I’ve felt a connection to the LGBTQ2IA+ community all my life. I started a youth group back in 2006… back when I believed myself to be an A for “ally” – oh, the irony!
Like so many over-thirty’s on the aromantic spectrum, I spent a significant portion of my life assuming that I was typical in how I experienced romantic attraction – and so I really didn’t spend much time thinking about it (which itself might have been a clue?). I was in my early twenties when I first heard the term “asexual” used in a context outside of biology and plant reproduction; it was years after that before I heard the term “aromantic”. The words were presented as a complete lack of sexual or romantic attraction – very black and white – and I never considered relating to them. I’d been in a romantic relationship, or what I thought fit that description, from the time I was 17 until later in my twenties. The relationship became horribly abusive and I was frequently accused of “cheating” – although I’d never felt attraction to anybody else during that near-decade of my life. Though it’s not the focus of this story, it’s worth saying that abuse is never about what the person being abused did or didn’t do – the problem is the abuser, and the abuse is never justified.
By the time I was thirty, that relationship and another had come and gone. Each had begun with friendship and trust, and each left me quite worse for wear – but I found that I was happy on my own; nothing was lacking. In years following I’d often joke about being in a relationship with myself. I’d take myself out on dates, even making reservations for one on Valentine’s Day when restaurant seating was more difficult to come by. I considered myself to have high standards, unwilling to entertain the idea of a relationship that wouldn’t improve a life I already considered to be damn amazing. What didn’t occur to me was that regardless of whether most people wanted a relationship, they still experienced attraction.
I enjoyed a good four years of single bliss just doing my thing. My activities were mostly solo: hunting and fishing in the mountains where I’ve always felt most at home in my solitude, and knitting, which I enjoyed doing in pubs where I could be around people but not have to directly interact with them. I had a job that I loved, and incorporated education on gender and sexual identities into the scope of my work. Eventually I found myself in a relationship with a guy I had gotten to know over my years of pub knitting. While preparing for an educational workshop one day, I came across a set of words I hadn’t seen or heard before: demiromantic and demisexual – variations of aromantic and asexual identities characterised by romantic or sexual attraction that occurs very seldomly, and only after a strong emotional bond has already been established. That caught me off guard. Wasn’t that just… “normal”? How would somebody know if they’re attracted to a person without some sort of emotional bond? I knew on one level that it happened; in my harm reduction work and philosophy it was my role to accept peoples’ realities and experiences without judgement – which is maybe why I’d never thought about it in any detail. But in a flurry of Googling and retrospection, I certainly thought about it as the fragmented bits and disconnected pieces of how I’d related to others throughout my life suddenly fell into place. It was in that moment I realised that my experience was not typical – I was demiromantic and demisexual.
At the time of my discovery I was in my 3rd significant relationship. As I’ve come to learn is a shared experience among many demi-folk, the extreme rarity of mutual attraction combined with the emotionally-fulfilling nature of the bond that precedes it gives an inflated sense of importance to relationships – as if each is surely to be my happily-ever-after. And so I didn’t think my new-found knowledge would impact my life in any meaningful way – it was interesting trivia that gave me new perspective on a lot of incidents and misunderstanding in my life, and it would have been useful information while I struggled to navigate my youth, but it was now completely irrelevant because I had found my partner for life. Of course, I was devastated when that relationship ended. But in my healing I became determined to do some self-exploration once again.
I’ve had maybe a handful of crushes in my life. I’d always been under the impression that people dated to see whether attraction would develop – it didn’t occur to me that attraction was generally a precursor for other people. This misunderstanding, as I can now identify it, put me in a lot of situations ranking from uncomfortable to dangerous. I’ve always been great at flirting, apparently – I just don’t know when I’m doing it or when others are. It’s not a tool I’ve intentionally used or a language that I speak. I love playing with words – puns and double-entendres are my specialty – which would often lead to upset when a guy would misinterpret my command of the English language for an invitation to try and kiss me… leaving me shocked and offended that he’d been “hiding” an ulterior motive (why don’t people just use plain language with this sort of thing?!). More recently I’ve gotten in the habit of informing people as soon as social communication progresses beyond small talk that, though I’m not trying to make any assumptions, I generally don’t experience attraction to anybody. I think I’ve found the perfect way of wording it, because about a third of people get offended, throw insults, and accuse me of being high on myself. Clearly they’re not the type of people I want to spend my time getting to know, and so my approach doubles as a handy screening tool.
I’ll be 37 this year and am only now beginning to own my place within the alphabet-soup community I’d always felt such a strong connection to. Knowing that I’m demi has given me a confidence that I always lacked. I used to think that there was something wrong with me as a person because I’d had so few relationships; because of the snubs or outright anger I’d received from so many men (without realising they thought I was rejecting them…). It’s uplifting to realise a good part of that has been because I have remained true to myself. I now see my aromanticism as an asset: I’ve begun to feel empowered to express myself and to speak up for what I believe in without worrying about what others will think of me – I truly have nobody to impress – and I like it that way.
My experience may not be typical, but it is mine and it is valid. During this Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week (of which I had no awareness until I saw the invitation for story submissions), I acknowledge that while “LGBTQ2IA+” seems pretty exhaustive and infers an A of one sort or another (think agender, asexual, aromantic, acetera…), the rainbow extends beyond what’s readily apparent. It’s certainly not black and white, and it’s not just separate bands of colour, either – there are whole spectrums to be discovered at the margins. Thanks for coming out!