a thought on romantic orientation

Posted: May 24, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

While coming to terms with my asexuality has been more positive than not, it comes with a lot of baggage; I suspect I’m one of the few people who wasn’t remotely surprised at the suicide survey.  The concept of a romantic orientation that is distinct from, though tied to, a sexual orientation is one of the only aspects of asexuality that I’ve unambiguously loved.

Until this week, of course.  I don’t remotely question the idea that a separation exists, but I find myself rather disturbed by how it’s being used.

I’m aware that, in an odd way, I’m speaking from a position of privilege here.  Everybody’s sexual and romantic attractions are expected to march in tandem; all heterosexuals should be heteroromantic, bisexuals should be biromantic, and so on.  As an aromantic asexual, I fit as neatly into that paradigm as any non-straight person can.  But it isn’t representative of the experience of some sexuals and, apparently, the majority of asexuals.

That said, I do not consider myself to lack a romantic orientation to speak of; I have one, and it’s aromantic.  Issues surrounding romantic orientation do concern me – and all the more because aromantic asexuals are often lumped in with heteroromantic asexuals.

For me, the oddest thing about this has been the sheer importance placed on romantic orientation.  The asexual community is not, as far as I’ve noticed, a particularly polarized one.  We don’t divvy ourselves up based on romantic orientation.  There aren’t niches where all the panromantics go to hang out.  As with straight, gay, bi, and pan people, asexuals are primarily asexual people within our community.  We do not use romantic orientation as a replacement for our lack of a sexual orientation; we use it as a clarification of the sexual orientation we do have.

Our experiences are not identical, of course.  The problems that come with being an aromantic asexual may be shared with aromantic sexuals, but not romantic asexuals – or with neither.  But by and large, they’re simply part of the asexual experience.  Normalization of sexual relationships, responsibility for sexuals’ reactions, pervasive erasure, corrective rape, prioritizing of sexual interests, near-total lack of resources, mass pathologizing – those aren’t aromantic issues.  They’re asexual issues.

Maybe I’m just lurking in the wrong circles, but I’ve never seen an asexual identify themselves primarily by their romantic orientation.  I’ve often seen asexuals identify themselves as asexual, without mentioning their romantic preferences at all; it’s not always relevant and in many cases, as I said before, it’s used more as a helpful clarification than an identity in itself.  Perhaps they should be equally meaningful in theory, but in practice, it’s not what I see.  As far as I can tell, it’s sexuals who define asexuals by our romantic orientations – that is, by the narrow part of our identities that, undoubtedly by pure coincidence, often corresponds to sexual patterns.

In my opinion, it’s unfortunate that asexuality seems to have become associated with the sexual/romantic distinction.  It’s necessarily more common among asexuals, simply because an asexual who is anything other than aromantic is going to experience romantic dissonance, but it was never meant to be a specifically asexual matter. I don’t think anybody believed aromantic sexuals would, in a way, be considered aces themselves.  There’s research about dissonance in romantic sexuals, too (by Diamond, if you want to find it).  This isn’t an asexual issue, but as far as I can tell, it’s being used to perpetuate asexual erasure, dismissing asexuals’ identities as asexuals to focus on the dynamics that sexuals recognize and experience in their own lives.

  1. Miriel says:

    Oddly enough, my own initial theory about the recent… events… was the exact opposite: that the antagonists weren’t separating romantic and sexual orientations *enough*, and thus heteroromantic asexuals magically turn into straight people. You make good points that I hadn’t considered.

    • anghraine says:

      Well, I think we’re getting at the same thing — asexuals’ asexual identities are being overwritten by the identities we share with sexuals. But I’m totally cool with your agreeing with me! 🙂

  2. Sciatrix says:

    I agree that this division just… doesn’t really seem to exist inside the asexual community. It seems to be this entirely outwardly imposed thing made by outsiders. Which really, shouldn’t that clue them in that there’s something else going on here?

    And I mean, I know aromantic sexuals. Besides, when Outlawroad did a post about mismatched orientations specifically pointing out that this is not an asexual-only thing, she got a ton of reblogs from people going “wait… oh my god, that’s me, this makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE NOW.” Mostly these were people who didn’t identify as asexual. (Link here–not posting to the original because for some reason Outlawroad’s tumblr doesn’t let you see the reblogs. And there are a lot of them.)

    I feel like the notion that romantic and sexual orientation don’t always match is something that would be extremely powerful for a lot of sexual people to apply to themselves, and it really upsets me that these people seem to be using it as an excuse to ignore asexual people. Because really, we’re not the only people whose orientations don’t always match together.

    • anghraine says:

      It really doesn’t, as far as I can tell. I just saw somebody ask this question under the asexuality tag at tumblr, and it was overwhelmingly dominated by aces identifying as aces.

      I also think there’s tremendous erasure of aromantic sexuals — I’m not sure if I feel equipped to really write about it, but it’s almost always assumed to be inability to commit or just generally being a selfish asshole. The existence of other dissonant sexuals is generally ignored, too (I find it especially odd because the most widely-cited research looked at sexual teenage boys.)

      The insistence that aromanticism — well, that romanticism generally — is an asexual issue only extends the erasure of mismatched sexuals. When it’s not just assumed that all men are aromantic sexuals and all women are romantic asexuals (ick). I … kind of hate that it’s being used to perpetuate our erasure and theirs.

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