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Photo credit: Connor Wells

Embracing ace: Finding myself through platonic connection

February 16, 2018

My identity as ace has challenged my relationships with other people in curious ways. Reasons for my ‘singlehood’ range from timing and coincidence to unrequited feelings. However, though I have been in neither serious nor casual romantic relationships, I have had a handful of confusing complicated relationships with others that I describe as “quasiplatonic” (sometimes referred to as “queerplatonic”).

These kinds of connections are used to describe relationships that exist in a realm separate from societal norms and expectations (i.e. co-parenting with someone you are neither romantically nor sexually attracted to). Like a romantic relationship, I learned a lot about myself and others and discovered the complexities, ambiguity, and surprises that stems from unlabeled relationships that transcend the protocol and decorum of friendships. One of the most important quasiplatonic relationships I have ever had was with my friend Dani*.

Dani was a QTPOC(queer and trans person of color)-classmate of mine who reached out to me when I ‘came out’ on social media for Trans Day of Visibility wanting to connect. We shared similar concerns with our school environment and neither of us had that many friends we could confide in. We quickly befriended one another with just a month left until they graduated. It felt like there was a deadline for our friendship and that amplified all my anxiety.

Dani confided in me deeply. Dani showed me their personal art and their workspace. I was quickly getting to know this person and felt more inclined to fond over them, praise them, and comfort them; the last thing I expected to do was judge them or fight with them. At the time, I didn’t have that many friends of color or trans friends, let alone trans friends of color. This was a connection I needed to make to feel like I wasn’t alone.

In these slim few weeks of knowing each other, Dani would invite me over when they were reeling from panic attacks. I saw them cry a lot; I provided my shoulders. Sometimes, I felt like I should kiss them to make them feel better, but I knew my primary duty was care and comfort. I felt like a babysitter, a parent, a sibling, a protective partner. I spent exhausting hours witnessing this other person be vulnerable during one of my hardest semesters which made it that much more difficult for me to handle. I walked back to campus often crying and smiling, listening to queercore as loud as my earbuds would allow.

I was very conflicted about how I felt about Dani. Did I like them more than a friend? Would it even matter? Was my femme-ness or lack thereof enough for them to find me attractive? Did I find them attractive? Sometimes I wondered what it would be like if they kissed me, or if we were to hook up.

I’m known for making really interesting mixtapes. In all of this confusion, I made one for Dani, full of lyrics and explanations of how I felt about them. It was full of songs by LGBTQ+ identifying artists and songs that captured my euphoric confusion. I anxiously waited for Dani to finally listen to the playlist and said they loved it.

Unfortunately, Dani didn’t get the message from my mixtape, so I had to tell them I liked them over text. Dani did not reciprocate my feelings. They apologized for leading me on, and explained that it was only natural for me to develop feelings for them because I had recently come out; likening my experience to theirs. I was, in that moment, embarrassed, and, frankly, furious.

I tried to focus on the positive of our relationship and it really made me happy; happy enough to deflect from the bad. Dani was my Senpai, my squish, my peer mentor. And of course, I was in love with the idea of their role in my life. I pretended I was unphased. But pretending I was unphased could only last so long-- I bawled my eyes out on a flight home after finals week while watching a cheesy teen indie flick. That inconvenient emotion I had bottled up finally came pouring out.

When Dani came into my life I didn’t have the time to explore and discover the kinds of ways I was attracted to people and if I would even be able to correctly assess my own emotions. I do remember wanting to feel attractive. I wanted Dani to be attracted to me, to reassure me that I could be more than just someone’s friend. I was open and curious. But because of the emotional support Dani needed, I felt like I had to put my discovery, questioning, and exploration on hold. I couldn’t focus on both myself and Dani (or my relationship with them) at the same time.

Love in general was a very difficult and scary emotion for me. It sometimes takes me a long time to form platonic friendships and get close or intimate with other people. I did have an emotional connection and attraction to Dani. I felt concern, pity, sympathy, empathy, and even momentary happiness. But to me, romance is not mutually exclusive from any form of love.

Since then, I’ve grown to accept and embrace being ace and how the types, levels, progression, and sequence of my attraction to other people will always vary. But regardless of how long it takes me to figure out what a relationship means and how I feel about someone special, I hope to remember that I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my comfort level, my gender presentation, or my self for anyone.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.

x rance is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at Ithaca College, studying Theater, Dance and Art History. Their main topics of interests are the intersections of race, (a)gender identity, and neurodivergence which they explore through choreography, performance art, installation, and scholarship.

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