Breaking stereotypes: Being aroace
*This article has 2396 words and is about 10 minutes’ read*
Hello! My name is Ani and I’m in my first year of studying at the London College of Fashion. I am asexual and aromantic, and I’ve been given the brilliant opportunity to talk about some of my experiences regarding my orientation.
This is one of my long-enduring interests, so I’m very excited to have the space to talk about it here!
The spectrums of asexuality and aromanticism are among some of the least known and understood on the broader spectrum of sexuality. Luckily, there’s been a lot more awareness recently dismantling some of the most common stigmas and myths.
There’s so much I could talk about, but I definitely don’t have the space to cover everything. In this article, I want to highlight some of the things that I don’t see discussed often outside of the asexual and aromantic communities!
The Basics: Some Definitions and a Disclaimer
Let’s start with some definitions to get the basics out of the way.
The term “asexual” is used to describe experiencing little to no sexual attraction. Within the asexual and broader queer community, we often shorten it to ace (which makes for a lot of playing card jokes).
“Aromantic” is its romantic counterpart, and is used to describe experiencing little to no romantic attraction. We often shorten it to aro.
Both of these terms describe spectrums of experiences, and are also used as umbrella terms. The asexual spectrum will often be called the “ace-spectrum”, or “acespec”, while the aromantic spectrum will often be called the “aro-spectrum”, or “arospec”. When describing the ace and aro communities or spectrums as a whole, we call them the “a-spectrum”, or “aspec”.
Because asexuality and aromanticism are both vast spectrums, I do want to emphasise that we are not a monolith. No single person represents the singular experience that can be found in the a-spectrums because there is no one singular experience.
Some of what I’m going to discuss is accepted as fact, but a lot of it is also my own perspective as someone who is part of the community. I don’t speak for every asexual or aromantic person on the planet, I just speak for myself.
The Nuanced World of Attraction (and the Split-Attraction Model)
So, as I’ve mentioned, I’m both asexual and aromantic, so I identify as “aroace”. Why the distinction between the two? Why do I label both my sexual and romantic orientations, when most people do not? I am so glad you’ve asked, and it would be my honour to explain.
You may not know, but there are different types of attraction! When we talk about “attraction” in society, we are often discussing sexual attraction, and we may possibly be conflating it with other types of attraction. Generally, people who experience multiple levels of attraction will do so at the same time, so it’s not easy to break it down and separate it into the different types.
There are many levels of attraction, but I think the biggest ones I hear the most about are: sexual, sensual, romantic, alterous, platonic, and aesthetic.
All this is to say, I use the split-attraction model, which is used to identify how someone experiences multiple types of attraction. I usually see it only used to identify sexual and romantic attraction, but that doesn’t mean some people don’t use it to identify other types of attraction they experience. Honestly, I love the split attraction model because it allows for further identification of the nuances of attraction—I wish more people knew about it.
I think it’s most helpful for people whose sexual and romantic orientations do not align, though it can obviously be used by people whose sexual and romantic orientations are the same. It allows us to understand that the different levels of attraction we experience may not line up clearly, which means we can better communicate and understand our own identities and those around us.
My sexual and romantic orientations align, so theoretically I could just call myself “asexual” and the people around me would assume that that also means I’m aromantic, even if they don’t have the language for it. But, asexuality and aromanticism are not the same thing—they overlap, but there are very clear distinctions between them.
I like using the split-attraction model because I don’t think just “asexual” or just “aromantic” properly encompass the extent of my experiences. I’m part of both communities and I personally like to express that in the language I use to describe myself. Not everyone will have the same stance on this that I do, and that’s fine! They get to choose the language they use to describe themselves, based on what they’re most comfortable with.
People on the a-spectrums may experience attraction too, just not necessarily sexual or romantic attraction, depending on what part of the spectrums they identify with. On the flip side, some people don’t experience any kind of attraction or, if they do, it might not be strong enough to identify with it. That’s okay too!
I experience a lot of aesthetic attraction and if I had to label it, I’d probably say I’m bi-aesthetic since my aesthetic attraction isn’t limited to a specific gender. This is also where an “oriented aroace” label would come in for me. But, where I’m sure I experience many other types of attraction, those experiences have never been strong enough or frequent enough for me to label it, or even know what exactly I’m experiencing.
And while I find it helpful to have this language to understand and talk about how I experience the world, I don’t feel the need to get into the nitty-gritty of it all the time, so I don’t tend to label the other types of attraction I do experience. That’s how I feel about some of the microlabels in the spectrum as well—there are definitely a few that I relate to, but don’t feel the need to use.
An aside: the world of microlabels can be confusing and overwhelming, and I admit I don’t know many of them very well, but if you’re interested in learning more, I definitely encourage you to do so! It’s very interesting to read about the nuances of attraction and how people experience it.
The A-Spectrum, Relationships, and Love
A lot of aspec people get into romantic and sexual relationships, but I am not one of those people. There are a variety of reasons as to why someone might pursue such a relationship even though they identify as part of the a-spectrum, and so long as it’s something they want, it’s not an issue. It’s never about playing with another person’s feelings.
There’s an expectation called “amatonormativity” that’s ingrained in our society insisting that everyone is better off being in an exclusive and long-term romantic relationship, and that those who are not in such a relationship are actively looking for one. I have a lot of trouble with this expectation because I have no interest in being in any such relationship—not by society’s standards anyway.
I have grown up feeling the pressure to get into a romantic relationship, but when it comes down to it, I would have no idea what to do. Because I don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction, I wouldn’t know who to get into a relationship with in the first place. Then, I wouldn’t know how to act once I’d chosen a person seeing as I definitely cannot flirt. But most importantly, it would go against my values, or my truth. I’m happy with my friends right now, and maybe in the future I’ll consider a queer-platonic relationship, but I don’t feel the need to look for one.
I like reading about romantic relationships though. A lot of the books I read and the shows I watch have romantic plots or subplots. I always think it’s really funny that I like reading romance since I feel like it creates a sort of paradox. Yeah, I don’t want to fall in love like that, but I’ll read about other people who do.
Fiction gives me a way to experience the swoony feelings that everyone’s always talking about, without forcing me to cross my own boundaries. Rarely will you catch me reading any sort of smut, though, since my comfort levels with romance are much more lenient than my comfort levels with sexual content.
I do get easily annoyed with how much society prioritises romantic relationships over any other sort of relationships. We have an ingrained relationship hierarchy that everyone knows exists but also doesn’t quite realise it. Society’s stress on romantic relationships means that every other relationship is considered less important.
I personally really like the idea of relationship anarchy, since it allows me to define and prioritise my relationships the way I want to. It also means that there are no standards for what my relationships should look like, so the idea that some gestures are inherently sexual or romantic becomes immediately invalid under relationship anarchy.
That being said, no one needs to meet a standard of “love” to be considered “human” in society’s eyes. Asexual people don’t need to be in romantic relationships to be “human”, aromantic people don’t need to be in sexual or platonic relationships to be “human”, and so on. Asexual and aromantic people don’t have to make up for a lack of something with another form of love or attraction.
This past year, I found the terms “loveless aro”, “heartless aro”, and “lovequeer aro”. I find them really interesting, because they’re about seeing the idea of “love” differently from the rest of society. The first two deal largely with the rejection of society’s hyper-romantic idea of “love” and the false idea that love is what makes us human in an “I don’t experience love like that so I reject the concept” way, whereas “lovequeer aro” rejects it in an “I will redefine ‘love’ so that it fits what I experience” way.
There are a variety of reasons why someone might identify as any of these, and all of them are valid. I really like the idea of being a lovequeer aromantic, but my disconnect with the concept of “love” means that at this point in time, I’d more identify with being loveless instead.
The Journey: My Experiences with the Joys and Woes of Being AroAce
I never felt particularly different, and maybe that’s because I went through my questioning phase rather quickly when I was about fourteen? I’d assumed I was straight, but then queer identities and issues became a sort of hyperfixation for a while, and I learnt what asexuality is. After a short while of identifying as asexual, I determined that I’m also aromantic.
Some people go through years of thinking they’re broken due to the lack of awareness, discussion, and representation for asexuality and aromanticism, but not everyone does. I didn’t start feeling like that until after I had words for what I was experiencing.
It doesn’t bother me all the time, but sometimes I wish I was allo so that I didn’t feel so alone in my experiences. Finding aspec friends in uni has been really nice, though! I am always excited to meet aspec people because there’s a sense of community and understanding with them that I don’t get very often from the other people around me. A lot of issues that primarily impact the aspec community are just not discussed in the rest of society, even when they do in fact impact everyone.
Despite occasional feelings of isolation and loneliness, I really like being aroace! I love being a part of this community that has its own in-jokes and cultural quirks that are specific to us. I love engaging with these jokes and cultural things. I love consuming and creating aspec representation because it is so nice to see myself reflected in the media and genres I like. I love the overwhelming feeling of being seen and understood when I realise a specific character or public figure is aspec, and the accompanying feeling of community. I really love our flags.
I love that my awareness of the community and the discussions that are had within it means I have a different outlook on relationships, sexuality, and society that most allo people don’t seem to have as they haven’t had to deal with it in the same way I have, or because they don’t have access to the language due to a lack of awareness.
I love that I don’t have to worry about the drama and complications that seem to surround romantic and sexual relationships. I love that being asexual and aromantic gives me the freedom to develop my relationships as I please and express my love or adoration outside of society’s standards.
I love celebrating my identity. Being aspec is really important to me, and being able to talk about it and acknowledge it makes me incredibly happy.
I am so glad I got the chance to share this insight, and I hope it was interesting to read! If it sparked some curiosity to learn more about these vibrant communities, I encourage you to pursue that. I know I kind of threw a few terms into the void without explaining them, but if I tried to explain everything, this article would be much longer, and I think I’m already pushing it.
If you do want to learn more, I recommend starting with AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network. If you want something more informal and less overwhelming, definitely check out the podcast “Sounds Fake But Okay”.
There are also quite a few a-spectrum 101-type books, and a-spec representation in both written and visual fictional media is a growing subgenre (Loveless by Alice Oseman is a really good novel to start with, written from the perspective of a questioning a-spec uni student. Otherwise, check out the AroAce Database to find more aspec characters in fiction).
Thank you for your time, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
If you would like to share your experiences like Ani, you can contact us on Instagram @ualsocial. 🏳️🌈
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