Labels and self-advocacy

I’m generally in favor of accepting identity labels even if they seem strange or confusing at first.  But there isn’t any fundamental principle that identity labels should never be questioned.  The underlying principles are: 1) People using the identity label for themselves have thought about it much more, and have likely already considered whatever “concerns” I might think of in the first minute, 2) Repetitive questioning of people’s identities causes more discomfort than light.

Both of these principles rely on the existence of people who actually use the identity label for themselves.  If someone creates a new identity label, and does not use it for themselves, the label is fair game for criticism as far as I’m concerned.  That’s the problem with this graphic, created by someone on AVEN:


It’s clear that the creator wanted to come up with as many romantic labels as possible.  In some cases they made up new labels by joining known prefixes with the “romantic” suffix.  Here are my comments on a few of them:1

  • “Transromantic” is problematic.  You can’t really be attracted to trans* people as a general category, because all they have in common is their history of being assigned the wrong gender.  It makes about as much sense as saying you’re oriented towards people who grew up in single-parent households.
  • “Neutroisromantic” isn’t problematic per se, but I’m unsure that people who are romantically attracted to neutrois people would really want to be known as neutroisromantic.  Maybe they’d prefer to come up with their own term?
  • Based on the colors, the creator seems to have confused “polyromantic” for “polyamorous”.2  This is the sort of mistake you’d make if you just heard the word “polyromantic”, but were not familiar with anyone who identifies as such.
  • Lithromantic” stands in contrast to the other words, because it was clearly not made up.  It refers to people who don’t need their romantic feelings to be reciprocated.  It’s not really the sort of term you would make up independently, since “lithro” isn’t a common prefix.

I’ll admit that I find the concept of “lithromantic” a bit strange, but I won’t say anything negative about it because there are in fact people who identify as lithromantic.  I’d rather let lithromantics speak for themselves!  In contrast, transromantics will not speak for themselves because there aren’t really people who identify as transromantic.

The key is self-advocacy.  Identity labels are not sacred, but we trust in the self-advocacy of people who choose those labels for themselves.

Usually, identity labels only become problematic when they reach beyond self-advocacy.  For example, I don’t like when people use “pansexual” because they believe that “bisexual” requires accepting a gender binary.  I don’t like when people use “agnostic” because they believe that “atheist” means being absolutely sure.  Not that there is any problem in general with the terms “agnostic” or “pansexual”.  But when these labels are used to say something about other people, that’s fair game for criticism.


1. I am not trying to slam the creator here.  It’s okay for people to create imperfect things, and the graphic is just a harmless discussion-starter.

2. Polyromantic is analogous to polysexual, which means attracted to multiple genders (though not necessarily all genders).  It is not analogous to polyamory, which refers to having relationships with multiple people simultaneously.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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5 Responses to Labels and self-advocacy

  1. Re: transromantic. My understanding of transromantic is that it is used as an identity by trans people who prefer their romantic relationships to be exclusively with other trans people. It is not used as a romantic orientation, as far as I am aware. It’s a trans-specific identity, so it’s not a huge deal if a cis person is unfamiliar with it.

    • Siggy says:

      Thank you for mentioning that. Apparently the label has been put on the AVENwiki in the past, so it’s possible that the graphic’s creator was cognizant of this usage, whereas I was ignorantly criticizing it.

      Although, its true meaning doesn’t really seem parallel with the other words. Do we even have any reason to believe that the term is meant to describe romantic feelings and not sexual ones? The term “transsexual” is already taken, so if someone wanted a term for trans people who want (romantic and sexual) relationships with trans people, they might come up with “transromantic”, unaware of how the -romantic suffix is understood by asexuals.

  2. Anon says:

    Regarding transromantic, could it also mean what I am? which is a trans who is still interested in a romantic relationship, but is also asexual?

    I don’t honestly know, I’ve never labeled myself.

    • Siggy says:

      Yeah, you could probably use it that way. Honestly, you don’t need my permission to label yourself (or not label yourself) as you wish.

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