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 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.

March 2015 Carnival of Aces – Call for Submissions

Hi everyone! I’m excited to host the Carnival of Aces this month and have chosen the theme Writing About Asexuality (which of course includes the entire ace spectrum). Possible topic ideas include:

  • How can well-meaning non-ace writers do a better job portraying our orientation in their articles/books?
  • What should fiction authors avoid when writing asexual characters? What are some ways to do it right?
  • What particular concerns or difficulties exist when writing about asexuality for a non-ace audience?
  • If you’ve ever written about asexuality, what’s your experience been like? What lessons have you learned, what kind of responses have you received, what do you wish you’d done differently, what are some of your triumphs?
  • What do you feel is lacking when it comes to writing about asexuality, in ace spaces or in wider discourse?
  • How are online ace communities shaping the way asexuality is talked about and conceived of through our writing? What shifts have been positive, and which have been negative? What should we do differently in the future?
  • What are some examples you’ve seen of badly-done writing about asexuality, and why did they fail? What are some good examples and why were they successful?
  • What advice, criticism, or positive feedback do you have for anyone writing about asexuality—ace bloggers, article writers, authors of educational material, fiction authors, etc.?
  • Anything else you can think of related to this subject!

Anyone can submit to the carnival and in any form—writing of any kind, videos, artwork, etc. You can submit by commenting on this post with the link to your submission or by emailing it to me at cinderaceblogs(at)gmail(dot)com. At the end of the month I’ll collect all the links in a post. I look forward to reading your contributions!