This post was written for the January 2022 Carnival of Aces, where the theme is “Divergence vs. Convergence.”
This month’s prompt got me thinking again about my queer identity—not just my romantic and sexual orientation, but how they relate to the very queer way I go about relationships. Coyote’s concept of a divergent-convergent spectrum for understanding queer identities introduces some new language to describe feelings I’ve been trying to piece together for a while: how there are some aspects of my orientation that I consider completely independent and others that I feel can’t be meaningfully separated from one another.
I talked in “Confessions of a Former ‘SAM Aro’” about how I don’t really identify with the concept of a romantic orientation in the way it’s prescribed by the ubiquitous split-attraction model; the whole concept of “romantic attraction” isn’t really intuitive to me, and I don’t find it a useful conceptualization for modeling my identity. Instead, I prefer to use the term “aro” to mean that I don’t do romance and relationships in a conventional way. I use many labels to describe my approach to romance and relationships—aromantic, quoiromantic, polyamorous, relationship anarchist—and to me, these concepts are so intertwined that they’re difficult to meaningfully separate.
Most people would consider terms like “aromantic” and “quoiromantic” to describe a romantic orientation (or lack of romantic orientation or disidentification with the concept) and terms like “polyamorous” and “relationship anarchist” to describe a relationship style. These things are typically considered to be separate, unrelated concepts, to such an extent that having a non-hetero romantic orientation is typically considered queer, while having a non-monogamous relationship style, on its own, is typically not.
However, for me, these facets of my identity are actually fairly interconnected. They all boil down to the fact that I don’t distinguish platonic feelings and relationships from romantic feelings and relationships—at least not in a conventional way. I have lots of different kinds of interpersonal relationships in my life, and I’m not really comfortable strictly classifying them as either “romantic” or “platonic.”
This manifests as me being aromantic because it means that a lot of the social scripts and courtship rituals associated with romance don’t really make sense for me. If I don’t distinguish between romantic and platonic relationships, what does it mean for me to date someone? To be partners with someone? To be “in love” with someone? That’s not to say that I won’t consider someone a partner or describe our relationship as dating or participate in romance-coded activities, but I certainly don’t seem to understand these concepts in the same way an alloromantic person does.
I also consider myself aro because I don’t relate to the concept of limerence. Since limerence is, as I understand it, a large part of what differentiates romantic feelings from platonic feelings among alloromantic people, I consider my disidentification with the romantic/platonic binary to be intrinsically related with my lack of experience with limerence and my aromanticism.
My approach to romance and relationships also manifests as me being polyamorous. I don’t see the sense in my intimate and affectionate relationships being exclusive in much the same way most people don’t see the sense in their platonic friendships being exclusive. Typically romance is the metric which determines whether a relationship is exclusive, but since I don’t make that distinction, it’s not really obvious for me when a relationship is “supposed” to be exclusive by normative standards.
I consider myself a relationship anarchist for the same reason; even other polyamorous people tend to distinguish between friends and partners by the presence of romance, but since I don’t strictly classify my relationships as romantic or non-romantic, the distinction between friends and partners is fuzzy at best.1 A consequence of this is that I have relationships I call friendships that most people would describe as romantic relationships, and I have relationships I call partnerships that most people would describe as friendships.
Because they all largely boil down to my disidentification with the romantic/platonic binary, I consider my romantic orientation (or lack thereof) and my relationship style to be convergent identities; they’re so intertwined that they’re difficult to meaningfully separate, and often when I talk about one, I’m also implicitly talking about the other. One thing Em mentions in the call for submissions is that the convergence-divergence spectrum is more complicated than just “do your romantic and sexual orientations match,” and I think my experience is a great example of that. However, I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a “convergent queer,” because there are also aspects of my identity that I consider more divergent.
Specifically, I consider my sexual orientation to be divergent from the composite of my romantic orientation and relationship style. While my relationship with the term “aromantic” is fairly complicated, my relationship with my ace identity is actually fairly simple: I just don’t relate to the experience allosexual people call “sexual attraction.” I consider this part of my identity to be fairly independent of my approach to romance and relationships; sex and sexual attraction just don’t really have much bearing on how I go about relationships.
So, in summary, I would consider my romantic orientation and relationship style to be convergent identities, while my sexual orientation is divergent from both of them. “Convergent” and “divergent” are probably not terms I will use often when explaining my identity to others; they’re esoteric enough that, for me at least, they’ll probably remain relegated to niche ontological discussions in the ace blogosphere. This is much like how “quoiromantic” is the term that technically describes my romantic orientation (or rather lack of romantic orientation) the best, but I tend to stick with “aro” for the sake of convenience. Still, I’m glad the terms exist, and I definitely feel that they fill an important lexical gap.