Do You Have the Time, To Listen to Me Whine, About Writing and Tumblr All At Once?

This post is an intended contribution for the March 2015 Carnival of Aces: Writing and Asexuality call for submissions.

Kind of inspired by Redbeardace’s post, I thought it might be a good idea to look back at my own history of writing about asexuality, and writing asexual characters.The majority of the writing I have done has been non-fiction. On my old blog, I was never a prolific blogger. I didn’t make a lot of posts, and I didn’t update frequently at all. Nonetheless, I stuck at it for three and a half years, and as a result (going by the public posts on that blog) I wrote some 25,000 words of non-fiction about asexuality.

Many people have contributed more. But I have contributed some, so I feel happy. I wanted to continue my minor contributions to asexual visibility here on this blog, but have mostly failed. My busy life (work + school + some attempts at a meager social life) and lackluster time management skills would have doomed an attempt at the prolificacy I envy in others, but I thought I could at least keep up the pace of my old blog.

However, seeing the toxicity, cruelty, and bullying that is so rampant in the Tumblr asexuality community depressed me and created in me an apathy that kept me from writing again. (The Tumblr asexual community is probably the largest place for ace discussion and visibility work now, and much of its style of nastiness seems to be spreading to other asexual places.)

Write about asexuality? For who? For a bunch of people that will turn around call each other stupid, privileged scum, “literally trash”, etc for using a new ace term wrong? Asexuals who are more interested in watching for any possible excuse to trash other asexuals than in asexual education?

When I first starting writing about asexuality, in 2010, I felt so proud, and eager, to contribute something to other asexuals. The asexual community consisted of people who were largely kind, supporting, intelligent, or at the very least, possessed the bare minimum of human decency in the way they treated others. I felt that I was contributing to a movement that was doing good.

My writing would help validate others who had newly discovered their asexuality; it would spread information for curious friends and families of aces, my writing would be part of a growing mass of recorded ace information, perspectives, and experiences.

Maybe it did that. Maybe it continues to do that. But I have to wonder if that is the majority contribution now, or if it mostly serves as a link for a bully to post to score points on someone? A citation an ace can use to snarl at another ace that they’re too privileged to talk about their own experiences and opinions? Will I one day follow a referral link back, and see my own posts’ URL accompanied by the text “go kill yourself you alloromantic-privileged scum“? Or something similarly, almost unbelievably ridiculous sentiment that is nonetheless made commonly on Tumblr?

The possibility puts a real damper on the “I want to write something for the ace community!” motivation of mine.

Similarly, that’s what killed my asexual fiction attempts. For a while, I thought to abandon blogging and non-fiction writing for the glorious world of fantasy–after all, it’s so seemingly less controversial. No cringing at the possibility of people’s outrage over an opinion on terminology use, or asexuals’ position in the LGBT community, or privilege and asexuals…right?

I wrote 3,105 words of my asexual fantasy story, and I quite liked what I had. It was going to be much longer, and I showed it to my beta to go over a few concerns I had over the plot. We both agreed it should go in a different direction than originally intended, and I sat down to re-work the story a little. And before I began, I reconsidered. I re-examined my priorities. This was a story I was putting a lot of work into–more work than I usually put in writing, especially my fictional writing. And I could just picture the flak I’d get for it. Someone who didn’t like what I said about this or that stance in a blog post would accuse me of being racist and colorist for having a mixed-race protagonist or whatever accusation they could drag out of the text.

Because most people on Tumblr don’t research the statements they reblog, or check them for factuality and basis in reality, misinformation spreads like a wildfire.

Pretty soon, “Ace in Lace is racist” spreads. Someone mentions liking my story. They get an ask. “You shouldn’t read Ace in Lace, she’s racist and transphobic and a cis white male” someone says. OP apologizes “Sorry! I didn’t know. I’ll take that post down right now.

It sounds outlandish. It sounds paranoid and ridiculous. Only if you’re not familiar with Tumblr though. All the scenarios I’ve mentioned are things I’ve seen happened, and can post examples of if needed.

Why would I spend my time writing fiction or non-fiction, solely as a contribution to the community (which is still severely lacking fiction and non-fictional works about asexuality) to get treated like garbage? When I could…

1. Write something for an audience that doesn’t have the issue of rampant misuse of social justice principles, resulting in witch-hunts on writers and artists

2. Write something for myself

3. Play a video game with a friend

4. etc,

Point of this post being, once upon a time I loved to write about asexuality and longed for little more than for the time to write and contribute something to other asexuals. Now I’m so disturbed by so much of the asexual community on Tumblr that the passion and fire has gone. I probably sound like I’m whining and being self-important, but it’s not about POOR ACE IN LACE, it’s about weighing opportunity cost as a writer. When I write about asexuality, it means I’m giving up time I could be writing about something else. And when a community treats its members vilely, the incentive for members to want to interact with that community diminishes.

Asexual Books: Decker’s The Invisible Orientation

Is anyone else planning on getting Julie Sondra Decker’s The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality when it comes out at the beginning of next month?

I am. I am so getting that book, even though it’s rare for me to buy a hardcover. (Not because I dislike hardcovers; I’m just in a state of being financially perma-broke the majority of the time and they’re more expensive). I may not be able to read and review it till the semester is over (Hi, Senior Thesis, nemesis of my life) but I’m going to buy it, and silently gloat over having it, and look forward to having the time to read it.

Because it’s the first of its kind. Sure, we’ve had books that dealt with asexuality before. There’s a collection of essays, the asexual romance anthology, a memoir, and some other stuff I’m probably forgetting, but stuff that deals with asexuality and what is, what it’s about, is largely coming from a more academic/scholarly point of view (Bogaert’s Understanding Asexuality for instance). This is the first text (as far as I know) that is a general resource on asexuality that is created for consumption by the general public versus a more niche audience (sociologists, feminists, asexuals themselves). This is the first book that we can expect to hand to anyone and have them get a clear idea of what asexuality is about and become informed about asexual issues from it.

My only regret is that I’m not financially well-off enough to buy a copy for my campus. I am pysched.

Relevant links: A Giveaway on Goodreads you can enter to get a chance to win a free copy of the book.

The book on Barnes and Noble where, according to my admittedly non-expert  calculations, it’s actually cheaper than on Amazon. (Amazon lowest price is currently $31.43 + $3.99 shipping–Barnes & Noble is $32.89 but has free shipping since the order is over $25.) Of course if you’re buying the e-version the price is much lower and shipping isn’t an issue.

A Small Piece of Asexual History: The Heart of Aces, Unfortunately

Do you remember The Heart of Aces? It’s an anthology of asexual romance stories. Those stories may be very good, or not, I have no idea. See, I never bought a copy of The Heart of Aces, even though I probably could have afforded it then. (Actually I think I was pretty broke then, but I would have done without some ramen for it; it was only a few dollars, and I’m very passionate about getting more books about asexuality and with asexual characters).

The reason I didn’t buy it was a kerfluffle over the cover, and the way the publishing company handled it. The cover had two very pale, thin, attractive white women on the cover, in lingerie and nighties, staring ahead with dead-eyes. The cover’s stock photo had been used on a variety of porn and erotica sites. See, when you self-publish or have a book published by a small company, the amount of money that can be spent on cover design is usually quite low (there are exceptions; some people want to “do it right” and will invest quite a bit in a good cover). One way to keep costs low is to go with a stock photo; a photo that is available for free use or for a small cost.

It is a problem with small publishing, that the stock photos will often be used many times, and that your steamy romance will have the same bodice-ripped heroine as 40 other steamy romances.

In this case, the main use of the stock photo (as erotic content) is a good indicator that it’s sexualized (if the image itself didn’t make that quite clear. Nextstepcake detailed some of the instances of the stock photo’s use here.

Some asexuals offered criticism of the cover over the sexualized nature of the photo, and for the lack of diversity. The models were the stereotypical face of beauty everywhere. They were white, they were thin, not visibly disabled, wearing traditional modern markers of femininity such as make-up and lingerie.

Some asexuals were not pleased to have one of the first anthologies for asexuals, and one of the first books of asexual fiction period, graced with a cover that depicted sexualized white women.

The person who represented the anthology on tumblr was Christy Leigh Stewart. Her role in the publishing was unclear/muddied; she stated that her postings were simply to help a friend who was behind the company that published the anthology; yet she claimed to know intimate details of the effort such as the amount of money that the effort was costing, as well as knowledge of the publishing contracts).

While her exact role was unclear, she was the one who answered the criticism of the cover, and did so by lashing out at the asexuals who had offered criticism, outright insulting those aces, such as calling them “pathetic”.

She’s on the record with such gems as:

“And, seriously, to all you bitching…make your own book!  God, you good for nothing social justice types are such a fucking pain in the ass when someone tries to do something good.”

It was all the more disturbing because critique and advice from asexuals for the anthology’s title had been received very well by the representative on AVEN. The point of this blog post though, is not to slam the rather unprofessional behavior of one person involved in The Heart of Aces effort. Rather, it is to chronicle a small piece of Asexual History, while the matter still exists fairly intact in my memory, and before the relevant blog posts all disappear. (Some of the commentators have already since deleted their tumblrs, erasing their contribution to this event for all time.)

It also serves to remind me of how good the asexual community can be. Yes, there is infighting, and some ace issues get prioritized and focused on over others. But every group has that issue to some extent.

And I think The Heart of Aces debacle showed our good side, how strong we can be. We were not content to let a cover go out there that potentially sexualized women and asexuals. We were not content to just accept two thin attractive white women as the face of asexuality, as it has been the face of so many genres and stories. We remained civil (as far as I can see) and we did not remain passive and content to allow an outsider to twist the face of asexuality into something that we did not want, something that poorly represented us.

So when I read back through posts on The Heart of Aces I was really inspired, and reminded of how much this community has helped me, and how much love I feel for it. (Platonic love, I swear :P)

Other details about The Heart of Aces:

The call for submissions was in April 2012, and it was published in July 2012. The payment offered was rather low, a flat payment of $30.

. For some comparison, the pro-rates the SWFA lists are 5 cents a word. According to Duotrope’s classificions, unless the stories in The Heart of Aces had a very, very low wordcount, it doesn’t even amount to semi-pro classification. It is, in other words, what people in the business call a “token payment”.

Did you take part in any of the controversies around The Heart of Aces? Did you witness them? If you have any thoughts or reflections on the issue, please feel free to share them!