The acronym used to address the community of gay, transgender, and people of otherwise marginalized sexuality and/or gender nonconformity has shifted rapidly throughout the recent past, adding, subtracting, and rearranging letters as variously identified groups come forward with their own (often newly coined) labels. LGBT has become LGBTA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and asexual), LGBTQIAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual/aromantic, and pansexual), and even QUILTBAG (queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual/aromantic, and gay). Considering the vast extent of labels that many people are choosing to use--often incredibly niche, and typically used in couplings to denote very specific identities, such as “demisexual genderqueer lesbian”--it’s near enough impossible to create an accurate and thoroughly inclusive acronym. Many people, myself included, have settled on “LGBT+”, with the plus sign included to encompass all other queer identities that don’t necessarily fit these “big four.”
Perhaps the most controversial letter of this alphabet soup is the oft-added A, said to stand for asexual, aromantic, and LGBT-allied people. No small amount of intra-community conflict surrounds the latter--while straight and cisgender allies themselves can’t be considered “queer” in any way, the “ally” label has often been used by closeted LGBT+ folks as a way of aligning themselves with their community without putting themselves in danger. Asexual and aromantic folks, however, tend to be frustrated by the co-opting of the letter supposedly meant to refer to them.
There’s a problem here, though, and not just pertaining to the complexity of referencing allyship in our community’s acronym. For a number of reasons, asexual and aromantic people don’t necessarily belong under the LGBT+ umbrella, either.
To start understanding this, let’s break down exactly what it means to be asexual or aromantic. Sexuality in general can be a fluid, nuanced thing (hence the need for ever more specific labels), and recently people have begun to label themselves not only in terms of to whom they are attracted, but also how that attraction manifests. Though no amount of charts and definitions can accurately represent the spectrum of human sexuality, quite a few attempts have been made to do just that. One of these is the binary attraction model, which was prominent in the LGBT+ community for a couple of recent years before eventually being discarded in favor of less scrutinizing labels. The binary attraction model splits sexuality into two types of attraction: sexual and romantic. In theory, then, a person could be sexually attracted to people of all genders, while only being romantically attracted to women. The inevitable blurring of these two “separate” types of attraction tended to make such distinctions unnecessarily complicated, though, and often spurred uncertainty in people who had previously considered their sexualities to be “figured out” -- hence the decrease in use of the model as more and more people pointed out its flaws.
One part of this model, however, is still presently retained: the separation of sexual and romantic attraction as it pertains to people who only experience one of them.
Asexuality, then, is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone of any gender, while aromanticism is the lack of romantic attraction. Like everything else, these identities exist on a spectrum; someone who rarely experiences such attraction might label themself as “demiromantic” or “demisexual,” to name one of the many names given to the shades of gray between asexuality/aromanticism and their opposite, sometimes called “allosexuality” and “alloromanticism.” (There are a number of problems with these terms, not the least of which being the way in which it clumps gay and straight people together, thus imposing the role of the oppressive majority upon severely marginalized LGBT+ people.) Asexuality (and aromanticism, of course) can be just as inherent as any other sexuality, and there’s nothing implicitly wrong with them. However, they do not constitute “queerness” in and of themselves.
The vast stretch of historical oppression of LGBT+ people manifests, loosely, in violence towards two groups: those who experience same-gender attraction, and those who don’t align themselves with cisnormativity--that is, they are transgender and/or nonbinary (or even extremely butch while identifying as cis female--though gender and sexuality are very different things, they are inextricably entwined to a certain extent, especially when it comes to queer issues). The formation of a supportive LGBT+ community, of course, emerged as a response to this oppression: it exists as a safe space in which hetero- and cisnormativity as a whole is rejected, and in which LGBT+ people can be themselves without fear of aggression. Of course, everything is imperfect, and flawless solidarity has never quite been achieved, but a degree of kinship exists in response to the mutual experience of having been hurt at the hands of the heteropatriarchy--an experience that asexual and aromantic people do not necessarily have.
Again, that ugly adverb. To elucidate: as I mentioned before, someone may be asexual while still experiencing romantic attraction, or vice versa. If that attraction happens to be to people of the same gender, then of course the person in question would belong in the LGBT+ community. The same goes if our theoretical asexual also happened to be trans. Asexuality and aromanticism alone are not grounds for exclusion--but they aren’t for inclusion, either. Because if someone can be asexual and gay, they can also be asexual and straight. And it’s here, in the implication that asexuality gives a straight, cisgender person a place in the LGBT+ community, that the problem arises.
We find ourselves in the same position as we did with the conflict over “ally” being included in the LGBT+ acronym: the question of accepting cis and straight people into our community, into our safe space. A straight and cis asexual person has never experienced violence due to their same-gender attraction or their unconventional gender identity. They don’t, in a word, have that key experience that necessitated the formation of a community in the first place.
At the same time, though, asexual and aromantic people don’t quite fit in with the straight community, either--especially people who consider themselves to be both asexual and aromantic, and therefore aren’t straight, but aren’t gay, either. Asexuality isn’t a trivial thing--it can be hugely central to one’s identity, and while it doesn’t spark violent oppression, it may still result in a degree of rejection, alienation, or dismissal by straight people who don’t fall on the asexual or aromantic spectrum.
There exists, therefore, the need for an asexual and aromantic community, in the same way that an LGBT+ community exists now. While the overlap between the two is tremendous, blending them together is inaccurate and troubling. Both groups of people experience different issues, and both deserve spaces in which to address those issues and seek refuge from the danger and displeasure of the cisnormative heteropatriarchy. But those spaces are simply not one and the same, and it’s time for that to be recognized.