Content Notice: This post discusses ace/arophobia, bi/pan/poly/queerphobia, general anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, and exclusionist tactics to “close off” queer communities to ace and aro people.
I was supposed to be attending a media training – that is, a training on how to talk to members of the media as a representative or interviewee. I was quite interested in the subject because I had never been trained on how to be interviewed, only how to conduct an interview and write an article from it. I wanted to see journalism from the other side.
I was, instead, sitting in the hall with my arms wrapped around my friend, P.*, while they sobbed. Minutes before, the training group had been clearing up some questions from a talk earlier in the day. One of the questions – more of a bullet point, really – had simply read “asexual/aromantic inclusion.”
P. hadn’t written the bullet down but they are ace. They looked happy that, after a morning that largely focused on LGBTQ issues with no mentions of the A (or the I or the N or the 2S1 … ), asexuality and aromanticism were finally being talked about. The presenter, a queer Black woman and former teacher, began to discuss the need for inclusion of ace/aro people in the greater queer community.
Another participant raised their hand. The presenter called on them. “This might be controversial,” the participant said.
P. blanched. I braced myself and hoped that what was coming wasn’t going to be awful.
“This might be controversial,” the participant said, “but I think when we talk about asexuality we really need to make sure we’re not including our oppressors.”
P. turned to me. “I have to get out of here,” they said before running out of the room. I stayed planted. I wanted to hear this horror show for what it was and get a word in edgewise to shut it down.
“Because cishet2 asexuals and aromantics … they’ve got privilege that the rest of us don’t,” the participant said. “I really think that we can’t just let anyone who wants to be in the community in. That’s not good and it puts us at risk.”
Hands shot up in response and the presenter looked quite overwhelmed. “Okay,” she said, pointing to people, “there, there, and there.” I was the last one on the speakers list.
I honestly don’t remember what the first two people said. It was in favor of ace inclusion, thankfully, and I let out a sigh of relief. It wasn’t all bad. There were good people in that room.
I do remember, in response to someone saying that ace and aro people face medical discrimination, another participant speaking up. “My therapist said I couldn’t be aromantic because I like men,” they said. It was so personal; so heartbreaking; so absolutely atrocious that they had to bare themselves like that to rebut a bigot.
When I spoke, I tried to keep my voice level and non-accusatory. “When we talk about not wanting our oppressors in the community with us,” I said, “it’s not fair or even possible to single out ace and aro people. I’m a mentally ill person with a brain injury and I have to exist in this community with people who aren’t mentally ill and don’t have brain injuries. We all have intersecting identities.”
I said my piece. I left the room and went to comfort my friend. They were sobbing, curled up into a ball against the wall, and one of the organizers was sitting next to them and trying to calm them.
Another blur of names, faces, people crowding around P. and offering consolation. The head of the program came over and told us that in no way does the program support that kind of talk, that ace and aro people are welcome here, that they were not expecting that, that P. was absolutely still part of the program and nothing any other participants said would change that.
Two more participants, J. and R., walked out into the hallway and sat down next to us. I listened, trying to keep my mouth shut and not burst out in anger like I wanted to, as they comforted P.. “You know,” J. said at one point, “when we were leaving, [the participant who made the original rude remark] said, ‘Please don’t hate me.'”
Too late, I wanted to say.
“And the fact that they just went straight to cishet aces and aros,” R. said, “as if there aren’t any other kinds.”
“They were talking about ‘we shouldn’t let just anyone who wants to get in into the community,'” J. said, “as if people are trying to get in.”
“And basing it on who’s oppressed and who’s not … don’t they realize this whole summit is about moving past oppression and discrimination?” I said.
We sat out in that hallways for probably half an hour, discussing and comforting among the four of us. Occasionally, organizers or other participants would drop by and ask if we were doing okay. We shared cute animal pictures with P. to try and cheer them up. They laughed, finally, and smiled.
The head of the program dropped by and announced that snacks were here. “We’ve got fruit and veggies and soda and stuff,” she said. “Why don’t you go get something to eat?”
P. walked off to find the snacks and I followed. We sat down against one of the big windows facing the outside deck and the highway. “I don’t want to judge them,” P. said.
“Well, I will,” I said.
“Okay,” they said, “I don’t want to judge them because people say ignorant things and people can learn. But that hurt. I’ve been active in the community. I started a GSA at my last school and I’m going to start another one at my current school. I’m not an invader.”
“People can be awful,” I said.
I shared a story with them about being in a car coming back from an Against Me! concert. Everyone in the car was in college or recently graduated, everyone was chatting about how awful their high school GSAs3 were. One woman mentioned how her school’s GSA was “taken over by MOGAI4” and everyone in the car besides me groaned.
MOGAI, out here on the web, is a highly divisive term. People other love it (because it’s very inclusive) or hate it (because they think it speaks over LGBT people). It’s become synonymous in some circles with niche orientations and teenage “invaders” speaking over people who truly “belong” in the community.
In other words, it’s utilized as a verbal weapon by people who dislike the fact that ace and aro people are part of the queer community or, in some cases, exist at all.
I frankly find it disturbing that somebody would complain about a club that is supposed to exist specifically to uplift and create space for marginalized students being “taken over” by marginalized students who happen to identify in a way that person disagrees with. We become the bullies we ran from and cried about when we exclude people because they use labels we don’t like or personally use.
P. listened to me, taking deep breaths and trying to steady themselves as they ate a plate of apple slices. I could tell they had semi-recovered but still were shaken up. Other participants who had come out to snack wandered over to us in ones and twos to apologize and offer support.
We did not see the person who made the original remark.
Towards the end of the media training, the head of the program wandered out to us to ask P. how they were. “We’re going to split up into smaller groups for the breakout sessions,” she said. “Do you feel comfortable pointing out who said the original remark?”
P. said nothing.
“I will,” I said. I followed her inside and pointed out the person. She nodded. The media training presenter conferred with us.
“Oh my gosh, that topic took like 15 minutes after you left,” she said, partially to me and partially to the program head. “I could not get them to calm down.”
I went back to wait with P. until the person who made the original remark filed out. Once they were gone, we went back inside and, thankfully, had a few hours of panic-free discussion on real life and online activism.
We went out to dinner together later, P. and I, and talked about the rest of our day. “I was in line upstairs [to get a picture taken],” they said, “and this other person in line gave me the dirtiest look for my shirt.” That day, P. was wearing a “Asexual Illuminati” shirt and a demisexual pride flag pendant.
Let me make it clear: this was a summit specifically for queer college students. There were many, many students at it who were out and proud in their appearance. Beyond obviously trans and gender non-conforming students, lots of attendees had apparel with cheeky slogans about their genders and sexualities. P. was not the only person there with their sexuality on their shirt, if not their sleeve.
In a summit specifically designed to train queer college students to be leaders in their communities, it is absolutely ridiculous that people feel empowered to make disparaging comments about other members of the community. We all make silly jokes about cis straight people and how they don’t understand the dynamics of queerness but that is nowhere near the same as making offhanded comments about how other people “don’t belong” because their experiences with being a gender and/or sexuality minority do not fit one’s paradigm.
We must foster a queer community that allows in everyone who feels they have a place in it. This is not the same as “wanting” to be queer. Being queer means being marginalized and privileged people do not willingly opt to give up their privilege – on any axis – to become marginalized.
As a non-binary trans person who is attracted to multiple genders, I see acephobia as the weak, repurposed hatemongering it is. It’s nearly the same arguments as bi/pan/polyphobia, transphobia, and enbyphobia/exorsexism5. Same BS, different group.
People have always been making the argument that we must “close off” the community to keep ourselves safe. There is a grain of truth here: since there are so many different and intersecting identity groups in the queer community, of course we should have smaller, closed groups. And yes, we should have “closed” meetings where only queer people can come.
But ace and aro people have a place in those meetings if they choose to. There are no exceptions to the rule. And if we have smaller, more selective closed groups – groups for trans people, groups for bi/pan/poly people, groups for gay and lesbian people – ace and aro people should be included in those if they fit the necessary requirements.6
One of the most common arguments against ace/aro inclusion is that “the LGBT7 community came together to fight homophobia and transphobia.” If that argument is true – that we, as a community, fought together against all sorts of bigotry – then why do so many trans people report feeling alienated in cis-centric queer spaces? Why are bi/pan/poly-antagonistic acts so common in these spaces? Why, nearly 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, are the goals of leaders like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson not yet realized? Why do trans women elders (such as Miss Major Griffith-Gracy) still live in abysmal poverty caused by societal trans-exclusion? Why are gay and bisexual men still seen as disease vectors even though we now know that if HIV is undetectable on a blood test, it is untransmittable? Why are lesbians still denied proper reproductive health care under the false assumption that if they aren’t sexually active with men, they don’t need STI tests or Pap smears?
The idea that our community came together to fight anything all together is ridiculous. We are a community knit together because of our identities and our rejection from gender and sexual majority groups. The actual political and social aims of the queer community are so fractured and diverse that is it patently ridiculous to argue we “came together” to fight anything. Most of us are interested in fighting the discrimination we experience because of our gender and/or sexuality but so are ace and aro people.
If we really want to stop “straight invaders” in our community, we should stop deifying cishet allies and stop giving them cookie points for exhibiting basic decency. We should stop giving awards to cishet allies when those awards should really go to actual LGBTQIAPN2S+ people. We should keep up our demands that we are represented by our own in the media (~cough~ The Danish Girl ~cough~) instead of cishet people who do not have our lived experiences.
Excluding actual members of the community who don’t happen to share our exact attractions, frame of reference, and lived experiences isn’t the way to do it.
*In the interest of protecting others, I am not referring to my friend by their first initial and have chosen to use the singular ‘they’ to anonymize them further. I have also chosen to use the singular ‘they’ for people whose pronouns I do not know or who I feel should be kept anonymous.
- In the order the abbreviations appear: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, asexual/aromantic, intersex, non-binary, and two-spirit. ↩
- Cisgender AND heterosexual OR heteromantic ↩
- Gay-straight alliance and/or gender-sexuality alliance ↩
- Marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and intersex. A semi-common alternative to “LGBTQ+,” “queer,” and other acronyms and terms. ↩
- Enbyphobia (also spelled nbphobia or nb-phobia) is prejudice specifically again non-binary people. Exorsexism is the social phenomenon wherein binary trans people are centered and prioritized over non-binary people. ↩
- Sexual attraction is not the only kind of attraction that can exist between people. Some people (including ace and aro people) use the split attraction model, which breaks attraction down into two or more categories, most commonly “sexual attraction” and “romantic attraction.” Because a person can be asexual but still experience romantic attraction or be aromantic and still experience sexual attraction, it is possible for ace and aro people to also be gay, lesbian, bi(sexual/romantic), pan(sexual/romantic), poly(sexual/romantic), or any type of sexual/romantic attraction. ↩
- I use the acronym “LGBT” deliberately here: ace/aro exclusionists also often willfully do not include queer people, intersex people, two-spirit people, and often only include pan/poly people and non-binary people as an afterthought. ↩