Identification For Whose Sake

This is a (slightly late) submission to the October Carnival of Aros on “Prioritization

When it comes to the issue of whether I prioritize aromantic identity – or more concretely, whether I prioritize aromantic communities ties – on a quantitative level, it probably isn’t as high a priority as some of my other community identities, but rather than getting into a quantitative comparison, I think it’s more worthwhile for me to think about for whom I have chosen to prioritize this identity anyway – because it isn’t necessarily just about me.

In particular, my relationship with aromanticism is complicated by the fact that I prioritize my aromantic identity in community and activism work largely for the sake of others, and only secondarily for myself. 

When it comes to making sense of my own experiences, I find the entire concept of differentiated attraction – and associated labels like romantic and aromantic – quite useless, actually. After all, when my main takeway is “I don’t seem to experience this “attraction” thing other people keep talking about”, splitting hairs about what type of attraction I don’t feel is not particularly helpful. And in an earlier age and space where I found that most people actually assumed that the aro ace experience was the default ace experience, just saying “I’m asexual and not interested in anyone in any way” was all I needed.

I initially started using the term aromantic on online ace forums because it seemed like clarifying whether you were aromantic or romantic was just the thing to do, and it also wasn’t inconvenient as shorthand for signaling my (lack of) interests when it came to relationship and dating discussions. However, my use of the term mostly kept to that space, and for reasons discussed later, I never got as personally attached to it. 

On the other hand, my decision to start using the word “aromantic” more publicly started out as a more deliberate way: not so much to signal what I was, so much as what I wasn’t – which was a representative of all aces. More specifically, I started emphasizing my aromantic identity in things like ace workshops, panels, and coming out conversations in order to explain that when I talked about my lack of crushes and lack of interest in dating, people should not assume that those feelings applied to all aces – basically, visibly adopting an aromantic label was something I did in order to prioritize the needs of romantic aces, especially when I was one of the loudest (or often only) voices in the room.

Over time, some of that emphasis has shifted. On the one hand, as romantic experiences have become better known in ace communities, I feel less need for heavy lifting on that distinction. On the other hand, as non-asexuals have also started picking up the aromantic label and forming new aromantic communities, I increasingly feel that as someone who has built up more years of influence and connections, I should do my part to give some more visibility to aromantic experiences and identity, and to clarifying the fact that some aro communities also stand independent of ace ones.

Not a Personal Priority

In the first half of this post, I talked about the reasons that I prioritize my aromantic identity as a way to prioritize the needs of others. However, as a bit of a followup, I also wanted to expand a little bit on why it’s not necessarily a personal priority for myself (unlike some other identities and communities). There’s two main complicating factors, one social/structural and one more internal – the external factor is my bad timing and unsatisfying experiences with aro communities past (or lack thereof), and the internal factor is my own complicated relationship to the entire concepts of romance and in turn aromanticism.

Bad Timing

One of the biggest complicating factors is probably the simple fact that when I was “coming of age” in my late teens and early twenties, there wasn’t much of an independent aromantic community to speak of (at least, not one I felt worth spending time in), so during that especially vulnerable period I was getting all of my complicated orientation needs met with either with ace people in ace venues, or with queer communities more broadly, and therefore those are the labels and community that have the strongest gut connection for me on that deeper emotional level. While I am continuously keeping involved and in touch with the growing aro communities around me today, I’m just no longer in a place in life where they can have the same kind of impact on my identity formation and sense of community that early ace and LGBTQ+ communities did.

Grey, Fuzzy Borders

However, there is also another big consideration. When I said earlier that there weren’t really any separate aromantic communities to speak of during my formative years, that wasn’t completely true – there were a few that I was peripherally aware of, in the form of some early forum attempts like aroplane, and a few themed tumblr blogs here or there. But the thing is, they tended to be low in activity and usually didn’t have many of the conversations I was interested – at least not any more than I could find elsewhere.

Because, as it turns out, I did find the conversations about aromantic(ish) experiences I needed  – but it wasn’t so much from actual aromantic communities so much as adjacent conversations among groups with a more troubled relationships to the idea of aromantic identity, including people who would later come to identify using terms like “wtfromantic,” “quoiromantic,” and “greyromantic”.

Given the fact that the experiences of these people resonate more with me than many archetypal “aromantic” community narratives today, maybe they would be more “accurate”. But the thing is that when it comes to the labels I choose to use in public discussion, I also prioritize simplicity over accuracy – I find that using the most well known umbrella term that I can stand to be more functionally useful in my day to day life than the one that might be the most technically accurate. (I grew up around a few engineers who were a fan of the “Keep it Simple, Stupid” philosophy, and I guess it stuck as the only KISS I care for). In that sense, my attachment to the word is perhaps more pragmatic than sentimental, and that may also complicate my relationship with it.

We Contain Multitudes: Asexual Community as a Coalition

When I was watching the recent HHA anniversary livestream earlier this month, the presenters highlighted an old quote from one of David Jay’s posts from the very early days of modern ace communities that really resonated with me. The quote occurred in response to an email thread about questions on how to create a universal definition for asexuality, a debate which continues to this day:

It seems like a common definition is sort of problematic. Because, in the end, we only sort of have a common identity. Asexuality means very different things to each of us, and finding a definition which is all-inclusive and still meaningful may be impossible. The reason that we’re forming a group isn’t because we have a neat, common identity but because we face a common set of issues. It seems like if we form a group it should be around those issues, not around some difficult-to-draw identity line.

– David Jay

It reminded me of a similar concept in my own local ace 101 outreach work for a while now: the idea that asexuality is not a single, unified experience, but rather a similar but varying set of experiences that have just enough in common that it makes sense for us to join in a single community – a coalition of multitudes of varied experiences.

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Remembering Aro Blogging over the years

For this month’s Carnival of Aros on “Change”, I wanted to talk about some of the changes I’ve seen in the aro community (or as close as I could get to one) in my experience over the years. It is part history, part personal reflection. It’s not really a proper history, in that it has some large gaps as I drifted in and out of engagement with discussions of aromanticism (especially around ~2014-2019, and with regards to the growth of aro tumblr); it’s also very much just my experience rather than a more objective summary, and I’m writing this at the last minute and from my own imperfect memory rather than from primary sources. Instead, think of it as an example of just one person’s perspective on aromanticism over time. There are undoubtedly some large missing perspectivEs that I’m sure other users will point out, but I think that just reflects the ways that aro writing has historically been a bit disjointed and difficult for any one person to fully track.

I’m hoping that others may be willing to ask questions or join in the comments to share their own recollections in order to help expand the narrative.

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Open Questions for Aromantic Research

In a recent paper by Antonsen et al., which primarily compared aromantic to romantic individuals within asexual response group, the author also happened to throw out one fact about their control group:

Among allosexual participants only, 13.3% reported divergent orientations.

and

We did not separate allosexual participants into romantic and aromantic groups, even though a very small proportion of the allosexual participants were likely to be aromantic, limiting our ability to compare the effects of romantic attraction between allosexual and asexual populations.

While the Antonsen group chose not to pursue this line of thought, I am curious what it would bring. How common are divergent attraction or orientation experiences common among allosexual people? How many of those might be aromantic? And what would research comparing aromantic and romantic people among the population as a  whole tell us about the human experience? Is the experience of “romance” even something we can isolate for research?

How comment are divergent orientation and differentiated attraction concepts?

The most immediately relevent question for the aromantic community might, of course, be the question of how many allosexual aromantic people there might be out there (or at least, how many people out there might have experiences that would fit with how we use that label).

However, I’d also be interested to see how that compares to the presence of divergent orientation experiences overall, and how that affects how people identify. (For example, among people with divergent patterns of attraction who use a single label, is that label more likely to be based on their romantic/emotional interests? Or their sexual/physical interests?)

I’d also be curious to see research on how common it is for people to differentiate types of attraction/interest as it applies to individual attractions, regardless of orientation. For example, according to a differentiated attraction model, someone who is only attracted to women might be mostly romantically/emotionally interested in woman A, but later might have a mostly sexual interest in woman B, and later a sexual and romantic interest in Person C, etc. What I’m curious about is how often that sort of conceptualization is used outside of just ace and aro communities.

What even is “romance”?

While many aromantic people can tell you that they don’t experience romantic attraction, or aren’t interested in romantic relationships, when it comes to nailing down what “romance” is, both us and our alloromantic counterparts are often left scratching our heads (when we’re not butting heads over differing definitions).

This, of course, can make it difficult to pursue research around things like romantic attraction (or lack thereof), when neither the researchers nor their subjects can figure out how to define their area of study!

Therefore, I’d be interested in seeing more sociological/anthropological/linguistic research into just how “romance” is conceptualized by different groups in the modern day. Do aros and aces define it differently than more general populations? What are common themes in attempting to define romance? How has the concept of romance evolved over time?


This is a submission for the August 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the theme of “Open Questions for Aromantic Research”

Half of my Heart / Can’t Love You Back

This is my entry for the July 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Music”.

Way back in 2010/2011, when I was both first exploring asexuality/aromanticism, and also discovering the unrelated world of youtube music covers, I came across this song (specifically this cover), that got stuck in my head as an earworm for a couple months:

 

 

Part of the appeal was that it’s just a catchy tune, but on another level, I think that “half of my heart” chorus also stuck with me as a sort of reflection of my own troubled thoughts about love and attraction and relationships – or lack thereof.

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Maybe the Real Most Precious Thing was the Friends we Made Along the Way

This is my submission for the June 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Most Precious“.

As an aromantic person who has never really been interested in dating or anything like it, I have never had – and may never have – anything that could be commonly be described as an “intimate partner”. Even though the concept of a queerplatonic relationship – or some other form of “platonic life partner” type arrangement – is appealing on a theoretical level, it’s also not something I’ve been very motivated to pursue at this stage of my life. As such, I’ve had to look elsewhere to fill what is often considered part of the role of a “partner”, whether it’s serious matters like finding an emergency contact or someone to help get me soup and medicine if I get sick, or lighter dilemmas like finding a plus one to a party.

For many years (and to some extent to this day), I’ve turned to family for many of these roles – my parents are still my main emergency contact in many places, my sister is one of my main targets for spontaneous gift-exchanging, and I’m fortunate in that we are all close enough (and similar enough in political views and social standards) that I’ve been able to get a lot of social support from them – not to mention financial support as well, especially when I was younger and still a student. (And indeed, that financial support – as well as the benefits of a well-paying white-collar job since – have also gone a long way in smoothing over the difficulties of being a person with unconventional relationships.

However, while having a supportive family is wonderful, it only goes so far – as my parents get older, they may eventually start needing my support, not to mention the fact that we live over 300 miles apart at the moment; and as my sister is currently pursuing a professional degree on the opposite side of the country, that physical distance limits our involvement when it comes to many practical things. And while money always makes everything easier, a $20 bill alone can’t open a can of soup and heat it up on the stove when you really need it.

Instead, this is where I turn to friendships.

What Friends are For

In general, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve been able to get nearly all of my social, physical and emotional needs met through the various networks of friendships I’ve cultivated over the years, including:

  • Roommates/cohabitation with a couple of my old friends from my college student orgs, which makes for much more affordable living
  • Food and cookie deliveries from another old college friend who’s always down to make the drive to Costco or Safeway or a local clinic or pharmacy (esp. when I have no car)
  • Emotional support and sounding boards from friends online – both old friends who are now miles away, and new friends I may not even have met in person yet
  • Peer support from local ace/aro/queer folks when it comes to sexuality and gender discontentment
  • Well-off foodie friends who are happy to spot the check if I realize I forgot cash or card, or if finances were to ever get tight.
  • and more!

Over time, I’ve been fortunate enough to build up a very robust social and support circle – part of which I can attribute to deliberate strategies, like joining and getting heavily involved with various hobby/social organizations, but part of which also comes down to sheer luck (in happening to find people I can mesh with; in having the free time to spend on forging such social connections; in not having my life majorly disrupted by moves or health issues or drama that could also disrupt such friendships). Because of this, having a strong, active social and support network is something I’m incredibly aware of and always grateful for – definitely one of my “most precious” possessions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2011 AAW Committee’s Open Letter to Researchers

In 2011, the Asexual Awareness Week organizing committee released the following document, an open letter to researchers encouraging them to keep in mind several unique complications of asexual research when designing their own research project.

It was originally hosted on asexualitystudies.org, but that site went down in 2013, so the original can now only be accessed through web archives.

However, I think much of the advice remains relevent, so I wanted to re-share the letter here now, with the addition of a few small annotations based on more recent information.

Open Letter to Researchers:

We believe that researchers have an invaluable role to play in promoting understanding of asexuality, and that a better understanding of asexuality will promote a richer understanding of human sexuality more generally. Prior to the creation of online asexual communities in the early 2000s, the study of asexuality was largely limited to isolated case reports with no means of doing more systematic research. Thanks to the growth of online communities—and increasingly offline communities as well—the possibilities for researching asexuality have grown enormously, and an increasing number of people in a variety of disciplines are studying it. As members and allies of the asexual community, we are committed to promoting research on asexuality and working with researchers in a variety of fields. Based on our experience in the asexual community, we have a number of observations and recommendations:

1) People studying asexuality often face a tension between wanting to using existing instruments and developing new ones. Often, the former have already been validated (on very different populations) and using existing instruments allows for comparison with previous research. However, the possible answers to closed questions are limited to the range of variability that was expected/taken into account when creating the survey. Because the existence of asexuals was not taken seriously in the creation of many existing instruments, results from asexuals taking such surveys may be very misleading. [1]

Therefore, if existing instruments are used, the fact that they have been validated on other populations should not be taken to indicate they are valid for asexuals. Crunch the numbers, but also keep in mind that measures of internal consistency (e.g., Cronbach alpha) assess psychometric reliability and neither determine construct validity nor content validity. Verifying an instrument’s construct (or content) validity is a lengthy process that cannot rely strictly on statistical means (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955). It is crucial that researchers consult with asexual people (e.g., in focus groups) in order to determine whether an instrument assesses relevant or sufficient aspects of the construct of interest.

2) The above described problems are especially applicable for many surveys on sexual function/dysfunction, which may make assumptions that are not true for many asexuals, with the result that asexuals are often confused by some of the questions, uncertain how to answer, and feel that they are being forced to misrepresent themselves. This is regularly seen in discussion in threads where calls for participants are posted. Such confusion rises because of assumptions about previous sexual experience and problematic assumptions about sexual desire.

Therefore, the possibility for feedback should be given. In traditional experimental contexts, this is often done in exit interviews. For online research, textboxes may be used. This is necessary for understanding if people’s responses accurately reflect how they feel or if the responses are an artifact of confusing questions for which none of the responses seems accurate. Participant feedback should be taken seriously when interpreting the results. This feedback should also be used not only to help interpret the results, but also to assess the instrument’s validity. Our experience has been that for many existing instruments, many asexuals feel that they must either discontinue participation or repeatedly misrepresent themselves questions about sensitive subjects (e.g. sexuality), which can cause distress. If this is likely to occur, it should be discussed in the consent form.

More generally, it is important for researchers–nonasexual researchers in particular–to try to understand asexual participants in ways that makes sense from asexual perspectives. This is analogous to how heterosexual researchers studying lesbian, gay, bisexual or otherwise non-heterosexual participants should avoid imposing their own heterosexual perspectives and heteronormative assumptions upon participants. Researchers studying asexuality should make every reasonable attempt to become familiar with asexuality and the asexual community beyond the narrow confines of their research. This can be done by consulting directly with asexual people and by reading products of asexual self-expression (e.g., diverse blog posts, zine articles, etc.) [2]. Because of the role that the internet has played in enabling the creation of asexual communities, a great deal of asexual-produced materials about asexuality are online, and navigating these online spaces can be daunting for researchers, especially ones not overly familiar with new media technologies. Talking to people familiar with asexual online spaces may be helpful for researchers wanting to familiarize themselves with asexual discourse.

3) In asexual discourse, it is common to distinguish between sexual attraction and sexual desire. Many asexuals masturbate, and one way of explaining this is with a concept of “undirected sex drive,” where the idea is that desire for sexual release exists, but it is not directed at anyone. Because of this, many asexuals are confused by questions about “sexual desire,” unsure about whether this means desire for sexual release and desire for partnered sexual behavior.

Therefore, the meanings of potentially confusing terms (e.g. “sexual desire”) should be made clear to participants.

4) Another major problem with sexual function/dysfunction questionnaires is that they assume everyone fits neatly into a strict gender binary. However, existing data (Asexual Visibility and Education Network [AVEN], 2009; Asexual Awareness Week, 2011; Brotto et al., 2009) suggests that between 5-20% of people active in online asexual communities do not. [3] Systematically excluding these people is ethically questionable and methodologically very problematic.

Therefore, gender diversity in the asexual community should be taken seriously in research designs. If you do rely on instruments that require people to choose either a male-version or a female-version, this should be made clear when explaining eligibility for the study. In order to prevent negative attitudes towards the researchers, explaining the reason for this decision is advisable.

5) Some–but not all–people identifying as asexual feel that they are “not sexual.” Another way of understanding “asexual” is on analogy with hetero- homo- and bisexual, where asexuals are people who do not experience sexual attraction. Asexuals vary in terms of their understanding of asexuality. Since early in the asexual community, many have been uncomfortable with the term “asexual,” but people have been unable to find a term that is widely preferred. Moreover, the term has gained considerable currency over the past decade, and some use it for lack of a better term.

Therefore, it should not be assumed that everyone identifying as “asexual” feels that they are “not sexual.” This is a matter that must be investigated, not accepted a priori.

6) Many studies on asexuality have recruited participants online. The largest online asexual community is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), and many researchers have recruited there. In March 2011, AVEN created a set of policies for researchers wanting to recruit from AVEN. Interested parties are encouraged to read these policies (AVEN, 2011). [4]

We believe that taking these into consideration can help to facilitate research on the asexuality and to help researchers avoid mistakes that are easy to fall into.

Sincerely,
Asexual Awareness Week 2011 Committee

References:
Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (2009). AVEN Survey 2008 – Results. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.asexuality.org/home/2008_stats.html

Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (2011). Rules for research requests: New policy. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?/topic/59868-rules-for-research-requests/

Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: A mixed methods approach. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (3), 599-618.

Asexual Awareness Week. (2011). Results of the asexual community census 2011. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.facebook.com/notes/asexual-awareness-week/results-of-the-asexual-community-census-2011/208581089214485

Cronbach, L. J., & Meehl, P. E. (1955). Construct validity in psychological test. Psychological
Bulletin , 52 (4), 281-302.

Annotations by me:

[1] Consider, for example, this case example in which phrasing in the “Coldness” section of the Inventory of Interpersonal Relationships may cause issues with some asexual or aromantic people.

[2] If you want suggestions for how to start finding ace community content, I recommend  starting with the Ace Zine Archive, the Carnival of Aces, the AZE journal, the Asexual Agenda’s biweekly linkspams, and the AVENues magazine. For bonus aromantic content, try the Carnival of Aros.

[3] More recent surveys from the Ace Community Survey Project suggest that that number may be even higher with more like 20-30% of respondents indicating a gender other than male or female.

[4] AVEN has since updated their researcher policies; you can find the latest version here.

Why I Wear an Ace Ring

This is my submission to the June 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “pride.”

This post was originally inspired by this post from the Ace Theist. I may or may not have taken 7+ years to get around to writing it, but better late than never I guess?


Several years ago, The Ace Theist wrote a post about why they wear an ace ring, and why it’s more for themselves than for recognition, that really resonated with me, especially this passage in the conclusion:

When I first bought that black ring off Amazon, I wasn’t expecting anyone recognize it for what it was.  That’s not what it’s for.  From the beginning, that ring wasn’t meant for anyone else but me.  I had just comes to terms with the fact that I’m not heterosexual, that the existence of my orientation is something that most people don’t even know about, and I wanted to wear an ace ring as a way remind myself that I’m not the only one.

Safety in Subtlety

As a matter of fact, when I first started wearing an ace ring, it was precisely because I did not expect anyone to recognize it for what it was – it was something subtle, and safe, and with a level of plausible deniability that I could easily invoke if anyone asked me about. After all, I already wore rings and other jewelry on a semi-regular basis, so it wouldn’t be that out of place. If anyone asked, I could just say that I found it at a shop and thought it looked cool.

That made it the perfect token of self-recognition and quiet pride for me, as a teenager just tentatively starting to identify with asexuality, but sure as hell not ready to start coming out about it to anyone offline. I wasn’t ready talk about it out loud yet, or to name it in words, but the ring was still a physical, tangible way to silently shout out to the unsuspecting world that hey, I’m asexual, I’m not just confused, and I’m not alone.

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In Praise of Pins

This is my submission for the May 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “DIY“.

A year or so ago, I was sitting at a transit stop, waiting for a train, when I caught a snippet of a quiet conversation behind me:

“Is that an…Oddish?”

“Yeah, you’re right, that’s Oddish!”

“What’s that one?”

“I think that one’s an ace flag”

“And what’s that one?”

“Hm, I don’t know that that one is”

Upon turning around, turns out that there was a dad and his kid (who couldn’t have been more than like, 10) who had been looking at the decorative pins that I currently have on my usual weekend bag:

AroPinsBody1

The dad mentioned something about liking my pins, I mentioned that the third pin (that they were having trouble identifying) was an aromantic flag, got a thanks and a smile, and then our train came and we went our separate ways.

It was a relatively small interaction, but a heartwarming one – both to see that bit of awareness in the wild, to see some great parenthood, to be able to work in such tiny snippets of education in an unexpected location.

This also isn’t the first time that that same set of aro and ace pins has been a conversation starter – I’ve also gotten quick “hey, I like your pins!” with knowing looks and a few “oh hey, I am too!”s and some other “hey, is that pin what I think it is?” –  in the audience at LGBT student conferences, in the elevator at anime conventions, from the next table over at a restaurant.

The exact pins have occasionally changed since I first added them on – the aro flag was a later addition after it started gaining more popularity, and the current sparkly one was a recent replacement for my old DIY standard one; the oddish one has been changed out a couple times when I found a new one or lost an old one.

And over the years, I’ve acquired more pins, and more bags, and then more pins to the point I now have an entire drawer of various fandom and sexuality and all sorts of other pins to the point I’m starting to look into different ways to display them (a corkboard or tapestry to hand on a wall maybe?)

While many of my original pins were sourced, surprisingly enough, from anime conventions of all places (turns out lots of artist alley fan artists also sell pride swag and make a point of including lesser known identities!), some of the others have come from a newer source: my own handy dandy button maker!

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