Content Advisory: Discussions of and references to love, amatonormativity, ableism, neurodiversity, autism, familial abuse and partner abuse.
This June, I saw an increasing number of positivity and support posts for the aromantic and a-spec communities discussing the amatonormativity of “everyone falls in love”. I agree: the idea that romantic love is something everyone experiences, and is therefore a marker of human worth, needs deconstruction.
Unfortunately, a majority of these posts are replacing the shackles of amatonormativity with restrictive lines like “everyone loves, just not always romantically”, referencing the importance of loving friends, QPPs, family members and pets. Sometimes it moves away from people to encompass love for hobbies, experiences, occupations and ourselves. The what and how tends to vary from post to post, but the idea that we do and must love someone or something, and this love redeems us as human and renders us undeserving of hatred, is being pushed to the point where I don’t feel safe or welcome in my own aromantic community. Even in the posts meant to be challenging the more obvious amatonormativity, it is presumed that aros must, in some way, love.
I’ve spent weeks watching my a-spec and aro communities throw neurodiverse and survivor aros under the bus in order to do what the aromantic community oft accuses alloromantic aces of doing: using their ability to love as a defence of their humanity. Because I love, they say, I also don’t deserve to be a target of hatred, aggression and abuse.
But what if I don’t love?
What if love itself has been the mechanism of the hatred and violence I have endured?
Why am I, an aro, neurodiverse survivor of abuse and bullying, still acceptable collateral damage?
I’m autistic. I don’t hide this, because I can’t talk about my aromantic experiences without acknowledging my autism.
I’ve been told all my life that I’m unloving because I can’t perform love the way allistics (non-autistics) expect and demand. I don’t have the same gestures, the same words, the same verbal and non-verbal languages that convey affection, compassion and interest. I tell people how I value their words, actions and behaviours, but that’s rarely considered a sufficient expression of affection among allistics. Right from the day I drew breath, a baby the world didn’t yet recognise as autistic, my ability to love was always going to be questioned in a society unaccommodating of autism.
When I look at my hobbies and experiences, I’m not sure that love is the correct word to describe how I feel about them. Autistics may argue that love as neurotypicals understand it is a pale, ineffective word to describe a special interest. I feel enjoyment and connection to things that aren’t special interests, like sewing, but is that love? Should I have to use a word with a difficult history to describe that connection?
I’m an abuse survivor. I don’t hide this, either; much of my fiction is about the intersection of abuse and marginalisation.
Love has always justified the harm wrought on me by those close to me.
I’ve been forced into harmful situations by parents who hurt me because they love me. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been grabbed, held, screamed at, called names; their anger and fury is meant to frighten me into no longer appearing autistic. ABA therapy (conversion therapy for autistics) is medically-sanctioned abuse, enabled and paid for by parents who love their autistic children. Too many autistics learn young that the parents who love us still seek to erase our autism, and in the name of their love and hope for a better life for us they will wreck horrors on us without hesitation or regret.
(Should I mention how their actions hurt and damaged me, I am now expected to master forgiveness and compassion. It was, after all, a mistake they wrought through love. Why don’t I understand that?)
I’ve been stalked, manipulated, pressured and assaulted by a boy and his family who thought ignoring my boundaries was the best way for him to show his love. Misogyny taught him that I was less a human than an object, but he loved me, even if his way of showing it had no interest in my own feelings or autonomy. His language of love rang loud and clear to the world, and it had no need or interest in me save as its target. I have been bullied and tormented by people who hate me, but none cut as deep as the wounds left by the boy who loved me and taught me to fear the doorbell and the empty space behind the tool shed.
Love is meant to make us human.
Love is the mechanism by which my humanity has been denied.
If we acknowledge that sex can be a mechanism of violence, oppression and abuse, we must afford love the same recognition. None of this “but it isn’t really love if they hurt you” nonsense. Love intersects with and justifies many shapes of denigration, denial and hatred targeted at marginalised people. Until we acknowledge that there is no falsehood in a love that abuses, we create sheltering shadows where people who love have free rein to harm and dehumanise.
It’s comforting to think that a love that wounds isn’t real love, but it denies the complexity of experience and feeling had by survivors. It denies the complexity of experience and feeling that makes it harder for us to identify abuse and escape its claws. It denies the validity of survivors who look at love and feel an honest doubt about its worth, as a word or a concept, in our own interactions and experiences.
I don’t know if I will ever wish “love” applied to me. I write about it, yes! Most of my stories are about connection and affection, and many of those stories name this, purposefully and specifically, as love. I think it’s part of my healing to depict relationships where love supports and natures. Maybe, if I write enough, I’ll come to trust love, to feel some connection to it that doesn’t remind me of all the ways it has scarred me.
Or maybe I won’t! It’s safe to express and explore love in a story where those characters aren’t me. The affection and connection that I sometimes name “love” is free of pain, manipulation and domination. It’s free of other people’s assumptions and misunderstandings. In my writing, love can be what I need it to be.
In real life, a world that isn’t a fairy tale, psychologists directed me to say “I love you” in return to the parent who denies me my own name and rightful gender identity. In real life, I am not permitted honesty about my history and the way it influences my relationship to love. Instead, I am told that there’s nothing more hateful than being a child who can’t love hir own parents, even when my parents’ love can’t encompass my personhood and identity.
Why do I have to agree that there’s legitimacy in how other people define human worth when that definition has done nothing but harm me? Why can’t I choose love in the safety of fiction and have a more complicated distance from it in my real life without being branded a monster?
I can only shift from victim to survivor when I speak to the complexity of my own history and experiences.
I can only shift from victim to survivor when I interrogate the relationship I am expected to have with love.
When love has enabled violence and dehumanisation, it is offensive in the extreme for my aromantic community to tell me that this is what makes me human. You are denying my scars. You are denying my history. You are denying my reason. Worst of all, you are telling me that my abusers who so easily profess love are unquestionably human, but I am monstrous because I question the applicability to me of something associated with their abuse.
I’ll say that again: you are telling me that my abusers who so easily profess love are unquestionably human, but I am monstrous because I question the applicability to me of something associated with their abuse.
Love makes us human … no, it doesn’t. It makes my abusers human and strips me of the last remaining shreds of a disputed humanity. Love makes us human reinforces my monstrosity, because I can’t clear this bar if I wish to be true to my own history and neurodiversity. Yet my own fellow aromantics, people who should know what it is to be denied acceptance on the basis of inability to love, continue to reinforce their quest for humanity at the expense of my own. At best they’ll permit me to not love people if I display love for pets, hobbies or experiences.
The world thinks that the opposite of love is hatred. That if love doesn’t exist, hatred must occupy its place. We might as well say, with an equal absence of logic, that if a piece of paper isn’t black, it’s white–never mind the dyes and inks that can make paper a near-infinite possibility of shades! The same goes for emotions: an endless possibility of feelings and combinations of feelings can exist where love doesn’t.
If love can wreck so much harm, why do we continue with the lie that its presence is by definition redemptive?
No shape of love alone exists that by definition makes us deserving of respect, acknowledgement, safety, protection and value. No lack of love alone exists that by definition makes us undeserving of respect, acknowledgement, safety, protection and value. The very idea that we should have to love in some way to be respected as human is an abominable, hypocritical one–one that ties into a long history of finding excuses to deny the humanity of other humans.
Voldemort is evil because he doesn’t love, preaches Harry Potter.
No. Voldemort is evil because he’s a racist, bigoted, murdering tyrant who believes that humans who don’t meet a narrow and artificial definition of ability and ethnicity aren’t worthy of safety, respect, protection, acknowledgement and celebration.
I am not Voldemort.
Some aros love non-romantically. (Some even love romantically!) Some aros love their pets and hobbies. Some aros don’t love at all. Some aros may value, seek or desire love; others won’t. Just like romantic attraction shouldn’t make us less or more deserving of safety in our broader societies, neither should our diverse relationships to love.
There is no substantial difference between saying “I’m human because I fall in love”, “I’m human because I love my friends” and “I’m human because I love calligraphy”. All three statements make human worth contingent on certain behaviours, feelings and experiences. Expanding the definition of what kinds of love make us human does nothing but save some aros from abuse and antagonism … while telling survivor and neurodiverse aros, who are more likely to have complex relationships to love as a concept or are unable to perform it in ways recognised by others, that we’re still not worthy.
If the original concept is an act of hatred, expanding it to include a few more people by redefining what kinds of love determines our humanity is still an act of hatred.
Why are we letting alloromantics set the standard for what determines aromantic worth and value? When love, presumed romantic, as a metric of worth harms aromantics, why have we not discarded this system?
The aro community must fight for the acceptance and safety of all aros, including the ones less palatable to alloromantic audiences. The ones who can’t or won’t swap love of romantic partners for love of friends, family, pets or hobbies. The ones who can’t or won’t say I love [something]. The ones who shouldn’t have to adopt a word that may be false or uncomfortable to be judged worthy of community, connection and protection.
I am human. I am on the aromantic and autistic spectra. I am worthy of full inclusion and recognition in the aromantic community, as someone with a complex relationship to love, even if I decide myself incapable of it. I will not sit by while you throw neurodiverse and survivor aros under the bus in your race to make yourself more appealing to alloromantic folks–which is, not at all coincidentally, the same crime the aro community levels in anger and frustration at alloromantic asexuals.
Why is one questioned by aromantics and not the other?
Is there an answer that isn’t “raging hypocrisy”?