Combating the stigma against asexuals and aromantics

Hao-Han Pan | Contributing Writer

In the wake of Valentine’s Day, I would like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly all right for the holiday to be all about the candy—in fact, for some people, it’s always been about the candy.

Though they have been largely overshadowed by other events, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns have been steadily gaining visibility on the national stage. In this age, everyone is familiar with what homosexuality and bisexuality are, even if their opinions may differ. However, within the LGBT community lies a minority within the minority. In the drive to let people freely love whom they love and do what they do, those uninterested in sex or romantic love all too often fall by the wayside.

I’m not talking about celibacy or abstinence—i.e., willfully refraining from sex and/or marriage. Nor am I talking about people who are single. I’m talking, rather, about asexuals and aromantics. No, not amoebas or perfumes—people who do not experience, respectively, sexual or romantic attraction.

Unlike the orientations of the wider LGBT movement, asexuality and aromanticism are not well known. As such, a wide array of myths and misconceptions surround each orientation, including but not limited to:

Asexuality/aromanticism is a choice. False. Being asexual or aromantic is not a choice any more than being gay or straight is a choice.

If asexual people have sex, that means they aren’t asexual. False. Asexuality means the lack of sexual attraction, not activity. There are many reasons why asexuals may have sex—to have children, to bond with non-asexual spouses or even simply because they enjoy the physical sensation of it, even if they’re not attracted to their partners.

Asexuality is the same thing as aromanticism, and vice versa. False. Sexual and romantic attraction correlate in most people and are often equated in popular culture—however, it is entirely possible for an asexual to be in a romantic relationship and an aromantic to experience sexual attraction.

Asexuality/aromanticism is caused by a physical problem, e.g., an imbalance in hormones. False. Asexuals and aromantics have perfectly normal hormone balances and, barring the usual problems plaguing society today, are in perfectly good health. No one knows what causes a person to be asexual/aromantic, any more than anyone knows what causes a gay person to be gay.

The most damaging misconceptions, though, come from the cultural stigma placed upon not being involved in sex or romantic love. One needs only to consider the word “virgin” and all its connotations, which, like fruit, only degrade further with age. Or the word “spinster”—or, in modern times, le meme “foreveralone.jpg.” Or the mother who asks, “Have you found a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?” Getting into a romantic relationship, the first kiss, the first “hookup”—all rites of passage that, if not passed, shut one out of “proper” adulthood.

To delay these rites is pitiful, though understandable—to opt out of them entirely and say, “No thank you, pass the chocolate” is inconceivable. With an entire genre of popular media—and even more subplots—devoted to romance, with sex at the center of countless conversations, with statements like “Love conquers all” and themes like “Love redeems,” it’s all too easy for asexual or aromantic people to feel alienated, to believe they are somehow broken or less than human for being who they are.

And sadly, society has often been all too happy to confirm those feelings. The natural inclination is to believe that because it is much easier for asexuals and aromantics to blend in with society—a large part of why these orientations are relatively unknown to the general public—so people with these orientations have little to worry about. However, flying under the radar doesn’t mean you won’t be shot down. Asexuals who choose to come out about their orientation—often in response to being pressured into relationships or sex—face accusations of “trying to be special,” hasty diagnoses of being “broken and unhappy,” even threats of “corrective” rape. Aromantics, thanks to countless myths about being “promiscuous” or “shallow,” fare little better. And the hate, sadly, comes not only from straight individuals but also from the wider LGBT community, who are especially prone to accusing asexuals and aromantics of pandering for attention.

I could continue on this tangent. I could cite a study conducted by researchers at Brock University, which found that people of all sexual stripes are more likely to discriminate against asexuals than any other sexual minority. I could quote the vitriol hurled at asexual and aromantic bloggers who ask not for special rights but for tolerance and understanding. But instead, I’ll explain why I started on this tangent:

I know many asexuals and aromantics. I know a doll maker, an artist, a writer of stories about strange and fantastical worlds, and I know many others. None of these people have ever experienced sexual or romantic attraction. But they are happy, they have dreams, they love in ways less recognized, less flaunted by society, but equally profound. We have had disagreements, and we have had nights where we stayed up until four in the morning consoling each other. They are as human as you and I, and anyone else.

Perhaps it is time to focus less upon whom people romantically love, and love to do—even if that whom is “no one”—and more upon who people themselves are.

(A Wash. U. group for asexuality now exists. For more information, email [email protected])

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