Your Hand in Mine
Updated: Oct 24, 2021
My hand isn't at home in yours.
Your hand is desire---
my hand is longing.
- Edith Södergran
When I say I dislike kissing, that's not the entire truth. It's a (soft) lie, because there hasn't been a single time that I've held a purple tulip without lowering my lips to brush against the cool petals. Because the same goes for fresh basil as I ride the bus home with canvas grocery bags, my lips slightly parted among the leaves. Because when I bury my nose in the reddened cracks along a ponderosa's bark, inhaling its orange-creamsicle perfume, doesn't that count as a kiss? Because sometimes when I see a friend's shoulders sloped like a wildflower-strewn hill in the sunlight, I feel that same purple-petal-forest impulse.
I say I dislike kissing because touch seems to mean something different to me than to most people I encounter: To them, desire. To me, longing.
I say I dislike kissing because that difference is lonely, and dangerous. Since middle school, all physical closeness has set me on edge. Having never experienced this sensation called lust, I'm unsure what actions might be interpreted that way,---if allowing my knee to brush against someone else's will be called "asking for it" and embolden a touch-type I never wanted.
If I, surrounded by stories and depictions of lust, struggle to even imagine it, I can hardly expect allosexual people to conceive of a life without lust. How could you know, when I kiss the freckle on your ear, that to me it's the same as the dark speckle on a tulip? I suppose this is me telling you. And maybe you really are already familiar with the concept, as you must have---at some point---kissed a kitten's forehead, or a young cousin's flushed cheeks. Soft fur, smooth skin, comfortable closeness in greetings and goodbyes.
There's not a single farewell kiss that stands out in my memory, though one goodbye does. Before my departure from Seattle, years ago, a dear friend stepped close on the sidewalk; instead of extending his arms for a hug, he simply drooped his forehead to my shoulder, like a flower wilted by warmth. The surprising intimacy of that moment sticks with me still.
None of the mouth-to-mouth kisses I've shared have ever struck me as intimate. Most of them, instead, fall into the category of silly stories. The last one I remember takes place in my apartment kitchen. I'm making lavender earl gray tea, with a swirl of macadamia nut milk, and he walks up to me, with a backlit halo of morning light, and stoops down a foot to meet my face. In the birdsong-threaded, near silence: clink clink, clink clink. It doesn't occur to me, as we kiss, to stop stirring my tea. We both burst out laughing. Clink clink. Physical "intimacy" is goofy, and even my best attempts to take it more seriously just seem to amplify the ridiculousness.
I've often suspected that I'm a terrible kisser, at least when it comes to "making out"---that seems like something you really have to be into to be good at. It doesn't help that half the time I dissolve into giggles. I mean, smooching is weird, just bizarre. So far, no one I've kissed has confirmed my suspicions unprompted (a testament to my luck in finding kind people, perhaps?), though one previous partner did joke, once, that I could make sex unsexy. This is a true statement, that I take pride in.
I'm asexual, and I could happily live the rest of my life without sexy sex. I sometimes wonder if sex wouldn't seem so off-putting if there were more of mutual platonic approach, one in which the exploration of another's body orients via curiosity and wonder, not lust or some abstract (to me) attraction. I remember a past boyfriend tracing his fingertips from one mole to the next along my back. My skin lit up like a bioluminescent bay, a pale wake surrounded by red ripples trailing behind his touch. For a brief moment, I was at home in his hands, but I realized he was not at home in mine.
Misunderstanding has up to now been the most powerful force on earth. - Edith Södergran
Romantic relationships are difficult for me. In part because of this gap between understandings of touch. In larger part because I call myself aromantic. When a new friend asks me what "aromantic" means as we hike up orange-soil hills in Sedona, I answer, louder than the wind, that there's no distinguishable difference for me between platonic feelings and what I feel for my partners. Thus, I'm aromantic. But that's not the entire truth.
When I say I'm aromantic, I mean I expect emotional intimacy from all my friends, and adore them intensely, and can't imagine loving one person in a separate, special way, more than I love them. I mean, I've had crush-kind feelings in the past, but seeing my crush crush on someone else gets me giddy; it's like an updraft, and I'm wingman-ready. I mean, it's entirely possible that this indistinguishablity between platonic feelings and romantic ones actually implies that I'm a profoundly polyamorous person, not an aromantic one. That I'm in capital-L-love with most of my friends, all at once. But that's harder to say than "aromantic."
The first time my high school boyfriend called me his "girlfriend," I almost broke up with him on the spot. Dating without clear labels my junior year of college was a sort of relief, and in my senior year---before I was even out to myself---I suggested to the person I was seeing that we refer to each other as "partners." I've never wanted to be someone's girlfriend, so I wondered, at first, when I realized I'm trans, if it's the often gendered nature of romantic relationships that previously caused me such discomfort in them. Being someone's boyfriend doesn't sound too bad.
A few weeks ago, beside a sloppy, graphite-smeared self portrait, I wrote out a daydream of the future in my journal, one in which I'm called "boyfriend." I'm living in a city not too far from mountains or wide rivers, and the mornings are quiet. The person I live with walks up behind me as I make breakfast for two and wraps their arms heavy around my shoulders: we sway, humming, until it's time to add the eggs. They've only ever known me as Vin or Vinny, and they pour tangerine juice into ugly homemade mugs for us as we talk about our upcoming backpacking trip and adoption paperwork. I like that future.
But as I think about it, I realize there's no need for a romantic relationship to achieve that vision: my last year in Seattle, I lived with a friend in a basement apartment. Each night I'd crawl into bed at 9:30, light a scented candle to burn off the lingering smell of bleach and mold on my walls, and wait. Not long after I'd nestled into my comforter, my roommate would wander in and flop over the top of my blankets and legs, and---sprawled there like a cat's pleasant pressure---they'd tell me about their day. Romance isn't necessary for companionship. Communication is.
I am water, deep, but I wade in only to my knees. - Edith Södergran
I keep hoping I'll naturally encounter someone whose hand will be at home in mine. Who will laugh when I hear their hands are cold and immediately rub my own together like paddles of a defibrillator, ready to jolt life back into their palms. Who will kiss the inside of my wrist as if my veins are the veins of a maple leaf. Who will flirt with other people, and spend their life with me. I keep worrying I've already missed my opportunity, because I was too scared to say these things to the people I've loved. Because even a long, musing post like this is incapable of sighting the entire truth. "Asexual" and "aromantic" are both glosses for a much broader experience. And this,---the tulips, the future kitchens----it's only a glimpse of mine.
Perhaps, though, just this glimpse is enough to sight a path toward discovering my own dimensions. Perhaps it will help you consider yours.
I am sure of myself because I have discovered my own dimensions. It doesn't behoove me to make myself smaller than I am.
- Edith Södergran