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.
My Personal History with Aromantic Communities
Most of my early involvement with the idea of aromanticism came exclusively through asexual spaces, in the form of the AVEN forums, ace tumblr, and the ace wordpress blogging community that revolved around the Asexual Agenda and the Carnival of Aros. This included following a lot of aromantic and wtfromantic bloggers, but almost all of these bloggers also identified as ace and were writing in specifically ace contexts, and will not be the main focus of this discussion. Because I was active on AVEN, I was aware of alternative aro forums like aroplane and arocalypse early on, but I never really got involved with any of them.
Instead, my first encounters with the idea of more aro-specific spaces came via tumblr, where there were occasionally rumblings about desires for more aro-focused, non-ace-focused conversations (although, in my experience, actual non-aces were still very rare in these conversations). Around 2014-2015, I started to become curious about the growing (but still very disorganized) aro-specific content on tumblr. But unfortunately I found much of the conversation at the time to be unsatisfying – scattered, hard to find, and often comprised of lots of short, repetitive, or sometimes reactive content. Because I struggled to find the kind of long-form blogging content I prefer, I largely drifted away (from both aromanticism-focused-spaces and also tumblr in general) as I focused more on my local community, other asexual project comittments, and interacting with older ace blogs I already followed because of off-tumblr projects like the asexual agenda and the carnival of aces; for the next few years I didn’t start following many new blogs or seeking out much aro-specific content, although I did see things like ASAW and Aggressively AroSpec Week filter through my ace social circles at the time.
It wasn’t really until around late 2018 / 2019 that I started wading back into exploring aro content. Ironically, one of the things that kickstarted my interests was the series of bad takes on ace and aro history that got popular on tumblr but that I felt obligated to weigh in on (ace history is a pet interest of mine, and one that often intersects closely with aro history). While I was initially not a fan of some of those posts, and frustrated by some of the trends I saw in the new aro community, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there has been a major increase of long-form writing about aromanticism and in networking among aro blogs since the last time I had tried to get involved, which spurred my curiosity enough to start seeking out aro discussions again. (It also coincided with my decision to step down from a few other projects, which gave me more free time for aro engagement).
I’m still in the middle of a process of hesitantly wading back into some parts of the aro community – both by starting to follow more of the aro blogs I’m able to find on tumblr, and by becoming more closely involved in budding aromantic activism through joining the ASAW planning group, founding the Carnival of Aros, and occasionally joining a few activism-focused aro discords.
Because it’s only recently that I stepped back into more closely following aro community discussions, I’m hardly an expert on recent aro community formation – I’ll leave that to others who can hopefully share more insight. But I am someone who has been flitting around various attempts at aro community formation at the years – even if I sometimes have mixed feelings – and after a few conversations with younger folks, I thought it might be interesting to share some of my recollections on my own experiences in that area.
Aromanticism and Asexuality
Before I get into more explicit discussions of aro writing and spaces, I want to address the issue of aromanticism and it’s relationship with asexual writing and spaces. At the time when I was first getting involved in asexual communities back in ~2011, there was almost no discussion of aromanticism outside of asexual contexts – even more “general” aro forums or blogs tended to be overwhelming run by aro aces, and non-ace aros (allosexual hadn’t even been coined yet!) were often more of a hypothetical than a real presence.
Thus, although this would obviously change later, most of my early exposure to discussion of aromanticism came from asexual discussions, and especially aro aces on wordpress, tumblr, and AVEN. However, this is not the history I am looking to document here, as that would require a much larger endeavour.
Instead, I want to focus on the growth of what I think of as “aromantic-focused spaces” – spaces that centered aromanticism as the primary topic, and which would (at least in theory) have likely also been equally accepting of non-asexual aromantic content.
Structure of this Article
I’ve broken up my commentary into a few thematic sections, which are a bit randomly divided and may be overlapping in time:
- Aromantic Forum Spaces
- Aromantic Blogging
- Early aromanticism on tumblr (~2011-2014)
- AroSpec Awareness Week and Aro Activism
Aromantic Forum Spaces
Some of the earliest attempts at separate aromantic communities began as early as 2010, mostly in the form of forums. Unfortunately, many of these forums proved to be low in activity and short lived, with a series of communities serially being created and then lapsing every couple of years. Most of these communities were also not well known or advertised outside of maybe AVEN, and thus were heavily asexual.
First, I want to give a shoutout to the AVEN aromantic thread (started in August 2010), which served as a sort of precursor aro (ace) space. (If you are interested in aro history on AVEN, the aromantic threads index is a terrific resource)
The very first independent aromantic-ish community attempt I know of was specifically asexual, in the form of the asexual-aromantics forum, which existed since at least October 2010. Still, as an exclusively aro ace space, I’m not sure I would necessarily call it an “aromantic community” just yet. The forum page remained up for several years, but had basically zero activity since 2015, and seems to have been small even before that.
The first clearer all-aromantic group was the National Coalition for Aromantic Visibility (and it’s associated chat and forum), which was also founded in 2010. The NCAV was also the source of the first aromantic flag proposal (the one with the green, yellow, orange, and black stripes). The NCAV advertised forums and a chatroom at one point, but I’m not clear on whether those were ever very active. I’m also not sure whether any non-asexual aromantic people were every closely involved. The NCAV page appears to have been removed sometime around early 2016.
These two forums were a little before my time (I was just taking baby steps into the ace community in 2011), so I don’t have much personal familiarity with them.
The next major development in the development of aromantic spaces was the Aroplane forums, which were founded on April 2, 2012. This is something I do remember seeing. That said, while they did get a decent number of users, and while I did occasionally lurk on some of the public threads, I don’t remember if I ever made an account, and I was never really actively following it (Although I did frequently recommend it to people who were looking for more specific aro spaces). However, the Aroplane domain would lapse and the forums would go down in 2015.
This would lead many users to move to the other, smaller attempt at an aro forum at the time, which was the first iteration of Arocalypse, which had been created in around 2013. This site, too, would eventually also lapse sometime around 2016 (I’m not sure of the exact date).
However, user BluePhoenixAce was able to revive the Arocalypse forums at the same address in April 2016, which became the Arocalypse that remains active today. Arocalypse had a bit of a minor crisis when the current admin announced that they were stepping down in March 2020, but after a bit of fundraising and campaigning it was arranged to transfer the existing forums to a new moderator, with direct support from the AUREA team.
Meanwhile, on social media, there were also additional aro spaces created in the form of Aromantic Talk on Facebook in 2013, and the Aromantic Reddit community in 2012, although I am less familiar with the history of these communities as I only found them when I was trying to get back into aro community organizing in 2019.
Aromanticism in Blogging
While there has been a longer history of Aromantic Asexuals involved in ace blogging circles (including yours truly), most early aro ace and adjacent bloggers considered themselves to be more ace blogs than aro blogs, and mostly discussed aromanticism from a specifically ace perspective; therefore I don’t think it makes sense to describe that early blogosphere as an aro community per se, although for me as an aro ace it was a formative part of my aro identity.
One of the first and most well known blogs to focus specifically on aromanticism was The Thinking Aro (formerly known as The Thinking Asexual, they changed their name in 2016 to reflect a shifting focus towards aromanticism; they would cease posting later that year). The Thinking Aro/Asexual was fairly well known in wider ace/aro blogging circles, and has written some well-written posts in the past. They were also the first to have an aro resources page. Unfortunately, the Thinking Aro was also known for posting increasingly toxic and worrisome opinions (include claims that romantic people are incapable of real friendship, that asexuals associating with LGBT communities is inviting rape, bashing on grey-aces, grey-aros, and cupioromantics, etc.)
Unfortunately, my experience with the views of the Thinking Aro was one [of several] things that turned me off from aromantic-focused blogging at the time. Thus, I again have a bit of a blind spot and I’m not sure if there were any/many primarily aro blogs that arose after that period – if there were, they didn’t get enough attention to reach my eyes (readers, do you know of any?)
Without something like the Asexual Agenda or Carnival of Aces to tie together any individual blogs that might have been out there, aro blogging never really coalesced in the way ace blogs did. (In fact, many of us at the time lamented the lack of such organizing forces, but also had our hands full of other projects and didn’t have the energy to take on the task ourselves until many years later).
I think the next specifically-aro wordpress blog I remember stumbling upon wasn’t until many, many years later, when I discovered Aro Worlds on wordpress after first encountering them on tumblr, where they were closely involved in what I consider a fairly recent rise in aromantic activity on tumblr. I believe they were founded around 2018, and they were one of the first bloggers I ran across to extensively curate allo aro resources specifically when I encountered them in late 2018/early 2019ish.
Overall, I would say the next big development in blogging was the creation of the Carnival of Aros in February 2019. The Carnival was an idea that I had been bouncing around in various forms since at least 2015, but I had never felt like I had the time to commit to running it (and had not-so-secretly hoped that someone newer would step up to take on the mantle so I wouldn’t have to). However, after stepping down from a few other commitments – and after getting a proposal from TAAAP, and feeling inspired by the increased chatter on tumblr – I decided to finally go for it. The Carnival of aros definitely got off to a rough start, but it has since become one of the main hubs of aro blogging off tumblr, and also helps to collect aro writing in one place, especially from contributors for whom aromanticism isn’t necessarily the main focus of their other writing.
Later, starting in June 2019, AUREA’s “What’s going on” monthly roundups have also served as a way to cross-promote conversations about aromanticism from various spaces.
Aromanticism in Early Tumblr
After asexual blogs started appearing on Tumblr in 2010 and 2011, it wasn’t long before more aromantic blogs also followed. A few of the main blogs I remember from the time included:
- Aromantic Aardvark was created in September 2011
- Aromantic Advice is active by at least January 2012
- Aromantics Anonymous was created in February 2012
Overall, most of these early aro blogs were created by aromantic asexuals, and tended to focus on more short form content like memes and advice posts.
A little bit later, the asexual blogger anagnori became another early creator of aromantic resources, writing about aromanticism 101, how to be a ally to aromantic people, and why asexual communities should care about aromanticism back in 2013.
In general, my memories of aromantic discussion at the time was that there was actually a decent amount of content….but that it was also disorganized, often hard to find, and often lacked the hind of in-depth conversation that I preferred (though this is a fault with tumblr as a platform as much as it is anything about the users)
The other impression I had at the time – and that commenters at the time also noted – was the overall lack of allosexual aromantic presences on tumblr, especially when it came to “aromantic-specific” blogs. While there was certainly talk of allosexual aromantics – and even tumblr users who identified as such – none of them seemed to be prominently writing about aromanticism on an ongoing basis or getting much attention.
Furthermore, even among those individuals that did write about aromanticism (of which there were many) it was often hard to find, and in the form of scattered posts on ace blogs or fandom blogs rather than the dedicated aro blogs or sideblogs that seem more common today. Tumblr’s own tagging system was also just as useless then as it is now (and was causing just as many fights – those fights about what counted as aro enough and what didn’t were another factor that led me my disinterest in early ace communities)
Back in 2015, I remember having this conversation about the difficulty of finding longer term aromantic blogging content, which is also what would spawn the idea for what would eventually become the Carnival of Aros (although, as you may have noticed, I am terrible at following up on project ideas, and it took me another four years and a poke from TAAAP to actually make something real).
Unfortunately, the next period of tumblr history is one where I have more of a gap, as after I graduated college and eventually started working full time around 2015/2016, I found myself spending less time on tumblr overall, as moving away from attempts to connect with discussions of aromanticism there in favor of focusing more on my local ace activism and the community of older tumblr aro aces who I already followed.
(One thing I do distinctly remember from around 2016 though was the rise of the term “a-spec/aspec” and the push for a greater sense of joint ace-aro community identity under a shared aspec identity, for better or for worse)
While I’ve been beginning to poke my head back into aro tumblr over the last year or two, and I can see that it’s dramatically grown in terms of both quantity and quality, I”m still not very active on tumblr and less aware of any more recent developments in the lay of the land.
Instead, I’m hoping that other tumblr aros who may have been more active during that time period might be willing to fill in the gaps here – if you have any memory of this period, I’d love to hear your perspectives in the comments!
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week and Other Aro Activism
The first event in what I would call the growth of “Aromantic Activism” beyond forum-making occurred with the creation of “Aromantic Awareness Week” blog on tumblr in late 2014. The first aromantic awareness week was celebrated in November 2014, and from what I remember was very small scale, on very short notice, and pretty much restricted to tumblr (iirc I think I didn’t even know much about it until it was almost over).
For the second celebration in 2015, they renamed to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week in order to be more inclusive and avoid confusion with ace week, and moved to the week after Valentine’s day. I remember this week as being better advertised than the somewhat ad hoc 2014 celebration, although it was still fairly small scale and once again confined to tumblr.
The arospecawarenessweek tumblr would continue to organize AroSpec week through ~2017, although dates were sometimes announced on very short notice (like in 2017) and less organized as time went on on the blog became less active overall, eventually going largely silent by 2018, when (as far as I can tell) there was no leading organizer for aro week, although some individual blogs still celebrated, again mostly on tumblr.
The next big change in the development of ASAW would come with the creation of AUREA in April 2019 as a hub for aromantic activism and organizing. In late 2019, the teams from AUREA and Aromantic-Official teamed up with a few other aro individuals (myself included) to scale up ASAW in 2020 and make it more visible outside of just tumblr. This scaling also received some support and resources from TAAAP and Aces and Aros.
One of the biggest changes in 2020 was the creation of an off-tumblr website at arospecweek.org to make information about ASAW more accessible to non-tumblr-users. Organizers also did increased outreach to other aro communities on facebook, reddit, etc. to spread the word further. There were also two offline events hosted, which as far as I know are potentially a first for ASAW.
Aggressively Aro-Spec Week
In addition to the more general ASAW celebrations, the other big organized event in aro activism that’s been around for a while is Aggressively Aro Spec Week, which began as an annual fandom challenge in May 2016 and has since expanded to a whole collection of fandom and media related projects.
I’ve never really participated or followed it closely, since I”m not super involved in fandom, but it’s been one of the steadiest presences in aromantic organizing (as compared to ASAW’s rocky shifts in organization over the years).
Aromantic Organizations and Resources
In addition to a general slow rise in the amount of content, by far the biggest change in the aromantic landscape that I’ve noticed recently has been the rise of dedicated aromantic activist groups (particularly in the form of Aromantic-Official and Aurea, which are discussed above), as well a in the appearance of dedicated Alloromantic Asexual resources like Aro World’s Allo-Aro collection here.
These also coincided with a shift among several originally ace focused groups to expand their mission to aro folks, especially with TAAAP in November 2018 and Aces and Aros around the same time. This was also at a time when many smaller university and community groups were starting to form as joint “ace and aro” groups rather than just “ace” groups, although I’m not clear exactly when that started (2017 or 2018 maybe?)
While there were earlier attempts at aro resource pages from various bloggers in earlier years, they were often side projects, and many were short lived. There was also very little to no structure for anyone new to aromanticism and looking for ways to get involved.