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.

We Contain Multitudes: Asexual Community as a Coalition

When I was watching the recent HHA anniversary livestream earlier this month, the presenters highlighted an old quote from one of David Jay’s posts from the very early days of modern ace communities that really resonated with me. The quote occurred in response to an email thread about questions on how to create a universal definition for asexuality, a debate which continues to this day:

It seems like a common definition is sort of problematic. Because, in the end, we only sort of have a common identity. Asexuality means very different things to each of us, and finding a definition which is all-inclusive and still meaningful may be impossible. The reason that we’re forming a group isn’t because we have a neat, common identity but because we face a common set of issues. It seems like if we form a group it should be around those issues, not around some difficult-to-draw identity line.

– David Jay

It reminded me of a similar concept in my own local ace 101 outreach work for a while now: the idea that asexuality is not a single, unified experience, but rather a similar but varying set of experiences that have just enough in common that it makes sense for us to join in a single community – a coalition of multitudes of varied experiences.

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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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Why I Wear an Ace Ring

This is my submission to the June 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “pride.”

This post was originally inspired by this post from the Ace Theist. I may or may not have taken 7+ years to get around to writing it, but better late than never I guess?


Several years ago, The Ace Theist wrote a post about why they wear an ace ring, and why it’s more for themselves than for recognition, that really resonated with me, especially this passage in the conclusion:

When I first bought that black ring off Amazon, I wasn’t expecting anyone recognize it for what it was.  That’s not what it’s for.  From the beginning, that ring wasn’t meant for anyone else but me.  I had just comes to terms with the fact that I’m not heterosexual, that the existence of my orientation is something that most people don’t even know about, and I wanted to wear an ace ring as a way remind myself that I’m not the only one.

Safety in Subtlety

As a matter of fact, when I first started wearing an ace ring, it was precisely because I did not expect anyone to recognize it for what it was – it was something subtle, and safe, and with a level of plausible deniability that I could easily invoke if anyone asked me about. After all, I already wore rings and other jewelry on a semi-regular basis, so it wouldn’t be that out of place. If anyone asked, I could just say that I found it at a shop and thought it looked cool.

That made it the perfect token of self-recognition and quiet pride for me, as a teenager just tentatively starting to identify with asexuality, but sure as hell not ready to start coming out about it to anyone offline. I wasn’t ready talk about it out loud yet, or to name it in words, but the ring was still a physical, tangible way to silently shout out to the unsuspecting world that hey, I’m asexual, I’m not just confused, and I’m not alone.

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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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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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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?

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?)

 

7 Types of Relationship Commitment that Have Nothing to do with Sex or Romance.

This is a submission for the August 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Relationships

When people talk about creating or valuing “commitment” in relationships, it’s often shorthand for advancing through the socially expected steps of the stereotypical sexual-romantic relationship escalator – things like romantic and sexual exclusivity, cohabitation, financial entanglement, legally recognized marriage, and possibly parenthood. These types of commitment are also largely seen as a linear, hierarchical and long-term (if not lifelong) progression of steps.

However, as Jo explains in the link above, the expected “relationship escalator” path of commitment is one that often breaks down when it comes to the lived experiences of asexual, aromantic, and polyamorous people (among others). After all, sexual/romantic exclusivity – one of the standard first steps on the escalator –  isn’t a good marker of commitment if you aren’t looking to be sexual or romantic with anyone in the first place, or if openness to multiple types of partners is a key goal of your relationship.

And once you start questioning that common first step, the rest of the assumptions of the relationship escalator also break down, not just for aces and aros but for anyone interested in exploring more nontraditional relationship models – after all, why would sexual entanglement need to precede financial entanglement or cohabitation anyway? Why does the person you want to commit to emotionally need to be the same person you decide you might want to co-parent with? What if you prefer to have shorter term or more flexible relationship commitments instead of assuming that the only “healthy” way to approach to commitment is to continue moving up and up the escalator for perpetuity?

Instead of an escalator, therefore, I like to thing of “commitments” as a variety of piecemeal “building blocks” that can be arranged in any combination and any order to define a prticular relationship, and that can be added and removed when or if desired. Which is why I wanted to give just a few examples of types of “commitment” that people can have in their relationships – whether these relationships are romantic, sexual, familial, or platonic; short-term or long-term; intense or casual. Some of these are serious, some are more silly, but hopefully all can serve as food for thought.

If you have any of your own examples of commitment that you’d like to highlight, however, large or small, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

1. The Roommates

This is perhaps the most common kind of non-sexual, non-romantic committed relationship that many people will experience in their life. While moving in with friends or even strangers you met on craigslist is, for whatever reason, rarely seen as a life-changing “commitment” in the way that moving in together with a romantic/sexual partner is, the fact is that choosing to eat, sleep, live, and breath and pay rent together with another person for months or years is one of the biggest financial and lifestyle commitments that many of us make. It’s also a good example of how commitment doesn’t always have to be lifelong or open-ended to be important to you – sometimes it might be bound to the length of a lease, or a graduation date, or other deadline, but that doesn’t make the commitment any less real.

2. The Co-Parents

While parenting is often seen as the ultimate and final commitment for married sexual/romantic couples, there’s really no reason that it has to be limited to these groups – after all, many great co-parents and guardians can also come in the form of close family friends, amicable exes, queerplatonic partners, group communes, extended family, and more.  And furthermore, the person(s) that you choose to parent with don’t always have to be the same people that you commit other parts of your life to – divorced couples have been figuring this out for decades, but it can also be an intentional option for those who choose to build their own relationships from scratch. After all, sometimes co-parents can be friends, not lovers, and other partners can stay partners without becoming parents.

3.  The T-Mobile Friends and Family Plan

One of the perks that our society grants to traditional couples and nuclear families is that they are often viewed as a “household” rather than a series of individual units, and granted privileges that less formally associated groups of individuals are not – from serious benefits like discounts on shared healthcare to less life-endangering concerns like discounts on shared cell phone service plans or even things like costco memberships.

As some companies (like the titular example) increasingly begin to recognize that households don’t just have to be traditional nuclear families, many of the group benefits are increasingly available to any other groups who are willing to commit to the responsibility of paying a shared bill.

4. The Poly Password Swap

Alice has an HBO account; Bob has Netflix.; Charlie has Hulu; and Eve has Amazon Prime; with their powers combined, they can form one big happy television binge-watching family! As noted in the example above, resource-sharing with a committed set of partners-in-consumption can be a great way to access services more affordable by banding together in groups rather than as individuals, and the benefits can increase cumulatively as each person brings their own resources to offer.

This sort of shared media-watching potential can also lead in other forms of commitment, like when you have that fellow fan friend who you make sure to watch every new episode with so you can gush about it afterwards.

5. The Designated Emergency Contact

At a minimum, most of us hope to have someone in our life who we can write down as the “emergency contact” that forms are constantly asking for – someone who we can trust to take on the responsibility of helping us handle our affairs and to get in touch with all the right people in the case that anything happens to incapacitate us. While many choose to trust this duty to a family member or spouse, those without those options often also trust it to a reliable friend or convenient neighbor – and even those with “traditional” options like spouses or family around may still choose to trust this to someone else if they think that person is better able to know their wishes, or to stay level-headed in an emergency – or maybe if that person is just more conveniently located.

On a similar level, the designation of more serious responsibilities like power of attorney can represent an even stronger commitment of this type.

This is also a useful example of the ways that commitment doesn’t always have to be symmetrical or reciprocal – maybe Jane might designate John as her contact, but John lists Joe, who lists someone else entirely.

6. The Friend with Literal Benefits

One of the most life-altering benefits that comes with being in a typical “committed” romantic/sexual relationship for many people is access healthcare insurance – while traditionally offered to married spouses and children, modern day employer healthcare plans increasingly allow individuals to offer benefits to any “domestic partner” (and their children), in order to include unmarried couples as well. While these domestic partner benefits are often still couched in terms that imply romantic/sexual relationships and may be difficult if not impossible to access for other types of committed partners, some jurisdictions are started to broaden the ability to designated a beneficiary for certain benefits in much more inclusive ways. And while current marriage fraud laws (combined with the assumed sexual-romantic-cohabitation requirements of marriage) can make it tricky for non-typical partners to access these types of benefits on the same level as more normative couples, I look forward to a future where this can be more of a widespread possibility (at least until we get a proper universal healthcare system that renders this all unnecessary).

7. The Dungeons and Dragons Party

Sometimes commitment can come in the form of commitment to joint social activity or hobby, whether it’s a monthly D&D group, a weekly knitting circle, a biweekly fantasy football league, or something else.

These kinds of social and hobby commitments can also be a great example of how commitments can be made in a relationship to a group or a community that may evolve over time, rather than a set of specific individual relationships.