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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We’ll take a cup o’kindness yet…

New year’s resolution time again. Last year, I resolved to spend half an hour a day on creative projects and learn all the songs in The Daily Ukulele. Those sort of… fizzled.

I was doing pretty well on the half-hour a day through about May, and then it petered out in the summer. After I missed a day once, it got harder to motivate myself to keep it up. Unfortunately, once I stopped doing it my side projects lost momentum, which is why I didn’t enter IFComp this year. Maybe next year…

As for the ukulele, I only learned 187 of the 365 songs in the book. But that’s more than halfway, and there are others that I only need a little more practice to master, or that I could probably play now but haven’t tried yet because I’m unfamiliar with the song. I was going to post a sound file of me playing “Auld Lang Syne”, to compare to the one I recorded a year ago, but it doesn’t sound all that different from the old one. If anything, the only difference is that my singing has gotten more confident, which probably owes more to the voice lessons than the ukulele practice. Still, I’m definitely better on the ukulele than I was a year ago.

So what’s in store for 2017? I still want to set aside time for side projects, but half an hour a day proved to be less than ideal: besides the loss of momentum once I missed a day, it made it hard to relax when I had it in the back of my mind all day that I needed to fit that block of time in somewhere. And I want to allow myself the day off for special events like conventions, or visits to family, without that becoming a slippery slope.

Really, what I need to do is budget my time more carefully in general. I think that’s going to be my resolution for 2017. More specifically, I’m going to set aside time once a week–probably Sunday nights, but the timing is flexible–to plan the week ahead. In addition to blocking off time for creative projects, I’ll pre-schedule regular chores like laundry and grocery shopping. Maybe–dare to dream–I might even start figuring in regular exercise. But I’m not going to prescribe what has to be scheduled into each week, because the point of this approach is that it allows flexibility.

We’ll see if this works any better than the half-hour method. In the meantime, buckle up; one way or another, we’re all going to have an… interesting 2017.

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A small tribute on Election Day

I posted about this already on Facebook, but I just had to write about it here too, because every time I think about it I tear up a little (in a good way, as opposed to the usual way I feel like crying when I think about this election).

We don’t have complete gender equality in this country, and it’s naive at best to claim otherwise. We’re still a work in progress. But every now and then, it’s worth remembering how far we’ve come, and how much the people who came before us worked and fought and sacrificed to get us to where we are now. The women visiting Susan B. Anthony’s grave are honoring her in the best way possible: by exercising the right that she (and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth, and Lucy Stone, and Carrie Chapman Catt, and others) fought so tirelessly for them to have.

So yeah. I voted today. Thanks, Susan. Thanks, all of you.

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The trouble with elves

It’s been a while since I read Lord of the Rings, but this post brought back some old memories.

I was never really an elf fan. My favorite characters were the hobbits, because the hobbits seemed like people rather than Heroes of Legend. They’d rather have been at home than off adventuring, and they wanted to know when the next meal was going to be, and they mostly spoke in casual vernacular rather than solemn pronouncements. The elves were graceful and poetic and magical, and that was the problem–they were too perfect. They never seemed quite real the way the hobbits did. One of the great things about Lord of the Rings is that in a landscape lousy with elves and kings and wizards, it’s the humble little people who aren’t anyone special who make all the difference. Frodo isn’t a Chosen One of prophecy; he volunteers for a job that needs doing. And arguably the real hero in the end is Sam, who’s the most ordinary of them all.

I was reminded as well of another series, A.J. Hartley’s Will Hawthorne books. My feelings about those are more mixed, and I frequently outright disliked Will Hawthorne himself. But I usually liked him a lot better than his traveling companions, because they were all upright and noble adventurers on a quest that they took very seriously, whereas Will had a sense of humor, not to mention a healthy sense of self-preservation. (The generic-fantasy-photo covers on the author’s website are kind of unintentionally hilarious with the actual content of the books, which are narrated from Will’s sardonic perspective.)

I’ll take a character who seems like a real person, warts and all, over a paragon any day. The elves are impressive and all, but they’re kind of boring.

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Bring Out Your Dead: Nuts and Bolts

Emily Short is currently running Bring Out Your Dead, an invitation for developers to post unfinished works that will probably never be finished. So I’ve dug out an old IF project: Nuts and Bolts, aka Man vs. Machine, aka Robotopia. It’s the opening puzzle to a planned much more complex game, so while there’s not much there to play, I do have some commentary on the process.

I wanted to do an IF game with a bunch of robot NPCs, on the grounds that if my NPCs were a bit stiff and repetitive it would only add verisimilitude. The story went through many iterations before I settled on one where the PC is a scrappy human rebel against the robot overlords. I had hazy ideas of a puzzle mechanic based on reprogramming robots to do your bidding. If the game had continued beyond that opening scene, the robots would have gotten increasingly sophisticated, to the point where the player had to grapple with the ethics of reprogramming them and whether this was tantamount to taking a sentient being’s free will.

The trouble was, my puzzle ideas were so vague that I couldn’t implement them when it came down to the nitty-gritty. (The nuts and bolts, if you will, giving the title a certain retroactive irony.) I flailed about trying to figure out how to make a parser-friendly puzzle out of reprogramming a robot. At some point I had a half-baked idea of using square dance as the inspiration for a puzzle, thanks to this post; I still think it would be cool to make a puzzle like that, but I suspect it would have to be very visual, which makes text adventure a poor choice of medium. Without a solid puzzle mechanic, the whole thing fell apart, and the game never got past scene 1.

I still like the opening, though. I’m not sure if I had listened to Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully before writing it, but that sitcom also had a protagonist whose investment in the romantic notion of being La Resistance was disproportionate to her actual effectiveness.

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