Tuesday, May 3, 2016


I joined Tumblr on May 15, 2012 because I heard the asexual community was great there.

I wasn't looking for personal connection. I didn't really feel like I needed the support of a community for any reasons like loneliness or lack of information about asexuality or resources or moral support. I just kind of wanted to see what people were saying, and to be honest, I wanted an audience for some of my more in-depth asexuality content. I'd made an AVEN account a while back (AVEN is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network), but its forum base and something about the interaction style never stuck for me. I figured I'd see what Tumblr was about, and began posting thoughts and chat logs of negative experiences with jerks from my videos.

It was honestly way better than I expected, though there were also some disadvantages to blogging there. What I found was something I hadn't known was out there to find: a series of intersections with communities I would not have thought to seek out, with whose content I enjoyed interacting and from whom I learned truckloads of new perspectives.

On LiveJournal, there were some not-so-active asexuality groups that I'd interacted with, and though for the most part they treated me very well, I remember floating the first idea for my asexuality book there and getting shot down hard by several really aggressive commenters. Looking back, I have a better understanding of why they said what they said, though I also see how misguided their approach was as well. The core of their argument was that I was the wrong person to write a book like this because I was white, cisgender, aromantic, able-bodied, and in many ways perceived to be in the "unassailable asexual" club. (Which, for those who haven't followed these conversations, means that there are certain traits that are received more readily by the mainstream population which results in the message seeming less threatening, and if our only representatives present this "sanitized" version of asexuality, the more complicated "cases" will still get erased and criticized.)

The issue I had (and have) with their message was the implication that I could not or would not write a book that represented more than just my experience, though before joining Tumblr I was certainly less prepared to do so. I didn't think it was necessarily true that being privileged in many ways made it inevitable that any book I'd write would only represent a sliver of the asexual population. They were so aggressive about it that I felt stung, to be honest; there was a flavor of "how dare you think you could hope to represent us accurately" going on, which made me think holy shit if I do this I'm going to regret it. But I do tend to extract the essential core of every message I receive, and I did understand that not everyone trusted this message in my hands because of my background and because of how I centered my own experiences in my activism.

The two things I learned after that: 1. I can still mention my experience without implying that it is standard; and 2. I can ask people who have a different experience from me to explain how they would like to be represented.

I did realize that some of the fault was mine in the way I crafted my messages. For instance, if I was covering the misconception that asexuality is a reaction to abuse, my only real inclination at the beginning was to discuss how that was an inaccurate assumption because I was personally asexual without any abuse in my past. I didn't cover how disgusting it is for people to bring up abuse like it's a joke or a trump card "against" someone. I didn't cover the what-ifs of how someone who's asexual AND an abuse survivor would see this question. My message wasn't wrong by itself, but it wasn't broad enough, and it could easily send the wrong message about this misconception--up to and including the idea that it's okay to invalidate someone's asexuality if they have experienced abuse. I wasn't actively saying anything like this, but since I wasn't offering alternate perspectives, my ability to be an inclusive activist was limited.

I had not actively sought out additional perspectives at that point because I didn't realize how inherently limited my message was, but on my first step out of the door looking for those perspectives with my feedback request, I received the message that I was not qualified and there was nothing I could do about it. We don't want you to tell our story because you'll do it wrong. Also, I'm offended that you even thought this was a good idea.

And even though there were some supportive comments too, I was extremely discouraged by the suggestion that I wasn't qualified and the implication that I was incapable of becoming so. I dropped the idea for a period of years, only approaching it again after joining Tumblr.

I began to see very quickly why some of the LiveJournal people had said what they did, because there were a ton of perspectives I had never encountered. Asexual people who liked sex. Demisexual and graysexual people. Asexual people who were nonbinary and/or transgender. Asexual people whose racial background had influenced how they were sexualized in a very different way from mine. Asexual people with disabilities and illnesses. Asexual people who had identified as gay first. Asexual people who were kinky. Asexual people who were polyamorous or had open relationships. Asexual people who had experienced abuse (not just of the sexual variety). Asexual parents. Autistic asexual people. Asexual people who were telling their stories while appreciating the way I told mine, engaging authentically.

One thing that pisses people off on Tumblr (so I hear) is that it's full of snowflakes. It's so frustrating when I come across people who harass Tumblr users because they "have too many labels" or "expect special treatment." But what *I* found when I went there was a wealth of perspectives I hadn't encountered before and an opportunity to learn. It's tempting among people who don't understand because they don't want to understand to point and laugh when they see stuff that baffles them, but this is just because their worlds are intersecting with others' worlds for the first time. Why are there so many damn asexual snowflakes on Tumblr? they ask. Why is this place full of trend-riding children who want to be special?  

The real answer is that the format enables interaction in previously unlikely ways. I had to deliberately go to asexual LiveJournal to read and post in their forum before. I had to go to AVEN forums or asexuality websites or Facebook groups. The conversations were happening in places where you had to seek out the content to see it. But now, on Tumblr, the dashboard format and the intersection of communities puts a huge variety of diverse experiences on display. I was so grateful for that when I saw what it was capable of. The thing that turns many people away because they don't think these experiences are "real" (due to limited exposure to them) was a goldmine for me, because I did actively want to learn about people who weren't like me.

I did encounter a few assholes on Tumblr, of course; the callout culture and the tendency to shame people you don't agree with does exist in some ways, though not in the way it's portrayed by people who don't actually use Tumblr for anything but mocking people they don't understand. It's not a rainbow-land full of understanding and tolerance. But it's certainly got a format where well-meaning people can learn if they decide to listen, and that's what I did.

I learned what would have been missing from my book if I'd written it before hearing these other experiences (though I guess I would have gotten some of them if I'd gone ahead with it from the original outline and received comments in the feedback round). And I also made interpersonal connections with many of the people who saw how I framed my ideas and wanted to add perspectives. I much appreciate how reblogging a post and adding an anecdote or discussion or even a criticism can feel so authentic and even nurturing, and you feel like this is a real conversation that isn't about anyone mining each other's lives for information. We give and get because we actually do want to understand each other, and for the first time we don't have to be either personally instructed to look for X or happen to know X is out there to find out how it intersects with what we do already know.

When I floated the idea of the book in this atmosphere, I also received some criticism. But by this point, I could tell the difference between people who wanted the book to be better and people who just wanted to take a crap on me. In this case, the criticism was largely from people who were pissed that I was declaring intention to be as inclusive as I was. I got a snotty comment from someone who doesn't believe in demisexuality or graysexuality and believes sex-favorable asexual people are ruining the movement. I got a snide accusation that I was somehow co-opting the language of the community even though I have been part of it for years. And I got one person who reminded me of the criticism on LiveJournal--he said I was "erasing" everyone who was not like me because I chose to use the introduction to discuss my own experience and background briefly (as the only personal content in the book). But the other thing I got? In droves? Raised hands.

I got over a hundred volunteers to help read the book. People were excited to have the book exist and wanted to have the chance to contribute. They saw that I was looking for feedback and instead of saying "you don't deserve to write this book" or "I don't trust you to do a good job so I'll just shame you for what you haven't done so far," they were saying "I have this background and I can probably confirm what you're doing right and add/correct what you're missing/misrepresenting." In the process, I did get some pretty extensive criticism, too--but it was all done from the point of view that we were on the same side here (just with some different experiences). That I was not out to destroy or "sanitize" anyone's life. That I intended to make an inclusive book that would, for better or for worse, probably be used to make generalizations about us, so it was very important that I get as much of it right as I could.

Nobody owed this to me, and I didn't feel like they did or treat them like they did. Nobody on LiveJournal owed me positive attention or time spent in the service of improving my message. And nobody on Tumblr was obligated to help either. But the difference there was that on LJ I was treated like I was only capable of making things worse, and on Tumblr I was treated like my idea could become an open door where they could choose what people would see when they walked through it. So even though I now know why the LiveJournal critics said what they did--what my original concept was in fact lacking--I think the approach and the tone they took was not in the spirit of making things better. They only wanted to tell me that it wasn't good enough (and that I should be ashamed), and I guess they misinterpreted me as a person who wasn't willing to learn because of what I presumably did not already know. Tumblr, despite the excitability of some of its users, has a more idealistic and passionate population. I like that a lot.

Tumblr is the reason my book is what it is. I love that so many people from diverse backgrounds helped out by reading sections that applied to them, offered perspectives, and reviewed it when it was published. But long before that, they reconnected me with the reason I wanted to write it in the first place. People. People having experiences. People who were often misunderstood by the mainstream world, regarded as outsiders, looking for a place to explore who they were. Tumblr is not a utopia or a hug box at all, but the willingness of a huge swath of its population has to share itself with strangers was so inspiring to me, and it made me willing to share things I'd never shared before too. I've explored--even confessed--some things I'd never talked about online before either, and I was not sorry. The people who follow me there made me grateful that I was led toward openness, both to their fresh ideas and to a platform that was receptive to mine.

So when I see people mocking Tumblr or branding it as a place full of shrieking "SJWs" who want to censor everything, trigger-warn everything, and ban cisgender straight white men from life, I know what I'm looking at. I'm looking at people who see inclusion and diversity as an attack, as fakery, as hysteria, as inauthentic and worthless. Because they're content with the kind of world where they choose their bubble and avoid outside perspectives (which is ironic considering the spin they put on us). They see new ideas on how we can make more of our spaces comfortable and inclusive and diverse, and all they see is THEY'RE TRYING TO FORCE ME TO CHANGE, AND CHANGE MEANS I HAVE TO GIVE UP SOMETHING I DESERVE. In my experience, thinking about topics I'd never thought about before broadens a person's world and increases their opportunities. It doesn't shut them down (the way I experienced on LiveJournal in that one case). Their knee-jerk reaction is to point at what they don't get and laugh, as if it's unreasonable for them to be expected to adjust their behavior or perspectives to make room for others. But instead of bucking and treating it like a limitation of freedom, they really should learn what I learned there: That the world is so much bigger than you are, and that it is willing to help you understand if you demonstrate that you want to.

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