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

S. Cavar + ulysses/constance bougie


partnered composing

Bougie and I are longtime collaborators. Two years ago, when we arrived in our respective graduate programs, we decided to take our relationship to the next level: We were going to have a paper together.

As I write this, Ulysses and I just finished a FaceTime call—and do I refer to "Us"[1] in the first or the third person?—and I admit I hurried him off the phone so that I could write this. That's just my brain: The words come in a flash. If I don't catch them quickly enough, they're gone for good.

Before closing our call I noted that I would be "dating" my entries into this document, and when I saw them smile, I realized what I had done. I'd conjured the multiple meanings of the word "dating" without even meaning to. I had achieved a double entendre without trying, perhaps speaking to some part of my subconscious moving more quickly than my mouth. freudian slips → queer double entendres


Cavar's laptop with a Google doc of their webtext on the left and FaceTime on the right

Here is an image of my laptop screen. On the left is my web browser, with myriad open tabs; the window visible is the document I am writing into right now, one that, before tonight, had sat abandoned for about two months.[2] Beside my open browser is the FaceTime window where Bougie sits; a mini-me is reflected in the upper right-hand corner. I'd been meaning to text Bougie back (he recently sent me a series of delightful messages showing off their recently purchased stickers, a voice memo and several more text-blocks about a recent DnD campaign) but had been getting How I Get about text messages, that is, autistic; that is, readily composing replies in my mind and dis-[3] and de-composing[4] just as quickly. At some point, weeks or months after the instigating message is received, my response(s) will all come to me in a rush. I'll fire away an essay-length series of messages, a drain unplugged.

oh i love this image; mood re: dishes, me doing 3 loads of laundry last week, answering 20 emails at once sdjkkdsjc

Until then, I will be silent,[5] and time (at least between myself and my [communication] partner[6]) will stall.

Fortunately, Bougie is accustomed to this. As I said, we've known each other for a while, and began collaborating at the very beginning of our respective graduate careers. Bougie is one of the many friends with whom my understanding of "friendship" (and "relationships" more broadly) has shifted. In fact, it is partially due to my engagement with a-spec (asexual- and aromantic-spectrum) relationalities—which take issue with the prioritization of sexual–romantic desire and thus marked affectively "negative" (Peters, 2022, p. 591)—largely facilitated by Bougie, that these forms of friendship are possible to me at all. This is the part where you google asexual/aromantic/etc. if need be, btw / oo check out Angela Chen's (2020) Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, actually; it's good shit + would make a cool intro, a little room to stop in for a bit / They were, in short, a gateway to my understanding of what Theresa Kenney (2020) called "asexual assemblages," a theoretical tool advancing a "nonsexually motivated understanding of varying circumstantial relations and their potential for transformation" (p. 12). An awareness of asexual assemblages, and a willingness to embrace the queer blurriness[7] of ace theory and my place in it, has become a gateway to a plurality of fulfilling relationships which defy specific categorization, especially given their peculiarly neurodivergent flavor.

All of this is to say: Everyone I love is neuroqueer. No, wait. Neuroqueer is everyone I love. It sticks, persistent, to whatever I find myself

attached to. Whenever I find myself trying to love gracefully, neuro/queers instead. As a result, the kind of partnerships I have, the kind of communication I do, comes in stilts and waves. I plug and unplug without warning and only mild apology, both offline (where my social-to-silent shifts are sudden and unambiguous) and text message. Again, I rushed Bougie off the phone, because I am plugged-in now, and I do not want to waste this precious current, this currency. This partnership which was with Bougie and which is now also with the reader I am imagining. With this Google Doc.

This is a text about partnership. Because you, reader, are also here, this is also a text about relationships beyond the notion of dyadic partnership. It is a text on and of queer rhetoric.[8] It is a text about itself, but also about a generative, ongoing, 2-plus year relationship, of which this collaboratively and asexually[9] conceived[10] project is just one example. At its most basic, this webtext is (part of) a dialogue, the dialogue of Bougie and I. It will go something like this:

Ulysses: blah blah

Cavar: blah blah

And so on.

This is also a neuroqueer dialogue, though, and thus entails some neuroqueer insertions. By neuroqueer, I am referring to the term used by Nick Walker (2021), M. Remi Yergeau (2018), and Athena Lynn Michaels-Dylan (as documented by Walker and Yergeau), whose numerous meanings include the queering of neuro- and heteronormativity, as well as a nonnormative social identity (Walker, 2021). As a practice, neuroqueering destabilizes commonsensical understandings of spacetime, in/sanity, media, and relationality: It functions as scholarly critique and as lived experiential mode—not, of course, that these two things are mutually exclusive. In their chapter "Wandering Rhetoric, Rhetoric Wandering," Yergeau (2018) described neuroqueer to mean "perversely and performatively neurodivergent," a process in/of continuous flux between the involuntary and the deliberate, the self-aware and the oblivious.

neuroqueer/ed composing

Neuroqueer, as any disability marker, is a(bout) movement. When neuroqueers meet—make movements, form community, recognize and lust after[11] each other, we gain a window into new erotic possibilities.[12] We begin / desiring

in new ways; we find (in) our queercrip kindred spirits[13] knew / new? knew? known? / forms of selves-love, because no one of us can survive alone.

Us is the only way.

Now, let's focus on the phrase "writing-in." When I use it, I'm referring to a nonlinear form of co(/m/)position, a practice of continuous co-positioning that refuses teleological thought. That is, this co-position isn't meant to progress toward a conclusion (don't expect an orgasm from us, it won't come) but instead simply to invite others to share in our coupledom, our collaboration, our collective joy. Writing-in trades stretching the text as far as it will go, with expanding it from the inside. The text is not lonely; while not in need of completion, it remains impressionable by others. The text needs no one to complete it, but accepts it will never be done. RIP at me choosing the name Ulysses, sometimes known as No Man or No One / In other words, the text does not seek monogamous, terminal coupledom, but welcomes intimate relationality.

Such texts, and the metatextual bonds that generate them, are thus queer in form and in substance. Specifically, they hold an aspec texture—that is, a disorienting friction and relentless critique of cisheteropatriarchal, amatonormative, and allosexual approaches to relationality. This texture, in my view, roughens the normative pathways from childhood toward allocisheteronormative modes of coupledom and intimacy, and instead make space for those relationships harder to define. lol, the title did indicate that there'd be portmanteaus; aspecs have these on lock / us, weavers of prefixes and suffixes / In the realm of queer studies, allo- and amatonormative smoothnesses often remain uninterrogated despite other challenges to cisheteronormative relationality. We have decided to interrogate them here by trawling and making anew our own queer archives, re-presenting our own "self-conscious intervention[s] ... in discourses of normalized, and normalizing, sexuality" (Alexander & Rhodes, 2012), in this case critiquing the assumption that queer must be legibly sexual at all. We do this not only because aspec approaches to rhetoric and composition are vital, but that an aspec approach to relationality is what has preserved the vitality of my relationship with Bougie: we are scholar-dating, we are wordfucking, we are textually and asexually cohabitating. We are / none of this

is normal.

In the newsletter Not Safe for Who?, Ana Valens (2022) wrote about the ace erotics of gaming, describing the tense, collaborative and sometimes deadly entanglements between players (the double-entendre is not lost on me). ace erotics → Ela Przybylo's (2019) work! See her book Asexual Erotics: Intimate Readings of Compulsory Sexuality for the good shit / U(lysses) and I—here I attempt to talk to all of my audiences at once—aren't trying to kill each other, but "writing-in" is, I guess, its own kind of tender violence. In editing each other's work, making comments, scrapping and reframing ideas, we are playing at destruction even as we build our shared oeuvre. Honestly, it's pretty hot, creating a singular body of work rife with conflict and contradiction. Valens (2022) concluded that ace erotics "cracks the door open to the kaledioscope [sic] of ways we can think about ecstatic pleasure, and it gives us the language we need to finally reckon with it." Finding, repurposing, striking, and reimagining language is indeed a love language—or perhaps more accurately, an (ace, aro) erotic language—all its own. What are we if not building -together-?[14]

I will leave my section here, just barely envisioning the aro/ace erotics of writing-in, and, thus, of Bougie's and my relationship, our partnership, our coupledom, our hot wordsex, the subject and object and project of this webtext.

(And what else am I to call it when he sticks their words inside mine? And I enjoy it, ask for more?)

aspec texture/s: asexual aromantic agender autistic ADHD framework but make it a mood, a vibe. putting on my aspec latex gloves to handle things. aspec thinking cap. aspec condom for fucking or just making balloons or whatever. ace approach but it's not the tool that I'm holding so much as the little whorls that make up my fingerprints themselves. capable of being appropriated, too? like how people make dildos of specific shapes and sizes and materials in place of peoples' dicks (or having nothing to do with dicks in the first place). velvet vs. silicone dildo. same shape potentially, but different feels. depends where you put them, what you want to do with them. (if you just wanted a soft stress ball to hold during Zoom meetings, velvet's probably better.)

texture as in framework or approach but how food can be sour or sweet. in the case of this webtext, the approach being messiness, time travel revising, meandering, or getting squeamish, being gay as in cornily happy in a relationship, saying fuck-it-you-can-google-it: I don't need to describe the sun if I choose to mention it; it just is. a texture that might grate on nerves even as others find it soft. acrylic vs. oil paints and how they work differently, mix and dry in different ways. how when the painting is done (or dry, at least), you can feel the topmost brushstrokes.


[1] The notion that we are an "Us" presupposes the kind of dating-style relationship we mean to talk about and around here. It also presupposes a sense of sometimes-troubled solidarity, laced with internal contradictions and potentialities, concomitant with those located inside Cameron Awkward-Rich's (2022) The Terrible We.

[2] Not for lack of interest—Bougie and I regularly begin projects we put down for a long while or a short one, pick back up again or don't, text about later or entirely forget.

[3] Here, we think with Sara Ahmed's (2015) work on disorientation, a way in which marginalized subjects may relate to spacetime(s) in which we do not fit. We both disorient and are disoriented by this frictional relationship of bodies in space. We deliberately choose to cite Ahmed's blog, feministkilljoys, to disorient our collective relationship to Ahmed's body of institutional scholarship, instead drawing attention to her refusals of institutional containment.

[4] Robert McRuer (2004) described de-composition as a process of "actively and collectively desiring disability and queerness," which requires identifying "what ideologies or norms ... in this text need to be cripped?" (p. 59). While not the same texts as McRuer cites here, my own text (messages) are likewise belated, associative, and frequently inappropriate.

[5] In Queer Silence, J. Logan Smilges (2022) noted that "for queer people, broadly conceived, silence can be an opportunity to enact alternative forms of meaning making that move beyond or beside the verbal register" (p. 37). Do not misread me, my silence is far from empty.

[6] Whither partnership in these sites of closed time?

[7] Ela Przybylo and Danielle Cooper (2014) offered a blur of "asexual resonances" as an alternative to a politics of fixed ace identity. As a non-ace user of asexual frameworks, asexual resonances are crucial to the way I conceptualize my relationship to this work: "ace" becomes a project I partake in without the need to assume a particular label, nor conform to a particular set of experiences or expectations.

[8] Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes (2012) described queer rhetoric as "nam[ing] a constellation of discursive practices that emerge at different times for different groups in order to articulate resistance to regimes of sexualized normalization."

[9] Here we once again invoke asexuality as "rhizomatic assemblage" (Kenney, 2020, p. 11). My relationship with Bougie may be traced through multiple modes and registers of communication (Tumblr, Twitter, FaceTime, Google Docs, iMessage, citations and acknowledgements). We are in conversation with and through the readings and other media we share with one another. Our intimacies, then, are never really private, our offspring never ours alone. Rather, the work we share is undergirded by ace relational forms that are "bounded only by a plurality of any possible contingent relations of association and disassociation,of identification and disidentification, [and] encourage the possibility of relating differently and plurally" (Kenney, 2020, p. 12).

[10] The two of us together are Zeus, or something. Our only reproductive organs are our heads. Between us we've got no balls and one uterus.

[11] In Crip Sex (Mingus, 2010), Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Ellery Russian described what they term the crip "lust of recognition," the erotically "charged" experience of seeing, knowing, crushing on, and sometimes fucking fellow disabled people. The lust of recognition gestures to eroticism as simultaneously a liberatory framework and one of intimate pleasure.

[12] We follow Audre Lorde (1978) in understanding the erotic as a site of collective power and social transformation—including, in this case, desire for (kinship with) other queercrips.

[13] With thanks to Anne Shirley.

[14] Cavar: My oldest partner and I use the phrase "in the together" to describe the quiet joy of this shared carecontainer we find ourselves in.