This is my submission for the September 2019 Carnival of Aros, hosted by aceofarrows, on the theme of “Aromanticism and Fiction”. The Call for Submissions was here. I’ve also cross-posted this to my tumblr if you want to reblog it or anything.
Content Note: discussion of varied kissing experiences, including my kissing-aversion. Let me know if I should’ve warned for something else.
Also… I’m not sure how much of what I am focusing on is about my (gray-)aromanticism and how much is my asexuality… it’s hard to really categorize some of this into one or the other category. But I know this is meant to be aro-centric and if you stick with this post I’ll make sure it ties back to aromanticism.
Last month, I listened to the audiobook version of Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink.
Potential spoilers are in this blog post below by the way, so you have been forewarned. I’ll try to minimize the spoilers (and I’m not spoiling the ending or anything). I’ll also mention, later in the post, details from over halfway through the book All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher, and a few details from The Flash (2014 TV series) season 2 and the Veronica Mars 2014 film and 2019 revival for a season 4.
I loved the audiobook of Alice Isn’t Dead. I found it really compelling. I have heard the podcast was probably a better way to first be introduced to the story, but I instead only consumed this fictional tale in its book form, because my asexual meetup group had decided to read it for its book club. It’s a story with a lesbian married couple at its heart—a romance.
Keisha is the main character. Her wife, Alice, went missing and was presumed dead before the start of the story. When Keisha first sees Alice in this story, Keisha is so angry about the depth of grief she’s been in, grief which is all Alice’s fault due to the circumstance of Alice faking her own death and then… they passionately kiss. And I kinda felt like I was triggered by the way the kiss was used in this work of fiction. I don’t know how else to describe it. I had a visceral negative reaction to it.
This is the paragraph:
Keisha could have hit her. Could have killed her, honestly. Let Alice finally actually be dead if she wanted to be dead that badly. But what she did instead was pull her toward her, and their lips met, and it could have been the day they met, could have been the day they got married, could have been any weekday evening before she disappeared. Keisha felt love, right where she had left it, and kissed Alice so hard that it hurt both of them, because what she really wanted to do was to find her way into Alice’s chest and live there among the bones and blood. She wanted them to be one person, but also to be two people; she wanted so many things, most of them contradictory. She pushed Alice away.
I just said I loved this book. I swear, I really truly did. There was so much I loved about this book, the #ownvoices portrayal of anxiety with a ton of depth (and kinda turning it into a superpower without minimizing how hard it is to live that way), the way the horror played out, the characters, and even the way the romance was written. (I’m usually a pretty big fan of romance in fiction even though I’m not alloromantic. I enjoy romantic arcs, and I even feel shipper type feelings a fair amount of the time.)
But also, listening to this audiobook in my car on a drive home late on a Sunday night, hearing about kissing, and how through kissing a character (whom I could otherwise actually emotionally- and personality-wise relate to quite a bit) was feeling a strong positive sensation of love coming rushing into her… it made me cry. I shed real, actual tears. I got distracted by my own thoughts and angst and had to pause the book and switch to playing music on the radio for a little while. I had to rewind it later because I’d missed parts of what came next. I was just. Not in the right headspace for this romantic kissing situation. Not at all.
The timing was partially to blame. I heard this moment in the book while I was driving home from a day spent with the person I’m dating, Asher. (Asher is the pseudonym I use on this blog for my alterous partner.) We had, just that evening, explored if maybe my kissing-averse self might be able to handle closed-mouth chaste kissing on the mouth, but first I had gotten confused and thought I was agreeing to trying open-mouthed kissing for the first time in nearly 6 years. I had indeed agreed on a previous night that I’d try that too, but when we’d get to trying a number of things had still been unclear. But I knew making out would be a thing we tried at least once… eventually.
I knew that I was kissing-averse after my experiences trying kissing in 2012 and 2013, but I wondered what if my partner being a different gender this time around mattered? Or what if it mattered that I have a demi “sensual” attraction switch that has flipped for Asher, considering the fact that that switch hadn’t flipped for the only two people whom I tried kissing back before I knew my orientations? Or what if it wasn’t really that bad and I was exaggerating in my memory how averse I felt to it all? And what if I could be neutral to “making out” briefly?
Asher asked me, “Can I kiss you?” and I was finally ready to give open mouthed kissing a chance with them. I mean, I guess I thought I was. I braced for the experience. I said, “Yes,” then asked what kind of kissing. Oh. Not open-mouthed, after all. It ended up being Asher just… giving me a light peck on the lips. And then asking me if I was okay. And I said I was. But then I was crying anyway, as I do far too often with Asher. I feel hyper-vulnerable when I’m with them or messaging them or thinking about them and I seem to cry at the drop of a hat. And I’m not entirely sure why, in this instance, the tears were streaming but I kept insisting I really was fine with that kind of kissing. It was maybe a little awkward but I didn’t feel averse to that. And it would get less awkward with more time/practice, I was sure.
(I still think it’s often a little awkward, but in the over-a-month since we started those, I’ve never again cried after being given one of those little kisses.)
I think maybe, though, it seemed fine and neutral to me at first but over time it’s maybe felt more awkward to me, more like I have to be extra careful to keep my mouth closed because I’m scared of an aversion sensation I’d feel if my mouth was open, so I can’t just appreciate the little loving gesture. I overthink it each time.
And as I have been writing this blog post and sharing the unfinished draft with Asher, we discussed this more. Now, I’ve requested to instead try goodbye quick kisses on the cheek or maybe blowing a kiss instead of the goodbye peck on the lips. We tried one cheek kiss this morning. 💜💚 We’ll keep testing this out.
Dating Asher for five months now has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I’ve been so happy to be in an alterous partnership which in many ways resembles the established “perfect” romance I saw described in Alice Isn’t Dead—cooking together, cuddling while watching TV, having long conversations that the participants never want to end. Deciding to build a life together with another person. I feel so much love for Asher and know they have brought so much that’s positive to my life.
Nonetheless, it’s been very stressful. Lots of aspects of it have been. I’m not touching on all of it in this post. Waves of excitement or joy are interrupted or overlayed and mixed with other things. Some of my emotions are difficult for me to fully understand or process. But I’ve been thrown back into a situation of mismatched orientations, where my partner feels romantically for me, in certain ways I can’t reciprocate. For Asher, the desire to kiss me is connected to their demiromantic switch. When this switch is engaged and “on” (and it fairly consistently stays on for me), they feel this desire to kiss me. For Asher, kissing is very much non-sexual, but it is romantic.
Asher also feels sexually for me in ways I can’t reciprocate, but that is a topic for another time.
We did eventually, not particularly long after that night when I cried in the car listening to Alice Isn’t Dead, try open-mouthed kissing. Compared to maybe the “making out” that I was envisioning, Asher was… gentler and more hesitant; it was a subtler type of kiss. It wasn’t passionate in that way that I imagine is definitely sexual for characters in stories when making out is described. It wasn’t as full tongue deep into each other’s mouths as what I’d experienced with two guys in 2012 and 2013. We tried this kissing because Asher was so full of a desire to try expressing romantic love that way.
I probably already deep down knew, crying in the car, that while I feel deep alterous love for Asher, love that lets me relate enough to the love described in Keisha & Alice’s marriage, I would feel the opposite of all that amazing love in a moment where I would get even close to that kind of kissing. And indeed open-mouthed kissing I just am so viscerally averse to. It’s hard for me to explain, but I’m not neutral. It’s not just a lack of feeling anything like love. It’s the saliva interacting that is a very specific thing my body seems to react to. It feels uncomfortable in a way that’s almost like anti-chemistry, like people are supposed to notice a spark that’s good between them (and they call this “having chemistry”) and for me the spark isn’t exactly missing—there is still a spark, but it just feels bad. I’ve never felt anything like this feeling except for when I kissed two different guys, nearly a year apart from one another, back in 2012 and 2013. But here we are in 2019 and only once I found myself in the midst of an open-mouthed kiss again did I realize my body remembers exactly what this anti-spark feels like. All 3 people I’ve open-mouth-kissed trigger this exact same kissing-aversion feeling in me.
In the book All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher, which is an ace/ace romance, there is a part around the middle of the book, slightly over halfway through, where Zafir says he can’t stop thinking of how much he really wants to kiss Brennan. Brennan thinks it might be weird for asexuals to be kissing one another. (Brennan is new to asexuality and Zafir is more knowledgeable.) I’ll share two select passages from pages 139 and 140 of my paperback copy of the book, from a chapter that happens to be Brennan’s point of view:
”And who says it’s sexual? It’s just affection.” He ran his hand up my forearm. “People can touch without it having anything to do with sex.”
His hand slid around to the back of my neck, and with the faintest pressure from his fingertips, he drew me toward him.
Our lips met.
And everything… faded.
The ocean was suddenly a million miles away. The seagulls were distant background noise. There were people and cars, but my senses were too busy exploring the softness of his lips. His stubbled chin hissed across mine, driving home that I was kissing a man for the first time in my life. That I was kissing Zafir. And I liked it.
Slowly, I wrapped my arms around him. Nothing about this felt as weird as I thought it should. It was… God, it was perfect.
He broke the kiss and our eyes met.
“Wow,” I breathed.
“Yeah. Wow.” He searched my eyes. “Does that turn you on?”
I swept my tongue across my lips. “It, um … not really, no.”
Zafir’s brow knitted, and he sounded more nervous than I’d ever heard him when he whispered, “But did you like it?”
“I—” My heart thumped against my ribs, and I caught myself missing the softness of his lips against mine. This didn’t make any sense, but … “Yeah. I did like it.”
So I pulled him back to me and kissed him again.
This scene was another scene in a book that made me feel a lot of emotions. I read this book after having been in a relationship (that had since ended) with a gray-asexual queerplatonic partner, and I related a lot to two aces dating each other throughout the book. I loved the portrayal that aces can also be parents, which thanks to Sara K. I knew ahead of time this book would have—possibly the only book out there like that—and I knew that this would be an appeal of the book for me as an ace who wants to be a parent. But I’m more averse to sex than both of these protagonists, and then when this happened on page 139 of the book, I suddenly felt very frustrated that kissing aversion seems to never ever be shown in ace romances. I’d been reading a handful of novels with ace characters, and kissing seems to almost always be utilized by authors as “proof” that a relationship without sex is still romantic.
This kind of thing made me feel more possibly aro, the more I realized I can’t feel what all the alloromantic ace characters seem to feel, but I also was skeptical. All The Wrong Places, as I researched and found out after finishing the book, was written by a bisexual woman. While the asexual representation was overall amazingly accurate and relatable (and the book at various points just made me cry because of its emotional resonance), maybe this kissing thing isn’t actually accurate to how all alloromantic aces feel. Perhaps that scene I just quoted was more exaggerated, hyperbole for the sweet romance of it than actually how first kisses tend to feel for people in their shoes.
Maybe it would be more a sex-averse ace thing than necessarily an aro thing to not feel so positively toward the softness of lips, for everything to not just “fade away”. I really don’t know. I haven’t heard enough from sex-repulsed aces who feel alloromantic. I don’t feel like I know their narratives. What I see instead around are aces who are more sex-indifferent or sex-neutral or even sex-favorable when they explain being alloromantic, so when they maybe say they do like kissing (depending on the person) I still don’t know if the reason they like something I don’t is because I’m averse more than them to sexual things and that kind of kissing is sexual, or if it’s because I’m much more aro than them. I don’t know how to parse out my feelings, my romantic orientation, or any of it. It’s so messy and complicated and I wish I had easy answers…
…but when a lot of what I have influencing my thoughts on all this is fiction, the theme of this carnival, it gets even murkier. Fiction doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. And when I read about what kissing feels like it’s almost always in fictional accounts. Whether it’s fanfiction or published novels, allo characters or aspec ones, none of this is really what I should be basing an understanding of reality on. None of this is necessarily quite accurate. I need more nonfiction accounts to fully make me understand my own orientations.
I recently edited a new, very romantic, fanvideo set to a recently released Taylor Swift song using 23 romantic couples featured on 20 different scripted (fictional) television series.
While I identify as gray-aromantic and classify my relationship with and my feelings for Asher as alterous, I basically feel like I could pretty easily sing 99% of this song to my partner and it be entirely accurate to my happy, excited feelings toward the thought of us one day getting married as nesting partners and everything else. I don’t feel like the song is too romantic for any of my current feelings. (The inaccurate parts are that Asher is not my “baby boy” as we don’t use the pet name baby, and Asher isn’t a boy… and I don’t want Asher in “dirty dreams” because I’m sex-averse and don’t have such dreams… seriously that’s pretty much the only parts that don’t really fit, I think? Well, I suppose we also don’t use the pet name “darling” and the idea that Asher and I were ever “friends” before becoming partners isn’t quite true, since we met via online dating, and other little tiny things don’t quite fit. But overall… I can still be aro-spec while relating a lot to this song. I can. It’s my reality.)
For a long while now, I’ve second-guessed any of my choices when it comes to vidding kissing scenes.
As I’ve written about before, for my birthday this year I had friends participate in four collaboration fanvideos where I:
made a rule of no sexual scenes and no kissing on the mouth at all. These collabs were also, by the way, a mix of romantic pairs and platonic bonds. They could vid right before or after a kiss with the characters’ faces close but just not vid the kissing itself.
I told my dad about having made the rule and he turned to me and asked with a surprisingly high level of confusion and interest, “Do you really mind kissing scenes?”—or something like that. I don’t even know what I said but I don’t think I fully tried to explain how complicated it all was for me as someone vidding such kissing scenes for over 12 years. Whose attitude in reaction to seeing characters act sexually changed drastically once I realized 5.5 years ago I was sex-averse, how frustrating it was in my birthday collab in January 2016 when one of my friends vidded one of my OTPs (Jane/Rafael on Jane the Virgin) and she happened to choose, out of SO many scene choices, one of the absolute most sexual Jane/Rafael scenes with them making out while skinny dipping (naked in a swimming pool). How sex averse I felt in that moment and how much I wanted for my birthday collab to not have that happen again.
I think what I said to my dad was that it’s nice sometimes to feel more able to relate to the characters and kissing scenes I can’t relate to. I don’t know.
Now it’s closer to 6 years since I first figured out for sure I was sex-averse, and when editing my “Paper Rings” video, which is embedded above, I couldn’t stop thinking about when to include kissing and when not to. And also what kinds of kissing I feel comfortable with.
I hadn’t met Asher yet when my birthday happened, so when I was making up the “no kisses on the mouth” rule for it I didn’t have much personal life experience with other types of kisses. Like the guy from 2012 kissed my cheek once but… basically zero experience, give or take. Yet, I still knew on some level that kisses on the top of the head, the forehead, the cheek, the shoulder, the arm… none of these would bother me and feel sexual and trigger my kissing-aversion, and I didn’t know if they’d necessarily feel romantic, in fact I still don’t know if anything feels exactly “romantic” for me which is part of why I’ve gravitated so strongly to the term “alterous”… But it feels sweet and affectionate and wonderful when Asher kisses my upper arm while I wear sleeveless shirts, or my shoulder, or my head.
When I was editing this fanvideo and I chose to include mouth-kisses during lyrics that weren’t specifically “kiss me” or “kiss you” lines of the song (lyrics without the word “kiss” at all), it was because of the surrounding details of the scene being really perfect for a particular lyric, combined with the fact that the kiss itself probably wasn’t that zoomed in on nor super open-mouth style “passionate”. For the lyrics specifically about kissing, as much as I easily could, I included kisses that were on the nose or head, or I vidded just enough of a scene that my fanvideo didn’t even show the actual kiss part of the scene once their lips touched, like in the case of the Barry/Iris during the lyric “’cause you waited your whole life”.
I had a number of my vidder friends and acquaintances on Twitter giving me feedback on my video as I was creating it, suggesting ways to improve it. One of my oldest vidder friends, with whom I’ve been friends for 12 years, suggested that when Logan kisses Veronica’s nose in my video, I should’ve instead used when they first kiss (very passionately and sexually) in the film as it fits that same “cause you’ve waited your whole life” lyric better than the cute nose kiss from later in the movie.
However, I told that friend of mine I checked that sexy Veronica/Logan scene from the film and if either character had kissed the other “Three times” in quick succession to really match that lyric amazingly perfectly i would’ve used it. But because that didn’t happen, so…
I’m kinda partial to using less sexual scenes now, more than maybe I typically would be, if I can avoid them. I just. Dating Asher and not wanting to open mouth kiss at all is proving really hard and I’m really insecure about my orientation(s) and how they manifest and makes me incompatible with almost everyone in the world. The nose kiss is much more a kind of kiss I feel happy seeing right now. Less fraught emotions for me in my super cutesy lovey dovey vid if I keep it this way lol. Also my two “dirty dreams” lyric matches are super tame and cute/sweet rather than actually dirty because of that. But no, I couldn’t think of a 3 kisses moment to use either time the lyric comes up.
It just. It’s all so complicated, my relationship to the way romance is portrayed in fiction. And in popular songs. I mean have you all heard the song “Kiss Somebody” by Morgan Evans? It’s on my local country radio station a lot.
It’s frustratingly catchy and enjoyable as a song for a person like me (see how I just vidded Taylor Swift, above – lol). The only reason it’s frustrating though is that it’s so anatonormative, and that it’s one of just so so many songs that imply if you really like a person you “gotta” kiss them, that such a desire to kiss is essentially inevitable. And that everyone feels these things. It is invalidating. It hurts. Even now. Even over 6 years into knowing I was probably asexual, and 6 years after the possibility of being aromantic first crossed my mind. It’s been such a long time, but it’s still not easy for me.
I’m not nonamorous. I’m not romance-repulsed. I don’t seem aromantic when you consider a lot of my interests and actions, when you quickly glance at my successful dating life. In less than a week I’m moving in to a brand new apartment with the person I’ve been dating and I’m happy and excited by the direction my life is going. I’m so very happy.
But I’m kissing-averse. Not averse to all kissing. I actually deeply enjoy certain kinds of kissing, but I’m very averse to open-mouthed kissing, so much so that I would rather not even engage in closed-mouth kissing, despite not even being personally averse to the closed-mouth type!
I’m not sure I like the phrase kissing-aversion as much anymore now that I realize just how nuanced my feelings on the subject are, but I’m not sure I know of a better alternative phrasing. I don’t want to imply ruling out sweet little kisses on my arm and shoulder and head and cheek. I love those so much. So maybe I should just say I’m mouth-kissing-averse, but that sounds so clunky and just… I don’t see myself really starting to say that. Lol. Maybe a whole descriptive sentence about it would be better in the future. I don’t know. I’ll keep thinking on it.
One of my alloromantic & allosexual (straight) friends actually recently let me know she’s not a big fan of making out, because I was sharing my own… struggles.
It’s funny, I am not super into kissing. I like it more on the top of my head or the cheek… That is more romantic to me than mouth kissing…that is kind of slobbery, lol.
So I guess to conclude, if you made it these 4,300+ words into this monster of a post, I’ll ask you all to please let me know your relationship to kissing, whether you love it, hate it, or are anywhere in the middle! I’m very curious to know how people feel and how they feel it does or doesn’t relate to their orientations. And I’m curious to know if you have any other thoughts for me after reading my post. Please comment. It means the world to me when people do. (Also I’m happy to answer personal questions; you can ask me more stuff if you’re curious!)