Hallo, Aro: Question

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: Reflections on the aromantic desire to avoid family members' amatonormative questions about dating--and the ways attaining this freedom can speak less about aromantic inclusion and more about heterosexist erasure and queer antagonism.

Content Advisory: In addition to amatonormativity, this somewhat-fictionalised personal piece describes some of the subtler ways cishets communicate queer antagonism. It also references alienation from the aro community and the desexualisation that occurs as a result of said queer antagonism. Please also expect casual death, Christmas, Catholicism, marriage and romance mentions.

Length: 991 words / 4 PDF pages.

Note: I am yet to survive a holiday season without feeling torn between the knowledge that I possess what so many aros (especially aro-aces) desire and the truth that this "freedom" exists from cishets' inability to cherish my queer allosexuality. In no way is life absent attraction acceptable (religiously or socially), but it is less unacceptable to many than my non-heterosexual allosexuality. To be allo-aro is to be subject to sexualisation and desexualisation, and I crave stories that explore the different shades of this experience.

You dread weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, holidays. Any gathering involving interstate friends, overseas uncles or those distant, unrecognisable relatives met when a cousin marries or a grandparent dies. You fear, too, more-ordinary interactions: Sunday morning coffee, a chance encounter at the supermarket, a front-door knock preluding offerings of plant cuttings and oversized zucchini. Which is the worse? That’s an open question, the answer changeable and unknowable. What meaningful difference exists between the aunt who asks once a month or the second cousin chatting by the buffet table during a sixtieth anniversary dinner?

Are you seeing anyone?

When are you going to get a boyfriend?

Is there a nice man in your life?

The phrasing may change between speakers; the meaning remains. The disturbed hive of your family, teeming with your Catholic grandmother’s (and her sisters’) children and grandchildren, encompasses countless relatives eagerly voicing the Question. Later, you ponder: why did they ask? Do they believe happily-ever-afters only granted through romantic relationships? Did they seek reassurance of your obedient (heterosexual) conformity? Now, you only wonder if speaking your truth to inquiry (a show of compassion or interest?) will be less disastrous than the sitcom route of an invented romantic partner.

(Quickly, choose: misunderstood honesty or scorned lie?)

You force a smile and confess to your continued state of partnerlessness: No, I’m not dating. I’m busy [select: studying for exams / writing my thesis / starting a new job / working overtime / moving house / going back to school].

Singledom’s undesirability demands your justifying the activities occupying unpartnered hours. Walking the dog, cataloguing my doll collection and reading fantasy novels are acceptable excuses for teenagers, shameful in anyone older than eighteen. Working, should you oft repeat this, incites pity or disdain. All provoke a momentary blankness, a hanging pause, the struggle for response when an adult admits to the crime of rejecting (heterosexual) romance. What, then, do you say?

Trick question: no acceptable answer exists. Someone—a priestly aunt, cousin or family friend—always offers reassurance of the of course you’re pretty, interesting or (still) young enough to find a boyfriend kind.

Again and again, family means enduring cheerful, well-intended amatonormativity.

You feel like a failure, a grown-up child.

Discovery of a word imbued with the power to quiet the Question comes as an accident in your journey to discover why male friends interested in dating incited less reciprocation and more frustration. (Does queer explain this? You feel more sexual interest in women than men, so should you date women? Will you?) Naïve, you assume such revelations change the Question’s subject and timbre; you assume, once changed, you will acquire the ability to provide sufficient answers.

With shaking knees and quavering voice, you open the closet door.

You fear hatred, slurs, disgust, rejection. You get the shape of cruelty heteronormative society considers kindness: avoidance.

I’m queer.

Oh. Oh! That’s … nice?

(Heteronormativity and lingering shreds of Catholicism offer no affirmative script, leaving cishets possessed only of the monosyllabic awkward.)

Your relatives aren’t outspoken about their heterosexism, most fancying themselves progressive and supportive. They voted for marriage equality! They’ll never call people like you slurs! Discomfort instead shows in their refusal to reference or acknowledge your attractions, in their bestowing upon you indifference’s polite, smothering quiet.

Never again does the Question pass their lips. You exist in terms of work, study, illnesses, travel. Nobody forces you to pretend at heterosexuality, but anything suggestive of queerness must be eluded, ignored, overshadowed.

At first, naïve, you celebrate. Who knew that one dangerous word so shuts the gate on future query? Isn’t it wonderful to attend a barbecue knowing that nobody asks about romance or partners? No need to explain why you also can’t make yourself date women, for nobody asks!

Nobody cares.

For all intents and purposes, you no longer possess a sexual orientation.

The new-found word aromantic contextualises a queerness divorced from bewildering expectations, a queerness encapsulating an attraction without romance. Amatonormativity further explains the entrapping dread once borne by dating-related enquiry. Now you know yourself aromantic, allosexual and the possessor of a liberty for which other aromantics yearn: a family content with your non-romantic, non-partnered life. Release from the monster named amatonormativity. Aren’t you lucky?

If this is freedom, why does it ring so hollow?

As you cycle through Christmases and birthdays, the weight of words unvoiced press on skin and bones with such remorselessness that you can no longer imagine a life so unburdened. Liberation? How can this be the aromantic dream when your queerness quiets the room, your humanity conditional on others’ ability to pretend that you don’t exist at odds with the tenets of your grandparents’ religion?

I’ve published a book of queer short stories, you volunteer at the next dinner.

(How do you share your proud accomplishments when they centre multisexuality and aromanticism?)

Oh. Oh! That’s nice.

Silence forever follows the awkward smile, the long hesitation, the non-committal comment, the subject change, the erasure of your crooked personhood.

The Question, once feared, now occupies your dreams.

(Will anyone, while knowing of your queerness, ask?)

Holidays mean watching friends and family deny your polysexuality until you become a wordless and sexless automaton, a wan ghost haunting your own life. Holidays mean witnessing other aromantics speak their hopes to avoid or conquer the Question. Holidays mean fearing your betrayal of the aromantic community ... and admitting that you yearn to endure familial amatonormativity, if only it permits you to be seen.

(Are you just as amatonormative?)

You know your family’s heterosexism coincidentally creates less-toxic ground for settling aromantic seeds. You know acts of pansexual hatred aren’t acts of aromantic welcome. You know you don’t desire this lifetime’s desexualisation.

Holidays mean accepting that the Question’s absence bears joyous meaning only when its silence celebrates your queerness, aromanticism but one facet.

Ask me about partners, dating, sexual attraction. Please, ask!

Holidays mean one thing: feeling at odds with your family and community alike.

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