Why aromanticism matters for the entire asexual community
Or: five reasons not to ignore or downplay the existence of aromantic asexuals.
(I use “asexual” and “aromantic” as umbrella terms here, for the whole asexual and aromantic spectrums.)
Aromantic asexual people are proof that asexuality exists in its own right, separately from all other sexual orientations.
Asexuals are always frustrated by how often people deny that we exist. There’s this prevailing cultural attitude that you must be attracted to some gender or other, because wanting someone in “that way” is an intrinsic part of being human. Romantic asexual people are often told that their asexuality is a flaw or deficit in their orientation, and not worthy of being a separate identity in its own right. So a homoromantic asexual is reduced to just a damaged gay/lesbian person, a panromantic asexual is reduced to just a pansexual who’s afraid of sex, and so on for other romantic orientations. This attitude makes it very easy for allosexual people to dismiss or pathologize asexuality, and treat it as not being “real” like other sexual orientations are.
But aromantic asexuals don’t fit into that box. Aro-aces can’t be lumped in with any other identity on the basis of romantic attraction and relationships. So the existence of aromantic asexuals proves that asexuality must exist as a distinct phenomenon, and that it can be a healthy, well-adjusted and “normal” identity in its own right.
The asexual community is strongly focused around deconstructing the definition of love and relationships - and aromantic people have a unique perspective on that.
In mainstream culture, sex is generally treated as the goal, apex, or defining action of an intimate relationship. To have sex with someone is treated as synonymous with loving them dearly. This is why casual sex and hookups are treated as “lesser” forms of sex - the loving, long-term commitment isn’t present. (*Not to say that casual sex is lesser, I’m just describing how society treats it. Slut-shaming also plays a role here.) It’s also why non-sexual relationships, which asexual people often have, are treated as unhealthy or invalid: if sex is equated with love, then a lack of sex means a lack of love.
So, one of the big goals of the asexual movement is to teach people that non-sexual relationships can be just as intimate, loving and meaningful as sexual relationships. Asexual people need to break down our cultures’ expectations and stereotypes for how “proper” relationships should work, so that more flexible ideas about love, commitment and intimacy can be adopted instead.
Aromantic asexual people have a doubled challenge here, because our most important relationships aren’t necessarily sexual or romantic (although they can be). The aromantic community makes use of words like queerplatonic, squish, lithromantic and more to express new ideas about our needs, emotions and relationships. These ideas then get recycled back into the asexual community and enable asexual (and allosexual!) people to more effectively understand themselves and the world around them. Everyone benefits from aromantic discussions. But asexual people benefit especially, because we gain new ways to talk about our non-traditional relationships.
Aromantic asexual people form loving relationships outside of traditional relationship paradigms, which expands the opportunities for asexual people in general to achieve love and fulfillment.
I have read so many asexual people worrying that they’ll never meet someone who loves and wants them the way they are, and who doesn’t want sex from them. It can be lonely, shameful and embarrassing for romantic asexual people who want to date and find a partner, but whose potential dating pool are drastically shrunk by asexuality.
But much of this angst comes from the traditional dichotomy between romance and friendship. If you believe that only a romantic partner can fulfill all of your most intimate emotional needs, then of course you’re going to be stressed out by being single. It also means that you might underestimate the value and happiness that you can gain from your friends, family, career, hobbies, and the other wonderful things in your life.
Aromantic relationships tear that dichotomy down. You have more options. You can be happily solitary for life, you can have a queerplatonic partner, a romantic friendship, platonic life partner, a polyamorous circle of best friends, and more. Aromantic asexuals can find love, companionship, joy and fulfillment without needing romance; this sets a precedent for romantic asexuals (and allosexuals) to find new routes to happiness as well.
Stereotypes and stigma against aromantic people become transformed into prejudice against asexual people as well.
We all know that “asexual” is constantly being confused with “aromantic.” That’s why visibility efforts constantly remind people that (some) asexuals can fall in love and want romantic relationships, too.
Much of the stigma against asexual people is actually stigma against aromantic people that gets mis-targeted. “Falling in love” and wanting romance are seen as vital aspects of being human, so aromantic people get characterized as inhuman, cold, unfeeling, mentally disordered (which is also ableist), embittered, repressed, afraid of commitment, robotic, or even monstrous or psychopathic. There is also a massive, widespread belief that aromantic people just haven’t “found the right person yet,” we frequently are told that we’ll “change our minds someday,” and romantic people often see it as a challenge to try to “capture our hearts” just to prove us wrong. Aromantic people are also frequently advised to seek therapy so that we can overcome our “fear of intimacy/commitment.”
Sound familiar? It should. Since “love = sex” in the popular consciousness, this pressure to be romantic gets translated into a pressure to be sexually available as well. Of course, not all acephobic sentiment originates this way, but a big chunk of it does. What’s bad for aromantic people is bad for asexual people. Increasing the awareness and acceptance of aromantic people, and aromantic relationships, will improve acceptance for asexual people and asexual relationships as well.
Aromantic allosexual people are potentially great allies for the asexual movement.
I see very little writing on Tumblr from aromantic allosexual people. Why is this? I know why: It’s because the public awareness of aromanticism is even smaller than it is for asexuality. Aromanticism can occur in heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, and any other kind of allosexual person, not just asexual people. And I’m willing to bet that those aromantic allosexual people feel confused, alienated or broken just like asexual people do. Our culture teaches us that everybody needs to fall in love, date, and live happily ever after with a romantic partner; if you can’t feel romantic love, then you’re a villain, a machine, or not fully human. Again, sound familiar?
If the asexual community reaches out to aromantic allosexual people, we may find another community that knows what it’s like to not want what you’re supposed to want, to be on a different wavelength from everybody else, and to want relationships that mainstream society doesn’t acknowledge or value. There is a huge untapped potential here. Aromantic allosexual people will overlap with another portion of the LGBT+ movement, encouraging mutual support and intersectionality between asexual and LGBT+ communities. Aromantic heterosexual people may also become allies for asexual people if we can help them become aware of aromanticism, and they can encourage other heterosexual people to take asexuality seriously. It’s a win-win for everyone.