Let’s use this Aro/Ace bridge

As you know, this February was the very first month of the Carnival of Aros, and it started with a joint event with the Carnival of Aces on the theme of “The relationship between the aro and ace communities“.  The carnival was largely perceived as a bridge-building exercise, with many people trying to make positive comments and rein in negative comments.  But personally, I’m really interested in the negative comments, and I think we should discuss them without the pressure of having to build a bridge.

The carnival itself

The Aro Soulmate Project and eatingcroutons, criticized the launch of the carnival.  The choice of topic was legitimate, but inappropriate for a launch topic, because it specifically touches on a sore spot in the aro community, and is exclusive of the same people who are systematically excluded by ace-led activism.  And there is a major optics problem with having an initiative led by aces (many of whom are aro, but some of whom have more ties to the ace community), and basically telling aro people to talk about us.

Each of the people involved in the carnival launch (TAAAP, Sennkestra, and me) had good reasons for doing it this way, but I’ve already said my piece about that in direct response to the two articles.  What I want to say here is, these complaints are legitimate, and I hope all my readers can see why.  But I believe the carnival will overcome this, because ultimately a launch theme is just one theme out of many.  I’m glad that the next edition of the carnival is hosted by one of the critics of the launch.

Allow us to reintroduce ourselves

Several submissions speculated that a lot of bad blood between aro and ace communities was only coming from certain parts of those communities.  I honestly don’t know.

But one thing’s for sure: the Carnival of Aces only comes from a certain part of the ace community.  We should really introduce ourselves!

The Carnival of Aces is not mainstream.  It is popular among off-tumblr ace bloggers and their readers.  Someone once dubbed us the “awesome serious bloggers”.  While many of us have ties to the ace tumblr community, most of us are based outside of tumblr, and many of us find ace tumblr inaccessible or irritating (in fact I was just talking about this).  A lot of us are aro-spec.  We tend to be older and more over-educated.  And some of us–the old guard–have been involved in ace activism for a very long time.

So many of the complaints from aro bloggers about the ace community… definitely don’t feel like they’re targeted at us.  And it’s understandable!  You know, I have a lot of similar complaints about ace tumblr, but do they listen to me?  Ha!

But I can see that feels like a cop-out, to dodge responsibility by saying “not me”.  We may not have been the aces you were looking for, but we have our own variety of mistakes to work through.  I for one have been noting down various tropes that hurt aros, and will try to spot and criticize them in the future.  I am also involved in other initiatives to help the aro community, and I will use this experience to do better.

Things that annoy the old guard

Now that you know who we are, I want to explain why ace bloggers get annoyed at the things they do, especially the old guard.  I’m sorry to say that this involves a lot of explaining our side and not so much the other side.  But this is all in the spirit of opening up new lanes on this bridge for critique.  I very much want to see traffic in both directions, if it’s manageable.

So, one thing that particularly annoys the old guard, is pseudohistory.  There is something infuriating about being told something that directly contradicts our personal experience, and sometimes deprives us of credit.

A case in point, is the history of the word “queerplatonic”As early as 2013, people in the aro community were making false claims that “queerplatonic” was a term originating in the aro community, not the ace community.  This is kind of a sore point, because it didn’t originate from just any part of the ace community, it originated from this part, the ace blogging community.  I was literally there.

But it’s not like the aro community is solely at fault for pseudohistory.  One thing I learned from the carnival is that the aro community also finds itself having to fight pseudohistory.  With regard to queerplatonic, the aro community has been vexed by bullshit claims that “queerplatonic” means romantic non-sexual, or that it originates from allosexual people.

Which brings me to this carnival submission by Magni.  In the section “Vocab discrepancies”, Magni counters several pseudohistories regarding “queerplatonic” and other words, but also incidentally repeats the claim that queerplatonic is a word “by” aros.


I say all this with a dose of humor.  But I think it’s illustrative of the problem.  The aro community finds itself urgently needing to counter absolute bullshit, but in the process they sometimes make claims that aren’t quite right either, in a way that particularly irritates the old guard–and sometimes we lose sight of what the aro community is itself trying to fight.

So, this is what the ace blogging community is like. We’re perfectionists, and want to insert critical analysis and factoids everywhere.  Did you know: in Japan, the alloromantic ace and aromantic ace communities have always been separate, under different names?  Does that sound nice?  Not everyone thinks so.  A compare/contrast analysis is in order… but not right now.

Intra-aro strife

Another thing that off-tumblr ace bloggers are peculiarly concerned about, is The Thinking Aro.  I briefly described the controversies around her in my submission, and several other entries mentioned her as well.  (They all cite me, because nobody wants to actually talk about her.)

I imagine a lot of people in the aro community have never heard of The Thinking Aro before, and that’s fair–I’ve never heard of a lot of tropes that aro bloggers are criticizing.  But some people perceived The Thinking Aro to be part of a broader trend, and perhaps that trend still exists today.

If you know nothing else about The Thinking Aro, know this: She did not believe in the aro spectrum, and pushed a very narrow aro narrative.  A lot of the people who were most hurt were people on the aro spectrum, especially gray-romantics, demiromantics, wtfromantics, and people who didn’t use the split attraction model.

I’ve watched the ace community take many years to truly be welcoming of its various parts, so there’s a certain base skepticism that the aro community is really as inclusive as it would like to believe.  I’ve said my part about how efforts at including romance-favorable aros seem to be repeating mistakes from the ace community.  I also see, e.g. Ace of Arrows mentioning that the aro community now seems to rigidly define “aromantic” as “not experiencing romantic attraction”.  This definition is ahistorical, leaves some aro-spec people cold, and I think imitating the rigid definition of “asexual” is just repeating mistakes.

But overall I’m glad to see how well the aro community is doing on diversity. In the carnival, I saw perspectives from grayromantics.  I saw that allo-aros were represented and not just included hypothetically (like it used to be).  I also love these treatments of the split attraction model.  I think when it’s done right, the aro community is even ahead of the ace community on these issues, and we in the ace community could learn a thing or two.

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 aromanticism, Articles, asexual politics, Community. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Let’s use this Aro/Ace bridge

  1. Coyote says:

    (They all cite me, because nobody wants to actually talk about her.)

    Ha! It’s true though. I’m working on a bonus round of miscellaneous content that was cut from my queerplatonic genealogy, and… it’s hard to deny the role that she’s played.

    I saw that allo-aros were represented and not just included hypothetically (like it used to be).

    Yeah! I dunno about anyone else but that’s been kind of… encouraging? heartening? to me. Like… we don’t have to keep going “well, conceptually, this is possible, but…” (and not having anyone in particular’s words to link to).

    I also see, e.g. Ace of Arrows mentioning that the aro community now seems to rigidly define “aromantic” as “not experiencing romantic attraction”. This definition is ahistorical, leaves some aro-spec people cold, and I think imitating the rigid definition of “asexual” is just repeating mistakes.

    On that note — you miiiight be interested in this Arocalypse thread on romantic orientation terms, given that it dismisses “greyromantic” as an insufficient fit for what, to me, sounds like it has the potential to be covered under greyro. There’s some unspoken objections there that I haven’t really been pointed toward yet (i.e. OP alluded to them/is aware of them but doesn’t precisely know what they are?), so… more context is needed on what the shape of that argument looks like. But as that thread indicates, you’ve also got people doing the opposite of what you just described: discussing a proposed alternative term to represent “experiences no romantic attraction,” to have as a specific term for that instead of “aromantic.”

    • Siggy says:

      Yeah, that arocalypse thread is interesting.

      I don’t think the analogue issue for aces is really that clear-cut either. Is gray-A an umbrella term for asexual-spectrum people who aren’t asexual? Or is it just one of the big categories that would fit in that umbrella? People used to say that demisexuality was under the gray-A umbrella, but I think in practice many demisexuals don’t actually identify as gray-A, so it’s kinda suspect. Umbrella terms are nice in theory but you either have to motivate a lot of people to adopt it (in addition or instead of other labels), or else you have to relax the idea that labels can only be applied to those who use it for themselves. Gray-asexual gets away with as much as it does because it’s old and established–it didn’t need to compete with all these microlabels, just demisexual.

      I probably shouldn’t be so quick to opine on this stuff, especially based on that single line from Ace of Arrows. It’s just a bit frustrating to watch what looks like repetitions of gray-A stuff I’ve fought over the years.

      • Coyote says:

        It’s just a bit frustrating to watch what looks like repetitions of gray-A stuff I’ve fought over the years.

        That’s my same sentiment, yeah.

      • killerbee13 says:

        “People used to say that demisexuality was under the gray-A umbrella, but I think in practice many demisexuals don’t actually identify as gray-A, so it’s kinda suspect.”

        You mentioning this reminds me; I once wrote a blog post on this very subject (or maybe I wrote two?) but I don’t think I really got any comments on it really and I guess I kind of assumed that I was in a pretty small minority by not really identifying as grey-a. Then after a while I decided that I might as well just go with it, and then it just kind of never came up in practice: I just said I was demi and had no reason to ever say “it’s a type of grey-asexual” so nowadays I’m not really sure where I stand. If you directly asked me “are you grey-a?” I’d probably say yes, but I doubt I would ever apply the term to myself spontaneously.

    • Sciatrix says:

      It’s probably worth noting that The Thinking Aro actively discouraged at least some aro-and-ace bloggers from talking about anything, because she could get actively creepy and she was very prolific. Like, it’s not like she walked into a scene where no one was talking about these topics and took over; she walked into a scene where there were active conversations and… they withered around her.

      I can state outright that I sometimes felt outright fetishized around her and that I definitely, definitely did not want to talk about my relationships in places she would be. Which affected my perception of anyone who was gleefully hanging out in her spaces.

      I was dealing with a lot of burnout at the time (and still am! yaaaay), but… oh, hell, I have to wonder what else might have happened.

      • Coyote says:

        It’s probably worth noting that The Thinking Aro actively discouraged at least some aro-and-ace bloggers from talking about anything, because she could get actively creepy and she was very prolific.

        Not to mention that closed comment section.

        On the other hand, for better or for worse… based on this link compilation I just put together on relationship anarchy, she seems to have played an instrumental role in how that got popularized over on Arocalypse.

        • Elizabeth says:

          The relationship anarchy stuff, I’ve noticed… it’s not just within aro circles that it got popular. Over the years I’ve seen several people within or adjacent to the polyamorous community link to The Thinking Aro’s posts about relationship anarchy. These have usually been people who have otherwise not really engaged with aspec communities, and have limited awareness of them as far as I can tell.

          In the cases where they linked me the post directly… arghh. It’s so frustrating! What am I supposed to say to that? “Oh… well I kinda hate that person, but thanks for thinking of me I guess!” Yeah, that would go over well. Ha.

          • Sciatrix says:

            Oh god yes, yes all of this. And I mean, there was early crossover between poly communities and aro communities–for example Semiel who often commented (IIRC) at Writing From Factor X, or you have SlightlyMetaphysical who often pulled from both kinds of contexts. And I recall captainheartless doing a lot to popularize the term, too.

            But they aren’t so easy to find. And the lack of comments mean that they look polished, professional, and acceptable, despite the fact that they were locked (I’m fairly sure) because enough established ace bloggers had criticisms to make, too.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I’m particularly glad that there were allo-aro people posting. For a while there, I felt like one of the few people who actually knows and regularly interacts with an allo-aro person. For me it was never hypothetical, but getting C to actually guest post something instead of just talking about this stuff with me… *shrugs* Blogging is not her thing, and she doesn’t even like to leave comments most of the time. I’m sure she doesn’t want to be the only one in the spotlight representing allo-aros, and she probably felt pretty awkward/uncomfortable about it. Hopefully with more people like her speaking up, she’ll be more comfortable with the aro community and get more out of it.

    I was also surprised to see so many other posts from greyromantics. I wasn’t expecting my own post to be received that well, much less to have so much company. It’s good to see real progress on that front.

    “many of us find ace tumblr inaccessible or irritating”

    Ha, quoted for truth. I keep going back and forth about whether I should make an Effort Post about the many different ways tumblr can be inaccessible, but I’m not sure if there’s an audience for it. Feels like preaching to the choir around here.

    • Siggy says:

      I didn’t know (or had forgotten) that your partner was allo-aro.

      Allo-aros have been around on tumblr for a while–I did find someone to interview way back in 2015, after all. But it seems different now… I’m seeing popular blogs that just happen to be allo-aro without making it obvious upfront… like they know they don’t need to play the perpetual representative because there are enough other allo-aros to go around.

      Ironically, a lot of complaints I’ve seen directed against the carnival, and the ace community more generally, have referenced allo-aros as a particularly hard-hit group. Again, I think the complaints about the carnival theme are fair, but seriously I would *love* to see more allo-aro perspectives. Or aro graces, or aros who just don’t identify with a sexual orientation. It used to be one of my great disappointments with the aro community, that actual allo-aro voices were hard to find, and now that’s no longer true.

    • Sciatrix says:

      I mean, SlightlyMetaphysical was around in the beginning of those discussions on the ace end of things, and he didn’t identify as ace-spectrum at all by the time both he and I went quieter. I don’t think allo aros were ever quite absent from the discussions I remember having–I just think they were, y’know, quieter, and that there were more obvious avenues of identification to pursue (like polyamory) if they didn’t happen to have a reason to be very familiar with ace community discussions.

      Which is another reason that casual dismissals of the role ace community has played in the development of aro community and concepts really drives me nuts, actually: the concept of applying this lens to a sexual orientation of affectional attachment is not completely ace in origin, but in the specific context of aromantics it is a very ace concept and approach. I get very, very crabby about the elision of that history.

      • Elizabeth says:

        (Replying to Sciatrix and Siggy both:)

        Ah, well. I think part of the reason the allo-aro participation apparently escaped my notice back then was that… unless people are re-stating their identifications every time, it’s just sort of harder to keep track of who identifies as what in comments sections on blogs, which were the only discussions I was seeing. If it happened on Tumblr or Dreamwidth or some other forum, I didn’t see it at all unless you or one of the other bloggers I read linked to it directly. And even then, if it happened between mid-2012 and 2014, I didn’t see it because that was when I burned out super hard and went inactive.

        So I guess everything sort of just blended together as all part of the ace community, even though not everyone who was participating actually identified as ace. Quite a few people didn’t, actually, and that was totally cool with us! I wish people understood that historical context better and acknowledged its importance more ofte. I’m less directly affected by the elision, because it’s not usually discussions from MY blog that get totally misrepresented in current/more-recent aro community discussions, but… seriously, I wouldn’t be here somewhat hesitantly IDing as aro-ish at all, if it weren’t for Writing From Factor X. All of those early discussions were absolutely foundational.

        Most of these discussions, my partner did not read directly, but I explained the concepts to her in conversation. I don’t recall/know exactly when C started IDing as aro-spec, but I think it was around 2014? I’m sure it was before the interview you posted though, Siggy. And since neither of us used Tumblr, and I was not very active in blogging until later that year, we both missed a lot of the allo-aro activity when it started to pick up on Tumblr.

    • killerbee13 says:

      I think that I was trying to represent an allo-aro perspective, not that I did a very good job of it to be honest. I certainly remember being frustrated by the shallow level of discussions around the topic at the time I was blogging. I’m not really an allo-aro, but I am a demi aro, and I feel that I am rather toward the “more sexual” end of the scale for demis, in a sort of rough statistical sense, so the issue of representation of allosexual aromantic perspectives is important to me.

      I think that sense of frustration affected my blogging significantly, at times, and maybe that actually put people off of interacting with me. It’s probably what burned me out on blogging and led to my 2½-year hiatus. I am happy to hear that that space has changed so much and I won’t have to try to get other people to have the conversations I want—I can just go to where those conversations are already happening. I haven’t yet read everything from the Carnival (I didn’t read any blog posts for all of February and am only just catching up, starting with those I am already subscribed to via RSS) but what I’ve been hearing indicates that I really should.

  3. Rachel says:

    Jeez, I don’t check in for one week and the entire community explodes.


    I share your annoyance (?) at the way that some segments of the aro community are seemingly trying to sever all ties that popularly aro words have with the ace community. It ignores the fact that the aro community, while not a subset, did evolve out of the ace community, for better or for worse. I have to seriously side-eye anyone who does that. When I see fellow aros complaining about how “those horrid alloromantic aces” are so keen to not be seen as aromantic, I wonder to myself… and why are you so keen to not be seen as asexual?

    Yes, yes. I know the answer is respectability politics. But I struggle to see why its respectability politics when one community does it but not the other. It seems that the specter of The Thinking Aro looms large still. Because I still see a lot of the us vs. them attitude that her blog propagated.

    And as an aro ace, I really don’t want to have to choose between two mutually-hostile communities.

    • Siggy says:

      And as an aro ace, I really don’t want to have to choose between two mutually-hostile communities.

      That part doesn’t bother me so much–I’ve been gay and ace since forever, I’m used to it.

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