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Vivian, trapped halfway between human and wolf form, kisses the werewolf she's always feared and accedes to being his mate. Having sexually assaulted her, promised her that he'll stalk her, and told her that she is his, in the last chapter Gabriel not only coaxes her body to physically change but gets her mind to change as well.

"One day you'll find the right someone and they'll change your mind," I heard in high school, a lot, and I began to fear this, this bogeyman who wouldinevitably, unstoppablybrainwash me from total disinterest to total interest. What they thought was encouraging terrified me. I thought of all the books and films and shows I had seen where someone like me eventually became someone like everyone else, and how many of them involved hate and fear becoming love.

Selphie and Irvine. Babar and Celeste.

Someone who purported to understand my aromanticism worries I have feelings for the same person she does. He had a crush on me in high school and we are friends, and the narrative is undeniable.

Alanna's goddess reprimands her for fearing the love of a man who sexually assaults her, and tells her to learn to love. Reader, Alanna marries him.

I stop reading YA sooner than most of the people I know my age. Though I cannot explain why, I know that book after book of teenage girls falling in love in dubious circumstances is hurting me. Farm boys and princes and wizards are so unlike meare never designed to be slightly like methat when they fall in love it isn't a slap to the face or a twisting of the knife.

"I saw your blog about how there's no acearo characters in fiction, but have you heard of Dexter?"

"Clariel is asexual!" many people enthuse. "Clariel is aromantic asexual," barely anyone says. "Uhhh Clariel is aromantic asexual and she becomes tainted and she can't live in society and she becomes evil and is one of the villains in the earlier books," one, maybe two, people mention. I'd been looking forward to reading it but I don't need that pain in my heart, I don't need to be reminded that love redeems, that aromantics are sociopaths, that aromantics are broken and lonely and alien and wrong and so utterly alone. I lived that for years, unable to convince anyone that I wasn't broken or inhuman, and it has taken me so long to be comfortable and confident in my aromanticism, in my humanity, and I do not need that reminder.

Kim and Ron begin dating, and I need time to recover from the shock, to distance myself from the two characters, before I begin the final season.

A male friend is invited by name as my +1 to the wedding of a cousin he's never met. No one in my family had ever asked what our status was. What need is there to ask? Friends from school, still spending time together, I was a girl, he was a boy, can I make it any more obvious that my only interest in him was platonic? But platonic girl-boy relationships are only allowed to be a prelude to either romantic upgrade or wish-it-were-romantic grudges.

Beldin and Vella turn into hawks and fly away, together, despite everything Beldin has said and been in the series. An ending without love is an unhappy ending, an incomplete ending.

In my teens I try to write characters who are like me: teen girls and young women who aren't interested in romance or sex, who try to navigate their lives without crushes and dating. I don't write aromantic or asexual charactersnot yetbecause I haven't yet discovered those words. The words I have discovered are: broken, frigid, childish, late bloomer, ill, waiting. These words shape my writing, and inevitably every single character finds just the right person and is healed, defrosted, matured. Seduced, overpowered, changed. Made happy, superficially: YA teaches me that young women need older men, angry men, dangerous men, insistent men, to make them happy.

Maleficent. Ursula. Ennis.

At a family funeral I bump into a school friend, and I am embarrassed that they see me crying. I am not supposed to have emotions. How could I have felt something so strong for my family that I experience grief and sorrow and empathy? If you can't fall in love, you can't love, you can't form meaningful connections with humans. You're probably not even human yourself.

"Anyone who didn't think Scully and Mulder would get together is an idiot," I hear, twice in one week, and I remember when I was younger: Scully and Mulder kiss and I am confused and heartbroken. I had looked up to them, I had seen two friends, two partners, two people whose trust and care and sass I could aspire to. I find out they're no different than all the others. I find out that my aspirations for the platonic are inevitably to be replaced, usurped.

UST is the best, and it is the worst. I don't notice it, and then I have two characters who are growing close without any notions of romance, and I have a wonderful TV show I can enjoy with one less "ugh, but." I don't notice it, and I grow attached to the show, to the characters and their relationship, and then the tension resolves and I feel stupid for not having seen this coming, I feel awful about letting myself love characters like this again.

When I first see Bones, she's a character I admire as a role model: she's an adult who loves her job, who has fulfilling work relationships and friendships, who isn't in a romantic relationship, who doesn't understand romance, who doesn't feel romantic love, who gets on with her amazing life like romance is immaterial. And then "character growth" happens after several years, her views realigning to those of Booth's, the man who's been in love with her for years, and then her "arc" is complete and the audience are "satisfied" with this "happy" ending.

A friend crushes on me and I hope he doesn't ask me out. I fear dating, I fear a boyfriend, I fear being changed, and I fear not being changed and the fallout that would cause. I try to make myself unwanted, unwantable. I don't wash my face, I don't style my hair, I hide behind grey T-shirts and caustic sarcasm, I make the world feel as uneasy about me as I feel about being in it.

In front of a spirit portal Korra and Asami stare into each other's eyes. I am happy for the friends and strangers who will be ecstatic, who will be represented for the first time in a show they love, and I am hollow inside, breathless after sighing with relief at Mako's farewell. Only one-quarter of Aang's comrades had expressed anything other than platonic interest in him, but three-thirds of Korra's want something more?

I am not interested in boys and I am not interested in girls, and I am told I am in denial because and/or are the only options. I am told I need medication, to calm down, to chill out, to warm up, to stop being envious of happy and beautiful people. I am told I'm not allowed to be uncomfortable with amatonormative films, I'm not allowed to be dissatisfied at how my "condition" is portrayed.

Partnered characters with professional and platonic, non-romantic, relationships fill me with delight and hope. They are close, trusting and reliable, they value each other as much as or more than any romantic partners that might come along. They joke together, console and support and inspire each other, sometimes they even live and travel together, bicker like a married couple. Of course, nearly all such woman-man partnerships are inevitably moved on to the "next" level, and when I started realizing this I tried not to get attached to this platonic phase, and came to find less anxiety in man-man and woman-woman partnerships like Denny and Alan, Fry and Bender, Rizzoli and Isles.

Eventually I will use the terms "zucchini" and "queerplatonic" to describe the pinnacle of non-romantic relationships, but before either of those enter my life, I learn the word "queerbaiting." Eventually, I hope, there will be such an abundance of canon queer characters—alloromantic and greyromantic and aromantic—that we don't have to fight over undefined scraps of dubious substance.

Phil's day repeats again and again, in order to win him Rita. Befriending the people of Punxsutawney and improving his skills and demeanor are just checkpoints to the goal of impressing and obtaining his romantic interest.

I wonder about all the aro characters whose curses would never be lifted because there is no true love's kiss to save them.

Homura must be in love with Madoka, it's explained to me, because who would go to such horrifying lengths for just a friend?

It is Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week. I am blogging about how to write arospec characters, how damaging amatonormativity has been to me, and why non-romantic relationships should be more important to writers. And I see people saying "gal pals" to mock non-romantic woman-woman relationships, that there's no interest in non-romantic stories, that asexual people fall in love just like everybody else, that this week is an inappropriate time to be discussing romance and non-romance, that aromantic characters are too boring.

Kanae slips further and further into the supporting cast, her friendship with Kyoko taking a backseat to all the men interested in Kyoko. "Strong female friendship" was why it was recommended, but after a great start to their relationship the focus fizzles out. Kyoko matchmakes Kanae with a twelve-year-old boy, and then interacts mostly with men.

In high school I understood this: once you got a romantic partner, once things got serious with them, you no longer needed friendships and you would slowly discard your friends. I saw it in books and on TV and I knew it to be truth, that friendship was just a stopgap. I was so anxious, for years, not only that I would be alone because I would be without a romantic partner, but that I would be alone—lonely—because I would be without friends.

Elsa, never shown expressing romantic desire, saves her sister through an act of true love, non-romantic love, after Hans weaponizes romance. Max slips away through the crowd, having shared not one romantic moment with Furiosa. Luffy, perpetually sailing for younger readers, is immune to Boa Hancock's charms.

Every list of aromantic characters I find—save for webcomics—are headcanons. They're not as trendy as asexual characters. So I write what I needed to when I was young: aros who are confident, loved by friends, human and humane, never changed into a respectable character who can fall in love, unafraid of dying alone, surrounded and supported. And I try to think that I only needed them when I was younger, that I don't need that kind of validation now, that I won't—still broken, still anxious—need it in another fifteen years.


Penny Stirling edits and embroiders in Western Australia. Their speculative fiction and poetry can be found in Lackington's, Interfictions, Heiresses of Russ, and other venues. For more of Penny's aromantic nonfiction visit their website or follow them on Twitter.
Current Issue
26 Feb 2024

I can’t say any of this to the man next to me because he is wearing a tie
Language blasts through the malicious intentions and blows them to ash. Language rises triumphant over fangs and claws. Language, in other words, is presented as something more than a medium for communication. Language, regardless of how it is purposed, must be recognized as a weapon.
verb 4 [C] to constantly be at war, spill your blood and drink. to faint and revive yourself. to brag of your scars.
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