AROMANTIC IN THE SEASON OF LOVE
Shortly after moving to Georgia, Dawsonville resident Cipher Willett started a group on meetup.com for local asexual and aromantic people to help foster a sense of community and build a local support system.
“I moved here for my first job in my career,” Willett told Georgia Voice. “I had just realized within the last year I was asexual. I was trying to build a community and a support system, and I didn’t know a lot of people that identified as asexual or aromantic. This is a group where we can have discussions about our identities. There are aspects of being aromantic and asexual that are unique to us.”
While some people, Willett included, are both asexual and aromantic, the two terms refer to different identities.
According to the It Gets Better Project, an asexual person is “someone who either: experiences little or no sexual attraction, experiences attraction but doesn’t feel the need to act out that attraction sexually, or experiences sexual attraction differently depending on other variables.”
Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different things. Aromantic people are those who typically experience little to no romantic attraction.
Asexuality exists on a spectrum, and aromanticism exists on a different spectrum. As with other queer identities, a beautifully diverse set of experiences and identities exists on each of these spectrums.
On the asexual spectrum, a demisexual person is someone who only experiences sexual attraction after forming a close bond with someone. On the aromantic spectrum, a demiromantic person is someone who only experiences romantic attraction after forming a close bond with someone.
Most members of the meetup.com group are on the spectrum of asexuality, with about a quarter of the group identifying as aromantic.
Blake Wilson found the group after growing frustrated with a lack of understanding from straight friends.
Wilson, a Marietta resident, identifies as demisexual and aromantic, having realized they were on the asexual spectrum in their teen years. After years of learning about queer identities, Wilson realized they are also aromantic and poly.
“When people talk about dating, I never understood what that meant,” Wilson said. “I don’t get it. Someone asked me out once, and we went on a date. I realized that I didn’t click with their idea of romance and that I didn’t like that at all moving forward. I don’t like the level of intensity and weird possessiveness. I don’t understand exclusivity of emotions. To me [being] poly doesn’t apply to sexual or romantic relationships, [but rather] the desire to have or engage in multiple explicitly defined relationships as you want to define them.”
Willett started the group in late 2019, with a few meetings taking place before the pandemic put a stop to social gatherings. For several months, all communication among the group was virtual, but coffee shop meetups and hiking trips came back into the picture once public spaces were reopened and vaccinations were available.
The group mostly consists of people living in Atlanta and the metro area, with other members spread across north Georgia. Multiple friendships have blossomed in the group, with some group members even becoming roommates.
“It’s really nice to have this group of people,” Willett said. “There are societal expectations to have a romantic partner, and that’s not something I want. Having a group that can say, ‘I get what you’re talking about’ and act as a support system is great.”
The social pressures to have sex and find a partner are enforced across various media, from being the central plot in movies and television to the more subliminal messaging on sexualized billboard advertising and romantic getaway commercials.
The idea that everyone is better off in a romantic relationship and/or the assumption that everyone is seeking a monogamous romantic relationship is called amatonormativity.
Perhaps at no other time of year are these concepts more on display than during Valentine’s Day.
“I hate the commodification of human emotions, especially ones I don’t have,” Wilson said. “My most intimate relationships are with friends I get close to, and it feels like a day where friendship is rejected and other feelings are prioritized over friendship.”
Willett’s feelings toward the holiday are different.
“When I first figured it out and was accepting this identity, Valentine’s Day felt more like it was a lot of pressure about being in a romantic relationship,” Willett said. “Now I think of Valentine’s Day as an expression of love in general. I still deeply experience feelings of love, just as much as you would feel in a romantic relationship.”
Aromantic awareness week takes place the week after Valentine’s Day. Willett explained that in his youth he knew he didn’t feel attraction, but he didn’t have the words to describe his experience. Many queer people have felt this way, especially those with underrepresented identities.
Willett talked about friends who discovered their identity through knowing him and mentioned a married couple who both learned they were asexual years after getting married. These stories of queer people finding themselves warm his heart, but also speak to the need for awareness.
“There are so many different kinds of love possible, even if someone is aromantic and asexual,” Willett said. “The differences in attraction that we experience are part of what makes the human experience so wide and colorful. So even if a person can’t relate to the aromantic or asexual identities, I hope they can approach them with kindness.”
You can join the aromantic and asexual support group at meetup.com/north-gaaces-and-aros.