Labels within the Aro/Ace Community – Joseph’s Experience

There’s lots of discussion surrounding the use of labels, especially in the aro and ace communities. This is my experience  and opinion on how they are best applied. I use the split attraction model, which divides attraction into sexual and romantic.

My first step on the road to realizing I’m aro/ace (aromantic/asexual) was accepting my asexuality, although I still thought I was heteroromantic. This immediately required an acceptance of the split attraction model that I still believe in. Later on, I started to reconsider my “crushes” and found that they had different circumstances than most people’s. This led me to look further into the various descriptors of romantic attraction. While I didn’t try each of these, the list includes things like fray-, akoi-, quoi-, demi-, and autochoris-. The list goes on and on.

Some might call these silly, splitting hairs, or an attempt to be a special snowflake. I ended up using aro/ace, a more accepted one. But I don’t think I would’ve gotten there as soon without looking into these labels. They helped me see that there’s more ways to experience attraction than whatever your friends feel or what the media shows you.

Labels in general are descriptions of an experience, not the other way around. Each person’s experiences are unique and likely aren’t shared exactly by anyone else. In my opinion this means labels are only useful to figure out what you are experiencing if they lead you to find resources. They are not rules on how you are supposed to feel. For example, I’ve tried dating since figuring out my current set of labels because I wanted to be close to someone, who happened to have a crush on me. It didn’t work out because of my orientation, but it was definitely worth the try, and I would have missed out on it if I had stuck to my labels. However, labels are very helpful to find a network. Sometimes you need support, advice, or just a person to talk to who understands what you mean. It’s a lot easier to say the closest approximation to what you feel rather than describing it every time.

When it comes to interactions, labels should only be used to self-describe. It’s good to understand yourself, but nobody else should try to dictate how you identify yourself. They only need to know how you feel about them. To the aforementioned person, I told her I’m aro/ace, but when we talked about our relationship, I never used a label. It’s important to be honest and leave nothing out when doing this, but it leads to better relationships than simply using someone else’s experiences to describe yourself.

Whatever labels you choose to use, remember that who you are is more important than what you are. You love who you love how you love, and how you describe that is entirely up to you.

– Joseph S.


The Crossroads of FIRST and LGBT – Tom’s Testimony

So, first, an introduction.  My name’s Tom – I’m an FRC alum of team 487, the Robo Spartans out of Erdenheim, PA.  The team hasn’t existed in that form in many years.  I’m Bi, and use he/him pronouns.  I currently mentor FTC team 9618, the CyberSpartans out of the same town.  I’m 31, and started as a FIRST student in 2000.  I’ve served in many roles – Volunteer Coordinator, Referee, Judge, and most recently I’ve had the honor of serving as one of the Masters of Ceremony at the St. Louis World Championship for FIRST Tech Challenge. This is my weird, fabulous story of the crossroads of FIRST and LGBT. When I was in high school, I came out to one person, and one person only.  I was so scared of myself, of who I’d be, that it wasn’t until after college that I truly accepted my sexuality.  In a somewhat cliche passage, I was in a community theater production of RENT, where I came out to my friends.  It would still be another few years until I came out to my parents, at the ripe age of 28.  I count myself lucky – I live in a very welcoming community, with great parents.  But what trapped me most, was myself.  The only resolve to that was therapy, and time. One of the things that has kept me involved with FIRST so long is the people, the community.  I have long felt that you can truly be yourself at a competition – your weird, quirky, unique self.  The self you want to be, but are otherwise afraid to embrace outside the sanctity of a Robotics event.  We embrace safety as part of our culture.  Who is to say that the safety stops at mechanical tools and protective eyewear? Many fraternal societies operate on the principle of having a sacred, shared space where everyone is safe to reveal their secrets.  Our shared space just has a shorter perimeter.
Why do I feel so passionate about this movement? For one, anything that gives students an opportunity to take a leadership position is fantastic.  That’s the whole point of this program – learn skills that you can apply to ANYTHING.  Secondly, I have seen far too many people think that they are alone, that nobody in this world can feel the way they do, that there is no place for them past high school.  I hope that I can serve as a role model to someone – even just one person, to say that you don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to get everything right, or even fully know who you are or what you want to be when you grow up.  As long as you’re kind to others, celebrate their strengths, and help them through their weaknesses, then this world we share will be a better place.  And it’s okay to be open about who you are in our community.  I am – and in most of the things I do in FIRST, it doesn’t matter one but.  Which is the greatest feeling in the world.

Questioning – Joseph’s Experience

I didn’t really consider the idea that I wasn’t straight until 8th grade. By then, I had already had two “crushes.” How a crush feels is never explained to anyone because supposedly everybody feels one by the end of middle school. That makes it pretty easy to misconstrue. I just knew that I had a really good friend, who was a girl, and I really enjoyed being around her. Sounded spot-on.

One night my sister, cousins and I were playing truth or dare. A lot of the truth topics were about crushes and stuff, and my two (male) cousins started talking about what it feels like when they see a hot girl. I said that I had no such experience. They seemed to think I was some sort of a saint, but my sister asked if that meant I was asexual. I laughed about it but looked it up that night. A lot of the stuff was pretty relatable. There were loads of stories about people who had experiences like me but didn’t hear about asexuality until they were much older. I’m lucky I figured that part out so early.

Of course then I thought that would be the end of it – I’m ace, but I had crushes on girls. Heteroromantic. Easy. But then I started digging into the ace community on tumblr. They had all sorts of other labels for every type of attraction. I thought a bit about a few of them, but didn’t really consider them too seriously until much later. Still the idea that I wasn’t a “completely straight ace” lingered.

Fast forward to the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. I had identified as a heteroromantic asexual for about a year and a half, and told around five close friends. I had had three “crushes,” all on girls. Then I started thinking about my friendship with another guy. How I felt about him was stronger than how I felt about any of those three girls. For a moment I wondered if I was attracted to men, but I asked myself what I actually would want in a relationship. The list included things like sharing cool stuff in life, being able to rely on them, having fun with them, and being able to be chill with them. That sounded an awful lot like friendship. I summed up my ideal relationship as “forever roommates” and realized that applied to several of my friends. None of them were what crushes were supposed to be.

I looked up “what does it feel like to be aromantic” and found a list of ~50 things. I personally related to over 40 of them, and one of them used the wording “forever roommates.” It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. Looking back, it seems pretty obvious, but that’s compulsory straightness for you.

The year since then has included no crushes (now that I understand them) but one attempt to date. While it was fun, it showed me that even someone who is perfect for me isn’t going to change the fact of who I am. I understand that sexuality can be fluid, but for the moment I’m proud to be an aro/ace.

– Joseph S.

Pros and Cons of Being Open With Your Sexuality

The notion of “coming out” is one that can be intimidating to a lot of people. Formally telling the people in your life about your sexuality seems a daunting task. This, among other reasons, is why I personally choose to be extremely open about my sexuality, with people in my regular life and on my robotics team. I openly discuss/mention my sexuality with people in my life and on my team, but I don’t make a point of specifically coming out. I am unapologetically bisexual.


But it wasn’t always that way. In order to live this way, being able to feel comfortable and secure is absolutely essential. When everyone around you knows that you’re bi (or any other orientation/identity), you will face some judgement and questions. You cannot let those things put doubt in your mind, you know who you are better than anyone else does. Reaching this point of stability in your identity can take a long time. For me it took several months, but for some people it could take years. That is okay. Once you reach this point, you may make the choice to be extremely open with your identity, or you may wish to be more private or reserved. The decision of how open to be with your sexuality/identity is entirely yours. But I’d like to share some pros and cons of being as open as I am and how they affected my decision to be who I am so publicly.




  • Less confusion


      • This is not to say that everyone will understand your identity, but there will be significantly less confusion as to how you identify. Everyone on my team may not understand bisexuality or what it means to me, but they do understand that I am bisexual and open to discuss the topic with anyone.


  • Sense of freedom


      • For me, coming out to people always created this type of weight on my chest, and for every person I came out to individually, only a small amount of this weight was lifted. Nowadays, I rarely feel this weight at all. There isn’t a weight on my chest because I don’t pressure myself to formally come out to every single person on my team. I don’t have to watch what I say to avoid outing myself


  • Spotting toxic people


    • Perhaps the biggest advantage to me of my openness, is the ability to identify people who are not going to be supportive of me. I’ve learned from personal experience that nothing is worse than coming out to a long-time friend to have them treat you poorly or start to distance themselves from you. One way I’ve been able to avoid this sort of drama and heartbreak is by being open and upfront about my sexuality. It gives others the chance to never become my friend if my sexuality makes them so uncomfortable. For me, this works, it might not work for everyone. Personally, if someone doesn’t want to be my friend because they know I’m bi, then so be it – I will be better off without those people in my life.



  • Others will out you


      • For me, this wasn’t a very big issue, but part of making this decision meant that, yes, people would know I was bi, sometimes without me ever mentioning it to them. However, this was still something I had to consider. When you don’t treat your sexuality as a secret, others won’t treat it as such either. You have to be okay with this because ultimately, it is going to happen in some capacity.


  • Keeping it from specific people


      • When you become incredibly open with your sexuality, you learn not to think twice about mentioning it, referencing it, and making jokes about it. This can be tough to switch off for certain people/atmospheres. For example, I’m extremely open on my team and  with other friends, but as of right now, I haven’t come out to my parents as bisexual. Oftentimes I have to catch myself when I’m around my family, to keep me from outing myself to them with a lousy pun. The other concern, much like with the previous con, is that someone will accidentally out me to my parents. For me, this wouldn’t be a dangerous situation, but an awkward one. Being even slightly selective with your openness (around family or a certain selection of people) can be difficult when everyone else in your life knows both about your sexuality and how open you are with it


  • General Bigotry


    • As I’m sure you could guess, when you choose not to hide your sexuality, you also put a target on your back for discrimination. Unfortunately, even though we have made great progress towards acceptance, bigotry still exists and can be very prevalent in some areas. You may experience discrimination or mistreatment in varying degrees if you decide to be very public with your sexuality. This may or may not be something you think you can handle. It can take a toll on some people more than it might for others.

How I Made My Decision

    Here I listed a few of the major pros and cons I considered when I decided I wanted to be extremely open. These can differ from person to person and their impact and importance can vary as well.Deciding whether you want to be more reserved or extremely open with your sexuality/identity is entirely up to you. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and be sure of who you are. You also have to evaluate the safety of being open about your sexuality in your current situation. It also has to be something you want, it simply isn’t for anyone. But for me, it has worked out very well and made me quite happy. Hopefully you find what’s comfortable for you and it makes you happy.

-Hailee 1747

Frank Merrick: The Times of Harvey Milk

Not so long ago, and for the first time, I watched the classic documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, about the first openly gay individual in California elected to public office.

Harvey was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on November 8, 1977.  On November 27, 1978, at San Francisco City Hall, along with George Moscone, the Mayor of San Francisco, Harvey Milk was assassinated.  The killer, Dan White, a former colleague of Harvey’s on the Board of Supervisors who had resigned his post just weeks before, was tried for capital murder.  This could have earned him the death penalty.  Instead, he was found guilty of manslaughter and served 5 years of a 7-year sentence before being paroled.  Approximately 1 year and 10 months after his parole, Dan White committed suicide.

What struck me about this film was not just the incredible story and the apparent injustice in the sentencing of Dan White, but the representation of what our culture was like at the time.  California Proposition 6, also known as ‘The Briggs Initiative’ after its sponsor, John Briggs, was on the ballot in the November 1978 election.  The language of the proposition, though convoluted, would have essentially prohibited the hiring of, and required the firing of, public school teachers for “public homosexual conduct”, a term defined so broadly that I think it would be hard for any homosexual, or even any what today might be called heterosexual ally, to not fall under the law’s purview.

Here’s the thing, for me:  this proposition, clearly discriminatory and unjust by today’s standards, nearly passed.  In September of 1978, only two months before voting, polling showed it ahead.  It was only through the extraordinary and determined efforts of Harvey Milk and a broad coalition of others opposed to the proposition, including then-Governor of California Ronald Regan, that it went down in defeat, with 58% voting against.

I’ll admit that at least until I watched this extraordinary documentary, I was nearly wholly ignorant of the history of the LGBTQ+ movement.  When I realized events such as this happened in my lifetime – I was 13 when the assassinations occurred – my eyes were opened just a bit more.

If you haven’t seen The Times of Harvey Milk, even if you already know the story, I believe it’s worth a watch, and worth sharing your thoughts over.  It’s powerful filmmaking in the service of an important part of history, history not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for all.



Room Situation – Pride Month Testimonial

During the 2017 build season I came out to my team as transgender. The team was fine with it, extremely supportive even. The mentors, not so much. They didn’t say much about it, or acknowledge it even. I suppose worse could have happened. All was well until time came for an away regional. They were intending to put me in a boys room, and I of course was very very uncomfortable and unhappy about this. Luckily, I have fantastic friends that stood up for me and got them to change their minds about it. They ended up putting me in my own room alone and away from everyone else. This was preferable to a guys room, though I was still pretty unhappy with my situation because I was away from my friends. At this point, however, I was willing to take anything that wasn’t a boys room.

When the time came for competition, they again asked me if I wanted a boys room, it seemed as if they were pushing me towards going in to one. I refused of course, and the mentor who asked me seemed grumpy about it. At that moment I asked if there was absolutely no way I could stay in the girls room(my gender is female), and to this question, his response was :”No, of course not. Out of the question”. I was again upset by this, but I was grateful they didn’t force me into a boys room. What got me really pissed off was that the ‘girls’ room was comprised of one girl, one nonbinary person, and a trans guy. They put a boy in the girls room over me.  The guy in question didn’t want to fight them, and was more uncomfortable being in a guys room for understandable reasons, so he just decided to stay in the girls room.

The whole point of this story wasn’t just to share a negative experience, but I would not have gotten any accommodation had it not been for my friends who stood up for me and did what I was too timid to do for myself. Eventually, I was able to stand up for myself, but this was after my friends had supported me. I guess what I am saying is, if your mentors are refusing to yield, don’t back down from them. The only way you can get what you want is by fighting for your rights.

– Julia

LGBTQ+ of FIRST wants your story!

With Pride Month quickly approaching, we want to highlight the vastly different experiences of our community. We’re interested in hearing your experience being LGBTQ+ in FIRST Robotics. For the next month, the stories we tell will be yours, so send us anecdotes, testimonials, good experiences and negative ones.

The Guidelines:

  • Your story can be about your experience in any of the FIRST programs in any capacity and can highlight any identity within the LGBTQ+ spectrum. (Allies are welcome to submit their experiences too!)
  • Keep your testimonial or anecdote under a thousand words.
  • Make sure your content is safe for work; avoid excessive profanity or subject matters that warrant a rating above PG13.
  • If your story is about a negative experience, do not include specific team numbers, names or other identifying information,

If you’re interested, fill out this form: Thank you for your submissions. We’re looking forward to reading your stories.