Ask: Surviving Hate, Erasure and Amatonormativity

Handdrawn illustration of a yellow pasture against a background of hills and sporadic trees. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/grey/black stripes of the aro pride flag. The text Aro Worlds Discussion Post sits across the image in a black, antique handdrawn type, separated by two ornate Victorian-style black dividers.

An anon asks on Tumblr:

Hello, I love reading your posts and I think all the activism you do for the aro community is beautiful and needs to be done, so thank you so much <#. I personally realized I was aroace a month or so ago–How do you manage just being an aromantic person in just daily life without getting crushed under all the erasure and ignorance in the world? I’m worried about going into the adult world as someone with this orientation because of all of what I hear about aros not being heard and all the stories about aces being taken advantage of, and I’m honestly scared of all the ignorance and amisia I keep hearing is in the world. I’m not out to more than my close friends and family and the online communities I’m in, but you don’t have to be out to be hurt by antagonism or ignorance from others, and the amatonormativity I keep seeing *everywhere* is starting to make me feel hopeless. What do you do with these feelings? Thank you for reading this and for your blog <#

Thank you so very much for the kind and lovely words, anon!

I will agree with you that you absolutely do not have to be out to be hurt by hatred, erasure, dismissal and invisibility, because this line of thought isn’t said enough for my liking.

First, I’ll point out that self-care is important. If you haven’t already, get to know what what distracts you, what makes you happy, what takes you away from anxiety or frustration, be it books or TV or crafts or talking with a friend. Have these things ready as a waiting toolbox for when you need to escape the pressures of the world. Keep books or music that make you happy on your phone or in your bag, have a stash of a food you like in the cupboard, know where you can go to relax and decompress. Pursue hobbies unrelated to activism and give yourself space to enjoy them.

Second, please know that you can and should make full and shameless use of unfollowing, blocking and blacklisting options. If you want to make for yourself a paradise where your dashboard bears no mention of allosexism or amatonormativity, do it. Having these spaces allows you to more easily bear those situations where you can’t avoid debating your existence, and you are under no obligation to endure, explain and educate. You are always allowed to put your needs, your safety and your limitations ahead of both other people’s demands and the fight to be seen as human. You are always allowed to choose some battles and let others ago. You are always allowed to say that you are done with a particular conversation and stop. You are always allowed to say that you are not capable of this or any other fight. You are always allowed to centre your needs, anon, and while I am less good at this than I’d like to be, it is difficult to accomplish everything else I discuss if you can’t make a point of establishing the boundaries you need to survive.

I do two things with my feelings, anon, that allow them to rest more easily inside my skin: creativity and gratitude.

Making sounds simpler in theory than it is in practice. It isn’t right that I have to do this; it isn’t right that I can’t step into a pre-existing space and find shelter within it. It isn’t right that few others speak for me. It isn’t right that I have to spend spoons and time and energy on building structures and supports for me and my aro-spec kin from the ground up. It isn’t right that I am not represented in the shapes of the stories that call to me, and it isn’t right that that many alloromantic readers of LGBTQIA+ and autistic works are unwilling to support me in the stories I tell because my protagonists are aro. Nothing, at all, is right about the world in which we live and the efforts to which we must go to improve it–I want to be clear on the fact that the pressure to make in the face of hate and silence is unfair in the extreme.

Sighing at the world isn’t getting me anywhere, however, so I’ll try to make it over instead.

I make because of and in response to a stifling voicelessness. I tell the stories I need to hear, and when I wasn’t finding acknowledgement or support for those stories, I made a community to where I could post those stories, talk about their making and help other storytellers, like me, find an audience. I’m still working on ideas to help and promote aro creativity and storytelling, because enabling other people’s creativity is just as important! As a creative, this drive to make and enable making seems an obvious answer to me, and it may not suit people who don’t have the same creative inclination. But it is where I try to take the pain and the isolation; I cannot think of any place better.

Taking pain and making it into art gives your suffering reason and purpose, and while that isn’t much to hold onto, it’s more than I have without it.

You don’t have to be a writer, crafter or poet yourself, anon, to make this purpose from the harm dealt you. You can collect, curate or link to other people’s works, crafting a safe space to house and celebrate a-spec creativity. You can make recommendation lists or memes. You can link to post after post of a-spec activism. You can offer advice, 101 information or support, for any kind of communication and the space in which it takes place is a creative act. You can build a space based on creating or collecting positivity. It doesn’t matter how you make, or if you do it under a pseudonym for safety, or how many followers you have, because this isn’t about reach. It’s about going to bed at night feeling a little bit less helpless because you’ve done something. It’s about taking action to remake the world one post at a time; it’s about holding onto the hope that one person will see our efforts and think on the amatonormative assumptions we’re taught to take for granted.

It doesn’t matter if there’s fifty aro-spec creativity blogs like this one or five hundred aro-spec positivity blogs, because there are not enough aro-spec spaces in an amatonormative world, and each space broadens the hope of more narrative, more communication and more change.

(I will stress that I consider myself an activist as a storyteller before I am an activist in any other capacity. Activism isn’t about engaging with or educating people who hate you; activism is about building spaces in which we can safely exist as the people we are. I do not ascribe to this idea that you’re only an activist for your identity if you run a discourse blog and go to marches carrying picket signs. Aside from being ableist, it diminishes the importance of community-building and representation as activist acts.)

This act of making takes courage and faith, more of both than most of us have. It helps if you’re stubborn, because you have to keep going when you feel no one is listening, when there’s nobody to support you, when there’s nothing but isolation and dismissal. We need a courage that is shaken by the erasure and hate directed at us, and a faith shaken by our every failure to convince the world of a-spec humanity; this damage to the things we need to make the word better for us isn’t spoken often enough.

It’s a long, slow, hard slog, anon. We rarely get the joy of a sweeping change; our victories are most often counted one person at a time. This can be discouraging and dispiriting; it can feel like we’re never going to get anywhere. Why keep making if it leads us nowhere? This is where the practice of gratitude comes in, because I don’t do it from simple kindness. If I don’t stop and acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the small interactions and the small victories, I’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of what I’m up against.

Gratitude is my digging in my heels, clinging onto the evidence of change, appreciating its existence and, through it, finding a reason to keep going. Thank you is a reminder that people can change, that my words have impact, that I am still heard and understood by someone–and sometimes, more people than I expect or hope. Thank you is a weapon against the helplessness that takes us far too often. Thank you is an act of motivation, allyship and connection. I don’t consider it enough to make note of it and go about my day; it is stronger when expressed, a note of positivity injected into a world paved with hate and erasure. Thank you is the creation of a message of what the world can and should be, and it’s a greater weapon in terms of impact on both speaker and audience than any well-argued post.

As someone who isn’t treated as human in multiple ways, I am deeply appreciative when my humanity is acknowledged and supported. I do think it expressing it better benefits me as an activist in terms of reminding me that change is taking place, that positive interactions exist, that something happened for which I can be thankful. I think one of the more powerful answers to the crushing and overwhelming force of erasure, hate and dismissal is the quiet, intentional acknowledgement, celebration and centring of the moments of acceptance and understanding.

So, anon, my survival lies in the making of things and the speaking of gratitude. It doesn’t sound a lot to hold onto, I know, but they’re the strongest ropes offered to me in a seething ocean not of my making. I do think they benefit me, the community and my hopes of transformation better than clinging to bitterness or spite.

(In terms of being taken advantage of: yes, it is a thing to fear, and I have been in dangerous situations through not knowing that I am aro. But now, anon, you have words for who you are. You can think about what you want from the world, what relationships and interactions suit your needs; you don’t have to go with what the world says is unquestioningly right and universal. Through aroace you are now empowered to evaluate and choose your own path, however dangerous it may be. Knowledge of identity and experience, even if we do nothing to demonstrate it to others, makes us more able to see both options and consequences. We are not yet made safe by it, but we may be safer than we would have been in ignorance.)


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