Asexual and aromantic. Those concepts were barely recognizable to anyone just a decade or so ago. Now, both ideas are making their way into our cultural conversations, with asexuality having made more strides, more quickly.
First, some definitions. According to the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN):
- An asexual is “a person who does not experience sexual attraction.”
- An aromantic is a person who is “not romantically attracted to or desiring of romantic relationships at all.”
People who do not experience sexual attraction (asexuals) may or may not experience romantic attraction. Similarly, people who do not experience romantic attraction (aromantics) may or may not experience sexual attraction.
By 2017, enough scientific research and theorizing on asexuality had been published to support a review article. It dispelled early doubts, and concluded that asexuality is a sexual orientation and not, as some skeptics had suggested, a sexual dysfunction.
Social scientists and mental health professionals are coming on board, but what about everyone else? The idea that some people just aren’t interested in sex is very much at odds with the prevailing view that interest in sex is part of human nature (a view that is regarded as a universal truth, even though it is culturally and historically inflected). That discordance unnerves some people. They don’t like it when their worldviews are threatened. For that reason and many others, they just might stereotype, marginalize, and even discriminate against asexuals.
With regard to aromanticism, though, we are farther behind. If there are any review articles or systematic studies of prejudice, I haven’t found them.
I have, though, been collecting anecdotes. They don’t stand in for scientific studies. They are more like hints about what may be happening, and signs that we may need to be on alert and find out more.
One bigoted comment in particular took my breath away:
“(There is one current area of research into the idea of a-romanticism – those who have no romantic attraction at all. This disturbs me because I imagine someone who has never daydreamed about anyone or never stared at their phone willing it to flash up with a certain person’s number is nothing short of sociopathic.)”
This author is calling people who are aromantic sociopaths. Her parenthetical remark wasn’t in some random obscure blog post, but in a 2014 book put out by a respectable publishing house that was probably vetted by multiple editors before it went to print. Maybe the editors thought it was just a funny quip.
I got out my red pen and wrote a great big X in the margin next to that quote. Then I set it aside, at least for the moment. There was a whole lot to like in the rest of the book. So much so, that I invited the author to write a guest post for me on another site where I blog.
That was in 2019, five years after she had equated aromantics with sociopaths. I was hoping, maybe even assuming, she had gotten past that. The parenthetical aside in her book was in a section on asexuals, in which she was not condemning them – though she did think that all asexuals were romantics. But instead, her guest post included this:
“I loved the idea of romantic love – who doesn’t enjoy that fuzzy feeling when getting to know someone you fancy the pants off?!”
It is the sort of remark that assumes everyone feels the same way she does about romance. It denies the very existence of aromantics.
I think you could say that my life’s work is about making space for people who have been erased. I want them to have the respectability they have always deserved but have rarely been accorded. Instead, they have been stereotyped, stigmatized, ostracized, or simply rendered invisible. I want to make my case not just with my own personal opinions or life stories but with evidence (for example, social science research, when it is not biased against those very groups) and with the stories of other people who have lived these experiences.
My focus is, and will continue to be, on people who are single. Aromantics and asexuals are overlapping but distinct groups – not all single people are aromantic or asexual, and not all aromantic or asexual people are single.
Emotionally, my feeling about all of these kinds of groups is the same. They make me proud.
Intellectually, I understand why people are bigoted about aromantics, asexuals, and single people – especially happy single people and people who choose to stay single. But at another level, I just don’t get it.
Romantic imagery is pervasive. It can also be so sappy, clichéd, and over-the-top. Isn’t it at least a little bit awesome that some people aren’t into that, and maybe don’t even pretend to be?
Same for asexuality. Is anything more glamorized than sex? To me, that makes people who do not experience sexual attraction, and don’t fake it either, admirable.
And, of course, to all my fellow single people – especially those living single happily ever after – kudos to you, too, for living your life out loud, even as marriage continues to be blithely glorified.