Cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.
This post is meant to be a companion to Queenie’s series on using asexual survivors as rhetorical devices, fleshing out some guidelines for responsible sharing of ace survivors’ stories. Warning: contains mentions of corrective rape, comments that deny that it happens, using survivors and mentally ill asexuals politically to win arguments, as well as discussion of online harassment, stalking, and so on. (If you’d like me to add more warnings, just let me know!) I have deliberately chosen not to link any posts that do what I am telling people not to do here—my goal is not to start fights, just to give people some guidelines to follow. This has become a pressing issue in the community, and places like AVEN’s World Watch forum have specifically asked for guidance about this, so I am trying to provide it.
It’s important not to speak over survivors. Sometimes people speak of “protecting” ace survivors but then don’t listen to what we actually have to say. We are the experts, and we’ve been the ones to create nearly all resources currently available for other survivors. If you want to help us, then it is a good idea to link to things we’ve already written. But sharing links to our posts can also be inappropriate or dangerous, exposing us only to further harm. It’s important to take care with what you share and where you share it.
If you can remember these three rules, you should be able to figure out whether linking to a post made by a survivor is appropriate—and if not, please just ask permission!
1. Personal Safety Comes Before All Else
The more personal the post is, the more caution you should exercise when sharing it. Take into consideration:
- the nature of the post’s content (is it meant to educate non-survivors, or is it sharing a personal narrative to help other survivors? Is it a combination of the two?)
- where the post appears (is it in a place like a news site or magazine, or on someone’s personal blog?)
- whether the author has hidden their identity in any way
- how easy it is to discover information about where they live or other sensitive info
- whether they have given any hint that they might be under surveillance by abusers
- whether they have any preferences or guidelines stated about content sharing
…and so on. All of these will give you hints about how (or whether) to proceed. When you’ve taken all of this into consideration and you’re still not sure, ask permission.
Most importantly, consider how likely it is that exposing the post to the audience you’d like to share it with will open up the author to harassment, stalking, emotional abuse, or forcefully out them to people who very well may be abusive or hostile to asexuality. Remember that support for asexuality is often revoked when people learn that someone has been sexually assaulted; the Unassailable Asexual means that while it may appear that people are supportive of asexuality in general, they may still try to suggest that a survivor’s asexuality might not be “real” because it’s “induced by trauma.” Realize that there is always some risk of further abuse or harassment whenever a survivor speaks out. Each of us is always weighing that risk against the need to talk about our experiences and find support—and often, the cost is too great.
Just because something has been posted on the Internet, that doesn’t mean that the author ever intended to share it with the entire world. Up until relatively recently, asexual survivors’ options have been somewhat limited with regard to private online sharing. Now, Resources for Ace Survivors can match you one-on-one with someone who has had similar experiences, and we also have a private forum. Five years ago, none of that existed. Ace survivors had the option of trying to find an explicitly ace-friendly place where we could face invalidation and victim-blaming, or pick a survivor-only space where we’d just have to risk acephobia. Both kinds of spaces can be inaccessible or inappropriate. AVEN, for example, might be a bad place to go for support because your abuser might have once gone there for advice, or might even be a fellow ace person, or you might simply feel unsafe because of the culture, format, or the number of members.
Many of us have negligible support networks offline, so the only way to connect with supportive people is by posting about experiences online—and often, it’s going to be the curated loose circle of mutual followers that people feel safest sharing with. In most cases, it’s reasonable to assume that a personal blog post about one’s experiences with sexual violence or any other kind of abuse will slip under the radar in the cacophonous din of the Internet. Unless you’ve already achieved some kind of fame, notoriety, or hypervisibility, most of the time people just aren’t going to notice some random blogger’s personal stories.
But sometimes, it happens. Unscrupulous journalists might quote from personal blog posts on places as widely read as the Huffington Post, without permission. Or someone will share a blog post on Twitter and insert the author’s Twitter handle and hashtags, making it trivially easy for the author to become a target of harassment—especially when the tweet also includes @ mentions of public figures with large fan bases. (In case you haven’t been paying attention to the Internet in the past couple of years, please consult Google about the massive online harassment campaigns staged daily on Twitter.) Caution should be exercised when sharing to Reddit, too—I know from personal experience that it is filled with “trolls” and other abusive people (my own perpetrator definitely hangs out there). There are even worse places to share, but I assume that anyone who would share a post in those places is actually trying to attack the survivor in question, so those sites need not be discussed here.
We are not fair game just because we have shared some parts of our stories publicly. Our personal safety should always be considered, and we should not be treated as if we must educate everyone on demand. If you think the audience you want to share the post with is likely to go to the original post and demand education from the author, that too is a reason to avoid sharing with that audience.
And if you perceive that the person you want to share the post with is being argumentative, well, then that brings me to…
2. Never Link During an Argument
In late July, there was an argument on Tumblr about whether asexuals “face oppression.” It’s a dreadfully boring story, really. You all know it already. It’s happened many times before and will surely happen again. An ace person says something about oppression, and then someone else will try to silence them. Next, a well-meaning someone will jump in to support the original poster, and this time, they decide to helpfully post links!
Then the post spreads, and spreads, and spreads. It gains thousands of notes, many of them dismissive, critical, and deeply triggering. After a certain point—and fairly early on—it’s impossible to tell (without extensively clicking each note) who reblogged in support of asexual people, and who reblogged just to silence and mock. It gets nasty. Sometimes other ace people will even chime in to say that asexuals don’t face oppression, or make comments like, “I’m pretty sure that happens practically never” about things like corrective rape.
Does this sound like the kind of audience that you would want your personal story dragged into, without permission and without notice? Would you want to suddenly see a massive number of people reading about your experiences, many of whom are already against you from the start, some of whom openly decide that you must be making it up? All in the service of an argument you never made, and possibly don’t even agree with?
No? Then please, never link to a survivor’s story to win an argument, especially not a political argument.
I will keep this section short because Queenie will be covering this in much more detail, but I do want to leave you with a quote from Tristifere:
“I am not a sad puppy you can use to win your internet argument. I don’t appreciate your pity party, your political use of me and others like me, your insincere rhetoric about “we have to protect mentally ill aces” while you’re doing absolutely squat to set up the resources we desperately need.”
I highly recommend Tristifere’s full post.
3. Don’t Overwhelm a Support Service
The aforementioned argument happened primarily in July and August of this year, and included among the evidence of the oppression of asexual people was a link to Resources for Ace Survivors’ page on Asexuality and Mental Health. The page is a collection of writing on asexuality and mental health, primarily submitted during the Carnival of Aces in June.
I’m sure that linking to this page was well-meant, but it didn’t go so well for us.
Resources for Ace Survivors is fully run, written, and paid for by survivors themselves. Thus far, we are small enough to get by without having to raise money to pay for the site. That will surely not be the case forever. And when we suddenly received thousands more hits than usual, our available bandwidth for the month shrunk down to almost nothing. We ended the month by just barely having enough bandwidth left not to be charged extra for going over our limit. As you can probably imagine, it was pretty anxiety-provoking.
That means that linking to that page during an argument literally consumed finite resources that were meant for survivors to use, in addition to triggering a lot of us, and making us less able to focus on what we do.
I want to point out that there is an almost exact copy of that post hosted on my WordPress.com blog, for which I am not paying for bandwidth. I would still not like it linked in an argument, but at least that would have been better than unnecessarily flooding the few resources we do have set up, and have to pay for—with people who most survivors would not feel comfortable sharing their stories with.
There are times when it is appropriate to expose a support service to a larger audience. I don’t have any problem, for example, with someone linking to us on AVEN when a therapist asks for advice about helping an asexual client. Part of what we do is create resources to educate therapists, and spreading those around can only help increase the accessibility of appropriate treatment. It might also be okay to publicize our existence in a news article, although it would really be best to give us a heads-up before doing so, especially if the publication has a very wide readership. If you’re worried that we might become overwhelmed by traffic from a link, though, you can always get in touch with us and ask us if we think it’d be a good idea!
I hope that this post has helped give you a better idea of when it is okay to link to a survivor’s writing, and when it isn’t a good idea. Please check out part 2 of Queenie’s series this Thursday!