A lukewarm defense of rental housing as a societal support for communal living

This post was written for the June 2022 Carnival of Aros on “House and Home

With housing prices rapidly rising across the country, I’ve gotten used to seeing dozens of thinkpieces and well-meaning articles about how home-ownership is the key to building wealth, and that continuing to rent is just draining your money away instead of building equity. While there is room to argue about whether this is always the case, that’s not what’s activating my pet peeves today. Instead, what gets my goat is the way that such articles so often position rental vs. owned housing as a matter of whether you can afford a downpayment, with little acknowledgement of some of the other factors that can affect housing choices.

In particular, rather than simple profit or cost, what keeps me in rentals is a combination of flexibility and risk – particularly the flexibility to live in larger communal settings instead of small nuclear or individual households, and without having to take on the long-term financial risks of having to hold a forced partition sale in civil court or spend hundreds of thousands to buy people out everytime someone wants to move out. 

I’m also increasingly frustrated by how much these discussions revolve on the assumption of a nuclear family household model, with discussions of the relative merits of renting vs. buying all revolving on the assumption that these decisions are being made by either individuals or married partners. As an aromantic and non-partnering person who prefers semi-formal group living with platonic friends, this just doesn’t accurately reflect my reality.

I’ve spoken previously about my current living arrangement, and how much I enjoy group living with friends (currently 5 of us total). Within that arrangement, I effectively rent a full bedroom, and a share in a bathroom/kitchen/living area/balcony, for an incredibly affordable price, thanks in part to rent control, economies of scale, and being willing to take the smallest room (for reference, I pay under ~$1500 USD; a studio or 1 bedroom in my area is more like ~$2000-3000) . And since I prefer having lots of people around and like spending time in common areas, this works out great for me!

It’s also a style and cost of living that is basically impossible to replicate in a buyer’s market built for nuclear families, as “family”-size housing for this kind of social living isn’t generally sold in fractions. 

I’ve done the math before, when looking at the cost to buy housing in my area instead of renting. If I look at the cost of say, a four bedroom in a more affordable neighborhood a few transit stops away from me, I could theoretically reasonably afford ¼ of the cost for it. Unfortunately, I can’t buy just a share of a house the way I can buy a single slice of pie, even if that’s all I’m hungry for. 

Instead, the only things I could hope to qualify for a mortgage for would be something like a studio unit in a condo tower, which due to economies of scale and differences in target markets would likely cost 3x as much as my current living arrangement (and easily 2x as much as my theoretical ¼ of a house), and outstrip what I can reasonable pay for. 

The next logical question would be, if you can afford ¼ of a house, why not find three other ¼ ers and go in together? The answer is that this entails significantly more long-term financial risk for all of us. Even if we could initially afford to all go in on a mortgage together (and find a bank will to approve this nontraditional arrangement), the risks if things go wrong are significantly higher, as each person could be find themselves held liable for up to the the entire mortgage debt if things go wrong, not just their theoretical quarter share – more than 4x the risk they’d be taking on if they made a smaller purchase individually. You might be able to mitigate some of that with careful lawyering, cohabitation contracts, and use of civil courts, but all of those come with their own additional risks, not to mention added financial and time costs (and lots of stress in the meantime). 

As much as I sometimes complain about that one recent popular tumblr post and others like it that catastrophize the risks of buying property or cohabitating without the protections of marriage (which just isn’t an available option for everyone, especially if you number more than two!), there’s a reason that almost all financial advisors start of their introductions to how to co-own property as an unmarried couple with, “we generally suggest that you consider not doing this”. While the risk might be worth it for some (I’ve seriously looked into it myself), it does still involve taking on significantly more risk; and while you can mitigate some of it with a lot of money and paperwork, you can’t get rid of it all. And that’s just for regular couples – the risks get even more complex if you’re a group of friends or a complicated polycule or extended family that wants to split a house 3 or 4 or even 5 ways. 

Instead, the general advice for cohabitating couples and friends who want to buy property is to have a single head of household purchase a more modest home in their own name and with their own funds, and then simply become the landlord themselves, bringing us practically back to where we started: you either rent from a landlord, or you yourself must become the landlord. 

Of course, even this relies on assumptions of both wealth and nuclear families. A member of a well-off couple might be able to stretch their finances enough to cover the initial mortgage for a small condo with space for two. But if you are a group of friends looking to split a 4 bedroom house? Unless you are fortunate enough to have a very wealthy friend or a particularly affordable area, it’s unlikely any single person’s savings can stretch that far. And even if they could, it’s a huge amount of liability to ask anyone to take on.

Unless, perhaps, we could give someone a small financial incentive to take on that liability from the rest of us, so that we can all live together in a style we choose? Well, that’s exactly what for-profit landlords do (assume long-term risk in return for short-term financial profits), and we’re back where we started. 

That’s not to say that this is the best solution to this situation, or that it should be – in a more ideal world, maybe people could just buy shares in a common living space. Maybe larger groups could access marital-like legal recognition and the ensuing protections to make shared ownership less risky. Maybe there would be more novel and accessible types of homes to consider buying. And there definitely could be ways for individuals to trade off profit and risk without the massive and growing power imbalance of current rental markets. 

But in the short term, I’d like it if more discussions of the pros and cons of renting vs. buying could at least break away from assumptions of romantic-sexual nuclear families and acknowledge that other shapes of households or ways of living might require very different kinds of analysis.

Carnival of Aros June 2022 Call for Submissions- “House and Home” 

For this month’s Carnival of Aros, I wanted to propose the topic of “House and Home” – whether it’s the literal structures that we currently live in, our aspirational ideal for a home, or the more philosophical concept of what makes up a home, house, or household in the first place.

Some possible prompts to consider include: 

  • What is your current living situation? Does your a/romantic identity affect the options you have available to you?
  • What is your ideal living situation? Is that also shaped by your a/romantic identity?
  • What impact do your relationship preferences have on the kind of housing you prefer and how you like to furnish your home?
  • What makes something a “home” to you?
  • How are concepts of homes and households shaped by assumptions about nuclear families and romantic relationships, and how does aromanticism disrupt that?
  • How do you define a “household” and who do you currently consider part of yours / who would you like to include?
  • Are there any particular objects or spaces inside your home that have a meaningful connection to aromanticism for you?

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 June 30, 2022. (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.

The carnival is also always looking for new hosts – to volunteer to host, see here!

My Friend Situation is Like a Fanfiction Trope, AMA.

This is my submission for the October 2021 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Friendship.”.

When it comes to aspirations about an asexual and aromantic lifestyle, I’ve come to realize over the last couple years that I’m already living the dream in many ways, with a social and cohabitation arrangement like something out of an ensemble fanfiction found family trope* – albeit it mostly by chance rather than design.

On the one hand, this is a great place to be in the moment, but it also brings with it anxiety about how long the dream can last, and if there’s anything I can do to maintain it into the future. However, I do at least have a few ideas about that.

First, before we get into speculation about causation, I think it’ll help to give a quick summary of some of the highlights of  my current friendship co-living situation:

  • I currently rent the full upper floor of a duplex with 4 other friends all from the same friend group. W’eve been living at this current apartment for over 5 years now.
  • We all know each from being part of the same college anime club almost a decade ago, and have stayed networked with other alumni from the same group via groupchat and lots of shared outings.
  • Basically ever since I moved out of my first college dorms, I have almost always been living with friends from this group in some way, although the exact cast has varied over the years as various people moved in, moved out, or changed apartments. (We regularly announce to the group anytime someone needs a room or roommate, so there’s been several group share house iterations over the years). 
  • As roommates with similar shared hobbies (anime, gaming, food), we’ll frequently have dinners together, watch new episode releases together, watch each other play games and comment, etc.
  • As the possessor of the largest living room, we also become the prime choice for hosting group events for our larger social circle, so we regularly host dinners, movie nights, and pre- and post-outing debriefs (and it turns out maintaining an active social life is way easier when you don’t have to leave the house to do it).
  • We also frequently go on joint vacations within this social circle and split hotel rooms, train fare, book tours or tickets together, road trip in someone’s car, etc. We literally spent hours a couple weeks ago nerding out about different options for potential long-distance train outings once the pandemic subsides enough.
  • While I personally didn’t go to as many of these until the pandemic, the group has several times organized several thanksgiving/christmas/other holiday get togethers for folks who didn’t plan to return home for whatever reason (family overseas and too far to travel, family doesn’t do american holidays, not close with family, etc.).

While it’s something I’ve fallen into almost entirely by accident, it’s actually pretty close to my ideal living situation, as someone who doesn’t like living alone and also prefers interacting with people in established groups over having lots of 1:1 relationships. It’s not as formal as a queerplatonic partner or life partner kinda thing, but that works fine for me since I’m not sure how willing I personally am to commit to anything more formal at this stage of my life either.

As to how I got here, it’s a mix of good and bad things, but I’d say the main factors are being in a high rent area (bad), having shared hobbies and traditions (good), and having strong group networking infrastructure (also good).

High Rent

The first factor that makes my living situation work is the fact that I live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the US, which makes having housemates an absolute necessity for many people; and still quite advantageous to have even for those with higher incomes. The fact that trying to live alone is incredibly expensive here means that living with non-partners is much more normalized, and many more people are open to living with friends than they might be if they lived elsewhere.

This kind of housing inaccessibility isn’t a good thing for society overall, but the increased social acceptance of co-living with friends is one silver lining.

However, I also need to add the caveat that I am unusually fortunate in that both I and many of my friends are lucky enough to now have the privilege of having the income and savings needed to hit the sweet spot of being able to hold out for an ideal living situation with trusted friends; unfortunately the reality of high rent markets is that many people end up stuck in unpleasant living situations out of financial desperation in the same way that lack of financial resources traps many people abusive romantic relationships as well – and there’s even fewer social scripts for dealing with abusive housemates than there are for dealing with abusive partners.

Shared Interests and Traditions

One of the more positive things that helped make this kind of friendship group work is the fact that we all have shared interests, which gave us common subjects of conversation and engagement. 

Perhaps even more importantly, we also tend to have a lot of overlap in the kinds of events we like to go to, so it’s easy to keep up contact with people when we’re all constantly going to the same movie screenings and meetups and conventions. This repeated proximity lends itself well to establishing friendships in a similar way to how it’s easy to form friendships in school when you keep seeing the same classmates day after day.

In particular, there are a few annual conventions that we all reliably travel to in a pilgrimage-like fashion, (and which also involve lots of time sitting hotels and waiting in lines together with nothing to do but talk and get to know each other) which often offers a chance to reconnect and solidify relationships even with people we might not see as often. 

Group Networking

Finally, I think the last thing that helps make things work well for us as a friend group is having a very established, very active group chat. The way it came to be was almost a fluke, involving several switches in chat group platforms for the original college anime club which eventually resulted in a chat group that consisted mostly of recent alumni from the club but which was no longer used for new incoming members or official announcements , allowing it to evolve from an official organizational server into a more casual server for lots of friends to just keep in touch and continue organizing dinners and movie nights and game streams and whatnot.

As someone who isn’t great at 1:1 interactions, having a group chat where I can drop invitations to proposed outings, or ask for advice or help with specific things makes it much easier to connect with people, especially people who I might not otherwise always think to reach out to. It also makes for a great point of contact for rebuilding connections if any of us ever drifts off for a bit (like because of a temporary out of state move or you know, a global pandemic that prevents everyone from socializing for a year or more). 

The Formula Worked Twice

Just for comparison, I’ve also found it interesting that the only friend group that I’ve really stayed in contact with from high school follows similar lines – we originally got to know each other from the anime and game clubs (shared interest), kept in touch largely because we already had traditions of meeting at several annual anime conventions, even when we all scattered to different cities, and of doing small gift exchanges whenever we were back in our hometown for the holidays (shared traditions). Eventually one person in the group set up a chat group to organize D&D sessions, and while the D&D sessions eventually petered out, the shared space has allowed us to become more involved than we had been at any point after graduation (group infrastructure).

I don’t know if this model works for everyone, as it’s focused on group relationships (which may not work for people who do prefer that 1:1 style interaction), and because my particular hobby is one that lends itself especially well to shared events, topics, and spaces, which isn’t the case for all people. It also just requires a certain amount of luck and convenient circumstances. But since this kind of social group dynamic does seem to be something that some people seem to aspire to, I figured I’d just share that it can and does happen sometimes.


*As a caveat, I don’t actually consider my current situation as a found family thing, in part because I actually already have a great relationship with my family of origin, in part because I don’t feel the need to conceptualize important friendships through a family lens, and in part because it’s more a medium-term result of circumstances than a long-term intentional relationship. But I realize that it does hit on a lot of tropes of what people like about found family tropes, especially of the ensemble fanfiction variety.

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.

Remembering Aro Blogging over the years

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.

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Half of my Heart / Can’t Love You Back

This is my entry for the July 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Music”.

Way back in 2010/2011, when I was both first exploring asexuality/aromanticism, and also discovering the unrelated world of youtube music covers, I came across this song (specifically this cover), that got stuck in my head as an earworm for a couple months:

 

 

Part of the appeal was that it’s just a catchy tune, but on another level, I think that “half of my heart” chorus also stuck with me as a sort of reflection of my own troubled thoughts about love and attraction and relationships – or lack thereof.

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Maybe the Real Most Precious Thing was the Friends we Made Along the Way

This is my submission for the June 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Most Precious“.

As an aromantic person who has never really been interested in dating or anything like it, I have never had – and may never have – anything that could be commonly be described as an “intimate partner”. Even though the concept of a queerplatonic relationship – or some other form of “platonic life partner” type arrangement – is appealing on a theoretical level, it’s also not something I’ve been very motivated to pursue at this stage of my life. As such, I’ve had to look elsewhere to fill what is often considered part of the role of a “partner”, whether it’s serious matters like finding an emergency contact or someone to help get me soup and medicine if I get sick, or lighter dilemmas like finding a plus one to a party.

For many years (and to some extent to this day), I’ve turned to family for many of these roles – my parents are still my main emergency contact in many places, my sister is one of my main targets for spontaneous gift-exchanging, and I’m fortunate in that we are all close enough (and similar enough in political views and social standards) that I’ve been able to get a lot of social support from them – not to mention financial support as well, especially when I was younger and still a student. (And indeed, that financial support – as well as the benefits of a well-paying white-collar job since – have also gone a long way in smoothing over the difficulties of being a person with unconventional relationships.

However, while having a supportive family is wonderful, it only goes so far – as my parents get older, they may eventually start needing my support, not to mention the fact that we live over 300 miles apart at the moment; and as my sister is currently pursuing a professional degree on the opposite side of the country, that physical distance limits our involvement when it comes to many practical things. And while money always makes everything easier, a $20 bill alone can’t open a can of soup and heat it up on the stove when you really need it.

Instead, this is where I turn to friendships.

What Friends are For

In general, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve been able to get nearly all of my social, physical and emotional needs met through the various networks of friendships I’ve cultivated over the years, including:

  • Roommates/cohabitation with a couple of my old friends from my college student orgs, which makes for much more affordable living
  • Food and cookie deliveries from another old college friend who’s always down to make the drive to Costco or Safeway or a local clinic or pharmacy (esp. when I have no car)
  • Emotional support and sounding boards from friends online – both old friends who are now miles away, and new friends I may not even have met in person yet
  • Peer support from local ace/aro/queer folks when it comes to sexuality and gender discontentment
  • Well-off foodie friends who are happy to spot the check if I realize I forgot cash or card, or if finances were to ever get tight.
  • and more!

Over time, I’ve been fortunate enough to build up a very robust social and support circle – part of which I can attribute to deliberate strategies, like joining and getting heavily involved with various hobby/social organizations, but part of which also comes down to sheer luck (in happening to find people I can mesh with; in having the free time to spend on forging such social connections; in not having my life majorly disrupted by moves or health issues or drama that could also disrupt such friendships). Because of this, having a strong, active social and support network is something I’m incredibly aware of and always grateful for – definitely one of my “most precious” possessions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Pins

This is my submission for the May 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “DIY“.

A year or so ago, I was sitting at a transit stop, waiting for a train, when I caught a snippet of a quiet conversation behind me:

“Is that an…Oddish?”

“Yeah, you’re right, that’s Oddish!”

“What’s that one?”

“I think that one’s an ace flag”

“And what’s that one?”

“Hm, I don’t know that that one is”

Upon turning around, turns out that there was a dad and his kid (who couldn’t have been more than like, 10) who had been looking at the decorative pins that I currently have on my usual weekend bag:

AroPinsBody1

The dad mentioned something about liking my pins, I mentioned that the third pin (that they were having trouble identifying) was an aromantic flag, got a thanks and a smile, and then our train came and we went our separate ways.

It was a relatively small interaction, but a heartwarming one – both to see that bit of awareness in the wild, to see some great parenthood, to be able to work in such tiny snippets of education in an unexpected location.

This also isn’t the first time that that same set of aro and ace pins has been a conversation starter – I’ve also gotten quick “hey, I like your pins!” with knowing looks and a few “oh hey, I am too!”s and some other “hey, is that pin what I think it is?” –  in the audience at LGBT student conferences, in the elevator at anime conventions, from the next table over at a restaurant.

The exact pins have occasionally changed since I first added them on – the aro flag was a later addition after it started gaining more popularity, and the current sparkly one was a recent replacement for my old DIY standard one; the oddish one has been changed out a couple times when I found a new one or lost an old one.

And over the years, I’ve acquired more pins, and more bags, and then more pins to the point I now have an entire drawer of various fandom and sexuality and all sorts of other pins to the point I’m starting to look into different ways to display them (a corkboard or tapestry to hand on a wall maybe?)

While many of my original pins were sourced, surprisingly enough, from anime conventions of all places (turns out lots of artist alley fan artists also sell pride swag and make a point of including lesser known identities!), some of the others have come from a newer source: my own handy dandy button maker!

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A cautionary tale (with a hopeful message): Our shared pains may not be exclusively ours.

This post is for the February 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Variation vs. Unity”

One of the things that communities of shared experience and identity often bond over is commiserating over our shared struggles, pains and frustrations. Whether we are looking for advice from someone has been throughout it, support in fighting to overcoming it together, or even just someone who understands that we can vent everything out to, shared pain is one of the big things that bring us together.

Another thing that drives us towards each other is the inability of many of those outside our group to understand or take seriously the problems we face, if they are not targeted by those same issues.

However, when dealing with our pain, we still have to be careful – because the fact that many people outside our group cannot relate to our problems, does not mean that all people outside our group are free from these problems – the forces of convention and normativity rarely restrict their pressures to one single group.

Therefore, we need to be careful when stating that “people who aren’t us can never understand this problem” or that “if a person claims this experience, they must be one of us – or its appropriation”. Because often, that’s not the case.

A Cautionary Tale: Is “Marriage Equality” really a uniquely gay issue?

As a common example of this fallacy, I want to refer to a sort of case example from a tumblr post I saw a few years ago (although unfortunately I no longer have a link to it). The post in question was responding to to a common statement from a lesbian or gay person that went something like this:

“Straight people will never understand what it’s like to be legally denied the right to marry the person you love”

At face value, this doesn’t seem that incorrect – after all, up until about 5 years ago, many same-sex lesbian, gay, and bi couples in the united states had no legal right to marry – and many couples abroad still do not have that right. And even now, it remains uncertain how strong this right is, and while the law now allows, the law often declines to protect people from being fired, harassed, evicted, denied service, or worse just because of that marriage.

And it’s true that straight people, as a general class, have not recently been denied that right solely for being straight.

However, as responses to the post in question pointed out, where this assumption falls apart is when you realize that straight vs. gay is not, in fact, the only axis of advantage and disadvantage along which society is divided, and that many straight people also have other identities that affect their experience, which may heavily affect how they have been treated with regards to the legal institution of marriage. For example”

  • First, and perhaps most immediate, is gender identity: many straight trans people (and many of their straight partners)were just as affected and just as involved in the struggle for marriage equality as cisgendered lesbian, gay, and bi people were, due to the way that judgements of who was “male and female” enough to marry were often based on cissexist assumptions and misgendering.
  • There is also the consideration of race: Many interracial couples weren’t allowed the right to marry in many US states until 1967 – and many of these couples (and especially their children) are still alive today. When my own grandparents got married, their relationship was still illegal in much of the country! And looking back a little further, there were centuries in the US where black slaves where not allowed access to any kind of legal marriage or relationship recognition, and would regularly be torn apart with no choice in the matter; a legacy that has left an impact on all their descendants.
  • While perhaps a less widespread, some states still disallow or even criminalize certain cousin marriages, no matter what the circumstances – some others require both participants to prove that they are sterile first.

Even in addition to de jure legal barriers, there are also many groups today who still face de facto barriers to marriage:

  • Many disabled people cannot marry without losing much of the limited financial support they already rely on just to stay alive – it doesn’t matter much whether you have the legal “right” to marriage if excercising it means immediately losing your ability to pay for the food and care and shelter you need to stay alive and enjoy it.
  • Widows or widowers  (often older) who are entirely reliant on social security spousal benefits (perhaps after years of being a stay-at-home parent to support their partners career) are similarly unable to access marriage without losing their sole source of income (although some of these laws are loosening), as are some low income people who rely on federal benefits that may be cut if they marry.
  • Also, because marriage in the US is restricted to binary couples, many poly people or others in relationships with 2 or more serious partners are denied the right to have their partners recognized and treated equally.

And that’s just in the United States, without going into the complications of international marriage situations – or in to the doubleor triple hurdles faced by people who face intersectional disadvantages and are affected by more than just one of these issues at once.

When people reduce the issue of marriage rights to “gay people face this struggle, straight people never have”, we erase all of these groups’s complex strugglies. And when we do that, we also lose the important chance to join forces is in coalition with them. Because that’s the flip side of all this – while acknowledging that the hurts that felt unique might be more common than you thought can be both difficult to work into your identity, and a bit depressing for our worldviews, the other side of it is that it also means there are many more potential allies out there who want to make the same changes we do.

Coalition Building: More people with shared pain means more allies in fighting to stop the pain.

The benefit of expanding our worldviews to recognize other groups that may face similar struggles, is recognizing that we can also connect with these groups in our fight to better our situations. Here again, the issue of marriage law has some relevant parallels:

Coalition building is important, because the more people you can find commonality with, the more allies you have who are deeply invested in your cause. And what several small groups fighting along may fail to achieve, a single unified coalition has a much better chance at.

What does this mean for Aromantic activists?

As aro people, when we are often surrounded by non-aros who do not seem to share our struggles, and when aro communities are the first places we find solace from those pressures, it’s easy to assume that we are the only ones in the world dealing with these problems – whether it’s the delegitimization or stigmatization  of relationships that don’t include the right amounts of romance, or pressure to engage in types of relationships that we don’t want, or people mocking us for having ‘unnatural’ desires/lacking the “proper” desires (or viewing us with pity and trying to “fix” us).

However, it’s important to realize that although it can seem like it we are alone in the world, we are not the only ones facing any of these problems – and we don’t need to be alone in fighting them.

Furthermore, while ace and aro allyship is one type of potential coalition building, we must not end there. We must also seek out parallels across all axes of identity, as the politics of love, sex, and romance and desire (and the lack thereof) are constantly affected by judgements based in sexism, cissexism, heterosexism/homophobia, racism, classism, and more. Just to get us started, here’s a few examples of areas where I see potential for reaching out to similarly affected groups:

  • Coalitions between aromantic people seeking to destigmatize non-romantic sexual relationships, and other sex-positive, queer, and feminist activists seeking to negate the stigma of sex outside of traditional romantic partnerships.
  • Coalitions between aros who like alternative living arrangements with non-married housemates, and other single, low income, queer, younger, and also senior housing advocates looking to promote alternative living styles, including better models and paths to co-ownership for non-married co-owners.
  • Coalitions between aro folks and POC in breaking down racist assumptions around desexualization, hypersexualization, being shut out of sex, dating or relationship consideration and more.
  • Coalitions between aros in nontraditional partnerships with poly folks looking for alternative ways to access legal rights and recognition for important people in your life even without traditional marriage.
  • Coalitions with poly and queer advocates to break up the assumption that everyone needs to be in a monogamous, romantic, sexual, long-term relationship, and that any other types of relationship is pointless and not worthy of legal recognition

And that’s just what I could come up with in the last 10 minutes.

Readers, do you have any other experiences of discovering shared points of struggle with other groups? Or do you have suggestions for additional coalition building?

 

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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