An Introduction to Aromanticism
It's Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week! To celebrate, here's our introduction to Aromanticism. We discuss why this week is important, why Courtney might be a little bit Demi/Gray-Romantic (including an utterly embarrassing Elementary School story), and the concept of amatonormativity. Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week is celebrated the last full week after Valentine's Day. For 2022, that's February 20th-26th.
Other Aromantic Resources
- Aromantictalk (Facebook group)
- Aromantic (Pillowfort)
Courtney: Hello everyone, and welcome to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week. If you are listening to this right as the episode drops, it is time to discuss Aromanticism. And of course, if you’re getting here a little late, this is still very valuable information because all times of year are good times of year to discuss little-known underrepresented sexualities, romantic orientations, more obscure niches of the broader queer community, that just haven’t gotten their proper due in the wider public eye. So, let’s get into it, shall we? If you’re new around here, my name is Courtney. I’m here with my spouse Royce. We are The Ace Couple. Both of us identify as Asexual, though not necessarily Aromantic. So if this is your first sort of foray into Aromanticism, we are delighted to help share this information with you, but I do want to emphasize right off the bat that we should not be the only voices that you listen to about this and we strongly encourage you to celebrate this Aro-spec Week by seeking out aromantic voices. So what is this week? Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week is celebrated from February 20th, through the 26th, in this, the year 2022. I do feel like Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week is a bit of a mouthful, so I’m not going to say that entire title every time we’re alluding to it in this episode. What do you think, Royce? Should we– should we shorten it to Aro-spec Week for Aromantic Spectrum Week? Or should we take the acronym route and just call it ASAW.
Royce: That’s what I was trying to figure out. Is the acronym A-SAW?
Courtney: [emphasizes] ASAW…
Royce: Or ARSAW?
Courtney: ARSAW? Well, no, I think it would be ASAW because…
Royce: This is a saw…
Courtney: This is a saw…
Royce: We’re going to be cutting deep into this underrepresented–
Courtney: We are cutting deep into Aromanticism with a saw. [laughs] I– I don’t know if that’s quite correct. I don’t know how deep into the trenches we’re gonna get today. We definitely want this to at least be a sort of a 101 for people who may not be as familiar with this. Because I know a lot of our listeners are Asexual, and a lot of our listeners are just asexual allies. So this is especially for the allies out there I think, because Asexuality and Aromanticism has this, I guess increasingly more complicated relationship. There is a relationship there and we are going to dig into the weeds of that a little bit. The communities online have been very interconnected for quite some time, and a lot of the aromantic language and microlabels often mirror that of language from the Asexual community, because a lot of the early words and phrases used to describe Aromanticism did start blossoming in the Asexual community. Because there are many Asexual people who are also Aromantic. So, we’ll get into that. I need to recollect my thoughts because now I’m thinking about saws. [laughs]
Royce: I was gonna say, but back to our choice of moniker; I widely believe that acronyms are a bad idea. So what was it? You said previously, like something as simple as–
Courtney: Aro-spec Week.
Royce: Aro Week? Aro-spec Week?
Courtney: We could say Aro Week. Aro Week, is that, that sort of mirrors Ace Week. Because if you’ve listened to our Ace Week episode way back in… at the end of October. That week sort of started originally as an Asexual Awareness Week and then we sort of evolved from the point where we don’t want it to just be awareness anymore. We want it as just Ace Week. This is the week for Asexuals. So the language I’m using here for Aro-Spec Week actually comes from the Aro-Spec Week website, arospecweek.org. So I guess, let’s start with the basics: what is Aromanticism? What does it mean to be Aromantic? I often hear people kind of take language from the Asexual community and just sort of transplant it to romantic orientation. So where you have a certain population of Ace people who use the definition of Asexuality as being ‘little to no sexual attraction’, I sort of started seeing a flip where people were also using exactly that same language, but substituted for romance.
Courtney: So ‘little to no romantic attraction’, which is fine. I don’t think it’s necessarily incorrect, but I really like the definition that they have right here on the Aro-Spec Week website. So I’m just going to read directly from the website under their About Aromanticism section: “Aromanticism is a type of romantic orientation – that is, an identity that can describe a person’s relationship to romance or patterns of romantic attraction or interest. Aromantic people’s experiences of romance (or the lack thereof) are often disconnected from normative societal expectations in some way. This can be due to experiencing little to no romantic attraction, due to feeling repulsed by romance, or due to being uninterested in romantic relationships.”
Courtney: So, that’s what I kind of like there. And they even did kind of use the the mirroring of the Asexual language in there with the ‘little to no romantic attraction’, but they fleshed it out a little bit more and broadened the horizons a bit, which I rather quite like. Although of course, if you were describing this to someone on the street, to someone on Twitter, you’re not going to be reading this entire page, of course. So I think having something as short and brandable as ‘little to no romantic attraction’, or for Aces ‘little to no sexual attraction’, sort of begins the work of getting the definition and the essence of these orientations. They do go on to say: “Many aromantic people mention having trouble relating to the experience of “falling in love”, or of having romantic “crushes”. Many may pursue non-traditional forms of intimate relationships, or choose not to have formal “relationships” at all. There is significant diversity in whether Aromantic may, or may not, enjoy specific activities that are often coded as romantic (such as kissing), be uncomfortable with romance, be single or have a partner or be married – those are individual characteristics that vary widely from one aromantic person to another.”
Courtney: So, let’s take a step aside from that and talk about romance-coding. The one sort of example they put in parentheses here is “such as kissing” and I’m so fascinated with the concept of just things that are romantically coded, because every culture is going to kind of have their own general spins on what is and is not romantic. And we’ve even talked on Other episodes a bit about just kissing in general, because, I mean obviously I’m not talking about full-on making out here, but there are some cultures where kissing each other on the cheeks is a very widely known greeting. There are people who come from families who kiss each other on the lips in a very familial sense. Whereas to someone else, if you’re kissing someone on the lips, even if it’s just a peck that is inherently romantic or possibly sexual, or just not everyone gets familial vibes from that. What are some other things that are romance-coded, that might not necessarily have to be? I’d say giving flowers is one.
Royce: Really? I guess in certain contexts because you also have a performative background where you would just receive flowers at the end of a dance competition or something like that, or for performing in a play or something.
Courtney: Yeah. Well that– That’s why it’s all cultural, right? So, clearly there’s this widespread romantic notion of “Oh, you – normally and in the traditional cishet-normativity of it all– it’s the man brings the love of his life red roses” like that kind of romantic connotation with flowers, and when it comes to performances, like theater, dance, that’s almost its own culture. Like there is a theater culture, and there are superstitions about when and how you give people flowers, and it very much is its own kind of culture. And it’s still an expectation, it’s still a cultural expectation, but it hasn’t really been a widespread expectation that you will just, you know, send flowers to a good friend of yours, which I disagree with, because I am in favor of sending flowers to friends and getting flowers from friends. I have sent friends flowers. They have sent flowers to me, and I love that, and I think that should be normalized. But I think most people do associate flowers with romance unless it’s a very specific occasion. Let’s see, anything else we can think of off the top of our heads for romance-coding?
Royce: I’m struggling to think of anything, and the examples that we’re coming up with have never really had any meaning to me. So…
Courtney: Well, that’s– that’s the hard part too. Because a lot of things that are romance-coded, or even like sexually-coded things, just haven’t always resonated with me in the same way that society sees it, but that’s just me.
Royce: I think where I’m struggling is a lot of the examples I’m trying to think of are very traditional, or performative, and I’ve never had a mind for either of those things. And I’m also struggling to think of what a romantic act is outside of those things, because I guess I’ve always just thought of it as more of a feeling, like a passive feeling than an action.
Courtney: Yeah, I can see that. I mean a lot of it is arbitrary. And the same could be said for all manner of topics that we talk about. I mean, even the hetero-normativity is arbitrary. Society decided that was the norm, that was aspirational, and everything that fell outside of it… then you became Queer. So I mean, I’m even thinking of cuddling, because cuddling is one that I think has different connotations for each people– for each person, and every relationship is going to be different. But I would say, if you asked the average person if they thought cuddling had either a romantic or a sexual connotation to it, I think most people would say yes. But there are some friendships that do things like cuddling, or like holding hands and it doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to romance.
Royce: Yeah, that makes sense. I think that what I’m trying to resolve is the word that I would use in my head for that behavior, and also for kissing on the lips, was just that, that is something that is intimate. It’s something that probably wouldn’t feel quite natural to me with someone who I had a platonic relationship with and I think that’s the line.
Courtney: Yeah, and that makes sense.
Royce: I’m trying to figure out.
Courtney: Because that’s how you’re wired. There are some people who are wired to just like, really like cuddling and will cuddle with anyone and everyone. I mean, there are even cuddle parties you can go to and just cuddle with a bunch of strangers. I personally don’t understand that because I don’t have the desire to cuddle with someone just for the sake of cuddling with someone, but I know there are some people who do want that. So that’s kind of why a lot of this is up to the individual person, and the way they interact with relationships and perceive their own feelings in contrast with societal expectations. So I’ll go back real quick here to the Aro-spec Week website, and we’ll just finish up, they have one last paragraph on this About page: “In addition, aromanticism also includes a whole range of related identities, often referred to as the “aromantic spectrum”, which include people who may not identify as strictly aromantic, but who find that the label is still a close fit and that they have a lot in common with the community. Some groups within the aromantic spectrum may also adopt new terms like grayromantic, demiromantic, lithromantic, quoiromantic, etc.”
Courtney: So now we’re getting into micro-labels. Every community has them. And many of these are very quickly recognizable if you’re familiar with some of the labels under the asexual umbrella, such as Demi or Gray. So much, like for example, Demisexual is a person who needs to develop a strong emotional bond with someone before being able to develop sexual attraction to them, Demiromantic is quite similar and is often defined as someone who needs to develop a strong deep connection with someone before they are able to develop romantic feelings for somebody. Now, I– this is not a coming out. It is not an embracing wholeheartedly Aromanticism for myself, but I haven’t spoken about this before.
Courtney: So I want to mention that I have started digging into Aromanticism and thinking about whether or not any of it could be a fit for me. And I think if I were to try to place and define it, something in the realm of Grayromantic or Demiromantic could possibly be a fit. However, I’m also at a point in my life where I am married and I am romantically attracted to my spouse. And so I– personally, I’m kind of at an area where finding new definitions and adopting new labels doesn’t seem necessary or important to me at this point in time, that of course could change. But when I do think about romantic attraction, and when I try to think of it as the same terms I think of sexual attraction, I’ve never just seen a person or met a brand new person and like wanted to be romanced by them, if that makes any sense. Because one of the defining features of my brand of Asexuality is that I’ve never just looked at someone and been like, “I want to have sex with that.” So I’ve also– my enjoyment of romance or my fantasizing of romance that I’ve historically had, has been very theoretical, and doesn’t always actually feel good, or right, or comfortable in practice.
Royce: Well, now that we’re here. Question: you’ve told me a couple of stories of being fairly young, I want to say maybe Elementary School age, possibly Middle School, and having a crush of some kind on a boy in class…
Courtney: Oh, okay, we’re going there, huh? Yeah, so this is actually a really, really great story. So, all of the times I have talked about like, an elementary school crush or even for that matter, a middle school crush, it has never really been real. It was kind of the fact that I was absorbing societal norms from adults in my life, from other kids I was observing, from television, from movies, and especially in elementary school, you know, giggling girls on the playground like, “Who do you have a crush on?” And everyone seemed to have a crush on somebody? So I just kind of thought that’s what you had to do. And so I just kind of picked someone and it was a very easy choice in my mind, not because I had any level of like, real tangible attraction to this person, as an elementary school child. I basically picked the one boy in class who is not either mean to me or creepy to me.
Royce: And when you say ‘picked’, were you fully conscious and aware of making this decision or you saying that looking back on it now you’re aware that that’s what happened, but you may not have been aware of it as a child?
Courtney: That’s a good question. I kind of– I would say at first, you know, the first couple times, you get that question, “Who do you have a crush on?” I didn’t really have an answer and I kind of got a weird look from someone one too many times or an additional prompt of like, “No, but really, who do you have a crush on?” That– I remember just thinking, like, “I should have a crush on someone.” So I was like, actively seeking a crush. And like going down the list of all the boys I knew. Because of course at that time I also didn’t really consider girls as an option to have a crush, because it was always, like, “What boy do you like?” Right? So, I remember just carefully examining all the boys I knew in my class and being like, “Well, he got all his friends to chase me around and like, hold me down on the school yard to try to kiss me, and I wasn’t into that, so not him. Not any of his friends who he got to chase me around.” And “Oh, this boy picked on me one time. This boy said something really rude.” And then like there was really only one option. And it was wild, because once I decided this is the boy I’m gonna have a crush on, I like, went full steam ahead, ridiculous, almost stalker level. Just what I thought I was supposed to be like, obsessed with this boy and… See because now, looking back at it, it’s like that wasn’t– that wasn’t a crush. That was a forced obsession.
Royce: So you went from complete bystander to yandere in like a day.
Courtney: It was a carefully calculated decision to get from point A to point B. But I kid you not. So I picked the boy who was nice. He was a very nice boy. I think we could have been very good friends. I think for a while we were friends. We were friends. We were friends for a while. But little did he know, at the time probably, I don’t know, was that I decided to be madly in love with him to unhealthy levels. But I was just like, replicating things that I saw on TV, or movies, or heard from other people. I was like, “Well, if I’m madly in love, I must have a shrine to him in my closet with, you know, a pencil that he dropped one day. I’m going to steal it. And that’s– that’s going to go in my Shrine to this boy.” It was wild.
Royce: It’s interesting what aspects of media stood out to you.
Courtney: [bursts out laughing]
Royce: Because I’ve seen that too. Just not usually in a favorable light.
Courtney: I don’t, I don’t know. I don’t know. I– Elementary school Courtney decided this. But this, this is wild too, because he was on, I guess, what you would call the nerdy side, but that kind of actually– like you’re kind of nerdy Royce, like it’s kind of my type, I guess.
Royce: I just made an anime reference, a little bit ago without explaining it.
Courtney: There we have it. [laughs] But the thing was, and here’s where it’s weird and this – I’m actually really glad that you asked, because we are going to tie this all up in a really neat little bow by discussing amatonormativity – but at that age like, there were still adults who are like, “Do you have a boyfriend? Who do you have a crush on? Who do you like?” So, even adults asking that question it’s like, “Well, I have to have an answer for the question the adults ask me, right?” And so when I decided that I’m going to be hopelessly in love with this boy, completely obsessed, I literally had this shrine to him in my room. Is like– it was ridiculous. I would, like, ask him if I could borrow an eraser because I forgot mine at home and then hope he didn’t ask for it back so I could add it, like, to my shrine. It was unhealthy. And I found out that he lived not far from the school that we went to. So he walked to school pretty much every day.
Courtney: I lived very far away from the school I went to, I was open enrolled. I was not in the school district. So we are driving quite a ways to get me to school every day, but when I found out where he lived and that he walked to school every day, I was like, “Mom, you have to drop me off on this kid’s street, and I’m going to pretend like I’m walking to school and just happened to run into him.” And she did it. She did that. Wing-mom, am I right? So there was a ridiculous period of time where I found out roughly when he would leave the house every day. And my mom would drop me off at the corner, like a couple minutes before they normally left the house, so that I could be, you know, casually walking by on his side walk when he came out. And we could walk to school together every day. And I was sure that this– this was like our romance ark. This is how we were going to fall in love. And my gosh, it was ridiculous. And I mean, I was probably the only one who took it to this extreme, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. And when I commit to something, I commit 100%. I don’t do things half-heartedly. If I’m going to have a crush on a boy, I’m gonna have a crush on a boy.
Courtney: So I remember– Because in elementary school we were required to pass out Valentines on Valentine’s Day, and we had to give a Valentine to everyone in class because they didn’t want anyone to feel excluded or left out or feel bad that they got fewer Valentines, so we’d all make these little mailboxes out of like tissue boxes and little cardboard boxes and decorate them up, and put them on our desks. And we’d go around the room delivering our Valentines to everyone. And I very carefully picked what Valentines that he was going to get. And I don’t know if you ever had this shopping experience, but did you ever buy, like, the prepackaged Valentine’s Day cards for like Elementary School age kids at like a grocery store? Because we’d go to, like, Hy-Vee, our local grocery store, and this time of year there’d be boxes of Valentines. And normally it was like, I know 20 or 30 small Valentines, but in each of these boxes there were like four mega sized Valentines. And I was like, well, he’s getting one of the big ones. And play it cool. If he’s not into it, maybe he won’t even notice that he got one that’s bigger than everyone else’s, but if he does notice and he’s into it, then then this is me making my move.
Courtney: And let me just tell you about the least feminist thing I have ever done in my life in the name of elementary school love to this boy. So I had the same Elementary School teacher in third grade and fourth grade. And she did this little thing to try to incentivize us to get good grades and be good people, she’d give us Snoopy bucks. They were just little pieces of paper that had Snoopy the dog on it and we could basically go shopping with them every once in a while. She’d open up the Snoopy store and we could buy, like, a little notebook or you could get some candy. And in elementary school the coolest thing to do was have lunch in the classroom, not in the cafeteria, not the loud noisy cafeteria, but you get to take your tray of food back to the classroom and eat in there. How cool is that? And in third grade that was, like one of the hottest things to do was cash in your Snoopy bucks for a day of eating in the classroom.
Courtney: But when fourth grade rolls around, the teacher didn’t have to explain the Snoopy store to us, because we were already in her class last year and little Courtney just completely forgot that that was an option that you could pay like 25 Snoopy bucks to eat lunch in the classroom. So what she did was put, like, lunch in the room on the whiteboard and you just put your name under it and just write your name if that’s what you were paying 25 Snoopy books for. And I was just like, blinders on. I saw a notebook that said ‘Girl Power’ and I was like, “I want that notebook because yes, girl power. 100%” And I paid 25 Snoopy bucks for that ‘Girl Power’ notebook. And then, as we were lining up at the door to go to lunch, the teacher looks at the board and says, “Oh, well, I guess I’m going to have lunch in the room alone with – insert boy I was madly obsessed with” because he was the only person who put his name on the board. And from the back of that line lining up for lunch, I was like, “This is my chance. This is gonna be our first date. I cannot pass this up.” I fumbled to frantically yell out, “I forgot that this was an option. I forgot we could have lunch in the room. I really want to have lunch in the room. I just got this ‘Girl Power’ notebook for 25 Snoopy bucks. Can I give it back to you? So that I can have lunch in the room today?”
Royce: You were just yelling this across the room.
Courtney: Yes, while we were in line out the door. We were lined up, ready to go to lunch. And the way the teacher and all the other kids looked at me was so dramatic and embarrassing. But she said, “Yeah, I guess you can do that.” So I, like, ran to my desk. I went and I handed her my ‘Girl Power’ notebook, because I am going to have a one-on-one lunch date with the boy I’m obsessed with, in the classroom, once in a lifetime opportunity. [laughs] Oh my goodness. So yeah. When I say I had a crush on a boy in elementary school I didn’t really have a crush on him. I decided to have a crush on me. It was ridiculous. And I mean I wasn’t the only one who was like performatively boy-crazy because–
Royce: I was gonna say it kind of sounds like you tried to find the optimal route in a dating sim.
Courtney: [bursts out laughing] That’s why I like dating sims so much as an adult, because I can do it without a real person being involved. No, so, because my two best friends when I was a kid, my god-sisters in fact, because their mother was my godmother. There was– there was like a day when their family was painting a room in their house and they said, “Well, let’s– let’s– let the girls draw all over the wall before we repaint this.” And that was such a fun day. But I distinctly remember all three of us writing the name of a boy in like big bubbly hearts all across the walls of this house. And so it was just very much like I was playing the role I thought I was supposed to do, but I was gonna ace it. If I’m playing this role, it will be the role of my life.
Courtney: So yeah, that’s– That’s a thing. But then there were also people who are like, “Why do you have a crush on him?” And I didn’t know how to answer that because I was like, “Well, he’s really nice.” Like, “But why do you have a crush on him?” “Well, he’s really nice. I like him.” And that’s where it did start getting kind of like, really icky too, because I’m pretty sure I even had adults in my life who kind of, like – I don’t know if these words were actually said, or if it was hinted that – but kind of hinting at like, “You’re out of his league though.” And in hindsight, that is horrible. That is horrible to be saying about like elementary school kids, or anybody for that matter. But I was also like having very little aesthetic attraction and growing up to not have any sexual attraction, and still, like, my romantic attraction is low/questionable/maybe very situational. I didn’t even understand leagues, but the number of times I would have someone like, “Oh, you’re such a pretty girl. And this, this person, your– you have a crush on or you’re dating very out of your league.” I just– I did not understand and I thought everyone was awful for saying this all the time. But it started really young. It started really young.
Courtney: But then I– haha, I got the last laugh. When I don’t think we were even supposed to find this out, but we were doing like a– like a mini Time Capsule type thing, where the first day of school we got these little questionnaires to answer, like what’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite food? And we just wrote them out and put them in this time capsule. And I don’t know if we knew that the expectation was that on the last day of school, our teacher was going to take it out and like read them all aloud. But that boy, who I decided to be obsessed with, said that his favorite TV show was Totally Spies! And that’s when little Courtney had the last laugh, because I was like, “Ah, all of you naysayers who think that this is not a fitting crush for me to have, what other boy would admit that Totally Spies! is his favorite TV show. That is cool.” Because I mean, that was kind of associated with, like, that’s a girl show. Because I mean, no, during the time we grew up like everything was: that’s a girl show, that’s a boy show. So I was like, “This boy that I like is admitting to liking a girl show. hashtag feminism.” So I took that as a sign that I was like, I was right, all of you were wrong. I won crushes. So we’re not going to turn this into an episode where we’re going to open up all of Courtney’s pseudo crushes/past relationships, but there have been a lot of things where, either at the time or in hindsight, it’s like that wasn’t really correct. So that is why, yes, there very likely is some level of Aromanticism within me.
Courtney: But let’s use that as a jumping off point to talk about amatonormativity. That comes from you know, amatus/amore and is used in a functionally similar way to heteronormativity, cisnormativity, allonormativity. But amatonormativity specifically is this widespread cultural pressure or desire for romance, often including marriage, often including specifically monogamist romance and marriage. This term was coined by a Professor of Philosophy named Elizabeth Brake. And funnily enough, even though she has written a book revolving around this concept, having coined the phrase, she doesn’t really speak about Aromanticism. Which I find very fascinating because amatonormativity just like all other normativities, realistically affects everyone. It is not just aromantic people. It is not just asexual people. It is not just queer people. It is all people in general will feel this pressure when such a widespread normativity is adopted and expected. But it is disproportionately going to affect minority sexualities and romantic orientations.
Courtney: So it makes all the sense in the world that amatonormativity is disproportionately going to affect aromantic people. So although I am glad that this phrase exists, I think it is a concept that more people should be familiar with. It is very interesting that even the originator of this phrase sort of overlooked the impact that it does have on aromantic individuals. So obviously amatonormativity can take a variety of forms and it can impact people in different ways, but I would 100% say that amatonormativity is the reason why that whole story I just told happened, because even as a young child I felt like I had to have a crush. I had adults asking if I had a boyfriend. I had a variety of people implying that there were “leagues” for relationships and looks, aesthetics, I don’t know, I’m not super clear on leagues. Is that– is that an aesthetic thing? Is that a is that a sexual attraction thing?
Royce: I think the place that it comes from is kind of one in the same. It’s perceived attractiveness usually. I think in some cases that could be like economic status.
Courtney: Oh sure, for adults. Yeah.
Royce: Yeah, but generally, I think it’s appearance with the implication of sexuality in there somewhere as well.
Courtney: Sure. Sure. Yeah, because I think amatonormativity and allonormativity often go hand in hand. But there are times when they are separate. And I would argue very often for children like that amatonormativity probably comes into play before allonormativity does. Because there’s still the crushes, the relationship, the boyfriend-girlfriend sort of thing, even long before an age where people are thinking of you as a sexual being. So you can still be sort of plagued by amatonormativity as a child, maybe in your teenage years you start seeing allonormativity come into play and either commingling with amatonormativity, or in some cases, possibly even outright replacing it. Because once you get to a certain age and you are expected to be a sexually inclined person, then there are some periods of time where it seems like sex is more important than an actual monogamous relationship.
Courtney: So, let’s– this is going to get a bit muddy, but it’s important. So, let’s talk about the similarities and the differences. Because as I’m saying amatonormativity and allonormativity often go hand in hand. I – with a big, big asterisk – say that Asexuality and Aromanticism can often go hand in hand, I do not want a single one of you listening to this to think that that is the end-all be-all or that I am equating Aromanticism to Asexuality. Because I fully understand that they can be completely separate things. But there is a relationship there, the respective communities, the Asexuality community, the Aromanticism community, do have very similar roots and they were very heavily intertwined for quite some time. More recently there has been a staunch call to separate the two, which does make sense. If you are someone who subscribes to the Split Attraction Model. We’ve talked about the Split Attraction Model a lot, it is something that does personally make a heck of a lot of sense to me and people who do use the Split Attraction Model, who are Aromantic as well as Asexual will often call themselves Aroaces, Aromantic Asexuals. But that is not the only way to be Aromantic and it is not the only way to be Asexual, so they can be separated.
Courtney: And I think it’s very important to note that they can be separated, because by the Split Attraction Model logic, if you can experience romantic attraction, but not sexual attraction, you can also experience sexual attraction but not the romantic. And I often think that when people try very, very hard to separate the two out in people’s minds just “I want you to understand that Aromanticism is its own thing and Asexuality is its own thing over here and they’re are two completely separate things,” that often comes from a place of wanting to be able to include people who are allosexual aromantic, because those people do exist and there can be quite a social stigma against people who are oriented in that fashion. I would– I would argue even more heavily if you are a man, because there’s kind of this stereotypical, like negative connotation to, “Oh, you’re just a fuck boy. You just want to have sex with people, but not commit to a relationship.” That sort of stigma is heavily rooted in amatonormativity, so those people are disproportionately affected when people do not understand that you can split out those two types of attraction.
Royce: There’s also an unfortunate overlap with the whole right-wing, like red pill dating expert subculture. Where it’s– it’s not really about orientation, it’s just toxic social structures.
Courtney: Yeah. Toxic... Yeah, and I– it’s so unfortunate that someone who might experience sexual attraction but not romantic attraction are just automatically assumed to be a really toxic jerk, because that is not the case. Now, don’t get me wrong, all relationships, sexual, romantic, any variation thereupon needs good solid communication. If you are not romantically attracted to someone, but they’re under the assumption that you are, or that this is becoming a romantic relationship, or that’s what they’re seeking, there needs to be a conversation had there.
Royce: Yeah. Otherwise it’s just manipulative, which is where the stigma comes from.
Courtney: Yes, that is where the stigma comes from. But just like with all, I guess, non-conventional, non– I don’t like conventional – I’ll say non-normative, since we’re talking about all the normativities, as with all non-normative relationship structures all of them can be at the goal with communication. Non-monogamy, polyamory, completely ethical with communication and consent. But here’s a bit of a story, it’s on my mind because it happened very recently, but this is just sort of one drop in the bucket of a wider discourse shift that I’ve seen as a pseudo-outsider. Is that whereas the Ace community and the Aro community, sort of used to be a bit combined, at least had very strong proud intersections, there’s more and more of a push to just separate them. And I do 100% understand that both are very under-known identities and there are a lot of misconceptions about them. And when that happens a lot of our activism becomes reactionary, reacting to the misconceptions we see, or very preemptive in the sense that we must say absolutely everything completely correct because nobody reading this can possibly misunderstand what I am saying. Which is in part just the way the internet works. If you do make a misstep, chances are, someone is going to jump down your throat, but that is its whole other issue.
Courtney: So I understand wanting to preempt that. But this is why we need to follow a variety of voices from all communities. It’s why you should not just listen to us. It’s not even that you should just go follow an aromantic person on Twitter or find an aromantic video on YouTube. You should be seeking out a diversity of people from that community, because I recently benefited from doing just that. I have seen so often this very, very strict “Keep the two terms separate, do not let them touch too closely” and that could have easily been the focus of today’s episode because of how often I have recently seen the online education push in this direction. But not too long ago, I saw a lot of hard feelings when a nonprofit known as Qweerty Gamers, a gaming non-profit for the LGBTQ community, decided to schedule a week-long event, featuring Aro and Ace streamers, panels, and games with Aro and Ace themes.
Courtney: On its surface this seems wonderful. And we always love when we see inclusion for these communities in more broadly queer organizations, but they scheduled this event for February 20th through the 26th, which does directly coincide with Aro-spec Week. And there are a lot of aromantic people who have observed that Asexuality does get a bit more attention than Aromanticism. There are a few more widely known activists. There are a few additional strides being made. So many people were very, very hurt to see this organization include Asexuality in their event during a week that is supposed to be centered specifically on Aromanticism. And you know at first that made sense to me because this was in line with a lot of the advocacy I’ve seen out of that community recently. And we, as an asexual account but not an aromantic account, wanted to help boost aro voices.
Courtney: So, of course, I wanted to retweet some of the frustrations that people were having with this organization making that call. And that could have just been the end of it, if we haven’t actively sought out more people with a diversity of opinions. Because it kind of blew up. A lot of people were very, very angry about this. And the– this large event that Qweerty Gamers was planning it’s coming up soon. They couldn’t, well, change it. They also really wanted to feature both communities. They already lined up events. Some of the posts they made – which then they later deleted so unfortunately I can’t reference them – kind of seemed like they were a little beside themselves and a little upset, a little lost, a little, like, they were just wanting to do the right thing. They wanted to bring more inclusion to these communities that don’t get the spotlight in queer gaming very often. The CEO of this organization even going so far as to say that he was about to quit the LGBTQ community altogether, because he just gets dog piled every time they tried to do the right thing. Yeah, that yeah, that kind of hurt.
Courtney: I don’t– I don’t know this organization or these people personally, but I would be lying if I said I had not felt exactly the same way at different points in time, when someone chooses to nitpick the way you talk about an underrepresented orientation online. In my case, I was just talking about my own experience as an asexual woman, who was also disabled. And I got a heat wave of hate from that, to the point where I almost quit the Asexual community. So I understand how lonely that can feel. But for a time I still thought, you know, those criticisms were a bit valid, until I saw a couple of tweets from some aromantic accounts that were not getting nearly the same level of attention as the accounts that were just condemning this organization for making this choice. And a few of these accounts were saying that there are Aroaces, people aromantic and asexual, who feel that both of those aspects of their identity are innately linked, and that this really harsh demand to separate them outright can actually make people feel really, really unwelcome. And some of these people were stating that they don’t feel completely welcomed in Asexual communities, they don’t feel completely welcomed in Aromantic communities…
Royce: I mean, it’s the intersectionality conundrum that has been spoken about a lot.
Courtney: Absolutely, absolutely. And yeah, on the one hand, I get if an aromantic person is seeing this and thinking, “Well now Asexuals are going to get the spotlight when this is supposed to be a week for us, and Asexuals have their own week. They have Ace Week in October. So why can’t this just be for us?” But we do have to also remember that not everyone even subscribes to the Split Attraction Model. So there are people who might not even use Aroace. They might just use Aromantic or just use Asexual, or a different terminology, a different micro label, you know, whatever fits them. But they might not have any desire or ability to really separate out where romantic attraction stops and sexual attraction begins. And that’s just kind of human nature. I mean, we’re talking about what is romantic to one person might not be romantic to another person, so of course there’s a gray area between what is romantic versus what is sexual. And we should not be demanding that everyone describes themselves in the same way as we see our own attraction. And that includes, with the Split Attraction Model.
Courtney: So yes, when I originally saw all of these calls, it didn’t even at first occur to me that other aromantic people could see all these calls saying, “You know, how dare you include Asexuals in Aro Week.” Could be feeling really, really alienated because those two things are so inseparable from one another to some folks. And I was really, really grateful that I followed enough accounts that I started seeing a couple of people expressing this, because even though those tweets were not getting the same level of attention as the angry ones, it made perfect sense to me. And in fact, a lot of the language that these people were using to express the fact that they feel alienation, sounded very similar to some of the concerns I’ve seen raised in the Disabled Ace Community as well.
Courtney: Because of the fact that Disabled people are often desexualized, so Disabled folks want to separate themselves from Asexuals. And the fact that Asexuality has often been medicalized and pathologized, Aces are often very quick to separate themselves from Disability. So even when Disabled Aces started speaking up a little more and saying, “Yes, you can be both.” Even I fell into this trap a few years ago, where for the sake of not getting flamed by other Asexuals online, I had to be very clear and meticulous to say, “Yes. I am Asexual and I’m Disabled, but I am not Asexual, because of my disability. They are two things that exist side by side, but do not interact with one another. One does not cause the other.” And I very much felt like I had to talk that way, otherwise nobody on either side or outside of either communities was ever going to listen to what I had to say.
Courtney: I’m glad that the tide seemed to be lightly turning, slowly turning, because there actually are some Disabled Aces who do think that their Disability does play a role in their Asexuality, and a strong percentage of those people are neurodivergent, a lot of people on, for example, the autism spectrum think that their autism can play a role in their Asexuality or they just don’t know. And they don’t really have any way to know or might not have any desire to know, or to try to separate them, because it’s just one all-encompassing identity for them. And certainly with the Disabled Ace discourse, a lot of those folks started feeling really, really alienated when the first voices to cut through and be able to speak about Disability and Asexuality were saying, you know, “The two don’t ever touch, I have both, but they’re not connected.” Because that kind of inherently gives a stigma of ‘it’s wrong to let these two identities touch, you are somehow less valid or less welcome if one is caused by the other.’ But it’s really not.
Courtney: It does not matter how someone got to their current identity. Whether they were born that way, or nature versus nurture, or any number of things that could have happened in their life to get them to the point they are today. It does not matter. The point is, this is who they are. So to see some Aro voices, say, “You know, it’s kind of hurtful to see how quick you are to separate them and not let them interact or commingle.” Really sort of put things in perspective. And that’s why it is just so, so important to listen to a diversity of voices to understand that all things are a spectrum. There are flexible definitions. Someone you’re having a conversation with might be using a different set of vocabulary or come from a completely different point of view than you. And it is just always a harmful thing, and it is just always harmful to put things in a clear-cut, black and white box. Because there is always somebody who is going to be in a gray area.
Courtney: And I do often wonder how often these talking points that get repeated over and over really come from a place of trying to educate outsiders in a way that is inadvertently harmful. Because a lot of this that I’ve noticed from my experience in the Disabled Ace community, which seems to have strong overlaps to this conversation, is that there’s always a bid to appeal to some level of normativity. Because with Disability like, “Yes, I’m disabled but I still have sex just like everyone else.” That’s allonormativity. For Aces to say, “You know, I’m asexual but there’s nothing wrong with my body. I’m not disabled.” Well, I guess, is ablenormativity a thing? I think that’s just ableism. And the same could easily happen with this. It could be a slippery slope here saying, you know, “I’m Aromantic but I still have sex like a normal person.” That’s– that’s still allonormativity. You could say, “I’m Asexual, but I still have romantic attraction. I can still fall in love. I’m still in a monogamous relationship.” That’s amatonormativity.
Courtney: So that’s why it’s just so important to know about all of the different types of normativity. Because at the end of the day, this world is built for white cis-het-allo-ablebodied-amatonormative men. And if we can understand all the types of normativity and expand our understanding of all the ways those normativities affect each and every one of us, and more importantly, knowing what groups of people are disproportionately affected by these normativities, than perhaps that can give us a much kinder means of educating and having these conversations in ways that are not inadvertently alienating. Because people are complicated, people are multifaceted and that should always, always be celebrated.
Courtney: So on that note, I do think we are going to be wrapping up here in a bit, but as it is Aro-spec Week as of the time this is dropping, we are going to be tweeting about, retweeting, boosting aromantic creators and accounts on our Twitter all week long. So, if you are looking for people to follow, looking for people to support, looking for aromantic-owned shops or artists, or even people you just want to donate to to show your support, we will be sharing all of those all week long. We are of course @The_Ace_Couple on Twitter, underscores between each of those words. And since you are listening to us on a podcast I can pretty well assume that you enjoy listening to podcasts – if you don’t, I don’t know why you’re here – but there is a relatively new Aromantic podcast. If you are interested in learning more about Aromanticism from an Aroace witch, that is what the podcast host goes by on Twitter, @aromanticwitch, the podcast is called All Things Aromantic. So perhaps, you want to add that to your Spotify list, your Apple subscriptions. I, this is where everyone learns like Courtney doesn’t really listen to podcasts.
Royce: I could tell you were about to get in over your head there. The only reason you’re ever on podcasting platforms are to look at our account.
Courtney: Listen. I did listen to the All Things Aromantic podcast. Thank you very much. I’m pretty sure I listened to it on Spotify. I did not have a Spotify account until we started this podcast. But do I consider myself a regular podcast listener? No, absolutely not. But yeah, check it out. Since we’re all podcast people here. As I said, it is a pretty new podcast, but that is all the better because you don’t have a lot of catching up to do. I know when someone tells me I should get into a new podcast and I see there are hundreds of episodes, I normally say, “No, thank you.” So, on that note, I want to wish you a very, very happy Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week to our Aro listeners in particular, and if you’re not Aromantic use this week to go find someone who is Aromantic and just, I don’t know, to throw money at them or something. And so on that note, we will talk to you guys all next time. Goodbye.