One reason I have taken an active role in the asexual community is because I want asexuality to “go mainstream.” That is, not only would asexuality have the same visibility as other orientations but also letting people of all orientations enjoy the liberating effects of our concepts, particularly the dismantling of amatonormativity. Yet a recent episode of a popular podcast made me question if I’m emotionally ready for asexuality to go mainstream.
Friendshipping is an advice–giving show focused on navigating the often overlooked but still complex world of friendships. On the June 28thepisode “Being an Open Window,” a letter writer mentions when she wants to be friends with someone, she develops a friendship crush. ‘That’s a squish,’ I thought. Because the hosts are considerate of movements in the LGBQIA community, I hoped the term would arise.
Indeed, one host paused reading the letter to share, “I have a word for that…squish!” I was elated that a word with so much importance to me as an aromantic had been said, out loud, in a real world, public context by someone who does not identify as a member of the ace spectrum.
My emotions immediately grew more complicated when the host continued, “It’s a Tumblr word.”
On the one hand, fair enough. Tumblr houses a sizeable ace community and many people are being introduced to asexuality and aromanticism—and our specialized vocabulary—on Tumblr. It’s great there are so many places for people to learn about our community. As a visibility activist, that’s one of my goals.
On the other hand, for me, “squish” is so much more than a Tumblr word. I experienced a world before the creation of squish. I would feel intense desire to be around particular classmates, wanting to spend all my free time with them, to connect with them over deep conversations about important topics, and I would hope to share a mutual love we could declare openly. My peers would call this a “crush,” so I did as well, even though that didn’t seem quite right. “Crush” seemed to indicate some degree of physical attraction, perhaps even leading to sexual activity (which I wasn’t even sure was a real thing, but that’s a post for another day). Ideally, crushes would lead to having a boy/girlfriend. I desperately wanted a boyfriend so I could have my close relationships validated, but again—“boyfriend” carried the implication of engaging in activities beside the emotional components that interested me. Knowing “crush” and “boyfriend” entailed experiences I neither felt nor desired and having no way to accurately describe my own reality contributed to my isolating feelings of “brokenness.”
Years later, 2007 to be exact, posters on AVEN began discussing the need for a word to describe precisely the type of attraction I felt in order to a) validate that experience and b) explain that experience to others. I remember reading the thread, simply titled “SQUISH!,” in which dozens of people confirmed they too had “friend crushes,” “mushy friendships,” or other idiosyncratic ways of describing their crushes-sans-physical-attraction. It meant so much to me that others had these same feelings, and that we had the power to legitimate ourselves by adding squish, as deliberate wordplay on crush, to our vocabulary.
In a sense, the episode of Friendshippingis meeting my goal of normalizing asexual concepts. “Squish” is gaining traction in non-ace communities, which is an important step in fighting against amatonormativity. But also, I feel a sense of resentment that squish is already being detached from its origins in the ace community. To so casually label “squish” as a “Tumblr word” erases the years of struggle so many of us had to understand and then validate our feelings. It divorces “squish” from the context of members in a marginalized community taking ownership of our identity by coming together to make the invisible visible. And the association with Tumblr implies an ephemeral element, as if this decade-old word has no history and thus can be erased as easily as a post falling off a Dashboard.
Perhaps I’m desiring us to, at least in these still early days, receive “credit” for the work we’ve been doing.
I recognize these feelings to be ungracious and even contradictory to my goals of normalizing ace concepts. Now that these goals are being accomplished, I’m feeling a sense of loss regarding the uniqueness of our community. I hope, however, to have more opportunities to wrestle with these conflicting emotions because I still believe in the importance of sharing our ideas with a wider world.