Refusal

So Maya Petersen recently tweeted out the obvious yet previously unvoiced behind-the-scenes intention for Peridot to be Steven Universe’s aroace representation. This shouldn’t be a surprise, particularly given Peri’s role in Rebecca Sugar’s “all about fusion” children’s book a while back. (“And if you don’t want to fuse… that’s cool, too.”) But, of course, this admission has led to discourse.

There are now a hundred and twelve long and angry rants in all the usual places about why making Peridot aroace is somehow a bad thing. One of the more creative is the notion that because we’re using fusion as a way to illustrate this, it suggests that autistic people are incapable of forming meaningful relationships of any sort. Which, just…

Yikes.

I feel like people push back way too hard against the reductive reading of fusion-as-sex, to the point where it’s functionally meaningless. “It’s not sex,” people assert, “it’s just any kind of relationship at all!” And, no. That overcorrects to the point where if anything it would be more accurate to just shrug and say, okay, they’re all fucking.

Fusion is about intimacy. It’s about being so in-harmony with another person that the boundaries disappear and you might as well be one. Ergo, the dancing. In our touch-starved culture it’s super hard to draw the line between intimacy and sex, to the point that intimacy is often used as a synonym for sex. People often don’t seem to understand there are other kinds of intimacy.

To say that fusion is just any old relationship reduces the metaphor to the point where it might as well not even exist, all out of a fear of coming anywhere near a discussion of fucking or an inability to separate fucking from intimacy.

Not every relationship is going to be an intimate one. That would be nuts. Not every intimate relationship is going to be a sexual one. That would be unfortunate.

As a highly sex-averse (and even touch-averse) aroace person myself, I see zero functional problem with the use of fusion as a metaphor when discussing a lack of sexual or romantic attraction. A person can have lots of kinds of relationships without a desire for intimacy—be it romantic or sexual or anything else in nature. And likewise in the show, people can have relationships without fusing. Peridot and Steven have a relationship, a close and special one, and they are unlikely to fuse on purpose. There are boundaries, that Peridot is unlikely to feel motivated to cross.

With an understanding of Peridot’s intended representation, the metaphor continues to work exactly as deigned.



There’s also a popular thread where people like to leap on Peri’s obvious autistic coding as basis for why any little thing under the moon is problematic when applied to her in particular, but. Again, speaking as an autistic person, this all seems… correct?

Yeah, an inherent problem with representation is that everyone is different so no single representative is going to completely map with an individual’s experience. But, they shouldn’t have to. That’s absurd. Not everything is about me, or about you, or about the next person in particular.

I’m reminded of how Wikipedia editors seem to think it’s impossible to summarize Doctor Who without diving deep into the character’s allergy to aspirin. It’s crucially important to understanding who the character is, they will insist.

Ideally there wouldn’t just be one aroace-coded character in the show, and they wouldn’t also be an autistic-coded character, and so on and so on. But, let’s take a step back and consider: there is an aroace-coded character, and there is a positively portrayed autistic-coded character. Both of which are vanishingly unusual. And the way they’re depicted is broadly accurate and sympathetic, both within the show’s language and in terms of what’s being represented. Not in every way for every autistic person, or every aroace person, but I am also not every autistic person or every aroace person, and though I shouldn’t expect my experience to mirror anyone else’s completely I think I have a few relevant things to say about my own.

Like Stevonnie or Garnet, Peridot isn’t perfect, idealized representation. She’s just roughly accurate, literary-coded representation in a field where even that is difficult to find. There’s nothing wrong with her depiction, with her coding, or the continued use of the endlessly complicated metaphor of fusion to explain something almost never explained in mainstream contemporary fiction. I’m aroace, and her aversion to intimacy is accurate to my experience. I’m autistic, and her collection of obsessions and blind spots is cartoonish but also accurate. The intersection of the two is something that I can easily identify with.

Not everyone will, and not everyone has to. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t mean ill intent. It just means that everyone is different.

And that we really need to understand what intimacy is, in this culture.

The Sex Dungeon

As ever, don’t take this as me dictating the One Right Experience—I’m just talking about me here—but for me the one big story that for decades shielded me from recognizing my gender issues (blinding as they may be) is our collective obsession with sexuality. We sexualize the concept of gender. We sexualize—or at least romanticize—all relationships, all emotions that connect us to others. It becomes this minefield of expectation; of these models of behavior, of feeling, of thinking, of existing, that you’re expected to fall into—and if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.


Tied into all this are problems with representation, where unless you look for it, anything outside the gender binary might as well not exist except as a fetish. I know this is also a problem for other marginalized identities—objectification as the only recognition. You’re only valid to the extent you serve a purpose. I am terrified of being objectified; I have been for as long as I can remember. As long as I’ve been aware of sex, I’ve felt this vulnerability that I only recently have come to understand.

I don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction, but for most of my life I’ve been led to confuse empathy with a guilty sort of desire; for all that I’ve been told my affinity must be sexual, I recognize something isn’t quite right with that story. That uncertainty, that intangible sense of wrongness, it festers, leading me to feel just awful about the whole thing. There’s this anxiety that builds up about ever identifying with anyone, despite this strong relational draw to, in particular, gender non-conforming women (and active repulsion from men).

Getting through that, to nail down and embrace my sexuality, that was the first step—and it took me ages. Once I had drawn that division, I was free to unpick all the severed threads, to see where they led; what was going on with my attitudes. It’s only then I was able to recognize what I had so clearly been feeling the last four decades and why; how strongly I responded to seeing myself reflected in others, despite failing to grasp what I saw or how it affected me.

The notion that it was possible to be a gender non-conforming woman regardless of one’s assignment at birth, and not in the context of some fetish for someone else’s benefit, but just as a person, as an identity—it’s not a story one tends to encounter too often, culturally.

To exist for one’s own sake and not for the sake of someone else—this is such a long road. For that, I blame our culture’s obsession with sex and sexuality, none of which applies to me or the way I look at the world or myself. You know, I’m just me. I’m not here for any purpose except to be who I am. And through all this noise, I couldn’t see me at all.

As I say, other people are wired in their own particular ways, and take comfort and interest in things that bore me or make me want to cry. They’re not wrong for being who they are. It’s just that this one narrative, about how we’re meant to think and feel and relate to each other—it’s not The One. It’s not correct. It’s just a million slight variations of a single narrow story. Other stories are available.

The concept of sex, it was a shackle to me. To others it’s the key. The story is only wrong when it’s forced on you. And that’s the real point here.

Your story, it comes from inside. In this month of bricks and riots, and at any other time of the year, don’t let anyone else tell you who you are. Don’t buy into this notion that your script is sitting there, waiting for you to act out. Everyone around you, they’re all working through their own garbage, looking for validation of their own. But their stories, they have nothing to do with you. Yours is for you to tell yourself.

Love starts with you. Be kind to yourself, listen to what you’re saying—and let that make the whole world a better place to be.