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The Problem with AVEN

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This is the leaflet given out by aces at the London World Pride. It was quick and simplistic, but it gave a good explanation of what asexuality is. But apparently for some aces this definition is no longer good enough. Someone has suggested that the definition of asexuality needs to be changed, in order to stop the community from being so broad and, presumably, to lock out those aces that do things the Gold Star aces don't like.

Now I know that this has probably missed a lot of people, and I also think that this would never actually happen, but it's a worryingly popular idea. It, as with all things asexual, stems from AVEN. Ignoring the fact that there are a lot of things on AVEN that drive people away (specifically the refusal on the part of some aces to include PoC or trans* aces, or the holier-than-thou attitude to allosexuals), it is usually the first place aces go to after finding the term asexual. It's like a safe space to sort out definitions, and to say that yes, while you do X, Y, and Z, you can still be asexual.

Except now there's a slightly concerning change in the weather. Yes, aces and graces, the time has apparently come for AVEN to change its definition. According to some threads in the forum, this is a good idea. The definition would instead be changed from "does not feel sexual attraction" to "does not feel drawn to engage in partnered sex". While some may see this as just a natural streamlining of the definition, it poses some very real problems. 

The first of these is that some aces are drawn to engage in partnered sex. Those aces in relationships with allosexuals, those aces that compromise for whatever reason, those aces that genuinely enjoy sex, are these people to be told "oh no, you are not asexual. You have sex, and as we all know, no asexual can enjoy sex."

Why don't they just change this into a no entry sign?
Surprisingly enough, instead of the ace community immediately going "this would alienate and negate the orientation of thousands of aces, maybe we shouldn't discuss this," there was a fair bit of support for the change. However, AVEN as a site cannot be flawed. It is just a gathering of a group of people who have certain interests, and as such there is nothing inherently bad about it. It is not the site itself that is a problem – it is the small minority of the users.

Nat Titman – one of the less well known founders of AVEN – also founded the first asexuality LiveJournal page. In a recent conference (the entirety of which is the focus of my blog post this Friday, and his particular presentation is found here), Nat sets out the existence of asexuality BC (that is, Before Cake). The presentation focused on the other asexual groups at the time – there were three main ones.

One was a political group citing asexuality as an antithesis to the “sex obsessed” world that we live in. This, obviously, was not the asexuality we know and identify with today – it directly stated that asexuality was a choice. This is somewhat closer to celibacy.

Another imposed strict rules, and narrowed down its member demographic ruthlessly. You know the type: “have you had sex? Did you enjoy it? Have you experienced sexual attraction? HAVE YOU EVER TOUCHED YOUR GENITALS, YOU DID DIDN’T YOU, GET OUT OF HERE!” Or so it seemed.

The third took the definitions of asexuality from across the internet and attempted to gather them together. The only problem was that not all of these definitions brought together similar people. The definitions included “does not feel sexual attraction”, “does not have sex”, and “does not identify with either sex or has the physical characteristics of both genders”. The last part here obviously evolved into the definition of androgynous people (does not identify with either sex) and intersex people (physical characteristics of both genders). Essentially none of the definitions were entirely coherent with each other, and they were far removed from now.

The Haven for the Human Amoeba; it's so old that there's a
link explaining what Yahoo Answers is...
I think I'm in the middle part on
this whole debate... (S)
So, Nat made the asexuality LiveJournal. Intended to be open and accepting of anyone that wanted to explore their orientation without fear of being judged by their actions, its information page became the blueprint for the then-infant site AVEN. That’s what I think is most important here – AVEN and the asexuality LiveJournal were created in order to include everyone – the definition was intended to be broad.

So is streamlining the definition on AVEN at the moment a good thing? I don’t think so, particularly as it goes against the original ideal of the site. It also means that hey, if the definition was changed to something else, then I would probably be one of the people barred from identifying as asexual. But what would I change? Absolutely nothing, but apparently what counted as asexuality before is no longer relevant in some minds. Trying to police other people's identities is a long, boring, and problematic pastime.

Here is a post in which changing the definition is discussed. I warn you, it is liable to make you cry from frustration. Oh, and it discusses prostitution, for some reason. What the first post on this page says is particularly problematic to me:
If one is streamlining the definition, doing so will inevitably cause some people who previously fit the definition of asexual to no longer fit the definition of asexual. I do not consider this to be a negative because I think the definition, as it is utilized now, is so broad that it loses a lot of its inherent meaning. There is little context to saying one is asexual when asexuals and [allo]sexuals alike relate to sex in much the same fashion. If both can be internally motivated towards sex with other people and enjoy sex with other people, it doesn't mean much to say that they don't experience sexual attraction to other people.
Right, so we identify with a word that has meaning? And you have a problem with this because, what, the ace community is very varied? Well hell, get the orientation police out here, not all gay men are the same! For that matter, homosexual men and women are different. The definition of homosexual is now too broad, you have to start trimming off the excess right now, or the world will crumble. Alternatively, you can have a lie down and put the Internet away for a bit, and have a good long think about why you want asexuality to be some sort of super special awesome club that you have to go through a rigorous screening process to join.

That's what it's all about, isn't it? The Gold Star aces don't want anyone slightly different to identify as asexual - even though it's impossible to compare it to homosexual or heterosexual and say the definition's too broad. 
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