February 17th-23rd is Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week. And we want to make sure and recognize all of our Aro’s out there. And if you are Black and identify as Aromantic or Asexual, then we hope you are really enjoying this week during Black History Month. Celebrating both your history and your orientation recognizes the beautiful makeup of a person’s identity. So in today’s minisode, we want to discuss what it means to be Aromantic and how we can be an ally to the ACEs and ARO’s in our community.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week
Now you probably already noticed we are hinting at Asexuality as we celebrate Aromantics. What is the difference and how can they be tied together? How kind of you to ask. In our Florence Nightingale episode, we discussed Asexuality in-depth – though we did call it AHsexuality for the first half of the episode. We have grown and learned a lot since then.
In this episode, we will do our best to focus as much attention as we can on the Aromantics. However, there is not a lot of information out there around Aromantic history and theory. Most of what one will find when searching has to do with Asexuality.
This is due to the fact that Asexuality was the original, single classification made when researchers began to study so-called abnormal sexual attractions. As such it became an umbrella term that is still used by many is the ACE community (ACE is the nickname for Asexuals).
Over time a more thorough chart of sexual and romantic attractions was formed, breaking down into four main categories: Romantic Sexuals, Romantic Asexuals, Aromantic Sexuals, and Aromantic Asexuals. Each name is pretty self-explanatory once you know the definitions of aromantic and asexual. But we will go through each category in order to further explain.
Another term for this is Alloromantic or Allosexual. For a long time, this was thought of as the only form of sexual attraction. Anyone who varied was considered broken, abnormal, or possibly labeled a tease or simply a jerk. And in truth, Romantic Sexuals do make up the majority of society. That doesn’t make them better or more correct, the same way heterosexuality isn’t better or more correct than homosexuality. Also, this is a good point to remind everyone that sexual attraction is different than sexual orientation. Attraction is one’s sexual and romantic instincts, orientation is who those instincts are directed towards. ACE and ARO (Aromantic) people still have a sexual orientation.
This is where the first step of confusion around Asexuality usually starts. Romance, sex, and intimacy are all different aspects of human desire. They each can fulfill different needs, and some people do not have a need for one or any of these. Romantic Asexuals have little to no desire for sex, while they do desire romance. This does not mean they never have sex. It doesn’t even mean they won’t enjoy sex with a partner they love. It simply means they do not have the biological drive for sex that others may have.
This is basically the flip flop of Romantic Asexuals. Aromantic individuals do not experience romantic attraction, which often also includes intimacy. They may not have the traditional feelings of falling in love, though they still will want companionships and perhaps even a lifelong relationship. And they do have a desire for sex which often can misjudge them as callous or a player. Just like Romantic Asexuals, Aromantic Sexuals do participate in romantic activities with their partners. But they do not experience the same feelings as those who desire romance.
These individuals experience little to no romantic attraction or sexual attraction. Again, the desire for companionship and friendships is still there and many ARO/ACE people will still build a life with a partner or partners. One term often used to describe these relationships is ‘Queerplatonic’. This means there is more intimacy and commitment than a typical friendship, yet not as intense as a traditional romantic relationship.
ARO/ACE people usually live with their partners, raise children together, and do the regular activities of most couples, but they don’t experience the same emotions and desires. Another term to be familiar with is ‘Squish’ or ‘Squishy’ which are similar to the romantic word ‘crush’. This signifies a strong platonic tie to a particular person. And also, we want to be clear that ACE and ARO people love just like anyone else. They love their friends, family, and pets the same as any individual. They simply might not fall in love or experience being in love which is a different set of emotions. And honestly, falling in love is simply a hormonal high which can be achieved in other aspects of life and is not a signal of normalcy or abnormalcy.
These four major categories each have further breakdowns of Asexual and Aromantic classifications. Just like ALLO individuals, ACE and ARO people vary in their desires and makeup. Not every person is going to fit their box exactly. Many will blur between the lines and often a few select ‘squishies’ will stir emotions that typically are not present. Two of the most common subcategories are Grays and Demis, which we covered a little more in detail in our Florence Nightingale episode. Grays will rarely experience romantic or sexual attraction but occasionally can under certain circumstances. There are Gray-Aromantics, Gray-Asexuals, and Gray ACE/ARO people. Demi-Sexuals or Demi-Romantics will usually only form a sexual or romantic attraction after a deep bond is formed.
Trauma leads to misunderstanding
Further misunderstanding about Asexuality and Aromanticism plays out in victims of trauma. As we said, sex, intimacy, and romance are all attractions and desires an individual may experience. However, when a person undergoes trauma through one or all of these experiences, they can struggle with their desires in that area. For instance, a victim of sexual assault may naturally be hesitant and cautious when it comes to sex. Another example is that a victim of childhood abuse may become more reluctant in areas of intimacy. What is important to distinguish is that trauma does NOT make a person ACE or ARO, the same way trauma does not make a person gay or transgender.
Consequently, however, ACE and ARO people who have experienced trauma may have a harder time identifying their sexual identity. It can be difficult to separate the PTSD from the orientation. Or it can be used to invalidate a person’s identity if family and friends are not educated. If you love an Asexual or Aromantic person, or if you have been dating someone who has come out as ACE/ARO, then the important thing is to discuss with them what they need. Listen to what they are saying and believe them. If they need help processing trauma then try to get them to a licensed therapist. And if they simply want your support then research how to be a better ally. And if you’re a person who’s questioning their orientation, then we suggest checking out asexuality.org for more information from other ACE and ARO people.
Sherronda J. Brown
But now we want to recognize two Black Asexual individuals making a huge impact on the ACE/ARO community. The first person we want to discuss is Sherronda J. Brown an Asexual queer advocate, feminist, and black activist. She writes for the Black Youth Project and Wear Your Voice Magazine, and is an essayist and storyteller for QTBIPOC (Queer & Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color). Which is hosting its annual conference specifically and only for POC at the end of February. Brown’s commentary on how colonization and white supremacy have stripped away black asexuality is especially scathing and on point.
The author writes in an article titled Black Asexuals are not Unicorns, There are More of Us Than We Know:
Black people are forced into a box of hypersexualization thanks to centuries of propaganda and policy born of white supremacists, colonialist ideas and white people’s racial anxieties. This imagined irrevocable hypersexuality has been used in specific ways to justify and rationalize injustices and brutalities against Black people throughout history, aiding heavily in our dehumanization.
Repeated messages like these warped my perception of myself and my body from a young age. I came to understand my body and myself as inherently sexual—even as I received seemingly contradictory messages that my fatness made me undesirable—and I didn’t know that there was any other option for how to exist in this world. I thought that the hypersexualization of my body meant that I had to buy into it and perform the sexual existence expected of me or else I would not be seen as “normal” and valuable.
Asexuality is already greatly invisibilized as a queer identity. Black asexuality is even more so. This leaves many Black asexuals with unique barriers to finding our place on the asexuality spectrum and developing community with others like us. This is why it’s not enough to simply talk about asexuality awareness. We must also acknowledge the ways race and (assumed and/or assigned) gender play into our understandings of our sexualities, and how others project sexuality onto us.
Brown also references the book “Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism” by author Patricia Hill Collins. Both Black authors write extensively on how White society has so deeply sexualized the African American community. This is obvious in our history when we see black people used as sexual slaves as often as they were used as field hands and domestic servants. Even long after slavery ended, Black individuals were and still are repeatedly seen as nothing more than sexual objects. In fact, we Whites often believe that by objectifying Black people we are somehow absolving ourselves of racism. But instead, we reduce people of color to objects and we erase Asexual individuals completely.
Brown continues on in her article ‘How The Colonial History of Hypersexualization Obscures The Possibility of Black Asexuality’:
Stereotypes about Black women are largely defined, in one way or another, by and through our presumed sexual expression and practice. As a result, we are more readily sexually objectified and fetishized than our white counterparts. The Jezebel is always sexually available and this is evidence of her loose morals. The Matriarch uses her sexuality to emasculate, control, and alienate men. As such, she is perpetually single and, therefore, of very little value. She is seen as the source of all of the “Black community’s problems” and the absence of Black fathers is always blamed on her. The Welfare Queen is not only a sexually irresponsible “breeder” of bastard children, but she is also a leech and a drain on society, so much so that government policy has been enacted because of her laziness, greed, and sexual habits.
Not only does Brown tackle the racism surrounding ‘Welfare Queen’ stereotypes, but she also addresses how ACEphobia drives the narrative home. Just as she stated herself, it is not enough to talk about awareness around aromanticism and asexuality. We must also address how racism and bias directly affect stigma and erasure towards the ARO and ACE communities. To hear more from Sherronda, follow her on twitter @SherrondaJBrown or check out her articles on the Black Youth Project and Wear Your Voice Magazine. Both of which have been linked in our script. We also added a link to the book Black Sexual Politics if you would like more information.
Our second role model for the ACE/ARO community is quite literally a model in the UK. Yasmin Benoit (Ben-Hwaa) has identified as Asexual Aromantic since she was 14. She has become an open advocate for the ACE/ARO community since her career has taken off. Benoit’s video launched on Pink News two years ago drew attention with its blunt title “Asexuality Is Not a ‘White Thing’”. Benoit has her own YouTube channel in which she discusses in depth the challenges of being a Black Asexual model is a highly sexualized industry. She told Paper Magazine last year:
“People find it weird as an overlap because I’m asexual,” she explains. “People think if you’re modeling lingerie, something sexual is going on. They don’t realize I’m just standing there for a couple of hours, making a little conversation and shaking hands, before I go home.”
The activist also discusses the personal prejudice and bias she has faced along the way. She told the journalist:
“When you say you don’t experience romance and sexuality and that those things are, innately, not a part of you, people think you’re less human…[They say] you’re robotic. You’re psychopathic. I often get narcissistic,”
Benoit went on to further explain the stigma of abuse or trauma as a reason for an Asexual/Aromantic orientation:
“Literally, yesterday, I had a man insisting I had been molested, and I was just hiding it and repressing it,” she uses as an example. “He was insistent that that was obviously my issue. They think sexual attraction is the most human thing ever, and it’s impossible to not feel that. You can’t be human if you don’t feel anything.”
Unfortunately, Yasmin also faced rejection from her own family and was accused of pedophilia. A stigma that has been branded onto the queer community for centuries. It’s as if, rather than trying to understand a person’s orientation and attraction, it’s easier to label them a pedophile. That way the accuser doesn’t have to waste their time learning something new or finding acceptance in their biased and prejudiced mind. Yet like so many other queer heroes, Benoit is not one to run from a fight. In 2018 she started the viral hashtag #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike. And a strong Black lingerie model is definitely not what we’ve come to picture when thinking of Asexual and Aromantic people. So the question is, what’s wrong with our stereotypical thinking?
In so many ways Benoit shatters the prejudiced boxes placed upon the ACE and ARO communities. She also alludes to Sherronda J. Brown’s commentary and other black activists when she discusses being cut out of a documentary about Asexuality. Benoit told Paper Magazine:
“People perceive my asexuality differently than white asexual people,”
Benoit says, before mentioning the televised version of a documentary that she was cut out of — something she believes is
“reflective of people higher up in the company who looked at us and was like, ‘She doesn’t make sense.'”
However, in the uncut version posted online, Benoit said the comments about her were much more “sexually aggressive and racialized” than what the other white activists got.
“There was a lot more anger directed at me,”
“People find it harder to compute that a Black woman can be asexual just because we’re hypersexualized a lot more.”
These issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Every day online and through social media Yasmin Beniot addresses the needs and struggles of the Asexual and Aromantic Community. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @theyasminebenoit or you can go to her YouTube channel Yasmin Benoit. And learn more from her videos. Both of these Asexual activists give us a lot to consider as allies and queer people continue to advance forward in the fight for equality.
How will we challenge stereotypes? How do we address racism? What are we doing to make sure Asexual and Aromantic people are not erased? While the next week will create a lot of awareness, what happens when Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week is over?
Stay in touch
You can stay in touch with the community in a variety of ways. In addition to following Sherronda J. Brown and Yasmin Benoit, look for other people online who identify as ACE or ARO and click that follow button. Also, check out https://asexuality.org for basic information and education. And we want to shout out the podcast “Sounds Fake But Okay” which is available on Spotify as well as other platforms. An Ace/Aro girl and a straight demi-sexual girl both discuss a variety of topics. Plus they very recently had Yasmin Benoit on their podcast. So you can listen to all three of them educate you on the issues. We also added their amazing resource list on their website in our reference section. So check that out for further research. And happy Valentine’s Day on Friday to our listeners who celebrate, and a wonderful Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week to everyone next week, February 17th-23rd!
- Psychology – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/201710/s-so-aromantic
- THEM – https://www.them.us/story/facts-you-should-know-about-aromantic-people
- Black Youth – http://blackyouthproject.com/black-asexuals-are-not-unicorns-there-are-more-of-us-than-we-know/
- Wear Your Voice- https://wearyourvoicemag.com/lgbtq-identities/black-asexuality-colonial-history-hypersexualization
- Paper – https://www.papermag.com/yasmin-benoit-asexual-model-2641410290.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
- Yasmin Benoit – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk1NDxk_coxNy1HuYHl9XRA
- Sounds Fake Resources – https://www.soundsfakepod.com/resources