I’ve debated with myself writing about this for over a year.
Finally, I’m doing it. Maybe this post is terrible, but at this point writing something bad is better than asking myself month after month whether or not to write about this. That I can’t get the idea of writing this out of my mind is a strong hint that I need to write this.
I considered keeping this private and only writing to certain people (I have already discussed this privately in a very limited way). But then I’d have to choose who to contact and who not to contact. What if someone would benefit from this and not be one of my contacts? So this is public.
WHAT I WANT TO DO:
Foremost, I want to increase my peace of mind. In the short run, keeping quiet about why I left The Asexual Agenda and mostly withdrew from asexual communities was beneficial in that I was so emotional that I was likely to say things I would later regret, not to mention that trying to avoid the issue was worth trying. In the long run, being quiet is doing me more harm than good. I had hoped that, over a year later, I’d stop caring about this issue. Yes, I’m less emotional now, but it still bothers me more than I hoped for. Keeping quiet is no longer beneficial for me.
Second, some people deserve to know why I withdrew from The Asexual Agenda and asexual communities, especially the San Francisco Bay Area asexual community.
Third, maybe there is a lesson here about how asexual communities can become better? Maybe not? It’s worth putting this out there so that people can at least try to learn something from this.
WHAT I DON’T WANT TO DO:
I don’t want to start a flame war or punish anyone. That’s part of why I didn’t go public with this over a year ago (though withdrawing from the asexual community and refusing to express myself has been a form of self-punishment). If you want to start a flame war, I can’t stop you, but I’d prefer you not to do that.
SIGGY, DO NOT COMMENT ON THIS POST. If you want to respond to this post, do it on your own blog or at The Asexual Agenda.
This post “Trump’s Atrocious Trolley Tradeoff” is why I withdrew from The Asexual Agenda and the San Francisco asexual community. This comment hurt me the most:
I just don’t share this precept that comparisons to Hitler are automatically out of bounds. If the comparison bothers you, well I didn’t put that in to please you. I put it in because what is a million anyway? I’m a math person so I know I don’t know and I know you don’t know. The Holocaust is something people know, and which they know was unacceptable… I just came up with another potentially better comparison. In the US, there are about 2.8 million deaths a year. You can do your figuring from there.
Part of me just wants to end this post here. But some (most?) people probably need more explanation.
Being a descendant of survivors of the Shoah is emotionally complex. My family discusses it more openly than some survivor families. My mother started talking to me about it when I was three years old, and I’m grateful that she did because I’ve read about what can happen when people first learn that their ancestor survived (or didn’t survive) Auschwitz at older ages. Yes, my mother withheld most of the details when I was three years old, but for as long as I can remember I’ve had some level of awareness. It wasn’t a secret or a mystery.
This topic is a huge emotional minefield for us. The Shoah is not something I can discuss casually or without dealing with potent emotions. Also, throughout my entire life, it is not something which I could discuss with my family without getting strong emotional reactions from them.
Different descendants have different feelings/opinions/interpretations/etc., even my own family has quite a bit of variation. But whatever emotions we have about this are almost always strong.
Therefore, I almost never want to talk about it with people who aren’t related to survivors. Even though this blog is over nine years old, I’m not sure I’ve ever discussed it here.
For people who don’t have strong personal connections to the Shoah, the emotional cost of discussing it is much lower. I don’t wish it to be otherwise. It’s great that some people can talk about it with a much lower emotional toll, and some people use that advantage well. Sometimes, people who can talk about it with minimal emotional cost say things which need to be said so that the people for whom discussing it would impose a greater emotional cost don’t have to say it. If you have ever done this, thank you.
However, in American culture, it’s common to exploit the Shoah as a cheap rhetorical trick. Because it’s so common, it sets the norm that it’s okay to use the Shoah as a cheap rhetorical trick, which encourages even more people to do it. One reason why I prefer to say ‘the Shoah’ instead of ‘the Holocaust’ these days is that it helps me distance myself from that (though sometimes I have to say ‘Holocaust’ anyway if someone might not know what ‘the Shoah’ is).
Because it’s so prevalent, I have to ignore it to some degree. I assume that most people who use the Shoah as a cheap rhetorical trick haven’t thought it through and that, if someone personally impacted by the Shoah spoke up, they would recognize their error and act with more sensitivity. I’m usually willing to forgive people who apologize.
(And yes, sometimes survivors and people related to survivors invoke the Shoah in toxic rhetoric… but for us, it isn’t cheap. On top of whatever feelings we have as individuals, we also have to take into account the feelings our families will have if/when they find out. I have considered how my family may react if they find this post.)
When I first read the original post “Trump’s Atrocious Trolley Trade Off,” I debated with myself whether to comment. The post bothered me, but commenting required a higher level of engagement than not commenting. If it had been a stranger’s blog, I would have concluded that the blogger was either ignorant or an asshole, resolved never to visit that blog again, and think no more of it. I ultimately decided to comment because, at the time, I trusted Siggy as a friend. I wasn’t sure how he would respond, but I was confident that he would at least express empathy.
Instead, I got “If the comparison bothers you, well I didn’t put that in to please you.”
I was crying as I was writing those comments, but I tried to restrain myself in what I was writing. I realize Siggy could not figure out from my comments that I was having an emotional breakdown because I deliberately tried not to show that in what I wrote, but I still cannot understand how it is appropriate to say, “You can do your figuring from there,” in response to a descendant of victims who expressed discomfort. Like, as soon as the Shoah is invoked as a cheap rhetorical reference, my ability to deal with numbers rationally is already gone.
It’s objectively true that the Nazis murdered far fewer Sinti than Jews. Does that mean that the genocide of the Sinti was ‘acceptable’ because the numbers were smaller? Absolutely not. I would never tell a descendant of a Sinti survivor ‘the genocide of your people is less bad than the genocide of my people’ because that would be a horrible thing to say! It’s not about the numbers.
No, I don’t believe that “comparisons to Hitler are automatically out of bounds.” For example, it does not bother me that in Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, Shashi Tharoor compares the Shoah to British colonial administrators intentionally causing tens of millions of Indians to starve to death. Why not? Because Shashi Tharoor shows empathy towards Shoah victims. He does not take this comparison casually. He acknowledges that the comparison is not perfect and that it’s a painful topic. Writing about what British imperialists did in India was clearly painful for him too, and I’m grateful that he wrote about it anyway because his book helped me understand Indians (and British imperialists) better.
If Siggy had said something like ‘I’m sorry that your family experienced that’ it wouldn’t have persuaded me of his intellectual position, but it would have made the rest of his comments less hurtful. However, his comments as they stand suggest that he only sees Shoah victims as numbers and that our feelings don’t matter.
What made this especially painful coming from Siggy is that, in an early draft of this blog post I made an analogy with gay men. Siggy complained about the analogy because he considered it offensive to gay men. Did I tell him, “If the comparison bothers you, well I didn’t put that in to please you”? No, I changed the analogy to female characters instead of gay men because I didn’t want my post to make any gay men feel uncomfortable. Apparently, Siggy isn’t willing to extend the same level of respect to families of Shoah victims.
After the last Siggy’s last comment, “I definitely think the numbers matter a great deal…” I realized that, if I had this interaction with someone applying to become a contributor to The Asexual Agenda, I would veto them. At The Asexual Agenda, a ‘veto’ means ‘I cannot work with this person and I refuse to let them join even if every other contributor approves them.’ I vetoed no one who applied to be an Asexual Agenda contributor. However, I couldn’t veto Siggy because he was an existing contributor, not to mention the most influential member of The Asexual Agenda. I could, however, veto myself.
I told myself to set the issue aside for a couple days and so I could calm down before I decided.
Two days later I was calmer, but I still wanted to veto Siggy. So I vetoed myself. I also withdrew from the San Francisco Bay Area asexual community because Siggy is also a regular there.
It was unfair that I didn’t give anyone else at The Asexual Agenda and the San Francisco Bay Area asexual community a chance to do anything. At the time, my priority was to get away from bad feelings, and avoiding you all (irrationally) felt like the safest choice. Sennkestra, for what it’s worth, I considered reaching out to you privately multiple times over the past year.
When I wrote this post, I was pretending to feel better about all this than I actually felt because I was trying to ‘fake it until I make it.’ I joined online meetups of two asexual groups outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, and that was good, but online meetups aren’t really my thing, and I felt a little tension because I wondered if the aces I was interacting would have endorsed Siggy’s comments (not that it was their fault since I never explained the situation to them and thus didn’t give them a chance). That said, withdrawing to a large extent from asexual communities has some benefits. This hasn’t been entirely bad for me.
Recently, I went to an in-person outdoors-with-masks-and-please-vaccinated-people-only ace meetup in San Francisco. I assumed Siggy wouldn’t come because he doesn’t live in the city, but to be sure, I spied the ace group to ensure he wasn’t present before I made my presence known. It was good to have low-key in person interactions with fellow aces again, and it gave me the extra little push I needed to finally write out this post.
WHAT DO I WANT OTHER PEOPLE TO DO?
First, if you are going to use the Shoah for rhetorical purposes a) please think about it! and b) show empathy to the victims. We may not agree, but if you show empathy, it will make the discussion less painful.
As far as broader issues in asexual communities… I’m not the first person who has been driven away from asexual communities because of issues like this. Most people who have been driven away like this kept silent, and I understand why. Vesper’s post came just as I was going through this and I am so, so grateful that they wrote that. I wish had done more for them when they were dealing with their own problems with asexual communities. Vesper, I am sorry. I wish I had done more for others who have had these kinds of problems.
What can asexual communities do? Maybe asexual communities need procedures in place for when members have personal grievances with each other. I’m a member of an organization whose protocol is this: if two or more members have a personal grievance with each other (such as making hurtful remarks), they bring it to the board of directors for mediation. Anyone in the board of directors who is involved recuses themselves. The board of directors will do their best to resolve the grievance. I’ve never tested this protocol so I don’t know how well it works, but it seems to be better than not having any procedure at all for handling personal grievances (and I noticed that they educate all new members about this procedure). Maybe asexual organizations need something similar, or perhaps something better.