What Makes a Crush? – Ela Przybylo and Danielle Cooper with “Loop03” by Jeff Kulak

What is a crush? What makes a crush queer? How is the moment of the crush marked by a different affective positioning than the moment before the crush? How do we know we are in a state of crushing? We are pulled psycho-affectively towards something or someone, we are oriented in a direction often unanticipated, sometimes undesirable. We are left to sit in these new feelings, we are carried by them. But truly, are crushes always entangled in sexual imaginings of others?

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Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s personal narrative “Gonna Get my Girl Body Back: This is a Work in Progress” (2002) and Keri Hulme’s novel The Bone People (1984), while entirely different in scope, narrative, and format, both offer the possibility for exploring crushes as queerly asexual. Leah’s text speaks to the possible proximities of trauma and asexuality and the blurriness of the sexual and asexual, while also providing an example of a romantically driven asexual crush. Hulme’s novel, through the character of Kerewin, on the other hand, provides a distancing of asexuality from trauma and also an example of an aromantically experienced form of the crush.

For the burgeoning asexual community, the crush is a highly viable form of human kinship and relatability. For example, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) – the largest vernacular archive of asexuality – has a thread on its forum devoted to crushes. Similarly, crushes are a popular topic on many other asexuality blogs. Asexual crushes tend to highlight romantic attractions as opposed to sexual attractions. Also, the asexual community has developed the concept of a “squish” to differentiate aromantic crushes from romantic crushes:

There is a fine line between a crush and a squish. Both crushes and squishes could involve persistent thoughts about the person of interest, self-consciousness around that person, desires to be with him or her, fantasies about physical (not necessarily sexual) contact with him or her, or any combination of these. However, crushes typically entail jealousy [of the] partners of the person of interest, desires for romantic contact (such as kissing), a dating relationship, or marriage, while squishes do not. (AVENwiki)

When, then, is the crush asexual? When is the crush not asexual? What might make the asexual crush queer?

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Gonna Get My Girl Body Back: This is a Work in Progress” from the Brazen Femme anthology (2002) demonstrates how crushes weave into larger queer life narratives that include both asexual and sexual moments. While Leah characterizes her teenage self as a “nympho nerd” that put her sex radical theory to good practice (literally), she also felt ambivalence towards sex as a teenager due to her experiences as an incest survivor. As she described this period in her life: “‘Sex is a prison, a kingdom of death,’[1] yeah, where that black red hole between my legs is. I slept with queer boys and trans kids cuz it was queer and easy, and I crushed on girls and didn’t let myself do anything for reasons I couldn’t let myself know” (35). Regarding the first girl she fell in love with, also during her teenage years, Leah notes: “she loved me too much to fuck me. I understood completely” (35).

In her adulthood, Leah explains how she still experienced asexual periods in the wake of leaving her abusive partner:

For a long time I didn’t understand why I had crushes and flirtations but not actually nudity, but then I started to. When it shocked the shit out of me as I watched my friends touch each other casually. When I stood on the sidelines on every coloredgirl dance floor trying to decode how you could pump ass into cunt like that and have it be okay. (39)

Leah’s crush-experiences as a queer femme reflect how crushes exist beyond distinct sexual or asexual understandings. She does not self-identify as asexual, and some from the asexuality community might question her as an example of asexuality; she describes an inner longing to act on her desires for women, but an inability to do so due to her past traumas: “On the dance floor I lost my desire, but in the my dream life I was free […]. I figured out that only in a world where nobody would ever get raped could I open the doors and fly free, fuck in magic loft beds with jungle vines growing all around me” (40). While the asexual crush certainly need not be motivated by experiences of past sexual trauma, it is also important to allow for articulations of asexuality that register the possibility of trauma. At different points in her narrative, Leah’s asexuality was a product of and a strategy for processing and dealing with traumatic life experiences. Leah’s narrative also diverges from dominant models of queerness, which often celebrate sex due to the historic desexualization of queer people by mainstream culture. Reading narratives like Leah’s within a queer asexual context, therefore, illustrates that where one finds queerness one also often finds asexuality and that the experience of crushing can blur distinctions between the sexual and asexual.

Another queerly asexual instantiation of the crush appears in Keri Hulme’s The Bone People (1984), a novel speaking to the intersectionality of Maori experience. In Hulme’s novel, Kerewin Holmes, a reclusive Maori artist who lives in a spiral tower, is drawn through circumstance into the lives of young boy Simon and his adoptive (and abusive) father Joe. Notably, Kerewin expresses her disinterest in sexual and physical intimacy in a dialogue with Joe, who is keen on “de-asexualizing” her, where he attempts to convince Kerewin to explore her sexual energy with him:

Joe: “I thought maybe someone had been bad to you in the past, and that was why you don’t like people touching or holding you.”
Kerewin: “Ah damn to hell,” she bangs the lamp down on the desk and the flame jumps wildly. “I said no. I haven’t been raped or jilted or abused in any fashion. There’s nothing in my background to explain the way I am.” She steadies her voice, taking the impatience out of it. “I’m the odd one out, the peculiarity in my family, because they’re all normal and demonstrative physically. But ever since I can remember, I’ve disliked close contact, emotional contact, as well as any overtly sexual contact. I veer away from it, because it always feels like the other person is drawing something out of me. I know that’s irrational, but that’s the way I feel.” […] “I’ve never been attracted to men. Or women. Or anything else. […] I don’t have any sexual urge or appetite.” (265-266)

Yet despite a self-understood lack of attraction to others – men, women, things – Kerewin experiences intense connections with both Simon and Joe (not to mention her objects and the places she inhabits), which, while radically asexual, are also trembling with the affective saturation characteristic of crushing. For Kerewin, “this peculiar sensation that tightens [her] chest and throat,” includes pleasure in spending time together, in eating and drinking together, in sharing Maori myths together (127). A penchant for togetherness with Simon and Joe, despite her reclusiveness, characterizes Kerewin’s moments of crushing. By being incorporated into the lives of Joe, suffering the death of his wife, and Simon, marred by mysterious past traumas and ongoing abuse from Joe, Kerewin slides into a state of crushing, longing for their company on asexual terms. Yet the crush is not unambivalent for Kerewin, but is haunted by the dark affects, by interpersonal loathing, for instance for Simon, whom she calls the “unintelligent little creep” (168).

Kerewin’s asexuality, as articulated most strongly in the dialogue between her and Joe included above, fits in quite well with models of asexual identification in that she voices her asexuality as unchanging and as based on a lack of sexual attraction to others. But Kerewin’s model of asexuality, as well as her manner of crushing, is also queerly asexual because it is transformative in its reclusiveness. Through withdrawing from the world in her tower, Kerewin transforms herself into a site sensitive to all human interaction and relationality. Thus she feels the crush acutely on her skin and in her insides, she feels with all her body – asexually.

Also, unlike in Leah’s personal narrative where trauma and asexuality hinge together, Kerewin disassociates her asexuality from trauma. Yet both Leah and Kerewin’s crushes are marked not by sexual longing but rather by a subtle affective shift that alters their positioning to others and to themselves. While Kerewin’s crushes open her up to building aromantic friendships with Joe and Simon, Leah’s crushes embody restraint towards others. These two instances of queerly asexual crushing urge us towards dropping all efforts to map the crush, to indicate what it is and what it is not. The crush, instead, becomes a space, lodged within the body, for opening up emotion, imagination, and relationships to others and to the self.

Footnotes:

[1] Here Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is quoting Chrystos, “Don’t Try,” Dream On (Vancouver: Press Gang, 1994).

Works Cited

AVENwiki. http://www.asexuality.org/wiki/index.php?title=Squish#Crushes_and_Squishes

Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah. “Gonna Get My Girl Body Back: This is a Work in Progress.” In Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity. Eds. Chloë Brushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002.

Hulme, Keri. The Bone People. London: Pan Books, 1984.

Ela Przybylo and Danielle Cooper are PhD students in the Feminist, Gender and Women’s Studies Program at York University. Ela’s research flirts with the intersections between asexuality and feminism, while Danielle researches LGBTQ grassroots information organizations and the queer activities found therein. Together they are working to expand the limits of the asexual archive, searching for asexual “resonances” in both familiar and discomforting historical locations. Their work on asexuality and the archive is forthcoming in GLQ.  www.daniellecooper.ca

 

Jeff Kulak is a graphic designer, illustrator and visual artist based in Montreal. Underlying his practice is an exploration of drawing as the basis for visual communication. What is a drawing? Where is its place today? How can it exist in the world in new ways? He pursues responses to these questions through a process that incorporates chance, change, and a playful manipulation of everyday materials. www.jeffkulak.com