Squishes and unlearning heteronormativity

Until a few years ago, I might have told you that I’ve had one crush in my life. It didn’t last very long, nothing came of it, and the man I had the feelings for never knew about it. After reading a lot of asexual discourse, I came to realize that I had not actually experienced any kind of romantic or sexual attraction at all, it was just an intensity of feeling (which soon faded) that flustered me a bit. Having come across the concept of a “squish” (platonic crush), I decided that this had been a squish, which was better than thinking of it as a “failed crush”.

Using this as a model, I identified two other potential squishes I had had, both on men. One I later decided was actually an “aesthetic crush” (I don’t tend to experience general aesthetic attraction to people around me, but rather will have a specific focus on a single person, often a celebrity or someone I look at photos of, for awhile and I call this an “aesthetic crush”; the overall pattern is gray bi-aesthetic). The other was a fictional character and probably doesn’t really count.

However, I didn’t think too much more about squishes beyond that nor tried to understand it as a concept; it was just a label to give a few particular incidents that stood out in my memory and which I had miscategorized previously.

Meanwhile, I first wrote in my journal about what I called my “fascinations” in February 2013. In September 2013, I devoted a long journal entry to analyzing the “fascinations”. At that time, I noted that they were all women and that I didn’t seem to experience this type of attraction to men (I contrasted it with the above-mentioned squishes on men). However, I seem to have been more interested in categorizing certain personality types that my “fascinations” have tended to have and whether this said anything about my own personality.

I focused my analysis on the period since 2011, which is when I first began to read a lot of asexual discourse and started making a real effort to understand my attractions and orientations as more than a vague “not interested”. I also had a very sustained “fascination” in 2011 that I’ve used as a kind of prototype in my analysis. I’ve since compiled a list of 11 “fascinations” I’ve had since 2011, some of them fairly brief, a few sustained. 10 are women, 1 non-binary DFAB person. None are men or any other gender. This is a pretty persistent pattern.

Yet as recently as three weeks ago, I wrote about not seeming to have any positive gender preference and about navigating via a negative preference through my sex aversion.

In all that time, I had never been able to classify my “fascinations” as a particular type of attraction and it never seems to have occurred to me that they might be squishes. I apparently seem to have thought that since I didn’t know what they were, they didn’t really “count”.

I’m only now starting to untangle all of this and understand why I had this particular blind spot.

For one thing, it took me a long time to recognize that there was even a persistent pattern of something going on. The feelings that I experience in my “fascinations” tend not to be too intense, certainly not to the point of being intrusive. As well, similar to what queenieofaces described here, if the feeling is not reciprocated (and it usually isn’t), it tends to fade out before too long (also similar to Queenie, there seems to be an inverse relation between intensity and frequency of feeling, hence the large number of brief “fascinations”). Overall, it’s a pretty quiet feeling that usually doesn’t lead to anything else, and that was hard to discern.

But even once I had determined that these “fascinations” were an ongoing form of attraction, I still didn’t know how to classify it. I think a lot of this was due to amatonormativity, which tries to fit everything into the boxes of sexual and romantic attraction and therefore doesn’t provide models for other types of attraction.

My “fascinations” are not romantic, and may not even be accompanied by aesthetic attraction. I now consider it to be emotional attraction. While I haven’t seen a lot of discussions of emotional attraction in its own right, it is a recognized concept in asexual discourse and the description seems to be a fairly good match for what I feel (once again, asexual reductionism has given me the language and conceptual tools I needed to start understanding my experiences). Both the squishes I had identified previously and my “fascinations” are instances of emotional attraction and I could just use the term “squish” for both of them. I see “squish” and “emotional attraction” as referring to the same thing.

But even amatonormativity doesn’t fully explain my blind spot as to how strongly my emotional attraction is skewed towards women (I now think that the squish I had on a man stood out in my memory precisely because it’s so rare for it to go in that direction).

It’s internalized heteronormativity that I confused myself with for so long, and which I’m still working to unlearn. Internalized heteronormativity told me that one squish on a man 10 years ago was somehow more important or more “real” or more valid in determining an orientation than 11 same-sex squishes just in the last 3 years. Internalized heteronormativity led me to try to stitch that one squish on a man together with the aesthetic attraction I experience towards people with male secondary sex characteristics into a coherent hetero-something (except that it always fell back into “not interested”) while leaving the rest disconnected and floating in space.

I recognized about a year ago that I’m bi-aesthetic. I think it’s finally time to acknowledge that my emotional attractions are homo-oriented. And that this is very likely why a same-sex queerplatonic relationship computes for me in a way that a cross-sex one never has. It was there staring me in the face all along.

What should I call this? I’m considering stealing a term suggested awhile back by kaz and calling myself homoplatonic*.

*Despite using the word “platonic” in this, I think that “emotional attraction” better describes my squishes than “platonic attraction” does. I’m asexual and aromantic – all of my attractions are platonic! But there’s a huge difference between my aesthetic attraction and my emotional attraction. I also suspect that just as aesthetic attraction often seems to be a part of sexual attraction for allosexual people, emotional attraction may be a part of romantic attraction, or occur along with it, for alloromantic people. However, “homo-emotional” doesn’t really do it for me. So homoplatonic it is, and you’ll just have to live with my inconsistency!

About Laura (ace-muslim)

Laura is an aromantic asexual, queer-identified, and a Muslim. She lives in the U.S., works in online tech support, and volunteers for a Muslim anti-racism organization. She blogs about asexuality, queer Muslim issues, and other topics at http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com and has written on asexuality for a number of Muslim sites.
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15 Responses to Squishes and unlearning heteronormativity

  1. abonnace says:

    I’ve had the same problem identifying my own feeling towards people. It sounds similar to what you’ve just described where I have felt a close emotional bond with someone that’s not quite the same as friendship but not romantic either. I also like the term bi-aesthetic because I hadn’t thought about it before but I think that’s also what I experience.

  2. epochryphal says:

    So I totally get and resonate with what you’re saying here, but the way you’re dealing with trans and non-binary people is squicking me. I don’t know if the non-binary person you had a squish on is ok with how you’re talking about them, but in the absence of a note saying they are, I’m bothered.

    “10 are women, 1 non-binary DFAB.”
    I see why it’s important for you to specify DSAB, and maybe you can’t check if the person is ok with that descriptor (as opposed to CAFAB or AFAB, or “does not experience transmisogyny,” or something else). But also said this way, ending a sentence this way, sounds like that is their gender, “non-binary DFAB,” just as “woman” is the gender of the others. And we usually say “non-binary person” because both non-binary and DSAB are adjectives? So, either “10 are women, 1 is non-binary” or “10 are women, 1 is a non-binary person” or “10 women, 1 non-binary person.” Does that make sense?

    “11 same-sex squishes”
    This is where I really feel gross. This reads as super misgendering, as reclassifying a non-binary person as a woman or essentially female because it suits your categorization better. I dunno if the person in question is ok with that, but again, in the absence of a note. Would “non-men” be better? (Also, it’s not clear whether you’re mentioning 10 cis women, or have been attracted to / leave room open to be attracted to trans women and include them in “same-sex” here. Especially juxtaposed with specifying DSAB above and the comment below, it’s left unclear and concerning how you think of trans women.)

    “the aesthetic attraction I experience towards people with male secondary sex characteristics”
    Do you mean men? Cis men, trans men (and perhaps DFAB non-binary people) who have transitioned in a certain way? Do you include trans women and DMAB non-binary people here, always or until they transition in a certain way? Do you include only people who self-identify as having male secondary sex characteristics, or only those who would be read as having them, or some other grouping?

    This stuff is incredibly messy, I know. Grouping based on gender (identified or perceived?), based on DSAB / sex characteristics — it’s a real thing but talking about it is kind of a nightmare, even as a non-binary person who’s very comfortable with our community language.

    • Thanks for your detailed feedback on my post. I updated the post to read “non-binary DFAB person”. The individual in question does consider DFAB to be an important factor for them, and uses the term when they introduce themselves. I tried to respect their self-presentation when mentioning them here. Likewise, “same-sex” is a short-hand way for describing what this specific person feels they have in common with women. The term was used to refer to the specific group of individuals I had mentioned previously and not as a general statement about potential attractions to others.

      In regard to “male secondary sex characteristics” I was referring to those that typically result from having testosterone as a primary sex hormone, such as shoulders and upper body build, shape of the face, and so on. If you read the post I linked to about my aesthetic attraction, I mentioned that it is stronger towards people who have very visible effects of testosterone on them and less strong when the effects of testosterone are less obvious. For that reason, it seems to me to be focused on the secondary sex characteristics as a feature of the body, without regard to the gender of the person in question. I’m not sure if there’s a better term for this that doesn’t become too unwieldy.

  3. Siggy says:

    I relate a lot to this experience, although it wasn’t quite the same for me. In high school, I had a number of instances where I experienced something towards men, but it was so weak that it didn’t really register as something worth thinking about. It only really warranted significance when I reflected that I had never been attracted to women at all.

    One of the myths of asexuality is that asexuals, particularly men, are just trying to hide that they’re gay. But as it played out, heterosexuality was a much more effective cover than asexuality ever was. Asexuality allowed me to consider that even if I wasn’t attracted to men in the typical way, it could still count.

    • I remember at one point in my life wondering if I was lesbian since I wasn’t attracted to men, but I decided I wasn’t attracted to women either (at least, not in a way that I recognized at that time). Unfortunately, back then, I had never heard of asexuality, so I didn’t know how to classify myself and remained stuck for a number more years.

      In general, the attractions I experience are so weak or mild that even now I feel tempted to write them off as not really counting, but asexual discourse has really helped me a lot in recognizing their validity.

  4. Cath says:

    Oh, I definitely identify a lot with the idea of emotional attraction. For me, it’s very strong towards my very close friends or people I really want to know better. I call it love only because of the intensity of the feeling, and it’s not remotely romantic. An an alloromantic that does feel thing intensely, I’d say I don’t experience romantic and emotional attraction the same way, or to the same people. I think anybody who has had a crush on someone they barely know might agree. In general, I tend to view emotional connections as more valid for this reason — they seem to be based more on personality in my experience.

    • Yeah, my emotional attractions seem to be based largely on personality (though clearly gender is a factor in a way I don’t understand yet). I’ve had squishes on people I’ve never met in person and know only through their writing. I think that my emotional attractions could develop into love, but they usually die out from lack of reciprocation before it becomes that strong. I’m really glad to hear from other people who have similar or related experiences!

  5. I identify so much with what you’ve written here about your experience of not recognizing same-gender squishes due to heteronormativity. When I was 9 (and still identifying as a girl), I had this gigantic squish on a girl in my Girl Scout troop that I didn’t recognize as such until fifteen years later, initially because of internalized heteronormativity. Most of my squishes have been on men and nonbinary people. I think after realizing I was trans, what kept me from recognizing squishes on women may have been internalized biphobia? I’m not sure if that’s the right word, though, since I’m aro.

    • I think if you’ve determined it was based on stereotypes about bisexuality or bi-ness, then it could be classified as biphobia even if you don’t identify as bi in any way.

      This whole thing recently was really a learning experience for me, because I thought I was getting to understand things better, and yet I still had internalized a huge amount of heteronormativity. It’s definitely a lifelong process to identify as anything but straight.

  6. queenieofaces says:

    I’m not aro, but I also identify with a lot of what you’ve written here. I have a theory for what happened in my case: I was convinced that eventually I would get crushes on boys, so I spent so much time and energy focusing on any feelings I might have for boys* (I didn’t really have any, until I was 16-ish) that I just didn’t consider that feelings that I had for girls might be anything worth thinking about. It wasn’t until I got a (really massive, hugely embarrassing) crush on a girl that I started thinking about whether or not the weird anomalous feelings I had for/about girls in my dance class might not, uh, be the most heterosexual of feelings.

    *Fun fact: I have a diary from when I was 13-14 in which I attempted to convince myself to retroactively have a crush on a male friend of mine. I clearly wasn’t interested in him, but apparently I thought it would make sense for me to have had a crush on him in the past.

    • The weird thing is, I never really thought I was straight, exactly. The closest I ever got to that was “hetero-oriented not interested”. I also don’t seem to have expended a lot of time and energy into thinking about what feelings I might have for men, it was just this pervasive assumption, “I’m a woman, therefore I must be interested in men, right?”

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