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I Don’t Need Romance to be a Human


OPINION PIECE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Her Campus Agnes Scott.


Think about the last movie you saw or the last book you read. Odds are, it contained some form of a romantic subplot or plot line. I frequent book communities online and I’ve noticed an ongoing debate about romance’s place in stories. Be it a writing advice blog answering a question on whether a YA book needs a romance subplot or an article in a science fiction and fantasy magazine on why you should read romance. Romance is both derided and idealized, but both sides of the argument tend towards unfortunate implications.

On one hand, I think there is a lot of sexism tied up in the dismissal of romance. Romance as a genre is clearly associated with women and, like most things with feminine associations, is then seen as frivolous. Disparaging romance often goes hand to hand with disparaging women, because obviously, that’s all women write. For instance, a question on the Goodreads page for the science fiction novel Behind the Throne asks if it contains “girly romances.” I doubt you’d have to look far to find other examples. Romance of some form is in most every story, and, yes, that includes stories made by men and starring men. So whenever a man says that he won’t read books with any romance in them, it’s hard not to hear, “I won’t read books by female authors or with female protagonists.” I guess they mean, “I won’t read any book that contains a romance other than a heterosexual one seen through the male gaze and by a male author.”


So I think it is abundantly clear why romance authors, readers, and feminists, in general, feel the need to defend romance’s inclusion in stories and by connection the interests and feelings of a large number of women. But all too often, this defense of romance involves holding romance up as the pinnacle of human connection. That’s where my problem comes in, and it is also where this piece gets personal.


I am asexual. For those who don’t know, that means that I do not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people can experience romantic attraction, but I don’t currently use a label for my romantic orientation. For now, I don’t use any labels other than “queer” or “asexual.” So I ask that while you read this essay you keep in mind that as much as I might feel hurt by the “romance is what makes us human” narrative, it is likely a thousand times worse for someone who identifies as aromantic, someone who does not experience romantic attraction.


In the article “What’s the Value of Romance in Sci-Fi and Fantasy?,”* the author talks about reading Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books as a young teenager and says that Alanna’s romantic and sexual attraction (no distinguishment between the two) makes Alanna a relatable heroine. I also read the Alanna books as a young teenager, but I did not relate to Alanna’s burgeoning (hetero)sexuality or romantic entanglements. I eventually quit reading the Tortall books because it felt like as soon as the heroines hit sixteen they’d immediately jump in bed with a male love interest, which wasn’t my life at all. It would have been one thing if it was just Alanna, but wherever I turned, pretty much every story featured women who were sexually and romantically attracted to men. Even before I knew I was asexual, I was upset that this was the only narrative available. I wasn’t interested in boys, and the books I read didn’t seem to acknowledge that girls like me existed.


Although my teenage years weren’t always easy, I’ve been relatively lucky. I had a close asexual friend who was able to talk me through my tears and fear. My sister already knew what asexuality was and supported me. While my parents might not always understand me, they are trying. When I came out to my therapist, a straight woman who’d never heard of asexuality, she listened to me and never told me that my asexuality was a problem or needed fixing. From what I’ve heard of other asexuals life stories, all of this has made me incredibly lucky. I also don’t think I’ve struggled as much as many aces with the “broken” narrative, although I did obsess over whether or not I was “normal.” I kept a running count of all my friends who’d never dated. Each time the number shrank, my panic grew. I so desperately wanted to be normal, and I thought normal meant heterosexual.


Even today, there has been so many times where I come across sentiments like “sex is what makes us human,” and I feel a twinge inside. However, I’m usually able to keep going with a roll of my eyes. It’s the in-person comments that are most difficult for me. A few weeks ago a professor mentioned shaving her head and making herself “look asexual,” and I felt like I’d suddenly been doused with cold water. But these tiny microaggressions and comments build up, and there’s practically nowhere I can escape, especially in most entertainment media. I can count canon asexual characters I’ve read in books on one hand (and even fewer who are aromantic). I’ve never seen the word “asexual” used as an identity label on television, but it’s shown up as an insult a few times, even on shows like Brooklyn-99. Is it any wonder that I spend so much time feeling exhausted?


What upsets me most is thinking about myself even just a year and a half ago, when I was so terrified about being normal and so desperately trying to believe that I was straight. I want more than anything to give that girl I was a hug and to tell her that things will be okay and that normal is a pretty stupid idea anyway. But while I am thankfully not that girl anymore, I know there are other young asexuals like her out there somewhere, feeling broken by a society that tells us we need a heterosexual soul mate.


Every woman should be free to enjoy what she wants, and interests seen as traditionally feminine shouldn’t be dismissed as “girly” or “stupid.” But we need to acknowledge that that what one woman may find relatable, another may find alienating. While every creator is obviously free to make their own choices regarding the stories they tell, I would like to see more stories where romance isn’t presented as being inherently “more than” friendship or more valuable than relationships with family members. I don’t need romance to complete me. I am human, and I am asexual. And there’s nothing wrong with me.


*The article “What’s the Value of Romance in Sci-Fi and Fantasy?” was retitled from “Romance Brings Humanity to Sci-Fi and Fantasy” after complaints from aromantic and asexual readers.

I'm a sophomore at Agnes Scott College majoring in business management and minoring in studio art. I plan to work in publishing some day, and I'm a huge book lover. My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy, and I blog about them over on The Illustrated Page (https://theillustratedpage.wordpress.com/). But here on Her Campus I'll be writing about all sorts of things.
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