Challenging Asexual Definitions of Sexuality

I’m writing this post for my readers who are NOT asexual, demisexual, gray-sexual, aromantic, demiromantic, or gray-romantic. This post is also probably not for anyone who identifies as queer or trans. This is a post for romantic-sexual people who don’t buy into asexual/aromantic identity discourse and who don’t buy into queer theory either. Which is to say, this post is for the vast majority of human beings alive on this earth.

If you’re on the “asexual spectrum” or “aromantic spectrum,” there’s a very good chance that this post will piss you off. I don’t care if it does because I think what I’m about to say needs to be said. And despite the fact that this post is about you, it’s not for you—because I know most of you are not willing to hear or think about what I’m going to say. I’m not here to change you or convince you of anything.

If I’m right, what I’m going to explain in this post is what allo* people have been trying to tell asexuals (and demisexuals and gray-asexuals) for as long as I’ve been active in the online asexual community. It’s the reason that some allo* people are really angry and annoyed and offended by asexual discourse and asexual-spectrum identities, why they don’t respect those identities, and why they don’t see those identities as legitimate. So I don’t expect the following to be news to allo* people who read it, but hopefully, I’ll do a good job of articulating what they’ve been trying to get across all this time.


Questioning the Asexual+Aromantic Community’s Human Sexuality Model

There are two different ways that we can define the word “asexual.” They are as follows:

  • Asexual – not sexually attracted to anyone
  • Asexual – not attracted to either sex

The asexual and aromantic communities currently use the first definition, and this is significant because it ultimately leads to the rest of the asexual community’s model of sexuality.

If “asexual” means “not sexually attracted to anyone,” that leaves romantic attraction unaccounted for, and thus, the idea of romantic orientations was born. We have hetero-, homo-, bi-, and aromantic asexuals because we defined “asexual” as “not sexually attracted to anyone” and up to 75% of self-identifying asexuals still feel romantic attraction and desire romantic relationships. Because these romantic asexuals started using romantic identity labels, it logically forced those of us who didn’t want any kind of romantic relationship and did not feel romantic toward others to claim our own additional label: aromantic.

The popular definition of the word “asexual” just so happens to coincide with the model of sexuality currently popular among queer-identified and trans individuals: claiming that the “sexual” in heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual refers to the kind of attraction felt and not to the biological sex one is attracted to. QT people insist that romantic and sexual attraction are based on gender identity alone, that biological sex has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation, and linguistically, this replicates the same meaning of the word “asexual” for all the other sexual identity words.

  • Heterosexual – sexually attracted to the opposite gender
  • Homosexual – sexually attracted to the same gender
  • Bisexual – sexually attracted to two genders
  • Bonus that only exists in this model: pansexual – sexually attracted to all genders

So the asexual community’s definition of “asexual” complements the QT community’s model of sexuality. It is not the original model by which humans understood sexuality. In fact, it’s extremely new. The original model and the one that most of the world still understands their sexuality by, is based on biological sex and not gender identity.

  • Heterosexual – attracted to the opposite sex
  • Homosexual – attracted to the same sex
  • Bisexual – attracted to both sexes

In fact, the words themselves are linguistically constructed according to these definitions. Breaking them down into their component parts and tracing the etymology, this is what you find:

hetero – from Greek heteros meaning the other (of two), another, different; second; other than usual.

homo – from the Greek ‘homos’ meaning ‘same’

sex – 14c., “males or females collectively,” from Latin sexus “a sex, state of being either male or female, gender,” of uncertain origin. Meaning “quality of being male or female” first recorded 1520s. Meaning “genitalia” is attested from 1938.

ual – a variation of the suffix “-al” that means relating to, process of, or an action.

The etymology of the combined parts “sexual” is the same: 1650s, “of or pertaining to the fact of being male or female,” from Late Latin sexualis “relating to sex,” from Latin sexus (see sex (n.)).

The point being that the “sex” in sexual orientation words never referred to “sexual attraction” but to the sex one was attracted to. The attraction being romantic and/or sexual was implicit, which is logical: why would you need a specific term to describe being nonsexually and nonromantically “attracted” to males or females or both? Attraction is generally understood to be romantic and sexual, whereas preferring to be friendly or to socialize with males or females or both is based on factors other than involuntary attraction.

If we use this model of sexuality, it naturally and inevitably follows that “asexual” means “not attracted to either sex.” If “asexual” means “not attracted to either sex,” then the only people who can call themselves “asexual” are people like me, who don’t feel romantic or sexual attraction or desire for partnered romance/sex. Using that definition of “asexual,” the term “aromantic” becomes unnecessary.

No more hetero-, homo-, and bi-romantic asexuals. Likewise, no more aromantic heterosexuals, homosexuals, or bisexuals. All of these folks would become part of a spectrum of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, their different preferences for sex or romance unlabeled. We would understand that there are straight, gay, and bi people who don’t like sex or who don’t like to be romantically coupled, and that would be that. No need to add a new identity label for every single aspect of a person’s sexuality. No giant gap between the romantic “asexual spectrum” people and all the other human beings that feel romantic attraction. No giant gap between the sexual “aromantic spectrum” people and all the other human beings that feel sexual desire.

The split-attraction identity model would collapse. If you feel both romantic and sexual attraction, even if there’s a difference in who you’re romantically attracted to vs. sexually attracted to, you would simply be one of many types of bisexuals. Why? Because if “bisexual” means “attracted to both sexes” and the attraction is generalized, there’s room for all kinds of attraction experiences under that label. The only qualification is that you’re attracted to both males and females. Bisexuality doesn’t require an equal and identical attraction to males and females. Whether you’re attracted to men more than women or women more than men, whether you feel both romantic and sexual toward males and females or romantic to one sex/sexual toward the other, you’re attracted to both sexes, so “bisexual” covers you.


Demi and Gray Are Not Orientations

I’ve already pointed out the reason that demisexuality and gray-sexuality (along with demiromanticism and gray-romanticism) are not sexual orientations: these labels describe HOW people experience sexual or romantic attraction, not WHO they’re attracted to. Demi and gray are modifiers of a person’s sexual or romantic orientation: hetero, homo, or bi. Sexual orientation is about WHO you’re attracted to, not HOW you develop attraction, and because demis and grays do experience sexual and romantic attraction, they are no less straight, gay, or bi than all the other sexual and romantic people who experience attraction more frequently or more easily or who simply don’t call themselves anything other than straight, gay, or bi.

There are people who call themselves asexual, demisexual, or gray-asexual, who are under the false impression that they are different from everyone in the world who doesn’t. The same goes for aromantics, demiromantics, and gray-romantics. In other words, there are people who can and do fit right in with the 99% of human beings who identify only as straight, gay, or bi—not asexual or aromantic or demi or gray—but who believe and present themselves as being fundamentally different from that 99%. This is made possible by the relative meaninglessness of asexual and aromantic identity terms: without specificity, without concrete definitions, these identities can mean anything, so ultimately, they mean nothing. They’re supposed to describe people who are innately different from alloromantics and allosexuals, but instead, they don’t really describe anything other than people who believe that they’re different, even if they’re not.

Demi and gray identities speak to a phenomenon spawned by identity culture: that of micro-labeling yourself to specify every detail of your sexuality. To be fair, demi and gray identities inevitably popped up out of asexual discourse not just because of identity culture but because of the sexual attraction model that the asexual community uses. “Demi” and “gray” can’t exist if “asexual” is defined as “not attracted to either sex.” If we defined “asexual” as “not attracted to either sex,” demis and grays instantly disappear into the straight, gay, and bi groups they already belong to. Demis and grays experience sexual attraction (or romantic attraction, in the case of the “aromantic spectrum”), and if straight, gay, and bi are defined as “attracted to the opposite, same, or both sexes,” without specifying what kind of attraction it is and how it is developed, demis and grays are already covered. Demisexuality and gray-asexuality are not orientations in and of themselves. They’re descriptors of orientations. If we returned to the sexuality model that’s based on general attraction to the sexes, then the fine details of a person’s sexual attraction patterns or romantic attraction patterns would have no bearing on their label.

A straight person who wants to fuck someone she met three hours ago and a straight person who wants to fuck someone only after they’ve dated for a year are both straight. A gay person who feels attracted to three strangers a day, every day, and a gay person who’s only been attracted to a few people in their lifetime are both gay. Somebody who falls in love slowly and somebody who falls in love quickly are both people who fall in love. Somebody who falls in love twice in a lifetime and somebody who falls in love ten times are both people who fall in love.


An Unfair and Inaccurate Portrayal of the 99%

This leads me to a problem that the asexual community, including demisexuals and gray-sexuals, have had for a long time. They believe in a characterization of allo* people—people who aren’t on the “asexual spectrum” or “aromantic spectrum”—that treats 99% of humankind as a homogeneous group with a singular and consistent pattern of sexual desire and behavior, often basing that characterization on the most sexual individuals and on male heterosexuality specifically. The “asexual spectrum” doesn’t acknowledge any differences between male and female sexuality, between heterosexuality and homosexuality, between sexual behavior and experiences in different cultures of the world. The asexual-spectrum assumes that anyone who doesn’t identify as asexual (or demi- or gray-) wants, needs, and enjoys sex on a regular basis, or otherwise that not wanting, needing, or liking sex regularly means that you’re on the “asexual spectrum” and don’t know it.

In other words, they refuse to recognize that allo* people can feel indifferent to sex, can dislike sex, may only be sexually attracted to what few romantic partners they have in life, can prefer masturbation over partnered sex, can have very mixed feelings and experiences with sex, can lose interest in sex with age, can experience “sexual attraction” not as specifically genital in nature but as a combination of feelings that have nothing to do with sex that point to sexual activity as a result, can actually rarely or never feel sexual attraction by merely looking at an attractive stranger, etc.

What I’m trying to say is that asexual discourse strips all of the nuance, the complexity, and the variation out of human sexuality and assumes that there is one concrete, simple, specifically and exclusively genital experience of sexual desire that all allo* human beings experience the same way from the time they start puberty until death or old age. And because they, the self-identified asexuals and demisexuals and gray-asexuals, don’t experience whatever they decided is sexual attraction or don’t experience it the way they assume allosexual people do, they can claim these “asexual spectrum” identities and believe that they’re categorically different from allo* people. That they are not straight, gay, or bi the way allo* people are straight, gay, or bi, even if they have romantic feelings or sexual feelings (in the case of “aromantic spectrum” folks). This, of course, is what leads to all of that “allosexual privilege” bullshit, the idea that asexual-spectrum and aromantic-spectrum people are somehow uniquely oppressed or discriminated against by not just straight people but all allo* people.

Some of this is reinforced by language, by the defining of “asexual” as “not sexually attracted to others” and the re-defining of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual as “sexually attracted to the opposite, same, or both sexes” (or, in the case of QT discourse subscribers: opposite, same, or two genders). But even if you put the language problem aside, you’ve still got all these baseless assumptions about the majority of the species that supposedly “asexual spectrum” and “aromantic spectrum” people don’t even know about from experience because they don’t feel what allo* people do, in the way that allo* people feel it. And they certainly didn’t consult the allo* population before deciding what allos* feel and thus, how they (the asexual/aromantic spectrum) are different.

So where did the asexual and aromantic spectrums’ definitions of sexual attraction and romantic attraction and their characterization of allo* people come from? What is it based on? Television? Movies? Novels? Observation of the allo* people they know, that wasn’t followed up with in-depth conversation? How can the asexual and aromantic “spectrums” be confident in their ideas of sexual and romantic attraction and how allo* people experience it, if they haven’t done extensive research and interviewing of allo* people? I’ve seen with my own eyes self-identified asexuals, aromantics, demis, and grays dismiss what allo* people have to say about sexual and romantic attraction–mostly when they challenge the identity of an asexual, aromantic, demi, or gray with that information–but we’re supposed to know better than the entire allo* population what they feel and that we’re not feeling it? How?



Personally, I think it makes a whole lot more sense to define “asexual” as “not attracted to either sex” instead of “not sexually attracted to others.” I believe and support all the allo* people in the world who define their own sexual orientation as being attracted—sexually or romantically or both—to people based on biological sex, not gender identity. I think it would be far more efficient and reasonable to see “romantic asexuals” and “aromantic allosexuals” as members of the straight, gay, or bi categories that their romantic or sexual desires put them in, rather than create a chasm between romantics who don’t want sex and romantics who do, or sexual people who don’t want romance vs sexual people who do. I think it’s better to treat heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality as broad categories that include a wide range of feelings, desires, and behaviors, including a strong aversion to sex or romance.

Do I think there’s any chance in hell of the asexual community or the “asexual spectrum” giving up their discourse and their model of sexuality, of people in that community giving up their identities and adopting an understanding of themselves as straight, gay, or bi people who aren’t sexually inclined? No. I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed, and we’re stuck with what we’ve got. I don’t recommend trying to argue with self-identified asexuals, aromantics, demis, and grays about switching to a different model of sexuality if they aren’t open to considering it. It’s a waste of time.

But I wanted to write this post so that I could tell you, allo* readers (who haven’t bought into the asexual/queer/trans model of sexual identity), that I finally understand what you’ve been trying to tell me all these years. I understand where you’re coming from. I see the holes and the flaws in popular asexual discourse, and I don’t think that the asexual community is right about you. I don’t even think that they’re right about themselves, in many cases. (And I can hear all the “identity-policing” sobs in the distance, but the fact is, if you base your identity on a flawed conceptualization of reality, then your identity will be flawed too. A bullshit framework is not any less false or flawed just because it validates your identity, and despite what identity culture preaches to its congregation, identity is not sacred or beyond criticism.)

I acknowledge that there are billions of ways to be sexual and romantic. I acknowledge that “seeing a person and wanting to have sex with them” is a crappy definition of sexual attraction that doesn’t actually apply to all sexual people. I acknowledge that sexual desire and sexual activity and how one feels about sex varies from person to person, that male sexuality and female sexuality are different, that being straight is not the same as being gay, that the way sex works for women or gay people or POC is not the way it works for men and heterosexuals and white people. I acknowledge that there are a lot of allo* people who don’t really care about sex, who don’t need it, who can live without it peacefully, who are even critical of sex. I acknowledge that there are allo* people who are indifferent about romantic relationships or critical of them, who are happier being single than coupled, who choose to be single, who have never been in love and aren’t interested in it.

Self-identified romantic asexuals and aromantic allosexuals are not categorically different from all the non-asexual, non-aromantic people in the world. Romantic asexuals may be very different from a lot of people who want sex, and aromantic allosexuals may be very different from all the people who can and do fall in love. But they’re also similar and sometimes identical to other romantic and sexual people who—surprise, surprise—don’t like sex or romance or choose not to participate in it or don’t feel that they’re necessary.

I have a theory that a lot of self-identified romantic asexuals and aromantic allosexuals would feel strong resistance to giving up their asexual or aromantic identity because they believe that identifying as simply straight, gay, or bi means they are obligated to have sex or romantic relationships. They think that if they don’t specify their disinterest in sex or romance with a label (or, in the case of demis and grays, their lack of frequent interest in sex or romance with strangers), that they’re telling the world that they ARE interested because interest in sex and romance is supposed to be the default in humans. But you don’t need an extra label to tell people you interact with or date or have sex with, that you aren’t interested in sex or romance. People who don’t feel sexual or romantic toward anyone have always existed, for thousands of years before the labels “asexual” and “aromantic.” There are plenty of people who don’t label themselves asexual or aromantic (or demi or gray)  today who are minimally interested or completely uninterested in sex or romance.  And that’s the point. The asexual community’s assumptions about what all non-asexual, non-aromantic people want and feel, which they define themselves against, aren’t actually true.

And how fucked up is it that anyone feels like they need a label to justify not wanting sex or romantic relationships, within a certain timeline or with strangers or at all? Why are we playing into compulsory sexuality and compulsory romance, into a culture that coerces everybody into sex and romance and heterosexuality specifically? Why hasn’t the asexual community and the aromantic community decided to fight for all people’s right to reject sex and romantic relationships and to question the authenticity of their own unexamined desire for sex and romance?

Maybe if they weren’t too busy assuming that all allo* people naturally need and love sex and romantic relationships, they would.

Relationship Anarchy is Not About Sex or Polyamory

Some months ago, blogger Rotten Zucchinis published an excellent series of posts about relationship anarchy, and I’ve been meaning to write a response. I was excited to read the whole series because I admire RZ as a writer and thinker and because there’s not enough good content on relationship anarchy.

When I wrote “Relationship Anarchy Basics” three years ago, I did it largely from an aromantic asexual perspective. I spent a lot of words illustrating how and why asexuals and aromantics could use relationship anarchy to experience love, intimacy, and commitment while not having sex or not engaging in romantic relationships. I tried my best to communicate that relationship anarchy could actually be a way that people who aren’t asexual or aromantic could center nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationships in their social life or explore alternative relationships with atypical combinations of sex, celibacy, touch, emotional intensity, commitment, attraction and lack thereof. I wanted to demonstrate that relationship anarchy provides the opportunity to experience more love, affection, companionship, and touch by removing the restrictions that amatonormativity and relationship hierarchy place on them, limiting those things to one (or even multiple) romantic/sexual relationships.

So imagine how hard I rolled my eyes when I discovered that there are straight men out there calling themselves “relationship anarchists” in order to smoothly get away with casual sex. I mean, really? Really? You think fucking somebody you’ve known for less than 24 total hours who you met on a hookup app makes you a “relationship anarchist”? Or that you can make that sexual encounter sound progressive and radical by invoking the “relationship anarchist” label? Please.

I guess nothing about fuckboys or men in general should surprise me, but I honestly never imagined relationship anarchy being used as an excuse or a trendy framing of casual sex when I wrote my original post on the subject. I never imagined that somewhere on this earth, a real live male would look into someone’s eyes and earnestly say that being a relationship anarchist means “having sex with multiple people and not labeling those contacts as [romantic] relationships.” And I don’t mean to have such an inflated sense of my own influence that I take credit for this asshole’s self-identification as a relationship anarchist—he may not have any idea that my blog exists and heard about RA from some other source—but because my post has been shared and linked as many times as it has, I do feel a bit of secondhand embarrassment, reading what is clearly a moment of misappropriating relationship anarchy for the purpose of keeping casual sex casual.

Let me be clear: the problem is not two adults enthusiastically having sex, without any interest in getting to know each other further. The problem is not that men everywhere want to fuck people without commitment, without love, without friendship, without meeting any other expectations or assuming any responsibility. It’s not necessarily bad or wrong to include casual sex as a possibility in relationship anarchy; I think that at least in theory, a person who practices politically grounded RA can have sex outside of romantic relationships that looks and feels and functions differently than most of the casual sex that happens in the world.

The problem here is that people, especially straight men, are creating a false impression of what relationship anarchy is and what it means by misusing the term because they think it sounds cool or “progressive” or whatever. It’s essentially the same problem I see with nonhierarchical polyamorists calling what they do “relationship anarchy” and themselves “relationship anarchists.” Relationship anarchy is not just a shiny, new label that people get to use when they want to sound different or special or better than everyone else. It’s certainly not a label that fuckboys get to use when they want to make themselves sound enlightened for having casual sex or get away with having casual sex that they don’t have to negotiate emotionally with their sexual partners.

If you want to have casual sex, fine. If you don’t want to be romantically involved with anyone, fine. If you’re polyamorous, fine. But the term “relationship anarchy” is not here for you because it’s not just a label. It’s not a fucking identity. It is a set of principles that informs the structure of a person’s relationships and how they experience emotional connection, affection, and commitment with people they care about. Originally, it was the logical result of political anarchists applying their politics to their relationships. (Notice where Andie Nordgren’s RA Manifesto is hosted: Relationship anarchy doesn’t have to include sex at all, and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t have to include romance at all, and sometimes it doesn’t. What it does have to include, as a practice that is legitimately different from polyamory and other forms of consensual nonmonogamy, is a politics that actively resists relationship hierarchy as a coercive structure reflective of our culture’s value system. That value system includes amatonormativity, compulsory sexuality, heteronormativity, the sexualization and romanticization of touch/affection/emotional connection (for the purpose of reinforcing hetero-patriarchy via homophobia and on the basis of the sexualized inequality between males and females), individualism of the neoliberal sensibility, and above all, capitalism.

My original post on relationship anarchy got pretty popular for some reason, and I haven’t written a whole lot about the subject since that post. Apart from my post calling out polyamorists who erroneously call themselves RAs, I’ve pretty much only alluded to relationship anarchy in passing on this blog. I’m certainly not the only person who has written about it and I’m not an authority on the lifestyle, if anyone can be such a thing. My primary motivation in writing “Relationship Anarchy Basics” was to flesh out, more for myself than anyone reading, what relationship anarchy is in a structural sense, how it differs from polyamory and monogamy, and how it can work for people who don’t do sex or romance. Andie Nordgren’s pamphlet inspired me and got me really thinking about how intentionally single, celibate people could pursue relationships differently than the typical “single without any intimate or committed relationships and a bunch of superficial ‘friendships’” model.

What I haven’t written much about is the ethos of relationship anarchy, the philosophy behind it that must ultimately be at the basis of a person’s daily life if they’re going to attempt RA. I think that Rotten Z did a great job at tackling some of that ethos and the principles that should ideally drive relationship anarchy in their series of posts, and I recommend them to anyone who’s serious about practicing a relationship anarchy that goes deeper than unconscious polyamory.

It does concern me that people out there are doing polyamory or pseudo-“relationship anarchy” without spending any significant time or energy critically thinking about principles, ethics, personal politics, etc. Then again, I can say the same about the conventional monogamists. Most people, whatever their lifestyle, don’t think about their relationships beyond the interpersonal level. They don’t contextualize the sex and romance and friendships they have into the big picture of their national culture and economy, their society’s politics, etc. They don’t even think about their own personal motives and principles, when it comes to their lifestyle choices. They never get past the apolitical, purely individual desire-and-feelings level. They stop at “I want this because it’ll make me happy” and don’t even interrogate why they believe monogamy or polyamory or casual sex or a traditional marriage is the source of happiness and what it means to live your life serving those desires.

I deeply appreciate the information RZ provided on anarchism and relationship anarchy’s natural roots in anarchism. I don’t think you have to be a full-blown political anarchist in order to be a relationship anarchist (I may be wrong), but I do believe it’s worth learning about anarchism and its principles, for the purpose of approaching relationship anarchy with that information in your consciousness. I myself haven’t yet done the extensive reading I want to do on anarchism, but even back when I wrote “Relationship Anarchy Basics,” I had a crude understanding of the politics behind RA, if only because I knew about the political basis of everything that is not RA. Now, I understand even better, despite not being educated on anarchism, because I have a greater grasp on how monogamy (and polyamory) is shaped by the capitalist hetero-patriarchy we all live in. For that matter, I now have a better understanding of how friendship, and friendship in opposition to romance, is shaped by the capitalist hetero-patriarchy.

Real relationship anarchy is political. There’s just no way around it. How could it be otherwise, when it has roots in political anarchism? Relationship anarchy is not about getting your dick wet and looking cool while you do it. It’s not about sounding hipper than all the other polyamorists. You can do polyamory without any political consciousness whatsoever, and you can definitely do monogamy without it. You can be mono or poly in service of the capitalist hetero-patriarchy. Most people are. But you can’t do relationship anarchy without some awareness of the socio-political context you’re operating in and how you’re attempting to go against that grain out of a genuine belief in certain concrete principles. Those concrete principles are nothing so basic and shallow as “freedom” (to fuck) or “honesty.” They’re the kind of political principles that you can base an effective social movement on: a movement that offers an alternative to the capitalist hetero-patriarchy’s commodification of bodies, sex, and love; to the sabotage of female solidarity in friendship and romantic love; to neoliberal capitalism’s goal of the isolated couple and nuclear family; to the homophobia and toxic gender crap that prevents even nonsexual/nonromantic connection and intimacy between members of the same sex.

According to Rotten Z, if we base relationship anarchy on political anarchism’s principles, then relationship anarchy is fundamentally about:

  • The rejection of all interpersonal coercion, including state intervention
  • Community
  • Mutual aid
  • Commitments made as communication, not as contracts

Looking at that list, it dawned on me that relationship anarchy resonates with me so much because its principles amount to a friendship ethic. The word “friendship” is widely used as a broad, vague, often meaningless term, but to me, friendship as this deep, intimate, important, positive bond between humans is described really well by the above set of principles. Friendship leans away from interpersonal coercion by default and can’t survive under the burden of it for long. Mutual aid and cooperation are in friendship’s very nature; you could even define friendship by those qualities: helping and supporting each other out of desire and not duty. And when friendship is committed, that commitment is done in a spirit of communication, not drawn up as a contract, which what marriage is: a legal contract binding romantic partners.

I love how the blogger queeranarchism defined relationship anarchy:

“Relationship anarchism then, to me, means community. A community of two or of many. A community that rejects the ‘rules’ of relationships, of enforced heterosexuality, enforced monogamy, of partners being entitled to sex, of marriage, of childcare being a two-person job and of the idea that we need a romantic or sexual relationship to be complete. A community that instead chooses care, cooperation, equality, acknowledgement that we are more than our relationship and that we all have different needs.  And in that community, we make the rules that suit us, and end them when they no longer suit our community.

By that definition, an anarchist relationship is first and foremost one of cooperation and setting our own rules. By that definition, it is not self-serving but always mutually beneficial.”

I think that’s something I was trying to express in “Relationship Anarchy Basics” but couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time: relationship anarchy is fundamentally about community, as much as monogamous and polyamorous lifestyles are fundamentally about the couple. That doesn’t mean couples can’t exist in relationship anarchy, but it does mean that the focus of a relationship anarchist’s life and emotional energy is not a couple relationship by default, the way it is for monogamists and polyamorists. It also means that two relationship anarchists having a romantic relationship are most likely not doing it the same way most non-anarchist people do couplehood, even if the RA couple is sexually monogamous in the moment. Being a relationship anarchist doesn’t mean you have to fuck more than one person at a time, because relationship anarchy is not about sexual nonmonogamy, even though it is usually inclusive of sexual nonmonogamy. Relationship anarchy is not polyamory sans the obvious hierarchy of romantic partners. It’s about doing relationships with community-centric values, not couple-centric values. Above all, it’s about relating to other human beings without coercive authority in play and without hierarchy in your group of relationships or in any relationship itself.

I fucking cringe when I read about polyamorous people defining “relationship anarchy” using nonhierarchal polyamory’s terms, just as I cringe when I hear stories of men pulling the RA card on their casual sexcapades. Not just because of how unbelievably inaccurate, apolitical, and ignorant it is but because in both cases, “relationship anarchy” is falsely used to describe the kind of romance supremacist, friendship-excluding, sex-centric lifestyles that are diametrically opposed to authentic relationship anarchy.

The capitalist, heteronormative, patriarchal state promotes relationship hierarchies based on romance supremacy and amatonormativity. It endorses treating sex like a product, protects heterosexual men in their consumption of female bodies as sexual objects, promotes the buying and selling of women’s sexualized bodies. The capitalist heteronormative patriarchal state WANTS you to invest all of your free time, energy, resources, and emotion into romantic couplehood, into marriage, into sex. It WANTS you to devalue friendship, to stay isolated from everyone who isn’t your romantic partner, to be a self-interested individual with no ties or commitments to anyone but your spouse. Why? Because friendship could lead to community and community could lead to collective political action, which could turn into revolution. And because friendship and community are almost impossible to commodify and harness for the purpose of feeding into the capitalist economy and creating bigger profits for the wealthy elite. Sex and romance make rich people money all day every day. They sell it to you every waking moment. They can’t use friendship and community to sell you shit. They can’t turn friendship and community into products. If they could, they would’ve spent the last century doing so, instead of teaching the public that friendship is worthless and money is more important than community.

So don’t tell me that you’re entitled to call your polyamory or your casual sex “relationship anarchy,” as you conduct your social life with anti-anarchism principles and the same amatonormativity that all the coupled up monogamists preach and believe in. Don’t tell me you’re a “relationship anarchist” when you don’t give a fuck about friendship or community or political resistance, just sex and romance and your freedom to be nonmonogamous.

Relationship anarchy is not a cover for fuckboys. And it is not nonhierarchical polyamory.



Recommended Reading: Unquiet Pirate’s “Relationship Anarchy is Not Post-Polyamory

My Updated Stance on the Q Slur

I want to share my current position on asexuals and aromantics identifying as “queer,” because I’ve changed my mind since the last time I wrote on the subject.

I don’t think it’s appropriate for heterosexual aros, hetero- asexuals, or aromantic asexuals to call themselves queer. Queer is historically a slur applied to gay men and lesbians, and if you aren’t gay or bisexual, you can’t “reclaim” that slur because it has never applied to your sexuality.

I’m well-aware that scores of asexuals and aromantics disagree and for some totally baffling reason, desperately want to call themselves queer and feel like they belong in the LGBTQ+ acronym. I’m not here to change your minds. I’m just clarifying my own opinion. You’re going to do what you want no matter what anyone says, and I got better things to do with my time than argue with people who can’t be reasoned with.

I do want to ask all the straight aces and aros and aromantic asexuals (and straight demisexuals, demiromantics, gray-asexuals, and gray-romantics) who feel strongly about IDing as queer this question, though: what’s your motive? Why do you need to be queer so badly? Why do you need to tack yourself onto the LGBTQ acronym?

The only explanation I can come up with goes like this: most aces and aros online are millenials, meaning under the age of 30, many of them teenagers and college kids under 21, and they spend a lot of their time, online and offline, in and around LGBTQ spaces and people. Even the hetero ones don’t feel like they fit in with heterosexuals that experience both sexual and romantic feelings because not wanting sex or not being capable of falling in love does make you very different from the vast majority of straight people. Because they feel different and because they probably have friends and/or acquaintances who are LGBTQ and because they may experience interpersonal challenges due to their asexuality and/or aromanticism, they conclude that they must be queer, because they believe that “queer” covers anything and everything outside the average heterosexual experience of feeling exclusively attracted, both romantically and sexually, to the opposite sex. And even when LGBTQ allo* people make it clear that they have a problem with het aces, het aros, and aro aces describing themselves with a specifically gay slur, said aces and aros hold fast to “queer” because they want validation of their asexuality and/or aromanticism and they want to be included in what they perceive to be a unified community or struggle of all LGBTQ people against heterosexuals.

But let me tell you, there are gay men and lesbians who don’t identify as “queer,” who don’t believe that it’s a slur that can or should be “reclaimed,” and that it is unacceptable and deeply offensive that queer-identified people have progressively erased the gay identity with “queer.” (When did “gay” become a dirty word?) And if these men and women who belong to the sexual category originally branded with the q- slur reject it wholesale and don’t want non-gay people to use it as an identity, your response as a heterosexual aro, hetero- ace, or aromantic asexual should be to listen.

Furthermore, I don’t understand why any asexual or aromantic, including the gay and bisexual ones, would even want to use this particular word to describe themselves when you have the words that specifically describe you already available: asexual, aromantic. I know using “queer” as a vague umbrella term for “not straight” is a super popular fad on the internet and shit, but seriously, if you want respect and recognition for your asexuality or aromanticism, then why don’t you try owning it? “Queer” means nothing, beyond “not straight.” I’m sure that’s one reason why some aces and aros use it–because they want to tell people that they’re “not straight” (meaning, not a heterosexual who experiences romantic attraction in a normative pattern, whatever the fuck that is) but they’re too afraid to come out as asexual and/or aromantic. I’m sorry, but being unwilling to come out as what you really are, doesn’t give you the right to appropriate this gay slur, if you’re hetero- or aro+ace. If you’re hetero- and don’t want to come out as asexual or aromantic, you should just say you’re straight, because technically, you are. You’re not straight the way that straight allos* are, but that doesn’t make you the equivalent of gay.

I figure using the q- slur as a way to validate the sense of one’s own oppression is another motive, for some het aces, het aros, and aro aces. You feel like the world treats you badly for your asexuality or aromanticism, and “queer” is the label descriptive of oppressed sexuality, that you know of. But as I recently explained, oppression and discrimination are two different things, and at this point, asexuals and aromantics are not oppressed for their asexuality and aromanticism. People being mean to you doesn’t qualify as oppression all by itself, and it doesn’t compare to the historically persistent, systemic oppression that gay men and lesbians have lived with all over the world for thousands of years. That doesn’t mean it’s right when people treat you badly for being asexual or aromantic or both, and it doesn’t make your pain and struggle any less real. It just means you do not have the same problems or history as gay and bi people.

I can understand, to a degree, why an aromantic asexual or an aromantic heterosexual would feel entitled to the q- slur if they’re involved in a same-sex intimate relationship, because regardless of the nonromantic and nonsexual status of such a relationship, the world looks at you and sees you as gay. Society doesn’t set up surveillance in your house to make sure that you’re fucking your friend behind closed doors or tap your phones to verify that you speak to each other romantically; if you behave much like a couple, society will assume you’re a couple and treat you accordingly, unless you clarify that you aren’t. Obviously, it’s not always possible or appropriate to make that clarification, and even if you do, there will be people who don’t believe you. So yes, it is entirely possible to be an aromantic asexual or an aromantic heterosexual and get targeted with homophobia, based on your relationships. However, it’s homophobia, not acephobia or arophobia, and out of respect for all the gay, bisexual, and queer-identified people who don’t want aro aces or straight people to use the q-slur, you shouldn’t use your experiences of misplaced homophobia as an excuse to claim the slur when you’re not actually gay or bisexual.

I’ve never identified as queer. Strangers assume I’m gay on a routine basis because of the way I look and because I’m pretty much either alone or with another woman in public, never with a male. I specifically want a female life companion, one who I can eventually live with in a committed way. I want a level of physical and emotional intimacy with her that usually doesn’t exist between heterosexual women or in friendships between allos*. Some queer-identified allo* individuals would say that I have a right to identify as queer if I want to, but I don’t feel any resonance with that word whatsoever and never have. Not just because it’s a slur that can be righteously criticized as an identity, not just because of the queer politics I disagree with, but because being mistaken for gay isn’t the same thing as being gay.

There are so many other words that you could use instead of “queer” to describe yourself, and I just don’t see a good reason to be fixated on that one. As for membership in the “queer community,” I think that’s a moot point. There is no queer community, at least not one that encompasses all LGBTQ people. There are people who ID as queer and there are gay men and there are lesbians and there are bisexuals, some of whom are in same-sex relationships and more who are in opposite-sex relationships. There is no giant, cohesive, unified group of non-heterosexuals that has one set of needs, one set of experiences, one set of political goals, or a level of oppression that’s consistent across the board. And even if you want membership in the group of queer-identified people, because you feel like you don’t fit in with the majority of straight people, why would you ignore the queer people who vehemently reject straights and aro aces from their space and try to force yourself onto them anyway? Do you expect to get something positive out of that? Is it really worth it, to mow over these people and their experiences of oppression, just to use a fucking word?

I’ve always said that I think asexuals need to focus on their own community and aromantics on their own community, and that neither group needs to latch on to any category of allo* people. Each letter in the LGBTQ acronym has done its own work and created its own resources. Asexuals and aromantics should do the same. If you’re a gay ace, gay aro, bi ace, or bi aro, you may feel strongly connected to the gay community or the bi community or the queer community, but there’s also a good chance you have a lot more in common with other asexuals or aromantics than with the allo* people you share a romantic or sexual orientation with. If that latter is true, why not invest your community-participation efforts in the dominant part of your sexuality: your asexuality or aromanticism?

And if you’re an aromantic asexual, like me, I really do believe that you’re best off focusing on the aromantic community and, when possible, on the aromantic asexual sub-group of the asexual community. If you’re totally disinterested in sex and romance and if you’re intentionally, permanently single and celibate, you have nothing to gain from any group of allo* people or from romantic asexuals. Other than validation, which you shouldn’t need in the first place.

So basically, in answer to the question, “Are asexuals and aromantics queer?”, my answer is:

  • Are asexuals and aromantics gay? Some of them are.
  • Are asexuals and aromantics bi? Some of them are.
  • Are asexuals and aromantics trans? Some of them are.
  • Is being straight, sexually or romantically, in any way equivalent to being gay? No.
  • Is asexuality, by itself, or aromanticism, by itself, the equivalent of being gay or involved in a same-sex relationship as a bi person, in a homophobic society? No.

Thus, if you’re hetero-, the q-slur is not for you. If you’re an aromantic asexual, the q-slur is not for you. And more importantly, why do you need or want it to be? What do you gain by it? If your argument is that life or relationships are hard when you’re asexual or aromantic or both, I acknowledge the hardship, but you don’t need a homophobic slur to give credibility to your struggles as an asexual or aromantic.

Identity vs. Reality

So it has occurred to me, in lieu of recent conclusions that I’ve drawn about sexuality and identity, that when it comes to creating the kind of relationships I want most, the only thing that matters is personal compatibility, and personal compatibility has nothing to do with identity. Identity is not a reliable or comprehensive indicator of a person’s feelings, desires, or behaviors.

On the one hand, there are people who call themselves asexual and aromantic who are NOT compatible with me in the categories of sexuality because they want sex or they want romantic relationships or they feel sexual and romantic feelings. In my mind, they are not asexual or aromantic at all, but they identify as such.

On the other hand, there are people who DON’T call themselves asexual or aromantic, who identify as straight or gay or bi or maybe nothing at all, but who are intentionally, permanently single and/or celibate and who are open to the kind of friendship I’m looking for.

If I base my relationship-forming decisions on identity alone, I’ll find myself disappointed by some self-professed aromantic asexuals. I’m already not interested or compatible with romantic aces, demiromantic aces, and a lot of gray-romantic aces, despite the fact that we all call ourselves asexual. I know that there are now some self-identified aromantic asexuals who want to date or who want a romantic relationship or who don’t want any kind of intimate friendship at all. That’s not news to me.

On the other hand, what is new to me is the idea that there are some people out there who don’t identify as aromantic (or asexual) but who have feelings, behaviors, and desires that are lined up with my own. There are people who have never heard of asexuality or aromanticism, but who have no interest or inclination to be sexual or romantically involved. There are people who may technically experience sexual desire or romantic attraction, but who don’t care about having sex or dating, who actually prefer not to have sex or who strongly prefer being single. There are people who call themselves straight, gay, or bi who actually have feelings or desires or relationship capabilities that aren’t described by their identity, and the only way one would find out about those feelings, desires, and capabilities is getting to know the person well.

I think it’s still fair and rational to assume that most people are sexual and romantic to some degree, and most people who feel sexual desire and romantic attraction will engage in sex and romance and ultimately want a traditional romantic-sexual relationship at the center of their lives. It appears that most romantic-sexual people harbor beliefs and attitudes that make them fundamentally incompatible with me: like friendship being this superficial, meaningless association or friendship being inferior to romance or physical intimacy being innately romantic and/or sexual.

But there is more diversity in the non-aromantic, non-asexual population than I have previously acknowledged (more than a lot of asexuals acknowledge, for sure). And given that there are plenty of asexuals, aromantics, demis, and grays who are no different than the average allo* person, it’s not like there’s a significantly greater chance of finding the kind of friendship I want in the asexual or aromantic populations than in the allo* population.

In my personal life, I know or have heard about the following people:

  • A self-identified straight woman who is highly sexual, who is open to sexually experimenting with other women, who has a pattern of feeling more attached and emotional in nonsexual friendships than in sexual relationships, who can’t tell the difference between “romantic relationships” and “friendship” beyond the sexual activity, who doesn’t want to get married, who is not happy without at least one very intimate friendship, who is not willing to make a sexual partner more important than her close friends, who will kiss and cuddle with other women, who strongly prefers living in an intentional community and who would never be happy or satisfied with only a sexual partner as a substitute for that community
  • A lesbian who is permanently celibate and single because of her faith and who is in a committed companionate friendship with an aromantic asexual woman
  • A straight woman who has very little, if any, interest or willingness to have sex and who is not driven to date or pursue romantic relationships actively at this time. Ideally, she would have emotionally close, physically affectionate friendships with people besides a romantic partner. She dated someone for six years and that relationship was completely nonsexual because she wanted it to be.
  • A gay man who will make out heavily with a woman he really likes as a person, even though he’s not interested in having sex with her (or any woman)
  • A straight man who spent over a decade living with his closest female friend; their friendship never involved any sexual activity
  • A straight woman who could live without sex for the rest of her life and was open to being in a nonsexual/nonromantic partnership with a female friend, if that opportunity presented itself before a heterosexual relationship did
  • A woman who doesn’t identify as anything, who is not interested in sex, who is in a long-term romantic (nonsexual) relationship with a man but who could also be happy in a nonsexual partnership with a female friend
  • A straight man who will cuddle with his female friend, who he doesn’t want to fuck or date
  • Numerous older married couples who no longer have sex but who are still together by choice and relatively content. The people in these couples don’t identify as asexual and did experience sexual desire in the past but no longer care to have sex.
  • A gay man and an asexual woman who were married for several years and had a nonsexual relationship

And I am not a highly social person with a big network of friends and acquaintances. I’m sure it’s possible that I attract people with unusual social behavior into my life more than most, but that doesn’t change the fact that for someone who’s young with a small social network, I’ve run into enough romantic-sexual people who deviate from the standard blueprint of sexuality and relationships that I have no choice but to recognize that you don’t have to be an aromantic asexual to deviate from that blueprint. You don’t have to call yourself asexual to dislike sex or to feel indifferent about it. You don’t have to call yourself aromantic to prefer being single long-term or to be incapable of feeling romantic attraction, however you define it. Someone who truly does not experience sexual attraction or romantic attraction may certainly be more likely to have or want relationships that are outside the norm, compared to someone who does experience sexual and romantic attraction, but that doesn’t mean all the people who do experience romantic and/or sexual attraction feel it to the same degree, are equally driven by romantic/sexual desire, or depend on sex and romantic relationships for their happiness.

So like I said in my post “Meaningless Identity,” if you call yourself “asexual” or “aromantic,” that doesn’t tell me anything about what kind of feelings, desires, and relationships you have. It doesn’t tell me that you’re completely uninterested in sex and romance or that you’re looking for nonsexual and/or nonromantic relationships exclusively.

The flipside of that is, if you call yourself straight or gay or bisexual, that doesn’t tell me anything about the feelings, desires, and relationships you have or want to have or are capable of having either. All it tells me is that you probably experience romantic and/or sexual attraction, and if you do, you’re most likely to feel that attraction to people of the opposite sex, same sex, or both sexes.

But as for your actual lifestyle, the way you form relationships, what you value in your social life, how much or how little you enjoy partnered sex, whether your prefer being single or coupled, how physically affectionate you are with friends, what kind of physical and emotional acts you view as strictly romantic or sexual and which ones you see as flexible, what your ideal social life looks like, etc, I have no way of knowing any of that information unless and until you talk to me about it. Statistically, are you most likely to fit a certain profile based on the fact that a large majority of humans do? Sure. And I can assume that most people I come into contact with do fit that common profile, with a high level of accuracy. I just can’t know that every single person matches the common profile of the identity group they place themselves in.

Maybe this is really obvious to a lot of allo* people out there, especially older adults who are not involved with the identity craze that’s so popular online and in the physical world amongst millenials, but it took me a really long time to get here. It took me a long time not only because there is a dominant social profile that many, if not most, people have with regards to sex and relationships, but also because of the dialogue that goes on in the asexual community and the portrayal of sex and romance in popular media. I don’t have to actually talk to the asexual or aromantic communities online to know that most members are going to keep hanging onto their identities  and their generalized views of allo* people until they’re cold in the ground, no matter what anyone says. I’m only arriving at this new perspective of allo* folks because I’ve been going through major shifts in my political and social consciousness in the last few months, and I have these personal experiences of self-identified allo* people who don’t fit the rigid and highly specific profile that so many asexuals and some aromantics believe describes allos*. I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the asexual identity, the concept of the asexual spectrum, and even the aromantic identity and spectrum, and that contributed to this epiphany that sexual identity fails to describe allo* people categorically as much as it now fails to describe asexuals and aromantics categorically.

I’m just really fucking fed up with identity culture, period. And I have to give you this example to illustrate why because it’s relevant to my realization about allo* people: there are a lot of asexuals and aromantics (and demis and grays) who would attempt to tell someone who doesn’t identify as asexual or aromantic that they are in fact asexual or aromantic (or demi or gray) because that person doesn’t like sex or doesn’t want to date or hasn’t fallen in love before or who doesn’t find sex that exciting and doesn’t care about doing it, etc. These aces and aros and demis and grays don’t mean any harm, they’re just trying to be helpful, but the fact is that they have an idea in their minds about who allo* people are, which they then define themselves against as ace, aro, demi, or gray people. So anyone who doesn’t fit that idea of an allo* person that the ace and aro communities believe in must be something other than alloromantic or allosexual, even if they choose to identify as straight or gay or bi without any further qualification. And because the asexual and aromantic identities have become so vague and broad and inclusive of pretty much every fucking kind of sexual and romantic desire and behavior pattern, the definition of allosexual and alloromantic needs to be highly specific, so that all these people who want to identify as asexual or aromantic or demi- or gray- can do so and be able to defend themselves when somebody says their desires, feelings, and behaviors aren’t consistent with their identity.

In other words, asexuals, aromantics, demis, and grays often think: “This person does not need sex on a regular basis, doesn’t think that sex is the greatest thing ever, or doesn’t like sex at all, so therefore, they must not be allosexual. This person has never fallen in love or strongly prefers being single or doesn’t feel romantic attraction the way we’ve defined it, so they must not be alloromantic.”

Instead, it makes a whole lot more sense to say, “This person doesn’t need sex all the time, doesn’t like sex, or doesn’t have sex; therefore, not all allosexual people need, have, or like sex. This person doesn’t like romantic relationships, has never been in love, or is not looking for a romantic partner; therefore, not all alloromantic people want, like, or enter into romantic relationships.”

Taking the second approach eliminates the need to create an infinite number of labels for every fucking possible attraction pattern and set of desires, and it also gives a much more realistic portrayal of the billions of people around the world who don’t identify as asexual or aromantic and never will. It’s not fair or accurate to say that all allo* people on earth have the same level of sexual interest, the same patterns of sexual activity, the same patterns of romantic attraction, the same appetite for sex, the same need or desire for romantic relationships, etc. Convincing people to identify as asexual, aromantic, demi-, or gray-, based on their attraction patterns or desires, isn’t the point. The point is that people don’t have to identify a certain way to have the feelings, desires, and behaviors that they have. The point is that there’s a whole lot more diversity to human sexuality and relationships in the non-asexual, non-aromantic population than most people and certainly most asexuals and aromantics want to acknowledge. And that diversity is ALLOWED within the category of “alloromantic allosexual.”

So, fuck identity. I don’t care what you call yourself. When it comes to my personal relationships, all I care about is that we’re on the same page. I want a female companion who is permanently single and celibate, like I am. I want my closest friends to be people who are intentionally, happily single and who value friendship and nonromantic love as much as I do. I want my closest friends to be people who I can be emotionally and physically intimate with, who share in that intimacy because they love me as their friend, not because of romantic or sexual desires. Compatibility is the only thing that matters. A person’s actual desires, feelings, and behaviors are what matter. Not their label.

Blame Misogyny and Homophobia

Asexuals and aromantics do not experience oppression. What this means, is that asexuals and aromantics are not oppressed for being asexual or aromantic.

I’m not denying that asexuals and aromantics experience various forms of social and cultural difficulties as a result of their aversion to sex and romantic relationships. I’m not denying that allo* people, both straight and LGB, treat asexuals and aromantics like shit, nor am I denying that romantic people, including asexuals, treat aromantics like shit. I’m not denying that being asexual or aromantic (and consequently rejecting sex or romantic relationships or both) frequently creates a lot of turmoil in a person’s social life.

But I am saying that asexuals and aromantics do not experience oppression that is specific to their asexuality or aromanticism. The marginalization and socio-cultural difficulties that asexuals and aromantics experience are the result of oppressive systems that exist to subjugate women and gay people. Asexuals and aromantics get caught in the crossfire, but they aren’t the intended targets. If asexuals and aromantics ceased to exist tomorrow, women and gay people would continue to experience the oppression they’ve always experienced that inadvertently affects asexuals and aromantics. But if anti-female and anti-gay oppression ceased to exist, asexuals and aromantics would no longer experience any negative consequences for their orientations or behaviors, beyond individualized and circumstantial interpersonal animosity.

I admit that I used to be one of the many members of the asexual and aromantic populations that passionately believed in “acephobia” and “arophobia,” in the idea of sexual privilege and romantic privilege. How can there be no ace- or arophobia if asexuals and aromantics routinely get harassed, insulted, bullied, erased, and abused by both heterosexuals and LGB people? How can there be no allosexual or alloromantic privilege if we live in a society where sexuality is considered a universal human quality and romantic relationships are treated as essential in life, superior to all other relationships, where wanting sex and falling in love are considered fundamental qualities of being human? It’s a logical conclusion, when you’re looking at it from an aromantic asexual perspective: allo* people account for up to 99% of the species and thus control society, both straight and LGB people want and need sex and believe that sex is a natural component of romantic relationships, both romantic sexual people and romantic asexuals are in pursuit of a relationship type and corresponding social life that are touted as the ideal and the norm for all human beings, all romantic people are more likely to have their emotional and physical needs met because they participate in romantic relationships, romantic relationships are supported and protected institutionally unlike any other relationship type, not wanting sex in romantic relationships is considered abnormal and wrong, etc, etc.

I think what causes a lot of asexuals (and, to a lesser extent, aromantics) to believe so strongly in acephobia, arophobia, sexual privilege, and romantic privilege is the surface observation, not to mention all the personal experiences, that we are no less likely to be treated badly by LGB allo* people than by straight people. We’re no less likely to be on the losing side of the battle over sex in mixed romantic relationships, whether we get into straight relationships or same-sex ones. Aros are no less likely to be demonized for their sexuality by LGB allos* than they are by straight allos*, even if said aros are themselves LGB. LGB allos*, particularly in the US, Canada, the UK, and other European countries, are increasingly more accepted, more visible in the media, more legally protected, they have civil rights equal to heterosexuals, and it’s easy to see that narrowed or closed gap between them and straight people and conclude that all allo* people are on the same playing field when they’re being assholes to asexuals and aromantics. Getting treated badly by LGB people, both allo* and asexual, reinforces the idea that there is allosexual privilege and alloromantic privilege when you’re asexual, aromantic, or both and you’re not getting anything different from them than you are from straight people. It can feel like there’s a unified hate of asexuals and aromantics, across the allosexual and alloromantic boards, is what I mean. And that feeling easily leads one to believe that there must be sexual person privilege and romantic person privilege, no different than heterosexual privilege; that there must be acephobia and arophobia equivalent to homophobia.

I understand these feelings, but I now see that asexuals and aromantics who believe in ace- and arophobia and sexual or romantic privilege logically reached a false conclusion because they started with a false premise. That false premise—“All allo* people are romantic and sexual in the same ways, with the same consequences.”—is based on a misunderstanding of sexuality that is all too common in the asexual population. (I’ve come to believe that this flawed premise is the reason for many, if not most, of the other identities on the asexual spectrum and aromantic spectrum.) The aromantic population, which includes both asexuals and allosexuals, has been less collectively prone to lump all allo* people together for the purpose of complaining about “arophobia” or romantic privilege, probably because we have just as much of a bone to pick with romantic asexuals as we do with romantic allosexuals. Aromantic asexuals, like me, are also less likely to lump all sexual people together and label them as privileged because we see that our aro sexual siblings are actually penalized for their sexuality on account of their aromanticism and the single status that usually corresponds with it.

I think that when allo* people try to argue that asexuals and aromantics have no problems directly linked to their asexuality or aromanticism, when they deny the existence of suffering in asexual and aromantic people’s lives, it causes aces and aros to dig their heels in and reinforce their beliefs in ace and arophobia, in romantic and sexual privilege. So let me make myself clear: asexuals and aromantics do experience pain, discrimination, and challenges because of their asexuality and aromanticism. I’m not here to debate that. I’m here to debate the explanation for it.

What kind of problems and suffering do asexuals and aromantics experience related to their orientations?

• Compulsory sexuality, which often results in submitting to sex because of social pressure
• Corrective rape and other forms of sexual assault
• Intimate partner violence/domestic violence
• Amatonormativity + singlism
• Medical and psychiatric pathologization
• Negative perceptions by society as subhuman and abnormal
• Homophobia, when engaging in same-sex romance or sexual acts

These are real problems, but they are not unique to asexuals and aromantics, nor are they consequences of a universal culture that seeks to oppress asexuals and aromantics for the purpose of reinforcing power and privilege that all sexual people or all romantic people have over them. Gay people do not have power, privilege, or protected social status equal to heterosexuals, as a class. That alone eliminates any possibility of there being allosexual privilege or alloromantic privilege that is evenly distributed across the entirety of the non-asexual or non-aromantic populations. Even within the asexual and aromantic groups, straight people have straight privilege that the gay asexuals and aromantics don’t have, and the gay asexuals and aromantics are subject to oppression and discrimination that the straights don’t have to worry about.

Furthermore, women do not have any kind of sexual privilege over men or equal to men, regardless of their orientation. Even straight women can’t be said to have sexual or romantic privilege over all asexuals and aromantics. Straight women are not privileged equally to straight men, based on their heterosexuality. The category of “straight women” includes billions of women all over the world with dramatically different experiences of sexuality, depending upon their circumstances. Sex has never been purely positive or free of consequences for straight women, even if they technically have a kind of straight privilege that lesbians and bisexual women in same-sex relationships don’t have. (And yes, in Western civilization, straight women absolutely do have heterosexual privilege over gay men and lesbians, they are not oppressed for being heterosexual, but because they’re women, their sexuality is still used against them by men.) Sex has been used as a weapon of terror and control against all women, including straight women, globally for thousands of years. Women are treated as sex objects, they are sexualized against their will starting in childhood, and while they are expected to be sexually available at all times for male use and male pleasure, female sexual pleasure is of no importance and never has been. In fact, men deny women sexual pleasure both passively and actively, whether through neglecting to perform the sex acts that give women orgasms or mutilating female genitals to prevent girls and women from ever having an orgasm. While plenty of women, including straight women, want sexual pleasure and engage in sexual activity for their own satisfaction, the fact is that all females are expected to be sexual for and with males, regardless of what they want or how much they actually enjoy it. Sex is not supposed to be optional for women. It’s mandatory. It’s something that men exploit women and girls for, even as they simultaneously punish and shame them for being sexual. That’s not freedom and it’s certainly not a privilege.

Compulsory sexuality is really compulsory heterosexuality, a tool of patriarchy, and it punishes all females, including heterosexual females, and males who are gay or bisexual. Nobody is exempt from compulsory heterosexuality, and it’s this, more than anything else, that’s the root of asexuals’ problems.

EDIT: Please note that compulsory sexuality does manifest itself in same-sex romantic relationships and LGB asexuals do experience it in this context. I do not mean to suggest that LGBQ allo* people as a group see sex as optional, whereas straight allos* see at mandatory. LGBQ allo* people are not any less sexual than straight allo* people; they expect sex in their romantic relationships as much as heterosexuals do. But on a broad socio-cultural scale, compulsory heterosexuality is a thing, whereas compulsory homosexuality is not. From the heteronormative establishment’s perspective, whether you are asexual or LGB, you fail to do sexuality the “right” or “normal” or “healthy” way. LGB allos*, along with aromantic LGB people, do not get rewarded or affirmed for their sexual activity the way heterosexuals do, and in many countries they are still persecuted for it.

Corrective rape and other forms of sexual assault are caused by compulsory heterosexuality and misogyny, when the victim is female and the rapist male, which is the most common victim/perp combination. Corrective rape is a form of violence experienced by lesbians worldwide. Females everywhere, regardless of their sexual orientation, are sexually violated by males, including their romantic or marital partners. When males are the victims, it is a result of patriarchy in that patriarchy created gender roles and assigned males masculinity that depends on the sexual domination of females; failure to perform that masculinity can result in backlash. And the masculine role itself socializes males into aggression and violence that they visit upon each other, sometimes sexually.

Intimate partner violence is experienced by people of all sexual orientations, and the vast majority of it occurs in heterosexual relationships where the male is the perpetrator and the female is the victim. In those cases, that violence is an expression of misogyny. It doesn’t matter if the woman is heterosexual or asexual; she’s abused by her male partner because she’s a woman.

Amatonormativity and singlism are caused by compulsory heterosexuality. In fact, I think that they are inseparable from it. Amatonormativity and singlism affect anyone and everyone who is single, especially women. While it’s true that most romantic people spend much of their adulthood in romantic relationships and therefore enjoy the perks of being coupled, the number of single-unmarried adults, especially women, is on the rise in the US, and single alloromantics are no less disadvantaged legally, economically, or socially than single aromantics. The only difference is that single allo* people are exponentially more likely to become coupled at some point than aromantics are, and alloromantic people want to be coupled, unlike the vast majority of aromantics. None of that changes the fact that singlism and amatonormativity affect single-uncoupled alloromantics, however.

The medical and psychiatric pathologization of asexuality and aromanticism are expressions of compulsory heterosexuality, and long before asexuals and aromantics were on the medical establishment’s radar, homosexuality was pathologized—again, because of compulsory heterosexuality. Female sexuality has long been pathologized too, including female celibacy, low libido in females, and female disinterest in sex with their husbands. There was a time when women in the US were sent to asylums for refusing to fuck their husbands, and marital rape was not legally recognized in the US until the 1970s and in the UK until 1989-91, which means men could get away with raping their wives. In many countries, they still can. Female “frigidity,” which some consider to be asexuality by another name, was classified as a psychiatric or psychologically based disorder beginning in the 19th century, and Freud originally characterized female frigidity as the failure to have vaginal orgasms (as opposed to clitoral ones), because he was a misogynistic male writing for other misogynistic males who all wanted to believe they could make women orgasm via penetration. If she didn’t orgasm the way males wanted her to, she was at fault, not the male. Women could be labeled “frigid” (which basically meant mentally ill) even if they had sex regularly.

“Moreover, the woman desiring clitoral stimulation, as opposed to vaginal intercourse, became representative of women who behaved like men and denied their maternal obligations – behavior that led to neurosis, isolation, and social disintegration. In addition, social and psychological ills such as feminism and lesbianism were also linked to a clitoral sexuality. Here, the elucidation of norms for female sexuality was also a way of enjoining norms of femininity and heterosexuality.”

I can’t make this shit up.

Negative cultural perceptions of asexuals and aromantics as subhuman and abnormal are expressions of compulsory heterosexuality. Again, there is overlap here with homophobia and misogyny. Gay men and lesbians have long histories of being seen as abnormal. Women have always been treated as subhuman, just for being female, regardless of their sexual behavior.

Homophobia is obviously a form of oppression that exists independently of asexuality and aromanticism and which specifically targets anyone who is same-sex attracted or involved—and again, homophobia is an expression of compulsory heterosexuality. Gay asexuals and gay aromantics don’t experience homophobia because of their asexuality or aromanticism but because of their homoromanticism or homosexuality. Straight asexuals and aromantics don’t experience homophobia at all, barring gender nonconformity. If aromantic asexuals experience homophobia when being misperceived as gay, it still doesn’t change the fact that the prejudice is rooted in a heteronormative, homophobic culture—not an acephobic, arophobic one.

That’s every problem asexuals and aromantics experience, relevant to their asexuality and aromanticism, explained not by acephobia or arophobia but by systems of oppression that target women and gay people, which eliminates the possibility of allosexual or alloromantic privilege.

Asexuals and aromantics suffer not because they are asexual or aromantic but because they are women or gay or otherwise fail to perform (romantic) heterosexuality. Their experiences are not unique to them: women and gay people have experienced it all throughout human history and still do.

I want to draw a distinction between oppression and discrimination, because I think it will be helpful to understand how asexuals and aromantics experience one but not the other.

Oppression is systemic, institutional, sponsored by the state and its establishments, and legally enforced. It seeks to preserve the power and privilege of a class of people by perpetually subjugating all other classes. Oppression often employs physical violence. Oppression is internalized by the oppressed because of its wide-reaching institutional presence. Oppression always benefits a group with a certain profile, just as it punishes a group with a certain profile. Oppression is so far-reaching that we can observe it globally and throughout history; it is a pattern independent of ethnicity or nationality.

Discrimination is interpersonal, not systemic. Discrimination is not about class power, although it can affect the power dynamics between two individuals. Discrimination is an individualized prejudice based on one person’s dislike for another or for a group of people, that has no institutional backup. Discrimination, independent of oppression, is rarely if ever consistent throughout an entire category of people: in other words, within a class, some people may discriminate against another group but others do not. Discrimination can start in specific isolated circumstances of interpersonal conflict, as opposed to starting simply because of the class profile of the person being discriminated against.

Females are oppressed by males, based on their sex. Homosexuals are oppressed by heterosexuals, based on their sexuality. Black people and other people of color are oppressed by whites, based on their race and ethnicity. The poor are oppressed by the rich and by the system which keeps the poor in poverty and the rich in wealth. This oppression is and has always been codified in the law, lauded by major religions, built into the economy, taught and supported in the education system, and sold through the media. This oppression has always been enforced and perpetuated through physical violence, including violence carried out by the state. When I describe oppression as systemic and institutional, that’s what I mean: sexism, racism, homophobia, and economic inequality are installed in the institutions and systems that make up the structure of our civilization. Oppression is not about individual relationships. It is not something that individuals can opt out of by choice, and it is not about mere dislike of the oppressed classes. Oppression is a method used to achieve a social and economic goal, that goal being the power and gratification of the ruling class.

Asexuals are not oppressed by allosexuals, based on their asexuality or celibacy. Aromantics are not oppressed by alloromantics, based on their aromanticism or singlehood. Asexuals and aromantics are discriminated against and marginalized by some allosexuals and alloromantics because of their asexuality and aromanticism, their celibacy and singlehood and corresponding romantic or sexual behaviors, but their marginalization is rooted in the systems of oppression that exist to specifically subjugate females and gay people, for the interests of heterosexual males. Even when asexuals and aromantics are bullied, harassed, abused, assaulted, etc, for being asexual and celibate or aromantic and single, it’s still ultimately the result of these systems of oppression that operate for reasons that have nothing to do with asexuality or aromanticism directly. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of people who rape, sexually assault, sexually pressure or harass asexuals, who attack aromantics for their singlehood and corresponding sex lives (particularly aromantic women), who pathologize asexuals and aromantics medically or psychologically and who run the medical and psychiatric fields, and who are responsible for the legislation that penalizes singles, are heterosexual males.

The question we have to ask is: if misogyny, patriarchy, and compulsory heterosexuality were destroyed and no longer existed, would asexuals and aromantics still experience sex-related and romance-related discrimination and violence?


Without misogyny, patriarchy, or compulsory heterosexuality, anyone could be single, celibate, or gay without consequence and all females would be safe from sexual violence. Theoretically, males would not experience sexual violence either. Males who are raped or sexually abused are usually victimized by other males, and in a world without patriarchal gender, males would not be socialized into aggression, dominance, violence, or sexual entitlement. Which means that we could expect male-on-male sexual assault to virtually disappear, along with male-on-female.

Is there any sex-related or romance-related difficulty that asexuals and aromantics experience that really is unique to them as a category of people and which therefore has no correlation to their being female or same-sex attracted?


And I know a lot of ya’ll self-identified asexuals and aromantics are going to read that and have a knee jerk response objecting to it because you feel like I’m denying your struggles as people who don’t want to have sex and don’t like sex and who are having sex anyway, as people who choose to be single and can’t fall in love and yet still want companionship and love and affection. But I’m not denying your struggles. I’m denying the explanation you came up with for your struggles. I’m denying the fucked up idea that all sexual people got it better than you do just because they’re sexual. I’m denying the fucked up idea that all romantic people got it better than you do just because they’re romantic. Even if an allo* woman or an allo* gay person is an asshole to you because you’re asexual or aromantic, even if they’re prejudiced against all asexuals or all aromantics, even if they as individuals have a better life than you do, they and the class they belong to are still oppressed for their sexuality in society and they don’t have privilege over you on the axis of sexuality. Do not confuse someone’s personal mistreatment of you for class power.

In closing, I want to say that I did not forget about race, but I wanted to focus on comparing sexual orientation groups above all and to highlight the fact that females of all sexual orientations are targeted for their sexuality, which is something that asexuals especially need to acknowledge. The way race impacts the level of oppression or discrimination a person experiences based on their sexuality is a topic that needs its own post or series of posts, but it must be said that black allo* people and other allo* POC absolutely do not have any kind of privilege, for being romantic and sexual, over white asexuals and aromantics. I don’t even think we can say that allo* people of color have privilege over asexual and aromantic POC; whether you’re sexual or asexual, romantic or aromantic, being black or otherwise a person of color means you’re targeted for your sexuality within a white supremacist, imperialist, colonialist society. The history of sexual oppression that global majority people (POC), especially women and girls, have experienced all over the world under white imperialism and colonialism is enough to destroy the idea that any sexual person who isn’t white has privilege because of their sexuality. And even now, in the US and other white majority nations, people of color and particularly women of color experience sexualized racism and have their sexuality co-opted by racism.

Basically, the idea that a black lesbian has romantic or sexual privilege over a white hetero ace or a white heterosexual aro or ANYBODY is ridiculous. If allosexual or alloromantic privilege, on an international scale, was a thing, the black lesbian would have it no differently and no less than the white heterosexual man. At no moment in history has that ever been remotely true.

Meaningless Identity

What is the purpose of identifying oneself as asexual or aromantic?

I’ll tell you mine. I am a person who does not experience sexual attraction, who doesn’t have an innate need for partnered sex, who doesn’t experience romantic attraction, and who does not have an innate need or desire for romantic relationships.

When I started identifying as asexual—and later, as aromantic—I did so because I thought that this was the most reasonable thing to do, that these terms most accurately described who and what I am. I wasn’t just someone who consciously chose not to have sex; I was someone who didn’t feel sexual toward other people at all. I wasn’t just someone who chose to stay single; I was someone who felt no romantic feelings and no involuntary desire for romantic relationships. I am still that person.

And when I was a kid who first discovered the asexual identity, when I was a teen and a college student openly identifying myself as asexual to everyone I knew well enough, my goal was to communicate to people that I was not sexually available to them, that I could not and would not feel the sexual attraction they felt, that I was not a potential sexual partner for them because of who I was, not because of an individualized lack of interest in each of them. When I tell people that I am aromantic, I do it to communicate that I am not someone they can date, I am not someone desiring romance, I am not someone who can return their romantic feelings should they develop any toward me, and that this is a permanent situation, not a circumstantial one.

Why not just identify as celibate and perma-single? Wouldn’t that communicate the same information?

Pop asexual and aromantic discourse loves to emphasize that attraction is not behavior, and that attraction is the only thing that matters, when it comes to someone being asexual or aromantic. (Except for all the asexual and aromantic spectrum bloggers who think that you can literally call yourself asexual or aromantic for absolutely no reason at all, other than you feel like it—and thus, asexuals and aromantics could be people who do experience desire for partnered sex or romantic relationships, with or without attraction.) The story goes that asexuals don’t experience sexual attraction but that some of them have sex for external reasons (as opposed to internal desire, attraction, or motive), and that asexuals who have sex are not any less asexual than the ones who don’t because both types lack that involuntary, innate sexual attraction. A lot of self-identified asexuals (and demis and grays) believe that sexual attraction and sexual desire (for partnered sex) are two different, distinct things and that the only qualification for an asexual identity is lack of sexual attraction. They believe that you can desire partnered sex purely for your own gratification, even need partnered sex as much as any allosexual, and still be “asexual” because you don’t experience attraction along with desire. (Of course, nobody in this camp can explain what sexual attraction is, and when sexual people offer their own descriptions, they’re usually ignored or denied, especially if it clashes with self-identified asexuals’ idea of themselves.) The same goes for aromanticism and romantic attraction vs. desire for romantic relationships. The whole cupioromantic identity comes from the belief that you can want romantic relationships specifically and still be aromantic, as long as you don’t experience romantic attraction—another thing no one can define or explain adequately, even as they insist that they don’t experience it. You can spend your life serially dating people and still call yourself aromantic, you can prefer romantic relationships over all forms of friendship and call yourself aromantic, you can even fall in love and call yourself aromantic—and no one has the right to question your identity as long as you maintain that you don’t experience the romantic attraction you can’t define and won’t allow alloromantic people to define for you.

The difference, supposedly, between an asexual and a celibate allosexual person is that the asexual experiences no sexual attraction whatsoever (except when they do), even if they’re out there fucking, while the celibate allosexual person does experience sexual attraction and desire for partnered sex that they can’t turn off but that they choose not to act on. The difference, supposedly, between an aromantic and a voluntarily single alloromantic is that the aromantic doesn’t experience romantic attraction whatsoever (except when they do), even if they choose to date people or dream about romantic partnership, while the voluntarily single alloromantic person does experience romantic feelings they can’t turn off or control and an innate desire for romantic partnership that they can’t help but feel, even if they choose not to act on it for whatever reason.

So again, I ask: what is the point in identifying oneself as asexual or aromantic, instead of celibate or perma-single? Why have I continued to call myself an aromantic asexual, even as I also specify that I am celibate and permanently single?

My own reason for this—which I suspect is a reason shared by many self-identified asexuals and aromantics—is my desire to communicate with people that I am sexually and romantically unavailable independent of external circumstances and the specific others I encounter. Because celibacy is a choice, there’s a built-in implication that the celibate person can choose to stop being celibate, and that given the right conditions, they will—because the assumption is that all people experience sexual attraction and desire and that celibates are abstaining from sex that they do want and can enjoy. Likewise, singlehood is understood to be a temporary and ultimately unwanted status: not only is the single person available but they’re looking for someone to couple with. If I tell someone I’m single, without specifying that I’m aromantic, everyone will assume that I’m fair game for other single people to ask out. They’ll assume that I want to meet someone who will make me not-single; that’s what amatonormativity is.

Celibacy and singlehood are choices or changeable conditions; asexuality and aromanticism are nature. Behavior vs. attraction. The controllable vs. the uncontrollable.

Celibacy and singlehood, in the collective consciousness, imply availability. I’m celibate right now, but you could fuck me, if I decide I want it. I’m single right now, but you could date me or get me to fall in love with you, if the stars align. At the very least, you can feel free to proposition me for sex or ask me on a date and expect that you have some chance of receiving a “yes.” If I’m celibate but capable of sexual desire and attraction, I could be attracted to you. I could want to fuck you. If I’m single but capable of romantic attraction and want a romantic relationship, I could want to date you. I could fall in love with you.

But if I’m an aromantic asexual, I’m not capable of the feelings and desires necessary for successful, satisfying, reciprocal sex and romance. My disinterest in sex and romance with you is not personal, it’s universal and unconditional. If I was only disinterested in you, maybe you could change my mind through seduction or courting, and if not, some other person could come along and pique my interest. But if I’m flat out incapable of returning sexual interest and romantic feelings, you’re never going to get out of me what you’re really looking for, not in the same way you would with a fellow allosexual alloromantic person. And if you’re like most allo* people, your immediate reaction to hearing about my aromantic asexual identity will be to assume that I am sexually and romantically unavailable, permanently.

The asexual and aromantic identities have a direct impact on interpersonal expectations. Asexuality and aromanticism have people starting from an assumption of unavailability, whereas singlehood and celibacy have people starting from an assumption of availability.

Some people who self-identify as asexual or aromantic, despite not meeting the popular criteria of these identities (not to mention my criteria), have picked up on this, and it’s one reason they call themselves asexual or aromantic, despite feeling sexual or romantic attraction. Calling themselves asexual or aromantic gets them out of having to explain why they’re rejecting someone who’s attracted to them. Blogger epocryphal straight up says that claiming the asexual identity can be a “useful way of setting a boundary.” Apparently, no one has to actually learn how to set sexual boundaries in honest, direct ways; the asexual identity is there for you, every time you don’t want to fuck someone. Funny how this is supposed to be acceptable when it comes to asexuality, but nobody besides homophobic straight and bisexual people think that it’s okay for a straight person to call themselves gay to get out of an unwanted come-on. And funny how asexuals who don’t want to have sex, usually end up doing it anyway even when their allosexual romantic partners know they identify as asexual. So much for establishing sexual boundaries with an identity.

What annoys the fuck out of me about asexual and aromantic identity politics is not only the lack of an agreed-upon definition of these identities but the attitude that even if a definition exists, people can ignore it and claim these identities anyway, for no reason other than they feel like it. They can claim to be different from allo* people through their identity label, even if they’re the same as allo* people in their behaviors, feelings, and desires. It’s the most illogical, stupid shit. And you can’t have a productive conversation about this that involves critical thinking because inevitably, it just erodes into people crying about “identity policing” and being exclusionary and how it’s wrong to invalidate someone’s feelings (as if feelings are beyond criticism!), without any actual substantive defense of their philosophy. You don’t have to make sense, you just have to be emotional.

Identity is not sacrosanct. Feelings are not de facto rational or consistent with material reality or compatible with objective truths. If identity is based on feelings alone, then like feelings, identity can be false, illogical, circumstantial, inconsistent with reality, etc. Questioning and criticizing identity is therefore necessary, fair, and reasonable.

Gravity exists. Whether I believe in it or not, whether I like it or not. I can identify as a human capable of flying because I feel like one, but if I throw myself off a skyscraper, I’m going to fall to the ground and die. There are people out there who identify as animals, dragons, vampires, fairies, reincarnated historical figures, etc. Their identity does not make them the things they identify as. Even if they get everyone in the room to play along, anyone still tethered to reality is going to look at the human being crawling around on all-fours meowing and know that they are not a cat.

“My identity can’t be wrong because it’s about describing myself to myself, about understanding my own feelings/experiences and naming them using a word that anyone can use.”

How do you explain the logic of publicly claiming an identity and demanding its recognition and respect, if identity only serves the purpose of self-understanding? If your identity fails to function as a tool of communication in social interaction, if it fails to describe a group of people with common needs/interests that you are part of, if it is purely about the individual, why share it with others at all? What do you accomplish by publicizing a completely unique identity that doesn’t actually tell anyone anything, without additional explanation? Validation? Is that what you want?

You can identify as anything, but I’m under no obligation to suspend my own understanding of what a thing is to accommodate you. In other words, your personal feelings and perception does not change material, objective reality and it does not, according to your own philosophy, override my subjective perception. If you are identical to someone with a different identity, I’m not going to see you as different from them just because you insist that you are with a label. Nor do you, based on your own identity politics, have the right to demand that I change my definitions of identity labels. You can’t call me wrong for not defining an identity the way you do, if there is no objective definition of the identity. I don’t have the authority or the power to force you to change your identity, but you don’t have the power to make an identity mean whatever the fuck you want, unless you’re the only one using it. If we throw identities out the window and look at facts, a person who likes to fuck is identical to a person who likes to fuck. A person who wants romantic relationships is identical to a person who wants romantic relationships. A person who can fall in love, can fall in love, and a person who can feel sexual toward others, can feel sexual toward others. Unless you can prove that the fact of your sexual desire or romantic desire or sexual feelings or romantic feelings is fundamentally different from other people’s, to the point that you belong in a totally different category, you’re the same as they are regardless of what you call yourself and what they call themselves.

This is a fundamental contradiction in identity politics: if I have the right to decide and define not only my own identity but the identity category to which I belong (which exists if my identity is one many people use), but so does every other individual on the planet, and if none of us can be wrong, then the minute I run into a person who defines the identity we share differently than I do, I’m either guilty of “identity policing” them by rejecting their identity based on my own definitions, or I’m forced to change my definitions, which are supposed to be just as untouchable as anyone else’s, in order to accommodate this other person. We can’t have two different definitions of the same identity and both be right, unless the identity itself doesn’t exist outside of our individual, subjective realities. And if that were true, no two people would share the same romantic/sexual experience, which would render the categorical difference between “asexual” and “allosexual” (or “aromantic” and “alloromantic”) nonexistent, eliminating the need to name these categories at all. You can’t have collective categories based on differences between those categories if every individual has a unique identity with unique meaning which defies group categorization.

How can asexuals and aromantics lack any experience of sexual or romantic attraction but claim to know better than allo* people what they aren’t feeling or what the nature of their feelings is? How can asexuals and aromantics define themselves in opposition to what allos* are, yet deny the importance of desire in defining asexuality and aromanticism, when desire is essential to the allo* experience? How can anyone claim to be asexual or aromantic when they experience the same desire that allo* people do? Or the same attraction? If “asexuality” and “aromanticism” can be anything that self-identifiers say it is, to the point of including people who are identical in behavior, feeling, and experience to allos*, what is the point of these categories that exist to supposedly describe people who are not allo*? If you can behave any way you want sexually or romantically and still be asexual or aromantic—but you can also feel romantic/sexual attraction and desire and be asexual or aromantic, how the fuck is this not relabeling allosexuality and alloromanticism for the sole purpose of sounding different?

For me, what this all amounts to is that your asexual or aromantic identity means nothing to me, in that it tells me nothing about you. You could swap in “cactus” or “umbrella” or “alien from another galaxy,” and I’d have no less information about your experience of sexual or romantic attraction and desire than if you used “asexual” or “aromantic.” I no longer have any reason or justification for responding to someone identifying as “asexual” or “aromantic” any differently than I do to people who are straight, gay, or bi. I can’t expect anything different from “asexuals” and “aromantics” than I do from demis and grays or from allo* people, in terms of behavior, relationship style and goals, sexual interest and availability, romantic interest and availability, etc. If anyone can identify as asexual or aromantic regardless of their sexual and romantic nature, then I don’t know who you are when you say you’re “asexual” or “aromantic.”

And because we do not, in fact, all have our own unique language, this meaninglessness of the identity words leaves me no choice but to wonder what my own use of them accomplishes. I can just as easily tell the world that I don’t want to fuck or date and refuse to do so, without using the words “asexual” and “aromantic,” and at this point, that would actually be more effective in terms of communication than identifying myself as an aromantic asexual. If I’m going to have to do the exact same amount of explaining to people, whether I use the identity terms or not, why bother using them? And if there is no cohesive community behind those identities where I can expect to find people with the same experiences, the same lack of attraction and desire, the same sexual and romantic unavailability, then the identity fails as a social tool as much as it fails as a communication tool.

It’s strange to think of myself as an unlabeled person, even if my nature and my social status remain the same without the labels. One of the most important things to me, as someone who doesn’t want, need, have, or feel sex or romance, is connecting with people like me—and if it’s hard when I’ve got labels that some of them also use, isn’t it harder without the labels? But then again, in this dominant culture of subjective identity politics, I’m not looking for people who share my labels anymore. I’m looking for people who share my nature and who can verify that through their own explicit statements: I don’t want or need sex, I don’t want or need romance, I don’t fall in love, celibate and single are my defaults. That these facts exist and remain true independently of labels and identity and are the basis of connection, successful relationships, and collective political goals in the real world is worth contemplating.

I’m sure the herd of asexual bloggers who are all generally in agreement with each other on asexual discourse and identity politics would want to argue against my belief in the need for specific, fixed, objective definitions of asexuality and aromanticism, but I’m not interested in discussing the rightness or the wrongness of the definitions themselves. I’m interested in the question I opened with, asked from a perspective of asexual and aromantic identities having no definition and no objective meaning: what is the purpose of identifying as asexual or aromantic?

A New Alternative to the Word “Queerplatonic”

So while I’ve defended the need for the word “queerplatonic” to describe the kind of nonromantic partnerships and exceptionally intimate friendships that many aros want and/or have, the word itself is pretty shitty. The purpose it serves is totally valid. Aros do need a word to describe our nonromantic partnerships, a word more specific than friendship. But “queerplatonic” is a portmanteau made of two terrible fucking words.

Queer is a slur that plenty of gay men and lesbians, who often don’t identify as “queer” themselves, do not want aros to use in reference to themselves or to friendships that don’t involve same-sex sexuality or romance. Yes, we can argue that the word queer still retains its original definition, which is “strange, odd, unusual” and that if we use this definition, “queerplatonic” makes sense as a word denoting a non-normative friendship. But I just want to get away from the fucking word as much as possible, because aside from the fact that gay men and lesbians get the only and final say about who uses a slur like that and in what ways, the actual queer community–which is NOT to be confused with the entire LGBT population but which is a specific group of people, many if not most of whom are technically bisexual and/or trans–subscribes to a politics that a) has nothing to do with aromanticism or nonromantic partnerships b) frequently and deliberately excludes asexuality and aromanticism and c) is based on and advocates a bunch of fucked up ideas, principles, and philosophies. Bottomline: if gay men and lesbians don’t want the “queer” in queerplatonic (or anywhere else) and queer allo* people don’t either, then aros should seriously consider giving it up out of respect.

Then, you’ve got “platonic.” Everything I have to say about that word, I’ve already said in my evidently popular post “Platonic Love is a Problematic Term.” It’s just a terrible word, originally used as a general adjective for anything connected to Plato’s work, then transformed to describe relationships that aren’t romantic based on a misreading of the Symposium. In mainstream English spoken by allo* people, platonic love or platonic relationships are both nonromantic and nonsexual, and they are almost never primary partnerships because that status is understood and assumed to belong exclusively to romantic relationships. In the asexual community, “platonic” gets used more than one way, which is confusing, and that’s only because people still can’t make sense of “platonic meaning nonsexual” vs. “platonic meaning nonromantic” vs. “platonic meaning nonsexual and nonromantic.”

Anyway, I’ve decided on a replacement for “queerplatonic” that I will be using on this blog from now on. I may even go back and edit previous posts to replace “queerplatonic” with the new word.

I’ve decided on companionate. As in, companionate feelings, companionate friendship, companionate friend. “Companionate friend” can be shortened to CP friend, no different than queerplatonic is often shortened to “qp.” Because it doesn’t make much sense to say “companionate partner,” you do have to use the term “companionate friend” instead of the old “queerplatonic partner,” but I actually like that because it brings friendship back into the language we use to describe these nonromantic partnerships and makes it much more clear that the relationship is nonromantic in nature. (Whereas “partner” is now commonly used to refer to romantic others and is steeped in the hierarchy of romance-centric social lives.) If you have a companionate friendship with someone, you could also just call them your companion, which carries more weight than friend but doesn’t have the specifically romantic connotations of partner.

I like the words companionate and companion for several reasons.

First of all, “companionate” is a type of love in Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, which is a model that I’ve been critical about in the past because I’m critical of pretty much all models created by allo* people that describe human relationships, as they miss the feelings and relationships of aromantics and asexuals. But I will say that when I reviewed the Triangular Theory, companionate love–as defined according to Sternberg’s terms–applies quite well to the queerplatonic concept. Robert Sternberg, a psychologist, developed the triangular theory of love based on the idea that there are three components of love between humans: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Depending upon how these components are combined, different kinds of relationships emerge. The components are defined like this:

  1. Intimacy – Which encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, connectedness, and bondedness.
  2. Passion – Which encompasses drives connected to both limerence and sexual attraction.
  3. Commitment – Which encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, plans made with that other. (source)

In the Triangular Theory, companionate love is made of “intimacy + commitment.”



I actually think that combination is accurate, when we’re talking about queerplatonic partnerships (as opposed to non-partnered qp friendships): these relationships involve attachment, closeness, connection, and bonding, and also the decision to remain with your friend in the short-term and make plans together in the long-term. Intimacy and commitment, according to Sternberg.

But the Triangular Theory is not the only reason I’ve picked companionate. The other reason is my appreciation of the word companion. The etymology of the word lists its origins in the Old French word compagnon, meaning “fellow, mate, friend, partner,” and Late Latin’s companionem, which literally meant “breadfellow, messmate.” So here we see that on a linguistic level, the word companion is synonymous with friend and partner, and that it has roots in the word for “breadfellow,” which I especially like because it implies breaking bread together, sharing meals which is a basic domestic act. Domesticity is a major feature of queerplatonic partnerships, real and imagined, so it’s cool to have a word that nods at that.

The OED defines companionate as “between partners or spouses as equal companions.” So the word already functions as a term indicating partnership or a relationship equivalent to marriage, and the definition makes a point of specifying equality in the companionship. Equality, if you read every philosopher who’s ever written anything about friendship, is an undisputed ingredient in friendship and one that has separated friendship from marriage/romance since the beginning of time. (There was never equality between husband and wife, because there was not equality between male and female anywhere in the world, in any time period. And according to more than one philosopher, this was why husband and wife were not friends and marriage not a friendship.)

And above all, I like this word because I think it speaks to what aros really want from friendship-that-is-partnership. We want companionship. We want a friend who’s physically and emotionally present, who’s available, who wants to be with us as much as we want to be with them. We want a friend who we can live with, eat with, do things with, travel with, share life with. Companionship. That’s much more specific than “friendship.” When we look for a nonromantic partner, we aren’t just looking for a friend–because “friends” these days can be people you don’t even fucking talk to or see, people who don’t share much of anything with you beyond a Facebook connection, people who are never with you because they’re with romantic partners instead. What aros want from a nonromantic partnership is both friendship and companionship, and it’s the companionship that sets it apart from other friendships. We want committed companions. Committed, intimate friendship–which is what the word “companionate” describes in the Triangular Theory of Love.


So, there you go. Companionate friendship. You don’t even have to specify that it’s a partnership, because that’s already built into the word. Companionate has the same number of syllables as queerplatonic. Instead of “qp,” use “cp.” Instead of “qp partner,” you can simply say “my companion,” which I personally like better than “cp friend.”

For those of you who have or want a qp friendship that is NOT a partnership, you can continue to use “quasiplatonic” or “quirkyplatonic” if you no longer want to use “queerplatonic.” Both of those alternatives still abbreviate to “qp,” obviously.

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.