On friendships, part 2: Ace culture and ideals of friendship

When I think of asexual culture, I think of a community that has come together in true joy and relief, of many isolated individuals finally discovering that they are not alone in their experiences—that we are not broken, not disordered, and not delusional. That we are normal.

Last week, I shared an exchange I had with my partner on twitter:

The context of this conversation is a little fuzzy and half-remembered by now, but it’s perhaps not quite what you’d think. Her meaning, when she said that, was along the lines of “yeah, asexual people do get depressed and struggle with friends… just like everyone else.” That we try to hold ourselves to superhuman standards in order to be accepted, because so many people unfairly assume that asexuality must be a defect caused by [insert BS here] and must be cured.

We have named that phenomenon: Unassailable Asexual.

When I think of the asexual community and the culture we’ve developed, I think of a group of people who share common struggles, and try to come together to help one another. I think of a group of people who, before we even know each other, often already have a sense of kinship or intimacy with each other, although not on an individual level—and also have names for that sort of feeling (community-based intimacy), because we are that interested in delineating different kinds of connections human beings can have with each other.

And yes, there’s drama. There’s infighting. There’s unexamined privilege, and subsections of the community that never really engage with the parts of it outside their own comfort zones. But I defy you to find any large community where that’s not the case, and I think so far we’ve handled it quite a bit better than other communities I belong to—like the atheist activist community, for example, which has basically split in two.

The asexual community is not nearly that fractured, nor is it as vicious. There are parts of it that are more cloistered than others—AVENites are rarely aware of what’s going on outside of AVEN—but people in our community actively make efforts to connect discussion bubbles together when they get so remote that issues that have previously been raised are ignored, especially in contexts like advice blogs where people demonstrating ignorance of prior discussions inherently construe themselves as experts.

What forms of strife we have in our community (at least from the vantage point in my corner) tend to be more covert and passive-aggressive than direct attacks. People from within the asexual community don’t often come directly to my blog to tell me that I’m not a “real” asexual—but they imply it in the way they frame discussions, and occasionally someone (invariably on tumblr) will even link to a post of mine as an example of someone who is “co-opting” the asexual identity or “promoting rape culture” by writing about having sex—without, apparently, realizing that I’m well aware of rape culture and a survivor myself, or that I will see where people click to my blog from (eventually). It’s not “bizarre internet magic” when old posts get around, as I saw it called a while back—it’s 100% normal, and assuming the people you’re discussing will never see that post is rather naive. I think it’s a good idea to always write with the assumption that whoever you’re talking about is going to eventually find out what you wrote instead—even if it’s not likely, you’d still be prepared if it happens.

More often, though, when I don’t feel supported by the community it’s not necessarily because people aren’t trying to be supportive—usually they’re just focusing on being supportive to someone else. Many people have generally supportive feelings, but don’t always know the best thing to do—and that’s understandable, but we can learn to be better. It varies in degree between different specific communities, but I think generally the (online) ace community is a place where people are expected to be progressive, and already have a certain level of knowledge about alternative models of relationships (poly, QP) and social justice issues. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, except inasmuch as not including basic information on those things in our educational materials can make it harder to gain acceptance from, say, conservative family members. I think it’s better to be inclusive of people who are inclined to be considerate and inclusive of other people, than to try to reach out to people who are bigoted and likely to cause a lot of pain—not a thing I see happening in the asexual community.

In part, that’s because right now, the people who accept us—for what we really are, not for what they think we are—are progressive people, not conservative people. We’ve gained traction with the social justice-oriented half of the atheist community, while the libertarian, anti-feminist types attacked us.

But I think another big part of our community’s inclusive impulse, and a major contributing factor in the way that our community drama often manifests so covertly, is that asexual people tend to highly value friendship and want a harmonious community. That’s perhaps an aspect of ace culture that is manifests differently in this sphere of influence than elsewhere—Tumblr call-out culture can get rather aggressive, for example—so much so that I tend to stay away from it. But I think that while it doesn’t succeed in making safe spaces, and suspect Tumblr itself might be structurally incapable of hosting a safe space due to its design, the call-outs are intended to chastise people who create (actual or perceived) disharmony.

We are often so sensitive to the way that others might feel excluded, so incredibly attuned to each others’ feeling of being excluded and erased, the feeling of loneliness, that if we even see potential for other aces to feel that way based on even a fairly minor badly worded phrase, we’ll try to correct it. That’s the kind of culture we have.

There is so much focus on friendship and human connection among aces—especially non-normative ones. We quite often complain that society doesn’t value friendships as much as it should. Many of us have experienced the pain of a friend suddenly dropping out of contact with us after finding a romantic relationship. In the ace community—and I don’t think this is limited to the aromantic-spectrum portion of it—we find others who actually understand why we find that so disheartening, and feel able to commiserate in our distaste for that particular norm.

But sometimes, so much focus on that phenomenon is not helpful. It comes to be something that ace people expect to encounter, and such things have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies sometimes. If you have a friend who has recently begun dating someone new, and you expect them to stop talking to you completely, you might say something that tips your friend off to your negative expectations about them, thus alienating that friend. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely expect friends to just be there as back-up while they’re in between romantic relationships—there certainly are. But it’s a big problem when people become so embittered about it that they not only withdraw from all alloromantic people (including asexual alloromantics), but also loudly proclaim that they’ve come to the conclusion that alloromantics are incapable of friendship (see comments here). I get that it’s a defense mechanism, and of course everyone is free to decide who they do or don’t want to be friends with—and yes, people should respect others’ choices not to be friends. But when you start encouraging others to view all alloromantic people as fundamentally incapable of “true” friendship? That’s really going too far.

There’s a particular kind of friendship that typically gets valued way more (or at least discussed more) than other kinds of friendships in the ace community, I’ve noticed. It’s the type of friendship that is so close you’re like family, the type that potentially blurs the lines between what’s considered platonic and what’s considered romantic. The ideal friendship for a lot of people in the ace community seems to be something like a queerplatonic partnership. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself—and it’s something my partner (who is aromantic bisexual) and I may or may not have—we don’t know, but it’s nominally romantic and whatever it is works for us well enough that we’re not trying to define it further. But there’s a tendency sometimes to focus solely on that kind of extra-close friendship and the desire for it, to the detriment of giving other friendships the recognition they deserve. I even caught myself doing that in part one of this series! It’s extremely difficult to adequately acknowledge looser friendships, the type that ebb and flow without any particular commitment, but contain a true connection and enduring mutual concern for one another.

The deeper friendships often grow out of that kind of less committed friendship, anyway, so if finding a queerplatonic partner is the goal, failing to appreciate such friendships, mentally demoting those people to “acquaintances” only, might be self-defeating. And where does such strong emphasis on super-close friendships in our rhetoric—as a “humanizing” factor—leave those who aren’t looking for them?

Despite these shortcomings, though, I think the emphasis on friendship in ace spaces is a positive thing. We’re kinder for it, and more interested in making our community a place to build constructive relationships. The entire world would do well to value friendships more. If our understanding that friendships (and plenty of other things) can be just as fulfilling as romantic/sexual relationships rubs off on the rest of the world, we’d all be better off. And if we can take our understanding of the dynamics of human connections even further, that can help us more successfully stave off loneliness.

This post is for the Carnival of Aces; the theme is Asexual Culture.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a 30-something asexual woman who is often mistaken for a lesbian, due to the fact that she is partnered to a lady. She is actually bi (but not biromantic) and somewhere on the aromantic spectrum. She is formally trained in creative writing with a focus on non-fiction and poetry, and maintains a blog called Prismatic Entanglements, where she mostly writes long-winded personal essays and social criticism. In her spare time, she enjoys being cat furniture, coming up with new Pokemon strategies and never going to church.
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41 Responses to On friendships, part 2: Ace culture and ideals of friendship

  1. Pingback: On friendships, part 2: Ace culture and ideals of friendship | Prismatic Entanglements

  2. luvtheheaven says:

    “asexual people tend to highly value friendship and want a harmonious community… [and the tumblr] call-outs are intended to chastise people who create (actual or perceived) disharmony.

    I love this observation!


    there’s a tendency sometimes to focus solely on that kind of extra-close friendship and the desire for it, to the detriment of giving other friendships the recognition they deserve.

    I think you raise some really good points here, and I think I saw somewhere else (I forget where), last year, in a blog post, something about not all aromantic people wanting queerplatonic partnerships, either being happy being fairly solitary in life with individualized hobbies and ways to enjoy their life, OR enjoying many, more casual, friendships with a bunch of different people, rather than only 1 or only a few super-close friendships, and this doesn’t mean they are “lesser” in any way than the aromantic people who do want a queerplatonic partnership.

    I think it is important not to forget that people can find a variety of ways to be happy in life, and the idealization of a queerplatonic partner type of friendship has maybe gone too far in some sub-sects of the ace community.

    I also love this thought:

    The deeper friendships often grow out of that kind of less committed friendship, anyway, so if finding a queerplatonic partner is the goal, failing to appreciate such friendships, mentally demoting those people to “acquaintances” only, might be self-defeating.

    This just screams… truth to me. 😉

    I’m a person who’s kind of thrilled by having a LOT of people I can consider “online friends” thanks to my “fandom” & “asexual blogging” lives, and yes I might be closer to some of them than to others, but trying to figure out who my “best online friend is”, as I’ve done at many points in the past decade, is kind of a silly notion, as I love different friends for different reasons, and my relationships with them ebb and flow organically over time, sometimes fading away, other times growing stronger unexpectedly (by ways of gaining a new fandom in common with a person, learning a fandom person is asexual too, both of us happening to be online at a time when very personal things about our lives end up being shared, etc) and really many different people in my online circles are quite important to me and matter and are very real friendships, even if none of them are truly “queerplatonic” levels of close.

    Similarly, in real life I’m beginning to have a social circle of quite a few people thanks mainly to these Asexuals of the Mid-Atlantic meetups I’ve been attending since July, and I’ve held onto 5 friends from high school even though we’re all 24 and 25 years old now, and no one or two or three of these people could easily be considered my person “best friend” or “three closest best friends”… none of them are queerplatonic partner level of close to me, but… but I love their company, my relationship with them, etc. I might not “love” these people the way I do family, but I like them a lot and that’s enough for me. I feel “liked” by them back and I definitely don’t feel lonely in the slightest in my life at the moment. I don’t need that one special kind of friend in order to not feel lonely. If you add in the members of my both immediate and extended family who I am lucky to have pretty close relationships with, whether I see them every day because I live with two of them or if I see them only once or twice a year, I have so so many people in my life to help me not feel lonely, and I hopefully reciprocate that back for them and help them too to feel not-lonely.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I thought you’d have a lot to say about this topic! 😛

      I think in a way… it didn’t start with asexual culture, but online friendships (any kind of online relationships really) are often so devalued and considered “not real” and that carries over sometimes into ace culture. They’re also structurally different from other kinds of friendships, because when you encounter someone for the first time online, unless it’s in a structured group setting set up to have a welcome area, there’s never really any moment where you introduce yourself to each other. You write your little intro blurb and then if anyone wants to look, they look. So the line between stranger/acquaintance is just as blurred as the line between acquaintance/friend. And there’s this intimacy-with-strangers kind of thing going on too, so it’s harder to tell who should count as a friend based on who knows things about you. But after a certain amount of time mutually following each other and interacting, you get more into the friend category. Or friend/colleague/fellow ____. It’s difficult to distinguish because there’s often not really a moment where you go “hey, we’re officially friends now!” or anything like that. And maybe without that strict boundary, some people find it really hard to know whether other people would consider them friends, and don’t want to impose/assume.

      There also may be an introvert/extrovert difference, with extroverts being more likely to categorize mutual-follower type online relationships as friends, and introverts being more likely to consider them acquaintances. I saw an image saying something to that effect a few days ago, but it was on Twitter so now I can’t find it. Introverts are more likely to dominate internet discussions—I think I recall seeing some AVEN polls several years ago that showed introverts were more common. So that’s probably another influence.

      But anyway… I don’t think it matters what any given person decides to categorize people as, really. Whatever works for them. But the problem is when people start assuming their way is the only correct way to have friendships. That only the very close/committed friends even count as friends at all… and that not having at least one is Bad (and hey, as you said, some people are solitary—they’re “soloists” and that’s okay!). It almost feels like I’ve been fed lies about what True Friends Are Supposed to Be, and none of my friends fit that pattern, so then people tell me a lot of things like “if they were your real friends, they would…” and invalidating those friendships. From within the ace community as well as without.

      For me… like, the queerplatonic(???)/marry-your-best-friend romance thing (to use a common phrase, not that I actually can classify who my Best Friend is either—and I think C shouldn’t count) works pretty well… but it’s so incomplete. Like, only having one really close friend (and only having one partner) is not satisfactory to me—and not having a big community of more fluid online friends is also unsatisfactory. I want many different types of friends, you know? Offline and nearby is where my social circle is most lacking, since I basically live in the middle of nowhere and everyone near me moved away. So I’m quite jealous of your meetup group, lol. It sounds nice! I hope one day to move to a place that has stuff like that. 😛

      • luvtheheaven says:

        Yeah the ace meetup group I go to has a lot of people who are largely introverted and have like no close friends, and then we latch onto this meetup as our entire social group lol. Not all of us, but it works out surprisingly well for a large number of us in the group. Instant intimacy and comfortable friendliness… so that you can start to consider these relationships friendships after not too long.

        So the line between stranger/acquaintance is just as blurred as the line between acquaintance/friend. And there’s this intimacy-with-strangers kind of thing going on too, so it’s harder to tell who should count as a friend based on who knows things about you. But after a certain amount of time mutually following each other and interacting, you get more into the friend category. Or friend/colleague/fellow ____. It’s difficult to distinguish because there’s often not really a moment where you go “hey, we’re officially friends now!” or anything like that. And maybe without that strict boundary, some people find it really hard to know whether other people would consider them friends, and don’t want to impose/assume.

        (emphasis mine)

        I think those are all really great points. There’s something about offline friendships that can work similarly, though. I mean, there’s dating and that time when you say “Okay, we’re going to call each other boyfriend/girlfriend/significant others/partners now” but in friendships, that usually doesn’t happen. Usually, you begin to get to know someone — they’re your coworker, your classmate, your roommate, your neighbor, a random person you met at an ace meetup, etc. Lol. Then, you start to get to know each other better, you might enjoy eating lunch with them or might decide to exchange a more intimate detail about yourself with them or you find out something significant from them about their life. You might just happen to see each other a lot. And eventually, a decision has to be made — do I consider this person upgraded from “acquaintance” to “Friend” in my head? For some people, the line might be “only people I hang out with one on one are friends” or “only people whose phone number I have” or something like that? But it can get complicated, and there are no clear dividing lines. There is always gonna be this nebulous in-between space where you might be unsure if they think of you as a friend or not, or where perhaps even you yourself are unsure if you think of them as a friend “yet”, but you know it’s heading in that direction, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing and seeing the person. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ll see the person again though. You don’t know if they ever will become one of those people in your “definite friend” status.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        Personality tests I’ve taken in the past tended to say I’m an introvert, but it’s been quite a while (maybe a year lol) since I’ve taken one, and I think I may be more extroverted now than I once was, if that’s possible? Actually I feel like a true ambivert in a lot of ways lol, if that’s even a thing. 😛 But yeah I think all of this stuff is fascinating to think about.

        I don’t consider anyone from my asexual blogging acquaintances to be “online friends” of mine, actually. I know I said that… but while I think a few people have come close to that because they read my blog and I read theirs and whatever… lol… Friends? Not really. I do feel like I know some people better than others and I’m pretty friendly with some of them but the only asexual people I’ve had in-depth email discussions with where it felt very personal? They were people I knew first from fandom, one way or another.

        I have had true online friendships with fandom people for almost a decade now and I kind of became pretty friendly with some fellow atheists on twitter during my New Atheist Movement phase lol but… but I don’t think those people ever got to the status of online “Friend” the way fandom people have always just felt like friends so much easier to me. When I decide a fandom person is a friend of mine is usually after we’ve talked significantly in an informal setting like twitter, tumblr, YouTube messages back when those were so much better, YouTube comments on fanvideos, or maybe fanfiction.net messages back and forth. When some personal details of who we actually are as people have been shared, and when we have intimate knowledge of at least many of the other person’s favorite fandoms and ships/characters/etc, even/especially when that fandom/ship isn’t our own. It’s just… it usually is fairly obvious to me when a fandom acquaintance has turned into an actual online friend of mine who I know through fandom, in a way that I don’t think the gap can be bridged nearly as easily here in the ace community. I don’t feel like any of these asexual folks can truly be people I consider “Friends”, perhaps because we primarily only talk to each other when it’s about asexuality, vs. the way my fandom online friendships formed, which was primarily something fun we bonded over, something a lot less serious than asexuality as a topic?? I don’t know. My closest “fandom” friends know all about the serious topics in my life, including my personal specific journey to asexuality, and my (non)relationship with my abusive mother, or I confided in them and needed them to be there for me when I witnessed a horrific event in my life a year-and-a-half ago, and those kinds of things, and I also often know quite a bit about them — for instance, where they live in the world, pretty specifically, and possibly details about their families and offline friends and things like that… but we only exchanged these kinds of details after we bonded over something inherently friendshippy in the first place: fandom. Fandom is just very conducive to forming friendships, because one of the main aspects of it is finding people who want to squee (or complain) over the same fictional and therefore relatively non-serious things together.

        • Elizabeth says:

          Really good points above about there being no dividing line in person either! That’s definitely true, but it sometimes feels like there’s more of one than online for whatever reason. Also, it depends on the culture—in some cultures, there is a more explicit shift from acquaintance to friend.

          I’m also an introvert—INTJ and have never tested as anything else—but I’ve gotten more extroverted over time… and then had more super-reclusive phases… and so on. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I was more sociable than that I was more extroverted, because I still needed a recharge time and felt like social activities still cost energy… just less of it.

          I was actually thinking mostly of people I used to know in fandom communities too… waaaay back when. A lot of my language about online friends is influenced by LJ where, when people followed each other, they were just called “mutual friends.” That’s probably old-fashioned, lol. But yeah, it’s not quite the same as regular friends, but I tend not to bother splitting hairs about that. I used to do a lot more fandom-related things, and probably the closest friends I had from fandom were the ones I would RP with regularly. I’ve fallen out of contact with them, but several of them I used to chat with quite a bit, and those were the ones from that social circle that I definitely considered “true friends” at the time. One of them was the person who introduced me to the concept of asexuality. I kinda wish I could still get that interested in fandoms, because yeah—they really are conducive to friendships in a way that the ace community often isn’t. These days I usually feel too weird about the age difference to make connections with people in fandoms. I find connections more from video games than fandoms now.

          I definitely relate to feeling like it’s harder to bond with other aces closely since we only talk about such serious topics a lot of the time. With the ace community, it’s more often community-based intimacy than friendships for me—even though the thread of valuing friendship permeates the community. Even offline, I do have some ace friends but the ones I met only because they’re also ace are the ones I feel fit better as acquaintances than friends. I have to also have something else in common with them at least. Meanwhile, the one I’ve had the closest connection with was one I met in a circumstance completely unrelated to being ace (in person), had tastes in common with, and was the only person who also knew my perpetrator that I could turn to for support.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            The last time I took a personality test I saved the score… and um… I was ISFJ with ISTJ close behind. They rated my personality type by percentage with the “winning one” – ISFJ – being something I only fit 76%. The highest I scored out of any of the extroverted personality types was ESFJ, the same as my type only extroverted – to which was I was a 63% match. I feel like an ambivert because I’m not sure if I need to recharge with alone-time after socializing any more than I find socializing after spending quite a lot of time alone very very satisfying? It’s hard for me to really know. But yeah, I guess I’m probably more on the introverted side of the spectrum.

            Yeah, I think that’s normal – if you only know a person because they’re ace, and you have nothing else in common, you’re not gonna end up being close friends. Common interests drives friendships, most of the time. Sometimes a lack of having “interests” in common can be overridden by having something else in common to bond over — the same teacher/class at school or boss/work assignment/working conditions… a similar type of experience in any sense, perhaps, can sometimes do it, but… yeah idk.

            For the fandom thing, it’s easy for me because I never left. The age difference can be awkward as I’m 25 now and I usually can’t feel equal to people over 6? years younger (or older) than me… but there are plenty of people around my own age that have been in fandom for around the same amount of time as me, and who I can bond with. I am close friends with other women in their twenties thanks to our fandoms. In fact, I’m meeting a 29-year-old online fandom friend in-person for the first time ever tomorrow — and I’ve never met an online fandom friend in-person before. I’m kind of super nervous, and mainly super excited. We have slightly more than a 4 year age difference, sure, but it’s not enough of one to matter — it’s never been enough of one to matter. We’ve known each other for so many years and have always felt pretty much like “equals”.

            Age, though, and the complicated way it plays into friendships and how a lot of culture dictates that you can’t just “be friends” with someone old enough to be your parent/grandparent or someone young enough to be your child…. that could be a topic for a whole new post… LOL.

            I never was on LiveJournal at its height, but YouTube used to have that “add as a friend” thing (and so does Facebook, which a few fandom people have embraced although I’ve been resisting using my Facebook for fandom-related things… anyway…) and yeah, the idea of being a lot more comfortable calling people “Friends” because the online space’s terminology makes a lot of sense to me.

          • Elizabeth says:

            Uh, yeah, so I totally didn’t get sidetracked and forget about this comment. 😛

            The Myers-Briggs system is… useful but limited, I think. And maybe more useful for some types than others? But like… the thing about it is that it’s a model just like any other, a map, but “a map is not the territory” as the saying goes. So, there are some blind spots there, but it was never meant to tell you everything about who you are—just a basic idea how your mind tends to work (i.e. what processes it uses). Everybody has the capacity for all of the mental processes it describes, but it’s meant to tell you your favorites. ISFJ and ESFJ favor very similar processes, and I couldn’t tell you what the differences are. If you really want to find out, you can learn a bunch about the MBTI and Jungian functions, but like… I think it’s the kind of thing where tests aren’t going to tell you exactly what you are, just what you’re most likely to be, and then you have to figure out the rest on your own. And if it’s not useful? Don’t bother with it. I think a lot of people overvalue it. I’ve sorta learned a lot about it because my partner is really into it, but I’ve found it a lot less useful for myself. You might have a slight preference one way but use both your top processes almost equally, and that means… you’re pretty well-rounded/well-developed personally, if not strictly an ambivert—I’m not sure anyone is 100% in the middle anyway.

            I kinda feel like the whole MBTI community is a bit similar to the ace community in a way, because it’s taking this model that is useful in some ways and over-applying it, getting overly prescriptive with it and super concerned about exact categories/labels… and also considering the labels to be identities, and policing them… that kind of thing. I get to see it as someone whose partner is in an INFJ community, so it’s kind of interesting, because INFJs seem to feel more misunderstood than any other type. I’ve seen a lot of parallels with the way models/labels in our community get treated. There’s a lot of “do any other INFJs…?”-type questions.

            Anyway. I think the thing that gets me about fandoms is that it just… like, most of my old fandoms were things that I just can’t relate to anymore. The really big one is anime. I’ve lost in interest in almost all anime, except for two series that were too influential to go away. I felt like a lot of it was stuff geared too much toward teenagers, and now a lot of the tropes have gotten way too grating for me to enjoy it anymore. And fandom activities themselves (fanfic and RP especially) are things that I strongly associate with being a teenager, and dealing with drama from friends that also liked similar things (but sometimes different ones from me, and me being expected to like what they like). Now, I’m not even really interested in doing anything other than talking about or maybe occasionally writing some critical analysis of the stuff I like. So… how do you even find people who like the same stuff as you in the same toned-down way? When you’re only kind of excited and that excitement is short-lived?

            And then yeah, the age thing, which definitely could have its own post, lol! I think for me I tend to feel a barrier much more strongly if someone is more than 5 years younger than me (especially if they’re below 22). It usually just seems like when I talk they have no idea how to respond because my experiences are too different from theirs—and then often they only want to talk about school, which is a subject I’m just kind of over at this point. But with people who are older than me, there’s much less of a barrier. They usually tend to get what I’m talking about, because they’ve had similar experiences.

  3. Fascinating post, and I really liked your insights into how various aspects of asexual culture can be explained by the emphasis on friendship.

    The people that I spend the most time with, aside from family, and feel the closest to are all online. I work from home with an all-remote team, and I do my major volunteer work the same way (the people in these two groups are the ones I’m closest with and spend by far the most time with). I also primarily connect with people who share two of my most important identities, as a Muslim and as asexual, online. This works really well for me given my situation and my introversion, but there is a gap for someone other than family who can do things like drive me to the doctor when I get sick. Someone who is physically present who will be there for me no matter what, and we’ve made a commitment to continue that way in the future.

    For me, that is what I want a queerplatonic relationship to be. Right now, it seems unlikely that I would find a partner for such a relationship in the foreseeable future but I have been thinking a LOT about what blocks I have and how I can work around them to make this more likely for me.

    I feel like a lot of the discussion about queerplatonic relationships, regardless of viewpoint, seems to assume they’re basically “romance lite”. I haven’t seen a lot of discussion recently about commitment, dependability, trust, and why even someone like me who has an extremely high tolerance for the solitary life (and has lived it for nearly 22 years) might want to have such a relationship to fill a particular space in their life. Instead, we seem to get caught up in this never-ending debate about who is throwing which group of people under the bus by taking one position or the other on QPRs.

    • queenieofaces says:

      So I have this model (which I should really write up at some point) which, instead of categorizing relationships as romantic/queerplatonic/platonic characterizes them by five factors: commitment, intimacy (physical and emotional), time, exclusivity, and priority. Each individual relationship can have a combination of these things, and relationships that are categorized under the same umbrella (“romantic,” “platonic”) can vary quite substantially in how exactly they’re put together.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        Oh in the Linkspam from April 10th, “Aces Wild put up a video of David Jay explaining how he thinks of relationship status (warning: autoplay): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gD7chrY_OY&feature=youtu.be ” David Jay categorizes relationship by time, promises (Commitment), and feelings… but I feel like your system here, queenie, is quite a bit better, even if it has some overlap. 😉

        • queenieofaces says:

          I know M. has a similar model (see http://www.harpyness.com/2011/08/02/queerplatonic-life-partners/) that’s love, intimacy, and commitment. I tend not to find feelings/love useful for categorizing relationships because they’re really subjective in a way that “I intend to make time to see you every weekend” or “I will do X, Y, and Z exclusively with you” aren’t.

          Edit: I should note that I’ve attempted to leave feelings out of the model because I made the model specifically for greyro/wtfro people. “Do you have feelings for me?” “I don’t know; define ‘feelings” isn’t a particularly interesting conversation to have, but “What things do you want to be exclusive to our relationship?” tends to be much easier to parse out for some people.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            That’s why I like your model so much. As a wtfromantic/grayromantic/maybe aro person, I don’t like “Feelings” always needing to be a part of the model… 😛 Categorizing how I feel about the person is usually kind of difficult and potentially irrelevant…

            As long as my feelings are negative toward the person, lol, as long as it’s something at least vaguely positive, the other factors are so much more important to me and helpful when it comes to understanding my life and my desires for a relationship in the future.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            Oh and to clarify: by “a relationship” I kind of mean “relationships, plural” or “any relationship”.

          • Talia says:

            I would love to see you write about this model at some point Queenie! I’ve definitely had problems figuring out what feelings means in terms of relationships, and I think this confuses people I’m interested in when I can’t tell the difference between my feelings for them and feelings for people I just want to be friends with (this is so not a fun conversation to have!), but all of your five factors resonate very clearly with me in ways that I could articulate.

          • For me, using the label “queerplatonic” is more important in terms of defining what feelings it *wouldn’t* involve (i.e., sexual or romantic attraction) than in specifying the particular kind of feelings it would. I very much needed a label to define that space of intimacy and commitment that made it very clear for myself and others that it is not sexual or romantic. Without that, I’d never have been able to imagine it for myself in the first place!

            However, what I like about these type of models (yours, M’s, David Jay’s, which all seem very similar) is that they can be used to describe relationships with a wide range of feelings and can be used by anybody, ace or not, aro or not.

            Would love to read a post about your model!

          • cinderace says:

            It also reminds me of this: https://intimacycartography.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/the-anatomy-of-relationships/, which I was very excited to discover, because it just seems like a so much more helpful way to look at things. So I look forward to your model as well!

        • Elizabeth says:

          I can’t completely recall, but I think DJ’s recent video is perhaps a very much shortened version of the stuff he used to be really into talking about back when I first started blogging. He spent a lot of time talking about it and developing theories—but I suspect not all of it has made it online? But anyway, he’s talked at length about that stuff in his old Love from the Asexual Underground podcast, if you’re interested in that.

          I agree that “feelings” is really not very helpful for people like me… “which feelings? what do you mean? how should I know what you mean?” and then a lot of shrugging on both sides. The way we work instead is… pretty much talking about all those five factors in your model, Queenie, but without ever necessarily naming them or putting them into a model. More like… specific questions we work out related to all of those factors. So I think it’s definitely something that would be useful, and each part of the model would have a LOT of things you could discuss about it.

      • Hollis says:

        I too am interested in this model! I hope you share it some day.

      • For what it’s worth I’ve usually found “commitment” to be as useless as “feelings”. Or I feel like commitment, when you break it down, ends up the same as exclusivity. I’ll have to think about this more.

        • queenieofaces says:

          I see commitment as being about futurity (Are we going to have a future together? How much effort are we going to put into maintaining this relationship? If I move across the country, are we going to commit to making this relationship work or are we just going to play it by ear and potentially let it drop?). So exclusivity has pretty much no overlap. (It overlaps a lot more with priority.)

        • Elizabeth says:

          Hm… I feel like “commitment” most closely matches DJ’s category of “promises” (as mentioned above). I see how that could have a lot of overlap with exclusivity, since a lot of couples do promise that they’ll be “exclusive” with one another (although, exclusive in what way exactly? there’s a lot to unpack there that sometimes people assume goes without saying). That might be one type of commitment, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that—and a lot more to exclusivity. For example… there are certain things that my partner and I only do together. Like certain TV shows. We wait for each other and watch them together… generally speaking. It’s not something we’ve promised or committed to, and occasionally something will happen and one of us will be unable to watch right away. Then, we will watch them alone. We’re always a little disappointed when that happens because we prefer to exclusively watch them together. But we’re not so committed to it that we won’t do otherwise when things happen that keep us separated for a while.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      Laura, I agree with Elizabeth. It does sound like you’re on the right track and I wish you the best in finding that relationship that I’ve been reading, for a while now, about you desiring. 😉

      I for one would really appreciate it if we in the ace community discussed more about commitment, dependability, and trust when it comes to discussions about all sorts of relationships/friendships, regardless of queerplatonic status.

    • I’ve seen this assumption you (Laura) mention– of people treating QP relationships like “romance lite”– and it really bothers me. I had a few comments and started writing them out but it got out of hand with many words ( thanks for the inspiration people!), so it’s now it’s own (way-too-long as always) post on my blog. But the long and the short of it is…

      This idealisation of ( that version of ) QP relationships that Luvethehaven described basically boils down to more of the familiar assimilationist “aces are just like everyone else!” chant. But this time, it’s a push to assimilate aroaces especially with a new addition: the “look even aroaces have and can do these ( “monogamous” ) QP relationships that look and function almost exactly like normative ( monogamous ) romantic partnerships so aroaces are just like everyone else too!”

      For me, one of the really powerful things about the language of QP relationships used to be that it gave people a new starting point to approach and understand relationships… and it had the power to undermine the romance-friendship binary / hierarchy that exists in a lot of societies.

      But now this this “romance lite” version / (mis)discourse of QP relationships is starting to take over. And it’s is both conservative ( i.e., it’s actively working to keep the current amatonormative social structures intact ) and destructive ( i.e., it’s actively destroying vast potential for diverse non-normative relationships and access to language to understand / frame / discuss / construct them ).

      There are already vast areas of QP relationships nobody talks about and that are often defined as impossible ( e.g., less significant / casual / non-partner-status QP relationships ). And part of that is related to how QP relationships are defined in amatonormative terms even in ace spaces ( and arospec spaces too in case someone wants to go there… it’s not just the AVEN wiki). And I think that’s really counterproductive and needs to stop.

      I really don’t want us to get to a point where “QP relationships” actually become “romance light” and we need to coin a whole other word / set of words to acknowledge and understand the non-romantic, non-normative relationships that “queerplatonic” was originally coined to name. I really don’t want to have to start from scratch….

      • luvtheheaven says:

        Yeah I mean I think if you dive down into queerplatonic discourse, there are still plenty of people bringing up these concerns and I’m not worried that QP will start to only mean amatonormative “romance light” monogomy. I think a lot of people are still clinging to the idea of “queering” of what people typically think of as friendship or other non-romantic bonds as the ideal of what it means, and obviously things can be “queered” in any number of ways.

        When Laura said,

        For me, using the label “queerplatonic” is more important in terms of defining what feelings it *wouldn’t* involve (i.e., sexual or romantic attraction) than in specifying the particular kind of feelings it would.

        that rang so true to me. That’s why I personally want a queerplatonic relationship or set of relationships in the future for when I (hopefully) am preparing to adopt or foster some children — because I want to specify what we won’t be — we won’t be a polyamorous or monogomous romantic set of partners raising children together. My goal is for it to not be like that. I want to be clear in my own head right now, and this terminology helps me — I don’t want a romance without the sex. I want something quite a bit different than that. I want something that is not romantic at all. Not even resembling what most people would ever consider romance.

        • The discussion of monogamy here is interesting. I understand monogamy as implying a high degree of exclusiveness, both in terms of the partners being expected to be exclusive in their affections or certain (often sexual or romantic) behaviors, and also the idea that the partner is supposed to fulfill many or even most of the person’s emotional needs. Neither of these is part of what I’m looking for.

          However, I say partner in the singular for two reasons. First, I suspect there are enough blocks, both external and internal, that it will be difficult enough to find even one person who fits the bill, let alone more than that. One is a good place to start. Second, as someone who is extremely introverted, I prefer to have a smaller number of people around. In fact, I would still need a large amount of time and space to myself even if we shared a residence!

          I think in discussions of monogamy, it’s important to specify what is meant, because it’s more than just having a single partner, and not everyone who has or wants a single partner is necessarily seeking a monogamous relationship.

          • I think those are really good points about monogamy vs single/multiple (primary) partners. I’m very much opposed to monogamy in my own life, for example, but because I’m also an introvert and don’t do well in groups I’ve never had more than two primary (queerplatonic) relationships at a time– and only one for the vast majority of the time (measure in years). But part of that non-monogamy part for me is having the openness for the *other* person to have other significant relationships (whether those be romantic, queerplatonic, friendships, whatever).

            For me though, the part about limiting relationships, interactions, commitments, etc, with other people is a problem on its own (even beyond the unhealthy expectations you mentioned that it often leads to, like people becoming responsible for meeting all of someone’s needs). Even though I’m not likely to be forming other primary relationships it still doesn’t make any sense to me that one relationship should limit all future interactions with everyone else in particular ways– regardless of the potential future significance (or type) of those relationships.

            People often do have other significant relationships of some variety– it’s just that this whole “monogamy / polyamoury” system usually separates out the “romantic and/or sexual” ones from all the rest (even if they’re playing lip-service and talking about things like sensual- and aesthetic-based attractions and interactions)– which is only amatonormativity at work.

            Luvthehaven– when I initially read your “we won’t be a polyamorous or monogomous romantic set of partners” line, I parsed it as not so much about not being romantic, but about something other than the monogamous or polyamourous frameworks. And (while I get that you were distancing yourself from the romance part), that rang true for me because I’m definitely not into monogamy of any variety but “polyamorous” also really doesn’t work (and I have enough experience with poly people and relationship anarchists shoving their relationship hierarchies down my throat while insisting they don’t have any).

            QP relationships (and a polyaffectionate framework of recognising all significant relationships in people’s lives, whatever form they take) can break the monogamous/polyamourous binary model. On the other hand, QP relationships can also be incorporated into it instead, but I find that unfortunate because it doesn’t solve the problems of the inadequacy of the model… and also implies QP relationships are “romance lite” or “romance in a different flavour”.

            When a relationship is starting to get really close and/or significant, it’s interesting to me to see *who* feels jealous or displaced (because those feelings will often come up and need to be dealt with). And that’s a good indication of where/how I’m fitting into someone’s life in the context of the social shape it currently has. People often assume it would be the romantic partners (should such relationships exist) of the person I’m getting close to who feel that I’m stepping on their toes. But, for example, my most recent experience of a relationship starting to get really close (a few years ago now), it was the sister and not the romantic partner who felt I was encroaching on their territory. And the whole monogamous / polyamourous model doesn’t really have room for stuff like that. (okay I have to stop typing now)

          • Elizabeth says:

            I really like all the points that have been brought up here about monogamy, and your (Laura) reasons for looking for a single QP relationship ring very true to my own experiences, too. I’ve been living as polyamorous for a long time, but the way it’s worked out, it’s mostly been my partner dating other people (and her often getting frustrated with that, leading up to her recent realization that she’s aromantic). It’s not that I haven’t looked for other people to date (thinking, of course, that I must be alloromantic, and not being opposed to having sex necessarily) or have some sort of non-standard, possibly QP relationship with, but finding people I’m interested in forming that kind of relationship with? Not so easy. My partner and I are still likely to structure our relationship as poly, since she’s still allosexual and may want to look for a friendship that includes having sex. But a lot of the more traditional poly discourse doesn’t really apply. Monogamy, as in the expectation that one partner (of whatever sort) will fulfill all needs, applies even less. But in practice? We’re each others’ only partners for now, and that’s all right.

            That could change in the future, which is also fine. The possibility of having some sort of mostly friendship-based commune one day is actually somewhat realistic for us. I recently read an article featuring an intentional family like that, and thought it sounded kinda nice. In that sort of situation, monogamy and polyamory probably don’t really apply.

        • Yeah… definitely lots of different ways to queer relationships. That “queering” part is important for me when it comes to “queerplatonic” relationships though and that discourse– because it’s a big part of why my important relationships have faced so much resistance and rejection even in explicitly “queer” (and “radical queer”) spaces. And I like that “queerplatonic” acknowledges that.

          I guess it comes back to how people are using “queer” and “queering” these days. Because the academic meaning of “queering” and even the common homonormative ways of using those words are so disconnected from the homophobic, transphobic/transmisogyst violence that was (and still is) the central part of that word’s history.

          I read the original Queer Nation statement recently (from 1990)– basically the group largely responsible for reclaiming the word “queer”. And part of their explanation for why they use it and what they were using it to mean stuck with me:

          ” Being queer is not about a right to privacy; it is about the freedom to be public, to just be who we are. It means everyday fighting oppression; homophobia, racism, misogyny, the bigotry of religious hypocrites and our own self-hatred. (We have been carefully taught to hate ourselves.) And now of course it means fighting a virus as well, and all those homo-haters who are using AIDS to wipe us off the face of the earth.
          Being queer means leading a different sort of life. It’s not about the mainstream, profit-margins, patriotism, patriarchy or being assimilated. It’s not about executive directors, privilege and elitism. It’s about being on the margins, defining ourselves.”

  4. Elizabeth says:

    [Edit: I guess I clicked the wrong reply button—this comment is in reply to Laura above.]

    The assumption that QPR = “romance lite” is a major reason why I’m not sure if I’m comfortable labeling my relationship with C as queerplatonic. Like, we’ve never really been normatively romantic other than the way we show affection and sort of “conform” to stereotypes if you don’t look too deeply. And our relationship is changing, and very much going in a more platonic-ish direction. But… That whole history of considering it romantic (before C realized she’s aro), and that it’s very much borderline between QP and “romance lite” make me hesitant to use QP to describe us because I feel like it would influence the discourse in a really negative way. I asked her what she thought and she just shrugged. We’re really both in the don’t know/don’t care camp, and rather agnostic about our category. That makes our relationship really hard to write about, honestly.

    I would also really like to see more discussion of things like commitment, dependability, and trust and less focus on categorizing relationships—and telling others they’re doing theirs wrong. I think it would really help a lot more than any of that. For ALL kinds of relationships. It might also make people a lot more comfortable about defining and discussing their relationships.

    I hope you do find someone to have the kind of relationship you want. I think it’s the kind of thing that can happen if you work at gradually building yourself and your communities, making connections and strengthening them until eventually you find someone you click with enough to build that sort of relationship with. That’s my strategy, anyway—after healing, of course. And it really sounds like you’re on the right track!

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  6. Sciatrix says:

    Aw man, both this and your preceding posts have been fabulous discussions. In particular, I would like to highlight this quote as TOTAL truth:
    But anyway… I don’t think it matters what any given person decides to categorize people as, really. Whatever works for them. But the problem is when people start assuming their way is the only correct way to have friendships.

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