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Aces and Aros: Invisibly Oppressed

This article was originally created as a paper for an AP Language and Composition class.

This paper aims to provide insight into a relevant, but under-discussed conversation about invisible identities within the LGBTQ+ community. To give myself some credibility, I identify with the aromantic and asexual identities, effectively making me an aroace individual. As I started to integrate myself into these very welcoming communities, I noticed the lack of discourse on these two identities, something I would not have noticed if I had not realized that I was aromantic and asexual. The primary focus within the LGBTQ+ community is people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. The reason for this would have to do with their well-documented struggles and fight for equality and basic human rights from their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. This focus causes identities such as asexuality and aromanticism to be invisible to the general public and most of the LGBTQ+ community. A direct consequence of this invisibility is the notion that aromantic and asexual people should not be included in the LGBTQ+ community. This argument is built on the assumption that aromantic and asexual people have not been oppressed in the manner that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people have. This paper will go against that notion and say that these identities should be included in the LGBTQ+ community by proving that their invisibility is their version of systemic oppression.

Although some members believe that aromantic and asexual people belong in the LGBTQ+ community, some members believe that aromantic and asexual people do not belong in the community. This is because aromantic and asexual people do not experience the same systematic oppression gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people experience. Essentially, asexual and aromantic oppression, if experienced, has to be tangible and documented. Throughout history, the systematic oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people has been heavily documented by numerous advocacy groups and government systems. Many laws have been passed to discriminate against these groups of people and many laws have been passed to protect them as well. The same can not be said for aromantic and asexual people. The oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people ranges from being arrested for their clothing to being denied jobs due to their identities (Kelsey). There have been high-profile events that have occurred and highlight the significant steps that activists have taken to protect and recognize various members of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, the Stonewall Uprising started on June 28, 1969, and lasted until July 3, 1969. This event involved a police raid of a gay bar and the endurance of LGBTQ+ protesters as they fought back. This event single-handedly changed the discourse around LGBTQ+ activism (Library of Congress). Aromantic and asexual people have not had any high-profile events that have catapulted them into the spotlight and public discourse. Since their struggles are not well-documented, there should not be an addition of “A” to the LGBTQ+ acronym. They do not meet the qualifications for being added, while gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people not only have met those expectations but exceeded them as well. Giving them the “A” in the acronym would imply that anyone can be in the community even though they have no documented evidence of a struggle in their fight for equality. 

A primary argument for including aromantic and asexual people in the LGBTQ+ community is that people who identify as aromantic and/or asexual are not considered straight and they build relationships that are outside of the binary in terms of romantic and platonic relationships. For example, asexual and aromantic people often participate in Queerplatonic Relationships (QPRs). A queerplatonic relationship is a partnership that intentionally defies traditional relationship categories and can take elements from romantic, platonic, and sexual relationships (The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project). Asexual and aromantic people choose to participate in a queerplatonic relationship because they each have needs that may not be fulfilled in traditional romantic and sexual relationships based on their identities. Not every partnership is filled with romance or sex, and both are not needed to be happy and fulfilled. Asexual and aromantic people and their partners can make their own rules in their QPR and they do not have to worry about following any societal rules that may hinder their partnerships from thriving. The existence of QPRs shows that relationships can be built without the foundation of traditional expectations. 

If Ace and Aro people are invisible, then their struggles are also hidden away from the community. The history of aromantic and asexual people can be summarized with one word: invisible. It has only been just recently that aromantic and asexual people have been talked about in public spaces. Even while this has been the case, asexuality is more well-known than aromanticism, though the margin is not very significant. This fact matches up with reality as only 1% of the world population identifies as aromantic and/or asexual (UC Santa Barbara RCSGD). The language and terms ace and aro people use to describe themselves have only started to be utilized in recent years. This resulted in our history going undocumented and unrecognized, which prevented a lot of people from either realizing they are aromantic and/or asexual or ending up figuring it out in the later stages of their lives. Our undocumented and unrecognized history also led to not having any media representation in animation and live-action television shows. The main groups from the LGBTQ+ community that get representation are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Although this represents the majority of the LGBTQ+ community, the lesser-known identities should be represented so awareness can be brought to these identities. These identities should not be limited to online spaces and the internet overall, even though these resources have been a tremendous help. 

The words “asexual” and “aromantic” were first used in the 1700s and the 1960s, respectively (Oxford English Dictionary). However, the first use of the word “asexual” was used to describe fungi, so the first use of the word referring to a sexual orientation was in 1896, in a study conducted by German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (Cottais). The word “aromantic”, was first used in a 1967 issue of The New England Quarterly, a peer-reviewed academic journal. In terms of people identifying with these words, the first instance of this occurring was in 2005 for aromantics and in 1972 for asexuals (Stremel). “Aromantic” was used in the AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) community online, while “asexual” was used in The Asexual Manifesto by Lisa Orlando (Everbach). 

In mainstream media, asexual people tend to get more representation than aromantic people, though it is not a significant difference. In most mainstream media, all we have are ambiguous signs of a character being either aromantic and/or asexual. Even then, most people will claim that they are heterosexual even though said character showed no interest in dating or sex. A notable asexual character from a popular animated television show is Todd Chavez from Bojack Horseman, a show I watched and enjoyed. The series dedicates multiple episodes to Todd’s journey of discovering his asexuality. He goes from saying he’s “nothing” to fully accepting his asexual identity and even going on dates with other asexual people (AUREA). 

Aromantic and asexual people are also not mentioned in any public policies regarding work-based discrimination and medical discrimination. Back before asexuality was more accepted as a sexual orientation, it used to be classified in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). It was classified as a “sexual dysfunction” and remained in the fourth edition (DSM-IV-TR) and was taken out of the fifth edition (DSM-V) in 2013 (Stremel). A lack of sexual desire was seen as “unnatural” and needed fixing, according to the DSM-III and DSM-IV-TR. To classify asexuality as a sexual disorder is like saying that a person who does not have an affinity for chocolate should be classified as a disorder simply because they do not like it. This also goes with aromanticism, just because someone does not have an affinity for romance and/or does not feel romantic attraction does not mean that they are “broken” and need “fixing”. This implies that asexuality and aromanticism are wrong and need to be corrected. Since asexuality was classified as a sexual disorder, it was not included in any policies regarding discrimination. 

The first piece of pro-LGBTQ+ legislature, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was passed in 2009, which provided new protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens (United States Capitol Historical Society). While providing protection against hate crimes for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people was a significant step in the right direction, it failed to provide protection for asexual and aromantic people. The only state that explicitly protects asexuality is New York and no states explicitly protect aromanticism, as of April 2019 (Asexuality Archive). In addition, a few states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Minnesota, and the United States territory of Puerto Rico mention romantic attractions in their laws. Still, they are vague (Asexuality Archive). The lack of clarity in these laws goes to show that the United States still has a long way to go in terms of protecting all LGBTQ+ citizens. Outside of the United States, Tasmania became the first country to officially recognize asexual, aromantic, and agender people by adding the “A” to their official acronym, LGBTIQA+ on July 17, 2023 (Tasmanian Times). 

While it may seem that asexual and aromantic people do not experience any oppression, their invisibility is their tangible, and arguably documented, oppression and struggle that would hypothetically qualify them to have the “A” added to the LGBTQ+ acronym. Invisibility makes it harder for groups to spread awareness and fight for the equality they deserve. The invisibility of aromantic and asexual people results in the continuation of harmful myths and stereotypes. For example, a lot of people, even members of the LGBTQ+ community think that being asexual/aromantic means someone is “basically straight” and therefore should not be included in the LGBTQ+ community, this is also tied to the lack of documented systemic oppression (Kelsey). The myth denies the existence of the asexual and aromantic people who utilize the split-attraction model. This model explains how an individual experiences attraction that can be split into categories. The split attraction model was created by the asexual community in an effort to describe their orientation in a more detailed manner (Princeton Gender and Sexuality Resource Center). This is where terms such as biromantic asexual, aromantic bisexual, aromantic lesbian, homoromantic asexual, and many more come from. Stating aromantic and asexual people are “basically straight” ignores aromantic and asexual people who identify with other LGBTQ+ identities, myself included. The lack of visibility of these identities prevents people from learning and understanding asexuality and aromanticism, which hurts these communities in the long run. 

To highlight how important awareness is to a group of people that are/were deemed invisible from society are disabled people. A disability is a condition of the body or mind that makes it more challenging for a person to do certain activities and interact with the world around them (CDC). The fight for disability rights and awareness began in the 1800s and continues today. The disability rights movement grew in popularity in the 1900s and the League of the Physically Handicapped was organized in the 1930s to fight for employment during the Great Depression (National Park Service). The disability rights movement resulted in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 being passed (National Park Service). 

The continuous efforts put forth by the various organizations of the disability rights movement are an example of how awareness of a group that was once invisible helps them become visible and get the rights and recognition that they need and deserve. Disabled people need to get recognition so they can get the resources they need, such as ramps for wheelchair users and sidewalk modifications for the visually impaired. Their continued fight for awareness and visibility helped them become a part of conversations where these modifications are needed, such as in architectural fields and video production. A similar thing could happen to asexuality and aromanticism if advocacy groups continue to fight for rights and awareness as these groups continue to integrate into public discourse and be included in the LGBTQ+ community. Some aromantic and asexual advocacy groups/organizations are the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN); The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP); the Aromantic-spectrum Union for Recognition, Education, and Advocacy (AUREA); and Aces & Aros (PFLAG). These organizations have continuously worked towards spreading awareness of asexual and aromantic identities to push us a step closer to getting recognition from the general public and the majority of the LGBTQ+ community. The more awareness and recognition we get, the more resources, policies, and support become available to some members of our communities who may need them more than others. 

To continue to bring awareness to asexual and aromantic identities, members and advocacy groups need to discuss them in relevant contexts, which include the healthcare system, education system, and home life. For example, physicians often assume that their patient's lack of sexual or romantic attraction may be the result of a hormonal imbalance or even a mental illness. Educating healthcare professionals on what aromanticism and asexuality are will help them better understand their patients and provide more personalized care for them. In terms of the education system, aromantic and asexual identities could be taught in a gender and sexualities class in college or a health class in high school. Talking about these identities in an educational setting may help students understand others around them and potentially understand themselves better. As for home life, family members and friends should not assume one’s identity and state that it is a “phase” and that they are “too young” to know whether or not they are aromantic and/or asexual. In addition, stating that they “have not met the right person yet” is harmful and indicates that you are not taking them seriously when they are trying to be vulnerable. Listening to and supporting their identity is essential to spreading awareness and acceptance of asexual and aromantic identities. 

Asexual and aromantic people should be included in the LGBTQ+ community because their invisibility is their version of systematic oppression that seems to be required when discussing their inclusion. The lack of information and awareness of these identities causes their oppression and prevents them from being able to integrate themselves into society without hiding who they are. As I say this, I must acknowledge that there will be constraints, we only have what is on the internet, databases, and libraries to work with. I have also used what I noticed while integrating into the LGBTQ+ community and the individual asexual and aromantic communities and my experience with being aromantic and asexual. Overall, awareness and recognition are the invitations for people to be able to learn more about themselves and their peers.


Works Cited 

The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project. "Aspecs and Queer Platonic Relationships – Part One." The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP), 16 July 2022, Accessed 15 May 2024. 

Asexuality Archive. "A Survey of Laws." Asexuality Archive, 18 Apr. 2019, Accessed 15 May 2024. 

AUREA. 3 Apr. 2020, Accessed 15 May 2024. 

Capitol History. entation-within-congress/. Accessed 15 May 2024. 

CDC. "Disability and Health Overview." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, y%3F,around%20them%20(participation%20restrictions). 

Cottais, Camille. "Asexuality: A Sexual Orientation Still Unknown and Pathologised." Generations for Rights Over the World (GROW), 20 Dec. 2021, ed/. Accessed 15 May 2024. 

Everbach, Helen Martha. Asexual and Aromantic Perspectives on the Representation of Asexual and Aromantic Desire, Sexual and/or Romantic Behaviors, Identity Development, and Community. San Francisco State University, MA thesis. Accessed 15 May 2024. 

LGBTQ American History For the People, Kelsey. "Should Asexuals Be Included in the LGBTQ+ Community?" Medium, 26 Apr. 2017. Medium, -online-over-whether-or-not-asexuality-truly-belongs-in-the-b23a28a20c21. Accessed 2 Apr. 2024. 

Library of Congress. "1969: The Stonewall Uprising." Library of Congress, C%20the,of%20gay%20and%20lesbian%20life. Accessed 15 May 2024. 

National Park Service. "Disability History: The Disability Rights Movement." National Park Service, 0rights%20movement%20continues,employment%20during%20the%20Great%20Depres sion. Accessed 15 May 2024. 

Oxford English Dictionary. %20of,Velley. Accessed 15 May 2024. Used to search for the origin of the words "asexual" and "aromantic" rliest%20known%20use%20of,1967%2C%20in%20New%20England%20Quarte rly.

PFLAG. "Asexual and Aromantic Resources." PFLAG, Accessed 15 May 2024. 

Princeton Gender and Sexuality Resource Center. "Split Attraction Model." Princeton Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, Accessed 15 May 2024. 

Stremel, Emily. A History of Asexuality: From Medical Problem to a Recognized Sexual Orientation. 

Tasmanian Times. 17 July 2023, Accessed 15 May 2024. 

UC Santa Barbara Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Asexual%20and%20Aromantic%20people%20make,24%20(Bianchi%2C%202018). Accessed 15 May 2024.