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"ACE AND ARO PEOPLE ARE JUST STRAIGHT" IS A HETERONORMATIVE LIE

Listen to ace and aro folks when we share our stories, and recognize that others’ inability or unwillingness to see the truth of our experiences does not define or erase us.

TW/CW: This essay mentions sexual violence, r/pe, death threats, and suicide 

It’s always interesting to me when queer allos confidently make the claim that asexuals and aromantics are simply hetero-oriented people who don’t date or have sex. It’s also frustrating and headache-inducing—as it demonstrates a continued willful ignorance and commitment to misunderstanding asexuality and aromanticism—but mostly, it’s interesting. 

I’m fascinated by the cognitive dissonance of it, more than anything else. This claim carries so many implications that are antithetical to queerness. Not to mention that lumping all of us together as “straight” doesn’t account for the reality of split attraction. It erases biromantic asexuals, aromantic gays, asexual lesbians, aromantic pansexuals, homoromantic asexuals, and more. 

Asexual people are asexual. 

Aromantic people are aromantic. 

Straight people are straight. 

These are all vastly different things. 

It’s a very simple concept, and yet people act as though it’s impossible to grasp. Being straight means to experience sexual and romantic attraction exclusively for another gender—what cisnormative rhetoric refers to as “the opposite sex.” Neither asexuality nor aromanticism meet this criteria because they are both defined by a lack of sexual or romantic attraction. 

Said another way: Straight people experience both sexual and romantic attractions to a specific gender. Ace and aro people do not. Perhaps allos would recognize the flaw in their logic if they weren’t so busy trying to gatekeep queerness. 

But this goes beyond a misunderstanding of and refusal to acknowledge asexuality and aromanticism for what they really are. Many queer allos and exclusionists also keep parroting the lie that ace and aro people never experience discrimination based on our ace-ness and/or aro-ness. And because of their belief in this falsehood, they insist that we have “straight-passing” privilege.

Allosexuals are not and never will be qualified to make declarations about asexual and aromantic experiences. Our testimonies include stories of gaslighting, mockery, and abuse by friends, partners, family, co-workers, and more because we don’t want sex or romance with the intensity they think we should. Many of us have been infantilized and belittled because sex and romance are seen as markers of maturity and adulthood. We’ve been pressured into romantic and sexual situations because someone made us feel like we were broken if we didn’t accept these things as inescapable inevitabilities. 

RECOMMENDED: ASEXUAL IS QUEER AND GATEKEEPING IS NOT LIBERATION

We’re often dehumanized—seen as “failures” of humanity, as inhuman, alien, robotic—because sex and romance are accepted as essential parts of being human, and not wanting them must mean that we are something else entirely. Our non-normative experiences with sexual and romantic attractions have been medicalized and pathologized, subjecting us to ableist and even eugenic thought and rhetoric because something must be physiologically or psychologically wrong with us for not experiencing attraction the way allosexuals do. 

A heartbreaking number of us have endured corrective rape and coercive sex because someone thought they could “fix” us, or because they felt we owed it to them, or made us feel like we were somehow hurting them if we didn’t agree to sex, because their desires were more important than our comfort and safety. We’ve gotten death threats, simply because some people think that us having little to no sexual or romantic attractions means that we shouldn’t exist at all. Ace and aro Twitter users have been added to group chats without warning and sent hateful aphobic messages, including ones telling us to kill ourselves. 

People do these things to us because they enjoy it, because they think we deserve it, because they actively want to see us dead, and they do it because we are asexual and aromantic

None of this is “straight-passing” privilege. It’s heteronormativity and compulsory sexuality, it’s rape culture and amatonormativity. It’s a lifetime of people feeling entitled to sex and relationships with us, and taking their anger out on us when we don’t perform what they consider to be “normal” because we make them uncomfortable. It’s people hating us because we are not like them and wanting to see us in pain. 

The persistent belief that ace and aro folks do not experience any forms of discrimination or violence because of our identities adds yet another layer of cognitive dissonance to all of this. Perpetuating this myth is itself a form of aphobic harm. 

RECOMMENDED: ‘It’s Not You, It’s Not Me’ Centers Allosexual Feelings And Fails Asexual People

What queer gatekeepers claim is the “straight-passing” privilege of ace and aro folks is nothing more than them projecting their own heteronormative assumptions onto us. It’s their assumption that “straight” is the default orientation, that all ace and aro people would automatically be hetero-oriented if we experienced attraction the way allosexuals do, and that everyone is “straight” unless proven otherwise. Each of these assumptions is counterproductive to queer liberation. 

Insisting that ace and aro folks are “straight” and that we carry privileges because of it is an attempt to paint us as infiltrators and frauds amongst “authentically” queer folks. It’s an intentional erasure of our identities and a refusal to see us for who we are. Listen to ace and aro folks when we share our stories, and recognize that others’ inability or unwillingness to see the truth of our experiences does not define or erase us. Don’t fall into the aphobic trap set by exclusionists, and don’t swallow their heteronormative lies. 

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Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies.

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