Coming Out Aro
I’m attracted to men. I have been as long as I can remember, even back before my body was even capable of attraction. When I was a child, I identified with the female characters much more than the men, mostly because they got to be close to all the men I admired most, whose attention I craved. It wasn’t that I felt that I was anything other than male myself, it was that, somehow, I believed that identifying with those women was the way to get closer to those beautiful men.
As soon as there were words to describe my desires, I knew their truth, even if it took years to accept them and truly claim them as my own. It was the Seventies and those words were only just being spoken openly, and only in larger, more cosmopolitan places than my home town. Well, the words were spoken, but only as weapons, with no other intention than to draw blood. But, I knew who I was. And when the opportunity came to act on it, I did. And eventually, I even came to accept it and speak it proudly.
When I came out, equal rights protections under the law didn’t exist, and marriage was even farther off in the distance. There were no Pride celebrations anywhere near. But we lived our lives and we carved out identities and places in the landscape where we fit. Like many, I dreamed of finding that special person. But, like many others, I struggled with self-esteem issues and shyness and a tendency towards introversion that began in my childhood. When the rare opportunities came my way, I would miss them completely or do something that would break the spell.
So, I spent most of my life on my own. And there were days when I didn’t mind it, and days when I hated it. To be honest, it’s in the difficult moments that it would be kinda nice to have someone there to shoulder part of whatever burden has decided to lay waste to my serenity. As time went by, I found more and more when I thought about having a partner, it was in terms of having someone to help make plans or to fetch me soup when I’m sick. I realized what I was looking for wasn’t a boyfriend, but a personal assistant.
The worst was when I had cancer. The journey of my disease took a particularly disheartening trajectory. Diagnosis, treatment, surgery, recovery, return to normalcy, recurrence. Four times, that cycle happened. And I stopped trusting in good fortune, stopped believing that things would be okay. And, without knowing that the cancer was actually gone, I knew that I was done. I had no more fight left.
I spent years thinking that those cancer years broke something in me, left me unable to trust in the possibility of good things entering my life. I would meet a man when I was lonely, scared and fucked up and grab onto that feeling, starting something I wasn’t capable of following through on. I’d wake up a few weeks or a month in and a realize I was only there because I was lonely, scared and fucked up. I even thought that it had broken my ability to love, that I just wasn’t capable of the trust and openness that was necessary to love someone romantically.
But then, as we always do if we’re open to the possibility, we learn. As I made more friends online I began to learn the other letters of our delightful queer alphabet soup of an acronym and understand there were more ways of being. I learned the word aromantic. I knew that people could be and were asexual, but it had never occurred to me that there was a word for how I felt. Aromantic. Aro.
I definitely knew I wasn’t asexual. Those drives may have slowed somewhat as I’ve aged, but they’re still a strong part of who I am. But the dance of believing that I should want to be with someone and not being able to find in myself what seemed to be necessary for that is losing some steam as I come more to terms with being aro.
There was an article that made the rounds a week or so ago, about a study that, if the headlines were to be believed, said that being single was more dangerous for your health than obesity. However, when I dug into the article itself, what the study actually said is that being lonely was deadlier than obesity. And I have to take exception to the way the headlines framed it, that romance-normative attitude that being single automatically equates with being lonely. And I call bullshit. Single = Lonely is a false equivalence, and a dangerous one for people like me, who live their lives without romantic partners.
Our world is built around the idea of coupledom. And for more and more of us, that isn’t an achievable ideal. Or, for that matter, an ideal at all.
But there’s this guy, you see. His skin is brown and the hair on his chest is thick and dark. Stretch marks dapple his thighs and butt, and it makes me think of a tiger’s stripes. We meet on Sunday afternoons and the curve of his body fits within mine so well. We exist only in those moments, but those moments have extended over the last two years. Which is saying something, because I get bored easily with men, even in the naked times. I crave newness and stimulation and am often ready to move on before the other man is.
But something draws me back to this compact tiger, even though we have yet to hang out in public or do any of the non-bed things we plan to do. Even though it drifts sometimes, and we go without meeting, something draws us back and the thought of it makes me smile.
I suppose we’ll need to talk soon, and I’ve honestly meant to, so many times. Say that I think this may be all I can manage. Maybe for now, maybe forever, I don’t know. But, as far as I can tell, he loves those Sunday afternoons as much as I do. We seem to be okay. As we are, on those Sunday afternoons, away from the world.
And I realize, that I’m not broken. The cancer didn’t take away my ability to love romantically. It may have changed it, or maybe it wasn’t even there in the first place and I just always thought I wanted it because the world expected me to. But, if we fit, my Sunday man and I, in those hours, then that’s just fine.