Being grayromantic and not talking about it

This was written for this month’s blogging carnival on the theme of “The relationship between the aro and ace communities“.  Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week is also next week.

Some time last year, I mentioned offhand to my then-fiance that I was gray-romantic. He expressed surprise. So that’s embarrassing. Did I not mention that part?

I’m not sure when I started using the word “gray-romantic”, but I always thought of my sexual and romantic orientations as matched, so it’s been an obvious corollary of gray-asexuality for almost a decade. There’s the split attraction model, which allows people to separate out sexual and romantic attractions and orientations, but there are also a lot of people who can’t really distinguish between the two–like me.  I identify as gray-asexual because I don’t experience sexual attraction in normative patterns, and I’m not sure if it even “counts” as sexual attraction. And my romantic attraction is in an identical situation, by virtue of being identical as far as I can determine.

So why didn’t I talk about it? The rise of aromantic communities (and my experience helping to launch the Carnival of Aros) gives me cause to reflect back on this with chagrin. Maybe I should have talked about my romantic orientation more?


Now that I am trying to talk about it, I realize that I have so many thoughts going in different directions, a sure sign that I’ve ignored the topic for too long. Allow me, dear reader, to make some scattered points.

1. The split attraction model

When people in ace communities say they’re homo- or gray-romantic, typically they’re trying to say that their romantic orientations are different from their sexual orientations. This implies a certain set of problems, such as navigating romantic relationships without sex. And that’s not me. So when asked, I usually just say I’m gray-A, and leave my romantic orientation unsaid.

Although I came up with this strategy independently, from what I’ve read, and this is a common thing.  For instance, asexuals who don’t use the split attraction model might identify as asexual and aromantic, and others might not adopt a romantic orientation at all, identifying only as asexual.  It is a bit unfortunate, however, how it leaves my romantic orientation a mystery.

2. Being an aro-spec person in a romantic relationship

As someone who has talked about aces who like sex for quite a while, I have some mixed feelings about how we are represented. It’s constantly said that some aces like sex, but there’s very little discussion of what our experiences or issues are. So it feels like we’re taking up so much space, and all the space is being squandered on mere affirmations of our existence. So you might say I’m rather reluctant to broach the topic of aromantic-spectrum people who want romantic relationships.

Hi, I’m aromantic-spectrum, and I’m in a relatively conventional romantic relationship. My romantic orientation was important earlier on, because I don’t experience crushes, and my husband initially had to adjust for my different emotional responses.  But it isn’t so salient to our current relationship. And that’s about all I have to say for now.

3. That one blogger

On the subject of the arospec community, I feel I must bring up The Thinking Aro (aka The Thinking Asexual). In the years from about 2013-2016, The Thinking Aro was one of the few notable bloggers off of Tumblr who wrote extensively about aromanticism. And I hated her blog. A lot of people did. The complaints were numerous. She had decided that “cupioromantic” was unsalvageably problematic. She engaged in victim blaming of ace survivors. She praised very close friendships by making scornful remarks about all other kinds of relationships. And later on she became more extreme, arguing that asexuality should be separate from LGBT, and also separate from gray-asexuality. This was all personal to me, as a gay gray-A, gray-romantic, cupioromantic-adjacent survivor who really doesn’t want close friendships.

And the worst part is, I’m not sure why anyone should care if they weren’t there to see it. The Thinking Aro was just one blogger with idiosyncratic views. She was not representative of what the aro community is like now, quite the contrary. But for a while, especially for those of us in the off-Tumblr blogging scene, The Thinking Aro was what aromantic discussion looked like, and it was a huge turn-off. So now that I’ve had my little rant, I can say my last goodbyes to the legacy of The Thinking Aro. The aro community is better than you.

4. The necessity of space I don’t need

For those of us on the ace and aro spectrums, each of us decides for ourselves whether one is more important than the other. As for myself, the main element of my ace experience is that I don’t experience crushes, and well aren’t crushes mostly a romantic thing? So sometimes I think that I would have put more emphasis on gray-romanticism rather than gray-asexuality, if only there were more discussion on that topic a decade ago. The rise of the aro community gives people that option, and I’m excited to see where it will go.

But I’m not sure the aro community is for me anymore.  As I’ve said, I’m in a romantic relationship, which renders a lot of discussion simply irrelevant to me, or even unfriendly in some cases.  I also don’t particularly want to be “affirmed”.  But it is not clear that it should be the goal of the aro community to be “for” me.  I am old and established, I do not need anyone to make room for me.

But consider me an eager observer.  I will be using the Carnival of Aros to discover new blogs to follow, and I am excited to learn more.

[Update 3/11: The Thinking Aromantic corrected to The Thinking Aro.  Not sure how I missed that one.]

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.
This entry was posted in Articles, asexual identity, Gray-A, greyromanticism, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Being grayromantic and not talking about it

  1. Ooof, The Thinking Aromantic was like a car crash. I didn’t like it but couldn’t look away. I’m glad to hear that the aro community isn’t like that at all. I got away from keeping up with them once I got my romantic orientation figured out, feeling like it was less important than my asexuality. Great post!

    • Sennkestra says:

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think The Thinking Asexual was a one-off – there were similar trends in some of the early primarily-aromantic blogging spaces on tumblr. I think part of the reason was that at the time, the people with the most motivation to create aromantic-specific content (rather than say, aro-ace content where aromanticism wasn’t always the main focus) were often the people with the most separatist leanings who had the worst relationships with other communities. And like other early splinter groups , they were often very reactionary (i.e. instead of just talking about aromanticism for it’s own sake, they spent a disproportionate amount of time complaining about romantic people and bashing on ace communities they had just left) which often scared off people who didn’t share those opinions. Meanwhile, the less seperatist blogs were often aro aces that just sort of blended into the rest of the ace community and didn’t stand out obviously as aromantic at first glance.

      What’s changed over time, IMO, is that those sometimes-problematic early aromantic bloggers generated enough visibility that new generations of more proactive aromantic blloggers have emerged that don’t have that history of hostility, and that are much more accessible to aromantics of all stripes. I also think the aromantic blogging community in particular has benefited from influxes of new bloggers who advertise their aro-ness more visibly – as opposed to older blogging cohorts like ours which actually have a lot of aros, but who largely just advertise themselves as “asexual blogs” because “aromantic blogs” just wasn’t really a thing people advertised as much when we got started.

      • Rachel says:

        I’ve noticed that same trend myself. Aromanticism-focused blogs have often been nasty places, dominated by bitterness rather than uplifting a sense of community, which I find incredibly frustrating as an aro ace who wants to explore aromanticism more deeply than what the aro-ace sections of the community generally delve into. I’ve noticed that the friendlier aro blogs tended to be aro aces who blend into the larger asexual network, with the more unpleasant ones being run by aro allosexuals (The Thinking Aro being the major exception).

        • Sennkestra says:

          I’m not sure that’s necessarily what the root is. In my case, the encounters from my early experiences (both positive and negative) were actually almost all still aromantic and asexual – just ones who had different opinions about 1. How much aromantic and romantic asexual people actually have in common and 2. How seperable the ace parts and the aro parts of aro-ace experiences are. (i.e. the hostility came was not about asexuality per se, but about romantic aces and any mentions of asexuality that seemed too potentially inclusive of romantic aces, which in some cases seemed to mean “any use of the word asexual at all”)

          While there was ample discussion of “non-asexual aromantics” as an abstract concept back then, there was still very little visibility for anyone in that group at the time – definitely not enough to be the driving force behind the overall culture. So I don’t think it’s fair to place all the blame on them.

          • Rachel says:

            Hmm… I think we may be talking about different things after all. Way back in my early days around 2014, I was mostly following aro ace blogs with a decidedly non-hostile tone (primarily Swankivy), and really only sporadically followed The Thinking Aro because she was the only person I could find who discussed aromanticism as its own thing with any significant depth. When The Thinking Aro went defunct, I returned to following other aro ace blogs, but was left feeling a distinct lack of deep discussion of aromanticism (yeah, we aro aces discuss aromanticism a lot, but mostly as a background thing). So I recently turned to other sources, and most of the aromanticism-dedicated blogs that I have come across are by allosexual aros.

            TL;DR:
            A lot of the aromanticism-focused blogs that I’ve run across that had a bitter and hostile tone toward alloromantic people (asexual or otherwise) have been either allosexual aros or The Thinking Aro. That’s just what I’ve encountered though.

          • Sennkestra says:

            @Rachel I’m comparing to the situation from back in like 2013-2015, so if you’re looking at after the thinking ace stopped posting (2016 on) then it’s possible that things have changed quite a bit – my circle of experiences on tumblr have narrowed quite a bit since 2015, when I started working full time and didn’t have the hours to keep up with more than a handful of my favorite posters.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            I just want to note that if a person is an aro blogger (and/or tweeter, etc) and talks about how aces are horrible and are always throwing aros under the bus or things like that, that doesn’t mean the person is an allosexual aro blogger – in fact most of those seem to be aro aces too, they are just kinda “Denouncing” their ace identity, emphasizing the aro side of themselves, and feeling disconnected from the ace community and then further pushing out from it toward aro instead. They have been hurt by the asexual community but it doesn’t mean they aren’t on the asexual spectrum themselves. I have not noticed almost any allosexual aro blogs, but in my sphere I have still seen plenty of the bitterness, often from aro aces that you maybe wouldn’t realize were ace right away, it takes a while before you find the post where they mention “I mean yeah I’m ace but” or whatever it ends up being. There are a good handful of this style of aro blogger, and tweeter, at least in terms of who I stumbled upon.

          • Rachel says:

            @luvtheheaven

            You bring up a good point. I ended up mislabeling and conflating at least some aros in my previous replies, so that’s no good. My apologies to those people and thanks for pointing out and correcting me. My previous posts on this topic were not well-informed.

        • I really like that there are now aro blogs that are more positive and focus on the positive aspects of aromanticism. For a long time, largely because of The Thinking Aro, I shied away from exploring the label for myself because I thought it would doom me to that same bitterness and disconnect, when what I was looking for was connection. I’m very happy that this Carnival exists as a place to connect, and I am confident that the aro community is only going to go from strength to strength from here.

  2. Sennkestra says:

    Re: 4, I always think of it as whether I have a need for formal community spaces, or whether I’m able to get my needs (whatever they might be) met in more informal mixed spaces like peer networks, rather than whether I need those communities at all. For some things, like LGBTQIA identity or even anime fandom, I’ve found formal community spaces helpful in gaining connections I wouldn’t have otherwise, and thus actively participate in them; for other things, like being female or crafting,I haven’t really ever felt a need to pursue organized spaces because I’ve always been able to get those needs met through whatever other peer groups I already have.

    For example, when I first came out as ace, I *needed* those organized ace spaces in order to find peers with similar experiences, because at that point I didn’t know anyone who was out as asexual. When I started exploring aromanticism, though, I didn’t feel the need to seek out additional aromantic spaces just because there were so many active aros in the ace community with similar experiences that my needs for aromantic peers had already been fulfilled just by accident. (For example, while I never really did it consciously, I have noticed that my blog feed has a disproportionately large amount of aro ace and aro-adjacent blogs)

    And sometimes that changes – for example, when I was younger, I didn’t see out mixed race communities because so many of my friends in school were mixed that I had no need for more formal communities. When I left for college and no longer had that peer group, more formal communities became more important to me. And now for both aro and ace things, I’ve found that my need for organized community spaces waxes and wanes depending on how active my more informal peer networks and custom blogfeeds are.

  3. I have/had such a love-hate relationship with The Thinking Aro. I wrote about the blog in my Carnival post too. She wrote things that I agreed with sometimes and thigns that helped me, but at the same time, there were so many frustrating things. The bitterness, the fact that she didn’t have comments enabled on the site so discussions of her posts had to be carried on elsewhere (and without her), the negativity that permeated every aspect of her writing. I’m glad to have more blogs to follow now that are more positive and really make me feel that aromanticism is something I can take pride in.
    Thank you Siggy for this post! You do so much for the ace community, I’m very happy you’ve decided to follow the aro carnival and I’m happy to have you among my potential readers.

  4. Siggy says:

    As I’ve been looking at more aro blogs, I’ve been seeing more and more affirmations of “romance-favorable aros”, and I’ve been looking at these with dismay, feeling like the aro community is just repeating the same mistakes as the ace community. So I feel like I should expand a bit more on point #2.

    On the surface, affirmations of romance-favorable aros seem like a good thing, but cannot be a substitute for actually talking about the experiences of such people. I want to know *why* some aros want romantic relationships, and *why* some people who want romantic relationships identify as aro. Hint: romance-favorable aros are not romance-favorable because they are aro, nor vice versa.

    The reasons are likely highly individual. In looking at those stories you may find that romance-favorable aros often have a complicated relationship to romance. They may also have some unique issues. Mere affirmations address none of their experiences, none of their issues, except for maybe that one issue where romance-favorable aros might feel unwelcome on aro blogs.

    And while affirmations of existence aren’t particularly helpful, they do take up space. What happened in ace communities was that due to perpetual affirmations, many people had an outrageously high impression of how many sex-favorable asexuals there really were. And sex-favorability was frequently suggested as a possibility to newbies who didn’t know any better, essentially enforcing compulsory sexuality among aces. And it’s ridiculous because even if they were sex-favorable, compulsory sexuality is still harmful, and maybe if people were actually learning about the experiences of sex-favorable aces, instead of merely learning that they existed, they would have understood that from the beginning!

    So, maybe some aro bloggers will read the OP and think, maybe they should do more to acknowledge the existence of romance-favorable aros. But I say NO. I do not endorse this.

    • I am *so* curious about the concept of a “romance-favourable” aro. I can understand that aro people who don’t want romantic relationships themselves can be favourable towards the general concept of romance, but I always get stuck on the idea of identifying simultaneously as aro and as wanting a romantic relationship. So I agree that I’d rather have someone talk me through what that’s like rather than just saying “romance favourable aros exist”, because that’s nowhere near clear enough.

      • Laura says:

        I think there is a difference between romance-favorable aros who want a romantic relationship vs. those who enjoy being in a romantic relationship. There is likely some overlap between the two, but as a romance-favorable aro I didn’t “want” a romantic relationship, but I like being in a romantic relationship with my partner now that I am in it. To very briefly describe what being romance-favorable is like for me, I have feelings that I don’t really consider romantic for my partner, but I also don’t feel the need to call it something different because my feelings are different. I am probably going to go into more depth with this in my carnival post when I finally get around to it.

  5. Pingback: Aro Community, Ace Community | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  6. Pingback: Aro-ish: Permanent Questioning & the Aromantic Community | Prismatic Entanglements

  7. Pingback: Aro-ish: Permanent Questioning & the Aromantic Community | The Asexual Agenda

  8. Pingback: Aro Communities, Ace Communities: Eight Observations from an Aro Ace | Next Step: Cake

  9. Pingback: February 2019 Carnival Round-up: The Relationship Between the Aro and Ace Communities – The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project

  10. Pingback: Let’s use this Aro/Ace bridge | The Asexual Agenda

  11. epochryphal says:

    “But for a while, especially for those of us in the off-Tumblr blogging scene, The Thinking Aro was what aromantic discussion looked like, and it was a huge turn-off.” god, that was true for me *on* tumblr, even as i noticed a few tumblogs arising; at that time they felt very 101, “here’s a poster of definitions!” without anything further

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.