For Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week 2021, we collaborated with AUREA to create a collection of resources to help us understand aromanticism better. We also created an interview series with aromantics. This is one of the four fantastic identities we met.
We were able to chat with the lovely Vesta during Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week to learn more about what aromanticism is and their lived experiences.
Hi Vesta, thank you so much for sharing your experiences as an aro individual with us! To start, what are your pronouns?
My pronouns are she/her.
Where do you feel you belong in the LGBTQIA+ community?
I belong in the aromantic community and the asexual community. I also use the label ‘pan’, not in the context of pansexual but more so panromantic or panalterous. I use the micro-label 'quoiromantic' as well, which means I feel very confused by romance. I would engage in a hypothetical romantic relationship in more or less the same way as I would with close friendships. However, since both ‘panalterous’ and ‘quoiromantic’ aren't well-known beyond the aromantic community, I prefer using the label ‘arospec’.
One way to explain the identities of the aromantic spectrum in short is that we are people with unconventional or complicated relationships with concepts of romance, romantic relationships, and maybe love.
Some of our readers might be confused about how someone could identify as aro and panromantic, would you be able to describe how these identities can exist together?
Many people on the aromantic spectrum experience some degree of romantic attraction and/or experience it conditionally, so they may use a second label to describe who they may be attracted towards. It can be a helpful way to indicate to others that they may be interested in partnerships of sorts. For example, the arospec identity ‘demiromantic’ may be presented as a prefix in the identity ‘demi-biromantic’. This individual’s romantic orientation is both demi and bi.
When did you first start to think you may be aro?
I was questioning for a year when I was 15. It was a very frustrating process. I was 16 when I realized I was ace, but it took me almost three more years to explore my romantic orientation. I only discovered that I was arospec a year ago.
I had used the label ‘panromantic’ prior to that, but something about it didn’t feel completely comfortable with me. So last year I read a lot of personal essays and articles about aspec people online. Some asexual aromantics, some allosexual aromantics, then I read about their experiences, and a lot of that resonated with me. I realized I had misunderstood the aromantic community to some extent, which is sad. You’d like to have a really good understanding of these identities through reading definitions, but personally, it was a lot easier to understand through reading other people’s experiences.
"Frankly, I believe people even in the wider LGBTQ+ community are all quite tired of being told that we don’t know ourselves well enough to know who we are."
What is one of the bigger misconceptions around aromanticism and asexuality?
I’d say that many people assume ‘all aces don’t want sex’ or that we’re all repulsed by it. This isn’t true. For both communities, there are very diverse narratives, experiences, and preferences. Some do, some don’t. Some enjoy it, some don’t.
For aromanticism, people may misunderstand that we don’t ‘love’ as deeply as other people and that we can’t feel love or emotions like other people. In a society deep-rooted in amatonormativity, romantic love is often placed at the top of a hierarchy of different types of love.
A common misconception is that aro(spec) people lack that type of love at the top and only capable of ‘second-best’ or less important types of love and relationships. But aros don’t necessarily put romantic love on a pedestal that they can’t reach. I personally view the different types of love as dishes at a dining table, varying in amounts of food and flavors. I don’t know if romantic love is a dish on my table, but why would that matter if I don’t know what it tastes like? I don’t feel like I’m missing out or lacking something when I care more about the other dishes taking up space on my table.
Have you felt any pushback for the way you identify?
I’d say most people I’m out to have been very supportive. I’m mostly only out to my close friends and people online, but not to my family and general acquaintances. I personally would only feel comfortable coming out to someone knowing that they’d be supportive, understanding, and respectful of the identity. I have experienced aphobia from exclusionists within the LGBTQI+ community online, which is a bit sad, but they are a loud minority of the community trying to gain attention. I am aware that the majority of that community is very accepting.
Would you have any advice on what attributes to look for in a ‘safe person’ to share your identity with?
I think, for acquaintances or friends that one already knows, they could approach them with the topics around romantic relationships or romance. Maybe ask for their opinions about alternative types of relationships or people who aren’t as interested in romantic relationships. They could discuss aro characters in the media. They could talk about those characters as a starting point, which might be an easier way to start this conversation.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
I think generally it’s the pressure and assumption that I do want a romantic relationship, that it’s one of the milestones I should achieve, maybe at a certain age. Amatonormativity plays a great role in this. There are a lot of expectations to have a romantic life partnership and the assumption that everyone wants romance and understands it. That type of pressure is really suffocating, especially if friends around you are in long-term relationships. There is a fear that my friends would eventually abandon me and neglect our relationships, the feeling that friendships can never be as important as one’s romantic relationship.
There is also the internalized arophobia, fighting against the notion that this identity isn’t real or doesn’t matter as much as other queer identities. I think for both ace and aro identities, the main narrative for internalized aphobia is that we’re not ‘enough’, we don’t ‘experience’ or ‘feel’ enough. That we don’t belong in the wider community even. For example, there is a focus on the phrase ‘love is love’. Not necessarily everyone relates to that, and some people feel love is non-applicable to them, so sometimes the phrase ‘love is love’ can be quite alienating. I personally like the phrase, though. My interpretation of it is that all types of love are still love, therefore they are important to me.
What are things that the LGBTQIA+ do to better support aro people?
Be more open-minded and respectful. Not everyone wants romance or experiences romantic attraction the same way you do. Some of us may opt for other types of life partnerships. The world is very diverse, and as long as people try to understand, that would be much appreciated, as long as there is respect and acceptance. There is no expectation to completely understand the aro experience and all the identities associated with that, even understanding a little is okay.
What advice do you have for someone who is still questioning their sexuality/gender identities?
Engaging with other people in the community is a good way to start. They can ask questions (in a respectful manner of course). There are many people who are willing to chat and to help out with any questions or doubts. I learn better by learning from personal experiences instead of just reading a glossary of identities. I would also recommend exploring queer media, seeing queer representation in the media is very important.
How can you respectfully approach someone about aromanticism and their experience?
I think the easiest way is by saying “I’d like to know more, are you comfortable discussing that with me?” It would be good to also reassure them that they’re not asking about that person’s experiences if they’re not comfortable, but that you want to learn more about the general identity.
Also, don’t ask questions that doubt one’s identity and avoid invalidating it, for example: “maybe you just haven’t interacted with that many guys our age yet?” “how do you know you’re x if you haven’t tried yet?” Frankly, I believe people even in the wider LGBTQ+ community are all quite tired of being told that we don’t know ourselves well enough to know who we are.
Any places / websites you can recommend?
For resources - AUREA for sure! Their masterlist of other resources is helpful too.
There is also the forum ‘Arocalypse’, which a lot of people use to discuss topics that matter to them and meet other aros.