Writing From Factor X

July 11, 2011

My Thoughts on the Word “Zucchini”

So I lurk around discussions a lot, and lately I’ve been seeing a bunch of people discuss “zucchini” used in a queerplatonic context. Which is really really awesome. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome I find that. But one of the things I also see a lot is people looking at the word “zucchini” in particular and going “that’s just silly!”

Okay. The thing about “zucchini” is that it’s meant to be a little silly. Here’s a situation between two people that the English language has absolutely no words to describe it. There aren’t even good roots to use to make a short, unwieldy, easy-to-say alternative (although “queerplatonic” is a good try). So we use a random vegetable, because why not?

Actually, let’s give out a short history of the word “zucchini” in this context, because it seems to me that a lot of people don’t know where it comes from. Last December, Kaz wrote a post discussing zer confusing, blurring-the-lines romantic orientation. In the comments, ze and meloukhia (who also goes by s.e. smith elsewhere on the internet) got to discussing the total lack of words available for talking about relationships that blur the lines between what is traditionally considered friendship and what is traditionally considered romantic relationships. Meloukhia made a joke (“Ok, I am now referring to these kinds of relationships as zucchini. This is official, and so shall it be.”) and the word took off.

Let me repeat that: the word “zucchini” used in a relationship context started as a joke.

Half the fun of “zucchini” as terminology (and “squash,” and other puns) is that it’s totally silly. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s slangy and fun and absurd and colloquial. It makes no sense when you think about it. And that works, because there actually aren’t words in the English language that do make sense when you think about them for the kinds of relationships we’re discussing–everything either gets subsumed under the devaluation that gets attached to words like “friend” or has been taken to refer to romantic relationships. “Zucchini” isn’t entirely meant to take itself seriously in the first place.

And yet on a different, deadly serious level I am ridiculously attached to the word “zucchini.” Seriously, any time I see it criticized as a silly, unnecessary word I wilt a little and get defensive–including, for crying out loud, when Elizabeth described an entirely hypothetical person who thought it sounded stupid in her recent communities post.

So let me talk about why that is here.

I have spent an absurd amount of time questioning and re-questioning what my romantic orientation is in the past three years. I have sat up nights wondering if I’m lying to myself about my romantic feelings, if I’m repressing romantic attraction and the way I feel about my friends is just that bleeding through. I have spent hours and hours trying to figure out what I am, who I am, because the kinds of relationships I want don’t seem romantic and trying to shove them into the boxes my culture assigns to “romantic relationships” seems unpleasant and strange–but they don’t into fit into the boxes it assigns to “friendship,” either.

I have never wanted to be uncategorizable. I know that some people enjoy the opportunity to cast off labels, but I have always preferred to find a succinct descriptor of myself. Labels mean that I can find other people like me to share my experiences with–being so unique that I can’t be labeled is a nice idea, but it also means being isolated and alone. I hate feeling alone.

The discussions that have been happening in the past six months about queerplatonic relationships and zucchinis and squashes have been the first steps that have helped me to figure out what I actually am. Even better, they’ve shown me that I’m not alone–that I’m not the only person who wants relationships like this. My most heartfelt fantasy is in essence a Boston marriage, and the discussions I’ve been having recently have shown me that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks like that.

And even better, words like “zucchini” and “squash” have given me vocabulary to talk about my dreams and my hopes and my current relationships so much more effectively than I could otherwise. I mentioned a few weeks ago that there’s a relationship in my life that is not going well–well, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been going on with this relationship for three years now, and developing terms like these is what has given me the tools to understand what’s happening. (They’ve also given me the perspective to walk away, because in many ways this relationship is badly unbalanced and I keep getting hurt on it. Without understanding why those balance problems persist, I would probably keep emotionally hurting myself over and over as I have been doing for, as mentioned, years.)

That’s another thing: words shape our thoughts. If no word exists in a language to describe a thing, it’s almost impossible to discuss that concept, at least not without convoluted circumlocutions. Lack of words becomes a way to silence minority viewpoints.

Right now, “zucchini” is the only word I can use to describe these kinds of relationships, except possibly the unwieldy “person I am in a queerplatonic relationship with.” I’m attached to “zucchini” because these discussions are very, very important for me to have. It’s a silly word on the surface–but under that surface, I’m deadly serious when I use it.

18 Comments »

  1. I just reread Kaz’s post and comments and had a sort of lightbulb in brain moment. Romance is kind of like gender? In that there is no trait or traits that *make* a relationship/person romantic/a specific gender besides the party(ies) involved identifying it/themself as such? And some people are standing over by the wall wondering what everyone else is on about (divide by cucumber)?

    I don’t know that that’s a HELPFUL lightbulb moment, but it just made things click in my brain a bit.

    Comment by Shiyiya — July 12, 2011 @ 2:05 am | Reply

    • Ohhhh, actually… that might be a good metaphor to use. I’m going to have to think on that a bit. (Although I’d think it’s more like gender identity than gender per se–agender people as analogous to cucumber folk? Interesting.)

      I’m not sure I’ve clicked quite yet, but I’m going to have to chew this one over.

      Comment by Sciatrix — July 12, 2011 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

  2. I can definitely understand the power of words, they help conceptualize things which people find difficult to understand. This is definitely the case when trying to find words other than ‘friend’ (on the other hand, that term should not be diminished, and is another tangent/topic of discussion) to describe others when the relationship in question isn’t clear cut

    For me, though I personally think I’m going to use terms such as ‘Boswell’ or ‘Watson’.. (if you didn’t know, Sherlock calls him his ‘Boswell’ sometimes , at least that’s where I first heard it ) if only because their relationship is at the moment something that I wish I could have in the future

    Comment by Sy — July 12, 2011 @ 2:33 am | Reply

    • The problem of diminishing “friend” is a tricky one, because on the one hand I agree with you that “friend” should not be further devalued… and on the other hand, I’m not sure how much effort I want to put into trying to reclaim it, because it’s already positioned very very low on the relationship hierarchy and there is a lot of devaluing baggage already attached to it.

      I don’t object to making up different words and trying to get them to catch on–as far as I’m concerned, the more the better! I’m just protective of “zucchini” and it’s ilk, that’s all.

      Comment by Sciatrix — July 12, 2011 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

  3. ‘Queerplatonic partner’ is a relatively sensible and brief description. Although ‘partner’ might imply some form of queerplatonic monogamy, so might be better for the ‘Boston Marriage’/’Bro Code’ models than the ‘Zucchini Web’ model. (Is there a small possibility we talk about this WAY too much?)

    I LOVE the word ‘zucchini’, but it has the odd status of being an in-joke that then becomes entirely serious. I can’t imagine using the word outside of the community where it has context behind it. I suppose a colloquialism ideally does three things- it helps you explain things to yourself, it helps you create dialogue with others like you, and it helps you out yourself and explain yourself to the mainstream. We’re going to have to accept that zucchini doesn’t do all three.

    Comment by slightlymetaphysical — July 12, 2011 @ 8:35 am | Reply

    • It doesn’t do all three /yet./ Who’s to say we can’t have this meaning of “zucchini” spread to the mainstream? To be honest, it seems far more likely than “queerplatonic partner” catching on outside of the ace community; and like you said, “partner” has implications that “zucchini” doesn’t. It being a silly colloquialism actually helps it here, too, because if you look at most colloquialisms, they’re a bit ridiculous. I mean, my parents and I call a remote control a “clicker” sometimes. We seriously ask for “the clicker, where’s the clicker,” and we aren’t intending to be funny.

      I can dream, right <:B I really do want the word to catch on.

      Comment by raum — July 12, 2011 @ 9:58 am | Reply

    • I am confused as to how ‘partner’ would imply monogamy. I’m poly and I call both of my partners partners.

      Comment by Shiyiya — July 12, 2011 @ 6:01 pm | Reply

    • (It is seriously impossible to talk about this too much. Heh. I… have spent way too much time feeling constrained to NOT want to talk about it.)

      Eh. I don’t see why we can’t eventually push zucchini to the mainstream, just by discussing it and mentioning it and defining it where necessary. How do you think new slang terms get invented? Four months ago, I didn’t think zucchini would ever get much currency outside a particular corner of the blogosphere. Now I see it pretty frequently in a variety of places discussing asexuality, precisely because people are using the term and discussing it. Give it time, and I don’t see why “zucchini” can’t be mainstream, at least within people who are familiar with asexual terminology more generally. It’s not like “homoromantic” is all that mainstream, either.

      Comment by Sciatrix — July 12, 2011 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  4. Okay, I usually lurk and read, but this time I really want to comment. Everything you said about sitting up at night, trying to figure yourself out… Pretty much, story of my life. I’ve never seen anyone else describe it so much like I experienced it, so thank you.

    About the term “zucchini,” I’ve never used it myself, because, frankly, food references have always made me uncomfortable. One of my best friends has a habit of calling me things like “honey bun,” and it drives me absolutely nuts (in my head, I’m screaming at her, “But I’m not edible!!!”). I really like “queerplatonic partner,” partly because I feel like it’s a little more self-explanatory; people may be more likely to have experience with the terms involved, and thus (possibly) able to understand the concept without extensive explanation. But I have to admit, the more I read about zucchini, the more I warm up to it. And I do think it would be really cool if zucchini could become mainstream.

    Comment by Emily — July 20, 2011 @ 11:38 am | Reply

  5. [...] partner/best friend/closest companion/zucchini happens to be poly, and happens to have a romantic relationship with a mono person. I personally [...]

    Pingback by A Fine Line | Monopoly, dining out, and DIY relationships — August 18, 2011 @ 10:07 pm | Reply

  6. Just wanted to say this entry is dope, and I am relating to it in ways I never realized I could! Thanks for sharing! I’ve been looking for a word to describe “being joined to someone at the hip and wanting to be with them forever and hold their hands and look into their eyes but never have sex oh man no,” and the whole queerplatonic zuchinni thing is helping out. :)

    Comment by Joamette Gil (@JoametteGil) — March 10, 2012 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

    • Hey, I’m glad it’s a useful concept to you! :)

      Comment by Sciatrix — March 11, 2012 @ 12:10 am | Reply

  7. Reblogged this on BubbleGum GraveYard and commented:
    “I have never wanted to be uncategorizable. I know that some people enjoy the opportunity to cast off labels, but I have always preferred to find a succinct descriptor of myself. Labels mean that I can find other people like me to share my experiences with–being so unique that I can’t be labeled is a nice idea, but it also means being isolated and alone. I hate feeling alone.”

    Comment by Brother Bubblegum — June 18, 2012 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  8. Do you think it’s possible for someone who experiences actual romantic and even sexual attraction to have these kinds of feelings for someone? Or does the fact that at times I’ve been interested in other sorts of relationships preclude me from feeling this way about someone? Because it honestly seems to fit. But I’m not asexual.

    Comment by Joe — August 7, 2012 @ 11:45 am | Reply

    • Actually, I think that’s totally possible! Just because you experience one set of feelings about some people doesn’t mean that you can’t feel differently about other people. I find the idea that only asexual and/or aromantic people can experience really really close friendships/queerplatonic relationships pretty skeevy, when you get down to it–sort of how I feel about people who claim straight people can’t have opposite sex friends.

      If you think this concept fits how you feel, go for it!

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 7, 2012 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

  9. [...] even aromantics can find themselves drawn to certain genders. have you never heard of squishes? zucchinis? queerplatonic relationships? if you haven't, i'm not that surprised because these words are [...]

    Pingback by I need to accept that I am a aromantic asexual... - Page 2 - Empty Closets - A safe online community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people coming out — March 6, 2013 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

  10. […] partner/best friend/closest companion/zucchini happens to be poly, and happens to have a romantic relationship with a mono person. I personally […]

    Pingback by Monopoly, dining out, and DIY relationships | A Fine Line — January 2, 2014 @ 7:57 am | Reply


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