This is my entry for the April 2019 Carnival of Aros, which is on the theme of “Coming Out and/ or Being Out as Aromantic Spectrum”. The Call for Submissions is here. It’s crossposted to Tumblr here. For more info on what the Carnival of Aros is or how to volunteer to choose the theme for a future month, check out this link: https://carnivalofaros.wordpress.com/
There is a separate post I could be writing on the origins of the coming out phrase not having to do with closets but rather debutante ball language (and drag balls), and how complex it is to discuss aromanticism in the context of this phrase. I am not writing that post today.
Allow me to clarify really quickly that in my own life, how “out as aro” I am or am not is very complicated and I’m not particularly in any closet, but. I’m also not sure where I am in regards to outness.
Since I haven’t really blogged directly about my place on the aromantic-spectrum in years, I feel the need to establish context before really diving too much into the theme for the Carnival this month, so please be patient as I ramble and try to explain where I come from in this conversation. Also some of these context-establishing sections will likely be sprinkled throughout the post.
In February, during Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, I wrote a draft that got past 1,000 words on “Why the Gray-Aro label?” but I never finished it, never published it, and didn’t really like how I had written so many words of context and not yet even answered that question. I felt like I needed to try again. (Maybe skip dwelling on backstory. Jump into the present.)
As an extremely “out” asexual person who isn’t gray at all in my aceness, yet who is hovering somewhere in the gray areas of the aro spectrum, I feel like I’m constantly being asked to place myself (my ace self) into one of only two ill-fitting boxes. #1 Being Alloromantic aka a “Romantic” Asexual, or #2 being Aromantic alongside my asexuality. Most people see things as black or white; one or the other. And maybe I still do too. Even internally, to myself, I jump back and forth—and back again—trying to settle on what I am. Am I fully aro? Can I fit in that box? I often feel like maybe it’d be easier for me.
I never really think I’m fully alloromantic anymore. It’s been 5 years since I’ve wondered if I’m “panromantic”, full stop, no extra modifiers. I feel comfortable saying I’m definitely not. I’m not an alloromantic panromantic.
But I can’t decide if I’m a plain-and-simple aromantic with absolutely no romantic attraction, or if I’m in some other part of the aro spectrum. My identity is blurry rather than solid and easy to categorize. (Thanks! I hate it. 😂)
Even knowing that only 2 categories won’t work for everyone, I really would like there to be just 3 simple category options—aro, alloro, or in the middle—and for me myself to just know which one I am, and be able to place myself comfortably in at least one of the three. But I don’t feel fully comfortable in any of the three. And I also don’t feel comfortable “opting out” of romantic orientation either!! I think a lot of aro-spectrum people don’t feel comfortable with any of the most broad labels, which is why more and more micro-labels kept being invented to describe distinct types of experiences.
I have been carrying around various (often changing) pride buttons pinned to my purse and backpack in 3 flags—asexual, pan, and aromantic—for over a year.
Last week when I picked up my refill of medication to manage my high blood pressure, the pharmacy cashier said he liked my pins. I looked down and he’d seen this side of my purse:
I was already starting writing this post and so it was on my mind that even with the “No Need For Romance” in big letters on an aromantic flag he probably didn’t see me as “out” as aro just from seeing my purse. But he could’ve been gay or otherwise queer in some way, and in fact who am I to assume he’s not aromantic himself or otherwise very familiar with these flags? Maybe at least from the “Queer Enough” one, which he might’ve read, he realized I was coming out as not straight (not allocishet) despite how femme and potentially “passing-as-straight” I seem?
Or maybe he just liked the colors.
If I’m in a social situation, like I was two Fridays ago, I often might explain what each one means. With the cashier I just said “Thank you,” with a smile and mildly surprised/embarrassed chuckle.
Two Fridays ago, I attended a Poetry Anthology book launch where my friend was one of the featured poets. (Btw I highly recommend you buy the anthology. It contains some really impressive and great poems, such an eclectic collection of themes/poetic structures and styles too.) I explained being asexual to some new acquaintances and when the topic of the pins on my purse came up, and I mentioned being aromantic, a guy I’d been speaking with scowled in confusion and said,”I thought you said you were asexual”. His confusion, of course, confused me in turn. What were all his misconceptions to think being aromantic was a contradiction to my asexuality? I stated that I was both and it’s complicated but I don’t feel like I necessarily sufficiently explained it.
In my journey over the years, I had first gravitated toward showing off asexual symbolism because having a “sexual” orientation that isn’t straight was the “most obvious” way to me that I am very much queer. Sometimes it felt like the most important part of my identity. In terms of my queerness, it’s what I figured out first. So I had been comfortable with it for the longest amount of time.
After not that long, though, I wanted to add the other buttons. I thought the latter two types of buttons were good and important to feature at once to capture all of me, thinking that meant the gray-panromantic and the gray-aromantic side of me. It was more important to me to have aro pride than pan pride, but screaming to the world that I’m “aroace” (aro & ace) felt like it would imply nonamory and maybe other things about me that just aren’t true. (Announcing I’m pan and ace without any aro symbolism somehow intrinsically felt even more wrong though.)
Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my orientation labels yet again. My asexuality is extremely solid. But the others. Um. You’d think after adopting the WTFromantic label over 5 years ago and it still in 2019 feeling like “wtfromantic” or “quoiromantic” are accurate to describe me, that I’d be done changing my labels but… I am not fully satisfied with just wtfromantic or just quoiromantic as my identity. I used to think “wtfromantic” was good enough, but once I entered a queerplatonic relationship, and after it ended when I knew I’d be online dating again to try to find a new queerplatonic partner, I decided that I prefer that as an explanation/description rather than my orientation/identity.
I’m really starting to think I’m pan-alterous, (demi-sensual, maybe technically homo-aesthetic,) and entirely aromantic. Maybe I’m entirely “end scale”/”end point” aromantic (what was the term I saw on aro tumblr recently?) yet am an aromantic person who hopes for a committed partner of any gender. Because I am not nonamorous, I feel I don’t fit in with the “mainstream aromantic narratives” of permanent singlehood as a defining component. (Note that in my mind, there are very heavy air-quotes around the word “mainstream”.) A QPR is my dream goal. No matter how much aro people defend queerplatonic relationships as specifically aro terminology, it’s… hard to shake whatever feelings I have. The feelings that I’m not aro enough if I desire one this strongly. But. I’m starting to get comfortable with the idea that after years of thinking everything over, analyzing all my emotions, etc… maybe I really am fully aromantic. Maybe the pan flag still can apply to me, but not because of any romanticism (nor sexuality) but rather because of which genders of people I’d be willing to partner with, and become committed toward. Maybe “alterous” terminology, which (ironically?) I initially thought was very unnecessary and internally dismissed when I first heard it, is exactly what I needed all along. And maybe another reason why the pan flag is still mine because of who I might want to hug after a very long while of feeling emotionally close, of feeling truly comfortable and full of trust. Because of things like that. (And because I feel no real connection to the established bisexual “community”, because I feel more like an ally there, perhaps that why I chose the label pan over bi??)
(Side note: I actually relate to a lot of what Claudie Arseneault wrote about her experiences here. My journey is different, but it’s also got a lot of similarities.)
For a while, I’d been most comfortable with the vagueness of writing on my Twitter and Facebook bios that I’m “gray-aro asexual” and when talking to other new online acquaintances I sometimes say I’m an “aro-spec ace” and… it’s kinda good enough. I guess. At least, sometimes it is. That’s the most accurate way to describe me. Asexuality is the most important, “aro-spec” second most important, and “pan” more to clarify how my “aro” isn’t necessarily what you’d think of when you hear the word “aro”, as was “-spec”/”gray-“—clarifying I’m a more complicated aromantic person than “just” aro.
One day, probably over a year ago, I realized that most people use the phrases “grayro” and “grayromantic” and I wondered why and when I made the choice to add the extra “a” in there. The choice to emphasize the “aro” over the “ro”, to want that absence recognized. I’d been identifying as gray-aro for quite a while without even realizing that was unusual to do! I didn’t even realize I was being contrary. I was immersed in asexual culture where people are gray-A and gray-asexual, where theoretically people might say “graysexual”, but it’s rare enough that I don’t believe I’ve met any of those people. But when thinking about my romantic orientation term, deep down I was never trying to capture “the grayness of my romantic attractions”. Rather, I want to convey the grayness of my lack of them. Does anyone even care? It seems like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, stressing over things that are so subtle no one else would even notice the one hyphen and “a”, and whether they were there or not… but somehow it all matters to me.
This post I’m writing for the Carnival of Aros is me coming out to whoever reads my blog, I realize now. I need to unpack all this, in order to be fully out—and it frustrates me that I’m not entirely “out” to people who have been reading whatever I write here for 5 years, since so much of it has been about my orientation. (How can I not be out yet?)
A few days ago, I wore a necklace I’ve had long before I knew it might kinda be aro colors:
Selfie of me wearing a black dress and a necklace with stones in two shades of green and also a shade of yellow. Cropped heavily so that one can only see my upper chest right below my neck and some locks of my slightly-past-shoulder-length light brown wavy/curly hair. My face is not shown.
And while yeah the yellow is not really an aro color anymore, it still feels like it is the closest jewelry I have right now to Aro Pride related jewelry.
However over this past weekend, as I was writing this and thinking about this again after having thought it quite a bit throughout the past 6 months, I decided to finally purchase aromantic jewelry. I bought this necklace and this bracelet and am really looking forward to being able to wear them alongside a particular nice black dress (the same one I wore for presenting at Creating Change) on the Saturday of the 2019 Ace & Aro Conference at World Pride in NYC at the end of June (and yes I already bought my tickets for both the conference and the documentary the night before. (After/in addition to donating money prior to that to help make sure the conference happened)). I also spent money on the parallel ace jewelry and am hoping I can wear both pendants on the same chain at once but we’ll see once it gets in the mail. The bracelets should be easy to wear both at once on the same wrist.
I also placed an online order last week for purple, green, and white poster board for the Pride Parades in June which came in the mail this week. I’ll be designing them throughout the month of May. I’ll be marching in I think 3 different Prides—Washington DC, Baltimore, and New York City—and I’m excited to make sure my Pride experience is full of not just ace, but also aro colors.
My first time marching in pride was last year in 2018’s DC parade, and even then I made sure my body paint had all 3 of my pride flags and next to the aro one said aromantic in green. My poster was the one that said Gray-Aro, Gray-Panromantic Ace in all the correct colors (plus bright red for the part of gray-panromantic that was “romantic”). I wanted all of me represented. It was fun then and it’ll be fun again this year.
My Trying to Be Less Invisible post last month was a testament to what many other Carnival of Aros posts this month have touched upon, that it’s very very hard to be out as aromantic, as it’s not a particularly well known identity. Because it requires a lot of explanation.
For me it is further complicated by how much I might’ve implied that all the things that make me aro might’ve been a part of my asexuality or a quirk of my personality in previous years, so there’s nothing left to explain with aromanticism. If I say I’m asexual so therefore… insert aro related comment of your choice—therefore I don’t think I’m gonna want to hold hands if I have a significant other, therefore I hope to find a platonic life partner rather than a romantic one, therefore I don’t like kissing??, therefore I am turning down both guys who asked me out on the metro? I mean… I don’t know what I’m doing. How do I backtrack and correct people? I don’t have a close enough relationship with everyone in my life where we have enough of these deep one-on-one conversations.
I thought I could talk about anything and everything with my dad and my brother but I think we’ve grown less close over the past decade of me being an adult, even if we all live in the same house as roommates. I think one of the big pieces of feeling slightly less emotionally close to them is that they simply are not interested in me explaining in extreme detail more about my orientations, and would rather just respect it from a not personally involved distance. They aren’t particularly interested in listening to my podcast even if we have a release schedule of 1 episode per every 2 months, apparently. (Meaning it would be easy for them, an hour or so of time not very often at all.) If I said having a conversation about my aromanticism or other orientations was extremely important to me they’d pay attention, but I want them to be curious on their own. I want them to be intrinsically more interested so it’s tricky. I think I’m out to them as both aro and pan now with all the Pride symbolism I carry around, pretty sure I explained what they were at some point, but I don’t really know how much of it they are comprehending and how much they are not even really noticing at all.
Part of the issue is that I go to and/or host ace meetups nearly weekly these days, and that’s the main way, other than the pride symbols on my purse and backpack, that me being ace casually comes up in conversation first. I don’t have as many reasons to bring up my aromanticism. I talk about volunteering with The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP) too occasionally, especially for practical reasons like “please don’t interrupt me for the next 3 hours while I’m in my bedroom on a TAAAP web call discussing the book we’re writing”, but when I shared with my dad the blog post about why we changed our name away from The Asexual Awareness Project, he asked me what “Aro” meant, and it kinda shocked me that he didn’t know it was short for “Aromantic”. That he was that far removed from what has become such a huge part of my life. How could he not already know what Aro means. But, alas.
I show my dad almost every single fanvideo I make still once I finish them. For my birthday this year I hosted on my channel 4 fanvideo collaborations, a.k.a. collabs. In all of them I made a rule of no sexual scenes and no kissing on the mouth at all. These collabs were also, by the way, a mix of romantic pairs and platonic bonds. They could vid right before or after a kiss with the characters’ faces close but just don’t vid the kissing itself.
I told my dad about having made the rule and he turned to me and asked with a surprisingly high level of confusion and interest, “Do you really mind kissing scenes?”—or something like that. I don’t even know what I said but I don’t think I fully tried to explain how complicated it all was for me as someone vidding such kissing scenes for over 12 years. Whose attitude in reaction to seeing characters act sexually changed drastically once I realized 5.5 years ago I was sex-averse, how frustrating it was in my birthday collab in January 2016 when one of my friends vidded one of my OTPs (Jane/Rafael on Jane the Virgin) and she happened to choose, out of SO many scene choices, one of the absolute most sexual Jane/Rafael scenes with them making out while skinny dipping (naked in a swimming pool). How sex averse I felt in that moment and how much I wanted for my birthday collab to not have that happen again.
I think what I said to my dad was that it’s nice sometimes to feel more able to relate to the characters and kissing scenes I can’t relate to. I don’t know.
I came out as gray-aromantic and gray-panromantic on Facebook in October for National Coming Out Day too. I had been out on Facebook as asexual for years and figured I should update people, especially as I had told a few folks back in 2013 that I thought I was heteroromantic. (The thought of that seems laughable to me now. )
My at-the-time 83-year-old grandmother asked me how I can be aromantic with all the fandom shipping she also knows I participate in. I know she listened to episode 1 of my podcast but apparently that didn’t explain well enough or stick. I tried to think and get back to her (luckily, she asked me over comment or message where a live time response was not required). I said to my grandmother “you know how you can go to a wedding and be So Happy for the couple and rooting for them to be together for many happy years to come but it’s not because you’re attracted to either of them? It’s…. basically that” and she said that made a lot of sense to her.
Of course that was kinda me wearing an aromantic activist and educator hat. If I go back to me trying to come out, thinking I had come out on Facebook, knowing that if people don’t comprehend what I wrote that I’m not actually out though… I mean I said then I was partially romantic, did my Grandma miss that? What about the part of me that does want to get married hopefully in the next few years, and she very well might still be alive—her mother lived to age 100! When I hypothetically invite her to my wedding to celebrate the start of a platonic marriage will she think I wasn’t really aro unless I come out more fully? This is all frustrating and exhausting and confusing. I just want to be out. How hard does it have to be?? Seriously.
I hope with time there will be a societal increase in awareness of what it means to be aromantic and all the ways aromanticism can vary becomes more understood. I hope when I come out in the years to come more people will get all aspects of what I’m coming out as. I don’t see an end to my ace and aro activism or podcasting or blogging any time soon, so I hope I’m making a dent in that future. I hope other aros out there will one day have an easier time of it.
One day, I also hope to write a novel that includes all of the aspects of myself that I have yearned for more representation of – being an atheist, having an abusive mother you go No Contact with, and yes being aromantic in a very complicated way that I relate to is probably one of the things that I’d end up writing into it.
Now I have a first date scheduled for tonight, and I’m trying not to see myself as an imposter. After meeting on OkCupid, we’re considering the possibility of “dating” in a very queerplatonic way because we both want to become parents and desire a committed co-parenting partner. If I end up entering a relationship with them, or if I do with someone else, being perceived as allo will make me very uncomfortable, especially if it’s fully alloromantic allosexual that they’re perceiving me as.
It’s hard to say what I really think about being perceived as being in a fully asexual but alloromantic relationship. I will have to think on that longer, but mainly I just think I desire to be more honest and more altogether “out”, more clear on how complicated those categories are for me.
I was in a queerplatonic relationship from February 2016 to June 2016, we broke up but then got back together for December 2016 through May 2017. I tried to tell my one of my co-workers at my job in 2017 that I had a queerplatonic partner (I mean I did indeed tell her that but i didn’t explain much at all) and for another i used the word partner rather than “boyfriend”. My queerplatonic partner himself liked being able to tell people he had a girlfriend, liked passing as straight. I, on the other hand, hated being perceived as something I was not. And there was something just so viscerally not romantic about what the two of us were to each other.
Our feelings were not in a category separate from friendship. Some of our actions maybe or the commitment but not the feelings, and even behavior wise it’s not like we kissed or cuddled or slept in the same bed or did any of the things people would expect a 26 year old woman to be doing with her 27 year old romantic partner. No we did none of that. He joked, in regards to the fact he’d be going to Afghanistan for a 6 month civilian contractor deployment, for me not to cheat on him and I asked him seriously though if there was anything I could do that would count as cheating in his mind. He couldn’t think of anything. It was so far removed from a typical amatonormative monogamous romance.
It’s been 2 years after he psuedo-ghosted me and broke up with me with no warning or explanation. If i want to explain even now that this experience fundamentally affected me, traumatized me, changed me, hurt me… I indirectly sorta kinda come out as aro by explaining that he wasn’t my boyfriend, but rather was my queerplatonic partner. I say “I went to see a concert at that venue with my former queerplatonic partner” or whatever and it’s kinda me coming out as much as a woman saying she has a wife is casually coming out. It’s a weird thing but it’s true.
I titled this post that I have a yearning for queerplatonic to be recognized as not romantic and that’s I think the biggest reason it’s been relevant in the past for me to specify that what I had with a guy (whom I refer to on my blog as Robert) was queerplatonic. If I use any other terminology, say the guy i was dating, say my partner without specifying with QPP/QPR terminology, I feel like I’m closeted. I feel like I’m keeping some dirty secret for fear of how others will react if I were to use the actual word for what we were.
Sometimes it’s worth it for the validation of being recognized in amatonormatovity. In the initial aftermath of my breakup I struggled to express why I was so devastated. I’d try to justify it to explain how much commitment I felt we had, that we were borderline engaged or i felt engaged in my mind. That week I missed work Monday because I had injured my eye so badly i couldn’t look at computer screens for a day, he broke up with me Tuesday, then Friday I was quite late to work after having crashed my car in a ridiculously stupid accident that was all my own fault. My boss knew about Monday and Friday but not Tuesday when she said that I was having quite the week but i honestly couldn’t care about much of anything except the trauma of how my queerplatonic partner left me. I wanted validation and recognition for my pain so I said “and my boyfriend broke up with me this week too”. I couldn’t help myself.
And I felt weird realizing how I’d chosen to call him my boyfriend, a thing I purposefully never called him while dating. Perhaps I did it because I related so much to all the regular breakup songs, or simply because while my relationship itself felt surely platonic, my pain didn’t feel different than what alloromantic people go through.
A grayro ace friend of mine laughed in a car ride once when I mentioned that after we broke up i didn’t care as much and might just say my boyfriend broke up with me. I get why she did. It’s kinda funny to me too. But I think it’s because it takes emotional energy and effort to come out, especially when it always requires a 101 talk, and when I’m hurting I have less reserves of such energy. And I can’t talk about being in a queerplatonic relationship without that being a casual coming out. I simply can’t. Unless I. Unless I lie. Skew the truth. Say he was my boyfriend and avoid the stress.
I want to be seen as aro even when I’m in relationships. I want to be properly seen for what I really am. But it’s messy and complicated.
So look for me at Pride photos, listen to my podcast, look to say hi to me at the Ace & Aro conference. I’m trying to be findable. I’m trying to be OUT. See me in all my ace and aro, purple and green, glory.
In order to continue to be out as aro, I need to constantly and consistently keep making the active choice to come out to new people, to remind the old people. It’s a never ending, lifelong process. But it’s also kinda an empowering mission that leaves me feeling excited and free and wonderfully true to who I am. So I intend to keep coming out for the foreseeable future.