Last week, Kristin shared a blogpost about the “A,” in LGBTQIA+, and how, despite sometimes being used this way in the past, “A” does not, and should not, stand for ally. There are many identities within the queer community that the A does represent (asexual, aromantic, and/or agender), but these identities are already underrepresented and often invisibilized, even from within the queer community, and a tiny step we can do to give these groups more representation and recognition is to accurately use the “A.” That’s why this week, I want to take some time to look at the history and identities that do fall under this letter, and discuss what the library (and you!) can do to better support these communities.
To start talking about asexuality and aromanticism, it helps to first talk about the Split Attraction Model. The Split Attraction Model is a concept that has been around in some form since at least the 1870s, but has been popularized as a way to talk about identity over the last fifteen to twenty years. It states that sexual and romantic attraction can function independently from one another. If you’ve ever found someone physically attractive but weren’t romantically interested, or someone’s physical attraction grew for you as you got to know them, these are examples of the Split Attraction Model at work. But when it comes to identity specifically, this model is used to talk about how, in addition to romantic and sexual attractions developing at different speeds, some people might only ever experience one or the other, or neither. For more information about the Split Attraction Model, check out this article from AUREA, an aromantic-focused volunteer organization.
It makes sense then that asexuals, often shortened to aces, can be defined as people that do not experience sexual attraction. Because this is distinctly different than their romantic attraction, a person’s asexuality does not impact their ability to be romantically interested in someone, nor does it dictate whether they’re interested in short- or long-term relationships, or any romantic relationship at all. Another important distinction is that asexuality is not the same as abstinence. Abstinence is a person’s choice to not seek out physical relationships even though they might still experience the desire or attraction. Asexuality is an innate lack of attraction, which may or may not mean abstaining from physical relationships. Historically, recognition of asexual communities has been recorded in academic research at least as far back as the 1860s, and have had a variety of other terms used including monosexual, asensual, and occasionally Xsexual, with the “X” standing for none. Since at least the early 2000s, asexual has become the dominant identifier used for this community. This surprisingly in-depth Wikipedia article dives deeper if you’re interested.
Along the same lines, aromantics, often shorted to aros, are people who do not experience romantic attraction. While there are some members of this community who are both asexual and aromantic, aromaticism does not automatically correlate with someone’s experiences with sexual attraction, and aromantics may or may not choose to have flings, short term relationships, or long-term relationships, marriages, and families. Commonly stereotyped to be uninterested in serious relationships, a 2020 study found that aromantics are no less likely to commit to relationships or raise children, but are more likely to do so in nontraditional family dynamics such as queerplatonic relationships, which are committed relationships built around emotional connection and shared values rather than romance (for a more in depth explanation of queerplatonic relationships, check out this article from Psychology Today). Aromantics have often been overlooked in research because much of the historical research was focused on physical behavior and prevalence of relationships rather than internal desire, but the community has been gaining recognition of their identity and terminology since the rise of the Split Attraction Model in the early 2000s.
While asexuals and aromantics do not experience sexual or romantic attraction, agender people are, instead, individuals who do not have or identify with any gender. Sometimes also called genderless, ungendered, nongendered, or gender free, agender people are often (but not always) considered part of the nonbinary community, which makes up all genders outside of binary men and women. Agender people often use they/them/theirs as pronouns but can use any pronoun combination and can dress and present in any way, from androgynous to hypermasculine or hyperfeminine, since pronouns and gender presentation do not always correlate with someone’s gender identity or lack thereof. The term agender began appearing in queer communities online in the early 2000s, but identities described as devoid of gender have been recorded in many different cultures globally for hundreds of years, if not longer. For more information about agender identities, check out this article from Healthline.
While all three of these communities vary in focus and the unique challenges they face, asexuals, aromantics, and agender communities share a common lack of understanding by the general public, and sometimes even by the rest of the queer community, which leads to increased invisibilization and discrimination. This lack of understanding often comes from a lack of exposure to, and recognition of, these identities, and that’s where libraries can help! Library collections, displays, and programming increase understanding and representation through education, creating partnerships with local queer communities and organizations, and promoting healthy representation in our collections. With that in mind, if you’d like to learn more about these communities, check out this nonfiction list. If you’d like to read exciting fiction titles with ace, aro, or agender representation, check out this fiction list!