I want stories about asexuality

I’ve seen people say they want stories with ace characters that aren’t about the person’s asexuality. But… I do want books/movies/TV shows with ace protagonists that focus on their asexuality, and all the posts saying they don’t want this make me a little sad. Asexuality is so underrepresented in mainstream society that when it is represented, I want it to be A ThingI mean, not always, not every time; I definitely get the value of works about ace characters that aren’t about them being ace. But I also want some that are.

All my life I’ve consumed media that doesn’t acknowledge my existence, let alone show other people like me. So stories that are actually about experiences like mine—feeling different but not knowing you’re ace, discovering your orientation, dealing with the stress of being closeted, coming out and handling the repercussions—are exactly what I want. I understand other GSRM people getting frustrated that media featuring people like them is always about the character’s queerness, but with asexuality, it’s not like we’ve got a glut of media that focuses on characters’ aceness and everyone is sick of it.

Here’s one other person saying the same thing.

March 2015 Carnival of Aces Roundup

Thanks to everyone who submitted to the carnival this month (which was on the topic of Writing About Asexuality); I’ve enjoyed reading/watching, and I hope the pieces can continue to spark discussion. This month’s submissions pretty much fell into three different categories, so that’s how I’ve organized them below. If I missed anything, or if you have a late submission, just let me know and I’ll add it. :)

Personal experiences of writing nonfiction:

Tips for writing nonfiction:

Advice and musings on writing asexual characters and portraying asexuality in fiction:

Notes from my experience of writing an asexual character

This is my post for the March 2015 Carnival of Aces, which I’m hosting on the topic of Writing About Asexuality.

So I wrote a first draft of a novel with an ace protagonist and have been revising it recently. As I’ve worked on it I’ve had various thoughts/worries/concerns about writing an ace character, and I thought it might be useful to share them (even the ones that are kind of extreme or probably unfounded). Any thoughts or advice you may have is definitely welcome!

  • [trigger warning for sexual assault mention in this bullet point] My protagonist’s straight boyfriend doesn’t really get her asexuality, but he doesn’t try to force or convince her to have sex with him. But I’ve wondered if I should make him worse—I don’t want to unrealistically portray the experience of being ace as “Everyone will respect you and be decent about it (even if they don’t understand)!” The idea of “there should be more sexual assault in this novel” seems kind of horrible and makes me decidedly uncomfortable, and of course there are plenty of mixed relationships where that doesn’t happen, but I wouldn’t want to gloss over the danger that some people face from partners who don’t respect their boundaries.
  • My protagonist eventually comes out to her family, and it’s a big moment and a big choice for her (although it’s not the final resolution of the story and isn’t as satisfying as she’d hoped/expected). But I’ve second-guessed whether I actually want to make it that big a deal. Does doing so imply that coming out is an essential part of the ace narrative? Am I overemphasizing its importance? Queenie wrote in this post about YA novels where the gay main character’s eventual coming out to his parents is portrayed as an important step for his personal growth, and how that could influence GSRM kids/teens into thinking they have to come out to their parents. Even though my novel isn’t YA, in writing the coming out part as such a major thing, am I enforcing that idea? (And/or is the big coming out scene kind of boring/overdone/predictable at this point, and not something people will want to read again?)
  • My character has a lot of internalized sex-normativity to unlearn, so in her darker moments she gets down on herself about her orientation. This eventually gets better, but I feel like it might not be read as positive representation by aces who want to see stories of people who are fine with their asexuality and not agonizing over it. While it is realistic, because a lot of aces do go through that, I feel like it might make the story unappealing to some aces.
  • As Aqua said in her carnival submission, if you’re writing an asexual character, you also have to take on the job of educating. So I have to explain what asexuality is in my novel, and I also have to give my character an accurate, nuanced understanding of it, so that she doesn’t say things like, “I’m asexual, which means not interested in sex.” But what if it’s not realistic for her to completely understand the complexities of the definition? What if she would naturally equate her sex-repulsion with her asexuality? Well, even if that is the case, realism can’t win out here. Education has to trump the story, because I definitely don’t want to write a book that propagates harmful, erasing definitions of asexuality. But avoiding that might cause the story to suffer a bit. This is another example of why, with asexuality so little known, it’s hard to write about in fiction. Too little explanation and you end up equating asexuality with aromanticism; too much and you’re hurting the story with awkward info-dumping (Siggy discussed his solution for the latter in this post).
  • I’ve worried about my character playing into stereotypes in any way—like if she’s a little nerdy, is that bad? In the post I just linked to, Siggy also mentioned the idea of having two ace characters so that one person doesn’t have to be the representation of asexuality. But at this point, inserting another ace into my novel just for the sake of having more than one would be artificial and forced, and even if it would make the representation better, that’s a little farther than I’m willing to go.

In conclusion, a big part of the problem is that with every choice I make, I have to worry about whether I’m somehow misrepresenting asexuality. Because there are so few books with ace characters, and even fewer where the ace is the protagonist, when writing a novel about an ace it’s hard to escape the pressure of needing to do it just right, in a way that won’t somehow portray asexuality negatively or inaccurately, or leave aces disappointed or unhappy.

But, of course it’s impossible to write a perfect ace character who’s going to the one ultimate representation of our orientation… which is exactly why we need more ace characters!

Me and romantic attraction

I talked in this post about how I don’t actually know what romance is, but in this post I mentioned getting crushes on guys when I was a teenager. So despite a lack of knowledge or certainty about the definition of romance, I’m pretty sure I have felt romantic attraction.

What did that actually look like? I would say that I experienced aesthetic and perhaps mild sensual attraction toward certain guys, which were both aspects of my romantic attraction to them. My thoughts toward my crushes were things like, “He’s so cute, I really like him, I hope he talks to me”, and if one of them did talk to me I’d be all happy. I didn’t really go so far as hoping for or imagining being in a romantic relationship with any of them, though, I think because that possibility was just so remote. But I did get somewhat jealous of attention they paid to other girls, so I did at least want them to like/notice me above other people.

Most of these instances were pretty mild and fleeting, though, based more on my loneliness and desire for any guy to pay attention to me than actual romantic attraction toward the specific person. But there is one example that was particularly strong and which now forms the basis for my definition of romantic attraction.

That definition, the best one I’ve come up with to define and distinguish my own experiences, is “a strong emotional draw toward a certain person which isn’t entirely rational/can’t be fully explained.” The main feature of romantic attraction, to me, is that element of irrationality. This is as opposed to platonic attraction, which you can generally pin down a specific reason for—you’ve hit it off with the other person, you have interests in common, you admire them. (Maybe for some people sexual attraction forms the basis of romantic attraction, so they would have that as an explanation, but that’s obviously not universal.)

So back to that specific crush. I was about 14 and there was this guy I really liked, to the point that I lay in bed crying when I found out I’d probably never see him again. I knew and interacted with him much less than my other main crush from my teen years, but I’d say my attraction to him was stronger, or was at least more definitely romantic in nature. I just… liked him. He was sweet and nice and easygoing and liked dogs and was just generally a good person (as far as I could tell) and was an oldest child like me, and I admired him and I thought he was aesthetically attractive—but those things are not enough to explain the strength of my draw toward him. Especially when you throw in the multiple ways that we were clearly incompatible—he was four years older than me (which is kind of a big deal at that age), and also one time he kept emphasizing how this book he’d read was reallllly long, but he had it right there and I could tell it was only a few hundred pages, meaning he obviously wasn’t a big reader, while I loved reading and writing and my dream guy was someone who was also a writer. But instead of taking that incident as a sign that he wasn’t for me, I just thought, “Aww, that’s so cute!” See? Irrational.

This is part of why I can’t really determine whether I’ve experienced romantic attraction to people I actually know and am friends with, because I do have a rational basis for my strong feelings toward them—our close relationship, our shared history, our common interests. Maybe there is an irrational, romantic element in there, but I can’t separate it out from the rational, platonic ones.

My definition of romantic attraction could actually be hindering my understanding, since it specifically shuts out instances of attraction that do seem completely logical. But I don’t know how else to describe my weirdly intense feelings toward that one guy (or some of the others who I’ve liked but really wasn’t very compatible with).

I’ve also seen the irrational element detailed as a factor before, like in this post by Arf explaining her experience of romantic attraction: “It feels a little more irrational than the love you feel for your best friend—like you always want to keep tabs on it in your mind and you want to think about it all the time. Kind of obsessive.” Which I relate to when it comes to some of my crushes; I definitely thought about them a lot and journaled about my feelings, which I’d never done with any friendships. Cianna also noted in this comment the aspect of seeing the other person as perfect, which also rings true for me as I would either not be aware of my crushes’ flaws or would see them as endearing.

Not everyone experiences or would define romantic attraction this way (Queenie’s comment just below Cianna’s is proof of that), but it’s the best definition I’ve come up with to help explain my own past feelings, as well as some of the feelings and behavior of people around me.

Me and romance (trying to define it, and of course failing)

This seems like a good time to keep talking about me and romantic stuff, so I guess my last post is becoming the start of a short series. In some of the comments on Laura’s recent Asexual Agenda post, people discussed uncertainty as to how to actually define romance (and of course that’s something that’s been talked about a lot in online ace communities). I don’t know any better than anyone else, but way back before I knew I was ace or had heard of aromanticism (or greyromanticism, or wtfromanticism), the defining feature of a romantic relationship to me was commitment.

As I wrote in my last post, I wanted a romantic relationship, because I wanted commitment. To have a person who I knew would always be there for me; to know that I was their primary partner and that that wouldn’t change. And the only way that I saw to get that, looking at society and the people around me, was a romantic relationship.

So to me, romance pretty much meant a strong, deliberate, committed bond between two people. In my view, you and your romantic partner could not have sex, not even touch each other at all, not sleep in the same bed, not even live in the same house, but still be in a romantic relationship because you had committed to each other. And I think this is really the only defining difference I saw between romance and friendship. Friends often fade away and fall out of touch, because most of the time you haven’t made any sort of promise to each other or even a personal resolution to yourself to keep up the relationship. With a romantic relationship, though, there’s a level of commitment and deliberateness at all stages (at least, the ones I saw modeled in my conservative communities)—dating, engagement, marriage.

And that was always what I wanted, and why I ruled out an aro-spectrum identity for myself for so long (as I also talked about in the last post), because when I first heard of the concept of being aromantic, I thought that it described people who didn’t want that kind of bond. I didn’t know about the idea of queerplatonic relationships until very recently, and it was only through online ace communities that I came across that idea, because apart from family relationships, you just don’t see committed non-romantic relationships in the media or real life (or at least I haven’t).

Finally, though, I am realizing that you can have a long-term, deliberate, committed relationship without it being romantic. But then… what the hell even is romance??

At this point, my idea of it does include some level of physical affection, as well as a certain sweetness—like, doing nice things for the other person, and saying nice things to them, more than you normally would in a friendship. Maybe being a little more forgiving toward the person than you would toward anyone else; maybe being more accepting of their flaws than you would if they weren’t your romantic partner. Not getting tired of them; not wanting to be away from them.

But I bet all those things also apply to certain friendships or queerplatonic relationships, and that many romantic relationships lack some or even all of them. So maybe, “it’s romantic if you say it’s romantic” really is the only definition that works.

Me and romantic desire

I don’t know what my romantic orientation is (or if the concept is even useful to me). I had settled on wtf/quoiromantic, but have also wondered if aromantic is really more accurate, and after reading Queenie’s Greyromanticism 301 post, I feel like greyro could be a possibility. But! Right now I’m not really concerned with finding a label; it doesn’t currently matter to me which of those, if any, is the best fit. So this is not a “what am I??” post, but just a (slightly fragmented) overview of some of my history of romantic (or not) desires.

As I’ve seen a lot of other people say, when I first found out I was asexual and learned about the concept of separate romantic and sexual orientations, I assumed without question that I was heteroromantic, because I’d previously had crushes on guys and wanted to have a boyfriend. But now I’ve started wondering if I actually experienced romantic attraction to those guys/actually wanted a normative romantic relationship, or if I was just brainwashed by compulsory heterosexuality.

I was lonely a lot as a young teenager, and dreamed of having a best friend. I also dreamed of having a boyfriend—because I thought they were two separate things. Now I can see that I wanted the same thing from both relationships—someone who would care about me, be there for me, like me a lot. There was really no difference in what I wanted from a boyfriend and what I wanted from a best friend. But I imagined the best friend as a girl, and the boyfriend would’ve of course been a guy. I didn’t even consider the possibility that I could have a guy best friend who wasn’t my boyfriend (or that I could have a girlfriend!).

When I had crushes on guys or “liked” them, which did happen to me with a number of different guys, and when I thought abstractly about having a boyfriend, I never actually wanted all the typical trappings of a romantic relationship—as far as I remember I never thought about kissing or touching them in any way, didn’t think about romantic dinners or going on dates or receiving flowers from them. What I wanted was the commitment—to know that someone really liked me (not in a romantic way, but just as a person) and wanted me in their life in a long-term, definite way. All my life, society had told me that the only way to have this long-term committed partnership that I wanted was through a (heterosexual) romantic relationship. So no wonder I thought I was heteroromantic for so long.

I never assumed I was allosexual (or, as I would have thought of it at the time, the same as everyone else sexuality-wise), because it was obvious to me that other people wanted something—sex—that I didn’t. But I assumed I was heteroromantic because I did want society’s idea of a romantic relationship.

I think the stories I wrote when I was younger provide an interesting look at how I saw romance and what kind of relationship I wanted, since I could write whatever I wanted and give my characters the relationships that I viewed as ideal. I wrote sweet romances with a close bond between two people but no physical element, as well as stories of strong male-female friendships with no romantic component (like the Cinderella story I mentioned in this post). In the latter cases, that friendship was always both characters’ primary relationship; neither of them had a closer friend or a romantic interest or partner. And it was the same with the romantic relationships I wrote—the two romantic partners were also best friends.

One story I wrote ended up being pretty much my ultimate “this is how I feel about romantic relationships” story. A girl ends up in a new setting with two guys she’s never met before, and she develops a romantic relationship with one, based on physical attraction (aesthetic and sensual, I guess; maybe kind of sexual, but I didn’t think about that really or go into any detail about it), and a friendship with the other, based on common interests and deep conversations. At the end, she kind of has to choose between the two guys, and she chooses the friend. It’s kind of ambiguous whether she’s decided that she actually loves him romantically, or just that she values this relationship over the other, considering the friendship more real and meaningful than the fairly shallow, superficial romance.

That ambiguity, and the fact that the friendship wins out, is pretty much a perfect illustration of how I feel about romance. I don’t know if I feel romantic attraction—I just know I want a deep friendship with someone, something more solid and definite and committed than friendships are normally viewed as. Romance without friendship doesn’t really make sense to me; I know it’s a thing (see the comments on this article [the article itself is very sex-normative, unfortunately], where some people say they don’t consider their partner a friend at all), but I could never have a relationship like that.

I used to think that I just conceived of romance differently from most people, but now I’m starting to wonder if maybe other people are feeling something that I don’t. Maybe what I always saw as romance is more of a queerplatonic relationship. But, maybe there is an element of romance to what I want. Who knows? I don’t, and for now, I’m okay with that.

Why having sex you don’t want is different than not having sex you do want

This may be pretty basic stuff for some people, but until recently I didn’t have the words to explain it, even after spending a while lurking around the ace blogosphere, so I thought it was worth writing out my conclusions here.

I’ve always believed that, in an ace-allo relationship, the ace shouldn’t have to have sex with their partner if they don’t want to. But whenever I thought about that idea, I struggled to articulate why what the ace wants should trump what the allo partner wants (assuming that the allo would prefer to be having sex).

I finally realized the difference, though, through the way Aqua phrased something in a recent(ish) post. Going without something extra that you want, like sex, is completely different from having your boundaries violated, even if you accept/agree to that violation. If someone doesn’t want to have sex, having it would be a violation of their boundaries. They could say they’re moving the boundary, or making an exception, but if it isn’t fully their choice—if they’re only doing it because of their partner—then it is still a violation. (What this means when it comes to consent and sexual assault is a whole different conversation, one that’s been happening in the ace blogosphere lately and that Aqua’s post is a part of.)

Aqua also mentioned the idea of one person’s desire for sex versus the other’s bodily autonomy, which is another good way to think about it. In this hypothetical relationship, each person knows what they want to do with their body—the ace to stay as they are, not having sex, and the allo to engage in sex. Some people might say the allo not having sex is a sacrifice, that the allo is giving something up. But that’s not true. Both people are currently in a state of not having sex. If the allo continues to not have sex, they’re just continuing as they are; they’re not sacrificing anything.

On the other hand, if the ace were to have sex, they would be doing something differently, changing their behavior from what they had been doing. Not having sex isn’t new or unusual for the allo; they’re used to going hours and days without it (or weeks or months or longer, especially if they’re dating an ace who hasn’t had sex with them). But if the ace in this situation were to have sex, that would be a huge step. If they’ve never had sex at all (or just never with their current partner), asking them to do so means asking them to do something new and possibly scary, something that they probably anticipate not liking. Even if they’ve had sex before, with their current partner or someone else, doing it again when they don’t want to would mean giving up control of their body.

Everyone has a right to not have sex—to not do things with their bodies that they don’t want to do. No one has a right to have sex—to do something with their body that involves another person’s body. Sex requires making yourself vulnerable to another person. Doing it when you don’t want to is completely different than going without it.