Take Off Those Romance-Colored Glasses

Part of belonging to a marginalized minority in society is having to detoxify your own mind of the harmful and false belief systems and points of view that you’ve internalized throughout the course of your life, simply through constant exposure to the rhetoric and realities of the kyriarchy. We all spend too much time consuming media and paying attention to our social network, and that leads to a constant absorption and reinforcement of racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, amatonormativity, sex normativity, de facto monogamy, etc. We did not pick up our prejudices, build our personal worldview, and install our beliefs into the deepest levels of our psyche overnight—and we aren’t going to break them down quickly either. It’s a process. It’s a process that never ends, but one that is absolutely vital for us to undertake, for our personal and collective well-being.

It goes without saying that asexuals have internalized compulsory sexuality, sex normativity, and anti-asexuality just like everybody else. It also goes without saying that aromantic people have internalized amatonormativity, singlism, and anti-aromanticism. This programming began in early childhood, when we would all read books and watch movies and TV shows that presented only one message on the subject of human relationships: it is normal, inevitable, and exclusively correct for all people to want and eventually have a heterosexual romantic relationship that follows the blueprint mainstream society promotes, which involves monogamy, marriage, having children, the man and woman filling traditional binary gender roles, etc. Go back and check all the children’s movies, TV shows, and books that you consumed before the age of 10. See how many of them include a conventional hetero- romantic relationship plot line, particularly one at the center of the story. Now look for the ones that didn’t include that straight romantic relationship. What’s the ratio?

See, this process of internalizing anti-asexual and anti-aromantic beliefs and attitudes didn’t start when you hit puberty, when you entered high school or junior high, certainly not as late as college. The world started filling your brain with this shit EARLY. When you were too young to question it, too young to wonder about alternatives, when you were so young and impressionable that anyone could’ve told you anything about the way life and the world works and you would’ve believed it. So now, when you reach your 20s and beyond, you’ve been running the same program in your brain for decades. Shit is deeply entrenched. Replacing that programming with something totally different, even as you continue to live and participate in the society and culture that gave you the program in the first place and is reinforcing it nonstop everywhere you look, is going to take effort! It’s going to take focus, more specifically. And it’s definitely going to take time.

I want to talk about aromantic people thinking like romantics. This is a problem I’ve noticed in aro spaces online, both the ones that are mostly asexual and the ones that include sexual people. It’s a symptom of internalized amatonormativity and anti-aromanticism, although the sort of thing I’m talking about today has less to do with hating yourself for being aro and more to do with seeing the world and human relationships through romantic-person lenses, even though you’re aro.

I’ve noticed that some aromantic folks, whether sexual or asexual, are stuck in romantic perspectives when it comes to human relationships and love. They’re talking like romantic people, throwing around the word “relationship” the way romantic people do—to mean a partnership that is more than and different from friendship—and worst of all, conducting their own social life like romantic people.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen people online ask questions like: “What’s the difference between a queerplatonic relationship and a best friendship?” or “Can I still be aromantic if I want a queerplatonic partner? Or does that make me gray?” And oftentimes, I look on with disappointment when I see advice bloggers answer along the lines of, “Queerplatonic relationships are this, and friendships are that. They’re not the same thing.”

Queerplatonic relationships are friendships. We should not be trying to avoid that truth here, out of fear that romantic people won’t take us and our relationships seriously. Just because romantic society treats friendship like disposable, meaningless trash doesn’t mean that aromantic people who want or have nonromantic partnerships have to dismiss the idea that what we desire and what we have are friendships. Trying to convince the world that queerplatonic partnerships are something other than or more than friendship is pulling the same shit that romantic people pull when they treat romantic relationships as different from friendship by virtue of being more.

The word and the concept of queerplatonic relationships was created by AROMANTIC people, to describe their own feelings and desires for nonromantic relationships that don’t fit into romantic society’s understanding, into romantic society’s relationship binary of “romantic partnerships” vs. “friendships.” That’s why I’m flabbergasted whenever I see someone ask whether wanting a queerplatonic partnership might mean they’re not aromantic. Jesus Christ! A desire for a NONROMANTIC partnership, called by a term that aro people invented, should not cause anyone to doubt their aromanticism! Romantic people are not the only ones who are allowed to want a partner! Why? Because partnerships are not exclusively romantic! Read that again! And again and again until you grasp it.

Nothing nags me like having the following conversation with a fellow aro person:

“I want a relationship, just not with any of the romantic [or sexual] stuff.”

“So you want a committed friendship.”

“No, I want something that’s more than a friendship, but I don’t want an actual romantic relationship.”

“….. so you want a friendship that’s a partnership.”

“No, I want a relationship that isn’t romantic. Friendships don’t have all the things I want in a relationship.”

At which point, I internally sigh the biggest sigh and probably try once more to suggest that they want a queerplatonic partnership, which is just an alternative term for a centered, committed friendship which might be exclusive in some way.

This is a prime example of an aromantic person having aromantic feelings and desires that they think about in romantic people terms. I get that most, if not all, the people any given aro interacts with on a day to day to basis are going to be ignorant romantics who have no idea what aromanticism is, what queerplatonic partnerships are, or that there’s anything possible in the realm of relationships outside of their own standard de facto primary romantic partnership. But come on, aros—learn to de-romanticize your mind and your language, for fuck’s sake. If you’re not romantic, there’s no good reason why you should be thinking and talking like one, especially when it contributes to romantic social and cultural dominance. There’s certainly no good reason why you should be talking and thinking like romantic people when you’re in aromantic spaces.

Anyway, this usage of the word “relationship” that is consistent with romantic culture, paired with the denial of wanting a friendship to be at the center of your social life, is pure internalized-amatonormativity being expressed. I’ve raged before about how utterly ridiculous and frustrating it is that romantic people even use the word “relationship” to exclusively, specifically denote romantic partnerships, and I would like to point out once again that this is a linguistic indicator of the romance supremacy that romantic society has institutionalized. In this dialogue with the brainwashed aro, we see the same old, tired idea that friendship is inferior to “[romantic] relationships,” and the corresponding idea that only romantic relationships can be partnerships, even though it’s directly at odds with what the aro person says they want: a nonromantic relationship.

Friendships are relationships. So fuck off out of here, romantic society, with your attitude that only romantic relationships are worthy of the word “relationship.” Aromantic people, PLEASE start paying attention to how amatonormativity and romance supremacy continue to live in your language and your mind, and start actively uninstalling it by speaking and thinking differently. See, once you understand that romantic people use the word “relationship” to exclusively mean “romantic relationship” and that they also consider “romantic relationship” and “primary partnership” to be irrevocably synonymous, and once you understand that what you’re looking for is a nonromantic partnership, it just doesn’t make any sense to say that you want “a relationship” the way romantic people do. Saying you want “a relationship” that isn’t romantic, yet refusing to call it friendship, is illogical. And it reflects the problematic, illogical status of romantic people using “relationship” to specifically mean romantic relationship in the first place. Any active connection between two human beings is a relationship, period. Not all relationships are partnerships. Not all partnerships are romantic relationships. If what you want is a nonromantic partnership, just use those words—and don’t be afraid to also call it a friendship.

“But, dude,” the brainwashed aro wants to say, “all the friendships I’ve ever had with romantic people have never come close to the kind of partnership I want with someone, and I know these friends of mine wouldn’t want to partner up with me unless we became romantically involved. The only kind of friendship I’m aware of is the less involved, non-committed, unemotional, non-intimate, non-physically affectionate, super casual kind that always without exception comes second to my friend’s romantic relationship. So this partnership I want can’t possibly be a friendship.”

Well, my dear aro, let me set you straight.

First of all, for the love of God, please go get some aro friends. Friendship between two people who are aro, perma-single, and friendship-centric is from a different fucking universe than friendship between an aro and your garden variety romantic person. Learn this for yourself.

Second of all, you need to understand something: the way romantic people do relationships is not the only way for human beings to do them. You are not limited by romantic people’s language, desires, practices, beliefs, or anything else—in terms of what is possible for you, what you’re free to do, what you actually feel and desire. Friendship itself is not limited to what romantic people are capable of making it. You, aro person, are not living within a fixed, universal romantic reality that you cannot escape. You are free and capable of creating relationships in your own life that don’t exist in romantic people’s lives, and when you talk about these relationships, you are not obligated to explain them or label them for the purpose of getting romantic people to understand them. And you can’t do that, anyway. You just end up distorting the truth of what your relationships—your friendships—are and allow romantic people to believe that nothing exists outside their own worldview.

What friendship can be in your life, as an aromantic person, is never limited by what it is in romantic society. What friendship can be in your life has nothing to do with what it is in the lives of romantic people. What friendship CAN be in your life is not even limited by what your friendships with romantic people have historically been like. You could meet a compatible aromantic tomorrow who wants everything you want in a nonromantic partnership and become friends, and if your friendship grew into that partnership you both want, it would still be friendship. It would be a friendship unlike any other you’ve previously had, but it would be friendship all the same. Not romance.

I’ve said this before but it always bears repeating: partnerships are not exclusively, inherently romantic. Wanting a partnership, as someone aromantic, is not the same thing as wanting romantic relationships. The thing is, for ROMANTIC people, a partnership is equivalent to romantic relationship; they can’t conceive of being (primary) partners with someone nonromantically. Their romantic feelings create a desire for partnership, and their desire for partnership is romantic by default. This is why they so often make the mistake of believing that you can only be aromantic if you have no desire or interest in partnerships whatsoever, and that aros are all satisfied with normative friendships being the only relationships in our lives. When romantic people mentally subtract “romantic feelings/desires” from the aro person, they imagine the aromantic individual as someone identical to themselves but without the romantic portion of their nature. In reality, an aromantic person is not some walking half-human who’s missing romantic capabilities the way an amputee is missing a limb. The aromantic person is whole and wired differently than romantic people altogether. It’s obvious that in many, many cases, aromantic people have an emotional make-up that’s different than that of romantics: not only in what aros don’t feel but in what they DO feel—for friends, nonromantic partners, even family.

 

Being willing to settle for romantic relationships, in the absence of nonromantic partnership, is not the same thing as actually WANTING romantic relationships. Desperate people will do all kinds of things they normally wouldn’t do, to fill an urgent need—and loneliness, touch starvation, an intense desire for love can make human beings desperate. Aromantics who want emotional intimacy, companionship, love, a friend they can always depend on, someone who will treat them like they’re important, can be desperate for those things to a point where they’ll take romantic relationships instead of trying to wait it out for a queerplatonic partnership while dealing with their disappointing normative friendships with romantic people. It’s sort of like putting a vegetarian in a position where they can either meat or starve. They may hold out for a long time, if their vegetarianism means a lot to them, but most people are going to fold and eat meat before they reach the point of death. This is very similar to asexuals who routinely enter mixed romantic relationships in which they have sex; in that scenario, their desire for romantic partnership is so strong, that they’d rather put up with sex—even if they’re averse, repulsed, and/or don’t experience any physical pleasure from it—than be single for long periods of time. It’s a “lesser of two evils” situation. Presented with what they truly desire—a nonromantic partnership or a nonsexual romantic relationship—the aro or ace in question would choose that immediately. But if they perceive the only two options being “romantic-sexual relationship” or “none of my core emotional/physical needs being met,” then many will ultimately choose to try the romantic-sexual relationship.

I’m not going to harp on cupioromanticism at length again because I think I’ve said all I have to say about it, but it bears noting here that the concept of an aromantic person—someone who never experiences romantic attraction, romantic love, etc—wanting romantic relationships specifically (not just a partnership, but a relationship that is labeled romantic, perceived as romantic, and had with someone who is romantically attracted to the aro) is closely related to this relationship availability problem, in addition to the fact that we all live in a culture saturated with amatonormativity.

What cupioromantics and other romance-willing aromantic people say is: “I don’t experience romantic feelings, but I want to participate in romantic relationships.”

But frequently, the truth is more like this: “I don’t experience romantic feelings, but I want at least one connection with another human being that meets my needs and desires for emotional closeness, companionship, loyalty, attention, affection, physical intimacy, commitment, love, intentional togetherness, priority, etc. And because I live in this fucked up world dominated by romantic people, in an overwhelmingly amatonormative culture where aromanticism is invisible and scorned and friendship is treated like worthless trash, because romantic people outnumber aros like me millions to one and because they’re only capable of normative romantic partnerships and casual friendship, because it’s much easier to meet these romantic people who think in this amatonormative way than it is to meet other aromantic people who think and feel the way I do, and because I would rather not wait for years or even decades to meet just one person who I could have a friendship with that meets my needs and desires and be single in the meantime without those needs and desires met, I am willing to do romantic relationships with romantic people because at least then, I’ll get much of what I want from a partnership even if it never quite lines up right with my nature and my core desire for a nonromantic friendship that is also a primary partnership. Basically, romance is better than loneliness, solitude, and social insignificance, and doing relationships just like the vast majority of humankind is way easier than being a major social deviant and dealing with all the bullshit that goes along with that.”

Obviously, it’s easier to use the first description. Especially if you’re not self-aware enough to understand why, as someone who doesn’t have a single romantic feeling whatsoever, you would still want romantic relationships.

Settling for romantic relationships when you’re aro, because you’d rather be romantically coupled than not have any kind of significant connection at all, may be understandable, but it still just perpetuates the romance-dominated, amatonormative culture and society that makes life hard for aromantics in the first place. Instead of making yourself available to other aros who want a nonromantic partnership, you join the ranks of romantic people in romantic relationships. Instead of standing up for friendship and nonromantic partnership as legitimate, possible, and desirable, instead of calling romantic people out on their bullshit attitudes about friendship vs. romance, instead of actually trying to change the world for the better, you just quietly disappear into the ranks of romantic couples and allow romantic society to continue believing that the only way they know how to live and love really is The Only Way. And on a more personal, individual level, you aren’t doing anything to deconstruct and heal your own internalized amatonormativity and anti-aromanticism and singlism and romance supremacy. Romantic society has colonized your mind, and you’re going to let that stand.

But you don’t have to. You don’t have to blindly, unconditionally accept romantic ways of thinking, speaking, and being. You don’t have to do relationships the way romantic people do them. You don’t have to give up on improving the world for aromantic people before you even start, just because it’s hard. If the only thing you ever do for the aro community is get right with yourself on the inside, cleanse your mind of internalized romantic crap, and start living and talking and thinking in such a way that is clearly aromantic, that will be enough.

Start respecting friendship, not just in your own life but as a social form. Start questioning everything you hear romantic people say and what you see them do. Listen to yourself and make sure that you aren’t regurgitating some toxic anti-aromantic, anti-friendship nonsense that everyone takes for granted as normal and true. Don’t let the amatonormative system take queerplatonic friendship discourse away from the aro community. Don’t allow the fucked up, distorted image of aromanticism that romantic society would have you believe, make you doubt your own identity and emotions. Set out to be an aro-positive person living an aro-positive life.

Take a Hint from the Gay Struggle, Aromantics

I’ve written at length why I’m opposed to “cupioromanticism” as an identity, particularly an identity that’s supposed to be a branch of aromanticism instead of gray-romanticism. But one thing I haven’t said before on this subject is the following:

Notice how nobody’s felt the need to create a new identity category for homosexuals who wish they were heterosexual, who want heterosexual relationships, and who choose to participate in heterosexuality instead of homosexuality. Whenever we hear of a gay person expressing their despair, shame, and self-loathing for their own homosexuality, we generally don’t encourage them to pursue heterosexuality even if, at the time, they think that they want to be straight. They’re not straight. In all likelihood, they will never be straight, even if they have all the straight sex and romance in the world. And unless you’re a fundamental Christian/conservative/Republican, it should be obvious to you that the only reason any gay person would wish they were straight is because we live in a historically oppressive heteronormative society that has, until recently, produced only one message: being straight is good, and and being gay is bad.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If a gay person, who’s at peace with being gay, chooses to have straight sex and straight romance and that makes them happy, they can knock themselves out. I won’t judge them or try to convince them to just go with their gay nature. I recognize that there are legitimate motivations for someone gay to live like a straight person. Hell, I recognize there are legitimate reasons for someone straight to live like a gay person.

But feeling bad about your own orientation, wishing you had the most accepted, common, and culturally lauded identity as you grapple with the emotional and psychological toll of being different, is not something that needs to be supported, encouraged, and conceptualized as an identity–an identity which then demands protection and validation. Wanting to want something you don’t actually want isn’t a basis for a sexual or romantic identity. When a young gay person expresses anguish about their homosexuality and claims they wish they were straight and might even go so far as to live in the closet while participating in heterosexuality, we don’t pat them on the back and tell them they’re a new kind of heterosexual. We recognize that they’re suffering from internalized homophobia and heterosexism and struggling to be true to themselves in this toxic world. And if we’re decent human beings, we try to help them process that homophobia and heterosexism and empower them as gay or queer individuals, so that they can live their lives with authenticity.

Why should we treat aromantics and asexuals any differently? How is it possible that the same people who would seek to liberate gays, lesbians, and queers from homophobia and heterosexism and compulsory heterosexuality could then turn around and agree with the concept of cupioromanticism?

Well, amatonormativity is a much less well-known concept than heterosexism and homophobia are, for one thing. For another, if you yourself are still completely under the influence of amatonormativity, if you still believe in it yourself, then of course you’re going to respond to aromanticism and the concept of cupioromanticism in ways that support amatonormativity rather than threaten it. The fact of the matter is, most human beings–straight and LGBQ–are romantic. Pretty much all romantic people live, believe in, and benefit from amatonormativity. Yes, that includes gay, bisexual, pansexual, and queer romantics. It includes romantic asexuals too. Most people aren’t even aware that amatonormativity is a thing, never mind having the knowledge and the tools to start questioning it.

So when some young aromantic-spectrum person tries to talk about how they’re feeling and experiencing aromanticism and all of the big picture implications of being aro, they’re most likely to get feedback from the very people who create, participate, perpetuate, and support the amatonormative, romance supremacist social system that causes aromantics to resist their own aromanticism. Tell someone romantic that you wish you were like them, and what do you think they’re going to say? Tell someone romantic that you want romantic relationships, even though you’ve never felt a romantic emotion in your life and might not be capable of doing so, and what are they going to tell you? You think romantic people are going to say, “Don’t worry, honey, being aro is totally cool, and friendship is just as good as romance and if you want a nonromantic partner, it can happen!”

Has any romantic person EVER said that to any openly aromantic person since aromanticism became an identity? Have any of them ever said anything remotely like that and meant it 100%? Because I know that I for one have never fucking heard anything like that come out of an alloromantic’s mouth in direct address to me. Not even in the asexual community. Oh, sure, I’ve received some lukewarm, vague acceptance from the romantic-sexual people I’ve come out to in real life, but never anything that approached affirmation. And I’m willing to bet money that most aros who are are out online, most of the people who claim to be cupioromantic, (who are, by the way, almost always high school or college kids), have never heard anything like those affirmative, aro-positive statements from anyone they know in real life either. Not once. If they’ve even identified themselves as aromantic in person, in the first place. And you KNOW that there is nothing pro-aromantic anywhere in mainstream media, whether you’re talking about TV, movies, music, or books. It just doesn’t exist.

So you can understand, I hope, my intense and justified skepticism of cupioromantics and the people who agree with and support the identity without any intelligent question. If I heard a heterosexual tell an unhappy gay kid, “Don’t worry, it’s totally fine that you want to be straight! You can be straight if you want to be, it’s all good. Go ahead and have straight sex and straight romantic relationships and get into a straight marriage, if that’ll make you happy!”, I would be side eyeing the fuck out of that person. And then I would go to the gay kid, and say, “Hey. Fuck heterosexuality. You need to learn that being gay’s all right, and you can have a good, happy life as a gay person.”

Getting individual deviants to conform to fucked up, bullshit socio-cultural norms in the name of “happiness,” instead of destroying the norms that can make any deviant unhappy, is not kindness. It’s reinforcement of prejudice and the marginalization of sexual minorities. It’s protecting the garbage system.

So self-proclaimed cupioromantics and their sympathizers can dig in their heels and disagree with me all they want, but unless you’ve done the extensive and ongoing work of dismantling a lifetime’s worth of internalized amatonormativity, anti-aromanticism, and romance supremacy, and unless you’re out there affirming and encouraging and praising all the aromantics who reject romantic relationships permanently–sexual and asexual–and who choose either to be unpartnered or to pursue queerplatonic partnerships, I don’t care what your reasons are for defending cupioromanticism. They’re flawed. And I certainly don’t care about your opinion if you’re romantic.

“A” is for Queer?

I thought I was done participating in the debate over whether asexuals and aromantics qualify as queer, but I was recently mulling it over and had some new thoughts. For those who are new to the subject, the last few years have seen an ongoing—and now somewhat subdued—argument between the online asexual community and some LGBQ romantic-sexual people over whether asexuals (and aromantics) can claim the queer identity. Many LGBQ romantic-sexual people welcome aces and aros into the alphabet soup of queer identities, and likewise, some asexuals don’t have any interest in identifying as queer, mostly the ones who are hetero-romantic.

What’s interesting to me about LGBQ allo* people (those who experience both romantic and sexual attraction) condemning the idea of asexuals, aromantics, and specifically those who are both IDing as “queer,” is what their objections reveal about their own understanding of queerness. The most popular reasons cited for rejecting aros and aces from the queer circle are:

a) Asexuals and aromantics have not been systematically and historically oppressed by heterosexual society for their asexuality and aromanticism.

b) There’s nothing non-heterosexual about you, if you don’t have sex and don’t fall in love romantically. (Do you see the ill logic there?)

c) “Queer” is a reclaimed slur that was used specifically against homosexuals and/or people who engaged in homosexual sex; if no one would insult you with the word “queer” for being asexual and/or aromantic, you don’t get to reclaim it as an identity.

So what do these LGBQ people think queerness is all about? Oppression, gay sex, and gay romance. Specifically in combination with each other.

If that’s your personal criteria for the “queer” identity, then you would be right in believing that aromantics and asexuals are not queer for their aromanticism and asexuality. But should that be the criteria for queerness? If you ask me, I think that’s a pretty narrow definition of “queer” that doesn’t accurately express the full spectrum of feelings, desires, relationships, and lifestyles that clearly fall outside of heteronormativity.

Why did the word “queer” even become a slur thrown at homosexuals and gender deviant individuals in the first place? Why that word? It was because originally, “queer” meant strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric, questionable, or suspicious. People and behaviors were called “queer” for being socially inappropriate. The history of queer as a slur for people who had gay sex isn’t about the condemnation of gay sex, so much as it’s about condemning what deviates from the norm. It’s about the age old concept that being different is bad and unacceptable. You’re supposed to behave a certain way, live a certain lifestyle, and if you don’t, the majority will disapprove of you for not being like them. Members of the normative majority insulting deviants with the word “queer” was about pressuring people into conforming to norms or else ostracizing them from society in order to protect those norms.

Having gay sex is only one type of deviation from heteronormativity. The same goes for romantic attraction to someone of the same gender. And even if you do limit queerness to gay sexual attraction and romantic attraction, you run into the question of whether it’s feelings and desires that matter or behavior—because throughout history, people who had same-gender attractions and desires still participated in straight sex and straight romantic relationships, even straight marriages and family life, while others who predominantly lived and felt heterosexual sometimes engaged in homosexual acts, not always because of attraction. Human sexuality has never been clear cut or black and white, and the contemporary insistence of everyone falling clearly into one of only two categories doesn’t even work all the time now either.

So let me specify my personal definition of queerness: to be queer is to be someone who has feelings, desires, experiences, relationships, and lifestyle practices that defy the mainstream normative ideal of a monogamous, primary, romantic, sexual couple relationship between a man and a woman. Anything that contradicts, differs, threatens, or exists outside that realm of sex, intimacy, romance, love, physical affection, social priority, or public identification with, that heterosexual/hetero-romantic framework is queer—meaning different, strange, unusual, deviant, odd, and socially inappropriate or unacceptable in at least some (if not all) circles of heteronormative culture and society.

Now obviously, if you adopt that definition of queerness, almost every expression of aromanticism and asexuality qualifies. I’m not going to suggest that nonsexual hetero- romance is queer based on the sexlessness alone, nor am I going to suggest that nonromantic hetero- sex is queer based on the lack of romance alone. But even if you’re hetero-romantic and asexual or aromantic and heterosexual, it is possible for your behavior, feelings, and experiences to be queer based on my definition of queerness.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the intersection of same-sex romantic attraction or sexual attraction with aromanticism and asexuality. Aromantic LGBQ sexual people and LGBQ romantic asexuals qualify as queer even if you do restrict the identity to romantic and sexual same-sex attraction, and thankfully, most allo-* LGBQ people don’t argue with that. You can be aromantic and fuck people of the same gender. You can be asexual and romantically fall in love with people of the same gender. While neither case meets the hetero- and homonormative standard of romantic-sexual wholeness, there’s enough attraction and/or activity involved that is undeniably queer. I don’t need to defend aros and aces who have gay sex or gay romantic relationships as queers; their respective sexual and romantic attractions and behaviors speak for themselves.

What I really want to talk about is the inherent queerness of certain expressions of asexuality and aromanticism as extreme deviations from the normativity of sex and romance as “human” universal desires, feelings, and experiences. I want to talk about aromanticism and asexuality being queer even when they’re not packaged with same-gender sex and romance. Sex normativity and compulsory sexuality are present in both straight and gay culture. Amatonormativity—the expectation of romantic feelings, desires, love, and relationships and of their centrality and superiority—is present in both straight and gay culture. The more normalized homosexuality becomes in mainstream society, the more it mimics heteronormative heterosexuality, which is indeed the primary condition for its normalization. Both nonsexual romance and nonromantic sex are considered abnormal or inappropriate to some degree by the heteronormative institution, and the same is true and becomes increasingly so in mainstream gay and lesbian culture.

Does that make aromantic asexuals a new kind of super queer, in the original sense of the word? The 21st century sexual deviants, as homosexuality becomes increasingly accepted and mainstream? If more and more heterosexuals are accepting and embracing gay sex and gay romance as normal, while both straights and gays side-eye aromanticism and asexuality as weird, abnormal, fake, and inhuman, who really is queer now? Who are the queers, not in the context of “queer” being a mere synonym for “same-sex attracted” but in the context of “queer” signifying weirdness and social deviance?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m fully aware that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual—whether you’re romantic or not—is still a struggle for many people all over the U.S., in other first world Western countries, and especially in the rest of the world. I’m not suggesting that being LGBQ is no longer queer, and I’m certainly not saying that asexuals and aromantics categorically experience more systematic oppression now than alloromantic LGBQ sexual people. But I am saying that there seems to be a hierarchy of weirdness when it comes to sexual and social behavior, both from the perspective of straight society and within the LGBQ population. I’m saying that the more you match mainstream society’s ideal heterosexual person in your lifestyle, feelings, desires, and behaviors, the more accepted you are by both heterosexuals and LGBQ people. There are now “good” ways of being gay and “bad” ways of being queer.

Whether you’re aro and LGBQ sexual or ace and LGBQ romantic, you are not experiencing and performing sexuality correctly or adequately. You don’t fit into homonormativity or heteronormativity. You’re the new “bad queer,” lumped in with the folks who are too promiscuous, too flamboyant, too femme, too fat, too politically radical, and altogether too troublesome. You’re not going to go quietly into Gay Inc.’s utopia of monogamous romantic-sexual gay marriage, a middle-class or upper-class respectable lifestyle with all the same materialistic trappings as your straight neighbors in your nice suburban neighborhood, where you vote neo-liberal and ensure that the world stays mostly the same as it’s always been. Even if you don’t make a spectacle of your nonromantic sex life or your nonsexual romances, you are going to disrupt other people’s pursuit of the Normal Life—and for that, you will at least be criticized by the people you fuck or the people you date or your friends and family. There is no movement for you. No one’s fighting for your right to fuck without romance or to date without having any sex. No one’s going to put you on a poster or a TV interview and be proud of what you are and how you live. Certainly no one in the mainstream gay rights movement, never mind in the ranks of their straight allies.

Isn’t it ironic that the best and most acceptable way to be queer in the 21st century is to replicate heteronormativity in a same-sex context? To mirror the oppressor? To contribute to the very socio-political system that has tried to destroy queerness in all its forms from the beginning? The more gay men and lesbians mimic monogamous, married romantic heterosexuals, the more heterosexuals approve of and support them. That’s the crux of the entire mainstream gay rights movement: joining the heteronormative system as it is, insisting that gay people are “just like everyone else,” that gay romantic love is just like straight romantic love, that the only thing gay people want is the same right to peacefully fuck, date, get married, buy a house in suburbia, raise 2.5 kids, and live happily ever after. Any queer who isn’t here for that program is silenced, left out, forgotten. Forget about challenging or changing the heternormative system at its roots. Forget about expanding the definition of “family” and “love,” and forget about promoting complete sexual freedom by putting an end to slut-shaming and de facto monogamy.

So where does this leave aromantic asexuals? The people who don’t feel, have, or want sex OR romance? If queerness is supposed to be about same-gender sex and romance, how can aromantic asexuals be queer? Well, they aren’t, if your concept of queerness is sex and romance dependent. But if queerness is simply deviating from heteronormative—which is heterosexual and amatonormative/romantic—norms, then you can’t get any queerer than aromantic asexuality. Especially aromantic asexuality that leads to permanent singleness and celibacy, a secular rejection of romantic-sexual relationships for life. For aromantic asexuals, the queerness—or the weirdness, let’s say—of alternative relationships neither sexual nor romantic, of lifestyles that are community oriented instead of partner oriented, of desiring and creating intimacy (physical and emotional) without sexual or romantic motive, of centering friendship instead of sex and romance, of remaining permanently unpartnered by choice, or of taking a partner that is neither romantic nor sexual is obvious. It has no available cultural narrative adjacent and related to heteronormativity in which to cloak itself, no mask to put on in front of polite society that softens the blow of its bizarre face. There is nothing about this open and authentic aromanticism and asexuality that can balance out or excuse its weirdness. There is no aromantic or asexual normativity that does not ultimately entail behaving romantically and sexually in practice. While it’s possible to be authentically gay and aligned with heteronormative relationship practices, it is not possible to be authentically aromantic or asexual and aligned with those heteronormative relationship practices, because in rejecting romance as an aro or rejecting sex as an asexual, you immediately step outside heteronormativity—and if you’re both aro and ace and living true to your disinterest in sex and romance, you’re even further removed.

The fact that sex and romance are used as the measuring stick of queerness—particularly, as a package deal in the form of a homonormative couple model—actually suggests that aromanticism and asexuality, especially in combination with each other, are even more subversive than romantic homosexuality within the heteronormative system. This is especially true when aro aces seek to form their own relationships outside the romantic-sexual framework and its binary of traditional romantic relationships vs. traditional friendship. Tell me what’s weirder: a gay couple falling in love, getting married, having sex, living together, and being a monogamous primary couple or two aromantic asexuals not fucking, not having romantic feelings for each other, not getting married or having kids, but becoming partners after being friends for a long time and living together for the rest of their lives while they don’t date or fuck anyone else?

Aromantic asexuality gives no opportunity for assimilation into heteronormative society and culture, unless it is closeted. It’s not possible for an aro ace to be out, to reject sex and romantic relationships, form queerplatonic friendships and/or partnerships, and pass as “normal” in our heteronormative world. The same goes for aromantic sexual people and LGBQ romantic aces who choose to pursue nonromantic primary partnerships, permanent singleness and sex, and nonsexual romance—particularly while being out as aromantic sexual people and romantic asexuals.

Whether same gender or cross gender, queerplatonic and other nonromantic partnerships are not heteronormative. Thus, they are queer in the literal sense of the word: strange, unusual, weird, outside of the norm. In fact, these relationships are so weird, that most romantic-sexual people—straight and LGBQ—never fathom them as possibilities and live in complete ignorance of them unless and until someone, usually an aro or ace, brings them up. And even once romantic-sexual people encounter the concept of queerplatonic friendship and nonromantic partnership, often their reaction is to dismiss these culturally invisible relationships either as “just friendship” (akin to their own normative, insignificant friendships) or as covert romantic-sexual relationships. That’s how close-minded and stuck in their own personal social paradigm they are.

This blind spot that romantic people have, particularly romantic-sexual people, brings me back to the issue of whether non-LGBQ aromantics and asexuals qualify as queer. Deniers of aromantic heterosexual queerness and aromantic asexual queerness forget one very important fact: aromantic heterosexuals and aromantic asexuals can choose same gender intimacies. Aromantic heterosexuals may fuck people of the opposite sex but center a nonromantic partnership with someone of the same sex. Most of the aromantic asexuals I’ve encountered who have or want a queerplatonic partner are with someone or want to be with someone of the same sex. Don’t mistake this point as an argument for aros in same-sex partnered friendships being read as gay and having a right to queer identity on those grounds. Passing as romantically and sexually interested in the same gender is neither the point nor the goal. It simply must be acknowledged that being aromantic and heterosexual or aromantic and asexual does not automatically or even frequently lead someone to live a lifestyle identical to your average hetero-romantic heterosexual. Not only is there an inherent weirdness to the aromantic heterosexual and aromantic asexual, particularly the ones who completely reject romantic-sexual relationships, but there can be same-sex intimacies—both physical and emotional—in their lives that disqualify them from heteronormativity.

So if I, an aromantic asexual genderqueer individual, become queerplatonic partners with an aromantic asexual woman one day, and our friendship involves emotional intimacy, mutual prioritization, mutual rejection of sex and romance, eventually living together long-term, cuddling/caressing/light kissing, commitment, making decisions together, etc, it may not be gay or queer-in-the-gay-sense but it sure as hell isn’t straight. The outside world will either misinterpret our friendship as homosexual or, upon hearing us come out as aromantic asexuals in a QP partnership, will find it even weirder than if we were lesbians in a standard romantic-sexual couple relationship.

And let’s say I have the same kind of queerplatonic partnership with an aromantic asexual man. Again, we’re both aro, both ace, both permanently single and celibate. Marriage, children, monogamy, and romantic labels are all off the table. We openly identify ourselves as aro aces in a QP partnership whenever we can. Even if most people were to look at us together and see man and woman (misgendering me, a nonbinary FAAB person), what about that relationship is heteronormative? It’s not gay, no argument there, but it’s just about as far away from the conventional romantic relationships of heterosexuals as the QP friendship I would have with my female partner.

I personally don’t feel the need to identify myself or my relationships as “queer,” mostly because I don’t want my aromanticism and asexuality to be erased in a queerness that’s still understood to be romantic and sexual, but I am quite obviously and proudly weird. You will never, ever hear or see me insisting to romantic-sexual people that I’m just like them. I have no interest in being accepted for my identity and my friendships on the grounds of passing as “normal” by heteronormative, romantic-sexual standards. Maybe that’s the word that people like me can and should freely claim as ours: weird. A synonym of “queer” that is still usually considered a pejorative label, the opposite of “normal,” devoid of any specific socio-political history and available for use by anyone who is, in fact, outside the norm.

Greyromanticism 301

The Thinking Asexual:

This is a really excellent post on grey-romanticism that I highly recommend everyone read. There’s so little writing out there about greyromanticism, despite the fact that plenty of people on the aro spectrum are grey! Greyromanticism covers such a wide variety of experiences, and this post lists a lot of those possibilities.

Originally posted on The Asexual Agenda:

When I was putting together my linkspam on greyness, I don’t think I managed to find a single piece on greyromanticism.  That was a little strange to me, ‘cause I know a fair number of greyromantic folks!  But if you look online, there are a couple of people writing about demiromanticism and a fair number writing about wtfromanticism, but for some reason, nobody’s really talking about greyromanticism.  When I tried to start talking about greyromanticism more on tumblr, I started getting a lot of questions along the lines of, “Hey, can you tell me more about this greyromanticism thing?”  So I figured that it was probably time to write a post about greyromanticism that I could link people to when they asked.  Plus, I think it’s time to have a larger public conversation about greyromanticism.  (To that end, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section!)

Thus…

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The Outlier

February’s theme for Carnival of Aces is “cross-community connections.” I wasn’t planning on writing a contribution for it, but now I’m inspired to write a very informal and largely personal post that happens to qualify.

I’m an asexual who is committed to lifelong celibacy, despite having an active libido and (as far as I know) next to no sex-repulsion. I don’t understand or empathize with asexuals who have sex they don’t want to have, who think that they should be willing to get fucked for romance and love, who buy into sexual society’s message that wanting/having/and liking sex is the only way to be normal and liberated. I’m of the opinion that if you’re at all uncomfortable with sex, even if you aren’t repulsed, you shouldn’t do it. I think there should be far more sexual people going celibate in mixed romantic relationships with aces than there are. I think there should be far more aces who challenge sexual people they date to become celibate, instead of folding to the expectation that it’s the ace who’ll be making the sexual sacrifices without question. I think there oughta be more romantic aces who choose to stay single until they meet someone willing to have a nonsexual romantic relationship than there are and an active, community-wide interrogation of the idea that romantic relationships are the end goal into which aces should be pouring all of their social energy into.

I’m aromantic. I’m romance-repulsed. But I also want long-term, domestic friends I can have committed, intentional relationships with—friends who don’t date other people because they too are perma-single aromantics. I’m an aro who wants a lot of sensual, affectionate, physical intimacy in my close friendships: someone who loves to cuddle, who would like to kiss my passionate friends sometimes, who likes skin to skin contact and hugs and general physical closeness with people I’m emotionally attached to. I’m an aro who is capable of very deep, intense love and emotion, however rarely it happens.

I refuse to date romantic people in order to access love, intimacy, affection, attention, and value. I don’t see anything appealing about romantic relationships at all. Romance and people whose lives revolve around it are irritating at best. At their worst, they make me want to buy an island in the Caribbean and live there alone. It doesn’t matter if they’re sexual or asexual. It doesn’t matter if they’re monogamous or poly. It doesn’t matter if they’re fucking or not. Romance supremacy is romance supremacy, and nothing is more repellant to me. I don’t feel the need to play nice with romantics, whether in ace spaces or the world at large; I’m not going to tip toe around them to keep them comfortable in their assumption that they’re the normal ones and their way of organizing and creating relationships is the default because it’s natural or objectively the best. I’m never going to let them rest easy in their shitty friendship practices or their narrow-minded worldview concerning the nature of human relationships, behavior, and feelings.

I’ve seen romantic aces demonstrate romance supremacy in their words and actions, in education and visibility efforts as well as in online ace spaces. I’ve seen them express beliefs and feelings about romantic relationships as compared to friendship that are no different than what I typically expect of romantic-sexual people. Aromantics may make up one quarter of the asexual community—a pretty damn high number—but we’re still ignored, dismissed, misunderstood, and disrespected. In the end, it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, when it comes to being an asshole in the name of romance. And even putting the assholery aside, there just doesn’t seem to be much about romantic aces that I can relate to. I’m years past figuring out the complexities of sexuality and making peace with my own asexuality, so all the basic level shit that new asexuals often talk about isn’t personally relevant to me. And all the noise romantic aces make about dating, living in dysfunctional or challenging romantic relationships, breaking up with romantic partners over sex, longing for their dream romance isn’t just irrelevant to me, it’s annoying. As annoying as it would be coming from sexual people.

Even politically speaking, I’m at odds with most of the asexual community once we get past the message that asexuality exists. For a long time, I’ve observed in the asexual visibility movement a certain degree of wanting sexual society to validate us, wanting to be accepted as “normal,” wanting to assimilate into their world without changing it much. I realize that once romantic aces get basic education about what asexuality means out of the way, their goals amount to finding romantic relationships that work for them, often with sexual people. They use romance as a way to normalize themselves in the eyes of sexual people, just as some try to win acceptance by reassuring sexual people that aces can still fuck (for “love”). I’ve got absolutely no stake in any of that shit, nor am I on board with the messages themselves.

I’m a relationship anarchist who doesn’t fuck or do romance. If polyamory is a lifestyle on the margins of American society, relationship anarchy is in the margins of polyamory—especially my nonsexual, nonromantic relationship anarchy. I’m happy to report that some polyamorous romantic-sexual people acknowledge the validity of nonsexual love and include nonsexual relationships in their own polycules. Some romantic asexuals are poly, and some aromantics (sexual and ace) are poly. But it seems that most poly people are very sex-centric. Furthermore, my relationship anarchy is a far cry from polyamorous romantic-sexual couples in open marriages who often practice a kind of hierarchical poly and categorize their romantic relationships vs. friendships just as normatively as monogamists do. Romance and sex are still the king and queen of most poly people’s lives, and nonromantic/nonsexual friendship is still an afterthought.

I’m a butch, but not a lesbian. I’m also a genderqueer nonbinary person who’s trying to sort out my complicated feelings about my chest while deconstructing any internalized femmephobia I may have. I’ve recently started to think about the fact that I, like so many others, have been attempting to break out of the gender binary while continuing to observe its rules. I want to be read and respected as masculine, as butch, as nonbinary, but I don’t think I want to have to bind my chest or make all feminine markers off-limits on my body. I don’t want to buy into the farce of masculinity as the neutral default. I don’t want that to be my androgyny, but I don’t know if any other androgyny can exist in the world at large where the gender binary is everywhere. Mostly, I’ve decided that this conundrum is less about my gender identity and more about learning how to let go of the desire for other people’s validation. Good to know that’s still something I have to work on.

Whether or not asexuals and aromantics belong in the LGBTQ community for their asexuality and aromanticism (not their corresponding romantic and sexual orientations) is a question that people still debate and fight over. I’ve long felt like asexuals specifically don’t need to latch on to an LGBTQ community that is sexual at its core, made of people who aren’t much different than heterosexuals in this regard. I acknowledge that there are homo-, bi-, and panromantic asexuals, many of whom will date LGBTQ sexual people and even fuck those people or marry them. But the way I see it, asexuals as a group have very different needs, experiences, and goals than queer sexual people do as a group. I acknowledge that there are aromantic queer sexual people, but how welcome they are in the LGBTQ community that is dominated by romantics remains to be seen on a grand scale.

I was around to witness the firestorm of anti-asexual hate explode out of the LGBTQ community online during its first wave, and I guess that encouraged and solidified my own aversion to unifying the asexual community with the LGBTQ community. I know that there are plenty of LGBTQ sexual people who welcome asexuals and aromantics into their own lives, personal communities, and spaces as fellow queers, and that’s cool of them. But I’m still not sold on the idea of lumping aces and aros in with the LGBTQ romantic-sexual people of the world. When sex and marriage are increasingly centralized in the mainstream LGBTQ/Gay Inc. political movement and in the lives of the more privileged (read: white, cis, middle and upper class) romantic-sexual queers, it’s hard for me to see what the average asexual or aromantic person has to gain from inclusion in that movement and the queer community itself.

Furthermore, I’m never going to allow anyone to forget that LGBTQ sexual people, the same as their heterosexual counterparts, are the abusers and rapists of asexuals who try to connect with them romantically. They are also fueling the engine of amatonormativity in our culture, drinking the Kool-Aid of romance fantasy no less than straight people and abandoning the truly queer family configurations and lifestyles that used to be all LGBTQ people had as a source of love and support, before they had the option to get on the straight path to the nuclear family. They can herald the empowerment and liberation to be found in fucking freely as queer people (disguising compulsory sexuality as sex positivity), then in the same breath turn around and slut shame aromantic queers who don’t want to date them, marry them, or fall in line with the homonormative image of the monogamous, romantic same-sex married couple that puts straight people at ease.

On a personal level, I’m in a strange position because the world and even my own queer friends usually look at me and see someone queer. My gender makes me queer, my relationship style makes me queer, my sexuality makes me queer, my politics and beliefs make me queer. It’s not even so much a conclusion they reach after running an in-depth analysis. It’s more instinctual: even if strangers can never guess that I’m an aromantic asexual genderqueer person, they can often tell I’m not heterosexual. There’s something very not-straight about me, even just visually. I think that they usually just mistake me for gay; after all, most people only know about straight and gay as categories, forgetting about other queer sexualities, being ignorant of asexuality and aromanticism and gender identities other than cismale and cisfemale.

But I don’t feel queer. I don’t see myself as queer. Not really. Queerness seems to be all about sex and romance, about desires and dramas that I will never experience, about lifestyles that don’t include people like me and relationships like the ones I want. In my eyes, the world is divided into people who center romance and people who center friendship, and most queer sexual people, being romantic, fall into the first group no less and no differently than the vast majority of heterosexuals. Friendship doesn’t factor into heterosexuality or homosexuality, into being straight or being queer. Even friendship that goes far beyond what it’s supposed to be relative to romance. Even friendship that is physically intimate and emotionally passionate.

In terms of my queer qualifications, it doesn’t matter who I love, who I live with, who I make commitments with. It doesn’t matter if I kiss, cuddle, and caress people I love, and it doesn’t matter who those people are or what their genders are. It doesn’t matter that I reject monogamy, marriage, and the nuclear family. It doesn’t even really matter that I’m a nonbinary butch that can confuse strangers regarding what my gender is. If I’m not fucking and falling in love, if I’m not claiming the labels “gay” or “lesbian” or “bisexual,” if I’m not taking steps to change my body into one less gendered or at the very least doing everything I can to hide my assigned sex, I’m not queer enough to be queer.

And beyond the fact that I don’t need or want partnered sex to be part of my life, I also don’t have much in common with other asexuals, 75% of whom are romantic. In fact, I feel closer to aromantic sexual people than I do to romantic aces, even the aro sexual people who need to be sexually active pretty much all the time. It’s funny: I don’t relate to most asexuals who spend most of their time in ace spaces moaning about romance and how hard it is to date when you don’t like sex, and I also can’t personally relate to aromantic sexual people when it comes to the particular difficulties of having a sex life while avoiding romantic relationships. Fortunately, aromantics seem to share a lot of common feelings about friendship as the most important and appealing thing in life, regardless of sexual orientation, but the fact is, in aro spaces, there is a certain division between aces and sexual people. In many ways, it’s easier to be aro and ace, than it is to be aromantic and sexual. There are struggles that sexual aros live with that I will never have to deal with. And there are some sexual aros who would still like to center sexual relationships, even if nonromantic, in their lives rather than nonsexual friendship. It’s easier for me to feel connection with aros generally, including aro sexual people, than it is with romantic aces….. But ultimately, it’s only other aromantic asexuals who I fully belong with. And even there, it’s the aro aces who aren’t dating, who embrace their aromanticism, who want queerplatonic friendships and won’t bother trying to masquerade as romantic.

I’m the asexual in a world full of sexual people, and I will not fuck you. I’m the aromantic in a world full of romantics, and I will die before submitting to normative romantic relationships as a way to access love and priority. I’m the genderqueer person who doesn’t fall into the male-female binary, the butch with big tits who occasionally wears nail polish or leggings or eyeliner. I’m the relationship anarchist who centers friendship in my life.

I’m an outlier, any way you slice it. And to some degree, it’s the intersection of all these different identities—asexual, aromantic, genderqueer, butch, relationship anarchist—that places me in the margins of each individual community. It’s easy for me to see the fractures in these communities, easy for me to recognize that there isn’t any cohesion or unity across the board, that there’s more internal rifts than anyone wants to own up to. I do feel a sense of kinship with people who are LGBTQ and people who are asexual and people who are polyamorous. But ultimately, the community I want for myself is a community of permanently single aromantics whose lifestyles and value system reflect the same prioritization of friendship that I feel. Their sexual orientations and gender identities don’t matter much to me, in comparison to their singleness and their aromanticism.

I feel like an ally, a supporter, of all these different groups of people that I share certain traits with. But I don’t feel a sense of complete belonging with any group, except the aromantic asexuals who are like me.

The Romance Monopoly

On the long list of things that romantic people do and say that piss me off, the following has long been near the top of the list:

“I married my best friend!”

“I’m in love with my best friend!”

And any other expression of the idea that one’s romantic partner is also one’s “best friend.”

I acknowledge that friendship can be part of someone’s romantic relationship, and depending on how you look at it, a romantic relationship can actually be better off if friendship is a part of it. I also think that successful, long-term romantic relationships actually do evolve into a kind of friendship over time, shedding much of its romantic energy, and that this is often an inevitable consequence of being close to someone for many years. It’s not that I think there’s a problem with seeing your romantic partner as a friend.

What’s so annoying and sometimes even offensive to me about people who claim that their romantic partner is also their best friend comes down to the common social model of Romance Monopoly.

Merriam-Webster defines “monopoly” as: exclusive ownership through legal privilege, command of supply, or concerted action; exclusive possession or control; a commodity controlled by one party. Usually, this is a term or phenomenon used in economics, and in the American economy, monopolies are frowned upon (and even illegal) because if you can only purchase a necessary good or service from one provider, that provider can overcharge their customers and still successfully turn a profit. Introducing a competitor in a particular market means that every company in that market has to keep their prices within range of each other; obviously, if you charge twice or three times as much as your competition when providing the same product or service at comparable quality, you’ll lose buyers. If you have no competition, you can charge whatever you want, you can under-produce which makes your product a limited resource that not everybody can access, you can get away with producing a product or service of lower quality, etc—because no matter what you do or don’t do, people are going to buy from you. There is no incentive to improve your product or service, to meet consumer demand, or set reasonable prices. Prohibiting monopolies is a way of preventing unethical or unreasonable behavior on the part of businesses.

So what do I mean by “The Romance Monopoly”?

The concept behind the romance monopoly is essentially:

By restricting access to commonly desired experiences, both behavioral and emotional, to romantic relationships, romantic people create a social system in which a person’s well-being and happiness is often dependent upon their participating in romantic relationships. The consequences of this are twofold: people often have a bullshit threshold in romantic relationships that is astronomically high, making it easier for abuse, unhappiness, and general dysfunction to continue unchecked or much longer than it would otherwise, because people are willing to put up with the negativity for the sake of maintaining access to those emotional and practical resources they can’t get anywhere else; second, the restriction of desirable resources to romantic relationships makes it possible and logical for romantic relationships to maintain its position at the top of the relationship hierarchy (both on an individual basis and on a broad, cultural level) regardless of how well that organization of relationships actually serves people involved. When romance monopolizes positive social experiences, friendship automatically has little value in comparison.

The Romantic-Sexual Relationship Hierarchy is intimately connected to amatonormativity. Let me remind you that amatonormativity is “the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous (romantic) relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types,” and that this is not just a personal attitude but a cultural paradigm, like heteronormativity. In fact, romance supremacy (the belief that romance is intrinsically superior to and more valuable than friendship and should be treated as such) and amatonormativity depend on each other for survival. Amatonormativity makes romance supremacy possible and vice versa, and if you destroy one, you inevitably destroy the other.

So here’s what society brainwashes you into believing: you should want and have romantic relationships, because that’s the only way to be “normal,” and you should see romantic relationships as superior to all other types, because romantic relationships are the one and only source of everything positive you need and desire to experience interactively with other human beings. All the affection, connection, intimacy, quality time, touch, trust, support, attention, sex, and commitment you might want or need to feel fulfilled, secure, valuable, etc can only come through romantic relationships, so if you reject romantic relationships, you reject all of those resources that you want and need for happiness and well-being. Because romantic relationships are the exclusive wellspring of these desired and necessary experiences, you should consider them significantly better and more important than any other kind of relationship, and if you don’t act like it, you’re a bad person who doesn’t deserve romantic relationships.

Then, we have pop culture’s messages about romance. The Romantic Happily Ever After Fantasy. Your One True Romantic Love is the only person you should want, the only person you should need, the only person who can or should satisfy your every physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual need and desire. And if the romantic partner you’ve got doesn’t meet those standards, you’re not with the right one. It’s wrong to want or need more than one romantic partner, and it’s wrong to want or need anything from anyone who is not your romantic partner. That’s part of the fantasy, after all, part of what makes the True Love story so romantic: the idea that once, you were an empty, incomplete, sad excuse for a person who was tortured with unfulfilled desire, and along came your One True Romantic Love, who had the sole power to complete, fulfill, and satisfy you, and with them, you experience a joy that is not otherwise possible.

That shit falls totally flat if you have more than one romantic partner that pleases you—or God forbid, you can find joy and fulfillment without romance. As it goes in economics, exclusivity and scarcity increase the value of a particular product or service. One way we determine specialness, whether we’re talking about a person, a diamond, or a type of relationship, is by how rare the thing in question is. The more common a thing, the lower its worth. Your average romantic monogamist can have 20 so-called “friends” but only one romantic partner, and that contrast increases the perceived worth and specialness of their romantic relationship. Notice how monogamous skeptics of polyamory often challenge poly people by asking, “Doesn’t adding a second (or third, etc) romantic partner to your life make your original romantic relationship less special?” The same sentiment is often taught regarding sex: “You should only have sex with someone you’re in love with, so that the sex is special. It’s not special if you’re screwing around with multiple people.” The rhetoric of romantic relationships, monogamy, romance supremacy, ideal sexual conduct, etc is more reflective of economics than anybody cares to acknowledge, but it should come as no surprise to you, considering how closely intertwined sex and romance are with capitalism in American culture. Sex sells, after all, and so does romance.

Romantic people who say their romantic partners are their best friends piss me off for a variety of reasons. First of all, this is the ultimate expression of romance monopoly: not only do these people reserve the vast majority of positive social experience to their romantic relationship but they take it so far as to bleed romance into friendship territory, creating a situation in which their romantic relationship quiet literally takes away most of the potential that their nonromantic friendships might have to provide desired experiences and resources. They don’t need or want anything significant from anyone on planet Earth besides their romantic partner, because they place both romantic and best friend expectations onto the same person, and by comparison, everybody else they know or might know is worthless. As a friend, you have nothing to offer someone who subscribes to romance monopoly, because everything they perceive as valuable comes only through their romantic relationship. You could offer all the love, care, affection, attention, trust, and intimacy in the world, and it will be met with indifference and ingratitude.

Second of all, naming your romantic partner as your best friend is a cop-out. You don’t have to actually do any of the emotional or practical work to create and maintain a real, nonromantic best friendship with someone because you have your romantic partner working double duty. You isolate yourself on a sort of emotional island with your romantic partner, so that nobody else can engage with you in meaningful ways or experience real intimacy and connection with you, maybe even out of the insecurity that if you or your romantic partner form friendships with other people equal or almost equal to your romantic relationship, that will somehow detract from the “specialness” of your romantic relationship. It’s a kind of emotional and social greed, mutually shared between romantic partners. (And there’s a lot of overlap between this and monogamy.)

Third, the idea that your romantic partner and your closest friend can or even should be the same person is a major reinforcement of romance monopoly on a functional level. Where there could be and once was a division of social roles in a person’s life, a distribution of emotional and behavioral functions amongst a network of lovers, friends, and family members, now there’s just this concentration of everything into one person, one relationship. That funneling of all positive experiences, responsibilities, and functions into the romantic relationship basically renders friendships and familial relationships superfluous. Unnecessary. Disposable. Easily neglected. And the flipside of this is, if your romantic relationship fails, you’re fucked. You lose not only the innate benefits of romance, but all those other emotional and practical resources that could’ve been reaped from friendship and family.

What does it say about you, if the only “best friend” you ever have is your romantic partner? You can only manage to create a best friendship with someone if you’re fucking the person and causing them to experience romantic feelings? Do you even know how to be close friends with another human being, in a nonsexual and nonromantic context? Do you have anything to offer someone in friendship, when you take the sexual and romantic elements away? Are you actually capable of loving another person, for nonsexual and nonromantic reasons? Are you yourself lovable nonromantically and nonsexually?

Because here’s the thing: romantic and sexual attraction often skew a person’s perception of someone else. It distorts your judgment of someone else’s character, their behavior, their treatment of you, their overall attractiveness and desirability. Sex and romance fool people into thinking that their lovers are better than they are, convince them into accepting treatment and behavior they would never otherwise accept. Friendship does no such thing. Nonromantic, nonsexual friendship is built on reality, not fantasy. We see our nonromantic, nonsexual friends for who they are, not who we want them to be. Sex and romance have a neurochemical power to build a kind of instant and/or pseudo-intimacy and closeness between people, people who don’t actually know each other; that intimacy and closeness are not earned, the way they are in nonromantic, nonsexual friendship. So, if you can only build intimacy and connection with someone if sex and romance do all the heavy-lifting for you, if sex and romance are necessary causes of someone else loving you and feeling attached to you, you’re probably not someone worth being close friends with, frankly.

One of two things must be true of people whose romantic partners are also their best friends:

1. They can’t actually form a best or particularly close friendship with someone in a nonromantic, nonsexual context—or they simply don’t value friendship, of the nonromantic and nonsexual variety. (Maybe both.) They only value romantic relationships, and calling their romantic partner their “best friend” is really just a nice way of saying that their romantic partner is the only person they have a close, meaningful relationship with.

2. They had a nonromantic, nonsexual best friend prior to getting married or pairing up with their romantic partner, and upon entering their romantic relationship, they basically demoted their ex-best friend to a lower friendship status, so they could rank their romantic partner at the top of both their overall social pyramid and at the top of their friendship group.

In either case, these people are not ones you want to get mixed up with if you’re looking for serious, meaningful friendship and if you actually highly value and even prioritize friendship in your own life. They’re a major waste of friendly love. They’re acquaintance material, and that’s all.

People who are guilty of the second scenario are especially vile, in my book. If you subordinate a best friend—who your probably knew much longer than you did your romantic partner, who invested their time and energy and emotions into your friendship, who is more likely to outlast your romantic relationship than vice versa—to a romantic partner, even to the point of throwing the best friend out of their role amongst your friend group just to place your romantic partner in BOTH slots, for no reason other than your romantic partner is your romantic partner, you are a traitor of the highest order. You’re trash. You don’t deserve good friendship. Fuck off into your romantic relationship and leave friendship to people who actually value it as important.

If romance is only “special,” meaningful, and satisfying when it monopolizes positive social experience and degrades friendship, then at its core, romance ain’t shit. And in all likelihood, if we could ever live in a world where all the positive emotional and social experiences we desire were available in friendship and family relationships, romance would no longer be the ultimate fairy tale to obsess over, but just one option on the buffet table. We wouldn’t see romance as the ultimate prize; instead, the prize would be love, in whatever form it takes. People wouldn’t have to feel so dependent on romantic relationships for happiness or love or companionship or sex or family or anything other than romantic feelings and romantic expression. Friendship would matter just as much, if not more, as romance to romantic people—something I can hardly imagine.

TV Show Recommendations for Friendship Fans

I’m adding a page with a list of TV shows and movies I recommend, in which friendship or sibling relationships are central to the story and particularly satisfying by my standards. These are my favorite shows and films. I’m adding descriptions of the TV shows here in this post, but on the page, I’ll only list the titles. I know it’s hard to find good TV or movies that are heavy on nonromantic/nonsexual friendship and light on romance/sex, so I figure I’d offer up the ones I know to be good for anyone in need.

**Disclaimer: My taste in media falls primarily into the crime drama camp, as you’ll see. As such, none of these shows are particularly light-hearted, and they all involve some degree of violence, obviously crime, and dark themes. There is a fucking shitload of angst in these stories, but also plenty of love and gold nuggets of friendship too, which make it worth watching to me.

Every show on this list, except Elementary and True Detective, can be streamed on Netflix. TD can be streamed on Amazon or HBO Go. Elementary can be rented via Netflix’s mail-in DVD service, if you have that subscription.

Enjoy!

 

Awesome Friendship-Centric TV Shows:

 

Supernatural – Sam and Dean are brothers and nonromantic/nonsexual soul mates. Their relationship is primary in the show and in their lives. They live on the road together. Their love is epic on a cosmic level, and I’m being literal, not exaggerating. Furthermore, all the other strong relationships in the show are nonromantic and nonsexual: Sam and Dean’s relationship with friend and surrogate father Bobby Singer, Dean’s friendship with Castiel, Sam and Dean’s friendship with Charlie (a girl!). In this universe, it’s fraternal love that is the most significant. Sam and Dean have sex with women, but sex is relatively unimportant in their emotional and social lives.

(For the record: I read Sam and Dean’s relationship as a queerplatonic primary partnership, Dean as an aromantic-spectrum character, and Dean and Castiel’s friendship as queerplatonic. And it is really easy to do so.)

Warning: torture, body horror, death, rip your heart out angst.

Sons of Anarchy – This is a show about a biker gang involved in criminal activity. It’s also a show about family and friendship. The MC members are all pretty sexual guys, there are traditional marriages and romantic/sexual relationships, but the friendships are equally as important, emotional, affectionate, and involved. These men work together and spend much of their free time together, they treat each other like family and protect the community they belong to made up of MC wives, children, romantic partners, etc. Protagonist Jax Teller has an ongoing love affair with his high school sweetheart Tara Knowles, but his relationship with his childhood best friend Opie Winston is just as important, maybe more important, to him as his romantic relationship with Tara. And all the other friendships in the club have ample moments of emotion and affection too. (These guys say “I love you” to each other on a regular basis. No lie.)

Warning: graphic violence, tragedy, sex crimes, death, rip your heart out angst, etc.

House MD – Dr. Gregory House is the protagonist of this medical drama, and the most important relationship in his life is the one he has with his long-time best friend Dr. James Wilson. These two work together, lunch together, live together more than once throughout the show’s eight seasons, and ultimately, the show’s conclusion rests in their friendship. Both men go through failed romantic/sexual relationships and their own friendship sees hard times. But they love each other enough that they always find their way back to each other and their friendship outlasts their romantic relationships.

Warning: drug abuse, gross body stuff of the medical variety.

BBC Sherlock – The BBC’s most recent adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories is set in the 21st century but stays true to the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson immortalized in the 19th century stories. These two men live together during the first two seasons, spend most of their free time together, and John rides on Sherlock’s coattails as they solve crimes together in London. Their relationship is the most important one in their lives through the first two seasons, during which John Watson’s romantic/sexual entanglements with women are fleeting. (Sherlock Holmes, as always, is unofficially asexual, aromantic, and celibate. Canonically, BBC!Sherlock is a thirty-something year old virgin who shows absolutely no interest in sex or dating.) Even in the third season, when Watson gets married, it’s made clear that his friendship with Sherlock is equal in his eyes to his romantic relationship, and Mary Morstan-Watson is actually a fan of the men’s friendship, encouraging their closeness and winning Sherlock’s affection. Sherlock is also friends with Detective Inspector Lestrade, his landlady Mrs. Hudson, and Molly Hooper. At least for the first two seasons, friendship is central to this show, and even in season 3, Sherlock remains a main character who is voluntarily single and depends on his friends for emotional connection.

Warning: violence, death, tragedy, drug abuse.

Elementary – Another adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories set in the 21st century, this show is unique in that it cast Watson as female (Joan Watson played by Lucy Liu is fabulous) and placed the story in New York City, rather than London. Holmes and Watson have a beautiful cross-sex friendship that is damn near revolutionary for TV: they live together by choice during the first two seasons as Watson transitions from being Holmes’ drug recovery sponsor to his apprentice, assisting the NYPD in solving crimes. So far, there’s a refreshing absence of romantic relationships, though there’s been some sex and casual dates and a complex plot twist concerning Holmes’ one and only romantic love of the past. When the show doesn’t focus on the Holmes and Watson friendship, it gives attention to other friendships in their lives: Holmes’ relationship with Detective Marcus Bell, his relationship with Captain Gregson, and in Season 3, a very touching friendship with his second apprentice Kitty Winter. This show has done so many things well, but its crowning glory is the cross-sex friendship between Watson and Holmes that, among other things, shapes Holmes into a better person.

Warning: violence, death, history of drug abuse.

BBC Luther – This crime thriller drama set in contemporary London follows DCI John Luther, a complicated man who is a brilliant detective but engages in some questionable conduct on the job. Only three short seasons, the show presents Luther as a man who, while clearly romantic and sexual, relies upon the friendships he builds with men and women alike. His friendship with DS Justin Ripley begins in the first episode and continues to the series end; these two men clearly care deeply for each other. Ripley is the one person on the police force who is loyal to Luther unconditionally. Luther, in turn, openly acknowledges his love for Ripley. Another stand-out relationship on the show is also established in the first episode: a titillating and complex friendship between Luther and psychopathic killer Alice Morgan, who comes to admire Luther and helps him in moments of need. Other friendships take up less screen time but nevertheless add to the presentation of Luther as someone who appreciates friendship as much, if not more, than romantic-sexual relationships.

The show is spectacularly good, and if you like crime shows or thrillers, you should watch it for that reason alone.

Warning: graphic violence, torture, murder, death, tragedy, rip your heart out angst, sex crimes, etc.

True Detective (Season 1) – Only eight episodes, this HBO drama is part police procedural, part noir, and the relationship between partners Detective Marty Hart and Detective Rust Cohle is front and center. The story spans seventeen years, as the two men talk about the first big case they worked in 1995 during interviews in 2012. After a ten year estrangement, Marty and Rust reconcile to finish solving that big case they mistakenly thought they’d closed in ’95. Throughout the story, they butt heads professionally and personally, and they can be harsh toward each other. But their friendship and the affection and concern they have for each other are undeniable. These two deeply flawed and damaged men share a bond that ultimately sees them through one of the toughest and most horrific experiences of their lives, and in the end, it’s the one thing they have to hold onto. The show is incredibly well-done in so many ways, and if you like crime dramas or noir, you’re likely enjoy the hell out of TD S1.

Warning: graphic violence, sex crimes involving women and children, murder, drug abuse, everything that could go wrong basically does, alcoholism, terrible people doing terrible things to each other.

Longmire – This police procedural crime drama is based off of the Walt Longmire mystery novels written by Craig Johnson (which I highly recommend). After three seasons on A&E, the show was cancelled by the network, only to be picked up by Netflix, where season 4 will air later in 2015. Walt Longmire is the aging sheriff of Absaroka County in rural Wyoming, and along with his very small staff of deputies, he is responsible for solving the crimes in his sparsely populated county. Walt is recently widowed when the show starts, and the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death is an ongoing subplot in the show. One of his most important relationships is with his oldest and best friend Henry Standing Bear, who he’s known since they were in grade school. Henry and Walt share a deep bond, and throughout the show, it is very clear that they love and care about each other quite a lot. Their friendship, like most aspects of the show, is understated and subtle—but there’s a great deal of substance there.

Warning: violence, death, murder.

Sleepy Hollow – This supernatural/historical drama puts a cross-sex friendship between Abby Mills, of Sleepy Hollow PD, and Ichabod Crane, a military man who died during the Revolutionary War and resurrected in the 21st century, front and center. Their friendship is funny, sweet, affectionate, and by the end of this first season, important enough that Crane affirms to Abby his loyalty and their bond as his long lost wife looks on. The other important relationships in Abby’s life are also nonromantic/nonsexual: the relationship with her sister Jenny, her friendship with the mentor and eventual supervisor who saw her grew up, and her professional relationship with her commanding officer Captain Irving. Abby Mills has stayed single thus far, and even when Crane’s wife becomes more present in Season 2, his friendship with Abby remains equally and sometimes more important than his marriage.

Warning: violence, death, supernatural horror, suicide, murder.

The Black Donnellys – This short-lived TV drama that only survived for one season is about four brothers living in 21st century NYC, who end up pulled into a conflict between the Irish Mob and Italian Mafia. Narrated by the brothers’ long-time, close friend who “always wanted brothers like that,” there’s a lot of nonromantic love in these thirteen episodes, love that is important enough for Tommy Donnelly to choose brotherhood over romance when he’s forced to make that choice.

Warning: violence, murder, drug abuse.