I remember being in sixth grade and suddenly realizing that everybody else had a crush of some sort. Whether they were crushing on a celebrity or someone in our grade, it was like a switch had turned on in my peers that I lacked.
I’ve always considered romance uninteresting. It baffled me that so many of my friends were suddenly less interested in spending time in the library reading books and more interested in gossiping around cafeteria tables. Not wanting to feel left out, one day I decided to pick someone to have a crush on.
I ended up picking the only other Black person I shared classes with. I’m sure he was nice, but in reality, I didn’t know anything about him other than that he seemed like someone I was supposed to have a crush on.
Little did I know, my experience was actually very common among asexuals and aromantics, according to Smith College.
Healthline writes, “If you identify as asexual, you may experience a little sexual attraction or none at all.” About 1-4% of the population is asexual, according to Psycom. Though this may seem like quite a simple explanation, one’s relationship with their asexuality can differ from person to person. There is no one way to be asexual.
Another important part of my identity is being aromantic. Aromanticism is defined by Oxford Languages as “experiencing little or no romantic attraction to anyone; not having romantic feelings.”
The asexual and aromantic communities can teach people so much about love and sex, and it would be beneficial to teach more about our existence. Not only for kids like me, who are just waiting to learn about the word for their experiences, but also for non-asexuals and non-aromantics.
Though it’s obvious in hindsight that I’ve always been this way, as a child I simply presumed that romance, and eventually sex, was not only a norm, but a requirement. Nobody taught me that asexuality existed, and being told it was an option could have saved me quite a bit of headache. Instead, I discovered the term asexuality and aromanticism through social media sites like Tumblr and Instagram.
For me, the community of people that fall along the asexuality spectrum, collectively referred to as “aces,” felt like home. In many ways, discovering that my experiences were normal, and that I didn’t have to feel broken for not desiring things our society puts on pedestals, was an extremely freeing moment.
Asexuality is commonly confused for celibacy, which isn’t the case. Celibacy is a choice, while asexuality isn’t. There are many reasons why an asexual person may be sexually active, like being in a relationship with a non-asexual. Another misconception is the idea that asexuality always comes with aromanticism, and vice versa. Though there is a large population of asexuals who are aromantic — about 25% of us, according to the National Library of Medicine, myself included — a majority of asexuals experience romantic attraction.
Being aromantic, or “aro,” doesn’t mean a person can’t experience love. For example, I feel deep love for my family, friends, hobbies, and the world around me. I just don’t experience romantic attraction. That doesn’t make my love any less real or intense than anyone else’s.
Some misconceptions are more offensive. For example, if you ever meet an aromantic, I would steer clear of telling them that they “just haven’t met the right one yet.” To me, that sentiment is very condescending, and it isn’t likely to go over well. Another actively harmful stereotype is the idea that asexuality or aromanticism are medical issues. The organization Mental Health America reports that “until 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM, considered a lack of sexual desire to be a mental health condition.”
Asexuality and aromanticism, though lesser known than other sexual and romantic orientations, illuminate some fascinating things about the way we experience the world.
One of the main things asexuality and aromanticism have contributed to queer studies is the split attraction model, developed to account for how “sexual and romantic orientations are not the same for some people,” according to the Princeton Gender + Sexuality Resources Center. Though this model is mostly used for asexual and aromantic folks, it can be extended to people who are non-asexual and non-aromantic, like biromantic homosexuals.
The most important thing I’ve learned from being a part of the aro-ace community is that it’s fundamentally okay to not fit in.
The experiences and worldviews of asexuals and aromantics like me are valid and important. Not everybody needs to fall into the idea of “normal” — that’s what queerness is all about. I love being aromantic, and I love being asexual, and I’m proud of both.