Aces have a superpower.
Sadly, it’s not the ability to reproduce by binary fission (although it’s about time someone got a move on with that).
It’s something I’ve noticed during brief forays into the dating scene, when flirting/generally making an idiot of myself.
Telling people I’m ace makes me disappear.
No, really. It’s actually pretty cool.
One moment we’re flirting — or at least my close approximation — like the leads of an awkward rom-com, and then the next: poof. I am invisible.
victim partner stands bereft, looking around in utter confusion. Damn, thinks he. I’m sure there was a cute female here a moment ago. Meanwhile, I’m eyeing them with increasing scepticism: Great. Another one.
This is usually the point at which I will re-appear, to great awe and applause, and agree that yes, it was nice meeting them — that’s your friend over there? No, that’s fine; we’ll catch up later. See ya.
Eh. They weren’t that cute anyway.
‘Ace’ is shorthand for Asexual (and also for being pretty awesome, which we are). Meanwhile, ‘Aro’ indicates that someone is Aromantic. AVEN does a pretty good job of summing things up:
An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.”
“An aromantic is a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others.”
Pretty straightforward. And yet, that simplicity is part of what gives us our superpower.
See, the power of invisibility stems primarily from simple assumptions.
Asexuality is sometimes nicknamed the ‘invisible sexuality’, for the simple reason that it’s hard to spot. It’s considered pretty easy to guess at someone’s sexual preferences and attractions based on observation; by contrast, it’s difficult to spot a lack of attraction. The lack of anything in real life or in fiction is inherently invisible, because people won’t assume an absence: unless shown evidence to the contrary (and sometimes even then), they won’t notice that anything is missing until it is pointed out.
In itself, this is not a ‘bad’ thing. It’s natural to make assumptions based on our own life experiences. When an average person looks at a couple, real or fictional, they will tend to assume that the pair are having sex, either in private or off-screen. In many cases, they’ll be correct. In some cases, they may not even be aware that there’s an alternative.
This is invisibility, but not the ‘poof’ kind I’m talking about. Whilst it’s important to raise the profile of asexuality, which is often erased, this kind of invisibility can usually be addressed by a simple exchange of dialogue. Usually, if I mention my sexuality to someone unfamiliar with the term, they’ll ask me what I mean, and I’ll succinctly explain. Boom, one person educated.
This, it turns out, is the second aroace superpower. We have the power to make ourselves — and each other — visible. When we take the time to explain — when we are confident in and proud of our asexuality or aromanticism, and when we make ourselves seen and heard — we go some way towards refusing erasure. And that’s great! Hooray for visibility.
On the flip side, ‘poof’ invisibility is a little harder to fight.
As superpowers go, the ‘poof’ invisibility is pretty unreliable. It doesn’t always work (I assume), and it relies completely on the other person involved.
Good magicians never reveal their secrets… But then this one’s pretty obvious, so I’ll go right ahead. Ahem. When I tell potential partners that I’m asexual, they stop seeing me as a potential partner. In the space of two words, I become about as romantically interesting to them as a plant, or a lamp.
Thus, from a dating perspective, I become invisible.
It’s an unfortunate truth that our society often equates sex and love, and some people find it very difficult to conceive of romantic relationships that don’t involve sex. This post by @theasexualityblog succinctly summarises some of the many ways a person can enjoy a romantic relationship without sex, whilst articles like this one draw attention to the relative lack of aroace visibility (although it does blur the line a little between asexuality and aromanticism). For some, sex in relationships is so important that they aren’t willing to consider a non-sexual relationship at all, and their sexual attraction to their partner/s can even dictate whether they remain committed to their significant other/s.
As someone who has never been sexually attracted to anyone, and who doesn’t care about sex, this can be very confusing.
It can also be extremely frustrating. In the above article, a woman talks about feeling pressured into sex by partners who didn’t understand her aversion. This, sadly, is not unusual. Nor, often, is it intentional: many people who do experience sexual attraction simply don’t understand why their romantic partner might not share their feelings. After all, that’s what couples do… right?
Right. If they want to. Otherwise, they don’t, and it’s as simple as that. Or at least it should be.
Thanks in part to this preconception — that sex and romance are inherently linked — asexuals face an additional hurdle when seeking romantic partners. This is what I mean when I say we become invisible: sometimes, when potential partners learn that we’re not potential sexual partners, they lose interest in us as a partners, full stop. (This of course is based on the inaccurate assumption that all asexuals are sex-averse, which is a topic all by itself).
This sort of attitude comes with a host of hurtful implications for aces.
- If we can’t provide sex, we have no potential as romantic partners. This is perhaps the most hurtful for me personally, because I will happily invest in a partner who doesn’t bring sex to the table. Losing interest in me on this basis is, from my perspective, like saying sex is all I have to offer in a relationship. If I won’t offer it, what’s the point in spending time with me?
- Relationships without sex are not worth considering. Again, unfortunate and hurtful. The best relationships I’ve ever had have been completely non-sexual.
- Romantic partners ‘owe’ each other sex. No. Just no. Romantic partners owe each other consideration, not submission.
Of course, all of these are inaccurate. Romantic love and partnership is about so much more than sex, and for some of us, sex doesn’t enter into the equation at all. A while back, @thethinkingasexual published a very useful post to this effect (‘”Platonic love” is a problematic term’). The post has since been made private, but it raised a host of interesting points. For example:
Our current society believes that “if you don’t love someone romantically, you love them “platonically,” which means that you want to be friends and not a “couple,” because only romantic-sexual pairs can be couples with a primary relationship” and this is very problematic.”
This, unfortunately, is the attitude which eradicates our partner potential in the eyes of so many people. If you don’t love someone ‘romantically’ — i.e. if you’re not having sex — you can only love them ‘platonically’ — i.e. you can only be friends. There is no in-between, and no scope for nonsexual romance.
Obviously, this is not universally true. I have it on good authority that a great many people agree with me on this point, and see romantic relationships as something other than an optional attachment to a sexual relationship. (Although this is definitely variable. For example, I once had a friend who went to great lengths to confess undying feelings for me on a regular basis, over a period of years. Recently, I told him that I was asexual. “Ah,” he said. “That changes things. I’m a lot less into you now.” …Ouch. Talk about a deal breaker.)
But it leads me to wonder: is it really that important?
Unfortunately, this is the one question I can’t answer. Perhaps sex really is as important as all that — perhaps I’m the weird one for disagreeing.
But then, it doesn’t matter. I refuse to be the ‘weird one’. Or rather, I’m happy to be weird. My feelings — or lack thereof — are not less valid because the majority of people don’t share them. My sexuality is not less valid. It’s mine. And I’m proud of it.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to education, communication, and awareness. For the few unintentionally hurtful responses as I’ve personally encountered, I’ve met with far more positive ones. My friends have been universally supportive, both ace and allosexual, and there’s an increasing sense that other people are starting to tire of the ‘love=sex=love’ cycle. It’s 2017: we’re not in the dark ages of LGBTQIA+ awareness. More people than ever are aware of asexuality and aromanticism, and more people than ever are realising that there’s a world of options beyond the standard ‘relationship escalator‘. If someone doesn’t understand, explain. And if they still don’t get it, move along. Their approval isn’t needed.
On a personal level, it’s more of an annoyance than a hindrance. I consider myself greyromantic, meaning I very rarely if ever experience romantic attraction, and I’m not particularly interested in dating to begin with. (To be honest, I’d rather have that lamp.) But many aces do want and pursue romantic relationships, and to them I’d say: keep at it. Parts of society can be shallow, but for every person who doesn’t understand, there are two people who will. (And anyone who doesn’t probably isn’t someone you’d be compatible with, in the long run). Be proud of who you are and don’t compromise your feelings for the sake of someone else’s: they’re no more valid than yours.
Asexuality and aromanticism are cool. We kind of rock.
Besides, we waste less money on birth control. So who’s the real winner here?
Okay, I’m done.