Thursday, July 30, 2015

Your Responsibility

I'm probably going to write about this topic again in the future, because I have a lot to say about it, but today I'm going to talk a little about responsibility.

As a person who's been creating content for and about asexuality since the late 90s, I've been around the block a few times. Probably because of some combination of early adoption plus prolificacy, I ended up considered a community leader (though that was never my intention), and I'm happy with the role I've played in helping people understand this topic for a variety of reasons.

But sometimes I am approached by people who think I have responsibilities and obligations attached to being influential. And for the most part, I agree. I know that people look at me as an authority and that the things I say sometimes need to be a little more calculated or else they could hurt people or spread misleading messages. I know that the standards for how I behave online are (perhaps unfairly) higher than other content creators who don't have my reach. This is something I understand and accept.

However, I draw the line when people approach me with scolding that's designed to shame me, not make me a better leader.

You may have noticed that not every review I receive for my book is 100% positive. I'm very happy about that, though of course I don't like when I get things wrong. I'm glad people are able to be critical even though I'm what passes for a big name in the community, and I'm glad they have been able to offer opinions on what bits of my work could be improved and how.

Some examples:
Because of the nature of our community and my relationship with these bloggers, I was able to discuss some of their concerns "backstage" and figure out how to address the problems with certain sections of the book, and the next edition will be even better thanks partly to their help. I appreciate that they could put into words what they'd like me to do better without their reviews reading like a disappointed mom shaking her finger with her hands on her hips.

But I do get a lot of those disappointed moms.

The other night, someone came onto one of my most popular videos and "called out" my use of the word "non-asexual," condescendingly calling me "honey" and telling me I should just use "sexual" instead of "non-asexual." When I explained to the person that actually non-asexual people have repeatedly told our community that they have various reasons for disliking that terminology (and asked the person not to call me "honey" in this context because it sounds condescending), they did not take this very well.

What followed was the usual eyeroll-worthy Internet pile-on featuring this person and four of their friends (or, perhaps, sockpuppets; hard to tell sometimes when it's mysteriously happening at 3 AM on a video that is not otherwise getting suspicious attention anywhere), every one of whom was full of personal incredulity at my inability to take criticism and my snotty attitude and my need to attack people who disagree with me, all of which (they all agreed, and repeated, and repeated, and repeated) suggest I am not qualified to be a spokesperson and am never going to succeed at anything.

Kind of amusing that they're saying this to a person who has Already Succeeded at This, but I digress.

The original poster bleated the you're too sensitive schtick while instructing me that I should not have a temper tantrum because someone called me honey (you know, because asking someone not to is a "tantrum"), and then they proceeded to search through the comments for any place I was not polite in a reply to a commenter and gleefully pointed out that I had called someone "baby" in a similar condescending way. (The fact that it was a reply to someone who had come into my space to harass me first appeared to be lost on them, as was the fact that you can't scream about how "honey" is NOT AT ALL CONDESCENDING while recognizing that my similar phrasing was certainly not a well-meaning term of endearment.) 

I blocked the original poster when they wouldn't stop coming back to the thread and saying the same things over and over about how I need to stop being such an oversensitive immature petulant asshole if I'm ever going to get anywhere. That was when their other pals suddenly became invested in jumping onto a comment that was over a year old to harass me about the exact same things. Many accusations of how I'm "always so rude" were thrown around, about how my way of dealing with things is to "jump down people's throats" anytime anyone is a "tiny bit negative" about my work, and about how if the majority of people are sending me messages about how I'm mishandling these conversations, I really need to think about what I've done and learn to listen to people you know.

The fact that the video had over 1,200 comments on it and they could only find two with me being "rude" to trumpet about did not seem to register with them. Nor did the fact that both "rude" comments were about as rude as the time I told the original poster that they were mistaken about the appropriateness of "sexual" as a label and that I did not want to be addressed as "honey." 

In other words, if I do not take harassment, snide remarks, disgusting commentary, threats, and rudeness with a smile and infinite patience, I am not fit to lead this charge. My responsibility, in their opinion, is to passively, tenderly absorb ugliness and take it upon myself to individually, politely educate the folks who dish it out.

I answer that with a big fat


It is NOT the responsibility of any community leader or spokesperson to be forever on their best behavior TO THEIR ENEMIES. Setting aside the fact that being kind to them is usually my first inclination if I think they might be educable and IT USUALLY STILL DOESN'T WORK, I find the respectability politics at work here to be bullshit.

If you are an ally of my message, you should be an ally of my message even if you don't like me. That means you straight people still support equal rights for gay people even if a gay person was mean to you once. That means you white people don't suddenly become racists (or, more likely, keep being racists) if a person of color did something not so nice to you. That means you don't sit around in a state of automatic condemnation of people different from you if individual members of that group don't approach you submissively and earn your respect.

And even though I would argue that I was never out of line in even the "worst" of the comments they tried to nail me to the wall for, I absolutely agree that I wasn't polite to them . . . and I don't feel that politeness is the appropriate response to those who approach you to deliberately send you invalidating messages. I want them to feel like they did something atrocious if they choose to approach me like that. Honest questions and ignorance aren't federal offenses, but I can absolutely tell the difference of flavor between a comment that seeks knowledge and a comment that exists primarily to shut me up and embarrass me.

I blocked this group of petty whiners spouting tone policing and snotty criticisms of my attitude, though of course as I waited for each to commit a block-worthy sin they kept popping up on the two "oh so rude" comments I'd made over the years until I got them all blocked and deleted the source comments. Ordinarily I really don't like deleting people's comments, even rude ones, and I block judiciously, but I've come to realize there's a huge difference between censorship/limiting of free speech and actively giving someone a platform to place their nonsense. It basically seemed like leaving those things up was just an invitation for more fake personal incredulity from people wandering mysteriously onto the video only to gasp and "agree" with the person above them to scold me for my terrible behavior.

Gosh, I'm just so mean, and need to learn to take criticism.

The problem with these people is they think any rude comment is criticism. It is not critique. It is not constructive. It is just petty dishtowels who think the best answer to "don't address me condescendingly, and please do research on why your suggestion isn't appropriate" is "NO, YOU!!!!"

I have learned to listen, and the thing about listening is that you do learn what "constructive" sounds like. When someone's comment starts with "lol okay honey," what follows is generally not being offered for the betterment of a message. It is meant to say "God, why are you so silly? Why don't you realize this obvious thing that I came up with after doing no research about your group? Why would you use a term that at first glance seems counterintuitive to me? Obviously since I don't get it, you shouldn't use it! Let me correct you!"

And that, folks, is why when I corrected this person's "correction"--complete with a "please"--I was interpreted as rude and unable to handle criticism. Because that's what this person thinks criticism is: mocking and shame. And if I reply rejecting this and give criticism of my own, that's how THEY interpret MY words. When one does know how to take criticism, one does so taking into account who is offering it and why they're doing so. When someone slings out an ignorant comment that echoes nonsense we've heard before, I know they're not following the dialogues of our community and have no place in telling us how to talk about ourselves. But when someone who IS in that conversation speaks up--someone who has clearly done the listening--I can tell the difference in the criticism that comes out.

And I thank those people, converse with them, and include their input in my book.

Which is published because I'm already doing a pretty good job at this community leader thing and handling my actual responsibilities just fine.

Though one of the people I blocked informed me before I deleted their nonsense that I had earned a thumbs down on every single one of my videos. I'm sure that will really show me where I screwed up. I'll definitely feel like I've been taught a lesson if someone goes to every one of my 80+ videos and clicks a button to express their rage. And I'll totally actually notice.

Which one were you again?


  1. Wait, someone threatened to thumbs down every single one of your videos? threatened to give your videos more views? punishment?


    1. Yeah pretty much. Glad their punishments are so sick.

  2. Yikes… were these commenters claiming to be ace? I've seen plenty of people in various comments sections accuse you of condescension, but they're generally the same ones who dismiss the entire concept of asexuality out of hand.

    I don't think this has anything to do with that particular ambush, but last weekend Salon published an article that included a very respectful and well-executed discussion of asexuality—it even mentioned you by name and linked to your overview video! If you haven't seen it already, here's the URL.

    1. The commenters didn't say one way or the other whether they were ace, though one of them used the phrase "our community" which made me think maybe. I have definitely had dust-ups with ace community people here and there. Mostly over them being elitists.

      Significant arguments seem to have come from my support of autistic aces, my support of aces who have sex, and my refusal to accept sex-shaming narratives that paint asexual people as purer or more evolved.

      I also had a spat a loooooong time ago with some people over singular "they," which was weird because even though I support its use, I think additional "invented" pronouns make more sense with the English language's structure, and even though I was explicit about my intention to support singular "they" and use it as requested, I think my argument sounded too much like anti-trans arguments for them to understand that I was *not* arguing against them, and I got some condescending "well maybe you're not as much of a supporter of us as you think you are" comments from one person. I guess because I discussed the grammar issues, they thought I was parroting the "but but bad grammar!" argument, which would have been a weird thing to assume considering I was advocating *invented pronouns* (which are usually mocked by the same people using the "dictionary" argument), but some people do just hear what they want to hear.

      Interesting Salon article. Thanks. I'm not too jazzed about them commenting on my "unpolished video" or calling me a "YouTube celeb," but it's certainly not anywhere near as bad as it can sometimes be in the media.

    2. Yeah, the "unpolished" comment struck me as very odd, since in other respects the author seems to be praising your work. (I think.) My best guess is that she thought the video was straightforward and accessible, without any overly flashy production, but the wording just came out wrong...?

      Anyway, whether it was careless word choice or an inappropriate criticism, I hope that comment hasn't discouraged anyone from clicking the video link to learn more. All in all I'd really like to see more articles using this approach—presenting asexuality not as a curious modern phenomenon distinct from all other human experience, but as a manifestation of familiar sexual diversity. Bringing in more "relatable" if still stigmatized experiences, like fluctuating libido, to contextualize and demystify rather than dismiss or diagnose. Comparison without conflation and a clear affirmation of the gray areas. More, please.