What to Do About Detachment?

There’s been some discussion in a couple of comment threads on here about the problem of gray-asexuals feeling particularly detached from the rest of the asexual community. It seems that most of us, including myself, have a sense of not being fully welcomed by the rest of the community, and may not be able to easily find support for whatever sexual problems we are likely to encounter. I’d like to address this problem and propose some potential solutions, so that perhaps we all might be able to figure out what is most likely to work and take some steps towards implementing at least one of them.

Part of the reason I started this blog in the first place was because my sense of propriety told me that it was not appropriate to discuss what I wanted to discuss here on AVEN, where many members find sex gross and/or just don’t ever want to talk or hear about it at all, whether because it makes them uncomfortable or because they just aren’t interested. Aside from that, I was weary of reading debates about whether grays or just plain sexually sexually active asexuals should be considered “true” asexuals or not. I didn’t want my threads to be derailed by that sort of discussion, as I’d seen some very thoughtful and interesting posts get dragged down like that in the past. In fact, I didn’t care all that much about discussion at all because my thoughts were more introspective and less audience-oriented anyway, so it would have been kind of silly on that level to make them as forum posts, really, but just pretending that I did have some particularly pressing need for support about a sexual issue (from an asexual perspective)—where would I post the topic?

Let’s just consider AVEN for the moment. I can see three main possibilities: the Asexual Relationships forum, the forum for Sexual Partners, Friends, and Allies, and the Q&A. The Q&A is a bit of a stretch, because it is usually used for the most basic questions about asexuality from the newest of newbies, and a quick perusal of the current topics confirms for me that it is still used for that. Since it’s so much like a FAQ, when I used to spend time on AVEN I would always ignore it. So I can’t imagine it attracting the attention of very many thoughtful posters who are knowledgeable about sex and can give helpful suggestions. More likely, you’d attract the attention of those people in the Sexual Partners forum, but you might end up a little lean on responses from the asexual side, and some people may feel somewhat ill at ease posting in that forum because it is supposed to be for allies getting support, and so it may seem inappropriate to post something like that there. Depending on your purpose, though, it might be a good place to go, although there’s no getting around that it’s still AVEN, and even that forum will still boast its fair share of nay-sayers (as SlightlyMetaphysical recently pointed out here). Or if it’s also somewhat of a relationship problem, as the vast majority of sexual problems most likely are, it could go in the Relationships forum. That one is probably the one I would choose, but it’s still a slanted decision because what if the problem isn’t really with the relationship but more like the logistics of sex? To post something like that in the Relationships forum would perhaps encourage the wrong lens with which to view the problem, as people go to the relationships forum to discuss relationships, not sex. And there’s no real guarantee you’d attract the attention of the posters with the most knowledge and insight about such issues when posting in that forum. There’s no guarantee you’d even attract the attention of users who can bear to read about sex, much less those who have even the slightest interest in it. So where can you go?

There is a fourth possibility at AVEN that I didn’t consider at first because it is fairly new: the Tea & Sympathy forum. I’ve never glanced at the topics until now, but it appears to be mostly for very general emotional support, and so there is still the problem of not necessarily attracting the attention of the right set of people. Especially, in this case, because it seems to be geared towards garnering sympathy, and not so much insight or problem-solving suggestions, so someone looking for that might just get a lot of responses like, “Aww, that sucks! I hope it gets better for you!” Which is fine if that’s what you want, but not really what I would be looking for, if it were me. I don’t care about sympathy for its own sake; I can get that from any clueless friend. If I’m posting on a forum, I’m looking for insight, not a one line piece of empty cake somebody is using to up their post count.

So, AVEN as it is currently is probably not the place you’d want to go to post a topic like that. But where else could you go?

My number one suggestion would be to go to Apositive… or at least it would have been, like two years ago. Part of the reason why Apositive was created in the first place was because of the anti-sexual mindset of a lot of people on AVEN. Apositive was meant to be a place for intelligent discussion that gets beyond the “asexuality 101” aspect of AVEN and the bias against discussion of sexuality, and as such there were some very interesting threads about the logistics of sex and dealing with sex as an asexual. Unfortunately, a lot of the initial enthusiasm for the forum wore off, and it’s been hard to keep discussion active. I think a lot of this has to do with the format of the information being displayed, and the fact that not too long after Apositive was created, the asexual blogosphere began to really expand, diverting a lot of topics that otherwise might have been started on Apositive to the blog circuit. So, while I think Apositive was an ideal environment for this kind of discussion in spirit, unless it goes through a big revival, it may take a long time for a person looking for support to get any responses.

Now, blogs have several advantages over forums. They are easier for people to keep track of because of RSS feeds, for one. I have heard that it’s possible to follow forum posts via feeds, but I have no idea how to set that up myself, and I imagine most people are in a similar boat. (EDIT: Nevermind, I’ve figured it out… however, it does seem weirdly clunky and I’m willing to bet most people still don’t know that it can be done. It just doesn’t seem to lend itself well to RSS feeds.) With blogs, RSS feed links are usually very easy to find, and it takes only a few clicks to set them up. Blog posts also have more longevity, because posts don’t tend to get buried within the archives just to eventually vanish into the ether. Forums are more difficult to maintain compared to blogs and face more risk of data loss and down time, and they tend to be more expensive as well. On blogs, there is a system of tagging and categorizing which most forums lack, and the interactive content is immediately available rather than taking several clicks to get from the static home page to the forum, which you have to join before you will be able to post to anyway. In that way, they are more readily available to the outside community, and especially so since most blogging sites have ways of advertising your content to other people, like the sitemap pings and automatically-generated links to similar posts that WordPress does. I also mentioned earlier that there is a level at which you can be more introspective in a blog post than in a forum post. You don’t have to worry (to the same degree, at least) about whether anybody in the community will care about what you’re saying; you can create your own space to connect with whoever wants to listen. You don’t have to hem and haw over which sub-forum is most appropriate for your discussion to happen in, or whether you’re following all of the community’s conventions. And unlike a forum, which will die out if there are not enough people to create discussion, it only takes one person to maintain a blog. And since it takes only one person, all of the responsibility is also on that person, so you can’t just say to yourself, “I’m sure someone else will have something interesting to post,” to dissuade yourself from taking the trouble to say something like you can on a forum. All of that makes the blog format more productive by putting the focus on the content, rather than the community.

However, the focus on creating content for others to consume is also one of the major drawbacks of a blogging format. If it’s just one person talking about a bunch of stuff, that person can probably get support from the readers for their own crises, but who else can benefit from that? Since I started this blog I’ve had a couple of people write to me for advice on some problems they were having, and I’ve done the best I can to provide honest and helpful advice, but what I can do is limited. I suppose it is one option to start an advice column on a blog, but getting only one opinion in a crisis situation might not be casting your net wide enough, and it also tends to take a while for a response. Of course, the amount of time it takes is often warranted because a good advice columnist will take the time to weigh the situation carefully, do a little research if necessary, and provide as good and fully fleshed-out a response as possible. That opinion may be worth more than the opinion of the average joe who just types out a response as soon as he sees the question based on his own prejudices. But just because a person’s opinion is more widely respected, does it necessarily mean that they will give a better response? I think that there is something to be gained from an advice column, sure, but in a lot of cases it’s just not the kind of support that a person may be looking for. And it may end up being just a tad too public as well, which is why the practice of pseudonyms is so common.

Fortunately, there is a site which combines the benefits of blogs with the community aspect of forums, and adds a level of privacy to boot. The Asexuality Livejournal community is probably the best place to go currently for support on issues having to do with sex. It is generally pretty supportive, has a fairly wide user base (1,891 members), and because friends lists (the primary way in which LJ users view recently updated posts) are very similar to an RSS feed, people will tend to see the post right away and respond quickly. Because it’s not a forum style, there’s also no incentive to post one-liners just to raise one’s post count or anything like that, so I’ve noticed a smaller amount of shallow replies on LJ, and usually the people who are disgusted by sex will have the sense not to click the LJ-cut, or at the very least not to respond. Of course, there are idiots and trolls on LJ too, and from time to time there is drama, but compared to AVEN (and a lot of other LJ communities), the asexuality comm is pretty relaxed. I think there are a lot of people on the LJ community who mainly spend their time there instead of AVEN because it is a more welcoming and often more intelligent environment. And since the group of people who are more likely to engage in sex, be okay with sex, and identify as gray-asexual, demisexual, etc. are less likely to feel welcome on AVEN, I think it makes sense that you will find more of those people seeking refuge on LJ. So if you’re looking for a quick response from that group of people, the asexuality LJ community is the place where you will most likely find the best support.

The drawback is that it does require you to make an LJ and know how to post to communities (and learn how to use an LJ-cut! If you don’t use them appropriately when posting to communities, you will soon find out why you need to learn that tag by heart). Another drawback is that people who aren’t on LJ or don’t check it regularly won’t see the post, but with so many members that’s not much of a drawback. But it’s a somewhat insular community, and people who aren’t on LJ already and don’t know about the community may never find out about this avenue of potential support. Because I lived on LJ for so many years, I used to take it for granted that people knew about it, but in a lot of cases that isn’t really true. I am hoping that people who are looking for this kind of support but don’t know about the community will see this post and learn about it, and hopefully get the support they need.

However, I also think that we need more options. That AVEN, the first site that comes up on google when you search for asexuality, can be such a hotbed of resentment, derision, elitism, and general nastiness towards sexuals, sexuality, and “gray-ness” is awful. Is it any wonder that people think that asexuality means hating sex? To some extent it is understandable that there would be a lot of members there who do not want to hear about sex, but I think there really ought to be a sanctuary somewhere on AVEN for asexual people who DO want to discuss it. Maybe it would be worthwhile to create a new forum on AVEN specifically for questions about sex/sexuality, wherein it should be acceptable and expected to be a bit more frank and explicit than it would be on the rest of the forums. This might reintegrate some of the people who have left because they didn’t seem to relate to the community mindset so well, and it would have the added advantage of being easy to find.

This might, however, be somewhat to the detriment of any other websites that attract their user bases from people who left AVEN to look for other sources of support. But I think it’s more important to have that support available wherever we can create it, and I think it is actually kind of shameful that we don’t have that support available in a place where it should be so obvious. (Likewise, I think it is shameful that there is no forum specifically for aromantics, and I hope that will also be rectified at some point.) AVEN has more resources devoted to it than any other community for asexuality, and it also tends to be more support-driven than other places in asexual internet land. Why such a huge oversight?

I am also asking myself: What can I do to help rectify this situation? How can I provide anything beyond my own perspective? I have done something for this more often maligned part of the community (though when I started this it was really more for myself than anything else) by making the various intersections between asexuality and sexuality the focus of my blog, but what else? I don’t have the resources to start a new forum for this kind of support, especially since there already are venues for that. I suppose I could open my blog for questions and advice, though I am not sure I am qualified to give it. If people want to ask me, though, I will answer. I could also open up the blog to guest posts. Does anyone have anything to say about being gray-a, demisexual, or just a sexually active asexual here? I like the idea of hearing from other people on here, so if you’ve got something, please drop me a line!

If anyone has any more ideas, let’s hear them!

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13 thoughts on “What to Do About Detachment?

  1. Hi Elizabeth! Well that’s one long post, but I just wanted to say a few things:
    first, I think you’re super smart and you should be able to make an advice column thing if you want. In fact, I’d love to hear your opinion on the blog post I just wrote on asexual tension.
    Also, I had a dream and you were in it! Maybe it was my first ”asexual” dream(if you catch my drift), but it was about my whole class going to an asexual convention and you were there! (you were really short; I’m 5′ 11”) And it SUCKED because someone told be Cupcake died(I have no idea how it happened or how I found out), and I felt obligated to tell you because my friends wanted to tell you in the crudest way possible.
    When I woke up I was happy that C was alive, but sad there’s no asexual convention, and I didn’t get to meet my blog-friend :(

    Yes: random.

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    • Haha, that’s actually really funny because I AM really short!
      Sad dream, though. I’m glad it’s just a dream! I think C would be too, although she tends to be a little blase about the prospect of her own death. :P
      I wonder if one day there will actually be an asexual convention? How weird to imagine! lol

      I’m not sure if I want to do the advice column thing or not. I mean, I will if people have questions they really want to ask me… but I’m kinda like, it doesn’t matter to me either way, you know? It wasn’t so much my idea to give people advice, just something people have started asking me for occasionally. Good to know you think I’m smart enough for it, though! :3

      I’m trying to leave a comment on your blog right now, actually, but the thing won’t load. :( I’ve been having this problem a lot with blogspot lately, actually, I wonder if I’m just using a bad browser. (Excuse me while I grumble about the Mac version of Firefox not being supported for Gmail etc.) I’ll try again and if it still doesn’t work I’ll email it to you!

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  2. I consider myself gray-A. I haven’t had problems on AVEN with anti-sexual attitudes, but then I’m not really interested in talking about sex. However, sometimes I’ve felt dissatisfied with the responses I get there because people misunderstand or just don’t have any answers. (Aside: I just started a thread on gray-As on AVEN)

    But my biggest problem with AVEN is simply that it is a forum. Internet fora are not my scene. The blogosphere is my scene.

    The asexual blogosphere leaves much to be desired. There are a lot of blogs out there that hardly update. They also tend to be very rambly, which is okay, but lacks stylistic diversity. No offense, but in any other part of the blogosphere, most of these blogs would sink to the bottom. In the skeptical blogosphere, my own blog is small fries, basically worthless, but I feel like it could dominate if I started ace blogging full time.

    An asexual advice column would be an excellent addition to the ace blogosphere! It would have to be a group blog, with experienced people from different parts of the asexual spectrum. They should also be good writers, perhaps with distinct styles and senses of humor. People would e-mail the group anonymously, and one or more of the bloggers would answer. Oh man, this would be such a great project for someone else to do. (Problem: “someone else”)

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    • Ooh, that WOULD be a good idea! I wonder how feasible it would actually be? I’d be up for doing it, but yeah, it’d be better to have more than one person. Guess we’ll see if anyone else is interested.

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  3. Cool post, as always.

    I think you’re a bit harsher on apositive than necessary. I’ve (somehow?) got an RSS feed for it, and, judging by the amount of activity, I reckon if you were to post something, particularly something intricate related to asexuality, you’d have a good number of thoughtful replies within 1-2 weeks.
    As for the LJ community, I hadn’t heard of it. Sounds interesting, though I don’t particularly want to get an LJ account, and I don’t have enough time as it is (am I the only one who moved out of AVEN mostly because of the massive time drain, with the mature and worldly conversation coming second?)

    In my first Q+A with Joy Davidson post, she said something that got me thinking about the responsibility asexuals have to educate others. AVEN is the main place for that, and it seems to me that the AVENexodites, involving themselves largely in personal/political/scientific blogs and in-depth apositive discussion, are shirking that duty, and leaving it largely down to AVEN. For example, when the AVEN FAQ changed, I saw no attempt (and I’m guilty of this as well) to judge it critically, even though it should be the big place to go to. Part of this was because the FAQ isn’t very clear, and most people just ask the FAQs (frequently) on AVEN. But the FAQ should be a source of constancy in a world where the population is transitory and the politics are insidious, and it should be something important enough that our gut reaction ‘One asexual doesn’t speak for all’ flares up a little.

    I think how we, as a group, can contribute our voices to newbie-friendly and -populated education is an idea to ponder for the future, and will probably involve a lot more grey-a goodness.

    Sorry, majorly off-topic, possibly should have been a blog post of it’s own, but I’m still thinking things through.

    Have a slice of *cherry pie*.

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    • Wait, the FAQ changed? When did the FAQ change? I had no idea that had even happened!

      I don’t know that we are so much shirking our responsibilities as just… not being able to do much with AVEN, because we don’t have the power to do so. Grayish types are definitely in the minority over there, and our voices tend to get drowned out on the forums. Unless the admods make an effort to counter that, we’re just going to keep getting frustrated and leave. Of course, I know some of the admods ARE grayish/demi/etc. or are typically perceived that way even though they DO fit the definition of asexual and that’s how they identify. But… it seems to me that a decision was made somewhere along the line that AVEN was just not going to be the place to cater to grayish types, so that discussion was taken elsewhere instead of having space given to it on AVEN. I don’t think it was really a conscious decision so much as everyone (including some of the mods) being frustrated with the general zeitgeist and not knowing how to change it. I know people were trying (I remember a really nice thread started by ghosts particularly clearly), but I don’t think it’s had much of an effect. I think a big part of the problem is that there isn’t a room specifically set aside for that discussion, you know? It happens in a few threads here and there, but not in a way that it gains forum-wide attention. So often I think newbies don’t even realize that there IS a “gray area” or (more insidiously) that some asexuals can enjoy sex while NOT fitting into the gray category. And if it took me years to realize that starting a different sub-forum for it could potentially make a significant impact on those attitudes, I’m not surprised if it hasn’t occurred to anyone else.

      As for Apositive… I do consider 1-2 weeks (which was about what I was estimating) to be a long time, compared to the number of responses you’d get within hours of posting something on the LJ community. For somebody who’s having a big emotional crisis over something, I think that would make a significant difference. I expect the responses on Apositive to be generally more insightful than the posts on LJ, but I don’t really think it lends itself well to that kind of issue. I want to see Apositive do well again, but I think the fact that it is a forum is kinda working against it. :/

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      • Given that I’ve not visited AVEN in ages (I left just before my Aveniversary, I think, which was about this time of year), everything I hear about the site seems to be a new forum they’ve created, they were debating Gender as I left, and now they have Tea and Sympathy (which sounds like it might be better as a pinned thread). It seems they’re going forum-mad, maybe someone should make the plea for a grey-a forum. I don’t know how many active members are grey, though, and I don’t think they’d entice many back.

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        • I actually wasn’t thinking of it as just a place for gray-a’s, but rather as a place where any aspect of sexuality can be discussed (in a non-disparaging, non-elitist way), by anyone. Basically, a place where the ban on being too explicit would be lifted, so that anyone who is curious or needs an answer about the logistics of sex/how to deal with having sex as an asexual person can go there to ask that… without worrying about somebody derailing the thread with accusations of that person not being asexual. Having a space for educating others about sex is important, I think. I’m sure there are plenty of non-gray asexuals who are considering having sex for their partner’s sake, but aren’t sure what to do or expect, as well as some asexuals who don’t plan on having sex any time soon but are curious anyway.

          If they did create such a forum, I don’t know how often I’d have time to go back to read it, but I would certainly make an effort. I’m sure there would be questions there that I could answer.

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  4. I wonder if some of these issues, unfortunately, might be inherent to the kind of discourse that happens on the internet. That discussion of asexuality is so internet-focused, I think, limits us a lot. Maybe this could be seen as skirting the question, but how high should our standards for internet discussion be? This is not to downplay your concerns at all, but I think you might be expecting more than an online forum can give. A lot of what you’re talking about seems to be a “natural” result of AVEN’s growth in numbers. Whether more subforums would fix that, I don’t know. People aren’t usually rude on Apositive because it only has 286 members. I’m on another extremely polite forum that only has 1,000 members; AVEN has 21,000 (when I joined I think it had 5-6,000). And I’m on yet another forum that’s quite a bit ruder than AVEN, it has 33,000 members. I don’t think that’s a co-incidence.

    For support purposes, it might be better to just message one person whose advice you think you might trust, rather than throwing it out to the whole forum where any random person can derail the conversation. I know that doesn’t change the existing structures, but it might be a better way to get the information you want.

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    • Well, it’s not really rudeness that’s the problem. I don’t care about rudeness personally, and in fact I think rudeness on the internet can be used to great comedic effect. There are certain forums I’ve been part of that embrace rudeness as part of the culture there, and the people who take offense to it tend to be mercilessly mocked. In those places, it’s just generally accepted that if you’re being stupid, you’ll get called out on it, and nobody is going to mince words. In fact, it was something of a contest to come up with the most vulgar, insulting, hilarious insults possible. I tend to find that a lot more honest and refreshing than sympathy-seeking forums.

      My problem with AVEN is more that it just, as a whole, doesn’t seem to value the fact that there ARE asexuals who are interested in sexuality, or people on the border between sexuality and asexuality. I understand that for a lot of people AVEN is a refuge from sexuality, but I think this catches those more in the middle in a double-bind, because they (we) don’t fit well into either atmosphere. I think changing the structure of the forum to provide a little spot where everything sexuality-related can be discussed frankly (without worry of offending/disgusting others with TMI) would do a lot to encourage a forum-wide realization that there are asexuals who have sex, there is such a thing as a gray area, etc.

      My problem with the idea of just messaging one person whose advice you think you might trust is this: If there’s no place where such issues are currently being discussed, how would you come across such a person? How would you know that so-and-so is a good person to ask about whatever issue you’re having? Why assume they have any particular insight to whatever issue it is you’re having problems with, or that they would care to answer? And how would you know that that person would actually *check* their incoming private messages or have time to respond to you? I’m sure in some cases that might work, but it seems to me like it would be a better idea to toss it out to more than just one person in at least a semi-public space, so that there can be some discussion which more than one person might benefit from. That would allow you to build off of what others have said and acquire a range of suggestions which one person likely wouldn’t be able to come up with by herself. It would also allow you to catch the interest of lurkers who might have some very good responses but wouldn’t catch your interest as someone who does, because they don’t post often enough to make it clear that they have insight. So… I think it’s much more useful all-around to post a thread than to just PM someone (not to mention more intuitive… who joins a forum in order to just PM people?)

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      • I hear ya– I know I wasn’t speaking to your main issue so much, but the dismissiveness and “general nastiness” that you notice. If I wanted to talk about gray-asexuality (or whatever people prefer to call it) with someone on AVEN, I can think of a few people off the top of my head that I might contact…but, it does take a bit of being active there to identify those people. If you ever wanted to, I don’t know, recruit those people for a project or something, I’d be glad to e-mail you about folks who might be interested.

        I haven’t posted on Apositive in awhile (although I do check it frequently)– this post has inspired me to do an experiment now where I’ll make a topic and see how long it takes me to get replies. ;-)

        Who doesn’t like to read advice columns? I think that would be a cool idea.

        And a last fragmented thought, if you haven’t seen this zine, you should definitely check it out:
        http://weirdterrain.org/index.html
        (or submit to the next issue, assuming more are forthcoming?)

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  5. Hi.

    In AVEN Spanish, we believe the sex is part of the life, even part of an asexual life, so we have a section about sexual explicit matters in our forum.

    That section is private, only for members of the regular forum, so if you will check it you will need an account there.

    Some members whom are members of AVEN English, told to us that our forum is in some way similar to A-Positive and I am happy with that.

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