How not to talk about aromanticism

It’s Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week! It’s a week to send all your positivity and affirmation towards aromantic spectrum people. But I’m not much for positivity, so instead I’m going to take a critical look at an article I saw last week, one that is quite frustrating from an aro perspective.

The article is “What it’s like identifying as asexual on Valentine’s Day”, by Aditya Mirchandani, in Vice India.1 The author interviewed four asexual people in different parts of Asia, asking how they felt about Valentine’s Day. Normally, this would be a great premise for an article, but it’s frustrating because the interviewees2 apparently don’t know how to talk about aromanticism.

So let’s use this article as a case study, to outline several things to avoid.

Don’t not talk about aromanticism

The most glaring issue with the article, is that aromanticism is almost totally absent! Interviewees talk about having mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day because of the commercialism, sexualization, heteronormativity, and the way people restrict it to romantic forms of love, and yet somehow aromanticism gets left out.

Don’t contrast aromantics with “normal” asexuals

There is only one explicit mention of aromanticism, by the last interviewee, Shambhavi:

Often, people make the mistake of confusing asexuality with aromanticism. They’re two very different identities and there are a lot of asexuals who experience romantic attraction to others. For aces who desire or are in a romantic relationship, Valentine’s Day is pretty normal. People do the same thing that heterosexual couples do.

In other words, aromantics are only brought up once, and it’s in order to contrast it with asexuals who, according to the sweeping generalization, have a normal relationship with Valentine’s Day.  Need I say why this is wrong?

Your defense should not rely on characteristics that others don’t share

The interviewee Nadine, makes the following comment:

Some people think we’re repulsed by [Valentine’s Day], we’re not! I like seeing people in love. I like seeing other people showing that they love each other.

Speak for yourself! The problem here is that Nadine is defending asexuals by saying they’re not repulsed by love. Except, some asexuals may very well be repulsed by love, or at the very least be unhappy about seeing other people in love. Nadine’s defense implicitly accepts that romance repulsion is indefensible.

To be fair, Nadine probably just didn’t know that romance repulsion is a thing. But that’s why it’s important to be aware of different experiences, or at least hedge about experiences that might exist but you’re not sure about.

Your defense should not rely on characteristics that others don’t share. It’s a general principle, and bears repeating. For example, if your defense of asexuality is “we can still fall in love”, you’re implicitly accepting that asexuals who do not fall in love are indefensible. You might say it to your mother if you’re desperate for acceptance, but please don’t say it to a newspaper.

Don’t deny people the right to be sad/angry

Nadine goes on to say that her least favorite thing about Valentine’s Day is Singles Appreciation Day (SAD). They don’t like that people are sad about being single.

This is well-meaning, but you can’t just tell people not to be sad! People need space to mourn, space to feel upset about the status quo.

(Besides, in my personal experience, the spirit of SAD is more snarky than sad.  It’s a day to hang out with friends and microwave marshmallow peeps.)

Be careful proclaiming the value of love

Our culture places a lot of value on romantic love, and one common response is to point out other kinds of love, suggesting that these too deserve value. The interviewee Jasmine says:

For me, though, I’ve always thought that [Valentine’s Day is] a really good day to celebrate love no matter what form that may take. For the past years, I’ve taken care to spend more time with my closest friends, and even my family, to do just that.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but one should also be aware of the alternative rhetorical strategy: devaluing love. This is a strategy I prefer, because I’m not sure I could say I love my friends; and even if I could, I don’t know that I want to. Rather than extolling the value of love, I am more interested in exploring the value of my relationships independent of love.

These are all valid attitudes towards love, but for purposes of public education, it’s important that we play nicely with each other.

I admit that I was initially found Jasmine’s words offputting, but in writing this article I decided that she was playing nicely after all. But regardless of whether the problem was present, it’s one worth thinking about.

In summary, one should be mindful of aromanticism when doing public outreach. It should be mentioned when relevant, and not just to contrast with asexuals. You should avoid defenses that leave out any part of the aromantic spectrum, and allow space for people who are unhappy with the value placed on love.

1. To be clear, the fact that this is coming out of India is a coincidence. I hear about news articles through Google Alerts, and a significant fraction of them come out of India. They are a mix of good and bad, just like those from the US. (return)

2. I suspect this is not entirely the interviewees’ fault, and that at least some of it comes from the author’s editing choices. (return)

About Siggy

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