The Implausibility of Offline Meetups, and Idle Dreams for the Future

This post is for the July 2017 Carnival of Aces, the topic of which is “Ace-ing it up offline.” It has been cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

I live in an area with very little (visible) ace presence. Although I have met other ace people around me, and I know there must be more I haven’t met yet, there is no real local community here, so my opportunities for meeting other aces have mostly been limited to a few short periods of searching online sites like Acebook and OKCupid, and pure coincidence. So far, the handful of meetings I have managed have only ever yielded shallow connections, as most of the aces I’ve met in person have ended up moving away less than a year after I met them (or after they came out to me as ace), as younger people in my area tend to do.

To date, past attempts to start ace meetup groups in this area have all ultimately fizzled out. Meetups in general just don’t tend to work out too well here, because the people who might attend are so spread out that any attempt to make a group is definitely going to inconvenience someone. Some of the people who want to attend live several hours away. There just isn’t a large enough, or connected enough, population to support a regular ace meetup group here.

It isn’t just ace meetups that have this problem. I have also seen atheist meetups, gaming groups, and several different kinds of queer groups fail to gain traction here. Since the city nearest me has another, larger city reasonably close to it, events tend to start in the bigger city and stay there, forever. There hasn’t even been so much as a local Pokemon League around here, because there is one over there, which is a shame. This means that those of us who aren’t able to drive so far on a regular basis are simply left out of a lot of events. But even in the larger city, there still aren’t any ace meetups.

The most successful (by which I mean both long-running and well-attended) meetup group I have ever attended (and sometimes organized) was a group that actually met only 1-3 times a year, depending on how much interest the members showed in attending. This ended up eventually dying down because people moved on from the platform we used to organize it, and a different group for the same hobby farther north of us (but not really nearby) started up on Facebook and became more popular. Also, most of our members eventually moved away or just lost interest (including me). By that time, I wasn’t really interested in continuing anyway, and no one else was interested in organizing either. I think this group was more successful than the others I have seen because it had a lot of member engagement and discussions online in the interim between meetings, and members were very active in planning and organizing the meetups even though they weren’t officially the organizers.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any more successful meetup groups around here—I know there’s a large hiking group, and the local SCA and Amtgard chapters have been running for a very long time—but just that the things I am personally interested in attending, including ace meetup groups, just don’t attract enough of a crowd to stabilize. I wish this wasn’t the case.

I’ve talked about this problem before, and received advice along the lines of “Just start one yourself!” But unfortunately, I think the people giving that advice come from a very different environment and don’t really get what it’s like around here. Some years ago, I tried that. I discovered all of the above, and I also discovered that, you know what, honestly? Nothing burns me out on the ace community as fast as trying to organize a local meetup group. When you go to meeting after meeting, only to be the only person who shows up, or to only have one other person ever show up… or worse, when you organize a meetup in a different city than the one you live in (or closer to) because someone requested it, travel for more than an hour, and then not even that person shows up? It’s extremely discouraging.

And I’m done with that. I will not do it again. If someone else wants to organize something, maybe I’ll go. But I’m cynical about it. I’m not sure I’d even get enough out of attending to make it worth more than the effort takes out of me. I have mentioned before that I live in a rural area now, but I don’t know if I have mentioned how I tend to get sick when I travel, or how my available hours tend not to match up well with others’ schedules. These barriers, along with just being a strong introvert and very drained by social interactions with people I don’t know well—and being in my thirties now, I’m less likely to relate to the college-aged crowd that would probably attend—make meetup groups a dubious prospect for me.

If I lived in a large city with good public transportation that doesn’t make me sick to use (meaning trains), I would be much more likely to attend an ace meetup group. But even then, I probably wouldn’t go consistently.

And I’m not that likely to move to a large city. In fact, I very well might end up moving even farther away from populated areas, because of my partner’s career path. She’s working on her second bachelor’s degree now, and after that she plans to go into wildlife ecology, or something related. There is no telling where we’ll end up, but it’s very possible it’ll be nowhere near any ace meetups. So I expect that in-person events are most likely only going to get even more inaccessible to me.

What I really want is a closer community, not based on occasional meetup events but based on more frequent and consistent contact over a longer period of time. Low-key regular hangouts with local ace friends, rather than organized events. It’d be much preferred if they were within walking distance, but that is not going to happen anytime soon.

My expectation is that wherever I go, I will need to somehow build a community around me. What that will look like, I don’t know. But if we ultimately end up much more isolated than we are now, my partner and I have talked about the possibility of maybe one day buying some cheap land and opening it up to others—friends, polyamorous partners if we have any who are interested in relocating, and even people we haven’t met—to live there with us for as long as they want to. It could become like a little queer commune. It wouldn’t be ace-specific, of course—my partner is not ace (although she is aro), the friends we have who have expressed some interest in this idea already are not ace, and I’m not big on the idea of separatism anyway—but I would want to open it up to people in the ace community who want to be part of/create a close-knit in-person community, and maybe don’t know where they can go to find that. I think it would be really nice to have that sort of thing. Essentially, it would be like creating a non-traditional found family, some of which might be part of a polycule, and some of which would be totally non-sexual and non-romantic but equally important.

What I’d really like to do one day is open up a guest house (or at least a room, if we’re being more modest/realistic) where ace survivors in need of a place to stay, far away from their former lives, can come to live for a while to heal and rebuild. A safe house, basically. I don’t know if that’s ever going to become feasible for me to do, but that’s the direction that I’d really like to see the ace community go in, when it comes to offline community. It would be nice to have a network of places around the country(/world) where ace survivors, and young aces who find themselves kicked out of their homes or simply don’t feel safe staying there, could go. Not just a list of ace-friendly LGBT+ and domestic violence shelters (as Coyote has been working on compiling recently), but a network of volunteer hosts.

I think I would be much more successful as such a host if I’ve already established some form of strong in-person community wherever I live. It probably wouldn’t be the right fit for a lot of survivors if it isn’t near a city where they can access therapy and look for a job, but it might be a good stop on the way to a better place for some.

Another thing that I think would be potentially feasible in the future (both to hold and for me to even attend) and really nice is this: a sort of annual Ace Retreat type of thing, where aces from all over could gather for a weekend away, building community in a more relaxed environment. I envision it as less about doing activism and more about getting to know other aces and make friends. Granted, this would be very inaccessible to a whole lot of people, but so are conferences, which we already have and I think they are still a net positive for the community. Even speaking as someone who has never been able to attend one, the ideas radiate out of them and energize the rest of the community, too. If part of the event involved attendees creating positive messages to share with the rest of the community, this could have a wider impact that reaches beyond the relatively small group that would be able to go to such a thing.

But these are just idle dreams for a future that may not look anything like what I’m imagining. I’m curious if these ideas resonate with anyone else, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What other ways would you like to see the ace community grow, when it comes to offline spaces?

Please note that comments have been disabled for this post, because I would like to consolidate all comments in one post. Please visit the version of this post hosted on The Asexual Agenda to participate in discussion.