Our next aro-spec creator is Nate, better known on Tumblr as @astriiformes!
Nate is an asexual, aromantic, neurodivergent and mentally ill trans guy/person continuing the tradition of aro-spec creators demonstrating an impressive diversity of talent. He writes, cosplays, creates filk music and produces visual art–and that’s when he’s not playing D&D and attending conventions!
You can find him on Twitter as planar_ranger and on 8tracks as azhdarchidaen. He’s also found on AO3 as azhdarchidaen, with a prolific selection of works for the Gravity Falls, Doctor Who, Critical Role and Pacific Rim fandoms! If you have a dollar or two you’re wanting to invest in worthy aro-spec talent, please take a look at Nate’s Ko-Fi!
With us Nate talks about expressing emotions through creativity, the intersection of aromanticism and perfectionism, the importance of storytelling as self-expression and his passion for D&D as a way of giving voice to his aromantic experience. His love for fandom, creativity and storytelling shines through every word, so please let’s give him all our love, encouragement, gratitude, kudos and follows for taking the time to explore what it is to be aromantic and creative.
Can you share with us your story in being aro-spec?
While I didn’t know the word “aromantic” until I was 15 or 16, and took a while to embrace it even then, when I look back on my childhood I can definitely see some of the earliest signs. Perhaps the most prominent was my mild disappointment at age 12 or 13 in discovering the Star Wars EU novels only to learn that Luke Skywalker, one of my most pervasively favorite characters since I first watched the movies and likely my earliest aro headcanon, ended up getting married! I ended up writing what was technically my first fanfiction after that discovery, an alternate take on the post-Return of the Jedi universe in which he didn’t.
But I didn’t really start to realize I was aro, or even know it was an identity at all, until two things happened. First, I joined an LGBTQA+ group on a writer’s forum I used to frequent and started to not only learn the vocabulary but also that identifying as something other than straight or cis was even allowed. Second, I entered what was essentially the closest thing to a romantic relationship I’ve ever experienced. By some measures it probably was one, but there really wasn’t much romance involved – because I wasn’t pushing it (for reasons that are now obvious to me), and the guy I was sort-of-dating was pretty respectful of my boundaries and was probably waiting for me to make some of those moves before trying himself. The relationship eventually broke off several months after he moved to Europe. He messaged me to say he felt bad about the fact that our long-distance “relationship” was probably holding me back from finding someone I could be happier with, and he would be more comfortable breaking it off. The fact that I felt no real sadness over that was a fairly big bit of evidence for my aromanticism, second only to the fact that I had actually become more comfortable with our situation when he moved across the Atlantic Ocean.
Clues like those eventually lead me to adopt the label and really begin to understand myself, I think around age 16 or 17. I went through a slow process of accepting all my queer identities one-by-one and kind of see them all as pretty interconnected. The aro one was in the middle.
Can you share with us the story behind your creativity?
I really like making things. For all the frustration I experience trying to write something I’m happy with, or panicked near all-nighters trying to finish props before a convention, I really am at my happiest when I have projects to engage in. I take a lot of pride in my identity as a content creator as a result, though it also means I can set discouragingly high standards for myself. That being said, there’s nothing that makes me happier that someone enjoying something I put time and effort into and being able to go “I made this.”
Writing was definitely my earliest outlet (I did draw things when I was younger, but I didn’t show my art to anyone until this time last year). I was posting fics (under a different username, fortunately; I don’t want my early teenage writing unearthed ten years later) on ff.net by early high school, a narrative I’m sure I share with plenty of other creators. I’ve done more interesting things with my writing since migrating over to AO3 though, and I continue to feel like my writing is growing (even if, sometimes, I worry it’s going too slowly).
Getting into cosplay was something I picked up only a year or so later, though again, comparing my current work to those first few attempts feels almost silly. My first cosplay was a patched-together Eighth Doctor mostly made out of thrift store finds that looked only debatably like the real deal. Since then, I’ve gotten better at sewing my own things and have realized one of my true strengths lies in elaborate props. My two most recent cosplays were Stanford Pines from Gravity Falls, with a fully-illustrated and screen-accurate copy of the third journal, complete with blacklight effects, and Taako, from The Adventure Zone, with an Umbra Staff that I had re-covered in fabric and had fully-functional LED “stars” built into it, stars I could make twinkle via a secret remote. I’m attempting two characters that are even more ambitious for conventions this year, but we’ll have to see how that actually goes…
My filk contributions aren’t massive, but the community aspect (and that it connected me to someone who is now one of my closest friends, who made me go from enjoying the genre to contributing to it) and some of the things I’ve done as a result of it make me feel it has a place as part of my creative identity. You haven’t lived until you’ve performed decades-old songs about space travel with your friends, in cosplay, in a crowded convention center! (Okay, a debatable statement. But a truly wild experience.) It’s also been a good outlet for me in some ways, because music is a powerful way to get across emotions. I play viola and piano, and have for years, so I knew that to some degree before I started writing my own lyrics to things. But personalizing songs by making them be about things you have really strong feelings for is another level entirely.
And then, art. Like I said, I never really shared it with anyone (or drew much at all) until about a year ago. Part of that was due to wanting to try my hand at digital art but not really having an understanding of what programs to use or how to get started with it, and part of it was the inertia of feeling like “if I’m not good at something immediately, I shouldn’t try at all!” The thing that really got the ball rolling for me is the long D&D campaign I’m currently in. When I was excited about other stories, chances were someone else had drawn art of it that I could enjoy and reblog. That’s not really the case with one you’re telling with only 5-6 other people. I had a sort of epiphany moment a couple months into the campaign, as the story really started picking up, that if I wanted to see the kind of art I appreciate for this new story I was falling in love with, I would probably have to do it myself. I’m still not incredibly happy with my work, since I’m surrounded by friends who are incredible artists and my style is fairly simplistic and oddly stylized, but I have gotten to a point where I draw fairly regularly, and generally put up what I create on our shared campaign blog. The same D&D game has wrenched over 15k words of original writing from me, which is pretty astonishing. Most of that isn’t anywhere to be found on Tumblr just yet, though – it’s largely still-top secret character backstory.
Are there any particular ways your aro-spec experience is expressed in your art?
The most obvious way is that I write fics about characters being aromantic and dealing with their aromanticism. All headcanons, unfortunately (I’m yet to find a canon aro in anything I love that I didn’t help create myself), but there are several stories on my AO3 about characters from Pacific Rim, Star Wars or Gravity Falls realizing they’re aromantic. And the fics that don’t deal with that are still all gen – I’m too romance-repulsed to write anything else, and I feel the world needs a lot more genfic anyways.
One other way, though I feel a bit silly calling it “art”, is that I am intentionally playing an aromantic character of my own creation in my current D&D campaign. I’ve been playing for several years now, and did have another character back in high school who I also imagined as aromantic. (Partially because of an awkward flirting mishap – an enemy tried to get my character off her guard with romance and it all backfired because she didn’t know how to respond. All my own fault – I don’t even know how to roleplay that!) But none of the campaigns I’ve played in until this one were particularly intent on exploring characters and their feelings all that deeply, or really making them a part of the story.
With my current character, it’s become incredibly validating to view him as aromantic and asexual, like myself. It’s that same impulse that got me started doing more art – if the fiction I like isn’t going to provide me with aromantic characters, I’ll have to make one myself! And it’s slowly leading to some very interesting explorations of aro identity and the normalising of it in our world. We’ve established that identifying that way isn’t particularly unusual for elves and talked about what that means for worldbuilding. Do they hold platonic relationships in the same regard as romantic ones? Is there a special kind of relationship that signifies that? What if we put friendship under the banner of the goddess of romantic love too? Though at the same time, I’m exploring some of the same feelings I experience with him – he’s a particularly lonely person, who worries about people actually wanting to stay with him, both of which are prominent features of my own aromantic experience.
What challenges do you face as an aro-spec artist?
Like many of us, I do worry that my genfics will be less enjoyed or circulated as a result of choosing not to include ships. And whenever I post a fic about a character actually being aro, I definitely get that little stab of “Someone is going to have a problem with this” fear.
I also feel that my experience with aromanticism has shaped a lot of my perfectionistic tendencies. Because I worry so much about trying to remain important in my allo friends’ lives, and because I think of so much of my identity as associated with creativity, I tend to get really wrapped up in my work needing to seem amazing somehow, to make people think I’m worth their time. It’s a silly thing to get preoccupied over, but it has had an impact on me. In some ways wanting my work to be really good is not a bad thing – it encourages me to do my very best whenever I can – but the motivation is really all wrong.
How do you connect to the aro-spec and a-spec communities as an aro-spec person?
I’m honestly pretty disconnected from them. I might be less-inclined to be if this website wasn’t suddenly experiencing such backlash against a-spec identities, but as is I’m almost afraid to engage with anything that might make me a target. Which is really unfortunate. That being said, whenever I do make any aro content and I see it circulated to other aromantic people, I get a lot of joy from it. The comments on my multiple aromantic-focused fics are some of my favorite ones I’ve ever received. If I can channel my experiences into something that elicits that kind of a reaction from our community, I consider my work well done.
How do you connect to your creative community as an aro-spec person?
When I’m able to talk to other aromantic people about headcanons (or even some of my very understanding allo friends who absorb them from me, too), pretty well! Unfortunately, that’s a pretty tiny fraction of my fandom experience. Even some of my interests where you’d think I wouldn’t run into problems have been difficult at times. I once had someone dressed as a character often (non-canonically) shipped with the one I was cosplaying, and they assumed that I would be interested in hearing that they shipped our character. Instead, they just made me very uncomfortable, particularly with the way they chose to do so.
In general, the expectation that as a member of fandom, producing fandom works, I will be interested in creating and consuming romantic content is hard to deal with. I’ve had people ask me to put ships in my fics, the aforementioned convention incident, and been heckled over having aromantic headcanons at all. That being said, aromantic headcanons were how I met at least a few of my good friends. Finding each other may be hard, but since we all feel so isolated I think that finding other aro creators inhabiting the same or similar spaces can lead to pretty quick bonding, or at least an appreciation of each others’ works. I do like that.
I’ve also, as I have mentioned a couple times now, realized the worth of telling my own stories, particularly if I have other people to share them with who will respond positively. Right now, most of my D&D group is not aro, but they are a group that respects my and my character’s identities, and being able to tell an aro narrative that means a lot to me and get a positive response is a breath of fresh air. I count them as fellow content creators and they’ve really encouraged the story I want to tell. I hope that someday the inspiration I’ve gained from that will lead me to publishing my own original fiction (with aro characters, of course), but it’s been due to this small start that I’ve decided that’s something I could realistically pursue.
How can the aro-spec community best help you as a creative?
Comments on my fics are one of the biggest things that keep me writing, so they’ll always be a boon to me. Even old ones. It makes me happy to see people still reading and enjoying them. Same goes for reblogs of any of my stuff – art, writing, filk, cosplay photos, anything else I might post. The biggest thing that keeps me wanting to create and share more creative works is knowing that other people are enjoying them, so if you do enjoy them, any way you can let me know that is wonderful.
I do hope that in some point in the future I’ll have original fiction available and a science writing blog (I consider non-fiction to be creative expression, as long as you’re putting your spark into it!), but neither exists quite yet. If you follow me on either of my main platforms though, those might pop up someday. Seeing either be circulated when the time comes would be massive. I also intend to, perhaps in the much nearer future, start publishing D&D content (likely homebrew 5e subclasses, but who knows) on the DMsGuild, starting with a pay-what-you-want model for downloading my content. If that goes up and I make something you’re interested in, and you want to pay something for it at all, I would be massively grateful.
Can you share with us something about your current project?
I’ve been working on a Critical Role Modern AU story since January or so that places heavy emphasis on the platonic relationships in the show (Percy and Keyleth’s is particularly dear to me, so they’re likely to get a fair bit of the spotlight) that’s my most current fandom fic.
I’m also tackling two ambitious cosplays at the moment, though the timeframe is making me wonder if I’ll actually pull either off. Especially given what I need to get done. One involves sewing pseudo-historical menswear, and I’m going to have to learn how to make armor for the other one. If I can figure it all out though, I’m really excited about them both!
Have you any forthcoming works we should look forward to?
Hopefully the next chapter of the CR fic, if I get hit with the inspiration (and motivation) to work on it soon. I also have another aromantic Luke Skywalker fic I really want to get down on paper at some point, though thus far it’s proven a little elusive.
My two big cosplay projects are Percy de Rolo (from Critical Role), which I intend to take to a local convention, and Erwyn, my own D&D character. I hope to do a photoshoot with the rest of the players as their own characters sometime late this summer.
As for art, I fully intend to keep drawing major or touching moments from my ongoing campaign, likely with much more frequency than any of the things above. It may not be as engaging for people to interact with as my fandom-focused projects are, but I still really do love sharing it.