7 Types of Relationship Commitment that Have Nothing to do with Sex or Romance.

This is a submission for the August 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Relationships

When people talk about creating or valuing “commitment” in relationships, it’s often shorthand for advancing through the socially expected steps of the stereotypical sexual-romantic relationship escalator – things like romantic and sexual exclusivity, cohabitation, financial entanglement, legally recognized marriage, and possibly parenthood. These types of commitment are also largely seen as a linear, hierarchical and long-term (if not lifelong) progression of steps.

However, as Jo explains in the link above, the expected “relationship escalator” path of commitment is one that often breaks down when it comes to the lived experiences of asexual, aromantic, and polyamorous people (among others). After all, sexual/romantic exclusivity – one of the standard first steps on the escalator –  isn’t a good marker of commitment if you aren’t looking to be sexual or romantic with anyone in the first place, or if openness to multiple types of partners is a key goal of your relationship.

And once you start questioning that common first step, the rest of the assumptions of the relationship escalator also break down, not just for aces and aros but for anyone interested in exploring more nontraditional relationship models – after all, why would sexual entanglement need to precede financial entanglement or cohabitation anyway? Why does the person you want to commit to emotionally need to be the same person you decide you might want to co-parent with? What if you prefer to have shorter term or more flexible relationship commitments instead of assuming that the only “healthy” way to approach to commitment is to continue moving up and up the escalator for perpetuity?

Instead of an escalator, therefore, I like to thing of “commitments” as a variety of piecemeal “building blocks” that can be arranged in any combination and any order to define a prticular relationship, and that can be added and removed when or if desired. Which is why I wanted to give just a few examples of types of “commitment” that people can have in their relationships – whether these relationships are romantic, sexual, familial, or platonic; short-term or long-term; intense or casual. Some of these are serious, some are more silly, but hopefully all can serve as food for thought.

If you have any of your own examples of commitment that you’d like to highlight, however, large or small, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

1. The Roommates

This is perhaps the most common kind of non-sexual, non-romantic committed relationship that many people will experience in their life. While moving in with friends or even strangers you met on craigslist is, for whatever reason, rarely seen as a life-changing “commitment” in the way that moving in together with a romantic/sexual partner is, the fact is that choosing to eat, sleep, live, and breath and pay rent together with another person for months or years is one of the biggest financial and lifestyle commitments that many of us make. It’s also a good example of how commitment doesn’t always have to be lifelong or open-ended to be important to you – sometimes it might be bound to the length of a lease, or a graduation date, or other deadline, but that doesn’t make the commitment any less real.

2. The Co-Parents

While parenting is often seen as the ultimate and final commitment for married sexual/romantic couples, there’s really no reason that it has to be limited to these groups – after all, many great co-parents and guardians can also come in the form of close family friends, amicable exes, queerplatonic partners, group communes, extended family, and more.  And furthermore, the person(s) that you choose to parent with don’t always have to be the same people that you commit other parts of your life to – divorced couples have been figuring this out for decades, but it can also be an intentional option for those who choose to build their own relationships from scratch. After all, sometimes co-parents can be friends, not lovers, and other partners can stay partners without becoming parents.

3.  The T-Mobile Friends and Family Plan

One of the perks that our society grants to traditional couples and nuclear families is that they are often viewed as a “household” rather than a series of individual units, and granted privileges that less formally associated groups of individuals are not – from serious benefits like discounts on shared healthcare to less life-endangering concerns like discounts on shared cell phone service plans or even things like costco memberships.

As some companies (like the titular example) increasingly begin to recognize that households don’t just have to be traditional nuclear families, many of the group benefits are increasingly available to any other groups who are willing to commit to the responsibility of paying a shared bill.

4. The Poly Password Swap

Alice has an HBO account; Bob has Netflix.; Charlie has Hulu; and Eve has Amazon Prime; with their powers combined, they can form one big happy television binge-watching family! As noted in the example above, resource-sharing with a committed set of partners-in-consumption can be a great way to access services more affordable by banding together in groups rather than as individuals, and the benefits can increase cumulatively as each person brings their own resources to offer.

This sort of shared media-watching potential can also lead in other forms of commitment, like when you have that fellow fan friend who you make sure to watch every new episode with so you can gush about it afterwards.

5. The Designated Emergency Contact

At a minimum, most of us hope to have someone in our life who we can write down as the “emergency contact” that forms are constantly asking for – someone who we can trust to take on the responsibility of helping us handle our affairs and to get in touch with all the right people in the case that anything happens to incapacitate us. While many choose to trust this duty to a family member or spouse, those without those options often also trust it to a reliable friend or convenient neighbor – and even those with “traditional” options like spouses or family around may still choose to trust this to someone else if they think that person is better able to know their wishes, or to stay level-headed in an emergency – or maybe if that person is just more conveniently located.

On a similar level, the designation of more serious responsibilities like power of attorney can represent an even stronger commitment of this type.

This is also a useful example of the ways that commitment doesn’t always have to be symmetrical or reciprocal – maybe Jane might designate John as her contact, but John lists Joe, who lists someone else entirely.

6. The Friend with Literal Benefits

One of the most life-altering benefits that comes with being in a typical “committed” romantic/sexual relationship for many people is access healthcare insurance – while traditionally offered to married spouses and children, modern day employer healthcare plans increasingly allow individuals to offer benefits to any “domestic partner” (and their children), in order to include unmarried couples as well. While these domestic partner benefits are often still couched in terms that imply romantic/sexual relationships and may be difficult if not impossible to access for other types of committed partners, some jurisdictions are started to broaden the ability to designated a beneficiary for certain benefits in much more inclusive ways. And while current marriage fraud laws (combined with the assumed sexual-romantic-cohabitation requirements of marriage) can make it tricky for non-typical partners to access these types of benefits on the same level as more normative couples, I look forward to a future where this can be more of a widespread possibility (at least until we get a proper universal healthcare system that renders this all unnecessary).

7. The Dungeons and Dragons Party

Sometimes commitment can come in the form of commitment to joint social activity or hobby, whether it’s a monthly D&D group, a weekly knitting circle, a biweekly fantasy football league, or something else.

These kinds of social and hobby commitments can also be a great example of how commitments can be made in a relationship to a group or a community that may evolve over time, rather than a set of specific individual relationships.

 

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Housekeeping Post: Design Changes

Some of you have probably noticed already, but I’m currently in the process of testing out some different theme and customization options, so the general look of this blog may be randomly changing a lot over the next couple weeks.

Also, while I’m playing around with all these settings, if anyone has any particular theme options or widgets or sidebar content suggestions they are a fan of, I’d love to learn more about what people do or don’t like in blog design!

Atheism and Aromanticism: Viewing Marriage Law as Contract Law

This is an only-slightly-late entry for the May Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “The Intersection of Aromanticism and Religion”.


Author Notes: This is mostly written from the perspective of US Marriage law (with a few forays into UK examples), and so some parts may not be so relevant for those in other jurisdictions. It’s also very hastily written so consider it some brainstorming and an open invitation to dicsussion, rather than the final word on anything.

When it comes to romance, sexuality, and religion, I fall pretty soundly into the void of the “a”s: Aromantic, Asexual, and Atheist. I find that all three are somewhat similar in that they are defined largely as matters of absence – they are traits that would be completely unremarkable and unmeaningful were it not for the presence of something else in the world around us – the presence of romance, of sexuality, of religions – that make their absence in my life suddenly all the more significant.

Of those three identities, there’s one place where they perhaps most frequently come together: the institution of marriage. When it comes to sexuality and romance in common culture, marriage is considered the ultimate celebration of such relationships. When it comes to religion, it’s often the ultimate form of recognition and sanctification, with many major world religions have some sort of marriage traditions as some of their central practices.

But what happens when you don’t have any religious attachments to give it any weight? What happens when you aren’t interested in the sorts of romantic or sexual entanglements that typically form the core of even most non-religious marriages? Is marriage meaningless?

Not at all. Because there is a major part of  marriage that actually has surprisingly little to do with romance, sex, or religion: the modern civil marriage contract.

In fact, when you strip away the sentimental concerns of romance and sexuality and the religious trappings, which may carry a lot of moral weight but no real legal weight, I think you are left with modern civil marriage in it’s most basic form: a standardized contract, entered into by a person and a chosen partner, which is recognized by the state and granted certain rights and responsibilities.

When you think of civil marriage in this most un-romantic form, it is, in essence, a sort of specialized business contract – much like a business partnership or an corporation, it marks a joint partnership between two people; in which they may have certain rights or responsibilities different than what they have as individuals; that governs the ownership and handling of property within the partnership; and a level or recognition by the state, which grants them additional rights and responsibilities and has special taxation rules specifically for these partnerships.

Of course, there are also many ways in which marriages are unique as compared to other business contracts:

  • One of the most major is that unlike business contracts, which are drawn up and customized for each new venture, marriage contracts are standard and non-customizable (outside of additional contracts like pre-nups which may have limited effectiveness) – this has the benefit of making them easily accessible even to the average person without the need for hours of expensive lawyer consultations, but more limiting in their lack of customizability.
  • Also, unlike business partnerships – which an individual can enter into ad infinitum – any individual is limited to a single marriage contract at any given time. Furthermore, marriage contracts are generally limited to only two people; unlike business contracts, which can encompass anywhere from a single person to dozens of directors or members.
  • Perhaps the greatest difference between marriage laws and contract laws is that marriage law can also sometimes grant one very special right that cannot generally be achieved through business contracts or other customized legal contracts (like power of attorney or advanced healthcare directives): the rights of parenthood.  (There are also a few select other personal rights that are linked only to marriage contracts, but this is one of the most major).
  • In addition to unique rights, marriage can also carry additional responsibilities. For example, many states require (at least on paper) that they must be sexually consummated to be valid (although it’s unclear whether these requirements would fully withstand a modern challenge). They may also have consequences like spousal support even upon dissolution, so they can be lasting in ways that business contracts arent.

However, when you think about it, it isn’t necessarily a given that marriage contracts always need to be this way – if you take away longstanding [modern christian] religious prohibitions against multiple marriages, or the social and cultural assumptions that significant relationships must be romantic and sexual before they can be worthy of state recognition –  there’s perhaps no reason from a legal perspective that marriage needs to have all the limitations above.

Sometimes I wonder, what would it be like in a world where marriage law was treated more like a business contract – where marriages or families could consist of multiple people, or be between platonic friends or partners (or even siblings).

Also, what if marriage contracts were more flexible? After all, marriages often combines several things – parenthood, financial entanglement, decision making powers in healthcare, protection from testifying in court, etc. – that could perhaps be seperated. For example, what if it were possible to have one form of legally recognized co-parenting relationship, but without as many of the tax implications? Or a purely financial contract without as many of the parenting and healthcare related rights?

In more recent years, there have been some glimpses into what such a brave new world might look like, especially with the advent of “marriage-like” legal statuses like domestic partnerships and civil unions. While these were originally intended to give same-sex couples the right to marry all-but-in-name, the creation of a dual relationship recognition scheme has lead to fascinating effects, such as older couples who seek domestic partnerships as a way to formalize their relationships without disrupting remnants of previous marriages like social security benefits, or platonic friends who use them as a way to recognize their relationships without sexual/romantic requirements, or religious folk who use them as a convenient loophole to work around certain religious prohibitions.

As both secular and aromantic and asexual movements continue to grow, I am curious to see what other ways that marriage can be re-imagined.

 

 

On the Horizon: Bremelanotide and AMAG Pharmaceuticals

After delving back into the wonderfully frustrating and misinformation-filled world of HSDD medications, it looks like it’s not just Addyi that has new updates. It’s also probably a good time to start keeping a closer eye on Bremelanotide  / Vyleesi, a new proposed treatment for HSDD from AMAG Pharmaceuticals.

Unlike Addyi, Bremelanotide is designed to be used only as needed, about 90 min prior to sex. It’s currently being developed to be injected subcutaneously, after other methods showed too many side effects, in particular with worries about low blood pressure. Other common side effects were nausea, flushing, and headaches, which are sure to put you in the mood!

I haven’t had a chance to dig into the proposed method of action, but news articles seem to indicate that it’s neurological, and attempts to balance inhibitory vs. excitatory process in the brain.

It looks like it’s been submitted for new drug consideration by the FDA with an original expected approval announcement in March 2019, but is likely being delayed after the FDA requested more data on side effects.

They’ve also already set up their own website about HSDD as well at unblush.com. It even has it’s own quiz!

I’ve only spent like 20 minutes looking at it so far because I really need to pace myself with these, but here’s a few first impressions:

  1. If you indicate no recent drop in desire in the first question of the quiz, it cuts you off and lets you know that if there’s no decrease, it’s probably not HSDD – which is more than the addyi site is willing to do, so there’s that at least?
  2. On the other hand, if you indicate that your desire has decreased “maybe a little”, but in the questions about negative impact you only mark “I’m afraid my partner will cheat on or break up with me”….it tells you that’s “relationship impact”, a sign of HSDD.
  3. Also, this quiz is like a buzfeed quiz, it’s weirdly full of reaction images and gifs
  4. Both this and some of the ancillary materials for Addyi mention the Decreased Sexual Desire Screener (DSDS), so that’s something I probably want to look into more when I can.
  5. Overall, it’s still manipulative / kinda misleading, but doesn’t seem to be quite as pushy as the addyi site overall – but on the other hand they may just be biding their time because they don’t actually have a drug they can legally push yet.

 

Update: FDA updates labeling requirements on Addyi/Flibanserin, and new [horrible] Addyi Marketing Campaign

This post has two parts – updated labeling requirements from the FDA last month and a new marketing campaign from Sprout Phamraceuticals  (thanks to redbeardace for flagging it!)

I’m going to address the FDA changes first because I’ve had more time to read up on it, but I think the latter is going to be a bigger concern for ace activists moving forward.

Part 1: FDA Recommends Labeling Changes for Addyi

I missed this earlier, but apparently the FDA released updated labeling requirements for Addyi/Flibanserin last month:

https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-orders-important-safety-labeling-changes-addyi

I’ve only had a chance to skim it for now, but it looks like they are downgrading the original warning (which stated that women should not drink alcohol at all while using the drug) to a statement that women should avoid alcohol within a few hours of taking the pill, but may not need to avoid it entirely:

Based on the results of postmarketing studies, the FDA has determined that changes must be made to Addyi’s labeling to clarify that there is still a concern about consuming alcohol close in time to taking Addyi but that it does not have to be avoided completely. Specifically, the boxed warning, contraindication, warnings and precautions, and adverse reactions sections of labeling are being updated to reflect that women should discontinue drinking alcohol at least two hours before taking Addyi at bedtime or to skip the Addyi dose that evening. Women should not consume alcohol at least until the morning after taking Addyi at bedtime.

The FDA is ordering a safety labeling change requiring Sprout to make these changes because the agency was not able to reach an agreement with the company, which was continuing to request removal of the boxed warning and contraindication about alcohol completely from the product labeling. The FDA determined, based on a careful review of available data, that removing this important safety information was not acceptable for the protection of public health.

These changes were based on the results of two additional post-market studies of Addyi/Flibanserin, whcih sprout had requested, as well as additional lobbying from Sprout Pharmaceuticals (which sells Addyi) which wanted to remove alcohol warnings entirely. The FDA’s April 11 post stated:

In the FDA-required postmarketing trial in women who took Addyi and drank alcohol at the same time, there were missing or delayed measurements for blood pressure from when the women were first laying down to when they stood up that are critical in determining the risk of hypotension and syncope when taking Addyi and alcohol together. The FDA’s specific concerns with the trial included:

  • While there were no reports of syncope or hypotension needing intervention amongst women in the trial, the safety precautions built into this trial did not allow for an adequate assessment of this risk. For example, women with low blood pressure while lying down or with symptoms that could be related to low blood pressure (such as dizziness) were not permitted to stand up to have blood pressure measurements taken or had to have repeated blood pressure measurements while lying down until they were high enough for the women to safely stand up. As a result, the data collected had missing or delayed blood pressure measurements from these women while standing.
  • Many more women had missing or delayed blood pressure measurements when they took Addyi and alcohol together compared to when they received alcohol alone or Addyi alone.
  • The amount of missing blood pressure measurements peaked around the time when Addyi’s blood levels were highest in those taking Addyi with alcohol.

The pattern of the missing or delayed measurements provides further evidence of an interaction between Addyi and alcohol that can increase the risk of hypotension and syncope. Given these results, the FDA has determined that the boxed warning and contraindication continue to be warranted. Women at home will not have the safety measures that were included in this trial or necessarily have access to immediate assistance if they were to experience severe hypotension or syncope, which can lead to serious outcomes including falls, accidents and bodily harm.

Part 2: New marketing campaign from Sprout Pharmaceuticals

Addyi has launched a new “Right to Desire” campaign website [content warning: I strongly recommend not taking any medical advice or trusting any claims from this new site.].

This CNN Health article discusses the campaign in more depth and has some initial criticism.

It features a quiz that you can take, which I’m especially worried about based on what they did the last time they decided to have a quiz as part of the very misleading “Find My Spark” campaign.

I’m still looking into the new campaign and will probably need to make another post to actually evaluate it, but I’m like 3 questions into the quiz and we’re already off to a pretty bad start – despite the first questions at least allowing me to state that I have no sex drive* and no problem with that, Addyi doesn’t want to let me think of it as anything except a problem:

Addyi.PNG

It also still uses “HSDD” as their label for the low desire that they are trying to treat, despite the fact that as of the DSM 5 (released in ~2013), low desire is categorized as [M]HSDD only in men, and low desire in women is referred to as FSIAD or “Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder”. Addyi is only marketed to and approved for women. (props to David Jay for pointing that out to me).

Also, I’m still mad that they decided to use purple for this. Adding insult to injury much?


*Technically I do personally consider myself to have a sex drive / libido, just not towards other people, but I don’t think that’s what Addyi’s asking about and I also wanted to see how it treats the many aces who really don’t have anything along those lines.

Aro Awareness Activism and The Chance to be the Change You Want to See

This is a submission for the March 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the theme of “It’s Great to Be Aro“. Also, while it’s targeted at potential aro activists, most of the tips here are super general and can work for any emerging identity group.

One of the things that I think almost everyone in the aromantic community can agree on is that there’s a huge lack of both resources and recognition, which on the whole is a huge negative for any aro who is struggling to find support and information. But while a negative on the whole, there is a sliver of a silver lining: because it also means that aro activists are often starting with a relatively blank slate to build on, in which even a single person can have the chance to have an outsized influence on aro communities present and future.

“If you want it, you’re going to have to build it yourself” is often a mantra for emerging communities without much outside support. But the flip side of that is, “If you’re willing to build it, you can make of it anything you want”.

More established communities are often saturated by established voices and hierarchies, and it can be difficult to break out with a new message or a new approach or to break out of the shadow of larger organizations with competing approaches without massive resources and tons of money and connections. But in emerging communities, where there are no established names in activism and education, you don’t necessarily need large coffers or advanced social networks: you just need a little communications savvy and a willingness to dedicate some sustained time and effort.

As someone who has been involved with and has studied a lot of the history of activism for another emerging identity – specifically, asexuality – I want to share some personal observations of the factors that led key groups like David Jay and AVEN in particular to rocket from being a single college student with a tiny college-hosted website to the most influential ace organization in the world, bringing asexuality to the attention of much of the rest of the world in the process – and that have led countless other attempts at activism to either succeed or fail.

 You don’t necessarily need marketing consultant level SEO optimization to get started – but a few small actions can make big differences in how effectived your awareness campaigns will be.

Here are some of the factors that, IMO, can be keys to success when it comes to awareness activism for emerging communities (and which are often strategies that early aro activism has yet to achieve. Most of these come from my prior experiences from ace activism, which IMO has gone through many of the same struggles that aro communities are facing about 10-15 years ago, and can provide one possible path to follow (as well as plentiful examples of what not to do). These tips are also focused on awareness; community building and other types of activism require additional structures, although they start in the same place – because no one can be helped by your resources if they don’t know they exist. Thus, I present:

5 Initial Keys to Becoming a Communications-Savvy Aromantic Awareness Organization:

1. Have a short, easily memorized, SEO friendly url

That means a top level domain, not just a WordPress or Tumblr sub page, with one or two words that identifies your constituency, like “aromantic” or “aromanticism” etc. You want something that people can remember without writing it down, and that makes it immediately apparent what it is.

“.org” url suffixes in particular can be useful in lending a sheen of “legitimacy” to educational projects

This admittedly becomes increasingly difficult as more projects emerge and snap up urls, especially as some aro-related domains have been snapped up by other groups like lotion companies.

2. Have a static main page with a prominent self-hosted FAQ

This should include all the information a curious non aro might need to start off with. This should be a full FAQ – not just a list of external resources that bring people away from your site and to other places (although that can be good to have too).

By hosting your own resources, you can make sure that people get exactly the information you want them to get – rather than having to rely on outside groups who may disappear at any moment, or that may host problematic content outside your control.

3. An “official” veneer that presents itself as an activist organization, rather than just one individuals blogger or activist.

As much as respectability politics sucks, it’s a practical reality that giving your organization a shiny, official looking veneer can be the key to getting taken seriously, by institutional organizations that hold the power to share your stories in the media, or to offer grants, or to donate materials or space, or to spread awareness within other organizations or communities.

Technically speaking, an “organization” could still be that same individual with a shiny new name and website. But in the long run, it’s important to become a group organization in reality as well as in name (see the point about volunteers below)

The other big advantage of building organizational efforts rather than individual efforts is sustainability: an organization can be led by a long succession of behind-the-scenes individuals if original founders get sick, or get busy with other projects, or go off the rails, or just don’twant to keep doing it anymore; but personal brands can fall apart as soon as their face finds themselves unable or unsuitable to keep taking the lead.

4. Prominent email contact information for media or other activists looking for interviews or other further guidance, and a team of volunteers that can reliably respond prompty to such requests

A large part of outreach is working with news media and with related orgs (like lgbt orgs, or healthcare orgs) as well as individual friends and family of aro people (not to mention aros themselves), to spread awareness of aro experiences and available resources to wider audiences, especially offline ones and even online ones that aren’t often reached by current aro outreach (i.e. not tumblr).

You want to make it as easy as possible for them to find and contact you – having a dedicated email address is part of that (and it should be an actual email, not a limited “contact us form’ that doesn’t let people use their own preferred email clients). It helps even more to specifically advertise it as a media contact email.

Of course, having an email is useless if no one checks it. Therefor, it’s also important to have volunteer(s) who are ready, willing, and prepared to respond to these requests, whether it’s just questions about basic aro 101, or requests for interviews or trainings. Even if you can’t always respond to these yourself, you should at least be able to refer them to other activists who might be able to. (Which leads to the need for activist-support-networks that connect people involved with varying types of activism and varying regions, but that’s another topic).

5. Specific dedication to aromanticism (rather than broader LGBTQIA or Ace & Aro ofocus)

Pan-identity groups, like general LGBTQIA umbrella groups or new Ace and Aro joint community campaigns, can be an important stop gap until more aro-focused resources emerge. But they are just a short-term solution; while pan-identity groups can serve as valuable entry points, and can be vital in using their established audiences to thor support to new orgs as they emerge, they work best when working hand in hand with more dedicated groups that can spend all their energy and attention on a main constituency instead of having to split themselves between multiple groups that may often have conflicting needs.

 

 

Of course, all that’s just a start. Next steps can include building active volunteer bases, because having more people means more work can be done, and learning about the actual marketing-consultant-material like SEO optimization via promoting cross-linking from other organizations and targeting key search terms. And this of course doesn’t address at all the tough decisions of what to actually say in your awareness materials, including how to make sure you represent diverse groups,  how to summarize complicated realities into easier to read 101s, and more.

 

The State of Aro Awareness Activism Today

All in all, I find that when it comes to structured, targeted aromantic awareness campaigns, there’s currently a lack of strategic infrastructure – it reminds me a bit of the ace community before AVEN started a real dedicated push for external awareness.

There actually used to be more sites that were attempting to hit most of these (the old aromantic.org, although they spent a lot of time with some sections “under constuction” and had only really tiny faqs, at least attempted to hit most of these before they later shut down).

But when it come to current resources, though, all the ones I can think of only hit a few of these. So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that aro-specific communities and their culture and history are so unknown, even to other aro people.

(It’s also making me further appreciate how much the early ace community was boosted by the fact that early activists like David Jay were also pretty savvy webmasters and promoters.

 

Moving Forward

Anyway, after writing this post, unfortunately have absolutely no time for new projects myself, but I also think it would be great to have a new aro visibility coalition page or similar successor organization (or even a more targeted outreach campaign by an existing organization). I hope that sooner or later, someone ready for the challenge will be able to step up, and when they do, I hope that some of these observations can be at least a little bit of help.

Also, on a practical level, I know that there are many established aro ace organizers (myself included) who have our time tied up by existing projects, but might be able to contribute material support like funding to cover web hosting and domain registration fees, or technical advice like how to set up domain names and find web hosts, or promotional and SEO support by linking and signal-boosting new projects. So if anyone is working on organized aro activism projects I’m not familiar with and could use that kind of support, please let me know!

 

In addition, if anyone has additional advice to offer in the comments, especially based on activism experience in other areas, I’d love to hear it!

Aromantic As A Noun?

To follow up Aro Week and the inaugural Carnival of Aros with a more light-hearted topic: what word do you use for the noun form of being aromantic?

For example:
Asexual -> Asexuality;
Polyamorous -> Polyamory
Celibate -> Celibacy
Aromantic -> ?????

Is it Aromance? Aromanticism? Aromanticity? Something else?

I find that I am partial to “Aromanticism” – it just feel the most “correct” to me, probably because it parallels existing -ic words like stoic -> stoicism, and it seems one of the most common – but “Aromance” also has a certain charm to it. I’m curious what others use or prefer.

 

 

Aro Communities, Ace Communities: Eight Observations from an Aro Ace

This is my submission for the February 2019 Join Carnival of Aros and Carnival of Aces, on the theme of “The Relationship Between Aro and Ace Communities”.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted to make a post about, and then I forgot how short February was, so instead, have 8 somewhat-rushed observations that I’ve merged together into a rough assemblage. These are hopefully somewhat stand-alone if you want to skip between them or read them out of order.

Individuals vs. Community vs. Communities

While I will use “community” as shorthand for groups of people with a shared identity for convenience, I think it’s important to emphasize that for many years, there was no such thing as an organized “aromantic community”, at least not in the way that that ace groups had organized into forums, and blogging networks, and carnivals, and offline meetups. At best, there were aromantic peer networks within ace communities; while there were repeated attempts to found aro forums, most of the early attempts didn’t last long and didn’t spread much outside ace communities. While that is finally changing, the “aromantic community” as it’s own seperate community is a recent development that is just starting to take it’s first few steps, with events like aromantic spectrum awareness week in 2014/2015 and the resurrection of aropocalypse in 2016. But in other ways it is closer to where the fledgling ace community was 8 or 10 years ago – there are few to no dedicated offline groups or activist organizations, and even the blogging community is still somewhat disconnected. That said, I’m excited to see it grow!

It’s also important to recognize that there can be a difference between “being aromantic” for example, and being in “aromantic communities”. There are many, many aro aces who may not participate in “aromantic communities” because they find their needs met in ace communities and may be frustrated by many aro communities. Similarly, on the flip side, there are many other aro aces who do not participate in “asexual communities” but do participate in “aro communities”. There are also many who participate in both, and some in neither. None of these choices of where to spend their time make anyone any less asexual or aromantic as individuals.

Also, I think it’s important to understand how much all these “communities” overlap – it’s almost impossible to find ace groups without a significant number of aros, or aro groups without a significant number of aces.

On the flip side, they may also overlap less than you expect, in that there isn’t really a single unified “ace community” or “aro community”, but rather many communities assembled. There are tumblr communities and AVEN communities and Arocalypse communities and wordpress communities and reddit communities and facebook communities and local communities and each will have their own issues. Even within a single platform like tumblr or wordpress, different subscriptions mean that two members of what seems from afar like one community may have wildly different experiences and may not even see the same content.

Thus, the following oberservations are my impressions, based on my experiences – and they may be completely different from the observations of someone who follows different blogs or different tags or uses different spaces.

“Asexual Communities” are more Aromantic than you think.

This may not surprise everyone, especially those who have been involved in aro ace blogging circles for years, but there are perhaps more aromantic people in asexual communities than some might think. I sometimes see gripes about how the asexual community is too dominated by romantics, who are indeed a numeric majority (~2/3ish according to some survey results). But I think their influence in the community (as opposed to visibility outside of the community, which is indeed skewed) is sometimes overstated.

One anecdote that I think illustrated the way that perceptions can be skewed is from back when I was still active on AVEN, when there was a periodic debate about whether the original “relationships forum” should be added to with a second “aromantic relationships forum”, based on the theory that the original forum was ‘all about celebrating romantic relationships’ and there was ‘no space for aromantic relationships’. During one of those discussions, I got curious and actually counted the forum threads in that subforum, which in it’s description actually explicitly described itself as a place for both romantic and nonromantic relationships. In fact, in the first several pages of results, there were actually more threads about nonromantic relationships that romantic ones – far from the complete romantic dominance that some were speaking about.

Part of what causes this skew in perception is the fact that in a world where amatonormativity is so rampant, even a single perspective from a romantic ace can bring with it echoes of hundreds of other romantic assumptions; from that perspective, even 5% of an ace space being dedicated to romantic topics could still seem like too much for many aros. (This is also why there need to be more aromantic-only spaces).

Another issue is the fact that for many aro aces of my cohort, even if we are aromantic or aromanticly-aligned it isn’t always obvious at first glance, especially for those who became active before the split-attraction model was so firmly cemented and aro symbolism and visibility increased. Because of that, I think some people tend to underestimate just how many of the asexuals activists who have shaped the community are, in fact, aromantic or at least aromantic-spectrum. (For example: Swankivy, the author of the go-to book on asexuality, is aromantic. The founder of the Asexual Agenda is grayromantic. The founder of the AsexualityArchive identifies as somewhere between aromantic and heteroromantic. At least half of the AVEN project team is somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, as of the last time I checked.)

I also think that perceptions are furthered skewed by popular media, who often seek out romantic ace people specifically (especially romantic ace people who date or are in relationships, and even more so if they are heterosexual ones) – back when I helped with media request team at AVEN, we got far, far more requests to interview romantic ace couples than we did to speak to aromantic aces or single aces.

And “Aromantic Communities” are more Asexual than you think.

When seeing posts from aromantic bloggers with statements like “I can’t stand how asexuals talk about romance” or “I hate how asexuals all seem to forget about aromantics”, it’s easy to assume that the speaker must not be asexual. After all, why would an asexual person have so much hostility for their own community?

But things aren’t always as simple as that. The fact is, many of the aro bloggers who express frustration with ace communities and ace people are in fact asexual themselves, although they might not seem so at first glance.

I think ace bloggers especially underestimate how much of the negative feelings about asexuality in certain aromantic spaces comes from other asexuals. Much of the historical tension is not just between aromantic aces and aromantic non-aces, but between two different groups of aromantic aces: those who find commonality with romantic aces and perfer to continue to engage with them, and those who do not find much commonality and prefer to avoid them (or at least to find spaces that don’t much involve them). While non-ace aros have been around for quite some time, imo it’s not until more recently that we’ve started actually hearing from them instead of just tossing them back and forth as hypothetical props, and their influence on the earliest ace and aro community dynamics have been limited.

Don’t forget about the “WTFromantics” (and all their friends).

Another issue with thinking of the ace community as comprised of “romantic aces” vs. “aromantic aces” is the fact that many asexual people don’t fall cleanly into either category – there’s also a large number of aces who fall in a muddy area between romantic and aromantic, and others who find that the “split attraction” model isn’t even applicable at all – after all, what even is “romantic attraction” supposed to be anyway? When faced with the question “what is your romantic orientation”, some of these people have coined the wonderful but not-completely-work-safe term “WTFromantic”  – because what the f*** does ‘romantic’ even mean anyway? (It would later be joined by it’s slightly more serious and safer-to-use-in-front-of-children cousin, “quoiromantic”).

Not everyone uses a specific label like the above – for many people, too many labels based on too many models that didn’t apply to their experiences was part of the problem, after all – but people with experiences like these make up a fairly signficant portion of ace communities.

In fact, much of what is now often considered “aromantic culture” – things like “queerplatonics” and “zucchinis” – originated not from aromantic bloggers per se, but rather were coined by asexual bloggers who were perhaps more correctly described as “not classifiably romantic”, or for whom the question “what is your romantic orientation” was the wrong question.   While many of these bloggers could perhaps be considered to fall under the “aromantic spectrum”, and while most of them have expressed connections to aromanticism, calling them simply “aromantic” is  erasing a lot of the complexity of that connection.

First Dibs on [Human] Resources

One completely anecdotal life lesson that I learned as an active officer in a college campus group was that the key to keep an active group of volunteers was to try to get first dibs on new and eager freshmen, before they get too involved with any other groups – because as workloads mount and they get more experience and responsibilities, most group volunteers end up paring their projects down, until they are left with one serious commitment that they can actually handle. And much of time, the activity that they end up in is the one that got them interested first.

Granted, that’s not a hard and fast rule. But it’s one that I find applicable to ace/aro community dynamics: for many of my “cohort” of ace bloggers who first became active in the very early 2010’s we found the asexual community first, and so it was in the asexual community that we stayed – even when talking about our aromantic experiences. We had already tied ourselves to asexual group blogs or asexual meetup groups, and just didn’t have the time or energy to go about starting a second community on top of that, even though the idea was frequently passed around.

On a more trivial note, I once saw a comment about how there’s often much more visible ace flag gear at events like pride than there is aro flag gear, and I realize that I’m guilty of that as well – not for any nefarious reason, but because of the simple fact that at the time when I built up a lot of my ace flag collection, the aro flag didn’t even exist yet!

I suspect this is also why there are so many “Ace and Aro” activist and meetup groups, rather than new, seperate, “Aro groups” – for those of us aroaces who are active in asexual community groups (there are a lot of us!) we often don’t have the time to start and run a second parallel organization – so we settle for what we can do, which is to try to expand the mission of the groups we’ve already committed our time to.

But I see a lot of hope in the future, because what I’ve noticed in the last couple years is that we are now getting a new generation of aro bloggers and activists, who have no prior commitments to ace projects or symbols, and who have the time and ability to put 100% of their activism into aro communities, which already is leading to a lot of growth in aro blogging – and I have hope that in a couple years it will grow out into activism as well.

(There of course have also been non-ace aromantics around, who didn’t necessarily have this same issue of previous commitments, but my impression has been that the have also often been a minority even in aromantic communities, which are often heavily asexual simply by virtue of the fact that that is still where most people encounter aromantic terminology)

One bad apple can spoil it for the rest of the bunch

Another way that being first matters is the way in that one bad blogger can spoil the pot, if they’re the first one to claim the stage – many aro aces have written about “that one blogger” and how they spent years being wary of joining or creating aro-specific spaces because of it, and I don’t think it’s understatement to say that the reputation of that one blog was enough of a setback to put aro blogging years behind where it could have been if someone less controversial had been the first to really make a go at it.

In addition to the current crop of aro bloggers being some of the first to get involved in aro communities without prior ace community baggage, I think that many of them are also entering without prior bad-blogger-baggage either (the blog in question ceased posting in early 2016) and I don’t think that’s insignificant.

There is a need for more aromantic-only resources

As I mentioned earlier, I suspect that some aro aces’ problems with generic ace spaces is not that they are disproportionately romantic, but that they are romantic at all – in many cases what these people actually need are not just more balanced ace spaces, but aro-specific spaces where they don’t have to juggle that balance at all. And non-asexual aromantics obviously have a need for spaces that aren’t so wholly centered on asexuality.

Right now, when it comes to accessible aromantic-only resources, there’s…..the arocalypse forums? And possibly a few small groups on social media like facebook and reddit. But for those looking for more offline groups, or more closed groups, or for more formal activist groups, there’s still slim pickings.

In the field of activism and events, some ace groups have started trying to offer increasingly aro-focused activism and activities, but that’s a temporary crutch for areas where there is no other better alternative – the ideal would be to have standalone aro orgs that focus 100% of their attention on aro experiences of all stripes, without having to juggle their attention with their other constituents.

It reminds me a bit of early offline ace activism, much of which was done under the umbrella of ace-friendly LGBTQ orgs that could lend occasionally meeting space or maybe space for a pamphlet or two on a wall. It was far better than nothing, and it offered enough space and resources to give initial ace activists a leg up until they had the resources and the critical mass to kickstart 100% asexual movements and resources – but it also came with an awareness that you were part of a small minority and rarely the main focus of the group as a whole. It’s an essential stepping stone, but not a complete solution.

Space for venting, Space for healing, Spaces for everything under the sun

Some aromantic people, especially those not on the asexual spectrum, need private spaces where they can vent about their frustration and negative experiences with ace communities  – without having to worry about how ace people will perceive those comments.

Other aromantic asexuals need spaces where they can talk about both their aromanticism and their asexuality, without having to censor one half of their identity or feel targeted for it.

Some aromantic people need spaces where they can be free of even a hint of romantic discussions.

Other people, especially in the greyer parts of the spectrum, need more flexible spaces where they can discuss topics from perspectives both romantic, aromantic, and in-between.

Some like forums. Some like blogs. Some need offline events. Some prefer anonymity.

These are all valid needs, but also sometimes conflicting ones – which is why we need not one but many options for aromantic “communities”, so that people can have many options and sort themselves into the ones that best suit their individual needs at any given time.

(I’m taking a lot of inspiration from similar ace community discussions of how to create resources for another sub-group: sex-repulsed aces (and non-aces as well) – It includes discussion of the challenge of how to create spaces that allow room for venting and detoxing from a romantic, sexual world, while still dancing that fine line to avoid falling into creating an echo-chamber for stereotypes. )

 

The Ring Theory of Activist Venting

The ring theory of activist venting, which I’ll explain later in this post, draws it’s inspiration from a very insightful article from the LA times that I encountered a few years ago.  The article describes cancer-survivor Susan Silk’s “Ring Theory of Kvetching” which states, roughly, that when it comes to dealing with the stress of personal traumas like cancer, financial crises, or the death of a loved one, support should flow towards the person most affected, and complaining should be directed away from them. Here’s the full explanation of the theory:

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

In it’s original form, the ring theory of kvetching is largely a framework for dealing with individual traumas, like chronic illness or loss of a loved one. But it’s one that I think can be easily adapted to other circumstances, and which I’ve personally found quite useful when it comes to dealing community-based traumas, especially when it comes to activism that’s focused on serving marginalized or vulnerable communities.

The Ring Theory of Activist Venting

In the case of activism especially, I rely a lot on a similar concept which I think of as “The Ring Theory of Activist Venting”: when stress starts to build up in the course of activism, and I need to vent about my frustrations, my goal is always to vent outwards, in order to keep the blowback from hitting the very people I’m trying to help – especially when in a position of power or leadership that just amplifies the risk of doing harm if blowback isn’t properly contained.  (And to avoid situations like this [content warning for some swearing] where the OP definitely could have used a better support network for venting, and where honestly I probably could have as well.)

The ring theory of activist venting operates similarly to the ring theory of kvetching, but it also has a few additional considerations:

Rule 1. Activist venting is for protecting your constituents

This is a specific strategy that’s mostly meant to apply to activists who feel frustration or the need to vent about things that they can’t change at the moment, or that they logically know that they don’t want to change, and who need ways to do that without getting inthe way of supporting their constituents. As activists – or as people – situations outside our control inevitable cause frustration, which can build and build and build – and sometimes you just need a release valve. That’s what venting is for (or kvetching, or complaining, or seeking empathy or validation, or whatever you may call it). Examples of things to vent about might be frustration over things like newbies who keep asking the same questions over and over again, or community members who criticize activism campaigns in opposite and conflicting ways, or people in vulnerable situations who thus don’t have the energy to always maintain a proper veneer of  ‘politeness’. These are all things that either cannot be helped (like the fact that vulnerable people in need of help don’t always have the energy for social niceties) or that should not be changed (like the fact that newbies like to ask questions).

Targeting your venting outward is meant to help us cope with  situations in which someone may be a cause of frustration, but is not to blame – and therefore should not be targeted by any fallout. The mantra of the ring theory of activist venting is much like the mantra of the original ring theory : “Support in. Venting Out.”

It is not, however intended as a way to avoid dealing with actual materials concerns, like sexual harassment or  racism or harassment of other community members – those often require more direct action. (Although sometimes venting a bit first can help make sure you’re in the right place to respond to more serious issues appropriately and effectively).

Finally, if you ever get to a point where venting is stressing you more instead of calming you down, or if you find that venting to certain people encourages problematic patterns in your own behavior, then it has ceased to serve it’s purpose (of protecting you and your constituents) and it may be time to consider other vectors of releasing stress.

Rule 2: Venting should be kept away from the spaces in question

Venting frustrations is, in my opinion, best done in more private spaces where the venting is not likely to be seen by the communities being cited as the source of the frustration. At best, it will just kindle more drama and give you more things to get stressed about; at worst, it can silence vulnerable groups and prevent them from ever gain asking for support for fear of getting lashed out at again, or for fear of being a ‘bother’.

In its purest form, and for especially sensitive topics, this can mean venting to just a few supportive individuals in a private chat, or to offline friends who never interact with the communities in question. In it’s most minimal form, it means at least venting to personal side blogs instead of official or organizational fronts.

Rule 3: Venting should always travel upwards, or outwards

One of the things that distinguishes activism from personal trauma is that the circles are often separated not just by distance but by power, and that’s especially important to take into account when determining how to vent. Whether it’s formal group leadership, or even just presenting oneself as an authority on some niche subject by answering questions on a blog, doing activism often means taking a position of some power over others – and as Uncle Ben always said, with more power comes more responsibility. In general, the circles of venting should generally extend either up the chain-of-power/responsibility for a group, or to those outside the power structure entirely.

Going up the chain of responsibility means, for example, that if I’m volunteering to answer emails and I’m getting frustrated by repetitive questions that are already answered on our 101 handouts, I might vent that frustration to other mods, who are at the same level of power as me and higher than the cause of the venting – so I don’t let that spill out on to the asker themselves, or even on to other unsuspecting members who are below me in the chain of responsibility. If I have a frustration with other mods themselves, I might vent to a higher level admin. (The other advantage of venting up the chain of responsibility is that, generally speaking, those at a higher level are the most likely to be able to actually do something to ameliorate whatever is causing the frustration in the first place, in instances where doing something is actually feasible.)

Of course, sometimes going up the chain of responsibility isn’t always an option – whether it’s because there is no higher power available, because you are the higher power, or because the group dynamics are such that there is no way to vent without causing even more problems. In that case, the best alternative is to vent outside of the power structure entirely. In my case, that often means venting to my very non-asexual, non-aromantic roommates – who may not know anything about my particular ace or aro community org politics, but who can at least offer emotional support and a sympathetic ear while I get my need to rant out of the way, and who are at little risk of being personally affected by anything I say.

 

 

Carnival of Aces December 2018 Wrap-up: “Burnout”

Last month’s Carnival of Aces was on the topic of Burnout, which I am accidentally staying true to by posting this wrap up like 4 days late…

We received a lot really great submissions – A big thanks to everyone who contributed! If I missed any entries or got any names wrong, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

The next Carnival of Aces for January is being hosted by demiandproud, and the theme is “Asexuality as a Blessing”.

Also, as a reminder, we are always looking for more volunteers to host the carnival – there’s no one lined up yet past February, so now is a great time to volunteer. See the masterpost for details.

Without further ado, here’s all the submissions: