Category Archives: Aromanticism

One-sided relationships: in relationship limbo?

This entry is for the January 2016 Carnival of Aces: Relationship Stages.

(content note: brief mention of sexual harassment)

If there are any errors with proofreading or clunky sentences or anything I forgot to add in, it’s because I was in a hurry to post this before midnight.

This is a topic I almost didn’t write about, but decided to at the last minute. I used to think that committed relationships, romantic ones in particular, had a straightforward progression. Either a friendship built up and both people had romantic feelings for each other that progressed over time, or it was love at first sight.

I’m still not very sure whether I even experience romantic attraction at all, but I can say at least that I’m not a very romantic person, aromantic or not. This led me into a situation that doesn’t fit the expected relationship progression: One-sided relationships.

I’ve seen some people say one-sided relationships aren’t a problem if everyone involved agrees to it being one-sided, like if an aromantic person and alloromantic person are together and accept that the romantic attraction won’t be reciprocated.

However, back in college, I was in a romantic relationship I didn’t necessarily agree to. Whether it was romantic or not feels dubious, and whether it even counted as a committed relationship still feels dubious to me. Years ago, I knew I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, and felt repulsed by the idea with anyone, but one of my friends kept insisting that we were a couple, and his friends and family insisted it too. I cared for him as a person, but just didn’t feel that way towards anyone.

Other people I told about this told me it didn’t count because it was one-sided, but I couldn’t agree with that either. I understand why they said that, but it felt like they were ignoring what I had been going through, and I struggled with this feeling of being in “relationship limbo”. I couldn’t get a consensus from anyone, and I felt like I couldn’t trust my intuition.

He and I were never on the same wavelength about this “relationship”, through no fault of our own, but this issue led to a lot of arguments between us. I remember him saying that us becoming a couple happened gradually, when to me it felt so abrupt, since he one day declared I was his partner, when we hadn’t done anything noticeably different before, so I didn’t see any progression from a friendship to a romantic relationship, but he might have. Isn’t there supposed to be a clear transition from a friendship to a romantic relationship?

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A mystery that is the a-romantic community history

This overdue entry was going to be for the October 2015 Carnival of Aces: Aromanticism and the Aromantic spectrum.

Aromanticism as a concept was identified early on in the asexual community’s history, but not always under that name. Looking back at the early parts of the asexual community’s history, romantic attraction or the lack of, is described as one of the dimensions of the ABCD Types model, but the lack of romantic attraction wasn’t always named.

Many terms have also come and gone in popularity. Before aromanticism was named, asexuals who experienced romantic attracted identified as either straight/gay/bi asexual, or hetero/homo/bi-asexual. This AVEN poll from 2003 about romantic orientation, refers to the romantic orientations by these older terms that have now fallen out of favor, and aromantics were called “asexual asexuals”.

Some AVEN threads from 2004 are the first I’ve seen mention aromanticism under that name, and define it as the lack of romantic attraction. This thread from November 2004 described “romantic orientation” (“affectional orientation” was also used early on), and mentioning that asexuals whom don’t experience romantic attraction should be called “aromantic”.

The National Coalition for Aromantic Visibility (NCAV) states:

“Before the NCAV, the only information on aromanticism widely available was provided by AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Eduction Network, and as such, applied to only a portion of the world’s aromantics.

We threw this place together in hopes of providing a previously unavailable resource to everyone on the aro spectrum…” (NCAV home page)

This points to the possibility that aromanticism was first identified as a concept in the asexual community, but I feel like I can’t say for 100% certain. With as many parallels that the asexual and aromantic communities have, I’ve wondered if there are aromantic sites that are at least as old as AVEN, even though they might not have used the term aromantic? Surely there must have been at least some sites about and for people who felt alone in a world where romance was expected of everyone? I tried to find any, but I wasn’t successful. I don’t know if there just aren’t any aromantic sites that old, or if I just wasn’t searching for them the right way.

It seemed for a long time that aromanticism was something limited to asexuals. If there’s a turning point for when the aromantic community started to be recognized as its own, and start to branch off from the asexual community, it was in 2010 with NCAV’s launch, which was created to support aromantic asexuals and non-asexuals.

Interest in an aromantic sub-board on AVEN was sparked in 2011, shortly after the approval of a gray-asexual and demisexual sub-board. One of the reasons for interest in it was to find aromantic non-asexuals, since they are under-represented. Another popular reason was of aromantics feeling marginalized on AVEN, or in asexual spaces in general, since it seemed like there was too much emphasis on asexuals wanting to seek out relationships that aromantics felt erased.

There were several threads about an aromantic sub-board in 2012, making it a popular idea, but ultimately it was rejected, and its rejection was controversial. This controversy also spilled into tumblr, and it was one of the first things I found out about the asexual and aromantic communities. There was talk about there being an unwritten rule in most asexual spaces that a “good asexual” desires romance. These were primarily aromantic asexuals frustrated over feeling marginalized. I thought it was a problem that anyone is feeling marginalized within asexual spaces, but I didn’t partake in that discussion, because I didn’t know if I experienced romantic attraction or not, and didn’t strongly identify with any romantic orientation so I felt like it wouldn’t have been my place to unless I was sure that I didn’t.

It’s not like aromantics were never allowed in asexual spaces, but there is still a continuing problem, described as “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction” where desiring romantic relationships is seen as a way to “normalize” or humanize asexuals, but the implications make aromantics feel dehumanized. Though much less common than it used to be, are aromantic non-asexuals being stereotyped as only caring about sex, and I find it troubling to see one group that lacks one type of attraction perpetuate stereotypes about another group that lacks a different kind of attraction, and that isn’t even getting into the fact that not all non-asexuals even want sex.

As of the past year or two, an aromantic/aromantic spectrum community has grown a lot on tumblr. I expect a lot of discussion about aromanticism to still be in asexual spaces, because of the overlap, in people who are both asexual and aromantic, and the overlap in experiences between the two groups. That is important, but it’s also important that the aromantic community also has its own spaces to discuss aromanticism specifically, how it intersects with their sexual orientation, to discuss the issues they face as aromantics, in order to reach out to asexual and non-asexual aromantics alike.

I think it is to be expected that the aromantic community uses many of the same concepts that the asexual community does (In English at least; aromanticism may be identified differently and use different concepts in different languages, although I don’t yet know of any aromantic communities that aren’t in English); they’re useful concepts, but the aromantic community should also become a more distinct entity in its own right.

I don’t know if the aromantic community will ever have its own counterpart to AVEN, a very large, long-lasting forum with a lot of static content, although about aromanticism specifically. That might not be possible; AVEN was one of the earliest asexual sites that happened to outlive all of its few competitors to become the largest part of the asexual community. In contrast, the aromantic community started to separate itself rather late, and is still be in the process of branching out.

Looking forward, what direction would you want to see the aromantic community take? I think it’d be nice if the existing forums about aromanticism were more active, and if there were also blogs outside of tumblr about aromanticism. Tumblr’s format is effective at reaching out to others; it’s effective for advice blogs, but makes it very difficult to have any organized discussions.

Why can’t a character be written as asexual or aromantic by default?

This entry is for the March 2015 Carnival of Aces: Writing About Asexuality

I’ve written stories before, that didn’t have any romantic situations in them. Most of my stories didn’t touch on sexuality nor romance at all, but I remember that one I wrote had a one-sided romance in it that failed; the protagonist not only didn’t show any romantic nor sexual interest in this other character, but she (the protagonist) never showed any sexual or romantic interest in anyone.

I never specified her orientation, but she may have been the closest I had written as an aromatic asexual character. Maybe. I never said it outright, because I didn’t know of asexuality nor aromanticism, nor the difference between them. Was that character both celibate and nonamorous? Maybe, but I never said that outright either. I also had no interest in writing anything sexuality or romance-related into the plots of my stories, because it would’ve been out of place, and gotten in the way.

Celibate nonamorous characters were my default, as far as I was concerned. Probably. These characters didn’t ideologically reject sex or romance either (I didn’t really know that was an option at the time, except for religious celibacy); they just didn’t seem to care. Practically speaking, I wouldn’t expect a character to be thinking about romance and/or sex, or at least not try to seek it out when they’re focused on a quest, like saving the world.

It’s frustrating that when writing aromantic and/or asexual characters, it may need to be said outright that they’re aromantic and/or asexual, because of the contradictory ways heterosexism works, and affects how characters are portrayed in fiction. I might have written characters as asexual and aromantic by default, but many people wouldn’t see it that way. Granted, there are a few ways where sexual and/or romantic subplots could be worked into a story, but oftentimes, so much of it is gratuitous.

The worst is when the heroes of the story get these subplots because they’re “supposed” to, because the “good” characters deserve to have a love life (often a heteronormative one), as a way of humanizing them, and because it is treated as universal sign of human fulfillment.  It gets worse when villains are portrayed as being single, and their lack of love life is used to point to their villainy, and the villians who do reform, get love interests of their own.

For a long time, I wasn’t aware of these norms, and when I watched movies or shows without any romantic or sexual subplots, I made no assumptions about the character’s sexualities. Perhaps I assumed they could’ve been asexual and/or aromantic before knowing of asexuality and aromanticism, but I realize now that makes me an outlier.

One facet of heterosexism is that someone is assumed to be straight, unless specified otherwise, such as explicitly showing interest in the same gender. A character who hasn’t shown any interest in sex and romance may be assumed to be straight, but just hasn’t found anyone yet.

It’s contradictory, but another facet is that a character who isn’t explicitly portrayed with an interest in another gender, and seeking out relationships with another gender, is assumed to be gay, and just hasn’t found anyone yet.

Cinderace wrote about the latter, using Merida from Brave, and Elsa from Frozen as examples. Those are appealing interpretations, and they’d both be good representation for any of those groups, but nothing is said outright about their orientations. I like those interpretations, but it’s also plausible that they could be straight, but don’t value sex and romance.

Regardless, I like that they both go against the “Found a love interest, and lived happily ever after” trope, showing that romantic relationships aren’t needed for everyone to be fulfilled.

Those two facets combined, reflect a real-life dynamic I’ve seen in the asexual community: So many people who before they realized they were asexual, thought that either they must’ve been straight just because they knew they weren’t interested in the same gender, and those who thought that they must’ve been gay just because they knew they weren’t interested in another gender.

I’ve also seen many who thought they were bisexual (although bisexuality gets erased all the time in the media too), although not interested in sex, because they didn’t have a preference. They thought they were equally sexually attracted to the genders, though that sexual attraction is none!

Both of these facets of heterosexism also feed into compulsory sexuality, and amatonormativity, assuming that everyone wants sex and romance, therefore whoever isn’t interested in it, hasn’t found the right person yet, or it’s assumed to be a phase. Or it’s caused by something, and is “cured”. The most notorious example of this applying to asexuality being portrayed, is the House episode featuring an “asexual” character, the one who’s asexuality was the result of a pituitary tumor, while his wife faked being asexual.

Not seeing any portrayals of characters that affirm it’s okay to not desire sex, and to not want sex, showing that they can live happy lives without it, also feed into the idea of asexuality as something that is just a phase, or needs to be treated, and these messages can be internalized. Aromanticism is also similarly pathologized.

What about writing a character who is explicitly shown to be sexually inactive, is happy about it, or at least doesn’t care, and has no intention of ever finding a sexual partner?

They could be asexual, but could be celibate too, and if nothing is said on whether said character desires sexual relationships, you might not be able to tell. However, such a character could be a step in the right direction for everyone; if they’re in a romantic relationship, then they by example can show that sex and romance don’t have to go together. The pitfall of making romance the center of their lives and as a sign of fulfillment would need to be avoided though.

Or if they have no desire for romance, or don’t want it, then they show by example that there are people who can be fulfilled without either sex or romance. Care would need to be taken to distinguish sex from romance, to show that they’re separate things.

When writing asexual characters, there’s the challenge of showing that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are separate things; an aromantic asexual character may need to be written in a way that shows that their asexuality and aromanticism aren’t the same thing, and that asexual characters who do experience romantic attraction aren’t simply “hetero/homo/bi/pansexual lite”.

If mixed relationships are going to be written about, a lot of care also needs to be taken to not feed into the ideas that: asexuals can, and should compromise on sex, that the “compromising” must mean the asexual partner having sex, and that they will do it for their partner, since they’re “the one” and it’s “true love”, because that also feeds into the idea that a relationship must have sex in it in order to be valid, or that it’s the most “valid” expression of love.

Writing more about it, it’s frustrating to think that every effort to write an asexual and/or aromantic character, to explicitly portrayed and recognized as such (as opposed to subtext), may need to be written with the intent to educate the reader.

How do you do that without slowing down the plot? Is that the only way to get an asexual and/or aromantic character recognized though, and the only way to break free from the expectations that make it difficult to write an asexual character without saying it outright? Can’t asexual and aromantic writers write for themselves, or do we have to write for an audience while having to educate them in the process?