This is a big deal.
To understand how big a deal, let’s back things up.
The year is 2004, AVEN is a less than a month into its first big media wave in the UK, and Creating Change Conference comes to my hometown of St. Louis Missouri. Naturally, I sign up as a volunteer to check it out, and I’m blown away, BLOWN AWAY, by what I see. Every power player in the national gay rights, trans rights and queer movements are there, along with hundreds of community centers and student organizers, most of the people that we need to have asexuality widely embraced across the movement. I frantically go around to tables and workshop sessions, handing out pamphlets and getting brushed off by one organization after another. The asexual community was still tiny, not even a blip on the political radar screen, and these groups all have more pressing things to focus on. For every year since then I’ve been pushing to get a workshop at the conference, trying to get a platform to reach out to this close-knit community of activists.
Well this year, thanks to the help of Asexual Awareness Week and the (A)sexual documentary we got one, and it landed better than we could have hoped. Here’s a blow-by-blow for anyone interested in the state of ace politics.
I arrive on next to no sleep and meet up with Sarah Beth Brooks of Asexual Awareness Week. Sarah Beth’s a veteran of the marriage equality movement in California, and knows the crowd at the conference like the back of her hand.
We start working the tables, hitting up the big LGBT political groups and comprehensive sex ed organizations. Pretty much all of them have heard something about asexuality and want to learn more (very different than the situation in 2004.) They get a slightly overwhelmed look in their faces when both of us walk up and hand them different business cards as if to say “The asexual community is ORGANIZED now? Like, with two distinct organizations? Crap...”
We have the same proposal for all of them- distribute information about asexuality anywhere that you do education, and have an educational session for your internal staff so that they can learn more about asexuality. All of the major orgs take us up on the offer except (unfortunately) for GLSEN (we just need to find a new contact there.)
Stash of business cards in hand, we head to our session. We have NO idea how many people will show up, average session size is about 15, and we’re competing with about two dozen other conference workshops. The film’s director, the stellar and badass Angela Tucker, shows up to be nervous with us. As 1:00PM rolls around people start coming through the door.
And keep coming.
All of the chairs in the room fill up, then all of the space along the back wall and in the aisles. In the end there were about 150 people, though the space couldn’t have physically held any more.
The three of us head out for the actual movie (we’ all seen it dozens of times already), and sneak back into the room for Q&A as the film wraps up. The response is incredibly positive. People ask thoughtful questions about how to integrate asexuality into work already being done by the LGBTQ movement, and many many people in the audience mention that they are going to fight to get the film shown at their campus/community center/etc.
The formal session time is over, so we invite anyone who wants to to join us on the floor out in the hall to keep the conversation going. About 35 people join us (remember, average session size is about 15) and it quickly becomes clear that they don’t want to talk about the film. Most of the people sitting in the circle are Ace, and many are struggling to build awareness and find acceptance in their own lives. We quickly break into groups to let everyone share their experiences and trade tips on building LGBTQ allies that we can trust.
Fun fact: many campuses don’t host ace events because they haven’t heard anyone requesting them. When they finally do, it’s not uncommon for dozens of people on a campus to come out of the woodwork and find one another. Really powerful.
We’ve decided to host an asexual/grey-A caucus, so I stop by Whole Foods. Turns out it is (I kid you not) National Chocolate Cake Day:
I get two.
We show up at the conference and head straight for the conference organizers, telling them about our massive turnout and requesting a caucus session. They’re very impressed (clearly they didn’t see this coming), and get busy arranging something for us. They announce our session on the main stage, in front of the entire conference, and a panel of international bigwigs, including Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Huzzah!
That afternoon we grab 45 minutes with Mara Keisling, Trans Lobbyist Rockstar, Jedi Master, and huge ace ally since forever. We focus our discussion on responding to the recent House episode, though it quickly gets into her broader political assessment of the state of the ace community. She’s very impressed with how far we’ve come, and wants to work with us however she can to help us along. An extremely cool and experienced organizer from Denver volunteers to hang out with us and take notes.
She also talks about how shocklingly common it is for people in the trans community to use the word “asexual” to describe themselves, though they only sometimes use the word with a definition similar to ours. Turns out the the trans community has a pretty massive contingent of aces which is (on an organizational level) disconnect from the pretty massive contingent of trans, genderqueer, and nuetrois folks within the ace community.
This makes me rub my hands together a bit. On an organizational level, there are a lot of trans support groups out there that don’t really know that much about supporting aces, and very clearly should. Similarly, the main ace organizations that exist have yet to really effectively integrate resources to support/make a safe space for trans and genderqueer folks (despite the disproportionate percentage of our community that identifies this way.)
Here’s what it might look like:
- A couple folks from the ace community (who may or may not have some student organizing, writing, social media, or web design experience) could form a an Ace Gender Taskforce.
- Right away they could reach out to lower-level staffers from organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality (I know some) or people who serve the trans community in some way (I know some of them too) to either join the team or serve as advisors.
- They could set up meetings with/get elected to/volunteer on the AVEN PT, the Asexual Awareness Week core team, and organizations which do support and advocacy with transpeople. They could take resources from one set of organizations and help integrate them into the other. They could serve as ambassadors, making sure that trans and/or ace issues get meaningfully addressed.
- They could start a kickass blog about it.
- They could then speak about it at conferences like Creating Change (I guarantee we’ll have sessions next year) or at campuses around the country (where there’s a lot of interest in this overlap.)
Back to the conference:
After our power sit-down, we grab our cake and hoof it over to the ace caucus. About 15 people show up, almost all of whom are Ace identified, and we get into a discussion about the future of the movement and about how to more effectively to ace organizing in highschools and college campuses. For those of you who didn’t see the latest AAW census, a 59% of our community is currently in highschool or college, it’s an extremely important place to be doing visibility work.
We finish the cakes and check out for the night, though another rockstar organizer sticks around to help us plan a few amazing things that are still to be announced. At around 10PM Sara Beth and I finally call it a day and go out for celebratory beers. We (finally) check in about our personal lives, both filled with large, complex communities of people who love us. It’s good to get to check in with another Ace about our experience, to talk to someone who really understand the connection between the feeling of impact and the feeling of connection.