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. )


12 thoughts on “Aro Communities, Ace Communities: Eight Observations from an Aro Ace

  1. Such a great post!! I wss thinking of writing something kinda like this, partially remembering (and misremebering!!) this post: and I didn’t get around to it in time so I’m glad you did and did it with so much more depth and nuance than I would’ve. I’m not submitting my own entry for the carnivals in February and i don’t need to because of SO MANY posts that together covered pretty much everything i was thinking and feeling which. Honestly? Is really nice to see. Not all the posts submitted capture my perspective in any way but enough of my perspective got captured from a handful of the posts.

    So many awesome points you made here so thank you for that.

    • Oh man, that 2014 post. Ace communities are less cohesive now than they used to be, and I no longer find the singular form so useful.

  2. This is a great post and I share many of your observations and thoughts.

    I’ve really appreciated the Carnival, especially reading stories from other aroaces who have primarily participated in asexual communities or defined themselves primarily by their asexual identity, because that’s very much my own experience. I considered writing something for the Carnival but then realized I had already written several earlier posts at the Asexual Agenda that covered what I might think to say.

  3. This.
    I also notice that romance-thing in media requests — my (ace) activism group gets quite a lot of those. “Can you find us a couple? Can you find us a woman in a (presumably romantic) relationship?”
    They never specify they’re looking for _romantic_ couples. However, it might be what people assume they’re looking for, because romantic couples are the amato-norm. I don’t know if they’re assuming “couple” equals “more drama” or whatever. Given statistics, there’s also a large number of single romantic aces, so why focus on the couples?
    Just like “we’re looking for an asexual person” tends to skew media coverage away from the ace spectrum towards people who can check the “fulfills exact definition”-mark.

  4. I love the analysis of the situation we have at hand in this post!! I’m allosexual myself, but it’s true that aro and ace communities have a heavy overlap right now – I didn’t know that ~2/3 of aces are alloromantic and it makes me wonder what the makeup of aro communities will be once the word about the identity gets to more people. A lot of what we see now is influenced by the fact the ace community was there first and the first people who started talking about aromanticism were ace too. I’m entirely not surprised that given finite resources of time, most of those people focused on creating the asexual community even if a lot of them had connections to aromanticism too. Now I think that with more aro spaces/blogs springing up, there are people who want to dedicate their effort to making aromanticism visible and recognized and I also am hoping to see specifically aro initiatives in the future. As for this part “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.” – for me personally it’s not even about venting about that – I just need spaces that don’t center asexuality and where asexuality isn’t the defining part, however many people in them are aro as well.

    • I think what I’m trying to say with that last part about venting is that it’s a specialized need above and beyond the things that should be core to any general aromantic spaces, like uplifting non-ace aro narratives in addition to aroace ones, and having aromanticism as a primary concern rather than a secondary one. Those are attributes that should apply to any general aro space.

      But I think what some people are looking for are not just spaces that decenter asexuality, but that don’t mention asexuality at all – and that’s not possible to do without making the space inhospitable for aro ace people like me whose experiences are intersectional – we can’t just “turn off” our asexuality and keep it out of aro spaces. Therefore, we also need additional, more specialized spaces where people who prefer to avoid asexuality entirely can gather, without having to drive aroaces out of more general spaces.

      With regards to venting specifically, I’m thinking of things that I see in some aro wriitng that basically talk about how anyone who is romantic is totally deluded or drinking the coolaid or how all asexuals are horrible people or whatever – and I understand that there’s often reasons that people have such distrust, or that sometimes you just need to vent those negative feelings somewhere, but posts like those also make the spaces they are in unsafe for people who do identify as asexual, or as on the grayer parts of the spectrum, or who have had romantic feelings in the past, etc. And on personal blogs and places like tumblr, some of that is unavoidable, but in more closed or moderated spaces I think leaders will have to do some serious thinking about to what extent they want to prioritize letting people who have been dealing with years of amatonormativity detox and vent it all out, no matter how negative, vs. to what extent they want to prioritize making the space for aros of all orientations to exist without constantly having hate and stereotypes thrown about about people like them. It’s not possible to do both, so I think it can be important to have different spaces that can serve different purposes.

      • I understand that there’s often reasons that people have such distrust, or that sometimes you just need to vent those negative feelings somewhere, but posts like those also make the spaces they are in unsafe for people who do identify as asexual, or as on the grayer parts of the spectrum, or who have had romantic feelings in the past, etc. And on personal blogs and places like tumblr, some of that is unavoidable, but in more closed or moderated spaces I think leaders will have to do some serious thinking about to what extent they want to prioritize letting people who have been dealing with years of amatonormativity detox and vent it all out, no matter how negative,

        Part of how I think about this kind of issue (because, note, I’ve personally wrestled with the ethics of how much/how openly/how casually/how exactly to vent about sex repulsion, and I think it’s a very similar dilemma) is about types of communication but also about audience.

        So one part of how I structure my thinking here is that there are two main types of communication that come into play in arguments, antagonistic relations, etc. The venting you’re taking about falls under the category of expressive communication (i.e. just getting a feeling out there), as contrasted with communication that really is actually intended to match up to our truly held ideological beliefs (compare: “heteronormativity is a violent social norm” vs. “straight people are evil and I hate them”). In concept, expressive communication isn’t bad. It’s just something to think about what contexts you use it in.

        So the second part of that is that on a lot of major parts of the internet today — and in particular I’m thinking of Tumblr, WordPress, and forums like Arocalypse — there are no privacy controls. While on Arocalypse at least you have a lot better sense of what kinds of people are going to see what you post (and there might be some member-restricted stuff, idk), in general on a lot of major social media, if you post at all, it’s all or nothing. Either it’s public to the world or it’s in your drafts seen by only you. There’s no way to restrict an emotionally-raw and primarily-expressive message to just *some* select, specific audience. I think this post on web 2.0 is a fantastic exploration of that issue among others.

        If we could get a platform to give the poster a lot more control over who a post could be seen by, or in general, improve the controls for both posters and audiences, then I think you could come a lot closer to a situation where this issue is less pressing.

        For instance, I think the privacy/post viewability controls on PF are a good first step, and I hear there’s even more nuanced options on Dreamwidth. My hope is that just as soon as PF implements some kind of more fined grained viewing options (esp. privacy options for community posts) then I can finally set up the arcflux vent space I’ve been needing for myself.

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