Making the invisible orientation visible

I just found out about the Carnival of Aces, and once I knew about it I just had to do a post. So I’ll do what I seem to do best here and talk about fictional characters.

It’s hard to do a survey of asexual characters in fiction because canon ace characters are so rare. And the “canon” qualifier is important here. If a work doesn’t canonically define a character as ace or aro, then it doesn’t really function as representation, because allonormative culture assumes that a character who isn’t shown to display sexual or romantic attraction is experiencing them offstage. Or you get something like BBC’s Sherlock, where the possibility that the character could be read as aro-ace is drowned out by the writers queerbaiting the Johnlock shippers. So it’s hard to criticize the way ace characters are portrayed when, most of the time, I’m thrilled to see one named as such at all. (Jughead, my man!)

But… is it just me, or fictional aces almost always aro-ace?

Look, I don’t claim that my view of asexual representation is definitive. Some of the few canon aces in mainstream fiction are from works I know little about, such as Sirens and BoJack Horseman, and I’m sure there are a few asexual characters in shows, books, or movies I haven’t heard of. So I’m certainly willing and eager to hear counterexamples to this thesis.

But asexuality does very often get conflated with aromanticism. It’s treated as implicit–allonormative culture again–that adult characters in a romantic relationship are having sex, or planning to have sex. If they can’t, this is an obstacle to be overcome. (Pushing Daisies at least depicts an asexual relationship; neither partner is asexual, but sex between them is off the table, forever. They’re together anyway.) Rarely is the idea broached that anyone might not want to.

So, story time.

I didn’t realize for a long time that I was asexual. I still wanted to date men, so that made me straight, didn’t it? And sure, I wasn’t really in it for the sex part of dating, but I was never planning on sex before marriage anyway; I already resembled a socially approved narrative. And because that narrative seemed to fit, I went along with it. It took a while for me to realize that maybe I didn’t much want sex after marriage either, and then I went into a crisis of “but who will want to date me now?”

I was almost-but-not-quite the hetero-allosexual norm. The “not quite” turned out to matter, but it was and still is the “almost” that trips me up. I can’t help but wonder: what if I had been exposed to a narrative that was an even better fit for who I really was? What if there had been a model for what it looked like to want romance but not sex?

I want portrayals of asexuality to show the way for future people like me, and I want them to become familiar to the mass of non-aces who will surround those people, so the aces of the future can be who they are without fear. That’s why representation matters in general, of course: because stories tell us How To Be. This is what the world is like, and this is what this kind of people are like, and this is how we behave in a given situation. Both quantity and quality of representation are necessary to show any group of people as individuals with a range of experiences.

So this is my plea for representation for romantic asexuals. I have no problem with aro-ace characters; please, write more of them. But representation isn’t rationed; I can want more aro-ace characters and also want to see my own experience. I want to see characters run the gauntlet of trying to date while asexual, and face the dilemma of when to come out to a partner. I want to see aces dating each other, or in queerplatonic relationships. I want to see aces dating allosexuals and finding ways to make it work. Heck, I want to see some polyamorous asexuals! I want an entire sitcom’s worth of asexual dating shenanigans, but I’d settle for a side character or two just to get the ball rolling.

As the Carnival of Aces prompt says, there are many ways to be ace. There must be other aces and aros whose experiences are different than mine but aren’t being reflected in media either, because with such a tiny rate of representation to begin with, there must be a lot missing. (Gray-As? Demisexuals? Non-ace aros?) I would love to hear what other people think is missing from the fictional portrait of asexuality and aromanticism. I would also love to hear about any existing portrayals of romantic aces!

Edit: now that the month is over, signal boosting the Carnival of Aces summary post.


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5 responses to “Making the invisible orientation visible

  1. ettinacat

    That’s interesting, because I’ve actually seen quite a lot of romantic asexuals in webcomics. (And in a book, How Not to Summon Your True Love.) However, they’re all homoromantic or biromantic, with a primary m/m pairing. So I do think that there’s a shortage of fictional heteroromantic aces.
    Another group that I think needs to be portrayed more are aromantic allosexuals. I can’t think of a single character who is canonically described as aro-allo, and the characters who can be read as aro-allo generally reinforce the negative stereotypes about aro-allos as callous, promiscuous, taking advantage of others, and emotionally repressed. I want to see aro-allos who are explicitly described as such, and who have deep non-romantic bonds, and considerate of the needs of their sexual partners (or have chosen to be celibate because they don’t want to or are not able to have non-romantic sexual relationships).

    • It’s great that aces get representation in webcomics, but webcomics are inherently a less mainstream medium. I didn’t dwell much on that particular qualifier in the post, but it’s easy for anyone to post a comic or a story on the Internet, and much harder to get your work the kind of wide exposure that, say, a TV show gets.

    • I agree that there is an abundance of homoromantic aces and a shortage of heteromantic aces in fiction (m/m is the most common, but there is also quite a bit of f/f). The only examples of fiction which have aces who end up in an m/f romantic relationship that I can think of are Breakfire’s Glass by A.M. Valenza and Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox (that does not mean the aces are heteromantic, since that is not specified in the stories, but it is at least in that direction).

      I also cannot think of a single character who is canonically described as aro-allo. I have one fiction story that I have bought yet not read which *might* have such a character, but since I have not read it yet, I cannot be sure.

  2. There has actually been a lot of ace fiction published in the past couple of years, mostly featuring alloromantic aces (from the sample I’ve read – I’ve read more than thirty of them, including How Not to Summon Your True Love mentioned above). Homoromantic (biromantic?) aces are very common, heteromantic aces maybe a couple examples (see comment above), aro-ace characters are a bit more common than heteromantic aces but also not common. Lots of romance stories featuring aces trying to date in some way. Allo/ace is the most common, but there are also quite a few ace/ace romances out there, as well as aces in poly situations.

    Rather than giving you a long list, I’ll offer my own favorite in each category:

    f/f romance: We Awaken by Calista Lynne
    m/m romance: Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox
    m/f romance: Breakfire’s Glass by A.M. Valenza
    allo/ace: Blank Spaces (see above)
    ace/ace: We Awaken (see above)
    ace in a poly thing: Crush by Caitlin Ricci
    queerplatonic: Open Skies by Yolande Kleinn

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