Jennifer Pollitt is Assistant Professor and Deputy Director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program. In addition to teaching, she lectures and conducts workshops for academic and professional audiences, including co-founding Empathy A Work, LLC and hosting the Men & #MeToo conference in Philadelphia. She has developed comprehensive sexuality programs used by the American Medical Association and other universities. She is also a member of the country’s oldest and largest legal advocacy group fighting for the civil rights of LGBTQIA + people and those living with HIV. As a member of the LGBTQIA + community, she is a strong ally of asexuals and aromantics and we asked her to share her knowledge of these lesser-known identities that fall under the queer umbrella.
We spoke with Pollitt about what asexuals and aromantics can teach others about connection, why they belong to the LGBTQIA + community, and why they are so often overlooked in LGBTQIA + discourse.
Temple Now: Two of the most recently recognized identities in the acronym LGBTQIA + are asexual and aromantic. Can you describe these identities?
Jennifer Pollitt: A person who identifies as aromantic is someone who may experience a sexual attraction, but not a romantic attraction. They are often not interested in romantic relationships, but can potentially be interested in sex.
An asexual person, on the other hand, may experience romantic attraction, but generally does not experience sexual attraction. They may be interested in romantic relationships, but are often not interested in sex.
There are people who identify as both aromantic and asexual, and both of these identities are valid orientations that belong to the big and beautiful rainbow umbrella of LGBTQIA +.
TN: What is the history of these identities?
JP: We know that aromantics and asexuals have been around as long as humans. However, it is only through terminology that has recently spread that we can truly put these feelings, identities and experiences into words. As language evolves, so does visibility and comprehension, although we have not yet achieved sufficient comprehension. The social media platform Tumblr has been one of the leading online communities helping to create a language for asexuality and aromanticism, while other online spaces have helped to help these identities flourish. and thrive.
Due to Freud’s influence, many of us grew up learning that our libido is the primary motivator of human behavior, but it is not. As more and more people identify with these terms, they contribute to the body of work that expands, explains, and builds bridges to understanding asexuality.
TN: What about asexuals who pursue sex and aromantic people who pursue romantic relationships?
JP: There is a huge difference between orientation, behavior and identity. The sexual or romantic behavior you engage in does not necessarily correlate with the identity you use to describe your experiences or direction. If we just look at someone’s actions, it doesn’t tell the whole story the same way that identity alone doesn’t tell the whole story. The same goes for sexual orientation because you have to consider all three factors if you are really interested in understanding this person.
Whatever identity or label someone chooses for themselves, it is theirs. When someone tells you what they are, it’s your job to believe them. There are asexuals who are interested in sex and aromantics who are interested in romance, and to what degree and at what level they have to decide. They can always claim their label because it’s theirs.
“By using these credentials, LGBTQIA + people feel less lonely: they discover that they are not the only ones feeling this and they achieve a much more personal fulfillment,” Pollitt said. (Photo by Joseph V. Labolito)
TN: What kind of love and relationships do people with these identities experience?
JP: There is so much that people can learn from asexual and aromatic people, because they are teaching us whole new ways of building relationships that are not based on systems of oppression. While so many of us follow scripts and force ourselves into boxes we didn’t create and don’t work, asexuals and aromantics have done so many internal interrogations and inquiries that they did something different. They have created a space for relationships that helps them thrive and flourish while being nurturing, nurturing and fulfilling.
TN: Within the LGBTQIA + community, aromantics and asexuals encounter some resistance. Why is that?
JP: If we take a look at the arc of the LGBTQIA + civil rights movement, a controversy has arisen regarding marriage equality as the main focal point of the movement: namely, why did it have to come first? Not all LGBTQIA + people want to get married. Many felt that workplace discrimination policies designed to protect LGBTQIA + people should have come first because jobs provide financial security. Why do we put marriage at the forefront of this movement as if it determines whether or not we have “made it”.
Then look at who was put in the spotlight: dyadic, cisgender, uniquely white, lesbians, and upper-middle-class gays. And this is not even representative of the majority of the LGBTQIA + community, yet it was the political and legal strategy used to gain access to the necessary energy resources. By creating a platform that made us resemble existing power structures and leaving out entire groups of people, we were able to access some of that much needed power.
This mindset reproduces itself within the community so that when a new identity emerges, or when people try to explain themselves, there is resistance and setback within the community with the state of mind. ‘mind that “if we let these kinds of people in, then it will dilute the access to the power and the resources that we have. And it forces the community to maintain contiguity with white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, ableism, and classism, while leaving entire groups of people behind.
TN: What problems have asexual and aromatic people encountered, and how do they compare to the problems faced by other members of the LGBTQIA + community?
JP: Absolutely. The biggest comparisons are the lack of visibility and the exclusion of communities on the grounds that they are strange, different, different or ‘do not belong to this space’. Every queer person has lived this story and as more and more people join under the umbrella, the newbie will experience the same challenges, discrimination and misunderstandings as those who came before him.
TN: Do you think there will be more identities joining the acronym LGBTQIA +?
JP: Yes. The more words we have to describe ourselves, the better we are understood. These words can change depending on what stage of life a person is in, their experiences, history, etc. In this field more than in any other field at present, the language of gender and sexuality is evolving exponentially.
However, the goal is not for everyone to be familiar with every LGBTQ + term. The goal is to be curious, to know more about others and to take ownership of the mistakes you make. Expanding the language of gender and sexuality creates more links.