port-man-toes: the aroace - queercrip - transmad - neuroqueer erotics of digital collaboration

S. Cavar + ulysses/constance bougie


crip (epistolary)

Ulysses's opening, that writer-muse relationship I marked with the comment "red flag emoji," reminds me so much of my first-ever relationship, one that was, in hindsight, ace and quoi and a bit confusing, but also one which resulted in one of my most intimate attachments, and one I readily describe as "queerplatonic" today. Elliot, who was back then closeted and using the wrong name, and I began dating long-distance after an intense, sudden, long-distance friendship. We fell in love in all the terms we'd only seen in books and movies. The feeling—the depth of the love we shared—was real. It remains one of the most powerful forces in my life. But the terms in which we articulated that love were as phony as it got. I annotated a copy of milk & honey in their honor. We fancied ourselves sun (me) and moon (them), these opposites who, when together, brought the world into balance. They were timid, I was forthright. They were loose, I was a control freak. They were sensitive, and so was I, but I swallowed, repressed, unthought. There was no way of sustaining that type of relationship, in which neither of us were people but were instead characters, really caricatures, of who we wanted to be. We wanted to badly to be For each other, and we did indeed bring each other incredible joy and comfort. But it couldn't last.

We did not so much talk ourselves into a gulf but engaged in an escalating emotional intimacy, one that left me up late caring for them, resenting them, and resenting myself for resenting them. A gulf opened. They broke up with me after nine months together, explaining that they knew that what was happening wasn't good, and that right now, they could not make it better. Instead, we needed time apart. Radio silence for months, and then a slow reintegration into each others' lives. We are something between friends and lovers. Rather, Friends And Lovers sits like a warm blanket between us, over us. We have never had sex, and I don't know if we ever will, but I do know that they are one of the only people I have ever felt comfortable sleeping with. I have fallen asleep by their side numerous times, and am able to do so without fearing an accidental fart in the night.[25] With them I am truly safe.

Speaking of safety and fear, I'm glad that Ulysses brought up our last meeting—I have misophonia, a condition that constellates around irrational and outsized anger at particular, often-repetitive sounds (and, in the related case of misokinesia, movements) like pen clicking, eating, whistling, and knuckle cracking. With miso, I feel like a time bomb, ticking with each verbal/irl friend interaction closer to too much—too annoying, too nitpicky, too needy. The sounds Ulysses was making made me panic, and then meta-panic at the numb rush of empty rage that filled my head. Is this it? I asked myself as I hastily signed off. Is this me exposing myself for who I truly am, someone too neurodivergent for the other neurodivergents? So neurodivergent that they'd be better off alone, where they can't bother all the rest with their nitpicky access needs?

I don't mean to be all "woe is me," but I do often ask myself the same questions as Ulysses: How to avoid hurting people? How to avoid hurting people who need to eat and stim and speak, when I often cannot exist in spaces where they are doing these things? How to embody and enmind inconvenience without provoking hostility, or driving all potential partners and comrades away? I fear I am unable to take in sounds that others do not pay any mind to. I am always on my guard; when in public, I must express my needs carefully, so as not to offend others with reminders of my (disabled) presence. When I miso(phon)/(kinest)ically intervene in spaces, including and especially neurodivergent ones, I trouble the safe intimacies we are so desperate to cultivate with each other. I risk exposing the "false unity" Mel Chen (2011) identified as they move through queercrip lifeworlds with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. They described the reactions to their disruptive forms of embodiment—their masking amid fears of racialized contagion, their Asianness against a white Midwestern backdrop, their inability to simply deal with smells others do not notice—as "either love or hostility, and [which it will be] is unpredictable" (p. 276). With them I am truly safe.

To pivot slightly to the genitalia, I appreciate Ulysses talking it through some more! I've also noticed the apparent lack of balls in most phallic depictions—it seems to me that that very fixation on the phallus is what renders the balls sort of extraneous, as if the dick, the shape of it, is the point, and the capacity to impregnate is extraneous. Penises are suffused with all this unnecessary garbage about power and domination, when really, they're organs like any other. I think Ulysses should try to draw them. Why not!

Interestingly, writing the paragraph above that last one felt, in a way, like getting naked and forcing myself to stare at my own squeamish chagrined bodymind. As I said, I'm quite anxious when it comes to bodily functions, but I'm even more anxious when it comes to emotional vulnerability. If I were to draw my own clit/dick, I bet it'd look a lot like a confession / weird how "confession" looks a little like "confusion"; misread this for a moment: Here are the places where even a light touch hurts, here are the places that are impenetrable, here are the places I have been entered without permission. Here are the parts I am too afraid to show even to those I love, for fear that they will no longer love me. I've found that one of the benefits to a more relationship-anarchy based approach, one that includes space for something like a scholarly coupledom (which, for the record, I'd very much like to continue), is that it allows a steady trickle of vulnerability in many registers, with many people. For a collection of definitions for relationship anarchy, refer to this page from relationship-anarchy.com (What Is RA?, n.d.; or just Google it). A quote from that website’s front page: "Relationship anarchy is not about never committing to anything—it's about designing your own commitments with the people around you" (Andie Nordgren, quoted in Relationship Anarchy, n.d.). My eggs[26] are in many baskets. If I have to navigate a misophonia trigger or shutdown with one, I might find solace in another. I will have time to regroup and return, as I have done here. Today I ate lunch with three friends from my program, and I calculated my spoons effectively. The event left me hopeful. Now I am bringing that love, hope, and camaraderie to this scholarly date (a date that lasts weeks at a time, in crip time, this document constituting a long moment or maybe an entire coffee shop unto itself). I've read, and believe, that the best things any pair of people can do in a fight is to take time away, regroup, and return fresh another day.

I'm back fresh to say that your squeamishness is worthy of this document and I'm glad it's here. I'm glad that squeamishness gets to be part of our scholarly conversation-date. I don't have any particular rules about what's too much or not appropriate to disclose.[27] Building unusual intimacies in which "communion is possible" (M. Chen, 2011, p. 277) is the point. Continuously rethinking them, rethinking what it means to do partnership queercriply, is a necessity and a pleasure. And I want to keep doing that.

(No flowers necessary, but if you must, I like peonies.)

Regarding our cards: I smiled so wide when you sent me that text about the cards, wondering about my address and ultimately finding it. I am imagining you in your room, holding the card in your hands, holding my card in your hands. That, too, is crip space, crip time. We come at each other with an impossible excess of words, as you said. We pile them on like stickers. It is such a relief to write Madly and neurodivergently with you, to do so openly, typing before I think my inhibitions too long or too hard. I find it useful to think of all my partners as partners because with each I can be different parts of my whole self. Dialoguing, flirting, movie watching, hiking. In a lot of ways, I don't even find crushes particularly romantic anymore, not in the traditional romance sense. I think of crushes a lot more like hopes for togetherness. For us, that's the hope of continued companionship, of writing together, of shared textual intimacy. I have a hope on you.


[25] I've always had a lot of anxiety around the display of bodily functions, of bodies themselves in ways construable as messy or unhygienic. It has only been in the last two years or so that I have been able to pee with someone else in the adjacent stall; beforehand, my urethra would seem to just close up. I couldn't start, no matter how hard I tried.

[26] Such as they are, which is to say, nonexistent as of the end of 2018.

[27] Rather, I challenge the bounds of appropriateness itself, embracing disordered, disorderly language, as well as the language of disorder (Henner & Robinson, 2021). Mandatory adherence to the appropriate is tethered to systems of compulsory cisheterosexuality and able-bodiedness. Let's get unstuck.