Where is the love?

Stephanie Farnsworth examines how the LGBTQ+ community is erasing romantic identities.


The confused messages behind the LGBTQ+ community and its campaigning strategies have often helped contribute to a lack of understanding of just who belongs in the community, and this is certainly true when it comes to recognising the diverse spectrum of romantic orientations. While the more exclusionary members of the community may like to argue that should mean we need to have a cull of anyone who isn’t strictly cisgender and gay from the community/branding, the community actually needs to get better at inclusionary language. The fact is that numbers wise, if the cis gay community want to break it off then by all means go for it: your population is tiny, and your income will plummet.

Branding is a crucial facet to the community. In the wake of tragedies, the community has often been good at seizing the moment to highlight atrocities committed by hate, but the messages are often problematic. The most famous example in recent times would be that of the Orlando massacre committed against LGBTQ+ Latinx people. The popular message that grabbed the world’s attention in the wake of the tragedy was the “#LoveisLove” campaign. It was a simple slogan and powerfully done, but as The Queerness has already shown it was particularly problematic.

In the wake of tragedies, the community has often been good at seizing the moment to highlight atrocities committed by hate, but the messages are often problematic.

What it does symbolise though is that the LGBTQ+ community has always been quick to tie the movement to love. This isn’t always correct (because the community should also focus upon gender and sexuality), but it also is highly ironic when much of the time the community lets down those of different romantic orientations.

Romantic orientations are often taken for granted under the mistaken yet common belief that they will automatically line up with one’s sexuality and therefore if you are only sexually attracted to men then you will also only be romantically attracted to men. The reality is that romantic orientations do not necessarily parallel sexual orientations, in fact sometimes they can be in very different areas on the spectrum of attraction.

By far one of the most overlooked identities within the community is that of aromanticism. It’s an orientation that is often treated as suspicious and is an indicator of those who are cold or unable to commit. It’s a dangerous and deliberate misconception designed to shame those who don’t experience romantic attraction or long for conventional long term romantic monogamous relationships.

It’s a dangerous and deliberate misconception designed to shame those who don’t experience romantic attraction or long for conventional long term romantic monogamous relationships.

Aromanticism is also a diverse identity; some may experience romantic attraction but it’s too infrequent or not as strong as they may expect and so they identify as somewhere on the spectrum of aromantic. Just as a bisexual person doesn’t have to be sexually attracted to all people of all genders equally, an aromantic person does not have to experience zero romantic attraction to be able to claim the identity.

Aromantic cisgender women are routinely treated as somehow unnatural for not falling in love, aromantic cisgender men are often dismissed as just typical men who will settle down when they find “the one”, while aromantic transpeople are told that their romantic orientations are yet further proof that they supposedly violate the norms of society. The community has often been quick to claim that we can’t be told who to love and yet we so often forget that message on our own doorstep. Visibility for different sexual orientations has increased, but romantic orientations largely remain unrecognised.

Let’s be clear: a person who is aromantic isn’t unfeeling. Aromantic people are regularly accused of being psychopathic (and there’s nothing wrong with a lack of feelings; it’s abusive behaviour that should only ever be challenged). Aromantic people are often at greater risk of being manipulated or coerced into engagements that violate their own boundaries. It’s such an unrecognised identity, and the community does such a disservice to its aromantic members, that  there is almost no support available for aromantic people. The only relationships presented in society are not just sexual relationships but ones where romantic feelings are strongly present, particularly if the relationship is long term. So much of our media depends on selling stories about love, but the way we have depicted that has so often been at the expense of those with different romantic orientations than heteroromanticism.

The LGBTQ+ community (and let’s be honest, it is dominated by white gay cisgender people) has led a strong campaign to destroy the bigots’ ideas of the community engaging in sin and rampant sexual activity and based the whole battle on equal rights on the issue of love. While this is often at odds with the world of Grindr and the very exclusive nature of the community, it’s also a false tactic when the community has done little to nothing to promote different romantic orientations. Most people will talk of sexuality but never differing romantic identities.

Such a position isolates many from the community that is supposed to help support people figure out who they are and offer support. It’s an exclusive world for bisexual people at the best of times; often viewed as traitors for not being exclusively gay, but if one is biromantic and especially heteroromantic then they find themselves being told in no uncertain terms that their presence simply isn’t wanted in LGBTQ+ spaces.

Such a position isolates many from the community that is supposed to help support people figure out who they are and offer support. I

It is entirely possible for one to be gay but also heteroromantic. It’s also possible for a person to be homoromantic but never sexually attracted to a member of the same gender. It isn’t a betrayal of the community. Any limited thinking and acceptance is a betrayal by the community to its members. So few people are able to talk about their romantic identities for fear it will erase their queerness or that if they acknowledged certain attractions, their LGBTQ+ friends would shun them.

Romantic orientations are as complex and diverse as sexual orientations. Our language needs to include that and one basic step would be to acknowledge the fact that not all homosexual people are homoromantic, just as not all bisexual people are biromantic, pansexual people panromantic, asexual people aromantic, and heterosexual people heteroromantic and so forth. We’re very possibly living in the greatest age since the Ancient Greeks for sexual diversity and yet our ability to acknowledge the different possible experiences of life remains as limited as it ever was. By all means, let’s scream hard for greater sexual freedom but when we also proclaim to fight for love, let us also commit wholeheartedly to the cause.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter (@StephFarnsworth)

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