Romantic orientation: some people identify with one, some people don’t — but the problem comes in when everyone is expected to have one. This post spells out my (quoiromantic) perspective on compulsory romantic orientation by sketching out a few different ways this expectation can manifest in certain contexts. Note this post is largely just rehashing things already familiar to my regular readers; for everyone else, the goal of this post is to serve as an introductory primer on the topic.
In talking about this, I’m starting at the following base principles: the concepts of “romance,” “romantic attraction,” “romantic desire,” “romantic relationship,” and “romantic orientation” are all social constructs, culturally constituted — not inherent, objective truths. For some people, these constructs may prove troublesome, incoherent, or simply not useful as a way of organizing identity. In my case, I happen to find them troublesome enough to actively disidentify with them, and I designate that relationship with the term “quoiromantic.” Others may avoid labels for this or simply choose different ones.
Regardless of what we call ourselves, though, we’re being eclipsed out of the picture whenever romantic orientation is treated as compulsory. This doesn’t usually happen at the large scale, but it does happen in particular, localized community contexts, and here are three different examples to illustrate.
Compulsory romantic orientation among aces
Although the concept of romantic orientation arguably may predate the ace (asexual umbrella) community, the ace community has played a significant role in popularizing the concept, and its usage is highly prevalent among aces. In fact, according to the 2018 Ace Community Survey, aces who do not identify with a romantic orientation are by far in the minority: only 8.3% of ace respondents identified as wtfromantic or quoiromantic, and only 3.9% reported that they prefer not to use a/romantic orientation terminology.
Accordingly, it has become extremely common for aces to casually assume that all aces have a romantic orientation. For example, last year I wrote about card suit sorting as an informal manifestation of this assumption. The practice is usually just an ambient, unquestioned expectation. Because aces with romantic orientations appear so prevalent, the possibility of aces without romantic orientations may easily slip the mind or never even occur to people who have not had this possibility pointed out to them.
Even among those aware of wtf/quoiromantic identities, however, we have sometimes seen a pattern of umbrella crunching and essentialism in how it is conceptualized. When quoiromanticism is referred to as an inability to “tell the difference” between romantic and other attractions, for instance, that frames the matter as if A) quoiros do definitively experience this thing called “romantic attraction,” and B) they’re simply failing to recognize it when it happens. This is a reductive approach that flattens the identity instead of dealing with how it resists and challenges the universalization of the concept, in disidentifying with romantic orientation as a construct. The difference between these two understandings is the difference between enclosing quoi identity within an essentialist framing (that there is an underlying answer, and quoi people are simply imperceptive of it) and paying due respect to quoi identity through a social constructionist framing, which must recognize the malleability of “romance” as a concept without any definitive, independent substance.
Compulsory romantic orientation among LGBT bloggers
When non-ace LGBT bloggers have been introduced to romantic orientation by the ace community, many of them have come to associate romantic orientation with ace people as a whole. Subsequently, some of them go on to adopt their own form of compulsory romantic orientation — specifically just for aces. The variant of this I’ve seen the most (and that was discussed by Queenie in 2014) emerges wherever this group decides to sort aces by romantic orientation and gender alignment in order to separate out the “cishet aces” from the “LGBT aces.” For example, when the perspective “if you’re not a wlw you’re a straight woman”* intersects with the perspective that all orientation terminology should be sexual, romantic, or sexual/romantic, it is clear how combinations of [ace + other label] are being used and interpreted.
Under this framework, all aces are necessarily being conceived of as romantically hetero, gay, or bi, and entirely categorizable between the three. It has been frequently remarked upon how this het/LGB binary tends to eclipse aro aces, but it also leaves aces-without-romantic-orientations out of the picture, as well. It’s an oversight that becomes downright ironic once you notice that some of these selfsame bloggers have themselves objected to compulsory romantic orientation… except when it comes to aces.
*I have to presume that the speaker here thought they were exclusively addressing women, and not that they think all people are women.
Compulsory romantic orientation among aros
Within the aro (aromantic umbrella) community, it has also become common to inscribe romantic orientation onto others. Sometimes this is done implicitly, in general talk of “alloromantics” that may extend beyond people who actually identify that way. Sometimes, though, compulsory romantic orientation is applied to aces in particular. As I have discussed before, this is made apparent in posts sorting us all between “aro aces” and “allo(-romantic) aces” as if this division is comprehensive of all aces. Aces who are neither aro nor alloromantic typically are left unaccounted for — or otherwise misrepresented.
In the context of aro discourse (aro talk), the consideration of quoiromanticism in particular is complicated by the range of relationships that quoiros hold to the aro umbrella and the aro community. On the one hand, there are some quoiros (including quoiro aces) who identify with the aromantic umbrella, so there are quoiro aces who are covered under the term “aro aces.” With that said, the discursive formation that splits all aces between aro & alloromantic is necessarily inscribing the aro/allo binary onto all of us, regardless of how we do or don’t relate to it. Functionally, then, it is allowing for quoiromanticism only to the extent that it can be subsumed under the aromantic umbrella. An ace who identifies as “just” ace is presumed to always be sortable, one way or the other, along romantic lines.
In this post, I’ve described the different contexts where I’ve encountered a treatment of romantic orientation as compulsory: universalizing it within the ace community, universalizing outside the community it by splitting aces into a het/LGB romantic binary, and universalizing it outside the community by splitting aces between an aro/alloromantic binary. I consider compulsory romantic orientation to be one of the less urgent issues I’ve covered on this blog, but it is certainly annoying, and I would like to see it less.