As I sit down and write this, I need to start with a confession. It is very hard for me to truly understand what it is like to be asexual or aromantic as it is so very far from the reality I live in. Because of this, I do not fully understand the complexity of being ace or aro or any blend of the two. If I, because of lack of understanding, misrepresent either community, I apologize. Please correct me in the comments below. Having said that, I do know what it is like to have people question and not understanding the way I live my life and how my relationships work. I do know what it is like living in a society that exerts pressure to conform to a certain way of living and relating. In that spirit I offer up this piece.
The hetero/mono-normative world we live in makes a very sharp distinction between sexual and non sexual relationships. The same distinction is made between romantic and non romantic relationships where the physical and sexual is assumed and implied in the romantic relationship.
The ace/aro community turns these dichotomies on their head as they are, to simplify the matter, not interested in sexual or romantic relationships depending on where on the sexual/romantic spectrum they may be.
As humans we need community, there are very few human beings that thrive in isolation. This means that ace/aro persons have important and significant relations that are just as important and valid as romantic and sexual relations. These may be live in partners, “dates” (I put date in quotes as I want to signify a person you go out and do things with, without evoking all the hetero and mononormative assumptions that goes with dating) or long distance partners.
Now in the current societal norm this would quickly be labelled (and therefore dismissed or at the very least not be considered as significant) as friendships. As a polyamourous person I have experienced the pain of being dismissed as not signicant by a loved ones family and also the hurt of having somebody who is significant to me be dismissed by my friends and family. If someone is important in ones life, they should be recognised as such, at least by those who know us well
On the one hand, I want to say that friendship is clearly underrated here and we as a society would do well to value friendship relations higher and treat them en par with sexual and romantic relationships. Maybe we should take a hint from queer theologian Elisabeth Stuart, who states that passionate friendships should be a viable alternative to the dyadic exclusiveness of heteronormative monogamy. And perhaps we need to recognise that all categories of relationships are just that: relationships. Some are romantic, some are not. Some are sexual some are not. Over time relationships change and grow and what once was a sexual relationship might now not be anymore. Recognising that the relationship has changed does not have to diminish its significance.
On the other hand there may be a need for new words or at the very least a new understanding of relationships, for the ace/aro communities to be included and celebrated in the rainbow family and in society in general.
Case in point: Anna and me where visiting friends for an evening. They where questioning us on all things poly. I don’t understand, how does it work, don’t you get jealous, what’s the point? All the usual questions. This couple described themselves as monogamous and heterosexual. But then went on to describe their deep and meaningful connections to other people. Some of these connections where described with the word love, and some characterised as just as significant as the marriage relation. Some of these where man-woman and some man-man, that is some where homo and some where hetero, but because there was no sexual component to these relationships, they where “just” friendships. Later in the conversation they said that they had not shared sexual intimacy with one another for the last 20 years. It was at this point I exclaimed, so couldn’t you just say you are poly then?
Two things, first, I am slightly embarrassed to say that my mono/hetero normative conditioning was showing full on here. Not until they confessed to an asexual marriage did I clock how significant these other relationships where. Which just goes to show how deep this societal norm is imbedded. Secondly, this is exactly how ace/aro subverts the norm. By removing the sexual/romantic component the truth that all relationships are indeed relationships and that their significance should not be judged by their sexual or romantic component or lack thereof.
So I need to re/evaluate my intimate relationships (intimate does not necessarily mean sexual or romantic) once again and maybe find ways to recognise celebrate those relationships that have not received the recognition and priority they deserve.
What relationships do you have that are significant even though they may not be romantic and/or sexual? How do you celebrate them? Do you prioritize them? How do you show commitment in those relationships?
Let’s start celebrating all the significant persons in our lives, and make sure they are not dismissed or undervalued by the hetero/mono normativity that is so prevalent in our western culture.