My Identity is Not an Umbrella Term.

“Asexual” is not an umbrella term.

“Aromantic” is not an umbrella term.

“Ace” is not an umbrella term.

“Aro” is not an umbrella term.

A demisexual is not an asexual. A gray-asexual is not an asexual.

A demiromantic is not an aromantic. A gray-romantic is not an aromantic.

“Ace” is short for “asexual,” not for demisexual or gray-asexual.

“Aro” is short for “aromantic,” not for demiromantic or gray-romantic.

If you are not asexual, you have no right to call yourself by the terms “asexual” or “ace.”

If you are not aromantic, you have no right to call to yourself by the terms “aromantic” or “aro.”

It’s apparently popular online, particularly on that blue hellscape called Tumblr, for demis and grays to go around calling themselves “ace” or “aro,” and sometimes even “asexual” or “aromantic,” and defend this usage with the bullshit argument that “asexuality and aromanticism are spectrums and I’m on the spectrum and ace/aro are shorthand for the whole spectrum, so I can call myself ace or aro even though I’m not!”

I have no idea when this got started, but it needs to stop. It’s bad enough that we can’t even fucking agree on a definition of asexuality or aromanticism, as a collective group of aces and aros, and now we have to put up with demis and grays falsely identifying themselves as ace and aro?

There is not a single good defense for this. Not one. If demis and grays want to try telling me with a straight face that calling themselves asexual or aromantic is “more convenient” for them, all I have to say is that my identity is not here for your convenience. And the problems you create for me and other asexuals and aromantics by using our identities falsely are never, ever an acceptable price for us to pay–us, not you–for the sake of your convenience.

And here’s the other thing that nobody seems to want to acknowledge: if you’re demi or gray, you have another orientation, the one that actually describes who you’re attracted to. You’re straight or gay or bi. Which is why it’s fucking outrageous that you would go around calling yourself asexual or aromantic, because we–the real asexuals and aromantics–are not straight or gay or bi, sexually or romantically, and those of us who are both asexual and aromantic are completely and utterly devoid of the attraction you do experience. Which is the fucking point of the asexual and aromantic identities.

If you don’t want to publicly identify yourself as demi- or gray-, guess what? You can identify as straight or gay or bi, because that’s what you are. And the only people that need to know the details of your sexual or romantic attraction patterns, are the people you actually get involved with sexually or romantically.

And I know you’re going to whine and cry about how you don’t want the world to think you’re alloromantic or allosexual if you’re not and you also don’t want to just tell the truth about being demi or gray because people might make fun of you or blow you off or whatever. But that is not my problem, as an aromantic asexual who already needs to defend the validity of my orientation to allo* people who are predisposed to believe that all human beings want sex and romance at some point in life. If you’re demi- or gray- and you don’t want to actually have sex or date anyone, you can say “No” to people who come onto you. You don’t have to defend the “no” by coming out as demi- or gray-, and you sure as hell don’t get to falsely call yourself ace or aro instead. My identities are not “get out of sex and romance free” cards. And unless you live under a rock, you should know that allo* people do in fact turn down sex and romance when they’re not interested and expect to have that choice respected, despite not being demi- or gray- or ace/aro.

Demis and grays appropriating the asexual and aromantic identities has the same effect as people constantly reminding the world that asexuals can still have sex or that aromantics can still date: it gives allo* people the impression that they can, in fact, get what they want out of us. But the overwhelming majority of asexuals–actual asexual people who never experience sexual attraction or an involuntary desire for partnered sex–do NOT want to fuck anyone, in any context, and the overwhelming majority of aromantics–actual aromantic people who never experience romantic attraction or an innate need for romantic relationships–do NOT want to be romantically coupled and will not be comfortable if they are. And all of you demis and grays who don’t want to admit that you’re demi or gray, to others or to yourselves, make it that much harder for aces and aros to establish their natural boundaries and stand firm in them.

A demi or gray pretending to be ace or aro in between attractions or sex or romantic relationships, who then explains the attraction or sex or romance when it happens by saying that “Some aces can want sex and some aros can feel romantic feelings!” is being fucking duplicitous and disrespectful to asexuals and aromantics, not to mention incredibly inconsiderate. You are not ace, you are not aro, you are demi- or gray-, and that’s fine. If you got hangups about being demi or gray, that’s on you to work out; it is not on aces or aros to give up our identities for you to use. Especially when you are, in fact, straight or gay or bi, and your demi or gray identity describes how you experience attraction, not who you experience it toward.

I’ve heard about bisexuals calling themselves “gay” as if “gay” is an umbrella term too, and actual gay men and lesbians have made it clear several times that this is fucked up and unacceptable. “Gay” is not an umbrella term. If you are an aromantic asexual, like me, do NOT call yourself gay. If you’re a biromantic ace, you don’t get to call yourself gay. A bisexual is not a homosexual. “Gay” and “lesbian” are words denoting homosexuality. Bisexuals, biromantics, aromantic asexuals, and obviously straight people have no right whatsoever to use those identity terms. Period. If bisexuals and biromantics take issue with their own erasure in society, they can fight it by not pretending to be or calling themselves “gay.” Bi people calling themselves gay is harmful to real gay people, and that should be more than enough of a reason for you to not do it.

Maybe all this umbrella term bullshit comes from the word “queer,” which is used as an umbrella term and which is conceptualized by a lot of young people as a category that includes anyone who experiences same-sex attraction and/or who is trans. I don’t know and I don’t care. But gay, lesbian, ace, and aro are not umbrella terms. They have never been umbrella terms, and they never will be as far as actual gay, lesbian, asexual, and aromantic people are concerned.

I don’t give a single fuck what bisexuals, demis, or grays have to say about this. It is not their place to decide. They do not get to talk over gay men, lesbians, asexuals, and aromantics. Our identities belong to us. If we tell you that we’ve got a problem with you falsely labeling yourself using our identities, you need to listen.

While we’re here, let me tell you how I define asexuality and aromanticism, so that you know how those terms and their derivatives are being used on this blog.

Asexual – someone who does not experience sexual attraction or an involuntary desire for partnered sex (which cannot be satisfied with masturbation)

Aromantic – someone who does not experience romantic attraction or an innate need for romantic relationships that cannot be satisfied by any other kind of relationship

Someone who fits these definitions but who has a sex drive or masturbates or has participated in sex for an external reason or who has dated for non-romantic reasons is still asexual or aromantic. What makes someone ace or aro is a complete lack of attraction to others and a lack of internal, involuntary need for sex or romance, a need which is independent of other people’s desires or expectations. Basically, being asexual or aromantic means that you don’t have the desires or the feelings that an allosexual or alloromantic person has–which should be pretty fucking obvious, but there are enough aces, gray-aces, and demisexuals, aros, gray-ros, and demiromantics who think that the definitions of “asexuality” and “aromanticism” should be as vague and broad as possible, to the point of meaninglessness. And considering most of them fail to articulate what “sexual attraction” and “romantic attraction” are and refuse to take anything that allos* say about the matter into account, this attitude is a logical result.

Anyone who experiences attraction but not a need for partnered sex is gray. Anyone who experiences desire for partnered sex but not attraction is gray. Anyone who experiences attraction but not a need for romantic relationships (or who is repulsed by romantic relationships) is gray. Anyone who experiences desire for romantic relationships but not attraction is gray. The gray category covers a lot of different experiences, as I’m sure the allo- category covers a lot of different experiences. There is nothing wrong with being gray, and being gray is not less valid or real than being ace or aro.

 

I’m not going to waste my time trying to convince the online ace, aro, gray, and demi populations to adopt my definitions. You want to define these terms some other way, be my guest. But this is my understanding of asexuality and aromanticism, these are the definitions I use on this blog, and these are the definitions by which I understand whether other people are really asexual or aromantic. Sometimes, I’m of a mind to coin new terms that specifically apply to people who are asexual and aromantic, based on my definitions, because I’m fucking tired of seeing people who experience either attraction or desire insisting that they are ace or aro, on the grounds that words don’t have to mean anything or convey any useful or specific information or that words mean whatever the fuck anyone anywhere at anytime wants them to mean, nothing is real, PoMo bullshit blah blah blah. If I do think of some good alternative labels, I’ll post them. I, for one, want to be able to call myself something that clearly communicates to other human beings what I am, and I want to be able to find others like me as easily as possible. I should not have to specify that I don’t want to fuck or date every time I come out as aromantic asexual, and I should not have to wonder whether someone I meet who calls themselves aro or ace is in fact someone who never experiences attraction or desire for partnered sex/romance.  So new terms may be in order.

My Revised Opinions on Political Lesbianism and the Q-Word, More Thoughts on Gay Christians

So, the bloggers over at The A Team blog wrote a post today in which they called me out for a couple of my posts, and it’s actually good timing because I’ve been rethinking and reevaluating some of the stuff they took issue with and now feel prompted to write about the changes in my views. They have a problem with the ideas in my posts on political lesbianism and queer Christians (specifically, Christians choosing to be celibate or entering heterosexual relationships out of their religious beliefs regarding same-sex romance.) I actually think they’re right in their criticisms, for the most part. We don’t agree on everything, but I now see things their way more than not.

First, let’s address political lesbianism. I no longer endorse non-lesbian women identifying as lesbians. I now understand that the concept of political lesbianism is at the very least offensive to lesbians and at worst, homophobic. A lesbian is a female who is sexually and/or romantically attracted only to other females. There are lesbian aces and lesbian aros, but women who are neither sexually nor romantically attracted to other women are not lesbians and should not identify as lesbians. Nor should any woman who isn’t exclusively same-sex attracted identify as gay–because “gay” is not an umbrella term, as the A Team points out. (Neither is “queer,” which I’ll get to in a moment.)

I still believe that women can choose to be exclusively involved with other women romantically, sexually, or in primary nonromantic partnerships, even if those women are straight, bisexual, or aromantic asexuals, and everything I wrote in my political lesbianism post about why that’s a valid choice still stands. I fully support these women who choose to only form intimate relationships with other women, whatever their reasons are and whether those relationships are romantic or sexual or neither. But even women who make this choice are not lesbians and shouldn’t identify as such. In the case of straight and bisexual women who choose woman-exclusive sex, romance, and partnership, I think that they’re ethically obligated to be honest with any lesbians they get involved with about their actual orientation, and I think that lesbians have the right to decide not to become romantically and/or sexually involved with women who aren’t attracted to them in those ways.

Lesbianism is not a political statement. It’s a sexual orientation. It’s not based on behavior alone. It’s based on involuntary attraction and desire.

I apologize to the lesbian community for considering political lesbianism a valid identity or idea in the past.

 

Now, for the A Team’s commentary on my queer Christians post. I’m going to guess, based on the A Team’s post, that none of the bloggers are Christian or otherwise affiliated with a homophobic major religion, and that they don’t know any Christian adults who are gay and voluntarily in the Church. I do. And that influences my opinion on gay and bisexual Christians choosing celibacy or heterosexual relationships.

They mention the Christian ex-gay movement and the non-gay-identifying homosexual Christians as examples that secular LGBQ people are critical of, and actually, I’m critical of those things too. I don’t believe that Christianity or God or anything can make a gay person straight in their actual attractions, and straight Christians trying to convince or teach gay and bisexual Christians that they can become straight is flawed and damaging.

But I wasn’t talking about LGBQ Christians who are “ex-gay” or who publicly argue that they are same-sex attracted but not actually gay or bisexual. (Yes, that post was prompted by the gay Mormon husbands and did discuss their situation, but it was about more than that specific situation.) I was talking about adult Christians like Sarah and Lindsay (and those who I know in my personal life) who are open about the fact that they’re gay, who accept themselves as gay, and who choose to be celibate or to participate in straight relationships because of their faith. There’s a big difference between the two groups, the gay Christians in denial and the gay Christians who are out to themselves and others but choose not to act on their romantic/sexual attractions.

I can understand why non-Christian and other non-religious LGBQ people would feel personally threatened by celibate and straight-partnered gay Christians and particularly sensitive to the idea of these Christians making their lifestyle choices out of internalized homophobia. If you read A Queer Calling, it’s obvious that Sarah and Lindsay have fielded just as much hate and criticism from non-Christian LGBQ people as they have from homophobic straight Christians since they started blogging. But despite the fact that criticizing the homophobia in Christianity is totally valid and the Church should be held accountable for its history of homophobic treatment of both gay believers and non-believers, not to mention the homophobic political actions of the Right that are often fueled by Christianity, that doesn’t change the fact that these gay Christian adults choosing celibacy or straight marriages are entitled to make those choices if they feel it’s right for them in the context of their faith. Their celibacy or straight marriages are not about their homosexuality as much as about their deep belief in Christ and their desire to follow him to the best of their ability, and I think that non-Christians often make the mistake of thinking it’s the other way around. These adults are not in the closet or in denial about their orientation. Many of them are out to family, friends, to the Church itself, to their opposite-sex spouses (if they’re married). They’re not pretending to be straight, they’re just not pursuing sex and romance based on their attractions.

Believe it or not, this doesn’t mean they’re all miserable. It doesn’t mean they unconditionally or uncritically agree with Christianity’s views on homosexuality. It doesn’t mean they think that all LGBQ people should be celibate or heterosexually partnered. It doesn’t mean that they’re crusading with the Church to convince all LGBQ members to choose celibacy or heterosexuality, and in fact, they are often supportive of their fellow LGBQ Christians who are out and romantically/sexually involved in gay relationships. (Yes, those exist too: LGBQ Christians who are in gay partnerships and still go to Sunday service every week.) In fact, there’s not unanimous agreement amongst gay members in the Church or even amongst straight members of the Church on the issue of homosexuality, which is where the Side A/Side B discourse comes from.

I think there’s some projecting going on in the resistance to these choices made by celibate and straight-partnered gay Christians, particularly when I read the following paragraph:

That said, so many aros use the cry of “but friendship!!!!1!1!” to dismiss the concerns of marginalized communities and this sounds just like that. Yes. Friendship is amazing. But when you’re constantly, involuntarily, single (and you don’t want to be) because of transphobia, ableism, intersexism, or racism, or when your dating pool is small because of your orientation, and you want romance, friendship isn’t always enough. Don’t use the dismantling of amatonormativity to dismiss that. Ever. Because you’re not dismantling anything or liberating anyone, including aros. You’re just tone-policing and reinforcing oppression.

We’re not having a conversation about involuntarily single romantics. We’re talking about gay Christians who sometimes choose to be celibate and/or single for life because of their faith. Their celibacy and/or singlehood is completely voluntary. Straight-partnered gay Christians are voluntarily in their heterosexual marriages or romantic relationships. Nobody forced them to make these choices, and nobody’s forcing them to be Christians in the first place. You may want to think that they’re only Christian now because they were raised in the Church since birth and you may want to believe that they only think God disapproves of gay sex and gay romance and gay marriage because they were taught that during their youth. But if you actually listen to or read what these people have to say, you’ll find that many of them believe in Christ freely and genuinely and, as intelligent and thoughtful adults, have made their own decisions about what to believe and how to live, without their parents or their pastors lording over them.

Of course friendship isn’t enough for the vast majority of alloromantics and even for demi- and gray-romantics. You think I was born yesterday? Have you not read my blog outside of these two posts you’re criticizing? I’m acutely aware of how romantic people and romantic society feel about friendship in comparison to romance. And clearly, if these gay Christians felt that God approved of gay sex and gay romance, they would be out there doing it and they wouldn’t “settle” for friendship-as-partnership. They would live the way non-religious allo* people do.

But their God and their Church do not approve of gay sex and gay romance and short of a new Biblical text emerging that explicitly says otherwise, nothing is going to change that for them. In lieu of a romantic-sexual relationship based on mutual attraction, gay Christians can find love and care and companionship in friendships, whether they are permanently celibate and single or in a nonromantic/nonsexual partnership or in a romantic/sexual relationship with a friend of the opposite sex. And that’s a far cry from a life of loneliness. In fact, they may have more love and companionship in their lives because of the friendships that rise out of voluntary singlehood or heterosexual marriage than a lot of allo* people do who are single involuntarily or divorced or unhappily coupled or casually dating. Just because you would be unhappy without sex and romance or without romantic-sexual relationships based on your actual attractions, doesn’t mean all of these gay Christians are unhappy.

I’m not and never have denied that internalized homophobia may be a factor in adult LGBQ Christians choosing to remain celibate, single, or heterosexually married, but you can’t know to what extent that is a factor in any of these individuals’ lives. More importantly, you can’t criticize–as an outsider to this religion–how gay Christians choose to reconcile their sexuality and their faith. It’s easy for you, as spectators, to hate the Church and hate the straight people leading Christianity and hate the Bible and hate that any gay person on the planet would choose not to act on their sexual and romantic feelings for the rest of their lives, but you don’t understand what the faith means to these gay Christians who are making a conscious decision every day to believe in their god. You just don’t. It’s a lot more complex for them, the interplay between their faith and their sexuality, than you make it out to be. These are not a bunch of brainwashed zombies who recite all the homophobic rhetoric you’ve heard from televangelists and Republican politicians on command and who flog themselves every night for having gay thoughts. These are adults who have spent a lot of time talking and praying and reading and exploring their options and who truly believe in Christianity, so much so that they wouldn’t listen to you call the religion bullshit even if you made a passionate, anti-homophobic argument against it.

My point in my original post, more than anything else, is that we are not in a position to force these gay adults to change the way they live or what they believe in–nor should we feel like we have the right to do either–and therefore, we can only support them in doing what’s best for them as gay Christians. Not just gay people. Gay Christians. Their Christianity is as important and as big a part of them as their sexual orientation. You’re not going to change the religion’s stance on homosexuality, and it isn’t your place to convince Christians to give up their faith. Even if you’re right and these celibate gay Christians and heterosexually-partnered gay Christians are only living those lifestyles out of internalized homophobia that comes from their religion and they would be involved in same-sex romance in an alternate reality where Christianity gives them its blessing to do so, that’s irrelevant to the reality that they’re actually living. Like I said in my original post, condemning Christianity and framing gay romance and sexuality as the only path to happiness and the only way to be free, is not actually any help to these people. They don’t want to give up their faith. They don’t want to do things that they feel God disapproves of. Taking that into consideration, celibacy and straight marriage may be the only options that can offer them real peace.

If a gay person can choose to be in a nonromantic, nonsexual primary partnership for nonreligious reasons, like Stephen Daldry, I don’t see why gay Christians can’t choose celibacy or heterosexual marriage because of their faith. In any case, it’s a very personal decision, and unless you talk to these individuals at length about why they made their decision and how they feel about it, you can’t assume that they’re living some tortured existence or that they’re full of self-loathing. You can’t even assume that they all have the same experience of being a gay Christian or of celibacy or of straight marriage. I’m sure they don’t.

So, if you unilaterally condemn celibacy and straight marriage for gay Christians, even if those are choices that they freely make for themselves, then we are in disagreement. If you think that gay Christians should be able to have gay romantic-sexual relationships as they continue to live in their faith, then I agree with you, but I acknowledge that this is a path that many gay Christians can’t choose because they believe that God calls gay Christians to celibacy. I’m not going to argue with them about it because it’s for them to decide what they believe in and what’s best for them, and I am not a Christian, so I can’t tell them what God does or doesn’t approve of. If you think that voluntary celibacy and permanent singlehood are invalid choices for anyone and everyone who’s allo* or that no allo* person can ever be happy or at peace with themselves without sex and romance, then I disagree with you–although I do expect pretty much all allo* people (including demiromantics, grayromantics, demisexuals, and gray-asexuals) to always prefer and choose traditional romantic-sexual relationships over everything else, barring interfering circumstances.

As for why I felt the need to write about this subject at all, which you think I shouldn’t do because I’m not gay: I’m a celibate asexual, so the issue of celibacy and how this society talks about it and thinks about it is very much in my lane. If allosexual people aren’t allowed to be celibate, that has a direct and negative impact on the lives of asexuals, particularly the majority of asexuals who need to be or prefer to be celibate permanently. Considering that most sexual people in the world don’t know that asexuals exist, as a category of people who don’t feel sexual attraction or desire, most of the conversations about celibacy in public discourse aren’t even inclusive of aces and assume that sex is both a universal desire and necessary in both life and romantic relationships. That is one reason that so many allosexuals criticize or question voluntary celibacy as a choice for gay Christians, a reason that can even limit the number of gay Christians who see that as a real and positive option. We’re still not even at a point where actual asexuals acknowledge that they can ask the allosexuals they date to be celibate, instead of forcing themselves to have sex. So if I see a conversation about celibacy going on or people criticizing it and doubting it as a valid choice, you bet I’m going to speak up.

 

On another note, the A Team is right in criticizing my use of the word “queer” as a blanket label for anyone who’s gay or bisexual. For a long time, this is how I used the word because that’s how I saw self-identified queer allo* people using it, and in my experience, much of the queer community still believe that it’s okay to use “queer” as a term that covers anyone who’s same-sex attracted. But recently, I discovered that there are plenty of gay men and lesbians who don’t identify as queer, who consider that word a slur that cannot and should not be reclaimed, who take offense at being coercively labeled queer by queer-identified people, and who actually don’t consider themselves a part of the queer community at all. Many of these gay men and lesbians don’t agree with queer politics either.

So I do apologize to those gay men and lesbians and I will no longer use the term “queer” as a blanket word for anyone in the LGBTQ+ population. I know plenty of queer-identified allo* people would argue that there’s nothing wrong with the queer identity or with using it to describe anyone and everyone who’s LGBTQ+, but I would rather respect gay men and lesbians who have a problem with that word.

Oh, and by the way, A Team, I no longer identify as a nonbinary butch. I’m a gender-nonconforming woman.

How One Romantic Guy Grumbled His Way to a Nonromantic Partnership

While waiting in a Starbucks over the weekend, I decided to peruse the New York Times Sunday paper, as I often do when I’ve got access to it. The NYT has a column called Modern Love, which is published in the Sunday edition paper and online. The column features stories about different kinds of relationships, submitted by readers from all over the country. This week’s essay, by Ephi Stempler, is titled “Platonic, Until Death Do Us Part,” and tells the story of Stempler’s intimate friendship with a woman named Marisa. Stempler is a gay man, and Marisa is a straight woman. Now in their early 40s, they met in their mid-20s, and their friendship has survived numerous failed romantic relationships in each of their lives. Marisa has two children. Stempler has never been married, and Marisa is divorced. The way their story ends is with Marisa asking Stempler to move into the house she bought for herself and her children, to be her “long-term flatmate.” He agrees with some reluctance, then eventually relaxes into his new home—the home he is now living in.

Maybe you would expect me to be happy about coming across this story, as it’s essentially about two people becoming nonromantic domestic partners, about a friendship triumphing over the expectation of normative romance.

But as this is a story about two allo* people, written by an allo* person, any good feelings I might’ve had about the way the story ends was totally overshadowed by the repeated reminders in the essay that romantic people are walking vessels of amatonormativity, and that it basically takes 20-30 years of failing to nail the Perfect Romantic Partner for these people to finally throw in the towel and consider other options.

Stempler opens with a fascinating fact about director/producer Stephen Daldry: Daldry, also a gay man, married his female best friend Lucy Sexton back in 2001. They remain married to this day and have a daughter together. Daldry, who was openly gay for years before marrying his wife at the age of 41, has explained to the press that the marriage was a practical decision rooted in his desire to have children and health insurance. As recently as April 2015, he said of his wife and their marriage: “I love her very much and we are very happy.” Considering same-sex marriage is now legal in the UK, if they weren’t happy or if 54-year-old Daldry wanted to try his luck again with landing a male romantic partner (or if Sexton wanted one herself), I’m sure the couple would’ve divorced by now. But no, they’re coming up on 15 years of marriage and seem to have no plans to legally split, despite the fact that they’re not romantically involved.

Stempler’s immediate reaction to this, expressed in the beginning of his essay, is: “How sad. Another gay man who can’t fully accept himself.”

A middle-aged adult choosing to be life partners with a best friend instead of holding out for a long-term romantic partner is “sad.” It’s sad that a gay man has a friendship with a woman that’s so close, that he would want to marry her and that she would agree. It’s sad that Daldry didn’t spend yet another decade of his life on dating men in search of a husband? It’s sad that he decided to go after his dream of being a father instead of putting it off even longer or forgoing it altogether? It’s sad that friendship stepped in where romance was supposed to be?

And this, from a person who actually has a best friend.

I’ve written before about the faulty assumption that most allo* people make when it comes to gay men and lesbians choosing to enter heterosexual marriages: that this choice is only ever made out of internalized homophobia and fear of social repercussions if the gay person comes out, that the marriages are totally devoid of love and happiness, that these gay men and lesbians will never be truly happy or satisfied or self-actualized without the freedom to have primary romantic-sexual relationships with people of the same sex. I know that a gay man who is closeted or who’s part of a homophobic religion choosing to marry a woman is not the same thing as a man like Daldry choosing to marry his female best friend, but the response from other allo* people, particularly other gay allo* people, is the same in either case. It’s not open-minded inquiry as to the actual feelings of the gay individuals in opposite-sex marriages. It’s not celebration that a man like Daldry has such a close friendship that’s given him and his wife happiness, emotional support, and steady companionship.

It’s pity. Pity like the kind Stempler felt for Daldry.

“All you’ve got is an intimate friendship and no romance. Poor you. Clearly, the only reason you’re committing to a friend is that you hate yourself.”

But tell me again, romantic aces who have long scorned my views of allo* people, that those views are unfounded. Hell, not even you would “settle” for a mere friend instead of a romantic other—unless maybe you one day find yourself in Stempler and Daldry’s position: 40+ years old and still single, with no romantic prospects.

 

Stempler’s well-meaning gay friends—other men who are all happily married to partners they’ve been with for two decades or more—told him in his 30s not to get “too comfortable” with his friend Marisa. This advice was unsolicited, according to Stempler, and it’s an example of romantic people reinforcing amatonormativity in each other on a regular and casual basis. These other gay men were warning Stempler away from his friendship with Marisa because, in their eyes, it could interfere with his chances at finding a long-term romantic relationship. They planted a seed of doubt in his mind about the goodness of the friendship, and that seed eventually sprouted.

“Eventually, I began to wonder if the strength of our friendship was the thing undermining our romantic relationships. Countless self-help books on our respective night stands counseled us to break free from our toxic patterns if we wanted to find lasting love. But what if our toxic pattern was how well we got along and how much we loved each other?”

Yes, my fellow aros, you read that right. Apparently, real friendship that involves intimacy and love is a “toxic pattern” in the minds of romantic people. Not that this should come as news to you, if you read my response to that shit show of an essay in NY Mag.

Marisa, at least, rejects this idea when Stempler shares it with her. I have to give credit where credit is due. She pointed out to him that they both had “other friends and passions, lives that were enhanced, not dominated, by how close” they were.

But his friend’s reassurances weren’t enough for Stempler. He continued to freak out about the possibility that his failure to settle into a committed romantic relationship with another man was the result of his friendship with Marisa.

“During Christmas with her family, I would flee to where her baby was sleeping and pummel myself with questions: Was I with Marisa because I was too lazy and scared to put enough effort into finding a partner? Were we using each other as place holders? Was I afraid to grow up and love myself as a gay man? Was I just broken?”

Let’s pause here for a moment and see Stempler’s situation at this point in the story for what it really is: he has a friendship with someone that is so close, he’s spending Christmas with her family of origin and her children—and he and Marisa are in their mid-30s, not their early 20s—and instead of enjoying himself and his friend’s company, he’s privately freaking out over the possibility that this friendship is to blame for his singlehood. Instead of being grateful for the friendship, instead of appreciating the fact that even having a friendship like this at his age is borderline fucking miraculous, he’s attempting to shift the blame for his persistent singlehood onto the friendship.

I want to call your attention to the most outrageous moment in the essay, Stempler’s question to himself: “Were we using each other as place holders?”

This question—and Stempler’s whole line of thinking up to the story’s conclusion, really—reflects the bullshit ideology behind Brooks’ essay “I’m Having a Friendship Affair.” Adults are not supposed to have nonromantic best friends. Adults are not supposed to have a primary relationship that is nonromantic. An adult’s “best friend” is supposed to be their romantic partner. If you have a best friend in addition to a romantic partner, you’re doing it wrong, and if you don’t have a romantic partner at all, you’ve really fucked up. Long-term singles are pitied, the way Stephen Daldry is pitied by Stempler, despite the fact that Daldry is technically married and partnered, just not romantically.

Calling a nonromantic best friend a “place holder” for a romantic partner has got to be one of the most disgusting examples of romance supremacist, amatonormative thinking I’ve seen in recent memory. But it brings up an important point for me that I believe every aro person who wants a committed companion or partner needs to take seriously: even in the extremely rare cases where an alloromantic person decides to formally commit to a friend in nonromantic partnership, that decision is almost always based on taking the friendship as a second-best substitute for a romantic relationship. Both Daldry and Stempler made their commitments to nonromantic partnerships in their 40s, after pursuing romance for 20+ years without any lasting success. They did not start out in their teens or 20s wishing for a nonromantic partnership, for a best friend to share a home with long-term and raise children with. They chose primary friendship only after they got tired of riding the romantic merry-go-round for a large portion of their lives. They chose friendship as an alternative to being alone, not as an alternative to romance.

This is one of the many reasons why I would never accept an alloromantic person for a life companion. I deserve more than being someone’s second choice, someone’s backup plan. Someone’s place holder. A place holder that can be dropped as soon as the real thing comes along. I want more. And if you want more, as an aro person in search of a committed companion, I suggest you think long and hard about how much sense it makes to pin your companionship hopes and dreams on romantic people.

“Was I afraid to grow up?” Stempler asked himself. This question goes back to that same position reinforced over and over again in the Brooks essay: that having an intimate, emotionally significant friendship in adulthood is immature. As immature as not being married. Apparently, maturity or adulthood itself is not naturally occurring based on actual biological maturity or even economic independence, but on the performance of social norms that reinforce amatonormativity: romantic marriage, child-bearing, and the obliteration of emotionally deep friendship. Having a nonromantic best friend is something that kids do, according to romantic society. And some romantic people even go so far as to believe that childhood friendships are actually just preparation for adult romance, which is an idea echoed in Stempler’s vile “place holder” question.

At the age of 37, Stempler decided to go work and live overseas for a while, leaving Marisa behind in New York. His sense that their friendship was holding him back from the life and the romantic partnership he thought he should have was one reason for this dramatic move. If he had simply wanted to experience life in Thailand, if the move had been purely professional or recreational in nature, I wouldn’t have much to say about it, but the fact that he consciously decided to put that much geographic distance between him and his best friend because she was something keeping him “stuck in boyhood” strikes me as incredibly ungrateful and cold. It’s not the kind of uncaring, inconsiderate attitude that romantic people often have when relocating to other cities, states, or countries for reasons completely unrelated to the friendships they consequently damage; it was a deliberate self-removal from friendship, one that could’ve permanently damaged the bond. And once again, there’s that idea that intimate friendship is childish, that it makes an adult immature, that growing up means leaving best friends behind.

Of this period in Thailand, Stempler says: “It was a lonely time. Every friendship I made was a faint shadow of the magnificent supernova that was my relationship with Marisa.”

He stayed gone for over a year, and their friendship survived. When he was ready to return to the US, he decided to move to San Francisco instead of back to New York, and upon sharing this with Marisa, discovered that she had been planning on moving to the Bay Area herself. They started out living in different places, but when Stempler found himself experiencing a depressive episode at age 40, he went to Marisa for support and slept on her couch for three months until he recovered.

That Marisa, a single mother in her late 30s with two children who she must provide for on her income alone, would welcome Stempler with open arms for as long as he needed to stay with her, is a testament to her love for him and to the depth and strength of their friendship. What Stempler does not acknowledge in his essay is that if he didn’t have such a friend, in physical proximity to him or at all, he would’ve found himself completely alone during that period in his life—alone and forced to fend for himself, whether he felt up to it or not. It’s not standard for romantic people in this age category to have even one friendship that they can depend on for this level of emotional, physical, and financial support, in part because so many of those middle-aged allos* are already married or cohabiting with a romantic partner and are therefore unavailable emotionally and inaccessible physically and materially. Stempler was lucky to have a best friend to lean on when grappling with depression, lucky that he had someone to give him emotional and material support, lucky that he did not find himself both single and alone in a city without family or close friends during this depressive episode. Millions of other people don’t have that kind of luck. They don’t have the option of crashing on their best friend’s couch for three months because they don’t have a best friend.

Just as Stempler was feeling well enough to leave, Marisa bought the house that they now live in together. When she asked him to move in with her and the children, he resisted on the grounds that he didn’t want to resign to life as the uncool, middle-aged “gay uncle” who’s single and doesn’t have a life of his own. This resistance was just an expression of the pity party he’d been throwing himself for years. Marisa very wisely knocked some sense into him, reminding him that he could be “an independent gay man with people who loved [him].”

Fortunately for Stempler, he finally got over his angst about being well into middle age without the normative life that he thought he and everyone else should have, a life that revolves around a romantic primary partner. After he surrendered to his new living arrangements and allowed himself to get comfortable, his friendship with Marisa “reached another level of love and respect.”

“After 16 years as best friends and occasional roommates, we have become something else, something that doesn’t seem to have a name. We joke that we are each other’s PLP’s — platonic life partners — and recall the promise we made in our 20s: “If neither of us finds a husband by 40, let’s get married. If only for the registry.”

We’re now both 41, the same age as Stephen Daldry when he married his best friend. And we’re both wondering: What if he had it right?”

The concept of platonic life partners is a joke to allo* people even when they find themselves in one, which doesn’t surprise me after almost a year of observing the Internet laugh about “gal pals” platonically buying a house together and cuddling in bed. For the most part, allos* don’t believe that nonromantic primary partnerships exist, and the ones who sort of do, still don’t take them seriously. Stempler and Marisa are obviously ignorant of aromanticism and queerplatonic partnerships, even as they joke about being each other’s platonic life partner. They unintentionally ended up in this situation with each other; they can’t even fathom that anyone would enthusiastically desire a nonromantic life partner, as early as adolescence.

After all that resistance and horrible thinking about friendship, this ending doesn’t give me any pleasure—but I do wish Stempler and Marisa the best. I won’t put it past either one of them to drop the domestic partnership they have together for a new romantic interest in the future—at age 41, there’s still plenty of time for new romantic relationships to unfold—but for now, the two of them choosing to center their friendship and to create more intimacy in it, rather than pulling away, will mean greater happiness for them.

Gal Pals: Or, Romantic People Being Assholes to Aros

Today, Buzzfeed published a post that reminded me of an issue that’s been in my mental “blog post topic queue” since early last year. This Buzzfeed post, entitled “16 Pictures of Gals Just Being Pals,” is a satire based on the phrase “gal pals,” which became an online joke in 2015 after the media called actress Kristen Stewart and her girlfriend “live-in gal pals,” before Stewart publicly confirmed the romantic nature of the relationship. It looks like the phrase was first used in an article published by the Daily Mail on April 9, 2015, in both the article headline and the body of the text:

“Birthday girl Kristen Stewart holds hands with her gal pal Alicia Cargile in downtown LA”

In the article, they call Cargile Stewart’s “live-in gal pal,” because the two were living together at the time.

The Daily Mail published a second article about Stewart and Cargile on April 20, 2015 that again called them gal pals.

The Internet, specifically the online lesbian community, made the phrase into a running joke meant to poke fun at the mainstream media’s persistent denial of lesbian relationships: lesbians who eat each other out are “just gals being pals.” Don’t worry, two women who get engaged, who are married, who like to make out in their shared bed while naked are just good friends. Definitely not gay.

That’s the tone of the Buzzfeed post, which pairs 16 photographs of lesbian couples in romantic or sexually suggestive poses with sarcastic captions about how they’re just friends—friends who live together, share a bed, go on vacation together, adopt pets and children together, wear lingerie in bed together, kiss each other sensually on the mouth, etc.

While I understand the frustration that lesbians feel at having their romantic relationships and their identities routinely denied, erased, and dismissed by a heteronormative world that hates lesbians, the Gal Pal joke is hurtful and offensive to me every time I bump into it, because it makes a mockery of the very concept that any two women could be nonromantic life partners: friends who live together, who are physically affectionate with each other, who may have pets or even children together, etc.

I know that Stewart and Cargile are in a lesbian relationship, and I know that the lesbians who invoke the “gal pal” phrase when describing their own girlfriends or wives, do so to make fun of that original case of “pretending this obvious lesbian couple are friends.” But that doesn’t change the fact that all the gal pal joking rests on the core idea that two people can’t be domestic life partners unless they’re romantically coupled.

Scrolling through this Buzzfeed post, that belief about the inherent romantic nature of primary partnership is glaring because a lot of these photographs and their accompanying captions aren’t even about sex, romance, or marriage. They’re about domesticity and affection and being committed companions. Sure, in some cases, a caption describing a nonromantic/nonsexual activity is paired with a photograph of two women in an obviously romantic or sexy pose, thus resulting in visual satire, but if you look at some of the captions without the images attached, all that’s being made fun of is the idea that two friends would do things typically performed by couples, including and especially choosing to live together as committed partners.

  • “These two gal pals enjoying a friendly embrace after finding out the offer they made on a house just got accepted.”
  • “These two live in gal pals picking out furniture from Ikea, to fill the house they share together, as friends.”
  • “These two platonic besties who just like to spend platonic lazy Sunday mornings together reading the papers.”
  • “These two gal pals who have chosen to commit as friends, for the rest of their lives.”

Other acts that pop up more than once in the captions include: sharing a bed, going on vacation together, adopting a dog together, and raising children together. Things that do not require sex or romance between the people doing them, as far as I’m concerned. Things that plenty of aromantic people would do in queerplatonic or otherwise primary friendship.

I know this Buzzfeed post was written by a romo person, I know that most people in the world are romantic, I know that all the people who use the “gal pal” joke are romantic, and I know that the people who laugh at it are romantic too. And maybe that means I shouldn’t be upset over the post or the joke itself because what else can I expect from romantic people? If you’re not capable of being committed companions with a friend, if you’re not even capable of feeling love that is nonromantic, if all affection and intimacy and domesticity itself is romantic to you, then you will inevitably find the concept of two friends engaging in these experiences together ridiculous, even to the point of laughter. You would never be life partners with a friend, buy a house with a friend, share pets with a friend, sleep in the same bed with a friend, cuddle with a friend, have a baby with a friend, because you’re alloromantic. And you assume that everyone else is too, because the vast majority of people are. So you can get together with other romo people and laugh at this idea of friends-who-are-life-partners and feel righteous about doing so, as righteous as lesbians are in being fed up with lesbophobia.

But you’re laughing at what I want for myself. You’re laughing at what so many aromantic people want for themselves. You’re laughing at our dream, our happiness. You make a fucking joke out of the thing that I’ve wanted since I was a child. While many aros struggle daily with sadness, loneliness, frustration, longing, even hopelessness about this dream that they have, you make a fucking joke out of their desire. You laugh at the very notion of a single aromantic person’s love. You fuck us over unapologetically when we bother to be friends with you, cause our pain and loneliness, then mock the idea of the friendship we want for ourselves. Just to add insult to injury.

This is why I don’t trust you, don’t want anything to do with you, wish I could live on another planet amongst other single aros and never have to lay eyes on one of you again. This is why you don’t deserve so much as casual friendship from me, from any aro person who gives a damn about their friends. This is why I am damn close to hating you. Really hating you, as a category. Romantic people fill me with rage and disgust. But for some reason, I don’t feel angry about this Buzzfeed post; all I feel is sad and tired, disappointed that I have an untold number of years left to live surrounded by them, by people who would write this bullshit and laugh at it too.

It makes me want the woman who could be my passionate friend, my committed companion for life, my live-in pal. It reminds me that I want her and makes me sad that I don’t know her. Sad that I don’t know if I’ll ever find her. Sad that she may not exist. Sad that if she does exist and she’s dreaming about me and our friendship while I dream about her, that we both have to muck around in the mud and shit of the romantic population, tolerating the pollution of your culture, wasting our time socializing with you and getting nothing out of it.

And I would rather be angry. I would rather say fuck you to the author of the Buzzfeed post. To all the people laughing at it in the comments and all the people who have shared it on social media today and viewed it and laughed too. To all the people who have been laughing at “gal pal” jokes since April 2015. To every last romantic person on the face of this earth. You don’t deserve my sadness or my hurt. You deserve my rage. You deserve my repulsion.

You deserve my hate too, but if I had a choice in this moment, I would so much rather love my female passionate friend, domestic partner, and life companion than hate you. I wish she were here with me right now, so that we could both know we’re going to spend the rest of our lives loving each other, living together, cuddling in the privacy of our home, owning cats together and traveling together and maybe even sharing a bed occasionally, and that every time someone mistakes us for lesbians, for a couple, we can turn to each other and smile—because the joke’s on them.

Blog Announcement

You’ll notice that I’ve changed the blog header to “The Thinking Aro.”

Considering that my aromanticism matters much more to me than my asexuality and that I am far more invested and interested in aromantic issues, discourse, and community, this is a natural and logical change for me.

If and when I figure out how to change the actual URL, I may do that, but for now, it will remain “thethinkingasexual.wordpress.com.”

I will continue to write about asexuality when I have something to say about it, but as you can see, it hasn’t been the focus of this blog for a while.

I’m still open to answering questions that any reader may have pertaining to asexuality, so don’t be discouraged from asking if you want to, on the “About” page.

Personal Announcement

I no longer identify as “nonbinary.”

I am a gender non-conforming female. This means I was born biologically female, with a vulva, uterus, ovaries, female-corresponding levels of estrogen and testosterone, and a body that eventually developed secondary sex characteristics (i.e., breasts).

I am gender non-conforming in my style, my tastes, my choice not to wear make-up or shave my legs, my short hair that is cut and styled in a more masculine way, and my dominant personality traits.

If I were a lesbian, I could continue to use “butch” instead of “gender non-conforming,” but I’ve seen enough instances of lesbians objecting to non-lesbians using the terms “butch” and “femme” that I cannot, in good conscience, continue to use “butch” as an identity term. Plenty of self-identified queer kids and trans kids think that these terms are available as gender identities to anyone who wants to claim them, but the butch/femme dynamic and language originated in the lesbian community and belongs to lesbians, as far as I’m concerned. I apologize to the lesbian community for identifying as butch in the past and I will cease to do so.

Right now, using the word “woman” in reference to myself still feels off, but that offness is something I’m sure that I can work through over time. For now, I feel better calling myself female, simply because that is a biological fact that I’ve never mentally disassociated from. I’ve spent 5 years disidentifying with womanhood, so it may take some time for it to feel comfortable again. But I’m glad that the period of disidentification is over.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Friendship Trainwreck, Brought to You by Romantic People

So I just read an essay on friendship written by a middle-aged romantic straight woman that is so fucked up, I have to respond to it. I suggest you read the essay first, because it revolves around a personal story about the author’s friendship with another woman, and it would be hard for me to summarize the whole thing in a sentence or two.

“I’m Having a Friendship Affair” by Kim Brooks

This is one of those pieces on friendship that has me so pissed off and disgusted with romantic people that it serves as a soul-deep affirmation of my decision to shun them as potential friends completely, as long as I live. My revulsion with them immediately after I finished reading was so strong, that I had one of those moments where I think, “One day, when I have the money, I’m going to drop out of society altogether: buy a house in some remote location, disappear from the internet, throw away my cell phone, and spend the rest of my life in isolation, in nature, with only my writing and books and cats for company. Fuck this world, fuck romantic society, fuck tolerating these people for one second longer than necessary.”

The most fucked up thing about this essay is the notion that emotionally intense, intimate, and exclusive friendship belongs in childhood, that in adulthood it is inappropriate or immature, and that it’s wrong for a married adult to have a best friend who isn’t their spouse or a friendship of real emotional consequence outside of marriage. That’s the underlying message behind the evolution of Brooks’ friendship with an unnamed woman I’ll call Jane.

Brooks describes that first week of her friendship with Jane, at the conference where they met, in the following way:

“my new friend and I were inseparable in the most adolescent and obnoxious sense of the word. Like sixth-grade girls in the lunchroom, we passed notes during presentations and saved each other seats when one arrived at an event before the other.”

This attitude that prioritizing friendship is a thing that children do, that it’s only appropriate if you’re a kid, is actually the flipside of the old and still culturally pervasive attitude that getting married and “settling down” in a normative romantic partnership is an expression of maturity, a sign that you’ve truly grown up and become an adult. Single adults well into middle-age are routinely criticized as “immature” for their refusal to pick a spouse. It’s a narrative that’s appeared several times in movies and TV shows: the wild, carefree, often promiscuous single in their 30s or 40s hangs onto a lifestyle usually associated with 20-somethings, until they fall in love with The One and finally give up their juvenile ways for marriage, a mortgage, and monogamous sex.

Basically, calling someone immature for rejecting marriage and/or pursuing emotional friendship in adulthood is a shaming tactic designed to enforce conformity and submission to amatonormativity, the marriage cult, romance supremacy, and the most suffocating kind of romantic monogamy. It’s also a reflection of the fact that society respects married adults more than they respect single adults. That’s singlism, period. That’s amatonormativity in action.

The idea that you’re only a real, mature adult if you conform to society’s expectations in your lifestyle and relationships is bullshit. The idea that a single 35-year-old man or woman who has a full-time job, pays their own bills, lives independently, makes all of their own decisions, and takes care of their own needs is somehow not an adult or not as much of an adult as anyone over 18 who’s married is so fucking laughable that I wish I could stop being pissed off long enough to laugh at it in this essay. And that grown-ass people even feel the need to defend themselves when others call them immature for being single or for wanting a close friendship outside of their marriage just goes to show how utterly devoid of critical thinking most are, because let me tell you, if ANYONE pulled this crap on me, trying to shame me for my singlehood or my desire for intense friendship, I would rip them a new asshole so fast that they wouldn’t know what to do. I’m not going to argue with you about my maturity. Are you kidding? I’m going to tell you to fuck off because I’m not here to perform amatonormativity for you. Period.

Later on in the essay, Brooks again brings up this point about emotional friendship being a thing of youth:

“As girls and young women, we are allowed our friendships. We are afforded our close, intimate, intense relationships with one another. It is accepted and expected of us.”

But even if emotional best friendships are “allowed” in childhood, they’re apparently not encouraged. Both Brooks’ mother, when she was a kid, and her husband, when she is an adult, advise her not to focus on one friendship so intensely and to instead socialize with as many people as possible and collect more “friends” (which really means acquaintances with whom to be casually social). Brooks describes her pattern of forming deep, intimate, intense friendships with one other girl at a time throughout her childhood and adolescence, instead of spreading herself thin socially amongst a group of friends with whom friendship would’ve been far more superficial and less emotional. Her description of these friendships could easily qualify them as queerplatonic, if she was an aromantic person, and they sound very similar to the friendships of my own childhood and adolescence, in terms of the emotional bond and intimacy and the amount of quality time and focus Brooks spent on each one. Yet this pattern, in her own words, meant that she was not good at making friends. She wasn’t good at it because instead of making a bunch of casual friends, she formed real best friendships.

You try to make sense of that logic.

 

Brooks goes into detail about her friendship with Jane taking off after meeting her at the conference, and the way it develops, via frequent texting, phone calls, and online chatting, sounds like a totally unremarkable way to become real, close friends with someone who lives in another state. Jane invites Brooks to visit her for a weekend, and Brooks agrees.

Then, we get this moment:

One evening my husband turned to me in bed and asked if I was having an affair.

“Yes,” I told him. “I’m having a friendship affair. I have a new best friend. I’d forgotten what it’s like, how much fun it is. Don’t you think it’s amazing?”

He looked at me with equal parts confusion and concern.

The husband knows all about Jane. Why he would ask his wife about an affair when he knows that she’s talking to her new female friend is beyond me. That he looks at Brooks with “confusion and concern” when she tells him that she has a new best friend and that she’s having fun with the friendship just crystallizes, for me, the image of this asshole straight man who not only doesn’t understand friendship in general or his wife’s need for an actual emotional bond that doesn’t include him but who can’t even be happy for his wife when she’s happy and excited about something.

Why the fuck do these romantic people frame a nonromantic, nonsexual friendship between two straight women as a form of infidelity, as a wife cheating on her husband? Even if Brooks’ reply to her husband is jokey, his question wasn’t. His reaction to her answer is genuine confusion and concern. Have we really reached a point where romantic people, particularly the married ones, can’t tolerate their romantic partners having close friendships with others regardless of their sex? Have we really reached a point where romantic monogamists view friendship itself, devoid of actual romantic or sexual potential, as a fucking “emotional affair”? Apparently we have.

Believe me when I say that I can’t wait for the day when death finally delivers me from romantics, their bullshit, and this cesspool of a society that they dominate, forevermore.

While framing friendship as marital infidelity is ridiculous, I think it’s a telling indicator of the fragility of marriage and the general anxiety that romantic people and romantic society have about marriage retaining salience as an institution. If people now feel the need to guard marriage not only from extramarital sex and romance but from competing nonromantic/nonsexual emotional bonds too, what does that say about the actual strength and stability of the average romantic/sexual marriage? If the only way you can feel important to your romantic partner is by selfishly and neurotically consuming all of their emotional energy, time, attention, and affection, you are, if nothing else, amazingly and pathetically insecure. It’s ironic that such people would call adults who desire or participate in emotional friendship “immature,” considering their own behavior is most similar to that of a two-year-old who’s got every toy in the toy box and won’t share them with anyone.

When Brooks’ husband sees a text message about “seducing someone” that Brooks sent to Jane in a conversation about Brooks’ upcoming visit, he asks his wife if she’s leaving him, and she freaks out and goes to talk to him at his workplace, explaining that the text was made in jest in the context of the conversation with Jane. (Why the hell her husband was snooping through her phone in the first place is never addressed.) The dialogue between Brooks and her husband includes this exchange:

“I just… all my life I’ve had one or two best girl friends… you know, partners in crime. I guess I miss it. When I’m talking to her, I feel like I’m 16 again. I act like I’m 16.”

“Was being 16 so great? I thought I was your partner in crime.”

“You are,” I said. “Of course you are.”

Again, Brooks frames her new friendship and her enjoyment of it in terms of being a kid. Maybe her explanation here is based on her personal experience of only having the friendships of her youth as examples of the kind she’s longing for—but combined with all the other references in the essay to emotional friendship belonging in childhood and not being allowed in adulthood, this moment in the argument just frustrates me. No one needs to justify an adult desire for emotional friendship by characterizing it as nostalgia for childhood friendships. It’s not even a logically sound comparison to make, because even if the last emotional friendship you had happened in childhood or adolescence, any emotional/intimate friendship you have as an adult will be different. You’re not trying to recreate what you had as a kid, you’re reaching for something completely new and unique to adulthood.

Her husband responds to Brooks’ expressed desire for a female best friend by insinuating that he should be her best friend. He doesn’t support his wife’s desire for a female best friend, he doesn’t try to understand it or empathize with her, he makes it about himself and how he should be satisfying all of his wife’s emotional needs or rather, how she shouldn’t have any emotional needs that he can’t satisfy. If he only criticized Brooks for joking about cheating on him, I would accept his response, but he doesn’t stop at feeling threatened by the idea of his wife fucking another man. He makes it clear here that he’s threatened by the idea of his wife having a female best friend. And that’s fucking bullshit.

Instead of standing up for her right to meaningful friendship with other people, Brooks just reassures her husband that he is her partner-in-crime, when it’s obvious that he isn’t successfully filling her desire for a female best friend. And why the fuck should he? He’s not a woman, he’s not her friend primarily and exclusively, and he is only one person. Her romantic/sexual partner.

 

Probably the most revolting moment of this whole essay happens between Brooks and her female therapist:

My therapist, who’d been listening to all of this unfold, week after week, finally put forth an observation. “This is not normal,” she said.

“You think it’s a really fucked-up friendship?”

“I wouldn’t use the term fucked-up.”

“What term would you use?”

“Deeply regressed is the one that comes to mind.”

Usually deferential to her insight, I found myself rebelling. “Why?” I said. “Why is it regressed to want to have intense, meaningful, complicated relationships with people you’re not fucking related to. Why is it regressed to want to have a best friend?”

She thought for a while, the way therapists do. “Because you already have one,” she said. “He’s called your husband.”

I want to flip a table every time I read this. Now we’ve got Brooks’ therapist, who’s supposed to be guiding her patient toward well-being and self-actualization, reinforcing the idea that the husband first presented: a spouse is supposed to fill the best friend role and anything else is immature and inappropriate. Brooks’ new friendship with Jane is not something to be improved, it’s something to be destroyed. It’s not an expression of a valid emotional need Brooks has for nonromantic/nonsexual bonds, it’s a symptom of immaturity and marital strife.

(This is a perfect example of why we need aro-positive mental healthcare.)

Brooks, of course, agrees with the God damn therapist.

“I knew she was right. I understood that adult female friendships are no longer socially supported or sanctioned in the way they might have been a generation ago, or the way they are for girls and younger women today. While the kind of relationship I had with my new friend might be perfectly typical for a girl of 16, it was far outside the realm of normalcy for a married mother in her 30s, at least far outside our notions of what is normal today. And yet, why should this be the case? Why shouldn’t we get certain types of intimacy from husbands or romantic partners and certain types from friends, the way women of my mother’s generation seemed to? The idea that a husband should not just be a husband but a best friend, an everything, a partner’s entire emotional world, is a recent one. But is this new emotional transaction, this replacing of female intimates with a husband, really an even trade?”

NO. IT FUCKING ISN’T.

I can’t fucking deal with these people. I can’t stomach their insane jealousy and obsession with romance, their sexualization and romanticization of every fucking emotion and affection between human beings, their complete inability to give a shit about people nonromantically and their inability to understand anyone who does. They’re fucking disgusting. The way they harass and pressure each other away from friendship for the sake of redirecting all emotion and affection into a singular romantic relationship, the way they pathologize nonromantic love and intimacy, the way they do everything in their power to stop emotional, intimate friendship from happening and thriving.

Do you honestly want to try creating meaningful friendship with these people, my fellow aromantics? Do you want to spend the rest of your life being Jane?

This preaching to the author about intense friendship belonging exclusively to married couples doesn’t end with the therapist. No, it fucking needs a third voice, a third confirmation. Brooks describes a conversation she had with her babysitter, following the turning point in her friendship with Jane.

“I asked for her thoughts on marriage and female friendship. Did she think my need for intimacy beyond my husband and kids was strange, pathological, unavoidable?

“Sure,” she said. “Probably.”

Just because this bit is followed by a paragraph describing the babysitter’s own understanding of emotional satisfaction through friendship that exceeds or at least differs from her marriage, doesn’t change the fact that this grown woman immediately agreed that merely wanting intimacy outside of marriage is “strange” and “pathological.”

Are you fucking kidding me? Am I really surrounded by people who think this way? Jesus Christ. Get me the fuck out of here.

 

Toward the end of the essay, after the new friendship loses its fire directly after Jane gets back with an old boyfriend, Brooks writes,

“I came to terms with the fact that my new friend and I wouldn’t be soul mates or BFFs, we wouldn’t text constantly and talk on the phone for hours, make up our own language, or learn to do back handsprings together in the yard. We would be regular, grown-up friends. We would have brief moments of meaningful connection amid long stretches of silence or empty “How’s it going?” back-and-forths.”

This right here is the difference between normative adult friendship and queerplatonic friendship, the difference between average romantics having “friends” and aro people having best friends that are nonromantic partners. This right here is why the word “queerplatonic” exists and needs to exist. This is why I would rather grow a friendship with my God damn cat than with any romantic person anywhere, at any point in my adult life. The friendships and friendly partnerships that so many aros want or have, myself included, are bonds of love, intimacy, affection, commitment, and emotional connection. These are the relationships we’re passionate about, the relationships that give us joy, the relationships that make us cry, the relationships where we give all of ourselves. Friendship. Friendship is where we care for others, where we holds ourselves accountable to others, where we help other human beings through this life. Friendship is the foundation of the families we want to put together. Friendship is what we want to come home to every day. And we have to call it queerplatonic or passionate because otherwise, it gets mistaken for this flimsy bullshit that romantic people think is “friendship.”

“Regular, grown-up friends” means associates with a bloodless, superficial, and casual association. It is not the friendship that so many aromantics desire. It is not the friendship that I desire or that I have a history of building with a variety of people. It isn’t friendship at all, as far as I’m concerned. It’s shallow, meaningless, and recreational. It’s disposable, unnecessary, and so far below the fucking holy grail of romantic/sexual marriage in the romantic person’s relationship hierarchy, that you need to dig it out of the ground with a fucking shovel.  I can’t even blame these people for subordinating their pseudo-friendships to romance as much as they do because if those pseudo-friendships are nothing more than small talk and entertainment that’s less emotionally gratifying than a fucking Netflix marathon, it’s totally logical that they don’t hold a candle to conventional romantic relationships.

How does Brooks’ story end? Jane couples up with a man, Brooks and her husband improve their marriage with counseling, the friendship between Brooks and Jane fades into a “regular, grown-up” association, and Brooks resigns to living out the rest of her adult life obeying romantic society’s rule of spouses being each other’s “best friend.”

So what’s the take-away?

  • emotional, intense friendship between adults, specifically when it coexists with marriage, is immature and inappropriate to the point of warranting accusations of infidelity
  • the only reason a married person would even want a nonromantic/nonsexual best friend is because their marriage sucks
  • your spouse should be your best friend (and, let’s be real, your only friend)
  • every single adult featured in this story all believed in the above points, without talking to each other about it, which means that this is simply romantic people’s culture.

 

Romantic people are garbage at friendship. I rest my case.

Linkspam: Couplehood vs. Community, Solo Poly, Singlehood after 40

I’ve found some good stuff worth your time.

First up is a podcast episode: Against the Grain, “Intimacy Against Alienation.”

The description reads:

“Is a romantic partner a replacement for the community that people used to rely on to meet their material and emotional needs? Mitch Monsour thinks so; he points to the competitive and individualistic nature of our society, the way economic rationality gets enacted in the romantic arena, and the structural obstacles to real intimacy.”

It runs about an hour, and toward the end, the discussion veers off into romantic relationship workings and porn and leaves community behind, but there’s plenty of important points made in the first half of the episode. I particularly appreciate Monsour’s insight into how our capitalistic economy directly influences and interacts with the aggressive pursuit of romance and abandonment of community. While community and friendship are two different things, the effect of romance supremacy and romantic people’s obsession with romantic relationships is the same: both community and friendship are abandoned, rendering couples and singles-in-pursuit-of-romance isolated.

Next, a really wonderful essay in NY Mag titled “The Unexpected, Exhilarating Freedom of Being Single at 41,” written by Glynnis MacNicol. Encouraging and uplifting for those of us who are permanently single and under 40, as we look ahead into the future. Especially important for women who are perma-single, as the author herself points out there are no positive role models or any affirmation in our culture for women who never marry and never have children. It really is nice to see that life can be worthwhile well into middle-age as a single person!

Finally, an excellent article by another woman who is over 30, on her experience becoming a solo poly practitioner: “Why Being Solo and Poly Has Made Me a Happiness Evangelist.” For those of you who don’t know poly lingo, someone who’s solo poly is basically a person who is polyamorous (engages in more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship at a time, with the consent of all involved) but who isn’t looking for a primary or “anchor” partner and who generally doesn’t put their relationships on the Relationship Escalator. What I like most about Katie Klabusich’s essay is her realization that she doesn’t have to follow the Life Script that everybody gets handed, that part of her journey to becoming polyamorous were distinct moments where she consciously acknowledged she had no real desire to get married or have kids. Even though she still obviously engages with people romantically and sexually, being solo poly is definitely a way to buck amatonormativity, and I applaud it and Katie.

 

Queerplatonic Friendships That Aren’t Partnerships

There has been some good, important writing done on the subject of misconstruing queerplatonic relationships as “romance lite” and how amatonormativity can attempt to hijack queerplatonic relationships, which are fundamentally nonromantic and predominantly for aro people, in a way that seeks to box them into the same framework as romantic relationships. One of the critiques made in this discourse is that it’s now common for people to characterize queerplatonic relationships as “more than friendship” and identical to romantic relationships without the romantic attraction, and they’re consequently used as a tool to normalize aromantics within the system of amatonormativity. I’ve already stated that queerplatonic relationships are NOT “more than friendship,” even when they operate as primary partnerships. Now I want to write about qp friendships that aren’t partnerships because acknowledging their existence is important to stopping the romanticization of the queerplatonic concept.

I talk a lot about queerplatonic friendship and usually when I do, I’m thinking of the kind that function as partnerships, whether they work exactly the same way as standard romantic partnerships or not. Part of this is because a lot of aros do want QP partnerships, myself included. Part of it is because the idea of nonromantic partnership is so invisible, so unconventional in our society that it’s imperative aros talk about it as much as possible because if we don’t, no one will. But my focus on queerplatonic partnerships is also about the fact that it’s easier to talk about queerplatonic friendship that functions as partnership than it is to talk about queerplatonic friendship that doesn’t. Queerplatonic friendships that aren’t partnerships are what they are primarily because of the feelings involved, and nobody can really talk about feelings well.

Being a relationship anarchist, I not only want more than one passionate friendship/domestic partnership but also as many intimate friendships with people who are not my partners as possible. These friendships could certainly be called queerplatonic, but it isn’t necessary. For the record, in my own head, I tend to think of the partners I want as passionate friends, not queerplatonic partners/friends. There’s not a huge difference, but I mention it because I want to communicate that for all my talk of queerplatonic relationships, I am personally less attached to the term than you probably assume. I’ve wanted and believed in and known about alternative friendship years before “queerplatonic” became a word, so I certainly don’t need that term to validate or give shape to the kind of friendship I prefer, idealize, and create.

A while back, I wrote a post about rejecting the word “partner” in reference to the committed, passionate friends I want, and I still struggle with those words: partner and partnership. There is nothing wrong with naming a friend “partner” when that person fills a space in your life that is equivalent to romantic people’s partners. My personal objections to framing my passionate friends as “partners” are rooted in my broader social philosophy, which partially concerns the anti-romanticization of queerplatonic friendship.

1. Being a relationship anarchist AND a perma-single aro, I have no wish to even imply that the passionate friends who I would probably eventually live with are monumentally more important to me or closer to me than all the other people in my life—because that’s not what I’m looking for at all. There is an implication built into the word “partner” of superiority and of centrality, which comes directly from romance and romantic culture. I don’t think that nonromantic partnerships have to or should work the same way as romantic partnerships, simply because both types of relationship fulfill similar functions.

2. Friendship should not need to be relabeled and repackaged as partnership (or as queerplatonic) in order to be taken seriously. This is a catch-22, because of course perma-single aros don’t live in a vacuum, we live in romantic society, and we can’t avoid the fact that romantic people don’t take friendship seriously and never will. We can’t make other people rethink language, regardless of how we use it. So if we call someone our “friend,” the world won’t take that person or that relationship seriously, but if we call our closest friend “partner,” the world will erroneously assume that the relationship is romantic, unless we take the time to explain exactly what’s going on between ourselves and our friends.

I refer to the passionate friends I want as “partners” and use the word “queerplatonic” in my writing so frequently because I want to be clear about what I mean. I do it in the context of this amatonormative world where friendship, in the romantic majority’s eyes, is neither important nor intimate nor the stuff of primary partnerships. But nobody needs to use the label “queerplatonic” in order to have a friendship that matches the qp definition, and you don’t need any particular label in order to have a friend who is your partner. I’ve also never believed that a friendship must be a partnership in order to be significant or to deserve the world’s respect as something important. I’m not seeking to perpetuate amatonormativity or romantic thinking in friendship, even alternative friendship.

So can you have a queerplatonic friendship with someone who is NOT your partner?

Yes. This may happen for aros who do want more out of friendship than normally occurs but who doesn’t actually want any kind of primary partner. It could happen to someone who already has a partner but who also feels a powerful connection with a friend that they want to express, without making the friendship a full-blown match to their existing partnership. It can simply be something that occurs between two friends who, for any number of reasons, can’t or don’t want to be partners (whatever that means to them). It can be a stage in a friendship that hasn’t yet become a partnership.

The thing about queerplatonic friendship is that it frequently unfolds without warning, intention, or planning. You don’t know right off the bat, when you become friends with someone, that you’re going to end up with this queerplatonic bond—friendship is not dating—so when you do, it’s not a given that you’ll want or be able to make that friendship into a partnership. Maybe you’re not even looking for a partner, when you meet the person you develop a queerplatonic bond with. Maybe you do really well as queerplatonic friends but you’re not compatible enough to be partners.

For aros especially, the very concept of “partnership” can mean a wide variety of things. Yes, there are aros who want a primary partnership that looks identical to romantic partnerships, but there are other aros who want a “partnership” that doesn’t really work the same way as romantic partnerships. Being “partners” with an aro doesn’t have to be and sometimes isn’t the same thing as being romantic partners with someone. Nonromantic partnerships don’t have a pre-existing narrative or mold to fit into, so they can look like just about anything. An aro can have a partner they don’t live with. An aro can have a partner they’re fucking or not fucking. An aro can have multiple partners without ever setting foot into polyamory land because friendship is not de facto monogamous, and even queerplatonic friendships can never really adhere to monogamy the way romance does. An aro can have a long-distance partner. They can have a partner they do live with, but who they are far less inter-dependent with than the standard romantic couple. Their partner can have that status because of the emotion involved in the friendship, not because of any behavioral markers.

What’s the difference between a qp partner and a qp friend who isn’t a partner? That depends on the individual. Maybe an aro lives with their qp partner and not with their friend. Maybe they have a sexual relationship with their partner and not with their friend or vice versa. Maybe they spend more time with their partner than they do with their friend. Maybe their partner’s needs and desires technically come first, before their friend’s, on a priority list. Maybe they raise children with a partner and not with their friend. Maybe the difference is simply that they feel an even greater, deeper emotional bond with their partner than they do with their friend, even if there’s little behavioral difference. Maybe they make more life decisions with their partner than they do with their friend or their partner is integrated into their birth family, while their friend isn’t. The possibilities are endless.

Now, for the big question:

What Distinguishes Non-Partner QP Friendships from Normative Friendship?

1. Commitment

When a relationship is important to you, you’re committed to its survival and well-being. Sometimes, this can manifest as a formalized commitment, an explicit agreement between the two friends. Sometimes, it doesn’t come up until some life event tests their commitment to each other. In any case, commitment in a qp friendship can mean that you deliberately choose to maintain physical proximity to your friend or move to be close to them if you don’t already live in the same place. It can mean you spend a specific amount of time with each other, regardless of anything or anyone else in your lives. It can mean you are physically present for each other in certain contexts: medical emergencies, doctor appointments, family gatherings, vacations, professional events, social gatherings (bringing your friend instead of a partner), etc. What commitment in friendship ultimately comes down to is that you don’t leave the course of your friendship undetermined and unstructured, subject to the whims of life. You’re conscientious about keeping time and space for the friendship and doing what’s best for the friendship.

In normative friendship, particularly between adults, there is no commitment. People never take their normative friends into consideration when making life decisions. They’ll leave friends behind for job relocation or a romantic partner. They’ll let communication and interaction with friends drop off into nothing for weeks or months on end. They don’t care or put any thought into the survival or the maintenance of these normative friendships because they’re just not a priority.

2. Quality Time

A qp friendship is most likely going to involve spending time together more often than standard friends do and/or with more attention to nurturing an emotional bond and sense of connection. It isn’t just hanging out to avoid boredom or loneliness. It isn’t just about having fun with someone. With a qp friend, some of the time you spend together, if not all of it, is going to be quality time: where you’re alone together, focused on each other, experiencing emotional intimacy, being fully present with each other. In adulthood, free time is usually limited, and therefore it becomes a precious resource. Spending time with someone is a demonstration of how important they are to you, and a qp friend is likely going to come first, before other more casual friends, when you decide how to spend your time.

I’ve seen other people use the term “friend date,” and it’s always puzzled me because in my own life, I’ve only ever spent time with friends one-on-one, doing shit like going out to dinner, drinking and talking somewhere private, watching a favorite TV show or movie, running errands, talking about personal issues and feelings, etc. I honestly can’t imagine how else friendship is done—but the fact that it is done differently, superficially, often with a casual tone of recreation instead of emotion, is one reason why the term and concept “queerplatonic” exists.

3. Touch

Just because you aren’t partners, doesn’t mean you can’t have physical intimacy in a qp friendship. In non-partner qp friendships, the level of touch can still easily exceed what goes on in normative friendships and can match the amount and the kind of touch that happens in other people’s romantic relationships. For an aro who has both a qp partner and qp friends, the amount of physical intimacy in a non-partner friendship can match what happens in their partnership, and that’s neither rare nor difficult, considering friendship is not naturally monogamous and exclusivity in a queerplatonic partnership can be created differently than it is in romantic-sexual relationships.

Every kind of touch possible in a qp partnership is possible in a non-partner friendship: hugging, cuddling, holding hands, massages, caressing, co-sleeping, kissing the mouth, kissing the body or face, and even sex.

4. Emotion

A queerplatonic friend is not just someone you like and hang out with. A queerplatonic friend is someone you have feelings for, a real emotional attachment. These feelings can be strong, deep, passionate, tender, and warm. You can love your queerplatonic friend in a serious, substantial, and tangible way—and considering how many romantic people don’t love their friends at all or who use the word “love” in reference to friends frivolously, with no real feeling behind it, this love for a qp friend is enough to set the friendship apart from non-emotional, recreational friendships. The tone of the qp friendship itself can be more emotional than normative friendships are, the way you interact with each other tinted with the underlying emotional current.

5. Freedom

Whether or not an aro has a partner, there is most likely a degree of freedom in their non-partner qp friendships that simply doesn’t exist in normative friendships: freedom to be emotional, physical, involved, committed, and together and a simultaneous freedom to be independent from each other. In a queerplatonic friendship, you don’t have to be partners any more than you have to be romantically involved, to be as emotional or physical or committed as you want to be. There’s almost nothing that would be intuitively off-limits in a qp friendship just because it’s not a partnership. The point of a queerplatonic friendship is that it exceeds normative friendship in some way; it crosses the standard boundaries of friendship and takes whatever it wants from the “romance” category, without redefining the friendship as romance OR as partnership. That a queerplatonic friendship CAN be a partnership and in many cases is, doesn’t mean that it has to be in order to have any particular level of emotion, intimacy, touch, commitment, time, etc.

The normative friendships of romantic people are restricted, in part because of coexisting romantic relationships that are usually monogamous. You can’t be emotional or physical in normative friendship past a certain point, and the ceiling is low. Romantic people are usually not capable of being emotional and/or physical in friendship beyond what they consider “normal”—they don’t have the desire or the emotional capacity—and even if they were, they’re not allowed to be if they’re romantically involved in a monogamous relationship because monogamy not only prohibits sex and romantic attachment with others but physical affection, emotional intimacy, and strong emotions period.

 

In conclusion, queerplatonic friendships do not have to be partnerships, and friendship doesn’t need to be called “queerplatonic” or function as a primary partnership to involve a high level of commitment, emotion, love, touch, time, and intimacy. QP friendships that are not partnerships are every bit as important and serious as the ones that are.  It’s totally cool if you’re an aro who wants or has qp friendships but who doesn’t want a partner.

Recommended Related Reading:

QP Relationships are not ‘Romance Lite’ and that discourse deradicalises them” by Rotten Zucchinis

“How Do You Define a Partner? Polyamory and the Blurred Lines Between Partners and Non-Partners” by Sophia Grubb

Monogamy Ruined the Friend-Zone” by David Chastity

The Asexual and Aromantic Identity Spectrums Don’t Make Sense

Within the last couple years, people wise to asexuality and aromanticism started using the terms “ace” and “aro” as shorthand umbrella labels for any and all identities that exist on the “asexual spectrum” and “aromantic spectrum.” You can be demisexual or gray-asexual, demiromantic or grayromantic, and yet call yourself ace or aro whenever you feel like it. You can talk about “aces” and “aros” when you really mean everybody and anybody on the spectrum, as if being asexual is the same thing as being demisexual or gray-asexual or being aromantic is the same thing as being demiromantic or gray-romantic.

I hate it. I think it must be a Tumblr thing, and it must’ve started with younger people who showed up on the ace and aro scene after I left a lot of those spaces. I know not everyone does it—I don’t think I’ve noticed it as a consistent practice amongst my contemporaries who have been blogging and participating in the online communities as long as I have—but it seems to be popular enough now that I may be out of step with conversations about “aces” and “aros” more often than not.

It’s got me thinking about the idea of these spectrums, though, because as far as I’m concerned, you are not ace or aro if you’re demisexual, grayasexual, demiromantic, or grayromantic. If you’re demi, you’re demi, and if you’re gray, you’re gray. These different identity terms exist for a reason: they describe different experiences. If we’re going to define asexuality and aromanticism as “not experiencing sexual/romantic attraction,” does it make any fucking sense to go around talking as if demis and grays, who do experience attraction, are the same as aces and aros? No. It doesn’t.

This language problem is really just a reflection of what was already a problematic organization of non-allo identities into these asexual and aromantic “spectrums.” Demisexuality and gray-asexuality have been around for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been active in online asexual communities for going on 10 years. But we didn’t always frame asexuality, demisexuality, and gray-asexuality as a “spectrum.” Demiromanticism and grayromanticism are, if I’m not mistaken, younger concepts than demisexuality and gray-asexuality, but again—originally, there was no “aromantic spectrum,” only an acknowledgment that demi- and gray-romanticism were experiences that had much in common with aromanticism. Somewhere along the line, when I wasn’t looking, people started thinking of asexuality and aromanticism as “spectrums,” on which demi- and gray- identities fall, and without any real critical thinking that I can find, that view gained popularity and is pretty much just accepted now without question.

I don’t agree with the spectrum model, any more than I agree with using “ace” and “aro” as umbrella terms for every non-allo identity there is. Let me explain why.

Whether we’re talking about sexual orientation or romantic orientation, hetero-, homo-, bi-, pan-, and a- describe WHO a person is attracted to.

But demi- and gray- identities (which can include lith-, fray-, quoi-, etc) describe HOW a person experiences attraction. A demi- or a gray- is also straight or gay or bi or pan. They have two identities, technically, although they can choose to publicly identify as only one.

How much sense does it make to create these spectrums of asexuality and aromanticism, when the identities grouped in the spectrums are actually based on two totally different aspects of attraction? If you’re going to create any kind of “spectrum” to describe HOW people experience the attraction that they experience, doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to group all the people who DO experience a specific type of attraction together?

I’m sure that defenders of the asexual and aromantic spectrums as they’re currently conceptualized could make the argument that asexuality and aromanticism are also about the HOW of attraction, as much as they are about the WHO, but I can’t imagine an argument for that idea that holds water. It’s redundant to say that asexuality and aromanticism are about both WHO and HOW one experiences sexual or romantic attraction. Arguing that they’re based on both looks like this:

Who are asexuals and aromantics attracted to?

No one.

How are they attracted to “no one”?

They’re not.

It’s pointless. On a basic logic level, it doesn’t make any sense to follow the first question and answer with the second. All you need to know is that asexuals and aromantics aren’t attracted to anyone (sexually or romantically). There is no “HOW” because there is no WHO. HOW a person experiences attraction is only relevant if they actually experience attraction.

Thus far, demisexuality, gray-asexuality, demiromanticism, and gray-romanticism have been attached to asexuality and aromanticism on these spectrum models for two reasons that I can see:

1. It’s easier and, for many people, intuitive to group together all the different experiences of sexual and romantic attraction that don’t fit into the dominant categories of allosexuality and alloromanticism, so that you have only two groups of people to think about: who’s allo- and who’s not. In other words, the idea of an asexual spectrum or an aromantic spectrum is based on a negative: on what people are NOT. If you’re not allo-, then you’re on this asexual or aromantic spectrum.

This is like categorizing colors by saying that there is “blue” and there’s every color that is not blue. “Not blue” includes red and green, but the only thing they have in common is that neither one of them is blue. Red and green are not shades of each other. They are not the same color. They each have their own shades, their own sub-colors. It doesn’t make any sense to say that red and green are the same or even closely related, unless you only care that neither one is blue.

2. People make the mistake of thinking that because demisexuality and gray-asexuality are both experiences of attraction and desire that often include a lack or absence of said attraction and desire, that they are logical and natural extensions of asexuality. (The same goes for demi-, gray-, and aromanticism.) But this can only be true if we think of asexuality and aromanticism as “not experiencing sexual/romantic attraction,” without accounting for the objects of that missing attraction. Making asexuality and aromanticism purely about HOW attraction is experienced. Which again, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever because attraction can’t exist without an object in the first place. Asexuality and aromanticism are not about HOW one experiences attraction but about WHO asexuals and aromantics are attracted to: nobody. That demis and grays do experience attraction to other people, sometimes with enough regularity to warrant a specific sexual or romantic orientation, should make it clear that demi- and gray- orientations are not variations of asexuality and aromanticism.

If demi- and gray- orientations are going to be attached to one of the poles of attraction (a- vs. allo-), it would actually make a lot more sense to say that they are extensions of allosexuality and alloromanticism, not asexuality and aromanticism. Why?

1. As I already said, demi’s and gray’s have other identities that describe WHO they are attracted to, when they’re attracted. They, like allos, are straight or gay or bi or pan or queer. They share with allos something that asexuals and aromantics never experience: sexual or romantic attraction. That they experience it differently, often quite differently, doesn’t negate the fact that they DO experience it. Asexuals and aromantics don’t, at all. If you ask me, there’s a big difference between “rarely” or “sometimes” and “never.”

When a demi- or gray- person DOES experience sexual or romantic attraction, there may be no difference whatsoever between their experience and that of an allo- who is also experiencing attraction to a particular person. The difference between a demi- or a gray- who wants to have sex with somebody or who’s in love with someone and an allo- person who wants to have sex with somebody or who’s in love with someone is HOW they arrived at that point or HOW often they have the experience, not what they’re actually feeling.

2. There is enough variation in how allos experience sexual and romantic attraction that if we were to examine the full range of their attraction and desire patterns, especially throughout adulthood instead of during just one phase of it, we would see that there’s enough similarity between how some allos experience their attractions and how demis and grays experience it, that the demis and grays actually have much more in common with those allos than they do with asexuals and aromantics. One could make the argument that a lot of demis and grays go through periods where they don’t experience attraction at all, to anyone, in which case they are identical to asexuals and aromantics at that time. But there are also allos who, if they’re in between romantic/sexual partners and don’t have anyone around that they’re interested in, don’t feel sexual or romantic attraction either. This doesn’t make them less allo-. This just means that they are not, at the moment, attracted to anybody. Being allo- doesn’t mean that you’re in a constant state of sexual or romantic attraction, any more than it means you’re in a constant state of sexual activity or romantic relationship.

That being said, I don’t think it’s necessary for demi- and gray- identities to be part of a spectrum of allosexuality and alloromanticism, any more than it’s necessary to attach them to asexuality and aromanticism. I think that demi- and gray- and their related expressions can stand on their own, as a third category. That would probably make the most sense, considering that these experiences of attraction are literally a kind of middle-ground between a- and allo-, a kind of blending of the two poles. (Thus, the “gray.”) Personally, I think of demi- and gray- folks as being in their own, third category. But if, for some reason, the masses are hot to make demi- and gray- identities a part of either the a- or allo- category, I say that it makes more sense to go with the allo-.

Please understand that I am NOT denying the legitimacy or the necessity of demi- and gray- identities here. They are real, and they are valid. The labels themselves are necessary. Demis and grays are NOT allos. I’m just pointing out that grouping the demi- and gray- identities with asexuality and aromanticism, to create these ace and aro spectrums, is a flawed and problematic practice. I understand that demi- and gray- experiences were originally given voice and recognition through the asexual and aromantic communities, through dialogues had in those communities, and I understand also that some demis and grays feel far more kinship with aces and aros than they do with allos. I know that some demis and grays lean closer to the allo- pole of attraction, while others lean closer to the a- pole. That’s why I personally tend to think of demis and grays as neither part of an asexual spectrum categorically nor part of the allo- population categorically. There is enough variation within demi- and gray- experiences that grouping all of them with aces and aros or all of them with allos- doesn’t work well.

Eliminating the “asexual spectrum” and “aromantic spectrum” model doesn’t mean that we dismiss the legitimacy of demi- and gray- identities or that we cut off demis and grays from the asexual and aromantic communities. It pretty much means we go back to the way things were originally, where demis and grays could be a part of ace and aro spaces and conversations as much or as little as they chose but where there is enough acknowledgment of the differences between demis, grays, and aces/aros that nobody lumps them all together into a singular group.