Bad Representation is not Preferable to No Representation

If dictionaries can’t even get basic queer terms right, then what hope is there for other people to develop their understanding?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has finally added “aromantic”. The problem is, the definition is completely wrong.

It is staggering that a dictionary could get a definition so badly wrong, and it must be questioned whether any aromantics at all were even consulted in the creation of the definition. The OED defines aromantic as: “having no interest in or desire for romantic relationships”.

This is not what aromanticism is. Aromanticism is not actually defined by behaviours, despite what the dictionary may like to try to tell us. Wanting relationships is completely separate. Some aromantics may want relationships and some may not. Aromanticism is specifically about romantic attraction and has nothing to do with the desire for relationships. Aromanticis do not – or rarely – experience romantic attraction.

“Aromanticism is specifically about romantic attraction and has nothing to do with the desire for relationships”

The definition is crucial because the current phrasing the OED is pushing is actively harmful to aromanticsm, confusing and erasive. Just like bisexuals do not have to have relationships with different people of different genders to prove they are bisexual, aromantics do not have to avoid any type of relationship to be recognised. Aromanticism is still hugely overlooked and misunderstood. If vulnerable and questioning aromantic people search for the current definition they won’t find truth or insight. They will find phrasing which may make them feel more marginalised and as though their identity isn’t really theirs.

The examples given to try to provide context to aromanticism are also harmful. One states that “unless you are aromantic, you still want that warm fuzzy feeling when you cuddle up to the person you love”. This misunderstands what aromanticism is. Aromantics may want to experience romantic attraction, some may not. Wanting desire has absolutely nothing to do with it. Furthermore, there are different forms of attraction. There can be sexual attraction, aesthetic attraction and sensual attraction. These are distinct from romantic attraction but the confusing and vague language in the above example can risk erasing these types of attraction, and therefore muddying what aromanticism is. Aromantics can experience different types of attractions which may give similar feelings. Aromantics may fall in love too, as some may rarely experience romantic attraction. It is a much more nuanced picture than what the OED presents.

The next example tries to highly aromisia, but does so without actually really challenging it. The OED states “some people see aromantics as robotic and void of emotion”. This is certainly true, but by giving an incorrect definition of aromanticism, the Oxford English Dictionary actually isn’t doing anything to challenge aromisia.

Aromanticism is completely ignored in society. However, that does not mean that bad representation is preferable to no representation. Outlets, organisations and individuals who want to highlight aromanticism and aromantics have a duty to the community to do their jobs properly. It would not have taken a huge amount of effort to have gotten this definition right but now aromantics are listed completely incorrectly which just perpetuates ignorance. Aromantics often face tough enough battles, we don’t need a war with a dictionary too.

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