Aro-Spec Artist Profile: Tylea

Handdrawn watercolour-style image of a sparse forest of redwood trees growing among grassy hills, with a white and orange fox sitting in the grass at the base of a tree on the viewer's right-hand side of the image. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/grey/black stripes of the aro pride flag. The text Aro Worlds Artist Profiles sits across the image in a black, antique handdrawn type, separated by two ornate Victorian-style black dividers.

Our next aro-spec creator is Tylea, already known to us here as @afroenby –one of the biggest likers and rebloggers of this account!

Tylea is a black, agender, neurodivergent, mentally ill, bi-alterous, aro-ace, enby author who specialises in dancing and narrative: microfiction, short stories, novels and poetry, particularly young adult/new adult speculative fiction.

You can find and support more of their work on a variety of platforms. Tylea also goes by @tylea-writes here on Tumblr and is known by afroenby on Twitter, WordPress and Patreon. They have multiple works available for purchase on Gumroad and for free reading on Wattpad. If you have a dollar or two you’re wanting to invest in worthy aro-spec talent on a less-regular basis, please check out their Ko-Fi!

With us Tylea talks about alterous attraction and their road towards aromantic identity, their passion for writing and dancing, their many aromantic characters, the challenges of writing relationships when neurodivergent and aromantic, and their difficulty in connecting with communities as a multiply-marginalised creative. Aside from producing some wonderfully diverse works, they are an unsung hero when it comes to boosting and promoting aro-spec talent here on Tumblr, so please let’s give them all our love, encouragement, gratitude, kudos and follows for taking the time to explore what it is to be aromantic and creative.

Artist Profile - Tylea

Can you share with us your story in being aro-spec?

I discovered the term “aromantic” and what it meant along with the spectrum of identities really recently (2016-17); it was way after being introduced to asexuality by a friend, I think. Overall, my experience as an aro has been a lifelong thing, though.

As a kid, I didn’t care about my attraction until around second grade. That’s when I realized that I was bi (except I didn’t have the terminology for this until sixth grade, when I heard other people identify as such). I was adamant I was bisexual until I discovered pansexual in high school (probably freshman year: I think I discovered the term after venturing into queer spaces in the k-pop fandom on social media). I think I was introduced to asexual in 2013 or 2014, but it was definitely by someone, or maybe I ventured into it myself. I don’t remember. I identified as asexual panromantic until I came across aromantic, and after reading into it, it clicked with me after I thought about my previous experiences with attractions and what I wanted in life. I realized that I’m a bi-alterous aro-ace (I alternate between pan and bi).

In grade school, I would force myself to have crushes on people because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. There is a lot of background to me that would be extensive to mention, but, long story short, I had no one to tell me anything. I did what I thought I was supposed to do, and I went through life as a neurodivergent kid not knowing what I was doing wasn’t normal. Anybody I thought cute and wanted to be friends with I interpreted as a crush on them. I struggled to connect with people in general, but it was particularly difficult with guys for some reason.

Later, in high school, I made a few friends (I went to two different high schools, so there were two different experiences). Twice, I thought I had a crush on two friends (both from different schools) because we were close. I was close to all my friends in different ways, because we had different points of interests that brought us together. I can’t say that it was because they were nice or anything, or because I never had friendships like this (although friendship is rare with me) because that would be a lie. I was close to all my friends; we had special connections to each other. But for two particular people, it was the first time I experienced alterous attraction, and I mistook that as romantic attraction.

For the first person, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know and was unsure of myself (too occupied thinking that I had a crush on someone I wanted to be friends with), but for the second person, I did say something, and that was a big mistake. I’m sad that I don’t talk to them anymore (but I blame this on myself). It was so much easier to realize that I was aro once I had the terminology. Before, I was just going with the flow: I probably would have gotten myself hurt since if I didn’t have the terminology. A lot of non-aros also get their romantic attraction wrong from what I see, or they at least have bad habits in romantic contexts.

Can you share with us the story behind your creativity?

I have a lot of creativity that I enjoy. I love writing prose, poetry and essays, creating contemporary and upbeat dance pieces, editing image and video media material, sketching and curating musical playlists. The first two things are my “main hobbies” while writing is what I enjoy doing the most.

I’ve always written stories since elementary school. I used to handwrite eight-page long fanfiction of my favorite Naruto characters with my own original characters. It would be front to back. One time, I won a diamond for my mom in a Mother’s Day poetry contest in second grade. I was even in the spelling bee for fifth grade. I really loved writing and everything that had to do with it. Once I learned more about computers and posting my work online, I switched to typing up my stories and publishing them on ff.net and some other sites (I grew up in the transformative era). I was really big on fanfiction in whatever I was interested in. Throughout grade school, all my English literature teachers (except my AP English teachers) noted how much I wrote (and even said they liked reading my stories). AP English Language was different because it was my first AP class, it was during a time where I was in a really bad place, and it was my introduction to non-fictional, analytical writing. Around that time, I had a growing interest in journalism, and when I switched schools, I joined a journalism class. Even there (and in my AP English Literature class), I was extensive and excited about writing (don’t ask me how I did in my AP Lit class though). My main thing was writing editorial pieces, but I did write two feature stories and a few news articles. I was in the process of transferring all my old articles onto my current blog, but I got distracted. I’ll finish that later.

Dancing is something I got into in fourth or fifth grade after getting interested into K-Pop. I was completely mesmerized by the choreography pieces and tried copying it. I’m not good at learning other people’s dances, so I used their pieces as a guide. Since my family couldn’t put me in dance classes (and even if they could, I’d doubt I’d go because of my avoidant and shy tendencies), I taught myself. I created a lot of choreographic pieces of popular K-Pop songs and American hip-hop, pop and ballad songs. I would record and post the videos onto YouTube, but I kept getting super discouraged and deleted them. Currently, I have a few up on my current channel, but they are old (2-3 years). I’d upload more, but my current living space is much smaller, and I don’t have the tools I used previously to record myself. Overall, I’m still working at my dancing and trying to improve.

I enjoyed sketching since I was in preschool. I followed in my older brother and my second oldest sister’s footsteps with that one, and I tried improving every time. I can remember how my drawings looked years ago compared to now, and I definitely see improvement, but I have a long way to go. I don’t often draw because it’s not something I’m heavily interested in, but I like dabbling in it from time to time. Same thing with video and image editing. I used to be part of a community on YouTube that would create Anime Music Videos (AMVs) when I was in elementary and middle school, but I’m not in it anymore. Although my work (in editing) isn’t to my satisfaction (and can be unappealing to some audiences), I enjoy doing it. Currently, I focus more on image editing than video editing, but I still get scenes in my head of certain clips I want to manipulate and create music videos to. I created the book cover for my current work-in-progress! Lastly, when I’m bored, or when I want to spice up my books, I create music playlists. They’ve been a thing for me since like 2013 or 2014, but I recently started using them for my books!

Are there any particular ways your aro-spec experience is expressed in your art?

Of course: in my writing! Ever since I learned about aromanticism and that it was okay not to include romance in everything, I’ve been striving to do that. I’m not really romance-repulsed, so I do still include it, but for the characters that represent me the most, they don’t feature romance at all, or at least experience a journey to self-discovery.

In my current work-in-progress, I have around five aromantic characters, four of whom are also asexual–three out of five are main characters. In another story that I wrote earlier but took down to re-write, one of the main characters is ace-aro. I have other stories brewing in my head as well, and they also will have aro characters. The main thing is that I always include my experiences as an aro, and I also listen to my aro peers and learn other ways to be aro (because although our community is small, our experiences are varied). I try my hardest to diversify the aro experiences in my work.

What challenges do you face as an aro-spec artist?

Connecting with other people and illustrating that in my work (both as a dancer and a writer).

I think my fictional relationships (whether platonic/familial, romantic or alterous) come off as unreal because it is very hard for me to connect with people in general. I’m not good with social communication and reading into societal standards. I watch other people and listen to how they navigate life. I read stories of other people and their experiences. I try to listen to and abide by lessons on how to function socially. I try to incorporate that into my writing to make my interactions look smooth. I still don’t think it works very well. Since I’m unsure if my non-amorous interactions are written well, I’m definitely unsure of my amorous interactions (especially because toxic romance is so sensationalized and normalized). It’s frustrating to not know whether my writing is realistic and if what I’m doing is right.

With dancing, because I’m a loner and I shy away from showing people my dancing, I don’t have dance partners or even a dance group. I’ve been in a dance class twice in my life, and that was because it was provided by the school as a course (8th grade, 12th grade). The first one was horrible, but the second one was really fun (because I got to perform on stage twice, and I made friends with other dancers). Something that I aspire to do is to be in a dance group, and that comes with a lot of challenges because of my struggles with social communication and also my structural barriers. This one is a financial and structural challenge.

Another challenge of mine is my depression. Ever since high school, my depression has been making it incredibly hard to pursue my interests. Before high school, I read several books per month and I wrote lengthy stories. I had a strong interest in creating and consuming art. During and after high school, I could barely pick up a book. I have to use summarized websites because I can’t even sit through one page. I’ll re-read the same sentence or even chapter several times and not understand anything. I’m not as interested in reading lengthy works. I mean, I am interested, but I can’t read it without feeling bored (despite being interested) and losing focus. I haven’t been reading and writing like I used to, even though I really want to. Wattpad has helped a bit because many of the chapters are less than two thousand words, and I try to make my works that short.

How do you connect to the aro-spec and a-spec communities as an aro-spec person?

I’ve joined a few Discord servers related to a-spec and LGBTQIA+ communities, and I am part of a Facebook group for non-binary people that is very supportive and inclusive to a-spec people. I follow a ton of aro bloggers, ace bloggers, aro-ace bloggers and aro/ace supportive bloggers on both Tumblr and Twitter. I interact with none of them despite following them. If it’s not me feeling inadequate or uninteresting, it’s my not understanding how to navigate social culture.

How do you connect to your creative community as an aro-spec person?

I feel alienated and alone in all my creative interests. I’m more able to connect with other writers online through vendors like Wattpad and Patreon, but even then, I still feel ignored.

I am this black person who presents to the world as “feminine” or “woman” (despite that not being who I am, but I’m partially closeted, so I can’t say much), writing fantasy and sci-fi works that include some overdone tropes and some new tropes with aro characters, ace characters, and other queer characters who vary in disability. My writing is already not fantastic or appealing, and I’m not going to fake a voice that I don’t have. Nobody is going to really pay attention to me or my works. It’s a lot to take in.

From someone like me, people want “contemporary” or “urban” works. For fantasy and sci-fi, they want whatever is currently trending. All the genres have to include romance and sex with white leads. I doubt that having characters who are anything but straight would even get half the attention the story deserves. To top it off, I’m not good at marketing myself, I’m not good at connecting with people and I’m practically a nobody. It is very hard to connect with fellow creatives.

Part of it is my fault, but I also think that if I do put myself out there and discuss myself and my interests, I may or may not be met with support. Even if I am supported, there is this obvious Other feeling I get from doing that (discussing who I am and what I work on). Here I am, discussing my experiences of not wanting to be romantically involved with anyone because it’s not something I experience, and how I incorporate that among other things into my writing, and these other people have to forcibly accept that as normal even though I’m the only one there who feels that and who has that profile.

How can the aro-spec community best help you as a creative?

I get bashful when people reblog my content because I think maybe they don’t like it but aren’t saying anything, or I think maybe they did like it, but the people on their dash who will see my content won’t like it and might start mocking it. I’m always preoccupied with worried thoughts that maybe I’m going to be made into a laughing stock. Anxiety is overwhelming.

(I don’t really post my work on Tumblr, but I might start to give previews. On Wattpad or Patreon, liking my work and/or commenting would be best appreciated. If I post something on Tumblr, liking would be nice along with a message in the notes or a message on/off anon.)

Anyway, I do appreciate people supporting me financially by buying me a Ko-Fi sometimes, buying my work on Gumroad and/or subscribing to my Patreon. I also appreciate people who become active readers to my works, critique where my story is weak or needs improvement, and discuss what they like about my work. Any or all of those would help me the most.

Can you share with us something about your current project?

My current project is basically the second book to my current work-in-progress since I completed the first book, and I’m simply revising/editing it while re-posting. I’m very bad at summaries and synopses, but I’ll discuss something (without getting spoiler-y).

The second book is called The Trials and it directly picks up where book one left off. It’s divided into three parts. The first part sets up new characters and certain old characters disappear for the moment. The second part focuses on court trials, hence the title of the book. There is more magical elements in this part, and a certain character shows a braver and more rebellious side of her personality. Another character learns what it means to be aro (from several aro characters) and starts to decide whether or not it applies to her (fair warning that she does have a boyfriend in this book). In the third and last part, it’s half flashbacks and another half set-up for the third book. One character, depicted in glimpses throughout parts one and two, has her story with the group she’s with fully explored as well as her relationship as a found-family member (older sister) to a child initiated. This part focuses more on familial and platonic love. Everything that doesn’t make as much sense in book one starts to make sense in book two.

If you don’t know what book one, The Threshold, is about, or The Chronicles of Plagos City in general, it is about the unfolding magical and political events of a sovereign state called Plagos City.

The Threshold is divided into two parts. In part one, Bella, a DNA lab assistant who moonlights as the nightly magical vigilante, recruits a star student-athlete into her new secret crime-fighting operation as her tech genius (because he has a knack for computer science) after spending two years combating crime alone. However, while tracking down a lead on one of the state’s most notorious criminal organizations, she is hit with an unknown compound that alters her psychological and physiological capabilities when she attempts to use her powers, and later discovers her creators are scouting for her return. In part two, investigative reporter Camila looks into whether a well-known officer is spearheading a gang in the criminal underworld but is pulled aside to investigate the scandal at Cooper-Milton Industries. Both investigations lead her into a world of trouble that alters her life.

Have you any forthcoming works we should look forward to?

Like I mentioned earlier, there was a story that I wrote a year or two ago that I am currently re-writing along with my current work-in-progress. It is a science-fiction, simulation-reality novella about five hundred people (ranging from teens to mid-twenties) who were transported into a game that their corporate government built for life-sustaining purposes. The players were split in half into two “batches” and transported a week apart. The series picks up following the second batch of users and focuses on a character named Bonnie who is a nineteen-year-old, pansexual black girl. There are five other central characters who grow close to Bonnie–one is her brother, and another I introduced before as an aro character. The players have to form alliances, navigate through the levels, and complete the game until the end to get out of the game (or so they expect).

(When I began this in 2016, I hadn’t heard of Ready Player One, and I was looking to see if other stories had done something like this before. All I got was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, and that wasn’t close to what I had in mind. Ready Player One isn’t what I had in mind, either, but it’s nice to see something somewhat close to it.)

Another future project that I have coming up is a post-apocalyptic, utopian novella about five hundred years after the decline of western civilization. Only a few people from the old world were preserved into underground biosynthetic coffins called Pods, and there is a wonky relationship between them and people who wanted one but couldn’t afford one. Everyone inside a Pod awakens from their slumber and navigates through the three major civilizations that sprung up and thrive in this new world/land. The novella is installed into four parts, but all four parts will connect. It’s only one book.

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