not take the asexual community as it is for granted. Its history shows a lot of trial-and-error to learn from, but has also had its share of quirks that aren’t around anymore.
I’d break down the online asexual community’s history into eras like this:
pre-1997: There have been several accounts of famous people throughout history who didn’t have sex, and reported showing no interest in it. Asexuality began to be identified by researchers in the late 19th century, and later again in the mid 20th century. There were writings about asexuality during this time in advice columns, some mentioning asexuality by name, but a community surrounding asexuality had yet to be founded.
1997 – 2004(?): During this era, asexuals were still finding each other in order to build a community. For some time, there wasn’t a fully-agreed on term to use, but people banded together based on shared experiences, and several early asexual sites emerged.
The Haven for the Human Amoeba (HHA) was established in 2000, and it was for a time the largest of the asexual sites. Within it, and the asexual community as a whole, there were opposing factions within it that disagreed over attitudes towards sex in general, and how to define asexuality.
Two of the activists within the HHA created their own sites, with opposing viewpoints: Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), and The Official Asexual Society (OAS).
Two Livejournal asexual sites also were created during this time by other people, with opposing viewpoints: Asexuals and Asexuality (the former was sex-negative and actually about celibacy though). This early era is experimental, marked by opposing ideologies and definitions dueling for dominance within the asexual community, as it was trying to define itself and what it stands for.
By 2004, according to this account from Apositive by a former AVEN member, the lack of sexual attraction definition, and the focus on inclusion and a sex-positive (or neutral?)* approach that were championed by AVEN and the Asexuality LJ group had largely won out, and they became the dominant asexual communities. “Sex-negative”** viewpoints of any kind got relegated to the fringes of the asexual community.
I’m finding it difficult to determine the exact cut-off for this era, but I’d say it ended when both asexuality became the agreed-on term, the definition used today became the dominant one, and the approach taken by AVEN and the Asexuality LJ group had become dominant, which by some accounts, happened by 2004.
However, it was in 2006 that the OAS (renamed Official Non-libidoism Society in 2004) had died out, and its members took to AVEN en masse because they had no where else to go. That event could mark the start of the next era, which was defined by the clashes on AVEN with the refugees from the ONS, and newbies who happened to share their viewpoints (mainly due to pent-up frustrations over feeling broken for so long).
A combination of the former ONS members taking to AVEN, and an influx of newbies due to another boom in AVEN’s membership led to asexual elitism becoming very vocal.
With AVEN being one of the dominant asexual communities by this time, and the largest, it seems like history was repeating itself like with the opposing viewpoints within the HHA years earlier. Like how AVEN was a splinter group off of the HHA, several splinter groups were founded off of AVEN during this era.
By 2009, it seemed that the viewpoints on AVEN swung too far in the other direction, with extreme sex-positivity taking over, so much that it became unsafe for repulsed members to express their viewpoints (let alone anyone who feels negatively towards sex for whatever reason), even when they were only speaking for themselves.
Some of the splinter groups were created to counter this, creating spaces that were sex-neutral, but safe for repulsed people to share their viewpoints in. This era, from about 2005 to 2012, is one marked by a lot of growth, but also a lot of internal conflict, particularly over how to address sex-positivity and negativity. This era could extend to as late as 2012 though, since it seems that this internal conflict had calmed down a lot by 2013.
I think there’s some overlap between that era and the next one. The next era, which may be from about 2010 to the present, could be marked by the asexual community branching out further, and is also marked by the greatest rate of growth that it has experienced.
The asexual flag that we recognize today was proposed and quickly adopted in 2010 after a community vote, (with a lot of discussion on other sites documented here) which helped greatly in boosting asexual visibility. The asexual tumblr community had been around since 2010, but grew tremendously in 2011, which is also the year that the documentary (A)sexual debuted. (A)sexual introduced many more people to asexuality, including asexuals, allies, and detractors. 2011 was one of, if not the most heated year in asexual community history, but due to conflicts between the asexual community and other communities instead of just within the asexual community.
Non-LJ asexuality blogs have been around at least since 2007, but the asexual blogging community became more organized with both the advent of the asexual community on tumblr***, and The Asexual Agenda. The latter was established in 2012, and serves as a hub for asexual bloggers, on and off tumblr.
Asexuals started to participate in Pride events, though with mixed reception towards the idea, but participation in WorldPride 2012 and 2014 were well-received overall. There have been online asexual communities in other languages since early on, but 2014 also marked a push towards the asexual community becoming more international.
The asexual community in general still struggles with a balancing act on how to support both sex-repulsed and favorable asexuals, and breaking that cycle is a challenge, due to its size and variety of viewpoints and experiences. As of the past year, many have spoken in favor of creating sub-spaces for different groups, which is something I’m definitely in favor of, as long as they aren’t used to exclude others from the main asexual community.
What do you think the next era in asexual community history will be like, and when do you think it will happen? I think that the cycle being broken will mark the next era, whenever that will be. Or maybe it will be marked by a growing number of offline asexual communities, or bridging the gaps between the asexual community and other communities.
I also plan on writing a page that will detail more about each era, including issues within the community, advances that were made, and the most notable media appearances. I’ve also been trying to pinpoint when gray-asexuality started to be defined, but according to this post by Pianycist, the concept was acknowledged and named early on, but what I’ve been wanting to know is when exactly did the current framework of a spectrum explicitly mentioning gray-asexuality started to be widely adopted?
*Some say sex-positive, some say sex-neutral. The intent was to be non-judgmental towards others, whether they have sex or not, but as noted in the latest F-ace-ing Silence zine, even the asexual community has been guilty of enforcing a toxic version of “sex-positivity”.
**One of the unintended consequences was that saying anything negative about sex could be assumed to be elitist, and an attack on those who have sex, regardless of the context. That made it difficult to be able to talk about the ways that sex can harm others, or why someone would have ideological reasons against it.
***Sort of. There are many great asexual blogs, and discussions about asexuality on tumblr, but one of tumblr’s disadvantages is how difficult it is to keep track of discussions, and archive information.