On the arromantic (and asexual) spectrum

It is always good to put words to things. What can't be named, doesn't exist. And I have had a hard time positioning myself on the arromantic spectrum, between demiromantic and arromantic. This means that I rarely feel a romantic attraction to another person - no matter their gender, nor do I have any desire to establish a relationship. And I don't lack anything.

Being arromantic (or demiromantic) does not mean that I don't have or seek intimacy with other people. But, as Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker say in How to Understand Your Gender, "If intimacy is about feeling that there are people with whom we can share aspects of our lives and be openly and fully who we are, then it makes sense that we can experience it in many different ways." I feel like I have a lot of friendships where there is a lot of intimacy, without it being a romantic relationship.

The same with sexuality. For a bit longer I've defined myself as demisexual, on the asexual spectrum. The truth is that I just don't feel sexually attracted to another person I see in the street. I need to have another bond, another intimacy with a person for the possibility of sexual attraction to arise.

I define myself as demirromantic and demisexual, because I do not rule out the possibility of romantic or sexual attraction, and in my life I have had only a few romantic and even sexual relationships. But, compared to the times without a relationship (and without attraction), they have been very sporadic episodes.

It has taken me longer to get to this point than it did to define myself as genderqueer, now seven years ago, and much longer than it did to come to terms with a sexuality that is directed towards people who are read as men. In fact, for many years I have openly defined myself as a gay man, although I didn't have many homosexual relationships either.

For me it has been much more difficult to come to terms with being asexual and arromantic. On the one hand, because these two terms are quite new, and they were not very much in my mind to name my own experience. On the other hand, I think that in our western culture, sexual and romantic attraction are seen as universal, and one cannot imagine a person who simply does not feel these attractions. The 'sexual revolution' has possibly (partially) liberated sexuality from the corset of conservatism and Catholicism, but at the same time it has increased the perceived importance of sex and sexual attraction. And this even more so in the alternative world, in which I have moved all my adult life. In this context, it was much easier to first come out and define myself as a gay man, which was within the context of the sexual revolution (although the alternative world at that time was still very heteronormative), and, later, to define myself as genderqueer, which then was a small queer minority within the alternative world. Positioning myself on the asexual and arromantic spectrum, however, goes very much against the hegemony in the alternative (and mainstream) world, and even in the LGBTIQ world - where the 'A' for 'asexual' is still almost never added.

I remember the many questions from some friends, "how do you cope without a partner, how do you live your sexuality without a partner", always with the idea or concern that something should be missing, that this should be a problem for me. And what if it's not a problem at all? I also remember my therapist talking about a need for sex, to which I already answered that no, I don't see it as a need, but perhaps as a desire. But, really, not even that. Or, not even this for long periods of my life. This doesn't mean that I don't masturbate. But my sexual fantasies never (or almost never) have anything to do with concrete people, for example people I saw in the street. They are more like mouths or penises or anuses, but not bodies with identifiable features.

For about a year now I have come to the conclusion that I am demisexual, at present much closer to asexual. But now I realise that it's not just about the sexual. Beyond that, I am also demiromantic, for many years with a tendency to be arromantic. And just as seven years ago it was a liberation to break out of the gender binarism, now to break out of the imperative of the romantic and sexual is a liberation for me. I don't lack anything. I don't feel an absence of sex, an absence of a romantic relationship. I have my needs for diverse intimacies sufficiently covered by my friendships. How many years of my life have I wondered if I have a problem because of the absence of romantic and/or sexual attraction? Not any more. I have had and have many problems in my life, as a person living with complex trauma, but the lack of romantic or sexual attraction is not one of them. And I'm fed up with it all.

Arromantic does not mean that I don't like hugging, that I don't like physical (and intimate) contact with another person, even spooning. No. In fact, during the first confinement last year I felt very much this absence of physical contact, of hugging my friends. But, these hugs, this physical contact, for me has no romantic or sexual significance.

While I am strengthening my friendships, building more intimate friendships, I am also getting closer and closer to arromanticism. In my vision of the rest of my life there is no romantic relationship, no sexual relationship, no 'partner', and I am not afraid of this at all. I believe that with my friends we are building new networks of affection and mutual support; some call it an alternative or chosen family, a word that does not come to me from my own experience with my (unchosen) family. But I don't want to hide the fact that what still scares me is whether these new affective networks will be capable of the mutual (or not so mutual) support I might need as I get older (whether a family would do that is not guaranteed either).

Recently, asexuality and arromanticism have gained a bit more visibility. This gives me hope. Maybe one day we can break the imperative of the sexual and romantic, and we can accept that there are many other forms of intimacy and affective networks, and that coupledom is just one way of life, neither better nor worse than others. Perhaps, one day, we will succeed in taking sex off its pedestal, taking romantic relationships off their pedestal, and treating all friendships, with or without sex, with or without romance, as equally important. For me, this would be a better world.