Growing Up Platoniromantic: Alienation & Belonging in the Asexual Community

This is my submission to the December Carnival of Aces, which is being hosted by nerdingoverstuff. This month’s topic is “Alienation & Belonging”.

It is part of my series on Growing Up Platoniromantic.

platoniromantic – unable to distinguish “romantic” from “platonic” feelings and/or experiencing “friendship” and “romance” as the same thing

I’m a member of the asexual community. I know that because “demisexual”, one of the widely recognised sub-labels under the asexual umbrella, describes me. But I’m also platoniromantic, another sub-label whose place within the community is much less well-established. And that’s sad because, of the two, being platoniromantic has been far more important to me.

As a teenager, I realised that my lack of interest in sex made me different from the norm, but in practice it didn’t have a huge impact on my life. It’s not like sex and dating were primary concerns in my peer group. They were important, yes, but they weren’t mandatory, and I never once felt shamed for my lack of participation or pressured into unwanted sexual behaviour. On the other hand, my gift for taking my friendships as seriously as most people take their romantic relationships caused me constant confusion and no end of heartache.

I first discovered AVEN about half-way through undergrad. I was intrigued and thrilled, but I did not immediately join the new community. I could see the importance of asexuality as a descriptor for some people, and I could also see its theoretical potential as a disruptor of erotonormativity. But it wasn’t quite the label I needed. For a while, my loyalty actually lay with a much smaller on-line community for people who valued friendship. More of a peer-support group than an activist organisation, the community was never very lively and only survived a few years. I found myself back at AVEN by default, but I still didn’t feel like I belonged there.

In part, my feelings of alienation came from the lack of vocabulary to describe my own particular brand of aceness. In the case of my sexual orientation, the problem was solved when I discovered the word “demisexual”. But the trouble with being platoniromantic wasn’t just a shortage of labels. Labels can be useful, yes. But many new labels only become necessary because people feel alienated by the existing ones.

Take the vocabulary of romantic orientation. From early on, the AVEN community was divided into two factions: those who experienced romantic attraction and those who didn’t. This distinction carried over into broader ace discourse. Asexual interviewees were quick to reassure people that some asexuals were capable of love – as long as they had a romantic orientation. They could form romantic attachments that made them (almost) exactly like everyone else! Though it came from a good place, this rhetoric actually tended to reinforce amatonormative assumptions about the nature of “love” and the superiority of romantic relationships to platonic ones.

Even the iconography of the ace community was alienating. Two of the earlies asexual symbols (before there was even an asexual flag) were the Ace of Hearts and the Ace of Spades, representing alloromantic and aromantic people, respectively. I really like these symbols and would love to make use of them. Unfortunately, neither one applies to me. The ace symbol for platoniromantic people? It doesn’t exist.

So, what would it take for me to feel a true sense of belonging in the asexual community? My own flag? My own suit? (Diamonds or clubs?) I don’t think another label or symbol is the answer. What I’d appreciate isn’t more, it’s less. Less emphasis on the importance of romantic orientation. Less implication that all attachment can be divided neatly into “romantic” or “non-romantic”. Less assuming that “romance” is a word that all people even understand.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the split-attraction model. I know it’s been very important for some people. And even in my case, it’s at least given me something to define myself against. Without being exposed to the rhetoric of “romantic orientation”, I might never have realised that my own attitude towards romance was different from other people’s.

But I think we also need to acknowledge that the discourse of “romantic attraction” is of limited usefulness. Even among allo- and aromantic aces, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what “romance” actually means. In my experience, ask five different aces to define “romance” and you get five different answers. What this tells me is not just that the allo- and aromantic communities are diverse. It’s that the concept of “romance” is a social construction with little objective relevance. Some people are able to conceptualise their attachments within that construction and some aren’t, but the actual attachments are far more complex and nuanced than just one word. And, while the word has served a purpose, maybe we’re getting to the point where it’s time to move beyond it. Where we can stop putting people in boxes like “alloromantic” and “aromantic”, stop putting feelings in boxes like “romantic” and “platonic”, and celebrate non-sexual love in all its glorious beautiful complexity.

9 thoughts on “Growing Up Platoniromantic: Alienation & Belonging in the Asexual Community

  1. DasTenna says:

    “On the other hand, my gift for taking my friendships as seriously as most people take their romantic relationships caused me constant confusion […]”
    That could´ve been written by me. If I try to imagine my “ideal relationship”, it would look like what many others would consider a very intense friendship that may even include cuddling and kissing. I feel romantically attracted to others, but I can´t live what others consider a romantic relationship to be. It doesn´t feel right to me and for them, it´s too platonic.
    Plus, I´m a bit of a “relationship-anarchist” – to me, a friendship is equally important than a romantic relationship. It´s not a philosophy, it´s what I feel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cassidyadamsnb says:

    I’m an asexual and I was talking to my partner about my labels the other day. Although at first she wanted a set of words to encapsulate my forms of attraction in labels, the conversation ended with me telling her ways I feel about things beyond just the labels because they didn’t fully encompass the way I experience the world. I agree and think it’s important not to give these words as much power as they can carry sometimes. Asexuality opens up a plethora of questions about attraction and sometimes emphasizing these new terms can close off understanding just as much as they foster it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. onlyfragments says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. I usually label myself a queer asexual, with the queer in there because I have no idea how to define my romantic orientation. None of the currently existing labels seem to fit – though at the same time, I also don’t feel I need a specific label anyway. But you’re right, the emphasis on romance being a binary that you either feel or don’t feel is harmful when we can’t even decide what romance means. Not to mention that romantic orientations focus on who you CAN feel romantic feelings for, not who you HAVE felt them for, which just adds more stickiness to the whole thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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