Identification For Whose Sake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a Personal Priority

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

Bad Timing

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

Grey, Fuzzy Borders

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

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

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

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