Diverse: in the way that means, in my current position, I’m not going to feel truly excluded for any particular facet of my identity, whether related to my Queerness or not. However, having a multifaceted Queer identity like mine means there are many people who might hesitate to ask about the complex relationship I have with it. I’m not scary, I’m just complex. Let me reveal what one of these facets of my identity means to me: being aromantic.
I first discovered the aromantic label when I was in my teens, around the time I started to believe I was asexual. You might notice how I seem to have kept the aro label. Truth is, I dropped the aro label for a while, until I started making my journey of self-discovery as I entered my early adulthood. Queerness was not new to me by this point; I always felt my sexuality fluctuate and lean toward men, and I had already made many revelations about my gender, and I was very familiar with the concept of aromanticism, and yet, rediscovering my aro identity was a surprise. Many Queer people will relate to being caught unawares by their own identity. I’d definitely become used to that sensation, but never by RE-discovering an aspect of myself.
The simple, concrete reason I describe myself as aromantic is because I do not relate to the way people describe the feelings they have when talking about being in romantic relationships, at least not in the heteronormative sense. In the wider community of aromantic people, the general notion is that we don’t feel romantic attraction, or the impulse to initiate such a relationship with someone we might be otherwise attracted to.
The vast majority of us aromantic folks believe there are several different types of attraction, which overlap with romantic attraction for many people, but don’t overlap like that for us. Thus, we might feel platonic attraction, sexual attraction, sensual attraction, et cetera, but not usually in the way where we start to desire or yearn for a relationship with whomever we are attracted to. People who experience these attractions distinctly from each other are using the split attraction model, or the SAM. Our attraction is split according to which types of attraction we feel and which ones we don’t.
One of the most often-asked questions aro folks receive is how we could possibly be intimate with someone if we don’t consider them a romantically-involved partner. The answer to this is simple, really: sex doesn’t have to be preceded by anything other than informed consent, and committed relationships don’t have to be romantic – aromantic intimacy is usually queerplatonic. Though, in saying that, attraction & action don’t always have to come hand-in-hand. While an aro person may not favour being in a romantic relationship, they may still be open to it, in much the same way as an asexual person may favour having a sexual encounter with other people. For the majority of people who are neither aro nor ace – known as allo-romantic people and allosexual people – attraction often informs which actions we may take with respect to being intimate with others, but not feeling that attraction doesn’t mean the action is no longer an option. An aro person may feel comfort or satisfaction in being romantically involved with an allo-romantic person, even if they don’t feel the same way as their allo counterpart; the point is that there is stability, a foundation to build such a close relationship on that will ensure it is healthy and doesn’t hinder either partner. Not all aro people feel this way & are strongly averse to experiencing romance, but finding an aro person in a relationship is not as contradictory as it seems at first glance.
Of course, when I write this, I’m talking mainly from my perspective as simply ‘only’ aromantic, which means I can’t fully account for the whole spectrum of aromantic identities & experiences in the Queer community. If you’re familiar with some ace-spectrum identities, words like demiromantic and aroflux may seem like intuitive extensions of the labels demisexual and aceflux, describing romantic attraction rather than a sexual one. This isn’t wrong, and it can give a clearer idea of what actually goes on in the mind of an aro-spectrum person, but one key distinction between romance and sexuality, especially as taught in Western culture, is that romance is closer to friendship than sexuality is. In fact, we often don’t realise that we’re taught to classify these things hierarchically, where a friend isn’t as important as a partner, but a partner only has a legitimate relationship with you after you have had sex. This norm, and the tendency for us to respect that norm, is known as amatonormativity.
Amatonormativity is a daunting word at first. A professor called Elizabeth Blake from Arizona State University defines it as a social pressure for one to prioritise heteronormative monogamy & romance in their life to achieve happiness. This highlights how a typical person who has never heard of aromantic people or polyamory might look at such things and believe they’re irrelevant, invalid or the result of childhood neglect & traumatic upbringing, rather than our real, lived experiences. Deconstructing how amatonormativity has conditioned your mind is the precursor to the acceptance of & allyship to aromantic people. For as long as amatonormativity is functioning in our society, there will be people who have more complex identities than the typical person who feel they simply don’t belong in our society. This is my lived experience. I’ve experienced it because of my race, my gender, my sexuality, my entire Queerness, and my mental illness. I know what that bigoted, prejudiced exclusion feels like, and being disregarded because of my aromanticism is a very real, very terrible experience I recall clearly. Amatonormativity is insidious.
For the typical allo onlooker who wants to know how to be an ally to aro folks, there are a few points that are important & worth reflecting on. Remember that amatonormativity has taught you to expect everyone is allo-romantic, and thus aro-spec people must be weird or broken. For as long as there have been people who understand love and romance as a hallmark of human culture, there have been people who intrinsically don’t relate to it. Listen to people who express that they have been through hardship regarding their aromantic experience and the relationship they have with their identity. All Queer people have been through a harsh journey, discovering the complexity of their identity & how it sits within them. This should be respected.
Exploration of one’s identity never truly stops, so the conclusions we come to & the Queer labels we choose for ourselves are subject to change. This impermanence is a cornerstone of the fluidity & diversity of Queerness. You will meet new Queer people the more you interact with the Queer community; many of them will have complicated & seemingly contradictory facets to their identities, but they haven’t picked up these labels before having been through the experience they needed to understand why it fits them.
These also apply to the discerning allosexual person who doesn’t know how to be the best ally they can be to asexual folks, so this list is really just a starting guide to knowing how to respect & recognise all A-spec people, whether they fall into the aro umbrella, the ace umbrella, or both!
So, this year, during Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, remember that aro people exist and deserve to be recognised as part of the Queer community and the world beyond it.
Much love to all who have read this far! (But not in that way, I'm aro.)