Diverse Community Spaces Are Not “Comfortable” Spaces – Nor Should They Be

This is my submission for the January 2020 Carnival of Aces, for the theme of “Conscious and Unconscious Difference“.

While we’re talking about difference, I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about what it means to be a part of a diverse community – like the ace or aro communities – that can contain a huge number of different experiences, with people of all different sexualities, genders, racial identities, ages, coming together to discuss the one or two shared aspects of their experiences that they do have in common. However, even within those shared experiences of asexuality or aromanticism, there can still be considerable variation.

For example, among asexuals, some come to the identity because they don’t feel sexual attraction; others don’t like sex itself, others prefer not to pursue sexual relationships (regardless of whatever other internal feelings they have, some just find it hard to figure out any answer to “what gender of people are you attracted to” other than just, “none?”. There’s also huge variation when it comes to whether people feel averse/indifferent/favorable or just confused when it comes to sexual acts, what kinds of relationships people prefer, and more.

The same goes for the aro community, which brings together both asexual and allosexual aros and also those who don’t quite fit into either end of that spectrum. It brings together some people who have never felt romantic attraction in their life, with others who don’t even know what romantic attraction is supposed to mean. Some choose to pursue sexual relationships, some pursue non-romantic, non-sexual platonic relationships, some prefer not to define their relationships in such terms.

Also within both spectrums are people who identify in the “grey areas” around the fuzzy edges of each group – maybe not quite close enough to feel comfortable using the label without amendment, but close enough to still find it’s concepts useful with a few modifiers.

In effect, it can be helpful to think of these groups as “coalitions” – comprised not of a single group of people with a single identifiable shared experience, but as constellations of related experiences that are just similar enough to find it useful to develop new shared concepts, terminology, and support spaces. (For comparison, consider LGBTQ or queer communities – despite covering a hugely diverse range of experiences, from gay cis-men to bisexual transwomen to queer-identified nonbinary people and more, these groups still find it useful at times to all come together at times under one umbrella and one shared identity.)

However, the thing about diverse, coalitional spaces is that they can also be uncomfortable – because meeting a diverse array of people includes meeting people who’s ways of thinking and expressing themselves might be fundamentally different from yours, and who might force you to reconsider some of your previous assumptions, which can be an inherently uncomfortable process. It can definitely be an uncomfortable feeling when you start encountering perspectives from other community members and find yourself struggling to understand or relate to them. However, I want to challenges the idea that this discomfort is always a bad thing to be avoided. Sometimes, a little discomfort is a healthy and necessary part of growing into a new community and an ever-changing world. 

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Allyship: The Little Things Count a Lot

This is my very last minute response to the January 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “New“, in celebration of my shiny new aro/ace/queer pride swag from the holidays this year.

When it comes to allyship, there’s a lot of talk about the big asks that absolutely vital to being a good ally, like talking time to educate yourself about what it means to be aromantic (or ace, or queer, etc.), trusting people with their own evaluation of their identities and experiences, respecting their labels and chosen relationships, not being cruel or mocking their experiences, not kicking them out, defending them from people who do get hostile, etc.

But once that bare minimum is met, I think one of the things that can make a big ongoing difference is the little, fun, positive things that you can do that show that you haven’t forgotten what my identity means to me, and that you are willing to put in some work to actively support me rather than just agreeing to live and let live in whatever way requires very little work.

To that end, I want to share a few brief anecdotes about some the little above-and-beyond things that friends and family have done for me as allies, that went a long way in making me really feel supported and accepted, in the hope that they might serve as inspiration for anyone who wants to be a better ally to their own friends and family:

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When being aro/ace means you only ever get to be the no-fun naysayer, it doesn’t end well for anyone.

I was talking with some other aces and aro folks in a local group chat about the inevitably akward situation of finding out that someone likes you / is attracted to you, and the stressful part of figuring out how or if to respond (which in the case of many aro or ace folks, can often mean trying to once again figure out how to let someone down more-or-less gracefully).

I ended up thinking about how, despite being a problem for almost everyone (especially women), it somehow still feels like it can be even more stressful as an aro ace person not really looking for traditional relationships, and I think I managed to somewhat start articulating my thoughts on the subject, so I wanted to go ahead and share them here as well:

For me, the discomfort mostly comes from knowing that it’s going to be a lose-lose situation, because they are going to be sad or upset if/when I ever have to turn them down, and then I’m going to feel bad for making them feel bad.

And like, you can logically understand that you aren’t responsible for their attraction and it’s not your fault that you weren’t attracted but like….the empathy lizardbrain doesn’t care, it just goes “you said x and made them sad, that’s bad”. (And I don’t necessarily want to turn that off! Learning to sympathize/empathize with friend’s romance struggles even when I can’t really understand it well myself is an important social skill that’s taken me time to learn).

And sure, playing oblivious can put off the ultimate confrontation for a long time but there’s still that axe hanging over your head in the background. Even if the person knows you are ace and uninterested and does exactly what they are supposed to do and doesn’t bother you about it or ask you for something you both know you aren’t looking for, once you do find out, the weight of that social concern is still there. So it’s not even like it’s their fault for doing something untoward, it’s just a sucky situation all around.

And, to be fair, is I think this can be a thing for everyone, not just aces, but I think the downside of being an ace person who doesn’t date is that I only ever get to be the one saying no, of  only ever being put in the position of having to deal with unwanted attention and the emotionally fraught task of letting someone’s hopes down.

I don’t ever really get to have the fun part of being asked out by someone you actual want to say to, whether it’s for a date or sex or whatever else. I don’t ever really get to have the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when someone makes your day and then you totally make their day in return by saying yes.

And so the weight of always being the naysayer who makes people sad just piles up and up and up.

Sometimes, I wonder, if I instead had the experience of a few bright spots here and there, and the knowledge that maybe once in a while it will work out well, would that make it more tolerable?

November Carnival of Aros Call for Submissions: Aro Community Wishlists

As November rolls around and eventually leads into December, we in the US have now entered the official Holiday Season, with giant sales and advertisements everywhere promising the perfect gifts for your loved ones, and kids everywhere writing out their wishlists for Santa Claus. On a less commercial level, it’s a time when many people start looking for ways to give back to their families, friends, and communities, through gift-giving and philanthropy and more.

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to start building a wishlist of our own for aro communities: what kind of community spaces and resources do you want to see more of, as an aro-spec person?

That’s why for this November Carnival of Aros, I’m proposing a theme of “Aro Community Wishlists” – tell us more about what’s on your own wishlist for the aro community!

Some food for thought:

  • Are there any specific subgroups of the aro community that you would like to see more spaces and resources for?
    • (like allo aros, older aros, lgbt aros, religious aros, aros of color, etc.)
  • Would you like to see more specific types of spaces?
    • (like offline, online, chats vs. forums, closed vs. open, etc.)
  • Would you like to see more specific types of resources?
    • (like coming out advice, scholarships, fictional media, career networks, activist groups, advice for medical professionals, aro wallpaper graphics, etc.)
  • Are there specific types of aro art / swag / t-shirts / merch  / collectibles that you would like to see?
  • Are there specific topics you would like to see more internal community conversations about?
  • Are there any specific subjects you wish the wider public was more educated about?
  • Are there specific actions you would like to see more allies taking?

Also, on a more meta level, I want to remind everyone that Aro Spec Awareness Week is only about 3 months away! One of my hopes for this Carnival is that the wishlists created this month can provide inspiration for future projects for ASAW, and beyond.


How to Participate

To submit your entry to the carnival, you can leave a link to your submission in the comments below, or contact me directly at sennkestra@gmail.com. If you don’t have your own blog, you can also email me your submission text and I am happy to host it here as a guest post.

Submissions are due by midnight on November 30, 2019. (But if you think you are going to be a day or two late, we’re not sticklers – we’re happy to add late submissions to the roundup retroactively)


About the Carnival Aros

The Carnival of Aros is a monthly blogging carnival centered around aromantic/aro-spec identities and experiences! For more information on this project, see its home blog here.

Each monthly carnival is hosted by a volunteer blogger, who chooses any aro-related themes of their choice and issues a call for submissions, which can include text prose, poetry, video, art, or any other format of your choice. At the end of the month, the host will collect the links to all of that month’s submissions into a single masterpost,

We’re also in need of new carnival hosts starting this December – to volunteer to host, see here!

The Economics of Being Alone

This is a submission for the October 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Aromanticism and Aloneness“.

On a purely emotional and social level, I don’t really have any objections to “going it alone” in life as single, unpartnered aromantic person. I’ve always had what I think of as a very…self-sufficient personality, I suppose. While I enjoy having a lot of more casual and informal friendships, I’ve never been the type to have super tight “best friend” type relationships where I pour my heart out – my style has always been amicable relationships with large social groups and events rather than the kind of emotionally intimate close friendships that I sometime see others describe.

And when it comes to things like talking about feelings and emotional support, I find that more introspective activities like good cathartic fiction and writing and blogging to strangers on the internet help me process my thoughts and feelings much better than turning to other people in my offline life for direct one-on-one support.

So from that emotional and mental health level, I like to think I do just fine as a single person with no so-called “committed relationships”, whether romantic or platonic or otherwise.

However, where that certainty about my ability to live a sufficient and satisfactory life alone breaks down is when I start thinking of the practical consequences of living alone.

As I’ve gotten to the point in my life where once-immediate concerns about school and job-seeking have receded (at least for the time being), I’ve started thinking more in-depth about what I would want out of a “relationship”, and what steps I would be willing to take to pursue one – not as a hypothetical for future me as I used to think of it, but as a “what steps do I want to take now” kind of thing.

I’ve also reached the point where I now have several years of built up experience on what it’s like to live both alone, and with other people, and without the automatic inbuilt family support structure that I had when I lived at home with my parents as a younger person.

And based on that life experience, I’ve realized that trying to modify traditional relationships (dating, marriage) to fit was going at things the wrong way, because when I actual break down the parts of a relationship that I want – cohabitation, sharing some (but not all) resources, mutual caring during illness, having someone to come home to and talk about the cool things I saw today, short term commitment – and the things that I don’t want or need  – emotional codependence, romantic or sexual exclusivity, lifelong commitments, family recognition – I realized that what I want isn’t a modified boyfriend/girlfriend/romantic partnership. What I actually want is basically just a housemate: I’m not looking for the romantic or emotional support or closeness of having an intimate partner, I’m looking for the more material and social comforts of splitting the bills and having someone to come home to so I don’t become just a hermit.

And frankly, those material commitments of having someone to share expenses with – whether it’s minimal cohabitation expenses like rent and power bills, or slightly more developed entanglements like food costs and entertainment budgets and travel budgets – are pretty serious.

The Costs of Living Alone

As someone currently living with 4 other housemates in a 5 bedroom house (an arrangement which is honestly close to my ideal for short-term relationships, tbh), I can afford to have nice things like living less than 2 blocks from major public transit, an in-unit washer and dryer and dishwasher, a living room large enough to host 15+ person social events, my own room, a garden area for my plants, and more.

If I were a single person living alone, like I was for a short time a few years ago, I could not even afford to live in this city at all, let alone this county – basic studios and one bedrooms start at like 175% of my current rent. Living in a nice place with a yard and washing machine is even more laughable of an idea.

Beyond just rent, other resources like netflix subscriptions, internet bills, food delivery fees, nice furniture, cookware, and more become much more accessible when the costs are split across a household instead of falling on a single person.

Even in terms of intangible resources, having a household also saves time, when you can distribute tasks like cleaning and repairs and streamline cooking for multiple people. Having other people in the household who I can depend on also means that if I’m sick, there’s already someone nearby who can bring me cold medicine, or help me get soup heated up, or to notice and make sure to get me to a doctor if things start getting worse. It means that I have people onsite that can water my plants if I’m home visiting parents, or sign for packages if they come in while I’m out running errands, or check if I left the stove on when I’m having irrational anxiety.

And it’s not just resources in the home that drive home the costs of going it alone – I think what drives it home even more is how much I notice when traveling.

I was recently looking into the possibility of taking an Amtrak Coast Starlight train up to Portland, or maybe Seattle – maybe taking a week off for slow, relaxed, and scenic rail travel in a sleeper car instead of frantic and tightly secured airports.

However, the thing is that if you want to get a sleeper car ticket, you have to buy a ticket for a sleeper car that sleeps two, even if you are a single person traveling alone. Most traditional hotels are the same way – designed and priced for pairs.  And while I totally understand the reason for that (economies of scale!), it really drives home the extent to which life is just not optimized for living as a single agent.

And that’s why I want – not necessarily a “relationship” relationships, but – a household, or traveling partners, or other people who are willing to commit to sharing resources (be it housing, utilities, hulu passwords, hotel rooms or something else).

Rethinking “Committed Relationships”

When people talk about “committed relationships”, I think that the concept is often based on modifying ideas of traditional romantic/sexual relationships, in the same way that I tried (and ultimately failed) to model my own relationship desires for years. Thus, there’s an idea that “commitment” also means lifelong partnerships like marriage, and often some level of exclusivity (whether emotional, romantic, sexual, or otherwise). And the idea that being in a committed relationship required that emotional closeness and lifelong commitment made me wonder if I could ever make that a reality – and if that was even what I wanted.

But what if we model “committed relationships” after another type of relationship – like, for example, roommates! We can think of the central bond as being resource sharing, rather than an emotional or sexual commitment; and the time as the term of a lease, perhaps, rather than the term of a lifetime. When short-term and mid-term commitments, and pure resource based commitments without any feelings stuff, become options on the table, suddenly the idea of a “committed relationship” (of a sort) becomes both more appealing and seems more achievable.

I like the idea that being romantically/emotionally independent, unpartnered, and “alone” in the “are you single or in a Relationship (with a capital R)” sense doesn’t have to be incompatible with other types of committed relationships (with a lower case r), even if they’re not what we traditionally think of as ‘relationships’ (for example, I get along great with my roommates, any my relationship with them satisfies a lot of my ‘relationshippy’ cravings, but they’re all pretty conventional and I don’t think would ever think of themselves as being in a “relationship” with me or our other housemates, if asked in those terms.)

 

Audience Challenge: What’s your preferred one-sentence definition of “Queerplatonic”?

Several years ago, when working on updating a printed piece for a group I was involved with, I got stuck on figuring out how to define “queerplatonic” in a way that is both clear, and fairly accurate, while also being very concise – the limitations of the specific project required very brief definitions no longer than a sentence or two, and ideally not more than 2-3 lines on a printed pages.

Now, you might be thinking “Silly Sennkestra, you’re never going to be able to explain the full complexity and context of queerplatonic in one sentence”, and yes, that’s true to some extent – but I think it’s still worth trying to get as close as possible, even if the end result is imperfect.

As a result of that project, I ended up polling people on tumblr (click “show more notes” to see the actual responses) – and of course, got several dozen different and sometimes contradictory definitions with varying levels of seriousness, as one does when defining any complex term.

Based on that conversation, and several others over the years, my current most common attempt is something like:

Queerplatonic: A significant non-romantic partnered relationship that complicates the concept of being “just” platonic friends.

Although I think this still has room for improvement, I’m trying to get across a few main points:

  1. That queerplatonic relationships tend to generally be characterized as non-romantic (though even that isn’t always necessarily a hard boundary).
  2. That the history of “queerplatonic” as a term is that it was intended to “queer” or “complicate” the idea that the only two relationship options are “romantic” or “[just] friends”, neither of which are really accurate to what “queerplatonic” is trying to describe
  3. That queerplatonic relationships tend to have a certain level of significance to the people involved above that of some of their other relationships (like aquaintances, coworkers, or casual friends), often perceiving each other as “partners”, “significant others”, etc.

However, since it’s been a few years since I asked around more broadly, and since I’ve been seeing a lot of conversations about definitions again recently,  I’m curious to see again what other definitions people like to use, and how each of us choose to confront the problem of summarizing a complex concept into an overly-simple definition. I’m also curious to see what other people consider the most salient parts of the concept that they want to highlight in any definition.

So, I’d love to hear from anyone reading this – what one-sentence definitions of “Queerplatonic” do you prefer? What do you see as the key points that should be included in any definition?

(Or alternatively – what’s a definition you’ve seen before that you find insufficient, and what don’t you like about it? How would you change it to make it better?)

 

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.

 

 

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. )