This is a submission for the May 2017 Carnival of Aces which I myself hosted this month here on my blog. The theme is “Kissing, Hand Holding, Bed Sharing, etc!”
I offered to host guest submissions on my blog if anyone desired that. Here is Rachel’s essay:
I define myself, broadly speaking, as sex-averse, romance-averse, and touch-averse, but the more that I think about it, separating these repulsions into neat and tidy categories really doesn’t make sense. The three blend so easily into each other that I can’t conclude which is causing which. For example: kissing? Not a fan. Now, is that because of sex aversion (since kissing can be coded as sexual), romance aversion (kissing is coded as romantic), or is that just generalized touch aversion? All three? Rinse, lather, and repeat for all other sexual/romantic/sensual coded activities.
Now, it isn’t unusual for repulsions to be inexplicably arbitrary in their limits and tolerances (some aces/aros like cuddling but hate kissing, may like or tolerate certain types of sexual/romantic materials but not others, etc.). Me? I’m an aro ace who is vaguely repulsed by both sex and romance, yet am actually astonishingly positive toward sex and romance under certain circumstances. Like, I am okay with and sometimes really enjoy romance in media, to the point that many of my standard complaints about romance in media are identical to those of alloromantic people (the characters have no chemistry, the writing is cliché, their dynamic is forced and obligatory, etc.). With that in mind, it makes tidy categorizations of repulsions even more hazy. Because how much, philosophically, can you stretch a term before it loses coherence and value? What value is there in calling myself sex-averse and romance-averse specifically when I’ve admitted to not having the conspicuous and visceral reactions that repulsion otherwise implies, the way the community usually talks about them? Am I actually sex and romance repulsed, or is that just the unfortunate overlap of generalized touch aversion with activities rooted in touching?
Given the above, it makes separating repulsions kind of arbitrary and impossible, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find the terms useful. I obviously wouldn’t use them if I found them pointless. Calling myself sex-averse is a useful way to get across “no, I am not, in fact, interested in or open to sex with you (or anyone else for that matter).” The same goes for romance and touch. Because people tend to assume that if you aren’t explicitly revolted by something, that something doesn’t really hold inherent appeal to you but doesn’t specifically upset you, then that means that you’re broadly okay with it, right?
And here is where the core of my aversion lies. When I say that I am averse to these things: it isn’t because they inspire a deeply-felt, immediate, all-consuming gut reaction; it is because they don’t. I cannot find the words even describe the special kind of NOTHING that I feel when interacting sensually with others. Yeah, I tolerate touch as social protocol, and don’t mind it in small bursts from people that I know well. But knowing that I supposed to be feeling something positive, and getting nothing from it internally, no matter how sincerely-intended the gesture, makes touch a dissonant and hollow experience. My life is filled with Voldemort-awkwardly-hugging-Draco moments. It has taken me years to admit to myself that I am emotionally indifferent to touch, and that, no, touching the people that I care about doesn’t provide any warm and fuzzies (to the point where I suspect neurodivergence), it’s just this vaguely disconcerting thing that I’m expected to perform. This all makes sex and romance-coded behaviors feel invasive in their hollowness, and it is for this reason that I ground myself in the vocabulary of aversion, rather than mere indifference.
The triple-combo of sex, romance, and touch aversion creates sites of conflict for me. This overlap heavily stymies my ability to pursue relationships that otherwise interest me. Because when the ace and aro communities talk about relationships and practicing physical intimacy, this is what I mostly see:
Alloromantic aces: We may not like sex (unless we do), but we still like romance! Kissing! Cuddling! Holding hands! Sensual stuff!
Aro allosexuals: We may not like romance (unless we do), but we still like sex! Kissing! Cuddling! Holding hands! Sensual stuff!
Non-touch averse aro/aces: We may not like sex or romance (unless we do), but we still like touch! Kissing! Cuddling! Holding hands! Sensual stuff!
The more repulsions that you have, the more it chisels away at your ability to perform the motions of intimacy under the predominant relationship models. The way we talk about relationships in the ace and aro communities, whether sexual, romantic, or none of the above, still contains the language of touch-as-intimacy, and that leaves people with stacking repulsions effectively out in the cold, as our communities scramble to highlight what physical intimacies remain. But what happens none remain? Because, seriously, how many in our communities would be on board with a relationship where not even nonsexual or nonromantic sensuality is involved? Who will have you, when even your own community probably won’t? This is something that I wish that both communities would discuss more directly, rather than just giving lip service, leaving cute validations, and then things going back to the same as before. It’s all well and good to say that people with multiple aversions deserve to have the relationship models of their choice, but that doesn’t mean we get to ever have them in real life, or guide us through navigating them if we do.
My relationship prospects being more or less nonexistent, I’ve more or less settled on being perma-single, something that I am, luckily, fine with. But this creates problems with possible parenthood. Being disabled, having a someone to co-parent would set me at ease with having children (and this is my backdoor response to last month’s submission, an entire month late), but as I’ve detailed before, that isn’t likely or practical. Also, being a single parent with touch-aversion threatens parent-child interactions (children, as a general rule, require a lot of touch for bonding and development), which having a co-parent would alleviate. Our community’s lack of exploration of these questions leaves me alone, without guidance, and uncertain of my options.
As a community, we need to discuss touch-based intimacy, the place it holds in our relationship models, and how to we ought to restructure said models when its pieces wear thin. As a community, we need to discuss touch aversion with the same gravity that we do sex and romance aversion, as being a serious part of many ace and aro experiences, not just as an afterthought. There comes a point when pithy positivity posts and acknowledgements stop helping you progress, and talk of practical and living concerns needs to take its place. I’m hoping that this Carnival serves as a start.