It’s funny how the smallest things can lead to the biggest changes in perspective. If you had asked me a year ago if I thought there was any connection between my aromanticism and my gender identity, I would have said no. And yet, somehow, a single Tumblr post helped me to look at things from a slightly different angle and realize there was so much more depth in my personal experience than I thought.
I started questioning my gender because I had a big, obvious, impossible to miss “I’m Not Cis” moment. There I was, being my usual self, when suddenly I felt sort-of feminine. I say sort-of, not because the feeling in question was weak (it was actually incredibly strong), but because I now know that it’s, well, sort-of feminine. I knew that I didn’t always experience that gender-y feeling, but when I did, it felt good, it felt right, and once I actually paid more attention to gender, I noticed that feeling more frequently. It was usually weak and would slip through my fingers, never staying for more than a few seconds, but there was enough evidence to convince me that some femme-ish thing was a part of me.
However, outside of that femme-ish feeling, everything was a total mystery. What gender did I feel during normal, mundane life? Did I even feeling anything? Was it just so commonplace to me that I’d tuned it out long ago? As I grappled with these questions, I came up with two possible explanations: either most of the time, I felt masculine but couldn’t really tell because I was so used to it, or I didn’t feel anything because I was agender. Eventually I decided that I was agender, because if I wasn’t, it would be a lot easier to figure out what I was feeling most of the time.
In the end, the terms I ended up with are agenderflux demigirl. Genderflux means that strength/intensity of the gender you feel changes, but I feel like the term “agenderflux” fits me a little better than “genderflux” because it places an emphasis on my agenderness; a lot of the time I don’t have a gender, and when I do, it’s generally fairly weak. Demigender is an umbrella term that’s interpreted a few different ways, including a partial connection/medium strength gender, but also as a sort-of “adjacent” version. I’m demigirl because I feel…kind of like a girl, but also not; I’m not exactly feminine, but I am adjacent to femininity.
Now, you’re probably wondering where aromanticism comes in. The answer is that it doesn’t. At least, as I was figuring out my identity, I never even considered that there could be a connection between my gender and my aromanticism, and that’s because, even now, I don’t think there’s a strong, clear-cut, cause-and-effect relationship between the two. My epiphany wasn’t that one directly influenced the other; my epiphany was that my demigirl-ness was aligned with my aromanticism.
If I think back to female characters that I felt connected to, even before I was questioning, all of them conspicuously lack romance in someway. Either a character was young enough that no one her age was involved with romance (Margot from Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day”), or she actively chose adventure over romance (Arkady Darell from Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation), or she was resistant to external pressures towards romance (Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games), or she seemed to care more about friendship than romance (Luna Lovegood from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter).
When I first encountered those characters in fiction, I couldn’t explain why I was drawn to them, but once I figured out my gender, I gained some understanding: I was drawn to them because my femme-ish gender was, in a sense, closer to them than any male character I read, and I was feeling a connection to fictional characters I never had the opportunity to experience before. Once I figured out how my aromanticism and gender are aligned, my understanding deepened. Traditional notions of womanhood and femininity place a lot of emphasis on (heteronormative) romance, to the point that it’s not uncommon to come across stories where the main or only contribution a female character makes to a story is to be a love interest. But looking at the four characters I’ve listed, it’s clear that each is markedly different; their connection to femininity is undeniable, but at the same time, they have little to no connection to one of the traditional tenets of femininity.
Given how memorable each of these characters are, how easy it is for me to remember the hidden moments here and there where they duck traditional ideas about femininity and romance, I think I was drawn to these characters in particular over other female characters because of both romance and femininity. Even before I consciously noticed a difference between myself and my peers, I likely gravitated towards them due to an unconscious aro-affinity. And at the same time, that aro-affinity made their own connection to femininity more tenuous, which meant that they lined up with my own demigirl-ness.
I don’t spend much time considering questions about cause-and-effect between my aromanticism and my gender; personal identity can be so murky that I’d rather think about the implications of my identities intersecting and aligning in various ways than ask an unanswerable question about why they align. In some ways, I think the mysteriousness of how my aromanticism affected my gender (if at all) is actually part of why I don’t really think of myself as arogender. It’s certainly a valid adjective to describe myself, but to claim it as a core identity of mine would feel like I’m claiming to have solved a puzzle when I haven’t. But at the same time, I know that supreme confidence isn’t necessary to call myself arogender. It could just as well be that I’ve found labels that I’m happy with, and I don’t feel a need to change them.