This is what the world gets wrong about aromantic people, activist Yasmin Benoit explains

Yasmin Benoit

We talk a lot about sexual orientation, but we don’t talk nearly enough about romantic or aromantic orientation – something Yasmin Benoit is trying to change. 

Yasmin is an asexual and aromantic activist who is working tirelessly to make sure the world knows that not everybody experiences romantic attraction in the same way.

Part of the challenge for activists like Yasmin is that huge swathes of the population still don’t understand what aromanticism is. Many don’t even realise there’s a difference between sexual and romantic attraction.

Simply put, aromanticism describes people who feel little or no romantic attraction. Like all things it exists on a spectrum, and the term includes people who experience no romantic attraction at all and those who only experience it occasionally or in limited circumstances. 

Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, which falls each year in February, provides a vital opportunity for activists like Yasmin to shine a light on the full, beautiful lives aromantic people live, while also drawing attention to the challenges the community is facing.

PinkNews spoke to Yasmin about the importance of Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, why we need to diversify the idea of love, and the brutal misconceptions aromantic people still have to contend with on a daily basis.

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PinkNews: What’s the significance of Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week week for you?

Yasmin Benoit: I think it’s particularly important because [aromanticism] does tend to get grouped in with asexuality a lot, and this is one of the few times that it becomes the focus of the conversation. I find that even in my work, the focus tends to be more on sexual orientations – I don’t get to speak about aromanticism as the main focus as much.

I think that you can use the term awareness as not just being like, ‘Hey, this is an orientation that exists.’ I kind of expand it further than that, like: Let’s deconstruct romance. Let’s talk about how, systemically in our society, there are more benefits in one type of relationship than another, legally, financially, culturally. When it comes to awareness weeks, we can use them in quite a constructive way, and hopefully it will stay in people’s minds when that week is over.

Heteronormativity is so ingrained into the way all of us experience relationships. Why is it important to challenge that? 

It’s not just heteronormativity, but the legacy that’s left by what we call amatonormativity. That’s a term coined by [American philosopher] professor Elizabeth Brake, which is about the way our society puts relationship types on a hierarchy and prioritises romantic, monogamous, sexual, long-term relationships as being what should be a universally accepted goal, and also something that is innate and ingrained and the thing that completes you. We need to deconstruct that idea, which is inherently exclusionary for asexual people, aromantic people – anyone who’s not in a monogamous relationship. It stigmatises singleness. There’s a whole lot of consequences to that way of thinking. That’s a legacy of heteronormativity as well. So that’s one of the things that I try to dismantle.

How can we as a wider LGBT+ community be working to deconstruct and challenge those norms that make life harder for aromantic people? 

I think the community’s particularly good at diversifying conversations, but at the same time, it is kind of limited in that there is a heavy focus on the sex you’re having and the way you’re doing it and who you’re doing it with. We tend to use romantic love to validate orientations, as you can see in the mantra ‘love is love’.

While it’s true that it’s an important emotion and that queer people are experiencing romantic love, not all of them are. You can still be queer and not experience romantic love and romantic attraction and that doesn’t make you any less of a person. That being the quantifier of what makes you a good person is something that exists in the community, and I think that challenging that idea and taking the emphasis off that as being the way to determine the value or legitimacy of the goodness of a person or a relationship would be helpful for everybody. 

We also have to contend with state-imposed structures that ascribe to a normative way of living – even things like marriage encourage a very rigid view of what romance and relationships can look like. Would you like to see our society challenging those systems? 

I think it would be beneficial for everyone if we challenge those more. I don’t have a problem with marriage as an institution because I feel like people place a lot of their own personal significance on it as opposed to thinking about it as a wider structure of ownership. But I think it would be helpful for everyone if we could take away this idea that you’re an incomplete person without being in a romantic relationship – that romantic relationships are the type of relationship that you need to pool your resources into.

I think it would be beneficial, whether you’re aromantic or not, if we just gave equal credit to different types of relationships instead of putting all of the power and all of the stability in a type which has historically and contemporarily proven to not be the most long term and healthiest relationship type. There can be very long term, healthy, romantic relationships, but they’re not all like that. You could do the same thing with a best friend and that could work out exactly the same way. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about aromanticism, even in the LGBT+ community. What are some of the misconceptions that persist to this day? 

Because of the way our society sees romantic love as the pinnacle of all human emotion – that it’s the most beautiful thing you could feel – when you say you don’t experience romantic attraction, people assume there’s something very cold and heartless about you. Out of all the things I get called the most, ‘psychopath’ and ‘narcissist’ are at the top of the list. People assume that you don’t have any emotional capacity, that there’s something wrong with your brain, that you don’t feel affection toward anyone at all, that you can’t connect to anybody, and that you’re probably quite evil and closed off and damaged. The main assumption that comes with aromanticism is that it’s a psychological or a personality flaw – that there’s something really wrong with your soul or your heart, if you want to be spiritual about it. 

Some people might read this article and find that it’s really resonating with them. What would you say to people who are just starting to figure out that they’re aromantic? 

I would say that there’s nothing wrong with being aromantic. A lot of people are wary of using the term because of the negative stereotypes and the misconceptions around what that means for you as a person with emotions and as a person that can connect to other people. It doesn’t mean that you are heartless, and also, just understanding that romance isn’t something that’s inherent to the entire population of the world. If everyone experienced romantic love the same way there’d be no such thing as relationship drama. Everyone experiences it differently. It is a subjective experience, and it is quite a westernised concept that you can literally route back to its popularisation in the 17th century.

It’s not something that’s always been a given as it is now, where it’s been marketed as something that’s essential and inherent in every single person. So if romantic love is subjective, then aromanticism is going to be subjective. There’s a wide range of human experience and it’s not a reflection of anything about you – it’s just a reflection of the diversity of human emotion and connection.