A post about being quoiro amid aro-ace conflict & feeling unsure of my relationship to the aro umbrella. Crossposted. One part personal reflection post, one part invoice to the aro community, and one part gratuitous smattering of links — all centering around two questions: Does the aro community want quoiros to be counted among them? And if so, am I supposed to consider myself to be, in certain circumstances, “basically aro”?
The salience of this question for me is bound up in certain aro-ace intracommunity issues that span multiple online platforms. With that said, just to give you an example, one of the current recurring points of frustration involves the misuse of the Tumblr tag function. Examples of where people have talked about this include here, here, here, & here. There’s also an issue of silencing to contend with — I’ve proposed one idea that I hope should help with a part of that, and I’m interested in further feedback about that idea, but that’s not what this post is about. Beyond that, the problem also includes the more general reductive talk that crunches aromanticism as if it is an ace-specific identity, amatonormativity in the ace community, and more. For more details on the issues, see K. A. Cook’s Allo Aro for Allies Link Post. In this post, I’m only going to focus on a few relevant specifics.
A note on using “allosexual” in this context: this post will use the term “aro allo” for aro allos per their own preference, although I am aware of criticism. For further context on this topic, you may be interested in a history of words used to describe non-aces.
Hello, who are you?
If you’re not a regular reader here, allow me into introduce myself. My name is Coy. I have been personally identifying as quoiromantic for about five years, after a brief period of questioning before that. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you can read up on the origins of “quoiromantic,” what people use it to mean, and why it’s relevant. For myself, I use it to mean not having a romantic orientation. The term can be considered a surly response to the romantic & sexual dyad as a community norm, and in that sense, I have something in common with folks who are “just aro.”
But more generally? I don’t know where I stand with the aro community as a whole. That’s a question that I’ve mostly been able to leave on the backburner, but now that I’m aware of some aros very clearly preferring more separation, it’s begun to feel more pressing to sort out. And I don’t know how to sort it out. I don’t know where I stand with aros.
This ambivalence of mine may come as a surprise or a disappointment to you, if you’re used to seeing quoiros named as a part of the aromantic umbrella. I took a glance through Tumblr yesterday to collect some examples of this: you’ve got this blog whose description says quoiro is on the aromatic spectrum, glossary pages which call quoiro an aro spectrum identity, pride artwork/clothes in posts that call quoiro part of the aro umbrella (example, example, example), posts about being aro tagged as quoiromantic, and posts about/representing quoiromanticism tagged as aromantic, aro art, or even just aro. You can also check out this post with extensive commentary on a problem of misnaming aromantic pride as asexual; the artist’s choice to include a representation of quoiromanticism among the aromantic spectrum pride leaves, by contrast, goes unremarked upon. And personally, like Aceadmiral, I find it all a little… confusing.
From this, if this were your only frame of reference, if this was all you ever saw about quoiromanticism, you might conclude that of course the aro community considers quoiros a part of the aromantic community, of course it does, no question, absolutely, and that’s a good thing, because we’re being “included.” Of course. You might say. If that were your frame of reference.
That’s not my frame of reference.
My frame of reference is people talking like there’s a great divide between aromantic aces and alloromantic aces. My frame of reference is the eight-years-and-counting Tumblr flamewar premised in part on sorting aces by romantic orientation. My frame of reference is the pressure to pick a side. My frame of reference is people treating me as though to say “you will be subjected to this categorization system and you will be sorted.”
My frame of reference is being subjected to this within and without ace community.
And now, yes, the aro community, too.
The Great Divide
In order to talk about my current impressions of the aro community, I need to talk about where that impression is coming from. My contact with the aro-community-as-such has been limited — I made an Arocalypse account in 2016 but didn’t post there much — until now. This past February, with the launching of the Carnival of Aros, the host blog chose the relationship between the aro & ace communities as the theme. This choice was met with criticism you can read about here and here, and the Carnival submissions themselves can be found at the final Roundup. Eventually, I took a look… and winded up going down a rabbit hole that’s now landed the aro community more thoroughly my radar. Consequently, I’ve gotten more occasion to see how the aro community is talking, including the pervasive talk of the great divide.
By the great divide, I’m talking about the tendency to separate aromantic aces from alloromantic aces as if you can make a clean, clear cut that way, as if the separation is completely black and white, as if you can sort us all that way without leaving anybody out. One of the Carnival of Aros submissions, for instance, advised “don’t forget mention aroallos along with aroaces and alloaces.” This isn’t something specific to that one blogger. It’s generally representative of this pattern to how people talk about aros & aces: as if we can all be split up into either aro allosexuals, aro aces, or allorom aces. This is also a problem for aros without sexual orientations, too, not just for people like me. Listening to talk like this, it feels like we’re being expected to “just choose.” Or, further, taken in combination with how some aces refer to quoiro as an “aro spectrum identity,” it feels like I’m expected to “just choose” to interpret myself as “basically aro.”
Alternatively, in some extra fancy cases, you may see someone throw in an additional category — ex. splitting up aces into “allo-aces, aro-aces and non-SAM aces” — which I hate, because I am not a “non-SAM” ace. The rise of the “split attraction model” designation has been frustrating for a whole thicket of reasons, something I have already written reams about. I’ll spare you the details this time, because if you want to know, you can follow those links. But another curious thing about this kind of talk, to me, is it is not disruptive. It suggests some vague awareness that not every ace has a romantic orientation, but I haven’t encountered a time when this recognition was used to challenge or criticize the great divide that names only “aro aces” and “allo aces.” I can’t tell if it’s just something I’ve happened to miss, but regardless, that’s not really among the fights that I’ve seen play out.
Now let me tell you about the fights that I have seen play out.
Claiming Aro Ownership
From my perspective, reading up on it, current aro community talk (or discourse, because discourse means talk) has featured a curious amount of… cultural protectionism, for lack of a better term. Or in other words, claiming certain things as aro terms or aro symbols. This would be fine if the particular cases of this were not so misrepresentative and unduly keen on enforcing the great divide.
For instance, you’ve got the (now recanted) accusation that aces “co-opted” the ace of spades as a general ace community symbol. In reading this sentence, you may immediately recognize that this as, in a word, silly. The original accusation was premised on the (misinformed) idea that each suit of cards was (supposedly) relegated according to whether you’re aro ace, allorom ace, gray-ace, or demisexual. That all relies on splitting up aces by romantic orientation — not to mention the confusing treatment of grayness there — and the whole notion was both completely arbitrary and needlessly inflammatory… but it’s not the first time I’ve heard something like that. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered someone trying to impose that kind of system on us. Based on, again, yes, playing cards.
Card suit sorting was also the premise of an ill-advised tumblr event in 2015 that told aces to participate by holding up an ace card. Which card you were told to use was determined by whether or not you were 1) alloromantic asexual, 2) aromantic asexual, 3) demirom/demisexual/grayro/gray-asexual, or 4) questioning. Yes, exactly like that. Splitting aces up by romantic orientation & grayness, again. I have no idea why it was considered so important to assign us particular cards suits at all, let alone divide them up like… that. This arbitrary sorting system left no space at all for asexuals with no romantic orientation — and was criticized as such. And that wasn’t even the complete extent of the mess.
While this may have been a pretty small-scale spat, all things considered, it’s now the #1 thing I associate with people trying to impose this silly card suit sorting nonsense on ace community symbolism: demanding that we all sort ourselves by romantic orientation. The Great Divide. And now it’s not just something I associate with ace intracommunity issues; now, it’s something I associate with aro tumblr’s habit of talking about aces like we’re stealing our own stuff.
The most impactful example of this to me is “queerplatonic,” which keeps getting claimed as “coined by the aromantic community, not the asexual” (repeatedly), as “a term by and for aro people” (repeatedly), and as “aro community terminology” that needs to be defended from allorom aces, as visualized via the “I made this” meme. These ways of talking about the origins and trajectory of queerplatonic are oversimplifying more complicated reality: both in 1) retroactively claiming the involvement of a 2010 “aromantic community” and 2) in conscripting everyone involved into an “aro” or “aro spectrum” identity, just because they weren’t specifically alloromantic, while also 3) downplaying the relevance of their asexual identities, once again expecting romantic orientation to be as much or more important for everyone.
That all would be annoying enough in its own right. But.
A lot of this adamant claiming of queerplatonic has relied on making clear, absolute distinctions between the romantic and the nonromantic. This hardnosed commitment to an absolute division 1) creates a completely unworkable mandate for people as quoiromatic as myself, who don’t subscribe to using that division in the first place, and also 2) reinforces the very “this or that, no other option” binary that the original conversation it emerged from was reacting to in the first place. Letting queerplatonic express ambiguity on that front should not be treated as threatening. Talking otherwise — taking the stance that queerplatonic’s relationship to the category of “romantic” needs to be monolithic, specific, and absolute, or in other words, that it needs to be premised on a romantic/nonromantic division — is an anti-quoiro stance to take.
When Luna tried to intervene into one of these conversations and bring up quoiromanticism, this seemed to go completely over people’s heads. The responses they got included lines like “if quoiromantic people personally include romance in it that’s okay,” and “for some people it’s not romantic if its not sexual,” so “those people should be free to use queerplatonic.” These inscrutable responses condescendingly treat us like some kind of special exception who gets a pass, while also apparently misunderstanding the definition of quoiro to begin with. I don’t “include romance” in anything, because that’s not a meaningful category to me, and “it’s only romantic if it’s sexual” doesn’t describe my experience in the least. I don’t identify as quoiro to express convergence; I identify as quoiro because the concept of “romantic or not” isn’t useful to me. These very responses are talking about my identity while still treating me like I’m supposed to be subscribing to that system, and I don’t. Why are you assuming I do?
It’s a frustrating thing to have seen unfold. I don’t know how to get people to stop talking about me like this — people who know the word “quoiromantic” and people who are ostensibly, if you do place us under the aro umbrella, “my community.”
I shouldn’t just base my perspective on gross oversights like, though. I should base it on my experiences. Problem is, my experiences… are mixed.
On the one hand, I am grateful to the folks under the aro umbrella who’ve made a deliberate effort to make space for me. When I first expressed uncertainty as to whether I should even talk about the Carnival of Aros (let alone consider participating in it), Sennkestra not only answered but even made a Carnival FAQ and asked for my feedback on it. Sennkestra’s February 2019 Carnival submission also made a point about the aro/allo binary, explicitly advising readers not to forget about wtfromantics. When I suggested changes Arocalypse’s 101 definition of quoiromanticism, it was made, no fussing at me for asking. And when I expressed to Raven my uncertainty about my relationship to aros, they were very gracious about it, telling me that they consider quoiros entirely welcome in the community, without phrasing that welcome in any absolutist terms. I appreciate that more than I can say.
On the other hand, in the-aro-community-as-such, or in aro spaces with a more deliberate focus on aromanticism as the centerpiece, or with aros who prioritize an aro identity, the overall pattern doesn’t look like that. While it would be cruel to make a sweeping judgement about the aro community as a whole just because of that, on a personal level, in terms of my personal relationship to the community, I can’t help being affected by my personal experiences. And it just so happens that many of those experiences have taken the form of fights, fights, fights, and more fights. That may be my own fault; you could even say I started it. I’ve gotten into plenty of fights with aces and demis, too. Ain’t nothing special about that. This factor shouldn’t need to be important.
What do I want? What do you want?
I’m sure it’s hindsight bias at work, but this all seems so much murkier than the Gray Wars of 2013-2014. Seeing that conflict play out in no uncertain terms showed me exactly what ace tumblr thought of gray-asexuals and what the arguments on each side looked like. I was a questioning/newly-identifying gray-asexual at the time, so it left a mark on me — enough that I’m now quick to defend grayness as a concept, including where grayromantics are concerned. One grayromantic, Laura, recently claimed that the ace community is now better about handling grayness than the aro community is, which surprised me. Personally, I don’t have enough context to agree or disagree. All I know is that, from my point of view, things definitely used to be worse. And yet.
From seeing enough people come to the defense of grayness explicitly, I got the sense that, even if there was some hostility there, there was also enough of the community committed to seeing me as “one of them” that the resolution there was comparatively simple. Gray-asexuality as an identity emerged from an asexual forum; asexual people largely accept gray-aces under the umbrella; the experiences of sexuality I related to the most were ace umbrella experiences in general; I knew where I stood. At the time, I wanted my place among aces and I didn’t feel like I’d need to fight hard for it, because other aces already had.
With aros? I don’t know what I want. I don’t know if I want a warmer welcome or if I want people to stop tagging their quoiromantic posts with #aro, and I don’t know if I want to be a part of a community so everloving quick to misrepresent my identity while acting like they’re doing me a favor. I don’t know if it makes it better or worse that so many tumblr aros are choosing to reblog artwork in superficial support (using the striped flag instead of the other one, but we don’t talk about that) — but when it comes to the issues I already described above…. mostly crickets. Mostly.
I don’t know what the aro community wants either but let me tell you, no amount of reblogging quoiro “pride art” is going to make me feel like the aro community cares about addressing the great divide, non/romantic absolutism, or compulsory romantic orientation.
These days, troubled by an unanswered question, trying to make sense of all this, I’m feeling like I’m at a place a lot like what Elizabeth described here — distant, uneasy, re-examining things. I’m not sure whether or not I should be reaching out, like she has done, or taking the more arokaladin approach. Do I want to be part of a group that’s hurt me? Sacrificed me for the greater good? Claimed quoiromantics as their reblog fodder, but when I, a quoiromantic, speak up on aro community language, called me an “ace outsider” who shouldn’t be talking?
Do you think you get to have it both ways?