Sometimes I think the asexual community takes the idea of “romantic orientation” too seriously. Heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, panromantic, aromantic - this is a model we invented by copying the divisions of the usual Western sexual orientation model. And those divisions originated from historical precedent and cultural biases, they aren’t a hard fact of nature.
When we identify with a sexual or romantic orientation, we are looking at a natural phenomenon (emotions and behavior) and grouping it into an artificial, socially-defined category. That’s not to say that these categories are useless or meaningless. Most of us do get a personal benefit from being able to understand ourselves as gay, straight, bi, asexual, etc., and that’s enough to make these categories worth keeping around.
So, I definitely think “romantic orientations” are good concepts to have available. But we should keep in mind that they are artificial distinctions, not natural ones, and we can’t assume that these distinctions will make sense for every person’s feelings.
I looked at the 2011 asexual community survey again. A full 29% of respondents did not identify with one of the “usual” romantic orientations:
Other monoromantic: 4%
The “Other” category breaks down like this:
My romantic orientation is fluid: 33%
There is no difference between romantic and non-romantic attraction to me: 8%
I am demiromantic: 16%
I am gray-romantic: 13%
I am unsure at this time: 40%
Other (write-in): 11%
So this means there’s a significant number of asexual-spectrum people who don’t know their romantic orientation:
29% x 40% = 11.6% of all respondents
And another big portion for whom romantic orientation is best described as “fluid”:
29% x 33% = 9.6% of all respondents
And some others who feel no difference between romantic and non-romantic attraction:
29% x 8% = 2.3%
That’s a good 23.5%, or more than of fifth of the entire community that responded, for whom the concept of “romantic orientation” might not really work. I think we need to talk about these people and their experiences more.
And many people are aromantic-spectrum but don’t identify as strictly aromantic:
29% x (16+13)% = 8.4%
It’s difficult for most aromantic-spectrum people to figure out their romantic orientation. That makes me wonder whether the model we’re using is the best one possible, or the only one that we need. Perhaps some people would find it more useful to think of themselves as romance-enjoying, romance-indifferent or romance-repulsed. Or perhaps they would find it easier to define their lifestyle as nonamorous instead of trying to work out if their orientation is aromantic or not.
So while “romantic orientation” is a useful concept for most asexual-spectrum people, I think the community as a whole is too hasty to assume that it applies to everyone. I’d like to see more “asexual education” and “asexuality 101” materials that point out the fact that you don’t have to identify your romantic orientation if you don’t want to. It’s important to distinguish it as a concept, so that people have a clearer idea of what asexuality is, but we shouldn’t give asexual-spectrum people the impression that they must fit into a romantic orientation category.
At the very least, I know there are a lot of people who are relieved to discover the concept of “WTFromantic” - coined for people who aren’t sure what their romantic orientation is, who don’t perceive a clear difference between feelings of romance and friendship, or for whom “romantic orientation” does not apply.
I’d love to see someone talk about how cultural differences and Western-centrism are relevant to this. Does anyone have thoughts?