Asexuality, Aromanticism, and Emotional Detritus
There’s nothing more harrowing to me than being asked “why” when I’m asking someone to restructure a relationship. It’s immediately personal, deeply painful, and at some level, an inquisition.
And it’s not the tongue-in-cheek inquisition in Monty Python. It’s not arguing about how dead the parrot is, either.
Because, often, I find that I don’t know the parrot is dead until it stops squawking to be fed. The parrot in this case is my sexuality and my connection to romance.
Already, the latter has a tenuous meaning for me. As someone who practices relationship anarchy, I find the lines blurred between what I might do with what society defines as a “friend” or a “lover”. Add sex to the mix and the lines become even more difficult to discern.
I’ve come to not like the word “partner” or even “sweetie” because I’m sweet with everyone I trust. Everyone is at a different level of trust, surely, but the opportunity to gain more trust is always there if the individual(s) prove to me they are capable of earning it.
At any given point, people have equal potential energy for me; it’s just a matter of whether we turn it into kinetic energy between us. That kinetic energy can be expressed however we agree makes the most sense - sometimes it’s sexual, sometimes we only call each other up to see the next A24 movie. There aren’t boundaries unless we make them.
Naturally, there’s the element of chemistry between two people, but I find that this helps decide how exactly the kinetic energy is expressed. If that sounds too clinical, it’s because I’m trying to emphasize how much our society elevates a particular type of chemistry. As if we’re all supposed to be unwitting stars in our own personal rom-coms, and the friends who play our wingpeople at bars are only collateral, not central to the richness of our lives.
Over the course of my life, I’ve identified as some flavor of asexual. Most times I use demisexual and pansexual interchangeably, because with enough emotional connection, I could be attracted to anyone. And as I’ve come into my body as a transmasculine person, I have had times where I’ve been able to let myself go a bit - enjoy the ride, so to speak, without putting much thought into it.
Though, there are some intense periods of internal change where asexuality becomes more how I feel than anything else, and it was where I found myself over the last month. I’ve been working somatically in a class to address trauma and grief that’s been unaddressed for most of my adult life. While the post is not going to be about what I’ve been learning, I will say that it quickly triggered a cascade effect where my body gravitated away from wanting to be sexually satisfied by another person.
Already having a difficult time with deciding what was considered romantic, the often-significant feature of creating what society would deem a partnership ended up being whether or not I regularly had sex with a person.
And if I didn’t want to have sex? Where did that put the relationship?
I brought these questions up to a friend who also practices relationship anarchy. They nearly bounced out of their shoes.
“I’m experiencing this too!”
In our conversation, it became clear that we’d both been indoctrinated to the idea that, while sexuality is fluid and we have freedom to express it however we wish, the desire to have sex with someone who’d be considered a “partner” is supposed to be more or less constant. It’s as if we’re always supposed to be sexually attracted to them.
And, further, if after asserting that boundary of celibacy to explore this asexual period, what if there’s that One Time you might really want to engage in sex with a person? Does that undo your general feelings of asexuality and things are back to “normal”?
The answer’s “fuck no!”, of course.
Because our current society is so charged with sex as the whole sundae, as opposed to a topping you can add or take out of your ice cream, the messaging becomes murky. Even for people who have been actively practicing new ways of relating and unlearning these older ones, there are certain aspects of building relationships that stubbornly stick around.
Both of us noticed that, when we started to depersonalize during sex, it was when we started recognizing there was some internal threshold that was touched upon, that something needed to be addressed.
I called it “emotional detritus” - imagine your internal landscape as a field. Then storms rush over that field several times over the course of years. It blows in trash and broken branches, flattens grass… When do you have time to clean it up? What does cleaning it up look like?
I found for myself (and I’d guess for my friend too based on what they said) that when my field is cluttered, I stop being able to inhabit my body. It’s too cluttered - why would I want to be in it?
My solution was the somatics class, which is actively getting me to stand on that field, recognize the mess, then go about cleaning it up. Hence the cascade effect of not feeling sexual attraction.
Adopting the term aromantic is new for me. It came after being in relationships that had some kind of pressure to differentiate them from the complex platonic relationships I had with others. I realized that in not addressing that, it was frustrating and painful for both parties - that there is a level of expectation that I’m agreeing to something I thought was clear when I stated I practiced relationship anarchy.
My friend has someone who’s been in their life for years. They relate intimately on several levels but never once put a label on their relationship. They just simply are. Period of celibacy or no, their feelings for each other have not changed: just evolved to encompass new realities, new ways to accept that we’re all healing from the toxic civilization we’re forced to inhabit here in the west.
I envision a world (or at least a large community) where how we relate to each other isn’t questioned, that what matters is we treat each other with the respect we deserve. I hope for a day where everyone is able to experience the pleasure and complexity of being in relationship without having to define it in dictionary terms, and instead by the boundaries they want honored.
Before you ask… yes I did just start reading Pleasure Activism. I imagine more thoughts will be brought to fruition over the coming days. Have all this time while isolating post-COVID exposure after all. 😑️
End note: I’ve gotten some questions about this and I wanted to clear it up here so others could also understand. I am aware of the difference between asexuality and not wanting to have sex. I am an ace-spectrum person who chooses to engage in sex when I feel it is right for me. I cannot speak for my friend, but I can say for myself that sexual attraction waxes and wanes for me, and with it comes a waxing and waning of desire to engage in sexual activity. This often coincides with personal changes of self and the need to address them. Celibacy, whether strictly or gently enforced within oneself, is not the same as experiencing asexuality, but they can exist together.