"How can you know you're aromantic if you don't even know what romance is?" Like so many queer people, we aromantics are no strangers to being grilled about the validity of our identities. Our challengers expect us to prove our orientation, or else our orientation is "impossible." Also like many queer identities, I can see my aromantic tendencies even when I reflect on my childhood. What's more, I can look inward and understand what my proclivities mean, in ways no one else will ever understand. That's normal, and it's time people accept that someone understanding themselves is normal. It's time people accept that we aromantics know what we're talking about.
When I was in elementary school, I told everyone I had a crush on a boy. That's what everyone else was doing, everyone was having crushes, so I had to have one too. One day, he and I were paired up in gym class to dance. Everyone whispered and said "ooo," the guy looked embarrassed, but I was excited. This was my moment, this was what crushes were for! There were going to be butterflies in my stomach and sweaty palms and, dare I say, romance! We started dancing, and one thought immediately came to mind and stuck with me throughout the duration of our dance: "I don't like this." Thankfully my palms didn't sweat, so the already unpleasant contact wasn't as unpleasant as it could have been.
I've learned the hard way, as a victim of childhood sexual abuse with complex PTSD, that if you don't express your needs in a healthy way, they will manifest in unhealthy ways. I had no sex ed in school, but even if I did, it would not have included anything relating to the expansive gender, physiological sex, sexuality, relationship, and romantic awareness that we have today. The pattern I was exposed to in media and real-life was heterosexual, cisgender, monogamous, vanilla, and romantic. And it was all binary. For example, if you were born with a vagina, it meant you were expected to romantically partner with one man in a vanilla relationship, that you were expected to be effeminately submissive. All of that, clumped together, was the single option that those of us with vaginas were (and often still are) given.
Believe me, I tried so hard to be that. I tried suppressing myself as best as I could, and the worst part is that for the longest time, I didn't even realize I was suppressing myself. Society taught me what to think about myself before I got the chance to think for myself. Holy hell, did that make me miserable. And society was so astronomically wrong. Eventually the veil was lifted for me thanks to the internet. I learned the word "asexual," and while I'm not ace, it was the closest fit for the feeling I had at the time when watching porn. I felt uncomfortable and repulsed, and I incorrectly assumed my problem was with sex. As society insisted, all urges are wrapped in two neatly binary packages. If my "one and only" option wasn't an option, I must not like any of it; what other choice could I have?
What I didn't know at the time was I was actually repulsed by that single choice that I had been boxed into. I watched porn and believed that because of my genitalia, I was expected to relate to the woman in the video. That if I was in that situation, I would have to be romantically attracted to one man, and of course only have sex in the missionary position. As it turns out, I'm a hypersexual, ambi-amorous, sexually queer, kinky, masculine, transgender man. And aromantic. So I guess society doesn't know everything about me just because they know about my genitalia.
Learning terms has been imperative for me learning about myself, because I was never given an outlet to explore these many parts of me. American culture doesn't usually help you help yourself like that. Terminology is often a touchy, polarized subject. My take is there are pros and cons, but it's also inevitable in a living language for new words to be assigned to concepts that didn't have a name before. What I've learned is that so long as you try to find a term that fits you, rather than you trying to fit yourself within the confines of a term, then there isn't much harm to be had. But the issues don't stop there; once you finally have the good fortune to learn that who you are is even possible, people continue to make it difficult for you to accept yourself. You're guilt-tripped and shamed for trying to own yourself, and the discrimination comes both from people who detest your identity, and those who use gatekeeping as a way to protect their own identity. I'll share an experience from my own life that partly encompasses both issues:
The arophobe I argued with knew I'm very sexual, very kinky, wanted relationships, and am deeply loving. I mentioned that I'm also aromantic. She first demanded that I explain what romance is (because "How can you know you're aromantic if you don't even know what romance is?", as she inquired), which in itself put me at a disadvantage, as I don't experience romantic urges. I tried and failed to explain, and she retorted with, "Those things aren't what romance is about. I don't like some of those things, does that make me aromantic too?" I wish I had the skills for setting boundaries and otherwise standing up for myself that I do now, because the correct response is, "You are not responsible for figuring out my orientation, I know myself better than you ever will, and my orientation is not up for debate."
There are many different types of love. You don't love your kids, pets, and parents romantically, but you can love them deeply. The kind of love I experience with an intimate partner is a devoted affection. I can get flustered, but I've never gotten butterflies in my stomach or sweaty palms. Romance movies and books do nothing for me because there is nothing relatable for me in those depictions. Seeing couples marry and gaze into each other's eyes in my friend circle is a flavorless thing for me to observe, nothing more or less. I've had romance described to me and I've researched it, and still nothing beguiles me. It's not my desire, I'm not repressed, and I don't find it interesting. In fact, I'm very repulsed when I imagine being involved in it.
I'm aromantic; more specifically, "alterous," which means I can deeply and intimately love someone in a way that is quasi-platonic and non-romantic. And as said, I greatly enjoy sexuality and even some partnerships. I simply don't experience romance, nor do I want to. Human beings are complicated, rarely does someone's identity perfectly align with society's expectations, especially when society arbitrarily makes up rules based on genitalia alone. My complexity as an aromantic is real, and most of all independent of others' opinions. In other words, I'm alterous, whether someone likes it or not. People don't need to understand it, and they especially don't need proof of it. They don't need to be satisfied with my orientation because being aromantic isn't a bad thing. It's not innately harmful to others or oneself, so it doesn't require intervention or micromanagement. It only requires acceptance.
People need to stop insisting that they're "concerned about" our aromanticism when there's nothing wrong with us. If you can't imagine a full life outside of your own romantic feelings, most of us aromantics have a hard time believing that adding romance is the solution to that problem. We aros can love other people, we can love life, and we can love ourselves. We can fall in love with life itself. We just don't usually need romantic love to be part of the equation; I know I sure as hell don't. And that's valid. I'm very happy knowing I'm aromantic, and that's all that matters.