Celebrating Queertober and the LGBT+ community

AroAce student discusses her identity, her relationships, and the LGBT+ community


Photographs courtesy of Megan Gillmore

Megan Swett, Assistant Editor for News

Hardly a single aspect of life exists that doesn’t incorporate sex or romance. The concept of “sex sells” drives much of advertising, and people are taught from a young age that falling in love or finding their soulmate should be a major goal in their life plan.

Growing up in that world, 23-year-old UIS student Brennan Stidham always felt wrong – or even broken – for not feeling the push for sex or romance that she had been told were so important to human life.

“For years I tried dating men,” Stidham said, “…and all but one [relationship] was ended by me because I hated it. It was horrible … and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.”

In her own eyes, Stidham was always the “dysfunctional” one. The weight of being “wrong,” of being “broken,” bore down on her for years before she became more aware of the LGBT+ community through a friend discovering their own sexuality.

“I started doing research, and I realized I was [aromantic] before I realized I was [asexual],” Stidham said. “Once I found out I was [aromantic], it felt like this massive weight had been lifted off of me.”

Stidham considers herself an “aroace,” or an aromantic asexual. Someone who is aromantic feels no romantic attraction, and someone who is asexual feels no sexual attraction.

An aro person may never develop a crush on person, or envision themselves entering a romantic relationship with someone. In the same vein, an ace person may never feel lust towards a person, or envision themselves in a sexual scenario with someone.

Stidham said, “I can appreciate someone aesthetically. I can be like ‘Wow, that guy’s really hot,’ or ‘Wow, that person is really well dressed,’ but that doesn’t mean I want to do anything with them.”

Stidham’s journey to discovering her romantic and sexual orientations is one many aro and ace people share. When she first realized she didn’t fit the hetero- bill, she thought bi- was a better a title. She knew she wasn’t exactly gay and she knew she wasn’t exactly straight, and the bi- label seemed to suit that distinction with the most accuracy.

However, through her own research and with the help of friends, she eventually discovered the identity of aromantic, and asexual fell into place shortly thereafter.

And while the concepts of romantic and sexual relationships don’t exactly sit well with her, Stidham still desired a deep, emotional connection to someone. And she found it.

Stidham is involved in a queer-platonic relationship. She and her partner are considered QPPs, or queer-platonic partners. They, and many others, use this title to provide a distinction between friendship and a romantic relationship.

“It’s basically just friendship-plus,” Stidham said. “My partner and I both have abandonment issues, so for us it was a way to say ‘I’m not going to disappear on you.’”

Stidham’s QPP, himself, is not aroace, and is involved in a romantic and sexual relationship outside of his queer-platonic relationship with her. In fact, he and his boyfriend married each other in early October.

“[His husband] was wary at first,” Stidham explained. “It was little bit like ‘Is this going to take away from what we already have?’ So for the first month or so we made a show of displaying that nothing had changed.”

Before entering the relationship, Stidham and her QPP set their personal rules and boundaries in a clear and comprehensive manner. They established what acts they were each comfortable with, what acts they weren’t comfortable with, and came to a compromise.

“We both agreed, ‘Here’s where my boundaries are, and here’s why they are where they are,’” Stidham said, “… hugging, hand-holding, all fine, but we draw the line at kissing.”

Stidham contends that communication is an important part to making a queer-platonic relationship work, just as with any relationship. And while Stidham and her QPP’s husband are nothing more than friends, he plays a big role in the communicative process, as well.

“We’re always communicating with each other, the three of us. We’re very open about it, and we’re very clear about what the boundaries are for each of us,” Stidham said.

Stidham’s orientations bring with them a hefty dose of alienation, from all sides. Straight people don’t consider aro or ace people straight, and some outspoken members of the LGBT+ community have taken to ostracizing a-spectrum individuals.

“It’s such a rich and complicated community,” Stidham said, “where everyone is always learning something new about someone else. And I think that it can kind of get toxic once you stop trying to learn and stop trying to accept people.”

As someone who has faced the brunt of that toxicity, Stidham now acts as voice for acceptance both inside and outside of the community.

“You don’t have to understand it; you just have to accept it,” she said. “That’s how I look at everything. It’s an ethnorelativistic mindset.”

A supporter of the Platinum Rule – treat others how they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated – Stidham strives to respect other people’s stories and identities, even when she can’t relate.

Her sentiments are shared by many members of the LGBT+ community, both nationally and on campus.

Kerry Poynter, the director of the LGBTQA+ Resource Office at UIS, stated in a previous interview with The Journal that he hopes to one day change the office’s acronym to better encompass the wide-range of sexual and gender minorities and exist “beyond the binary of gay or straight and man or woman.”

Poynter also noted, however, that changing the office’s acronym would require a student-driven movement.

“I will never understand, fully, how a trans person feels, or how a bi person feels … I will never fully understand that, because that’s not my experience,” Stidham said. “But I am never going to say, ‘You can’t be any of those, because I don’t understand what that means.’

“We’re so different, and we’re all unique,” she continued, “and we need to embrace the uniqueness, because that’s what makes us all beautiful.”