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Ace of Hearts

Ace of Hearts

If there’s one thing I’ve found about people like me, it’s that we’re fundamentally misunderstood. I’ll put it all out there: I am short among my peers (a trend which, weirdly enough, appears to actually be reversing somehow), and I’m on the heavier side. The other trait that’s more of a curse than a blessing at the moment is my age; I’m still quite young compared to the audience I assume will read this. The problem is not inherent in any one of those traits separately, but in being all of these things at once. The product of all of these traits working together is supposed to cause something that is, to many, intolerable. Being a short, heavyset, young man is supposed to result in me questioning what prowess I do or do not have. I’m supposed to harbor an absolute and completely irrational anger at the fact that I’m still single. Don’t we all deserve happiness?

Sure, that question is rhetorical in nature, but it still begs to be answered. Of course, the answer is yes — but happiness takes many forms. For many my age, it’s supposed to be found in the pride I take in relationships, or in reveling in the attention and affection of others. The entitlement factor is supposed to be a linchpin to the fact that I’m supposed to be angry. I’ve never been in a relationship, and it’s something that I’ve been constantly pressured to have. Twofold pressure: both societal pressure and also from people close to me. To them, it’s simply not enough that I’m still alone at my age and don’t want a relationship. It’s a toxicity all its own, though it maintains different company. It’s a toxicity that puts pride of place on a robust life based on love, rather than on anything else.  It’s time we permanently change the conversation and destroy both toxic notions, though I would say that the second, by virtue of its prevalence, is the first we need to tackle.

Let’s get this out in the open before we go any further, I’m asexual. What this means in practical terms or in any other terms beyond the wild ones that populate my own head is that I don’t experience sexual attraction. In more complex terms, it simply means the same thing in my case, though for others it has its own particular meaning and its own particular mystique. My own variant is predicated on my repulsion to the physical act as well as to my own personal feelings about it. Now, we asexuals are a very diverse community. There are many of us around the world, each of us having our own definition as to what our feelings are and our own desires for our life. For this particular essay, I will focus on my own experiences. As heartening as they may perhaps be, know that there are many who don’t share the same experiences as my own. While the goal ought to be the best allies we can be to all, I want to acknowledge that our focus is not needed on people who are confident in their identity and who are relatively safe from abuse: we need to focus on those who are still the target of abuse from their own family and the community, over someone like me.

That said, let’s talk about my own experience with how I came to terms with the idea of my asexuality and how everything clicked into place for me. I can say that a friend of mine helped me to figure it out, which is often how we find out things about ourselves. Though I won’t relate the story because of its rather private and personal nature, I can say that it had to do with someone my friend was seeing at the time and my general reaction to all parts of that narrative. His one admonition to me, within the first or second day after my realization, was a) not to worry about it, it isn’t something to be afraid of or ashamed of, it’s simply one of the many unique differences I have, and b) not to close myself off to the idea of a relationship. Not necessarily because of any real desire I’d had either then or now for one, but, at the time, I still wasn’t entirely sure where I was when it came to romantic attraction.

It wasn’t until August of 2017 that I finally settled on my aromanticism, even though I hadn’t the slightest as to what to call it (until about December of last year). The journey from still thinking I was heteroromantic to now deciding I’m aromantic took a very logical step, I think. It stemmed from considering what kind of a relationship I might want, and it never fit any traditional parameters. Where others could have wanted exclusivity, shared finances, shared friends, children, I shortly realized that none of that mattered to me. The only thing I would ever really want from a potential future partner would be that they be willing to go on future vacations with me. So what does aromanticism mean? In simple terms, it means that I don’t feel and am not interested in romantic attraction. As I described it to a friend, that warm and fuzzy feeling when you see your significant other….I don’t feel that, nor do I want to. I know there are aromantic people who have relationships that are based solely on an emotional connection and not on any romantic feeling — so-called QPPs or Queer Platonic Partnerships — but I have categorically ruled one out for myself. Particularly given my religious convictions, I find it would be the complete antithesis of everything I’ve ever known, and also, I find I prefer solitude.

Now that I’ve talked about my own identities at some length, let’s talk about why I’m talking about them here and now. This week stands out to me in the pantheon of weeks, especially since last year, when I was still very uncomfortable with the idea of being anything other than heterosexual and heteroromantic. This week, if you weren’t aware, is Asexual Awareness Week. Now while many view this as an opportunity to come out of the closet and generally show their pride in being who they are, no matter what their romantic attraction is, the main purpose of this week is not that. The main purpose of this week is all about the creation of a public discourse which normalizes asexuality and makes people aware of it as an actual orientation that is entirely possible in the normal pantheon of attractions out there. While the week shifts from year to year, it is typically the third full week of October, and indeed it is so this year (technically from October 20 to October 27). So, what are the problems with this week? Well, none are inherent in the actual orientation or in its expression, but rather with creating awareness and respect among those outside of the community. There are three main problems: American culture, the simple wide diversity inside of the orientation itself, and finally, the lack of existing infrastructure that make this week a challenge, and all are reasons this week is needed, for people like myself and others.

First, American culture plays a huge part in the hurdles to Asexual Awareness Week. On the cultural and societal side of things is the emphasis on what many of us would deem hook-up culture, embodied by dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, et al. The problem with these is that they perpetuate a culture in which the physical act of sex is more emphasized than at any other time in our history. Where fifteen years ago, hook-up culture was more embodied in the local bar scene or at parties, nowadays it’s encapsulated in the internet. This contributes to asexual people’s difficulties by continuing to promulgate the very same structures which made our lives harder in the first place. To be clear, I have no problems with people on any site; their personal choices are simply none of my business. However, the American obsession with these sites, and with hooking up more generally, certainly doesn’t contribute anything meaningful. Another aspect of American culture has to actually do with that particular obsession of young right-wing culture warriors, Tumblr. The onerous discourse that arises in response to the free expression of typically feminist and left-leaning political thought is not only harmful to asexuals, it’s also harmful to all other LGBTQ+ people. Let me explain, the bogeyman term of “Tumblrina” has basically been appended to anyone who believes in romantic, gender, and sexual diversity beyond what is openly available. Some of my own friends embrace this toxic rhetoric, not realizing that it’s the same homophobia and transphobia they claim not to have. What American culture does is denigrate those outside the pale of LGB, easily the three most recognizable communities and also disparate as well. The hurdle here is not necessarily “fixing” American culture, as much as it is in convincing broader American culture that we are here, we are significant, and we matter. As has been proven, if you can win the culture battle, you can win just about any structural war.

Second, it seems that under the umbrella of asexuality, there is a multitude of variety. This is not a problem in and of itself, just as the mere existence of Tinder is not a problem; rather, it gives voice to a diversity that is inherently there, even if we didn’t necessarily vocalize it. One particular Instagram account I follow, justaroacethings, is administered and overseen by five female aroaces (shorthand for aromantic asexual), two non-binary aroaces (one I’m assuming is non-binary, since they make no preference that I’ve seen between they/them pronouns and she/her pronouns), and one biroace (shorthand for biromantic asexual). The thing that the managers of this account have learned to embrace — especially as the account has grown from a few hundred followers to, as of the moment I write this, seven thousand four hundred and ninety-two  —  is the diversity that’s inside of the asexual community. While their main focus has been and always will be on aromantic asexuals, they still regularly post about other identities that fall under the umbrella of asexuality and, as they’ve stated on many occasions, their dms are open and they’ll answer basically any question a person has on their Tellonym page. Other accounts meant to promote awareness, acceptance, and the diversity of the asexual community are run by another disparate cast of characters; a panromantic asexual runs another account I follow called positively.ace. My point here is this: the asexual community needs awareness, yes, but it’s hard to do so when the community is so different inside of itself. It’s to our betterment that we have diversity and lots of it, but when there’s no standard definition that everyone can point to and say that this is it, it’s certainly harder to share the message of acceptance.

Finally, perhaps the greatest challenge not only to societal awareness of asexuality and thus to Asexual Awareness Week, but also to asexuals in general is the general lack of infrastructure that’s out there for us to draw on. I get it, this is probably the same trope that all sexual and romantic minorities have, but there’s a point here, especially when the existing infrastructure as regards to sexual and romantic orientation (dating apps, social media, etc.) is a bleak deal for asexuals anyway. What I mean when I say we need representation is that we definitely need someone besides David Jay to articulate a message. We need a new and different set of leaders.

Luckily, there have been some attempts made in this direction in the last few years, noticeably with the launch of The Asexual, a journal launched by a two-spirit gay aroace (remember the QPPs I mentioned earlier — the appendage of gay here is yet another descriptive term, in this case it denotes that they are solely willing to enter into QPPs with men) by the name of Michael Paramo. Michael’s journal is a forum for asexual artists, writers, and I assume anyone with an abiding interest in the community to submit work which reflects on and critically analyzes the experiences of asexual people both personally and inside of our society. Outside of that, as yet, very small quarterly, there is very little in the critical realm which solely focuses on us for purposes other than that of the purely medical or psychological or psychiatric — and even that work is disparate. In the cultural realm, there is David Jay’s signature foundation which does its part to help spread awareness, educate about, and bring about acceptance of asexuality. If you’ve heard of asexuality before, it might be that you’ve heard of AVEN. AVEN, though, does very little marketing and very little outreach outside of traditionally queer spaces to my knowledge — thus mitigating any effect it might have on the general public. Sure, AVEN has social media, but social media is only effective when one is willing to work to build up a brand and…that’s not what AVEN has done outside of traditionally LGBTQ+ spaces already. The general point here is that infrastructure for asexual awareness, acceptance, and education of other people is simply not there. It’s yet another barrier to a historically marginalized community. The sooner we realize this, and begin to build up the infrastructure to help with our case, the better we’ll all be. All any marginalized group has ever wanted is acceptance, and if that’s too much to ask, equality and equity — the future — is not our credo, our credo is really that of stagnation and the status quo.

As for what you can do to help with Asexual Awareness Week and generally with the asexual community, my best advice to you is to listen to our experiences and provide a sympathetic ear. Here’s three general points to consider:

1) Do not assume that every asexual is inherently childish just because they’re aromantic, and don’t assume that every asexual is in the closet because they presently identify as asexual. As has been communicated by virtually every LGBTQ+ corner of the Internet I’ve come across, labels are fluid. The goal is not to find words that sound nice together, but rather to express what you feel. And no identity in regards to sexual or romantic orientation is invalid.

2) Treat us with the same respect you would any other LGBTQ+ person. We’re different than them (and my imagined reader) in that we don’t feel attraction, but that does not make us any less worthy of your respect than anyone else. We are not a group of people who do this to cause a stir or create a fuss. We are a group of people who know what we are.

3) Educate yourself and educate others. In addition to listening to our experiences, learning the terminology and working to help us spread awareness and acceptance of our identity is a) probably the single most important and affirming step you can take and b) also the step that will do the most good. No one is saying that you need to be a cheerleader or that you need to have 100% knowledge of everyone and everyone’s experiences. That’s simply not possible. At the very least, though, shutting down discourse which denigrates us, and working for us by educating others when they have questions or concerns, will do a bevy of good.

If we can counteract the three challenges I’ve described — American focus on hookup culture, working to embrace our diversity while also being as concise as possible about definitions, relative to the inclusivity of romantic orientations, and building our infrastructure to get our message out — we might not need Asexual Awareness Week in the future. I remain hopeful, but it’s entirely predicated on the ideas of acceptance, respect, and education.

As for myself, I mentioned that I’m an aromantic asexual, though I don’t view this as a challenge or an impediment to living a perfectly normal life and the one I desire. Granted, coming out and fully being able to fully stand on my own two feet proudly as an aromantic asexual cis man is a step that’s going to be hard, but I’m not worried about it at all. I know that at the end of the day, I’m no different than anybody else and I’m simply someone making it one day to the next, working forward to fulfill my goals and dreams. Here’s hoping it includes a bright future for my fellow aces too.

Photo by NereaMG Ace of Hearts


Guest Author

Jonathan Shade is a pseudonym.

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18 thoughts on “Ace of Hearts

  1. I really appreciate this piece, also. I’ve known a couple dozen asexual people over the years (part of the reason I tend to use the QUILTBAG acronym rather than the more common ones), covering pretty much the whole spectrum of the diversity you reference above – but of course I never want to push and pry into their orientation beyond affirming it and listening to what they choose to tell me. So I still have plenty of gaps in my understanding, even beyond what will just always be there because I’m not ace or aro myself.

    I’m grateful for your willingness to tell us about your own experiences.

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    • It’s also perfectly ok that you don’t know everything about everyone’s experiences and I would say it takes a lot more courage to admit that than to admit your own. As for the whole QUILTBAG vs. LGBT+, etc. debate, I tend to prefer LGBTQ+ for two reasons: 1) because the + implies other options that take other letters beyond those eight (ESPECIALLY the P for pansexuals and polysexuals) and 2) because anything that includes LGBT is more easily recognizable than QUILTBAG.

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      • oh, I don’t agree with that first comment about courage! I’ve been admitting ignorance since I could walk, it took me until 17 to come out as bisexual and nearly 40 to come out as genderfluid (well, I *TRIED* when I was four but that went about as well as you can imagine it going in a dysfunctional family in the early 80s). different for everyone, I’m sure, but for me admitting I don’t know things comes pretty easily. I’ll even do it when I do know things, just to fend people off, at times :).

        as for your acronym preference, I didn’t mean to criticize and your approach makes sense. personally I try to use a different acronym almost every time I use one to refer to the community at large, and then trust in people to make contextual sense out of it. so far people either don’t notice or don’t care. TBH when I use one that people don’t quite grasp in person or among good friends, they usually ask me to tell them what all the letters mean, which is an opportunity to raise awareness. Online I sometimes hear “So I googled that acronym and…”. Sometimes a little friction can go a long way to raise awareness.

        [And if I’m really even more honest than that, I must admit my fondness for QUILTBAG (or QUILTBAG+, depending) is partly due to coming up in the 90s and hearing EVVVVVVVVVVVVER so many masc cis gay men disdaining it purely for reasons of its ‘femmeness’, something it was still very popular for masc cis gay men to disdain back then. Not as in ‘I prefer not to use femme names for myself’ but as in ‘Our Community As A Whole Shall No Longer Be Seen as Femme in Any Way and You, Non-Man, Are Part of The Problem’ internalized misogyny stuff.]

        No better way to make me stubborn about something than to disdain it, so they set it pretty firmly in my vocabulary.

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  2. A lot of us learn about things we don’t experience first-hand from fiction. Is there a fictional portrayal of asexuality anyone would recommend as true-to-life? (The only one I know of at all is Todd in Bojack Horseman.)

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    • This is another great question! I don’t quite know if there are many good ones. I have never watched BoJack Horseman, I don’t have Netflix, though from what I’ve heard, it’s quite good. As for other characters, Jughead from the Archie comics is supposdely canon-aroace, though the show erased that identity (still is in the comics though). Though as for other characters, I’ve got no clue. I don’t watch much television or movies and I haven’t seen much excitement in the online community, so I don’t know. From what I can tell, representation is very mininal.

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  3. Thanks for writing this. I know very little about asexuality, and I appreciate your taking the time to relate your experiences and to let us know some of what information is out there.

    I’ll also ditto Mike Schilling’s question and would be interested to know if you know of any good (or adequate) fictional representations.

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  4. This is an orientation that is talked about very little and probably very misunderstood or not understood at all by many (I count myself among them).
    Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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  5. If I may ask, how does asexuality come up in normal conversation? Do people ask about it? Do you believe it is something you need to tell people in order to answer other questions they might have some right to ask? How do people react? Hostile? Uncomprehending? Curious? Sympathetic? Do people seem to perceive it as a “problem” that needs solving. or just unusual in a purely statistical sense?

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    • It doesn’t often, mainly due to the fact that life for me and my particular group of friends has shifted away from the obsession (if there ever was one) over our crushes. As for what responses I’ve received, largely ambivalent to positive. Nothing negative yet though, which I’m very glad to report. I tend to bring it up when I feel the time is right, for one of my friends it was a couple days after I met him, for others it took a long while. I’m always open to telling people, but in many instances it does more to preemptively answer questions (other than my experiences) rather than leading to some questions I would feel uncomfortable answering.

      As for whether people consider it a problem, there are some corners of the internet which do (mostly due to their perception of it as an impossibility), largely because they perceive it as closet homophobia or just repression of sexuality. Statistically though, we’re rather small, the suggestion has been something around 1% of the population. (Though unless people are made aware of the definition of the term, they likely wouldn’t identify with it.) Therefore, it is statistically significant and not entirely unusual, it may just be a bit more rare than other orientations. Though as to whether it’s actually “unusual” at all will probably be figured out in the future. We just don’t know much about the actual statistics of the LGBTQ+ community in the larger population, I’m afraid. Maybe one day we’ll know, though I would wager it’s not all super statistically unusual.

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  6. I join the chorus of my peers praising and thanking you for the glimpse into the ace experience.

    You don’t indicate where you are from, but if I may ask whether it’s an urban, suburban, or rural setting that would sort of color my vision of your experience. That’s because I recall a whole lot of superficial tolerance atop aloof disregard from urban areas, a whole lot of suspicion that with great effort might be overcome from my times living in rural areas, and a whole lot of need to categorize and rationalize and just plain misunderstanding things outside the traditional social rubrics from my time in suburban areas. What’s the blend of those waters do you feel you’ve had to navigate?

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    • I live in a town that can be broadly deemed “suburban”, but actually predates the city we’re a suburb of. Either way, the main headwaters I’ve faced are not really suspicion, people took me at word when I told them. As for the faux tolerance, if there’s been any discourse among the people I know, I wouldn’t know it. Though I would say the outright homophobia and transphobia of people is the biggest barrier I see. It’s not something I can say with 100% is proof that they don’t accept me, but it does make one wonder that if they’ll poke fun at transgender people and other LGBTQ+ folks if they don’t feel the same about me.

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  7. Fascinating post Jonathan Shade, thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m curious as to if you could define what you’d say the asexual community’s “asks” a bit more? You defined 3 challenges:
    -American focus on hookup culture
    -Working to embrace diversity while also being as concise as possible about definitions, relative to the inclusivity of romantic orientations
    and building our infrastructure to get the message out
    I’m curious if you could elaborate more on what addressing those would look like policy wise. What would success look like?

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    • I would honestly say that policy wise my big goal is one that really does nothing to remedy the others but because this goal is so overwhelming to the overall goal of tolerance and acceptance it outweighs any attack on hookup culture. That would be getting the word out by including asexuality as a protected orientation under sexual orientation and gender identity statutes (since they often go hand-in-hand) and eventually including them under federal anti-discrimination statutes in the future.

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  8. Thank you for the perspective.

    I’m going to follow up on North’s comment and elaborate on my critiques.

    Having read more literature out of fat acceptance and related communities (BoPo/HAES, etc.), I’m very familiar with the framework of the first problem. Where I can understand how beauty standards and a general negative attitude towards fat people based on morality and health considerations, especially younger fat women, contribute towards attempts to lose weight that will leave them physically and psychologically broken, based on your feedback, I’m not sure where “dating culture”, an interesting euphemism for what people have been doing since forever, presents any more of an impediment than the fact that you represent a sliver of the population.

    I suppose this is an attempt to explain it:

    The problem with these is that they perpetuate a culture in which the physical act of sex is more emphasized than at any other time in our history. Where fifteen years ago, hook-up culture was more embodied in the local bar scene or at parties, nowadays it’s encapsulated in the internet. This contributes to asexual people’s difficulties by continuing to promulgate the very same structures which made our lives harder in the first place. To be clear, I have no problems with people on any site; their personal choices are simply none of my business. However, the American obsession with these sites, and with hooking up more generally, certainly doesn’t contribute anything meaningful.

    In other words, you have no problem with other people’s business unless other people’s choices either contribute nothing meaningful or make decisions to romantically hook up which contributes to your “difficulties”, which I can only ascertain as your inability to find suitable partners due to the fact that they want different things than you. While I’m sympathetic to your concerns, very much so, it’s the same bait and switch hypocrisy employed by the FA crowd when they claim that your body is your business but if you choose to intentionally lose weight, you are further contributing to diet culture, oppressive structures, etc. etc.

    Also, your argument suggests that we can treat things like physical attraction, sex drive and other things that drive romantic and intimate relationships as social constructs that can be waived away with the right social constructs. What’s your position on the arguments that suggest these things are innate or biological?

    I suppose I could categorically reject the entire culture framework but that would take too long to explain so I’ll leave it alone for now.

    This:

    The hurdle here is not necessarily “fixing” American culture, as much as it is in convincing broader American culture that we are here, we are significant, and we matter. As has been proven, if you can win the culture battle, you can win just about any structural war.

    You are here. You matter. You are significant. I respect you and your right to exist.

    To your second point, I think that is something you would be better at addressing than any of us. Besides, most people would look at diversity as a good thing because it brings more people into the community.

    To your third point, I’m puzzled because other activists seem to get their messages out in social media just fine. This:

    Sure, AVEN has social media, but social media is only effective when one is willing to work to build up a brand and…that’s not what AVEN has done outside of traditionally LGBTQ+ spaces already.

    I think you just solved your own problem, no?

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    • Not really, no. When I stated that AVEN had failed to build up a brand outside of LGBTQ+ places, I meant that if I polled 100 random people, I doubt a majority could tell me what it was. Though if I limited it to a random sample of LGBTQ+ individuals, they probably could. The issue is a) increasing awareness of the orientation at large and not just in the existing framework of the LGBTQ+ community and also working to fix the systemic issues that require us to have an Asexual Awareness Week and Aromantic Awareness Week

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