Aro-Spec Artist Profile: Sebastian

Handdrawn watercolour-style image of a sparse forest of redwood trees growing among grassy hills, with a white and orange fox sitting in the grass at the base of a tree on the viewer's right-hand side of the image. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/grey/black stripes of the aro pride flag. The text Aro Worlds Artist Profiles sits across the image in a black, antique handdrawn type, separated by two ornate Victorian-style black dividers.

Our next aro-spec creator is Sebastian, better known on Tumblr as @gloriousmonsters and @mangledmouth!

Sebastian is a bisexual, autistic, aromantic trans man who is single-handedly covering many literary bases in producing original aro and queer short stories, novels and poetry. Aside from his Tumblr blogs, you can find and support more of his work at his Patreon. If you have a dollar or two you’re wanting to invest in worthy aro-spec talent on a less-regular basis, please take a look at Sebastian’s Ko-Fi!

With us Sebastian talks about identifying with the role of villainy in narrative as an aro creative, aromantic characters and grand emotional gesture, the divide between representation and self-expression, and some spectacular-sounding work-in-progress book titles! His investment in aromantic characters and characterisation shapes every word, so please let’s give him all our love, encouragement, gratitude, kudos and follows for taking the time to explore what it is to be aromantic and creative.

Can you share with us your story in being aro-spec?

It took me a while to realize I was aromantic, but it was one of the things that made me go ‘oh, that makes … a lot of sense’ when I looked back at my childhood. I was a weird, isolated kid, so I didn’t learn from bouncing off other children; I learned through stories.

One of my strongest early memories is of watching a poorly made Red Riding Hood film over and over again, belting out the lyrics to the (poorly written) villain’s song, called ‘Man Without A Heart’. Cut to a year or so later, watching the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella (still the best Cinderella, IMO), I was utterly fascinated by the villainess singing: ‘Falling in love with love is falling for make-believe…’

I didn’t know, that early, that I didn’t feel romantic love. Not consciously. But there was something utterly, obsessively interesting about villains that sneered at love, who were called heartless, who challenged the narrative that there must always be a love story and it must come out right no matter what. I felt, on a deep level, that these people were like me somehow. The additional queercoding and common side-helping of mental illness helped – or didn’t help, depending on your perspective. I grew up knowing, deep down, what my part in life was: I was the villain.

When I hit my rebellious age, it first came out by my saying, ‘But being a villain doesn’t mean you have to be wrong or unhappy’. I began collecting villains like nobody’s business, and writing stories that more and more often centered people whose character types I’d only ever seen as villains. And from there we arrive at today!

Are there any particular ways your aro-spec experience is expressed in your art?

Recently, my brother (who is my sounding board for a lot of stories, as I am for him) looked at my books-to-write list and said, ‘Nearly every idea you have is a deconstructed romance or strong non-romantic relationship.’

I love strong relationships, so I originally thought I needed to write people as love interests to get that; these days I feel more free to focus on whatever the heck I want, and being aro shows in everything. My current WIP centers a poly relationship where two of the partners are aromantic. Two people (often, but not always, a man and a woman due to my frustration with the ‘men and women can’t be friends’ thing) who are the most important people in each others’ lives and are platonic, show up over and over again in my novel ideas; I start with relationships that look like romances and then pull them apart. Part of this, I think, is due to my autistic ‘let’s take this into component parts and see how it works’ tendencies; being autistic and being aro aren’t cause and effect, for me, but they play well together.

When I write poetry, some of it deals explicitly with being aromantic, but all of it is non-romantic. It makes me kind of anxious sometimes to think of people interpreting pieces as being romo because they’re about intense emotions; one of the biggest ways being aro is expressed in my writing is my constant attempts to show other feelings, connections and relationships than romance being worthy of big feelings and gestures. I’ll sometimes refer to myself as ‘aromantic but capital-R Romantic’ (i.e.  extremely dramatic) because of that.

What challenges do you face as an aro-spec artist?

I’m sure I’ll run into more problems as I try to take my increasingly aro and queer and ND works to professional markets, but at the moment my biggest problem is self-censoring. I sit at an awkward junction of having multiple identities I want to include in my work, and being … well, someone who grew up obsessed with villains, who later on developed a decade’s interest in slasher horror, and who still tends to write people who are perceived as, or see themselves as, villains. Awkward because I always have that voice in my head (helped along by some of the stuff I see on social media) going ‘that’s not good rep! nobody will want to read this!’

But I know from experience that not writing from the heart (and look at that, I do have one after all!) doesn’t end well, so I’m working on getting good at writing my weird dark stuff and hoping I’ll find the audience for it. And I always leave a little bit of light in it, because I have another voice in my head, still saying, ‘just because you’re a villain doesn’t mean you can’t be happy’.

It’s a weird sort of positivity, but it works for me.

How do you connect to the aro-spec and a-spec communities as an aro-spec person?

Following and submitting to this blog is part of my first attempts to actually join the aro-spec community. I tend to move slowly and be very nervous of talking to new people, but I’ve been trying to be more affirming of my aromantic identity lately, and seeking out other aros is part of that. Hopefully I’ll settle in a little more as time passes.

How can the aro-spec community best help you as a creative?

At the moment, people following and reblogging from my poetry blog @mangledmouth would be much appreciated. It’s hard to get traction with poetry (especially if you don’t write romantic poetry) and I’d love more people to see my work. I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve done, so check it out! Be warned that my love for horror and oddness turns up there as well, but there’s nothing too graphic.

And Ko-Fi donations or small Patreon subscriptions are always appreciated.

Can you share with us something about your current project?

My current WIP (titled either The Night In Wanting or And One of Us Be Happy, depending on whether I go for the one that sounds better or the one that fits best thematically) is about a third done! Praise me, because I’m really bad at finishing things, but I’m still on track to wrap this up at the end of June. It’s about a Weird Small Town and Sarah, a girl with a reputation for breaking hearts, who decides to date one of her best friends and actually try to make it work. Her attempts at being normal quickly get derailed when their town’s general weirdness turns hostile – attacks by creatures from the woods, unsettling amounts of rain, pictures changing when you’re not looking at them and a really pushy forest spirit trying to bargain with people for a heart. Her attempts at normal are further derailed when she figures out that her new boyfriend is also in love with a mutual friend, and that she might not feel love at all.

I love these characters, guys. This story is finally coming together after years and the three main characters – Sarah, Mags and Fred – have always been at the heart of it, no matter what shape it took. (Mags used to be a ghost, and the story went through a phase of being a Band AU of itself. Fred kept getting possessed, and there’s a joke about that in the text now that nobody will get but me. And now you guys!) It’s terrifying to write a YA that’s not only poly, but focuses on an aromantic main character, but I’m determined to make it work.

(This is is one of the most sweet/normal things I’ve worked on, despite the healthy dose of horror. I’ve also been writing snippets of a pet project called How The Child-Eater Became King, to give you an idea of the other end of the spectrum.)

Have you any forthcoming works we should look forward to?

I haven’t got the release date for it yet (it’ll probably be a while yet) but I recently sold a short story, Sabuyashi Flies, to Glittership. The main character, Sabuyashi, was originally aroace but turned out to be a lesbian ace during writing. (Characters often decide to come out while I’m writing, which is always fun to handle. I mean that both sarcastically and genuinely.) I’m already working on and off on the sequel story where she meets her future best friend Nathaniel, who is aro. Working title is Nat Luckless and the Girl Made of Beetles. Look for news about Sabuyashi Flies soonish and Nat Luckless whenever my slow butt manages to finish and (fingers crossed) sell it!

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