I wanted to talk a little about something that’s personal to me: I’m aromantic and asexual. In case you don’t know what that means, it means I do not experience romantic or sexual attraction. If you want more info, I wrote a post about aromanticism here, I hope that answers most of your questions. What I want to talk about is how romance is portrayed in media and how harmful it can be for aspec people, and share some thoughts on how we can change things.
Aphobia = harmful behavior against aros and aces
Aro = aromantic = not experiencing romantic attraction towards any gender
Ace = asexual = not experiencing sexual attraction towards any gender
Aro-ace = a combination of aromantic and asexual
Aspec = aromantic spectrum + asexual spectrum
Aphobia is everywhere, but barely anyone notices because romance and sex are so intrinsicly woven through most people’s lives and through society. The thing about aphobia is that it’s always the little things, things you wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t paying attention to it, and therefore mostly it only affects aspec people. More often than not books/movies/series have aphobic comments, some more subtle than others, but there are almost always little comments suggesting e.g. that sex/romantic love is what makes us human or that not experiencing feelings is inhuman or that happy endings need romance. This is so incredibly tiring to me as an aromantic asexual, because it invalidates me and my orientation, and if I had to call out every aphobic thing I read, see or hear, I’d need more hours in my day.
Mostly I brush off these comments, because there are too many to get upset over every single one of them, but sometimes they really get to me. For example, when I read A Torch Against The Night, there was a very aphobic line that basically suggested that there was no point in living if you didn’t “let yourself feel attraction” and I just couldn’t deal with that. I experience already a lot of aphobia from the world and internalized aphobia and being faced with sentences like that, that just hurts.
How to fix it
There’s not really something we can constructively do about this, unless we change the entirety of society and the way people think about romance, love and sex. A thing we can do, mostly for authors and creators, is to be aware of the language that we use. It’s about the tiny things. Get an aro and/or ace person to beta-read your work, because they are probably way more aware of it than an allosexual/alloromantic person. Also, realize that love and romance and sex are not a vital part of everyone’s lives, it’s not “what makes us human” (seriously, I’m pretty sure most animals experience those things too, it’s not just humans). People can be happy and single, people can not crave sex, people can not want love or not spend a lot of their time wanting it.
The thing is, that changing these things not only make life for aspec people better, it also has really positive effects for others. Not everyone is in a relationship or wants to be in a relationship (a fact that can or can not be related to aromanticism and is a thing on it’s own), and seeing positive representation of single people, for example, is so validating. There also people out there that don’t want romance or sex because of negative experiences in the past, for example, they have been in an abusive relationship. It’s important that everyone can have a good life regardless of whether you want/experience/have romance/sex.
One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is happy endings. We all know the Disney happily ever afters in which the princess marries the prince and lives happily ever after. But though that is really cute, it’s not the reality for the large majority of people. A lot of stories end with “and they lived happily ever after”. Maybe not in those words, but in a way it does. Love doesn’t fix things, maybe it makes it easier in a way, but it doesn’t ensure life will be perfect.
I was watching the Sense8 finale (no spoilers, I promise), but I was really really hoping for a specific character to end up alone. Not because I didn’t want them to be happy, no, I wanted the opposite: I wanted to be happy and single and proud of it. I didn’t want their problems to be “fixed” by a romance plot line. Do you realize how many characters are “fixed” by giving them romantic story lines? No, probably not.
Let’s take one of the most well-known examples: Sherlock Holmes. In every single iteration of the character, Sherlock is not interested in romance at all. He’s antisocial and rude and has sociopathic tendencies and a complex human being, but he’s also single and happy. Sherlock is morally ambiguous in a lot of ways and probably not the most perfect example of a good person, but I relate to him in a way. But also, in every single iteration, they try to “fix” him by giving him Irene Adler. Don’t get me wrong, I love Irene Adler, but the romance story is only there to make him seem “more human”. This is the most hurtful thing if you think about it, as if romantic interests make us more of a person.
I could give you a list: Kristen Clark (Stitchers), Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), Sun Bak (Sense8), The Doctor (Doctor Who), Walter O’Brien (Scorpion), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Jo March (Little Women), and probably way more, I consider to fall somewhere on the aro and/or ace spectrum. And all, every single one of them, had a significant and interesting storyline but the writers or producers decided to give them a romance plot, just because that gave them a more “human touch” (or at least that’s what I think it is).
Another thing I’d like to address is that a person’s romantic and sexual orientation is something that doesn’t depend on someone’s relationship status, and for that reason, I think it’s just so powerful to have characters of every single orientation to get a happy and single ending. To have them be proud of who they are and not in a relationship. I want happy single gays and happy single bisexuals and happy single lesbians and happy single straights and happy single pansexuals and happy single aros and happy single aces REGARDLESS if they get their typical happily ever after. It’s much easier to give a character a happily ever after if that means you give them a significant other. It’s much harder (and I think more satisfying) to give a character a happily ever after if that trope is avoided.
I wish it was more often that I coulld see a character I look up to and see them be happy and single and not get that romantic happily ever after. I hoped that would happen with Sense8 (I would still highly recommend watching it), but sadly it didn’t. But I’ll keep hoping, because I don’t know what else to do (Yell about it on the internet? yes that too). For now, I just hope that this post brings more awareness and that maybe, just maybe, people will change their ways a little.
Sorry if this post is a little bit more negative than my usual posts, but I thought it was important to talk about these things and try to bring some awareness. And because it’s Pride Month, I thought it would be a great time to talk about these things and start a conversation, so feel free to ask questions, comment, discuss!