This post was written by the Rev. John Longworth for ACE/ARO (Asexual/Aromantic) Awareness Week
When the well-meaning 7th grade classmate turned to me and said “do you think I’m cute?” and I honestly said “no’, and thus provoked she asked me , “well, do you think Nate is cute?” and I honestly said “no”, I was not broken.
When I was bullied and gay-baited as a youth, and my own denials left me more confused and alone, I was not broken.
When I talked and played cards with my date on prom night, I was not broken.
When I had my first crush on a guy, then on a girl, and mostly on no one at all, I was not broken.
When I got dumped after a few dates more than once because it wasn’t “going anywhere”, I was not broken.
When I survived a bad relationship with terrible boundaries, I was hurt, but I was not broken.
When I cherished consent so much that I asked my current partner to hold her hand on our second date, I was not broken.
When I married my best friend who is phenomenal at boundaries and consent, I was not broken.
When I finally discovered the community that used language that described my life with startling accuracy, I was not broken, I was whole.
Even so, my church has not always been so sure. From the candidacy committee member who was worried that my multiple piercings would mean that we needed to have “the talk”, to the countless church members in my first call who wondered when a baby would be on the way, to thousand insinuations that only married adults with children properly constitute a family. Something seems to give away that my experience and my being are not typical, and yet since my experience isn’t easy to name, the uncertainty turns into erasure.
Roughly 1% of the population identifies as asexual, sometime represented by the shorthand term “Ace”. I do not and cannot purport to speak for the whole spectrum of people who lay claim to this identity, which includes people who experience sexual attraction only with intense emotional bonds (demi-sexual), or only rarely (graysexual), or not at all. This is different from celibacy, which is a behavior choice. It’s the difference between not getting anything out of drinking coffee, and choosing not to drink it to cut down on caffeine even though you might like coffee.
Aces can have varying attitudes on sex itself, from sex-repulsion to sex neutrality to sex positivity. Some engage in sexual activity with a partner to care for that person, others do not. Not experiencing or rarely experiencing sexual attraction might make it harder for an Ace to understand the way sex works in sexual people’s relationships, but this doesn’t mean we can’t be strong proponents of consent and healthy sexual expression for others.
Aces describe a variety of romantic sensibilities. Some long for close, loving and affectionate (though not sexual) relationships with people of the same gender (homoromantic), a different gender (heteroromantic), more than one gender (biromantic) or irrespective of gender (panromantic). I would imagine that a pansexual person would quickly correct the assumption that they are sexually attracted to literally everyone, and as a panromantic I would echo that basic sentiment. Being able to form romantic attachment to people regardless of gender doesn’t mean falling for everyone.
In addition, there are a people who experience themselves as Aromantic or Aro for short. They don’t experience the longing I have described here. At the same time, some Aro folks derive great joy from closely bonded platonic friendships.
How can the church honor and welcome Ace and Aro people? First and foremost, trust that they are children of God and that they aren’t broken. Celebrate Asexual Awareness week which is October 22-28 in 2017 and usually falls in the second half of October each year.
Don’t assume that everyone is dating or married to someone or that it is tragic if they aren’t. Don’t assume that all couples, including romantically bonded couples are sexual or will have children. Never again use the term “only friends” as a pejorative for a relationship. Find ways to celebrate and honor singleness as a valid relational calling. Find ways to lift up long term friends and platonic couples to honor their loving care for each other. Practice healthy boundaries and consent with all people.
John Michael Longworth is an ELCA Pastor, Brother in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, dog-walker, earth mystic and poet residing in Vermont. He tries to decolonize his mind through Holy Listening.
To learn more vocabulary and participate in the world’s largest online forum for the Aro/Ace community visit AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) at asexuality.org