This is a guest post submitted by Rachel for the Carnival of Aces this month.
Content Warning: my usual level of weapons-grade bitterness, vague discussion of social isolation
The prompt this month is about the quarantine for COVID-19, decidedly not asexuality specific like usual, but that isn’t going to stop me. Before you start the essay proper, I suggest some supplementary reading from a few previous carnivals:
Planning for a Future That Will Involve a lot of Leaving by venatrixlunaris
Have you read them? I am trusting that you did, because I need you to keep them in the back of your mind as you read the rest of this.
Part 1: My Career Under Quarantine
Here’s an abridged version of my professional history:
- Go to college in chemistry
- Work for a year as a lab contractor to save money for grad school
- Move across the country to go to graduate school
- Complete grad school… only to spend a year and a half trying to get a job in my field of study, working in retail/food service to make money
- Move across the country again for the dream job… only to crash and burn in a matter of months
- Move back in with mom and dad due to unemployment, stuck in the house with nowhere to go and nothing to do, chafing over being trapped in close proximity with relatives at all hours when I’d rather be living independently
- I finally get another scientific job, after a year of unemployment, and have to move to another state.
Does that second-to-last point sound familiar? It should. I was living the stuck-at-home quarantine lifestyle for a good while before COVID even started. Nowadays, I work for the state government in public health (nothing COVID-related), so I am an “essential worker” and thus am doing better than many. I still go to work every day, still take home a paycheck every two weeks, and make enough to live on my own. Best of all, I’m not working retail anymore so I don’t have to deal with an anxious and ill-tempered public. My free time is still valuable, as opposed to boredom-inducing and stressful, and I’m not trapped in an already-unpleasant living circumstances. Professionally, things are looking up. My parents, who also worked in public health, would often joke that as long as people got sick, they would have ultimate job security.
Part 2: Social Networks Under Quarantine
I am not out at work. I know a few LGBTQ+ people who are, much more casually than I had expected, considering I live in the Bible Belt. Both are gay. Alloromantic and allosexual, to the best of my knowledge. There is a third guy I am 99% certain is queer too, but he isn’t a direct co-worker and we don’t interact frequently, so he has no reason to disclose either way. There was a fourth person with a none-too-subtle rainbow-flag handbag, but she is gone now. I stay silent. I don’t want to risk the ignorance and misconceptions of allo people, even those who should be my fellows. Most of my colleagues are significantly older than I am, married (or divorced) with kids. Even those that are my age are married and/or have kids. I’m not even thirty yet and I already feel like that-weird-spinster at work sometimes. Basically, I have scarce in common with my co-workers, even the queer ones. Now I don’t want to sound too pessimistic about my workplace, because my coworkers are lovely people otherwise, but if all of this sounds like a recipe for shallow workplace relationships, that’s because it is.
The only significant relationships that I have are my immediate relatives and the handful of friends that I’ve retained from high school and college (I never managed to hold onto any from grad school). All of the moving that I have done for my education and my job(s) means that I have to keep sacrificing social networks with little chance to replace them. With my parents recently retired and planning to move away from my birth city, that means I will soon be losing the convenience of their residence as a springboard for maintaining my longest, most enduring friendships, as difficult as that already is. As a consequence, I internally struggle over whether it’s even worth my time to try for more than an army of acquaintances. I’m aro ace, and most people aren’t. It already takes years of investment for relationships to exceed acquaintanceship for me, and I have little confidence in most people’s interest in bypassing the invisible ceiling on relationships that won’t result in getting a date and getting a lay. Last, what happens when I have to move – again?
Part 3: Asexuality and Aromanticism Under Quarantine
I see people worried about their jobs, and their mental health, and their ability to live independently, and I sympathize with the familiarity. But then I see people freaking out about how isolated they feel because they can’t go out to Olive Garden with their friends on Saturday and I can’t help but think “Welcome to my world, sweetheart.” or “Wow, the fact the you have a social life to put on hold in the first place sounds like a luxury to me.” I don’t enjoy sneering like that. I know that many people, not necessarily aro or ace, are struggling with pre-existing isolation and marginalization further aggravated by the pandemic, the effects of which are far more serious than “Brenda is throwing a tantrum at city hall because she can’t go to the salon.”
But damn am I allowed to be upset about the things that have backed me into this position in the first place. If you were reading this waiting for me to hurry up and get to the point, to the grand, central thesis that ties everything together, here it is: it is mistake to take a lack of change as incontrovertible evidence of privilege. I am doing fine economically, which absolutely is a privilege, but the lack of disruption to my social life under quarantine? Quite the opposite. For a lot of more privileged people, the quarantine has been a grand social lesson not knowing what you have till you lose it, but I rarely see people talking about what it means to lose something by never being able to access it in the first place.
Remember those readings I linked earlier? My take-away from them, paralleling my own experiences, is that being aro ace means having to make do with less because the things you “lose” were taken away before you even had them. In our personal lives, it means forfeiting social networks, probably already undervalued or unrecognized or strained for our queerness, and facing further obstacles to rebuilding them, all for the sake of whatever professional opportunities are available in an already unfriendly economy. It means that, though my work life recovering well, it represents the only path to successful adulthood open to me, so I have to make that work. It means being unable to form socially acceptable adult relationships, and having to settle for superficial connections and endure the long-term social isolation that entails. It means having to meet the precarious demands of surviving well and truly on your own.
The COVID-19 crisis and the quarantine have altered little about my daily life, and while some of that is privilege, that lack of disruption has also illuminated just how alone I have been for my entire adult life. The work life instability and social isolation that the quarantine is causing? I’ve been coping with that for years now. I am aromantic and asexual, and I already live in quarantine. A lot of aros and aces do. Nice of you to join us.