On Being a Noromo

“noromo” – A person who prefers a platonic relationship between two characters, particularly Dana Scully and Fox Mulder on the X-Files.
Urban Dictionary

Shippers and noromos, the two conflicting sides of the X-Files fandom. Ask a shipper to explain their side, and they’ll probably tell you that the shippers watched the show for Mulder and Scully’s relationship. They’ll tell you how deeply invested in that relationship they were, and how much even the smallest moment between the characters meant to them. They’ll enumerate every little flirtatious gesture and every big dramatic scene that showed how deeply the partners cared about each other. They’ll tell you that, even years before they got together, the shippers could see the chemistry between them and knew the direction their relationship was heading. If they want to be really insulting, they’ll say that the shippers believed in love – and the noromos didn’t.

As if shippers were the only ones who cared about Mulder and Scully’s relationship! As if the noromos didn’t also value that chemistry! As if anyone could have watched the show and thought Mulder and Scully didn’t love each other!

There seems to be a myth about noromos: that we weren’t interested in the relationship stuff, that we only watched the show as a police procedural, a supernatural thriller, or a political drama. Because narratives about the X-Files fandom tend to focus on shippers, noromos get cast simplistically as their opposites. They are defined by what they were fighting against, and so people fail to ask the obvious question: What were they fighting for?

Even after twenty years, this still annoys me. In fact, the disdain faced by noromos has gone a long way to confirming me in my “noromo” identification. Back when The X-Files was on, I actually thought of myself as more of an “anti-shipper” – by which I meant that I objected, not to a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully, but to the shippers who seemed to view that relationship as inevitable. But in the wake of the shipper victory, I’m distressed by how few people defend or even acknowledge the opposing side. And I think it’s time to correct that.

I can’t speak for all noromos, but I can speak for myself.

For me, being a noromo was a lot like being Agent Mulder. I “wanted to believe” – specifically, I wanted to believe that it was possible for a man and a woman to share a relationship that was intimate, passionate, and affectionate without being sexual. The shippers were like Agent Scully. They were sceptical about the platonic relationship, constantly affirming the received wisdom that intimacy, passion, and affection were only for sexual couples.

The noromos were empiricists. We followed the evidence. “Just look!” we said. “Look at Mulder and Scully not snogging, not lusting after one another, and not having sex! How many more times do you need to see them not have sex before you believe they’re platonic???” The shippers were rationalists. No matter how much evidence you threw at them, they always had an explanation. Mulder and Scully were repressed! They were in denial! They were totally shagging each other off-screen! Or, to paraphrase Scully in the Pilot, “The sex is there. You just have to know where to look.”

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the shippers won. Their views were, after all, far more mainstream. Even a non-fan of the show could understand their position: Mulder was a man, and Scully was a woman; they were both single, attractive, and (seemingly) straight; they spent all their time together and clearly loved each other. How could a man and woman that close not be lovers??? How could a relationship that committed not be a romance??? How could love that strong not be sexual??? Being a noromo didn’t just mean questioning that Mulder and Scully should be romantic. It meant questioning pervasive heteronormative and amatonormative assumptions. And that meant pitting ourselves, not just against the shippers, but against society as a whole.

Unlike “shipper”, which is now used in all kinds of contexts, “noromo” never migrated beyond the X-Files fandom. Perhaps the word itself was never that good. (I recently read that “no romo” originated as a variation on the homophobic “no homo”. Who knew?!) Perhaps, having lost the original shipping wars, all the noromos crawled into holes in the ground and quietly died (I know that’s what I wanted to do after Season 7!) Perhaps shipping has become so widespread that it no longer seems worth anyone’s while to oppose it.

I’m not going to get into the politics of the term; for practical purposes, it’s all we’ve got. I’m more interested in the phenomenon as a unique moment in fandom history. If modern fandoms don’t have noromos, perhaps that’s less an indictment of noromo-dom than a mark of how special The X-Files was. What was it about Mulder and Scully’s relationship, their dynamic, their love, that made people want to fight for it? Not just to change it into something else, but to preserve it the way it was?

If I had to answer that question in a word, it would be “freedom”. Mulder and Scully didn’t need to have sex to prove their love for each other. At the same time, they weren’t constrained by the rules that limit platonic affection, either. When they wanted to hug, they hugged; when they wanted to kiss, they kissed; and they didn’t need to explain, apologise, or justify themselves to anyone. They were the most important people in each other’s lives, to the extent that they hardly dated anyone else. Most amazing is how unselfconscious they were. If someone mistook them for a romantic couple, they didn’t get defensive. If someone saw them holding hands, they weren’t embarrassed. They behaved as though their relationship was the most natural thing in the world, and expected others to do the same. And, for the most part, they did. Colleagues, friends, enemies, family members, all seemed to respect the bond between the partners and accept it for what it was. It was like they lived in some magical ace-friendly utopia in which a platonic relationship could be taken as seriously as a romantic one.

For the first five seasons, that is. And then, the show began systematically dismantling the relationship’s quirkier aspects and reconstructing it as something much more conventional. As a result, the story didn’t just become less subversive; it became almost reactionary. Where once we could say, “Of course men and women can just be friends! Just look at Mulder and Scully!”, the moral became, “Of course men and women can’t just be friends! Just look at Mulder and Scully!”

But if the later relationship came to eclipse the earlier one, it can’t erase its impact. As a kid, I saw in Mulder and Scully a glimpse of myself, and in their friendship a glimpse of the kind of relationship I wanted to have. I didn’t have words at the time to explain what I saw. I would have to grow up, discover the asexual community, and learn terms like “ace-spectrum”, “romantic orientation”, and “queerplatonic partnership”. Only then could I look back and see how many asexual themes were expressed in the series.

Now that I do have words, I want to explore those themes, to analyse Mulder and Scully’s platonic relationship in language the original noromos didn’t have access to. Because it hurts to see noromos ignored, slandered, and ridiculed. And it hurts to think about how bad the show got in the later seasons. But perhaps what hurts worst of all is how even the platonic relationship that once was has been taken away from us, recast as simply the prelude to another heterosexual romance. The way modern-day viewers – avowedly shippers or otherwise – look at the friendship and see only foreplay. Not the strange, beautiful, weirdly non-sexual love that the noromos fought so hard to preserve.

So this is my blog of Mulder and Scully’s platonic relationship. In it, I will review every episode of the first five seasons – and only those episodes – from an asexual, noromo perspective. There are lots of things I could say about the later episodes, and I may include the odd post about them. But I don’t want this to be a rant about shipping or a complaint about bad writing. I want it to be a celebration. A celebration of what was, for five precious years, one of the most daring and unconventional relationships on T.V. If you’re not familiar with The X-Files, maybe you’ll become a fan. If you’re not familiar with asexuality, maybe you’ll learn a bit about it. And if you’re a shipper… well, maybe I’ll convert you!

At the least, never let it be said that noromos didn’t care about Mulder and Scully’s relationship. If there’s one thing I hope this blog proves, it’s that I cared. I still care.

And I still want to believe.

For more of my thoughts on shipping, see “The Problem with Shipping”.

For my analysis of Romance and its role in Mulder and Scully’s relationship, see “The History of Romance”.

And for more on the asexual themes of The X-Files, see “Mulder, Scully, and the Original Shipping Wars: A Tiny Piece of Ace History”.

4 thoughts on “On Being a Noromo

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