Creating Change 2019 was the first time an official Ace and Aro Hospitality Suite was included as part of the conference program. This victory was built upon the presence ace activists have been forging at Creating Change for years, organizing and hosting suites that brought people together when the conference programming did not. Bauer of Aces NYC talks with TAAAP social media committee member Aria about the gradual, uphill battle of cementing an ace, and eventually aro, presence at Creating Change.
Aria: When did you start attending the conference?
Bauer: I had heard about Creating Change from David Jay and Mary Kame Ginoza, who had both been before. For Creating Change 2015 in Denver, I had submitted a proposal to do a presentation on asexuality research that got accepted. Mary and I ended up connecting with a few other ace people, and we really just didn’t have anywhere to hang out. We would find hallways or sit on the floor for hours. It felt very much like there wasn’t really a space for us to go somewhere, but that being able to spend time with each other was so special and important in comparison to what we generally had access to in our lives outside of the conference.
A: Creating Change lasts several days and has a super packed schedule. Did it just feel instinctive to keep meeting up throughout the conference whenever there was free time?
B: I think what happened was we all ended up meeting and going to dinner, and then kept hanging out afterwards. One person would be like, “I have this other friend who’s going to come hang out with us!” And then someone would leave but then come back and find us. We sort of would not move from the spot where we had gathered to make sure people would come back to us. We exchanged numbers and Facebook info so we could find each other at different points in time.
A: When did an ace presence start to gain momentum at Creating Change?
B: David Jay screened his documentary at Creating Change 2012 in Baltimore. He had submitted the proposal multiple times and it finally got accepted. After playing the documentary he said, “I don’t think we have enough time in the session to continue, but I will be out in the hallway to answer questions for anybody who wants to keep talking about this.” He said there was a group of people standing in the hallway for about an hour or hour and a half. That crowd signaled to Creating Change that asexuality is actually something people are interested in, and we do not have enough space to be able to talk about it.
A: After the documentary screening in 2012, what was the process of increasing ace visibility at the conference like?
B: It has definitely been our experience that at each stage, we have to try for several years before we can work towards the next step. For example there were a lot of rejected proposals before we eventually got a workshop session. After Mary and I attended CC 2015 in Denver, she suggested we send them a letter requesting asexuality as a topic you can submit workshops to when they have the topic listings in the program, as well as having an inclusion guide similar to the bi and trans etiquette guides in the conference program. Mary drafted the letter and I helped edit it, and then we got as many asexual organizers as we could to sign off on it. We submitted it to Creating Change and never heard back. We also tried it the next year and never heard back. But after Denver 2015, I was determined to make sure we had a space where we could invite the people we would connect with to come hang out. So for Creating Change 2016 in Chicago I rented an extra room—which very luckily got upgraded to a king suite—and let people use it as an unofficial suite. I even let people stay in the room to help subsidize the cost. At one point the people at Creating Change who were in charge of organizing the suites came to visit and we were just like, “Oh hello, hi! Don’t mind us!” I thought we might get in trouble, but they were like “No, this is great!” That year, there was someone on the host committee who was ace. I think that played a role in the host committee finding out about our unofficial ace suite and beginning to talk to us. That was the year we semi-officially started networking. I think when there’s an ace person in the organization it makes it much harder for them to ignore what we’re saying because people on their team in the room with them are representing a similar message.
A: Were there other people at the conference who supported your efforts to create spaces for ace people?
B: The bi suite has always been the most engaged and helpful and has served as a community resource. I can’t speak highly enough of the bi suite. I think part of why they reached out was because they have experienced similar things where they were unsure about whether they were invited or whether they should be there. So they wanted to help and make sure we did not experience those same things.
A: In 2016 when you all had the first unofficial suite and some host committee members found out…how do you think that situation came about?
B: We had been advertising and tweeting, we had been telling everybody at every session, and I had made little programs about all the ace-related things happening at the conference so people had a way to come find us. People who had taken those pamphlets attended other suites and asked if they could be included in their distribution pamphlet table. The people at the other suites had a reaction of, “Sure! That’s fine…who are you? What are you doing?” So we were making ourselves known, and I think it trickled up to the host committee who decided to come check out what we were doing.
A: So were they mainly just curious?
B: Yeah, they were kind of just like, “Oh! What’s happening, what’s going on?” and we were like, “Oh hi! There’s a bunch of people in here, we’re just hanging out.” Some of us were talking, playing cards, etc. They were just like, “Oh okay! This is cool.” I had been really nervous, but their reaction was more neutral and curious. Their response was not to give us a suite next year, but they also did not accuse us of usurping their conference resources or tell us to not create our own space.
A: That reaction is interesting because in online spaces you see the extreme sides of the spectrum: people who advocate for ace inclusion and those who are against it. But it seems like your experience at the conference with how people reacted reflects more of a grey area.
B: For sure. When you would walk into the first unofficial ace suite, it certainly didn’t look like a bunch of straight people. Not that straight people look a particular way, but we definitely were holding a very queer space. I think people in the LGBTQIA community are concerned about the idea of giving space to “straight” people. My response to that is A) first of all, you are not giving us space, and B) beyond that, we found a lot of people who wanted to come hang out with us because they were already going to Creating Change. I do not think that there were any people who came to the conference specifically for the asexuality aspect. They were just already there. So people who are coming to the conference are already self-selected, and there just happen to be a whole bunch of people who identify with asexuality that attend Creating Change. They are going to be the ones who are excited about the workshops and the suite. When it comes to who can be in LGBTQIA spaces, I have more of an issue with giant corporation floats marching in pride rather than the 25 of us walking down the street with an ace banner. Yes, we are asking for space: we are asking for space for 25-35 people in your pride march of thousands. The people who show up to those spaces are people who have generally found that their sexual orientation does not mesh with the societal norm. And so the places to talk about sexual orientation, and now romantic orientation, are often in queer spaces. It makes a lot of sense to me that those spaces are where people would be drawn to. It seems that spaces that are trans friendly and spaces that have younger constituents are more open to asexuality, and now aromanticism, being included.
A: It seems like the amount of people who would show up for anything ace-related at CC served as proof that there needs to be more space.
B: Yeah. We are never going to be massive, but we deserve more than one session. I think one of the other things about a suite in particular is that a lot of the activities are not the general evening activities that are promoted by the conference. They have parties, they have alcohol-based events and things like that. A quieter space to hang out, play some games, maybe have some discussions is not what everyone is looking for, but does seem particularly popular among the ace and aro people who show up. This past year, the bi suite was closed for the afternoon and evening on Saturday, so we invited the entirety of the bi suite into the ace and aro suite and it was a really big hit.
A: Do you think the ace and aro suite will be a recurring part of Creating Change program?
B: I hope so. It certainly helps when there is [an asexual meetup] group in the city that the conference is going to be at. We are excited about next year’s conference in Dallas because there’s a somewhat active ace group there who can join the host committee. This year they did let a few of us who were not local be on the subcommittee for the ace and aro suite and we were included in some the planning process. I think as time goes on we will have more organizing in a variety of places.
A: Do you envision the ace and aro suite as eventually becoming two separate suites: one for aces and one for aros?
B: I think they work well together and that it would continue to work as a joint suite. I am not aro, so I did not feel comfortable making the commitment to having a suite be an aro suite without aro people committing to representing it. Now that we have more of that commitment, it seems like a good thing to have eventually. Over time, I think aromanticism is going to be more popular than asexuality. I think aromanticism is actually more prevalent, and it has a large potential to grow. Particularly at an LGBTQ+ conference, I think there might be more people who do not identify as ace who would identify as aro. I am interested to see how that takes shape over the years when aromanticism becomes more well-known. I am glad that so far there hasn’t been too much pushback about us doing a disservice to the aromantic community by having the suite be linked to asexuality, because that is definitely something I have heard in general: please do not put “aro” in the name when you do not have the programming to back it up. For the Ace and Aro Conference we are doing in June for WorldPride, we are making a really concerted effort to make sure there is aro-specific representation, as well as representation for people who are aro and not ace. I look forward to having aro organizations we can partner with for future events, as well as to support aro work being done by aro people.
A: I look forward to that, too. Final question to wrap up: what would you like to see happen with asexuality at future Creating Change conferences?
B: I think the first thing I would really like is to have more 201 or 301 conversations about asexuality in the workshops. That would be awesome. There’s a lot of 101-level sessions that center more around what asexuality is, and I would love to move beyond that. I am so excited to pass any torches I can to anyone willing to take it up. Having representatives from TAAAP and the Asexuals of the Mid-Atlantic meetup group has been great, and just continuing to have more volunteers in the conference cities that are interested in participating. I am really excited for the year I can go to Creating Change and just be a participant, to be able to come full circle and say, “If you need help with something I can help, but I am actually just here as an attendee rather than as someone in charge of something.”