Hallo, Aro: Neuronormative – K. A. Cook

Banner for Hallo, Aro Allosexual Aro Flash Fiction. Image features dark black handwritten type on a mottled green background. Diagonal rows of arrows with bands, heads and fletching in the colours of the green/light green/white/yellow/gold allo-aro pride flag cross the image above and below the text.

Hallo, Aro is a series of flash fiction stories about allosexual aromantic characters navigating friendship, sexual attraction, aromanticism and the weight of amatonormative expectation.

Contains: An autistic allosexual aromantic struggling to deal with the ways alloromanticism and aromanticism alike are binary, neuronormative ways of looking at the romantic attraction spectrum.

Is there anything romantic not also non-romantic?

Content Advisory: This is a reflective piece about my alienation from and relationship to the aromantic label. The more I realise that there is no meaningful way for me to determine what is and isn’t romantic, the more I question the value of even attempting to do so.

Links: PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions are available for download from Patreon.

Length: 987 words / 4 PDF pages.

Note: “allistic” means “not autistic”.

One definition of aromanticism is low or no romantic attraction.

I can’t find romance in me.

Attraction is a human concept, but I’m an android, an alien, a loveless character mocked during nineteen-minute sitcom episodes. A character only redeemed by learning to honour and obey romance’s rules in a partnership with another. When to text, date, fuck and wed; what gifts to give and holidays to celebrate; what to wear and how to speak. As if the world didn’t already seek to bewilder and confuse!

Autistic characters in TV shows and books are only given the label human when we love another master neurotypical displays of romance. Aromanticism’s proud green validates and values my monstrosity in ways autism alone can’t and won’t.

Do I fit the word?

Kissing makes me shiver and shudder.

(Why do you expect me to enjoy your skin pressed against my tingling, screaming lips? Why are you so offended when I say I can’t?)

I don’t hug or cuddle.

(For how long must I bear your perfume hurting my nose and tightening my throat? For how long do I fight to quiet my body against yours when it wasn’t made to stop moving?)

I avoid dating.

(Will I be able to eat at the restaurant you pick? Will I survive the pounding music and the uproarious laughter from the table beside us?)

I struggle to talk to new people.

(What do I say when I don’t like the same things or go to the same places as everyone else? What do I say when small talk is a nightmare? What do I say when nothing I speak allows me the connection I crave?)

Sex doesn’t require words, once you know what sensations I can’t bear and what touches I crave. I can command and consent with my hands, legs and body. Sex is feeling, stimming, sensory: intensity allowable but safely temporary. Nobody expects our bodies to remain pressed together.

Is that attraction?

People are pretty the way I admire my blue plush blanket or a tabby cat. Bright, warm, soft. I like running my hands through your hair; I like tracing moles, scars and those dry patches of skin covering your knobbly knees. I can appreciate your body and the feeling mirrored in my own skin when I know I am allowed, after, to part and retreat. I look at you and I think I want. Is this sexual attraction? The edges catch when I try to fit what I am inside that box, but I can still connect and interact with allistics who use that word to describe themselves.

Maybe it is sexual attraction. Maybe it isn’t. Close enough, anyway; I’ll call myself allosexual just the same. The word doesn’t bruise my skin.

Why don’t I feel that way about aromantic?

(Will I feel better about the word when allosexual aromanticism, the green entwined with the gold, is easier to voice aloud? Or is it because sexual attraction is easier to recognise and define? Less nebulous?)

Romance disdains the safety of distance or escape. Togetherness is love or love is togetherness, the two so entwined that the world sees no need to pick them apart. In this community, we connect by discussing its omnipresence, our monstrosity, their amatonormativity. I am by this light possessed of the same behaviours and desires as others in this sanctuary.

Am I aromantic if I dislike kissing not from repulsion or its association with romance, just its sensory overwhelm?

What if I date another autistic who likes quiet, wants to build Lego sculptures while watching Star Wars, disdains restaurants, collects stim toys, allows me to escape to my room as often as needed and never kisses me when we fuck? The word I have for such wonderment is “queerplatonic”, but what if it’s an autistic shape of romance? Why shouldn’t it be when the West’s view of romance is an allistic imposition, someone else’s reckoning of our humanity? How do I know it isn’t what romance should be?

How is alloromanticism not another neuronormative expectation?

Aromanticism also comes with unspoken rules and expectations: assumptions about feeling and repulsion, attraction, romance. Some behaviours and feelings are alloromantic; some behaviours and feelings are not aromantic … except when they are.

(Is there anything romantic not also non-romantic?)

This word should announce to the world that other people permit, share and celebrate my monstrosity. This word should fit beside my autism, explaining, defining, validating. Instead, I’m flailing. Red rules, green rules. If I am aromantic, why can’t I see the difference between them?

Folks recognise the inconsistencies that plague us but attempt to draw lines anyway: I am repulsed by kissing because it is to me a romantic behaviour.  I’m supposed to know what does and doesn’t belong. I’m supposed to find comfort in knowing that this place doesn’t follow romance’s rules. I’m supposed to protect others who chafe in a world of red, but every rule feels a lie, a falsehood. What’s romantic? What’s sexual? What’s platonic? What’s platonic and sexual? What’s alloromantic? What’s aromantic? Why can’t you all just decide?

How is aromanticism not another neuronormative expectation?

I need this word. I need it to survive when autistics weaponise romance in the fight against the ableist stereotypes of androids, aliens and nineteen-minute sitcom characters. I am too monstrous to find validation in autism alone; I must be, have to be, aromantic!

Years clothed in this word, but I still can’t breathe.

I need the vague. A word indifferent to attraction’s binaries. A word that gives me space to be aromantic in so far as it resembles the state of not being neurotypically romantic. A word that doesn’t rely on my ability to pretend that I understand the incomprehensible and the contradictory.

I’m lichen growing over granite, the green unable to thrive without the grey.

I’m arovague.

(Or is it nebularomantic? Why do I have to pick just one word, anyway?)

K. A. Cook is an abrosexual, aromantic, agender autistic who experiences chronic pain and mental illness. Ze writes creative non-fiction, personal essays and fiction about the above on the philosophy that if the universe is going to make life interesting, ze may as well make interesting art. You can find hir blogging at Aro Worlds and running the Tumblr accounts @aroworlds and @alloaroworlds.

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