People Who Are Aromantic (Aro): Are They Targets of Bigotry?
Some people feel free to mock aromantics or write them out of existence
Asexual (Ace) and aromantic (Aro). Those concepts were barely recognizable to anyone just a decade or so ago. Now, both ideas are making their way into our cultural conversations. Asexuality got more attention, more quickly. By 2017, enough scientific research and theorizing on asexuality had been published to support a review article. It dispelled early doubts, and concluded that asexuality is a sexual orientation and not, as some skeptics had suggested, a sexual dysfunction. Three years later, in 2020, Angela Chen published her important book, ACE: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex.
I hope aromanticism will soon get more attention, too. This week, February 21 through February 27, is Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, and I have been writing about the topic. At my Living Single blog at Psychology Today, I wrote about compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory sexuality, compulsory romanticism, and compulsory coupling, including basic definitions. I also discussed whether people who are single at heart are more likely to be asexual or aromantic and less likely to be heterosexual, drawing from the answers from more than 8,000 people to my Single at Heart quiz. Here, I want to talk about casual bigotry against asexuals, and especially aromantics.
The idea that some people just don’t feel sexually attracted to other people is very much at odds with the prevailing view that those feelings are part of human nature — a view that is regarded as a universal truth, even though it is culturally and historically inflected. That discordance unnerves some people. They don’t like it when their worldviews are threatened. For that reason and many others, they just might stereotype, marginalize, and even discriminate against asexuals. There is systematic research documenting just such biases against asexuals, and offering some insights as to what that bigotry is about.
With regard to aromanticism, though, we are farther behind. If there are any review articles or systematic studies of prejudice, I haven’t found them. I have, though, been collecting anecdotes. They don’t stand in for scientific studies. They are more like hints about what may be happening, and signs that we may need to be on alert and find out more.
Two Examples of Casual Bigotry against Aromantics
One bigoted comment in particular took my breath away:
“(There is one current area of research into the idea of a-romanticism — those who have no romantic attraction at all. This disturbs me because I imagine someone who has never daydreamed about anyone or never stared at their phone willing it to flash up with a certain person’s number is nothing short of sociopathic.)”
This author is calling people who are aromantic sociopaths. Her parenthetical remark wasn’t in some random obscure blog post, but in a 2014 book put out by a respectable publishing house that was probably vetted by multiple editors before it went to print. Maybe the editors thought it was just a funny quip.
I got out my red pen and wrote a great big X in the margin next to that quote. Then I set it aside, at least for the moment. There was a whole lot to like in the rest of the book. So much so, that I invited the author to write a guest post for me on another site where I blog.
That was in 2019, five years after she had equated aromantics with sociopaths. I was hoping, maybe even assuming, she had gotten past that. The parenthetical aside in her book was in a section on asexuals, in which she was not condemning them — though she did think that all asexuals were romantics. But instead, her guest post included this:
“I loved the idea of romantic love — who doesn’t enjoy that fuzzy feeling when getting to know someone you fancy the pants off?!”
It is the sort of remark that assumes everyone feels the same way she does about romance. It denies the very existence of aromantics.
A Different Way Forward
I think you could say that my life’s work is about making space for people who have been erased. I want them to have the respectability they have always deserved but have rarely been accorded. Too often they have instead been stereotyped, stigmatized, ostracized, or simply rendered invisible. I want to make my case not just with my own personal opinions but with evidence (for example, social science research, when it is not biased against those very groups) and with the stories of other people who have lived these experiences.
Intellectually, I understand why people are bigoted about aromantics, asexuals, and single people — especially happy single people and people who choose to stay single. But at another level, I just don’t get it.
Romantic imagery is pervasive. It can also be extraordinarily sappy, clichéd, and over-the-top. Isn’t it at least a little bit awesome that some people aren’t into that, and maybe don’t even pretend to be?
Same for asexuality. Is anything more glamorized than sex? To me, that makes people who do not experience sexual attraction, and don’t fake it either, admirable.
And, of course, to all my fellow single people — especially those living single happily ever after — kudos to you, too, for living your life out loud, even as marriage continues to be blithely glorified.
[Want to learn more? Take a look at this collection of articles on all sorts of topics relevant to single life. Watch my TEDX talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single.” Check out my website. Find my other stories on Medium here. Disclosure: Links to books may include affiliate links.]