How (Not) to Ally: Absent Authors, Empty Exhortations

Handdrawn illustration of a yellow pasture against a background of hills and sparodic trees. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/yellow/gold stripes of the allo-aro pride flag. The text Aro Worlds Discussion Post sits across the image in a black, antique handdrawn type, separated by two ornate Victorian-style black dividers.

How (Not) to Ally is a series discussing the supportive content made by well-meaning asexual allies to allo-aros–and why some approaches still fail to recognise, promote, welcome, protect and include us.

Allo-aros are now more commonly referenced in asexual-authored content discussing the aromantic and a-spec communities. That’s great! We need acknowledgement of our needs, viewpoints and experiences. We need our allies including us in discussions of amatonormativity and a-spec/aro antagonism, especially when they occur in broader a-spec spaces in which we don’t yet safe or comfortable.

Unfortunately, this means seeing comments like these:

  • “Allo-aros feel alienated from the a-spec community”
  • “I’ve heard allo-aros say they don’t feel allowed to mention their allosexuality”
  • “Allo-aros often talk about how to include them in community projects”

Inclusion also means witnessing a direction that’s become horribly overused:

  • “To learn more, go follow allo-aro blogs!”

This always leaves me wondering: which allo-aro discussed that? Which allo-aro activist or creator provided resources outlining community inclusion? Which allo-aro blogs does the speaker think we should follow? Why are our asexual allies so reluctant to mention us by name?

Problem One: Countering the Primacy of Asexual Voices

Our allies know that asexuals first listen to (and promote) other asexuals, even when speaking on allo-aro issues. They also know that allo-aro-authored discussions struggle to escape the confines of the allo-aro community. In making other asexuals aware of our conversations, narratives and resources, allies are using their advantage as asexuals to perform important, needed labour.

As part of channelling allo-aro content to an asexual audience, allies often summarise, repackage or paraphrase allo-aro conversations and narratives. Compiling effective, accessible multi-issue overview posts or discussions about broader amatonormativity or a-spec community dynamics, for example, do require such rephrasing.

Uncredited paraphrasing, however, divorces individual allo-aro activists, creators and writers from our work.

It also divorces asexual audiences from our own words.

Allies present and reinterpret allo-aro experience and expression filtered through their own understandings of a-spec identity. Not infrequently, summarised depictions of what allo-aros do, believe or desire present misunderstandings and enable misinterpretations. They may lack context, detail or complexity. Additionally, asexuals can (in their ignorance) perpetrate subtler shapes of allo-aro antagonism in posts discussing allo-aro inclusion, erasure or representation. In speaking for us, despite best intentions, asexuals are too often propagating and reinforcing, not countering, harm.

(A recent example involves an aro-ace activist advising writers to avoid allo-aro characters that only have casual sex partners, not committed relationships. Here, an asexual narrowly determines what constitutes “good” allo-aro representation–while perpetrating sex negativity/slut shaming ideals that harm all allo-aros and excising non-partnering allo-aros from a-spec narratives. Probable good intent doesn’t excuse or lessen the harm caused by this dangerous, antagonistic post.)

Additionally, while asexuals may find an ally’s interpretation more palatable or accessible (asexuals, understandably, follow other asexuals), paraphrasing reinforces the extant culture of asexuals first listening to other asexuals in discussions on a-spec and aromantic identity and community. Even when our allies have made no errors in their comprehension and presentation, by summarising or repackaging allo-aro content for asexuals, asexuals aren’t learning how to listen to allo-aro speakers.

Asexuals both possess more authority and more readily accept other asexuals’ authority with regards the a-spec community. Allo-aros, meanwhile, fight to be respected as equal speakers of a-spec truths. Too often my best “support” means watching asexual allies retell stories absent allo-aro authors’ names and voices. How are asexuals ever to learn to stop regarding asexuals as the sole arbiters of a-spec identity and community if they never hear allo-aros speak our own words?

This isn’t allyhood. It’s erasure.

Problem Two: (The Asexual Perception of) The Allo-Aro Hivemind

An a-spec community newcomer must be forgiven for assuming that every allo-aro thinks and feels alike. Why should one believe differently, given how we are discussed by both friends and enemies? Allo-aros are “aggressive”, say those unwilling to engage with our criticism of the a-spec community. Allies, meanwhile, implore members of the community to “go follow allo-aros” as though we share the same thoughts on what comprises erasure and possess the same goals with regards community inclusion and education.

(No need to specify! Just follow allo-aros, okay?)

Contrary to popular opinion, allo-aros aren’t a singular many-tentacled organism! While some shapes of being treated as a faceless mass of allo-aro are more obviously harmful than others, none do us justice as individual members of and contributors towards our community.

Our beliefs about identity, content and experience vary. Some of us experience different shapes of allo-aro antagonism (compare a loveless-identifying allo-aro who has casual sexual interactions to that of an allo-aro in a committed, queerplatonic partnership). Some of us comprehend our allosexual aromanticism, and the harms wrought against us, through the intersection of other marginalised identities. Some of us are artists uninterested in education or explanation, just creativity. Some of us carve out communities focused only on supporting allo-aros and/or non-asexual aros.

The direction, by an asexual, to “follow allo-aros” doesn’t solve the problem of asexual ignorance. One blogger creates/collates positivity posts, memes or pride art—easy for allies to consume, unable to challenge their ingrained beliefs. Another finds asexual followers an intrusion on their closed community space. A third creates resources while preaching the respectability politics of “all aros love, just not romantically”–a belief that harms loveless and aplatonic aros. Whom should a new ally follow?

We aren’t all educators: some allo-aros resent the assumption that being allo-aro in a-spec spaces means the requirement to teach. We aren’t all available to allies: some allo-aros choose to build (needed) separate community spaces. For many reasons, we aren’t all able, accessible or acceptable representations of allo-aro identity and community.

We are all, only, allo-aro … but our allies and our enemies refer to us as though possessing a singular set of thoughts, experiences and community presence.

This isn’t allyhood. It’s erasure.

Impact: Alienated, Unacknowledged, Uncertain

I get little in return for my labour in creating and compiling allo-aro articles, art and stories. While finding financial support (to help cover the costs of running a website or creating content) is a struggle for most in the a-spec community, even acknowledgement, recognition and encouragement comes scarce for me when compared to asexual creators.

This makes it immeasurably difficult to keep creating.

When our allies fail to reference and credit us, and the rest of the a-spec community ignores us, allo-aros have few ways to measure the impact of our work. Have we provoked any changes in our shared communities? What needs further explanation? Are we even reaching our asexual allies? Or are our stories languishing unread? Are these ally posts just a case of asexuals referring to content in posts and conversations by other asexuals in a drawn-out game of telephone … where, long ago, one asexual did read an allo-aro-authored post or article?

(The perpetuating of allo-aro antagonistic belief, as referenced above, suggests at least some ally-authored posts are written by asexuals who have not themselves directly interacted with allo-aro content and community.)

We are expected to depict and describe allo-aro experiences–so there is a reason to “follow allo-aros” in the first place–without insight on its usefulness. I feel trapped between my allies’ direction for their audiences to follow allo-aros and the (lack of) response to the allo-aro content I create. Am I appreciated? Does anyone find useful my work in creating resources and fiction? How do I feel supported and acknowledged in my efforts when ally-authored content erases and dismisses the names of the allo-aro creators who inspired and enabled its existence?

(I have seen one specific, rather unique experience of inter-community allo-aro antagonism repeated enough to almost become a meme, but does anyone remember me as the allo-aro who discussed it?)

“Go follow allo-aros” feels like a continued disregard of allo-aro individuality. It’s an empty exhortation, the performance of allyhood: nothing here helps other asexuals discover specific resources and spaces open to educating allies. Nothing here respects allo-aros’ individual relationships to the broader aro and a-spec communities. Nothing here makes me stop feeling as though you think allo-aros are too threatening to name or too undeserving of credit.

What worth, then, is your allyhood?

Solutions: Give Us Our Names (and Links to Articles, Accounts and Websites)

I need asexuals to help educate other asexuals about allo-aros. Particularly so when conversations occur in general aro and a-spec communities/spaces where I am less likely to feel safe and welcome. I also understand why much of that work will involve paraphrasing and summarising allo-aro stories by asexual allies. Please, use your privilege (in the context of a-spec spaces) for good!

How, then, do you expose asexuals to allo-aro creators, activists and bloggers? How do you avoid erasing the authors of the stories you reference? How do you mitigate the harms of paraphrasing when it is a needed evil in your quest to communicate? How do you support the allo-aros who have educated you? How do you direct people to further information without the pointlessness of “follow allo-aro accounts”?

Name us. Link to us. Attribute and credit allo-aros.

Yes, you’ll need to remember who wrote the post you read four months ago. Yes, you’ll have to Google or scroll through someone’s blog to find that one comic or essay. Yes, that means becoming familiar with allo-aro bloggers and content creators. Even describing a story and asking if someone remembers the creator–and then updating your post afterwards–is better than a generic “some allo-aros say that…” comment that separates creators from their work.

Name the allo-aros who wrote posts relevant to your discussion. When referencing allo-aro beliefs, narratives and experiences (even while summarising), link to original content by specific allo-aros so you can better mitigate any chance of misinterpretation or misunderstanding on your part. This needn’t be a formal academic reference! I just need you to acknowledge us as individual creators and expose your asexual audience to our own words in addition to yours.

(No, your readers may not click on links, but they should have the option. Direct quotations, where appropriate, are also a powerful way of combining the efficiency of your paraphrasing with glimpses of the allo-aro speaker’s own words and voice!)

Instead of relying on vague, actionless shorthand to signal your allyhood, include the names of allo-aros you follow (and why). Include the names of allo-aros who create content you find relevant, helpful, educative or insightful. Refer to specific projects, resources and creative media that have helped you better understand us. Help us increase our reach and following by promoting us, because this means we know to continue making the content you find useful!

If you’re not online but wish to reference digital content, name websites and social media handles. Tell your audience the search terms needed to find books and articles. Make sure that nobody leaves your discussion or presentation not knowing who created and how and where to access the content you reference.

Naming allo-aro creators, bloggers, moderators and activists in specific lessens this toxic idea of the generic allo-aro. Naming provides more space for critique, individual and personal context, divergence of thought, and broadened conversations including many shapes of allo-aro identity. Naming acknowledges the various roles allo-aros play in our allo-aro, aro and a-spec communities and respects the difference between existing as allo-aro and choosing to educate allies. Naming forces our allies to provide evidence for what they claim allo-aros think, feel and say. Naming promotes the allo-aros who provide content while, so often, struggling to find a direct audience.

If you’re an asexual ally to allo-aros and you paraphrase an allo-aro discussing their experiences while creating your own post or content, you have failed in your allyhood if you don’t also link to said content and creator.

Conclusion: My Name Isn’t “Follow Allo-Aros”.

If you create content referencing allo-aros and/or allo-aro antagonism, you can and must go to the further effort of linking to the posts, articles, stories and content that has informed, shaped and developed your discussion. You can and must name the creators of said content. You can and must name, recommend and promote specific allo-aro accounts, sites, blogs, books and resources.

We are not the hivemind suggested by “follow allo-aros” and “some allo-aros think that” comments, and crediting us as individual activists, creators and speakers is a fundamental, inherent, non-optional part of your allyhood.

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