Community Building: Aro Edition
In light of pride month, it is more apparent than ever that there is something igniting about a community gathering. Whether it be large enough to garner national media attention or made private by word of mouth, a meeting of the queer kind is worth understanding. It is worth replicating. In this piece AUREA will give you some information on how to make a community group of your own, as originally discussed in a thread by several of our Team members HERE.
A note: these guidelines will work best in a city or college setting. That is not to say you can't try to build a community if you live in a town or rural area, simply that aros are going to be harder to come by. We encourage you to utilize these tips for those small community groups and even online communities should you feel so inclined.
Creating an in-person community
The building blocks for your group can be simply stated. Where will you hold the gathering? Who will lead this amalgamation? How much time will this commitment need? And how will you promote this burgeoning community?
Find a location, one that is public and preferably free. Parks, coffee shops, and library meeting rooms are strong contenders. Consider its accessibility. The area should be wheelchair accessible, without loud or distracting noises, well lit, and generally inviting. Find a location that is welcoming to all the aromantics you intend to host.
Whoever starts the group will likely become the leader by default. This is important to remember when considering this venture. If the idea of being in charge is daunting then don’t do it alone! Once the community is off the ground you should never stop recruiting for those leadership positions, so start early. The more manpower you have, the less pressure any one person has to bear.
The short and not so sweet of it: this will be hard work, it will take time and energy. Make schedules, don’t rush, and delegate that workload.
Commit yourself to promotion. Leave flyers in public places, advertise on relevant social media, contact local queer groups, post on neighborhood blogs and bulletin boards. Contact the masses because aros are few and far between. For your online presence there are media management tools which allow simultaneously cross-posting such as hootsuite and others.
Like our online communities, having a place to chat - Facebook, Discord, good old fashioned email - between meetups can encourage group bonding. It isn’t a necessity as you’re after an in-person relationship but if those events are a monthly occurrence it doesn’t hurt. In terms of the aforementioned accessibility of your location, providing the specifics of that information is highly encouraged. Resources for how to do this can be found online, one here for example.
When building your group, make something you would want to go to. Cause and create excitement! Do what you love! Attract yourself some aros (without romance is probably safest).
Maintaining your community
To be blunt, maintenance is the real challenge. It is those first few months of existence that can cause the fire of an organization to dwindle. To ensure that doesn’t happen, here is some advice.
No matter where you live, there is a good chance you will be the only person to show for your first few meetups. As discouraging as that is, this is simply the way new groups are, aro or otherwise. Continue your promotion, continue to show up and be prepared for no one else to be there. This may sound like an exercise in futility, but we promise it’s not. Take a book, bring some other work that needs doing and if no one shows up do that instead. If you’re doing a good job of promoting your events someone will show up eventually.
Same time, same place goes a long way. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t arrange that kind of schedule but people like a routine.
Once again: don’t do this alone. Take a look at your family and friends; aro or not, they likely have skills you can use. Ask for their help. Do they have skills in graphic design, a knack for inviting language, or make for great moral support? You’re going to need them.
Plan in advance what you’re going to do at these meetups. To prompt interest and encourage bonding, group discussions can grease those hesitant wheels. Themes are a good way to go. Alternatively there are arts and crafts, community service, and even show-and-tell. Plan something that you would be interested in. Social elements are key, and while discussion is important it is fun and relaxed environments that allow friendships to form.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
An annual general meeting (AGM) can make things seem just a little more official. This event is both a professional and a social occurrence. Your past and future paths can be discussed during the meeting and then everyone is already together, so why not have a party? These meetings are usually planned months in advance to ensure maximum attendance. Invite a guest speaker, showcase some of your community talent, or go somewhere special. While AGMs are typically business oriented, yours doesn’t have to be. Make it your own and enjoy your accomplishments with friends.
STAYING OUT OF DRAMA
Drama is a near given. Whether you are in leadership or not it is important that you work to avoid involvement. If possible recruit group mediators. Drama can lead to fallings out and that can break a community. This goes for both internal relations and playing well with other queer organizations. Remember and remind others what this is all about, what this is all for. You’re building an aromantic community.
How to behave, what is and isn’t acceptable: everyone has an idea of their own. Make your guidelines public and easily accessible. Put them on your social media and go over them at the beginning of each meeting. Make sure that everyone knows your group’s code of conduct. When creating these expectations invite others within your community to share their ideas. Give everyone a say. Here are our suggestions for some useful guidelines:
"Take space, make space": People are encouraged to talk but remember to leave space for other people to be able to talk too
"One diva one mic": Don't talk over someone who's speaking
"ouch-oops": If someone says something hurtful to you, say "ouch" and then they'll respond "oops" to acknowledge they did something that upset you. This is a useful way to address these things without completely derailing the conversation.
Gender inclusive language: Remember not to gender people based on presentation and to use gender inclusive language in general. For example, instead of addressing a group with terms such as "guys", use terms such as "folks, friends, peeps, everyone, or y’all".
"Stories stay here, lessons leave": there's a certain amount of confidentiality around things people share and it's important to remember not to share other people's stories which they shared in confidence. Take and share the lessons you learn, but don't repeat the stories.
"I" statements: talk about your own experiences, not other people's.
Diversity: the queer community has a lot of diverse intersections with other minority groups and it's important to respect all aspects of people's identities.
Bring for yourself, to share: bring a shareable quantity of a food you are happy to eat.
For an aromantic organization specifically, it is a good idea to have guidelines regarding discussions about romantic and sexual topics. Some of your group members may be romance- and/or sex-repulsed, or have trauma associated with specific discussion topics. Make clear where these topics belong and how discomfort in the moment will be handled. One way to avoid issues is to plan discussion on these topics ahead of time and to ask people to give warnings before they talk about them. Another smart practice is to have a Free To Leave policy, where people can quietly leave the conversation to do something else if they feel uncomfortable. Make sure you arrange something else to do in this case.
Smoothing out the process
There is little chance that building a community will be an easy endeavor. Here are some tips and tricks you could use to soften the shock of this blow.
Names and pronouns are a must. Name tags take away the awkwardness of introductions and forgetting someone’s name or pronouns when there are so many new someones. Further details about orientations can be discussed in your group.
Presentation can be everything. Speak in a loud, clear voice and talk at a steady pace. You’ve seen it countless times on TV: arrange your group in circle to best see everyone. Face people when speaking to them, especially with people who have problems hearing. This assembly also ensures no one is pushed aside or to the back of the group. If you have visual presentations with written words make them easily visible with effective fonts and font sizes, unobtrusive background colors, and add frequent breaks in your text. These are simple things that can make a space welcoming for all.
It would be easy to say that food is a shortcut to all but that’s not entirely true. If you have food at your event it's important to consider dietary restrictions such as allergies, intolerances, religious traditions, and eating practices. Plan what food (if any) will be available in advance and share that on your social media. Add links to cafes and restaurants, and speak to caterers beforehand. Make this information readily available because people need to know ahead of time to contact you about accommodations.
Look to other groups. Research what’s in your area. Attend one if it interests you and take notes, talk to its organizers and see what you can learn. If there are other LGBTQIA+ groups around, make yourself an alliance. With community building comes coalition building and larger groups can spread awareness about yours. Maybe there aren’t any queer groups around; no worries! Building a coalition beyond the queer community can be just as lucrative. Sharing space, resources, and word of your existence can be done by anybody. Joint events in particular can make for interesting experiences. Is there a casual artist retreat nearby? A less than professional dance troupe down the street? An established support group you can learn from? Get in contact with those around you and see where it goes.
SUPPORT NETWORKS or what’s to gain from all this work?
Total global acceptance and respect is a long way off for aromanticism. We’re still working on the visibility part. It is important to remember that these groups are for us. Whatever your agenda or planned activity, when building a community we should build what we need. There are many adversities to navigate in life and having a strong support network can help.
FILLING A NEED
For an article titled ‘Aro Edition’ very little of this is aro-specific. When it comes to building a community the same rules tend to apply across the board, while the actual specifics come from you. What will you write on the advertisements? What group discussions do you plan to have? How will you celebrate being aromantic? A task that you can take on, whether you’re building a community or not, is making already existing spaces inclusive for aros. If there’s an LGBTQ+ group in your area, see if they’ll add an ‘A’ to that acronym of theirs. And if your local college has an ace group, for example, it makes far better sense for that group to be ace- and aro-centric. Or to take an already existing aro and ace group, and ensure that aro allos are explicitly included, and to back up that statement. Making sure language is inclusive is by far the easiest way to change an organization. Telling aromantics “you’re welcome here” and then proving it will do more than you can imagine.
To put things simply: whether you can consider it viable to start a community of your own or not, joining an already existing queer group will make great progress in itself. Small steps lead to big accomplishments, all it takes is that first little jump to get started. And should you decide to make a community of your own? No matter the form it takes, whether activism for you is organizing large political action or building a support network, an aro community will do some good in the world.