19 February 202011 March 2020 Identity / Sexuality Being aro Melanie Saward I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, phone in hand, stomach churning. I’ve typed the text message at least ten times and then deleted it; the clicking of the backspace doing nothing to ease the fear. I toss my phone on the bed and leave the room. I run a bath and tell myself I’m being silly. They’re my two best friends. They’re both queer. They will understand. It takes me an hour in the bath and three glasses of wine before I can send the messages. Once it’s done, I cry while I wait for them to answer. * Aromanticism is a way of describing people who experience little or no romantic attraction. For me, this means I don’t feel or understand such feelings the way others do. Actually, I find traditional ideas of romance – like dates, chivalry, flowers and chocolates, holding hands, getting married; that kind of thing – pretty repulsive. The aromantic identity (or aro, in its abbreviated form) is closely related to the slightly more well-known asexual identity (or ace: people who do not feel sexual attraction). But, like everything, it exists on a spectrum of different identities and feelings. So, some of us are both aro and asexual. And, just like some aces feel romantic and have romantic relationships, some aros – like me – are allosexual aromantics: people who don’t feel romantic attraction but still feel sexual attraction. Aros can be of any gender and other sexual identity and attracted to people of any gender and sexuality. I’ve never felt romantic attraction and I struggled to put a finger on what I ‘was’ through my most of my life. In my twenties, I had my first and only serious relationship and because it was abusive, I put my lack of interest in dating down to the trauma. ‘Once you get over it,’ I told myself, ‘you’ll feel normal.’ People around me seemed to think the same thing: my friends encouraged me to stop being so fussy and go on a few dates. My psychologist said she didn’t want to see me back in her office until I’d gone on at least three. I hit the apps and made plans. At the first, I was confused at how repulsed I felt when someone got excited that we shared hobbies. A perfectly nice man opened doors for me, paid for everything and made plans. I hated every minute of it. I’d lay awake at nights puzzled: wasn’t I supposed to want those things? ‘There’s something wrong with you,’ said a workmate once. I was in her office having a full-blown panic attack because a guy – who’d spent our first and only date sharing his idea of a dream wedding – texted and said I was a girl he could really see himself ending up with. I’d landed a guy who wasn’t afraid of commitment and she couldn’t understand why it made me feel sick. ‘But that’s the dream, Mel,’ she said. The dream: that heteronormative ideal of romance, marriage, houses, and babies. My lack of excitement when I was offered it was what confused people. It’s what confused me in the beginning. I gave into pressure to seek a relationship because I’ve always wanted to be a mum and I thought the missing ingredient was a partner. It wasn’t until I turned thirty and started contemplating becoming a solo mother by choice that I realised my dream was not the love, marriage, baby carriage that western society said I needed. It was simply me and baby (and dog). But even though I was feeling more comfortable with who I was, it took others a lot longer to catch up. A high school friend came to visit and during a very deep and meaningful conversation, she asked if I liked girls (and I mean, I do, but that’s a whole other story) and if that was why I was still single. My dad was convinced I was putting on a brave face when I said I liked being single, and my 92-year-old pop told me it was his dearest wish that I would find someone to be with one day. Fertility treatment was a similar minefield of assumptions that I was only trying to have a baby alone because of my age and marital status. Counsellors, receptionists, phlebotomists all said some variation of ‘hopefully one day you’ll find someone’ during my treatment. But it was when I went to see an acupuncturist who said the same thing − ‘hopefully, one day’ − that sent me looking for a way to explain to others that a romantic partner was not going to factor into my future. I spent a long time getting privately comfortable with aro as an identifier. I sat in ally training at work with the word on the tip of my tongue the whole day, and in the weeks and months that followed, there were a million other times where I was thinking it, but couldn’t say it. So, on Coming Out Day 2018, I found myself typing and retyping a message to my two best friends: one here, and one in the USA. Both queer. Both supportive. A long bath and a drink or three for courage, two amazing replies and then my identity was out. * Of course being out doesn’t mean the end of the assumptions, the bizarre questions or the discrimination. But what having an identifier has done is make me more comfortable and assertive about who I am. I push back against those who presume that, as a single person, I’m spending my nights alone pining for a husband. No, I am not closeted, but whose business is it if I am? No, people who want to have sex but don’t want to date or couple up are not sluts or broken or weird. Being out meant that when a man recently tried to tell me that being aromantic is ‘not a thing,’ and ‘hopefully, one day you’ll find the right person for you,’ I had a community of supportive friends who understood how I felt. Those same friends will support me the next time something like that happens. But, hopefully, one day, I’ll simply be able to say that I’m aromantic and be understood and accepted. Hopefully. Melanie Saward Melanie Saward is a proud descendant of the Bigambul and Wakka Wakka peoples. Her work has appeared in Kill Your Darlings, New Australian Fiction, and Overland and she’s been shortlisted for the David Unaipon Award (2018 and 2020), the Boundless Indigenous Writer’s Mentorship, and the Harlequin First Nations Fellowship. More by Melanie Saward Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 3 December 20201 February 2021 Reviews Desiring women Hannah Preston We can hold an idea in our minds, such as the statement ‘women are better at endings than they are at beginnings’, explore it, see what it offers, before letting it go. Just as we can hold desire before it scatters and reforms. We can take pleasure from a particular mode of submission until it no longer serves us. Endings well up from deep within, called up by who knows what, and arriving at who can guess what time. 1 First published in Overland Issue 228 2 November 202030 November 2020 Sexuality Is sexual reproduction in art still taboo? The case of Casey Jenkins and the Australia Council Sandra D'Urso Arts scandals over the theme of sexual reproduction vary in their details, but there are similarities in that the undercurrent of feeling displayed by decision-makers sometimes breaks through the procedural surface of the discussion – or where it stays under wraps, as is the case with the Australia Council’s decision to rescind, it circulates beneath the official language as an electrified absence.