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Growing up on the aromantic spectrum but not yet having the language to understand it


15-year-old emo me. 

One of the most common queerphobic traits you come across is people moaning about how many words there are for people to explain their sexual orientation, romantic orientation and gender identity. You're making stuff up they cry! In my day you were only straight or gay, what is this nonsense. Pansexuals are just bisexuals who need attention. Asexuals just haven't met the right person! 

Etc etc. 

The thing is language matters. Language helps people express how they feel. Having one word to wrap up you're entire experience is handy. As a person who identifies as both bisexual and grey-romantic, two separate queer labels, I know first hand how meaningful it is to have words that help me express myself succinctly. 

(for the unaware, grey-romantic is a label on the aromantic spectrum when someone can experience romantic attraction but not very frequently). 

These words are important to me on a personal level because having these words helped me figure out who I was. I was lucky enough to discover the word bisexual before I actively began to experience sexual (and limited romantic) attraction, but I didn't know there was an aromantic spectrum until I was 28. This has made my two coming out journeys rather different. 

I was closeted bisexual until I was 27 and I have made no secret that I struggled with my sexuality. But I knew what I was from a young age, which did alleviate some of the negative internal feelings. That thank you goes to teenage magazines which, despite their flaws, were one of the few resources I had in the 00s to understand that not everyone was straight and that was okay. 

I however went through my teenage years and most of my twenties not having a fucking scooby why people thought the way I dated was weird. Even I didn't understand that I didn't date that way I was meant to and was constantly perplexed by the invasive questions. For years I thought people who had romantic crushes on a regular basis were massive fakers and were just desperate! (Obviously, I know now that's not true). 

Towards the end of primary school, classmates began having crushes and the girls I was friends with began chatting about the boys they fancied. The way they fancied people was different from my experience. I was beginning to experience sexual attraction and could tell when I thought someone was so cute I might want to kiss them. But swooning? Wasn't something I could relate to. 

High school was a little different. I did go on to have a romantic crush on someone in high school...and that person was my only crush throughout all of high school. Not because they were amazing and everyone else was shit (it was quite the opposite in hindsight) but because it was just the way I was built. Even at the time, I remember getting frustrated at my inability to find anyone else attractive. In the later years of high school, people were falling in love and I was just some kind of brick wall. 

It didn't go unnoticed by other people. I was regularly pressurised into telling people who I fancied (or even my Top 5 hahahaha) and was regularly not believed when I told them no one. I even told a few lies to shut people up and then the news would get out and everyone thought I fancied someone that I didn't. 

My family were roughly the same. It's not unusual for family members to tease teenage children as they enter their teenage years about who they fancy. But for queer kids, it can be frustrating at best and traumatic at worst. For myself, I was simultaneously dealing with that fact that my sexual attraction didn't exclusively gear towards boys along with not actually having much interest in dating at all. I once had a big fight with my mum because she asked who I was trying to look cute for in my new jumper. Obviously, a shouting match over that question is an over the top reaction, but combined with the newly found teenage hormones I was also just...confused....and tired...and not really understanding why I needed to have a crush. 

Nothing I've described so far is something you wouldn't get over. But fast forward to university and something did happen that is not uncommon amongst queer people of all identities: to get people off my back I faked a romantic relationship. I had the misfortune of sharing a flat with a genuinely not nice girl who was horrible to me about not having had a boyfriend by the age of 18. This really didn't help (remember I was still closeted bisexual and she was edging a wee bit too close to that information) so I got a boyfriend to shut her up (and everyone else who made comments along the way). 

But surprise surprise: when you get into a relationship for the wrong reasons that relationship has little chance of being healthy. He didn't care that much about me and I had little autonomy within the relationship, but I tolerated it because I thought a relationship was what I was meant to do. I've not spoken to him in over a decade and I've never asked him why he was with me, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he didn't enter our relationship for the correct reasons either. I would end up leaving this relationship because I developed an actual romantic crush on someone else (who at this point was still only my second romantic rush to date). 

My second relationship, despite having romantic feelings for that person, was also not that great. After both relationships ended, I made the promise that I would never enter a relationship again just to be in a relationship. I would be on the receiving end of more pressure during my twenties but I was a lot better at brushing away that pressure (aside from some weird situationship when I was 23). 

Queer people regularly confirm to keep people off our backs. Compulsory heterosexuality is a thing that is being spoken about a lot more. In my case it wasn't specifically heterosexuality I was confirming to but instead pretending to be alloromantic. It's not an uncommon experience for aromantic and asexual people to enter relationships that they don't really want to be in. Sometimes I wonder that if the aromantic spectrum was something I (and wider society) had heard about as a teenager would I maybe have turned down my first boyfriend and saved myself a lot of grief.  

I would discover the aromantic spectrum at 28. Here's a link to the blog post where I first discovered the word grey-romantic. By this point, I had realised that I experienced romantic attraction less frequently than most and had made my peace with it. It was still nice to discover the word and a whole online community who shared my feelings. Saying that there was no coming out. When I came out as a bisexual there was a practical element to coming out (I want cute people of all genders to know they can graft me) but with grey-romantic no one really needs to know about it. It's not that relevant or important. When I talk about being grey-romantic publicly it's more about raising awareness so that baby aromantics understand their feelings quicker than I did (and hopefully dodge a horrible relationship along the way). 

It's common for aphobes to claim that aromantics don't suffer in the same way that gay or bisexual people do. Of course we don't: it's an entirely different identity so the oppression doesn't show up the same way. Same as why bisexuals and gay people don't suffer exactly the same way, so we have the word biphobia that sits separately from homophobia. I've been on the receiving end of both biphobia and aphobia and they both fucking suck but in different ways. It was scarier to come out as bisexual but realising that I was grey-romantic was a longer and more confusing journey. No one in my own age group has ever tried to claim that my bisexuality is caused by an underlying mental health problem, but people have tried to convince me that my grey-romanticism can be fixed. Both had a negative effect on my mental health as a teenager.  It's not the oppression Olympics and I don't enjoy people trying to play my identities off against each other. 

So, aye, language matters and giving kids access to that language is important if you want them to discover who they are as young and swiftly as possible. I could have definitely benefited from it when I was younger, and so could many others. 

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