One of the most common Jewish stereotypes is the Jewish matriarch obsessing over when her daughter/granddaughter/etc. is going to get married (preferably to a nice Jewish boy). And it’s a stereotype for a reason. While in the middle of a pandemic, my own Jewish grandmother kvetched about the fact that I’m nearing 24 years old without a suitable potential husband in sight.
Dating is complicated no matter your gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion. But for members of the Asexual-Aromantic community (Aro-Ace for short) like me, the rules of romance and sex the rest of the world seems to play by don’t really apply.
Let’s get the basics out of the way: According to AVEN (short for Asexual Visibility and Education Network, otherwise known as the world’s largest online asexual platform), Asexual refers to a person who does not experience sexual attraction. Aromantic refers to a person who does not experience romantic attraction. Both are defined as orientations, separate from each other, though sometimes existing together in the same body at the same time. What they are not are choices or made-up words, as some people (the worst kind of people) tend to think.
To clarify, being asexual does not mean being celibate (the latter a perfectly valid choice one does with one’s body, while the former is an innate part of one’s self, meaning it’s not a choice). And Aromantic does not mean heartless, or being unable to love at all (look at the various forms of love in the world, including love for one’s family, friends, fandoms, etc.). Neither of these labels mean being frigid, cold, robotic, prude, or any other word meant to dehumanize or ridicule us.
I identity as queer in multiple senses of the word, specifically as biromantic, gray-romantic, and asexual. What this means is that I am capable of being attracted to any person of multiple gender expressions/identities, but I’m rarely attracted to anyone (romantically or sexually) at all. Sounds like a paradox, right? Now imagine explaining that to your Jewish grandmother.
I basically live my day-to-day life focusing on things like family, school, reading, and writing, without almost any regard for the act of sex or dating. But from time to time I do develop romantic attractions (i.e. crushes) or experience the craving for a romantic relationship.
The dating world was very much not designed for someone like me. Because so much of modern dating (particularly in the Western world) revolves around hook-up culture, telling someone you cannot guarantee sex with them beyond the third date (or any number of dates at all) is more than likely to end up with me getting ghosted. And the pool of asexual partners compared to allosexual partners (a term for the opposite of asexual, meaning someone who does experience sexual attraction) is like comparing a hot tub to the ocean.
Now factor in being Jewish.
Within Judaism, there are often implicit and explicit pressures to be partnered, particularly within the realm of marriage. Even in theology, rabbinical leaders are often expected to be married “since marriage is a central institution of Judaism.” There’s even a mitzvah that commands one to “be fruitful and multiply,” i.e. get married and have children (note: one does not actually need to be married to have children).
While I am not particularly religious — identifying more as a secular Jewish person — within the Jewish community there is often an unspoken emphasis on coupling up. It’s baked into so much of our programming, from youth groups to Birthright trips. And it brings a level of discomfort for those navigating an identity that might not necessarily include traditional romantic partnership, or if it does, includes conditions that make that potentially harder to find.
For me, as lovely as it sounds to be in a relationship with a nice Jewish boy (or girl or enby), the realities of my complicated identity mean that I navigate hurdles wherever I go, including having to give a TED talk whenever coming out because people are so rarely informed about Aro-Ace identity in general. Luckily, I have not experienced direct examples of acephobia from within the Jewish community. But because of the general invisibility of the Aro-Ace community, the marginalization I have experienced as an asexual person appears differently than direct homophobia. Acephobia and arophobia often exists on a wider societal level, like the erasure in mainstream representation, legal protection, and medical knowledge, including absence of Aro-Ace discussion in sex education.
At an age when I’m still learning how to care for myself, I cannot say for sure whether a romantic partner or children are in my immediate future. And the idea that I cannot guarantee these things, or that I might not even desire them at all, sometimes feels like a betrayal to my community, a spite to my grandmother whose idea of happiness for me might not necessarily match what could actually make me happy.
That being said, it’s not all bad.
Being part of the Aro-Ace community, one learns to dissect and break down the social conventions that we all unquestionably grow up with and take for granted. Take, for instance, “amatonormativity,” a term coined by American scholar Elizabeth Blake that means “the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types.”
According to amatonormativity, a romantic partnership (particularly a monogamous married relationship) is prized as the ultimate relationship, superior to any others, including those with family, friends, and others. And what a travesty that is, to take for granted all those other types of bonds that enrich our lives just because they aren’t romantic.
Being Ace-Aro means not experiencing the world in ways others do, and not knowing how to operate according to laws of attraction of mainstream society. Yet this has given me a stronger appreciation for the platonic bonds in my life, the ones that are there to nurture and sustain me, especially in the hard times we are facing now. And that includes people like my grandmother, who might not know what it’ll take to make me happy, but wants to see it just the same.
So yes, being part of both the Aro-Ace community and the Jewish community can be hard. But like the love I hold for each community, I need to acknowledge both identities in order to feel whole. My only hope is that both communities can learn to further coexist together and grow to make space so that none of us feel broken or burdened by who we are.