I want to take a moment to talk about the perceived divide between alloromantic* aces and aromantic aces. You’ve probably seen it in those “oh man, asexual people actually exist” articles; there will be a line that says something like, “Asexual people, like sexual people, can fall in love, date, and marry!” Maybe there’s then a line suggesting that aromantic people exist too, or maybe they aren’t mentioned at all. Or maybe you’ve seen one of the blog posts about how asexual people are just like allosexual people, but without the sexual attraction! …except for aromantics; we don’t know what their deal is. Or maybe you were reading about how asexual people can have romantic relationships–unless they’re aromantic, in which case they get to have queerplatonic relationships instead. Or maybe you’ve seen one of those arguments about whether or not asexuals are queer, and nobody’s really sure what to do with the aromantics, so they sort of shove them in the corner and ignore them. Or maybe you’ve seen the queer_fest prompts, a number of which ask for a character to be “asexual, not aromantic,” implying that aromantic is the default for asexual people and that “not aromantic” means “alloromantic,” since often the prompts are asking for what’s clearly intended to be a romantic pairing.
The fact of the matter is, a lot of the time it seems as though aro aces are treated as though they are somehow fundamentally different than other aces, which is to say alloromantic aces. In fact, as I discussed in a post for Carnival of Aces last year, there are separate words for aro aces and alloromantic aces in Japanese. I can’t say for certain, but I think that perhaps some of the divide is caused by the attitudes Siggy wrote about in his post on liberationism and assimilationism in asexuality–if aces are just like non-aces minus the sexual attraction, they probably don’t seem as threatening to the status quo. Aro aces, on the other hand, don’t fall into the “non-aces minus the sexual attraction” category, and so nobody’s really sure what to do with them.
Regardless of the cause, there is a definite tendency to separate aros from alloromantic aces. Unfortunately, this approach sometimes winds up being more divisive and confusing than it is helpful because:
1. It’s not all black and white (pun entirely intended). Grey-romantics exist! There might not be many of us, and we might not be super vocal, but we do exist. I can’t speak for other grey-romantics, but I would say that I am functionally aromantic 80-85% of the time, and when I (very, very, very) occasionally get a crush on someone, my brain goes, “WHAT??? SUDDENLY ROMANTIC ATTRACTION???? HOW????” Obviously, grey-romantic folks are going to define their experiences differently–some might consider themselves “aromantics who occasionally experience romantic attraction” while others might consider themselves “alloromantics who occasionally have aromantic periods.” (You get the same sort of conflicting self-conceptions when you’re talking to grey-As.) Some greyros might identify more strongly with aros, some might identify more strongly with alloromantic aces, and some might hop back and forth depending on the day, whether they’re crushing on someone or not, and/or the phase of the moon. (Some might also not identify with either group, as happens with grey-As as well!)
The point is, not everyone feels like they can easily fit into either the “alloromantic” or “aromantic” categories, so when people try to push the two categories as far away from each other as possible and create strict dividing lines, all those people in the middle fall through the cracks.
2. Not everyone finds romantic attraction/orientation a useful concept. Wtfromantics and ???romantics and whattheheckevenisromantics** exist! Not everyone can easily figure out their romantic orientation—or even finds romantic orientation a useful concept–so dividing aces up by romantic orientation is a bit like asking if they are a bandersnatch or a borogove; if you aren’t even sure what those words mean, it’s really hard to pick which one you are! A fair number of the wtfromantics I know tend to identify more strongly with the aromantic community, but still find some of the discourse occurring in non-aro spaces helpful. On the other hand, I also know a weirdly large number of wtfromantics who are in relationships with alloromantic folks. Thus, forcing them to choose one community, space, or discourse over the other for the sake of creating discrete groups does them a disservice.
3. Your romantic orientation does not dictate the relationships you will form. This comes up a lot in the “are aces queer” debate; people argue that aromantics can’t be “queer” because they will never involve themselves with someone of the same gender and thus will never be the target of heterosexism. As compelling of an argument as that is, it kind of disregards the fact that some aromantics date (and marry). (For example, this one. And this one.) It also disregards the fact that some alloromantics don’t date for whatever reason. (This can turn into some pretty gross rhetoric in aro communities about how all alloromantics are ~destined for romantic relationships~, and so they’re not worth being friends with, because they’ll just abandon you for a romantic partner.) Maybe they can’t find anyone to date. Maybe they don’t want to date anyone for whatever reason (remember, attraction ≠ behavior). Maybe they’re involved in other kinds of relationships instead (alloromantics can and do wind up in queerplatonic relationships and platonic partnerships!). There are a whole lot of reasons why an aromantic person might be dating when an alloromantic person isn’t. So when people talk about how aromantic people are fundamentally different because they don’t date…it kind of doesn’t make sense.
4. Relationship distinctions are a lot more fuzzy than people make them out to be. You know those posts about how queerplatonic relationships are fundamentally different than any other sort of relationship? And then inevitably within 12 hours you run across another post about how queerplatonic relationships/platonic partnerships are the “aromantic equivalent” of dating? Well, putting aside the fact that non-aromantic people can (and do) wind up in QPRs/platonic partnerships, how can they both be fundamentally different and the aromantic equivalent? The answer, of course, is that they can’t.
Relationships are subjective, and vary pretty widely depending on who’s in them. Juan’s “friends with benefits” relationship may look a lot like Susie’s marriage. Isabel’s platonic partnership may look a lot like Milo’s friendship may look a lot like Gina’s romantic relationship. Who’s right? Well, no one and everyone. Everyone conceptualizes their relationships slightly differently. For example, I tend to be very touch-averse when I’m not romantically attracted to people, but I have friends who are giant cuddle bugs; cuddling may be an extremely intimate, romantic gesture to me whereas my friends may just see it as another form of friendly affection. Does that mean that I’m wrong about cuddling, and my romantic relationships are actually just “regular friendships”? Well, no. This is exactly what I meant about relationship distinctions being fuzzy.
In ace communities we’ve gotten good at separating sex from romantic relationships, but we still have trouble remembering that sex isn’t the only optional component of a relationship (regardless of the type). I mean, this is why we have so many checklists and graphs, right? Everyone picks and chooses what components they want to make up their relationship, and, sure, it might look like I’m picking components to make a friendship, but if I tell you I’m making a romantic relationship, you can’t tell me I’m wrong, because you don’t know what my relationship looks like from the inside. So when people start dividing relationships up into strict romantic and nonromantic boxes (especially when they’re dividing them up based on behaviors), it not only doesn’t make sense logically, it’s also pretty wildly hypocritical, given how desperately ace communities have fought for recognition of the validity of nonsexual relationships.
Now, I’m not saying that aromantic folks and alloromantic folks are basically the same; that would be a bit ridiculous. But I do think that the divide between the two groups isn’t as huge as it’s sometimes made out to be. It’s more of a fuzzy line, and while some people are pretty clearly on one side or the other, some of us are straddling the line, hopping back and forth, or totally unsure whether the line even exists. I think that dividing up the community may make sense in terms of people’s individual interests—aromantic folks are probably on average less likely to care about dating resources than alloromantic folks. But dividing up the community and pushing aromantics off into one corner and alloromantics off into another and saying, “These resources are only for this group of people, because the other group will never ever ever need them” is rather counterproductive and may prevent people from finding the resources they need. We’re such a small percentage of the population to begin with that dividing us up further just doesn’t make sense from an activism or even a social standpoint. It all comes back to the purpose argument—if you’re proposing a gathering to talk about what it’s like to be an ace dating a non-ace, it makes less sense to ban aros from the event than it does to advertise the event as being specifically for people who have dated, are dating, or might date a non-ace.
So the next time you feel inclined to divide folks up by romantic orientation, maybe stop and think about it for a moment. Do you really need to? Are you really saying something that will only be relevant to folks who experience romantic attraction (or that will only be relevant to folks who experience romantic attraction to certain groups of people)? Or are you assuming that attraction = behavior (which we seem to have gotten pretty good at disconnecting [at least in ace spaces] when it comes to sexual orientation but still have a ways to go when it comes to romantic orientation)? If it turns out you’re dividing people up by romantic orientation when you don’t really need to, maybe you should stop and reconsider. After all, if tweaking your language will help you reach a larger audience, that can’t be a bad thing.
*I’m using “alloromantic” in this post to refer to folks who experience romantic attraction in a “normative” matter. Mostly I don’t want to imply that alloromantic folks are necessarily “romantic” (although that’s probably not as problematic as “sexual” instead of “allosexual”).
**Google informs me that I am the first person to use the word “whattheheckevenisromantic.” Please take a moment to revel in this stupendous step forward for the English language. (If you want a list of significantly better words people have created for the same concept, you should click here.)