Too Niche – Lauren Jankowski
“Like most asexuals, I spent a good portion of my life feeling broken.”
That’s the very first line of Lauren Jankowski‘s guest blog post. Think about that for a minute. Think about being one of those 1 in 100 people growing up with that message.
And it’s not even a lack of representation, exactly; it’s selective representation. Heroes have to have a romantic storyline. Villains, not so much.
Just let that sink in…
Like most asexuals, I spent a good portion of my life feeling broken. While watching a movie or devouring the fantasy novels I loved, I felt more like the villain than the hero. Not in philosophy or beliefs or actions, but being alone and not experiencing the same desires as heroes often do. The hero’s happily-ever-after almost always involves settling down with another person. Even if they fail to achieve that ending, the audience is made to root for that outcome. You read about the chemistry or sexual tension between characters. As a society, we’re made to want that happy ending: marriage, 2.5 kids, and an overall blissful family.
What about the archetypal villain? They tend to be alone (sometimes widowed, sometimes just because). Oh sure, they occasionally have henchmen, but more often than not, they’re isolated. Their arc tends to be opposite the hero’s, probably because their desires are meant to run counter. They don’t want people or family. They want power and control. This is especially true of women villains: just think of almost any Disney villainess.
Imagine being a teenager and everyone around you is sorting out their identities, discovering new labels and desires, and connecting with a community of people who share this label. Gay, straight, bi, or trans. Some of these terms are used in sex education, and all of them are found in U.S. popular culture. Learning these labels helps people discover who they are.
Now, imagine you don’t fit into any of these labels. You don’t fit into any of these communities. Imagine you can’t find a label for what you feel, your identity, because it doesn’t exist as far as you know. Imagine people telling you who you are, telling you that you’re going to fit into one of these groups eventually. Imagine that never happens.
That was the situation I found myself in: I was perfectly content with platonic friendships but experienced no sexual or romantic desire. Not even the typical crush teenagers are expected to have. Everyone around me was pairing up, diving into relationships, and I was left feeling rather confused.
I turned to the fantasy novels I loved so much only to have them suddenly fail me. I searched desperately, often late into the night, my eyes and fingers darting over the tiny black print. “Please,” I would silently plea. “I don’t want to be alone. There must be someone like me. Someone who isn’t broken, twisted, and evil.”
There wasn’t, at least not any women. Every now and again, there would be an old white man who seemed to not experience any attraction (Tolkien’s Istari, Lloyd Alexander’s wizard, etc.). The few women found in these pages were either in a romantic relationship or evil. I was alone.
On a whim, I revisited some ancient myths and I found her. A woman who had always been there, but one who I hadn’t realized would become so important to me in the future. Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, a woman who went out of her way to remain unattached. This powerful goddess specifically demanded that she not be romantically involved with any man. And Zeus, the King of the gods, agreed! He didn’t protest or suggest that perhaps she just “hadn’t found the right one.” He basically said, “Yeah, sure” and let her do her own thing. At last, a powerful woman who, like me, didn’t appear to experience sexual or romantic desire and was perfectly fine with that. There was hope!
The years went by and I continued to search through modern fantasy for a fellow asexual woman, even before I had the term for my orientation. Books blended together and my search continued to be fruitless. There just weren’t any modern asexual women in fantasy. Whenever I got frustrated with what seemed to be a pointless search, I always returned to stories about Artemis. Yeah, she did some pretty horrible things, but she was a goddess. All deities had their petty and vindictive moments.
And then I found Eden Sinclair in the movie Doomsday. Imagine my shock, sitting in a theater, watching a woman kick so much ass and experience little to no attraction to other characters in her story. She wasn’t evil, she wasn’t a villain. Sinclair was a tough-as-nails soldier who was there to get a job done. And she was an interesting character: an orphan (an adoptee like me), someone who was a mystery. Sinclair kept a cool head in hostile territory and outsmarted every opponent she encountered. There wasn’t a large audience in the theater, but I looked around anyway, curious what my fellow movie-goers thought.
I’ll never forget the feeling that bloomed in my chest when I saw how riveted the few people in the audience were. They were rooting for her. They were rooting for someone who was like me. It didn’t matter that she never flirted with the other characters. It didn’t matter that she was an archetypal lone wolf. She was a badass and the audience loved her for it. I think I may be the only person who got misty-eyed during Doomsday, a post-apocalyptic horror film with copious amounts of gore and violence.
As asexual visibility has gradually begun to form into a movement, there has been a predictable backlash. In genre, many creators have dug in their heels to resist the idea that so small a group needs representation. Whether it’s Stephen Moffat declaring Sherlock Holmes can’t be asexual because he’s too interesting, or the literary agent who told me “asexuality is too niche to move books,” ace phobia and the erasure of asexual voices and characters continues in genre.
When I came out as asexual, I decided to be as open as I could. I would wear my label proudly because it was who I was. Being naturally quiet and introverted by nature, this was a bit intimidating. Then I thought of other girls like me: alone and scared, desperately paging through the stories they loved in the hopes of finding someone like them and being disappointed.
Nobody deserves to feel alone or broken or invisible. People should never be labeled as too niche. Asexuals can be interesting and heroic and adventurous too.
Lauren Jankowski is an aromantic asexual fantasy author and a passionate genre feminist from Illinois. She’s the founder of Asexual Artists (on Tumblr and WordPress), a site dedicated to highlighting the work of asexual-identifying artists in all mediums. Author of the ongoing series The Shape Shifter Chronicles (Sere from the Green, Through Storm and Night, From the Ashes, Haunted by the Keres), she specializes in strong heroines and hopes to bring more badass women (including ace women) to the fantasy genre. She’s also still very much platonically enamored with Artemis.
February 27, 2015 @ 10:16 am
Thank you so much for this. It’s heartening to see someone else who has struggled with this stuff. I never had that ah ha! moment. It took a good friend to help me realize I wasn’t broken.
February 27, 2015 @ 10:40 am
There’s Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed Of Paksenarrion, who is also asexual. Actually, kind of an Artemis figure herself.
February 27, 2015 @ 11:07 am
I wish I could contribute other ace characters, but I cannot. I always look for them when I read, mind you, and for much the same reason you do.
Thank you for writing, and being open.
February 27, 2015 @ 11:39 am
it makes me sad to think that your life is asexual. Two reasons. One, it feels good. Two, it’s a nice connection to another person. Not to imply you’re broken, just that it could be better.
Jim C. Hines
February 27, 2015 @ 11:47 am
I don’t think it was intentional, but this comes off as rather judgmental. One could just as easily say, “It makes me sad to think that you’re so trapped by sexual desires. One, it’s so messy. Two, it causes so much stress and confusion and tension in people’s lives. Not to imply you’re broken, just that it could be better.”
I might like rock climbing. That doesn’t mean it would be fun for everyone, or that everyone should enjoy it. Different people have different ways of forming connections and feeling good.
February 27, 2015 @ 11:48 am
Thank you so much for writing this.
February 27, 2015 @ 12:28 pm
Lauren, thank you. Asexuality is something I’ve thought a bit about, but rarely in terms of my own writing and characters, and I’ll have to think more about that now. Now that you mention it, it does seem that writers and filmmakers are eager to pair everyone–or at least the good characters up, even in situations where it’s extraneous to the plot. Fighting a zombie apoclypse? Hook up with another character. Rebuilding civilization? Find a romantic connection. Battling a computer virus that could end the world as we know it? Hey, that random programmer is starting to look kinda cute… It’s unrealistic even for people who are sexual and romantics. And I can only imagine the frustration and hurt of being asexual and aromantic and feeling as though you don’t even rate.
Also–excuse me? Such a niche market it’s not worth publishing? First, one percent of the population is a heck of a lot of people. Second, people who are not themselves in that group may want to read about characters who are, or, rather, want to read about interesting characters whether they are or are not. Words fail me.
Finally, your post brought to mind Ripley, the female lead in the _Alien_ movies. It’s been too many years since I’ve seen it, but I think that, at least in the first movie, Ripley kicks ass and takes names, and does it all by her own damn self, and without romantic entanglements. Sadly, I don’t think that carried through in subsequent movies. I’d also like to second the recommendation of _The Deeds of Paksennarion_, though I may have butchered the spelling of the title character’s name. Excellent series, well-written.
February 27, 2015 @ 1:30 pm
There are the Swordsworn in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar universe. True, some of them, like Tarma, were not asexual before they took oath to their Goddess, but there are a few who were asexual to start with; and none of them seem to feel any way broken because of what they have chosen to become.
February 27, 2015 @ 1:57 pm
This made me cry. Not for you in specific, but for society, in general. Because you’re right, “Nobody deserves to feel alone or broken or invisible.” And we let that happen every day.
It is extemely sad that we neglect the existence of some people simply because their way of living contradicts all our pre-conceived notions. Everything we see around us preaches the importance of finding a significant other. Most people don’t even realise that not being attracted to anyone at all is actually an option. And that it’s not something that’s bound to make you bitter or angry or evil.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any examples of badass asexual
female characters I’ve come across. But, I did always think of Minerva McGonagall as an asexual aromantic, although I might be wrong. For now, I’m going to check out Deeds of Paksenarrion.
Thanks for writing this!
February 27, 2015 @ 2:07 pm
Thank you so much for writing about this. As an asexual who is demi-romantic at most, I’ve spent quite a lot of time keeping an eye out for asexual representation in books and movies, and being quite disappointed.
I’ll also endorse the Paksennarion books, especially as she’s explicitly asexual rather than it simply not being mentioned one way or the other.
February 27, 2015 @ 2:50 pm
People who think as you do are not welcome in my life any more than people who are transphobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, or ablist. Think about the other classes of people I’ve listed there. Does it make you uncomfortable to be listed among them? It should. It isn’t a good place to be.
As someone who was asexual (and is now conditionally sexual, greyA, demisexual), there is nothing sad about being asexual and being sexual is not better. When I was fully asexual I interacted with people in meaningful, fulfilling, and exciting ways. I had no trouble connecting deeply and meaningfully with people when I was fully asexual. (Yay! for being smart, clever, creative, imaginative, passionate, alive, and human!)
Sex is now just one among many tools I have at my disposal to help me connect with others. Just like the tools I use for woodworking projects, each tool works best when matched to situations and goals. None of them will work in all situations.
It is always a relief to interact with another asexual person, someone who will have a full range of “connection tools” available.
February 27, 2015 @ 2:53 pm
Ohgr… The way I describe myself makes it seem like I’m talking about romantic connections when I really only mean connection, period. Apologies. I don’t have any experience with being aromantic myself, but it is no less valid than any other way of being.
February 27, 2015 @ 3:29 pm
Thank you for this post! This is some kind of synchronicity because I was out today listening to a range of up and coming YA titles and commented to someone that I wished there didn’t HAVE to be romantic relationships in every plot formula. I’m . . . not sure where I fit in everything. But as a kid I adored reading about Artemis and Athena both. I’m married with kids today, but I spent my high school and college years trying to figure out why I just felt all this romantic relationship stuff was a bit of imposition on me to try and figure out. In college I actually DID tell people I was asexual because explaining I was celibate made it sound like I was trying to be uninterested. I had tons of peers in college trying to get me to figure out if I was bi, or gay or straight. I’m in a loving relationship now with my husband, but I still wish to read about the kinds of characters that don’t necessarily find a relationship or want one.
February 27, 2015 @ 4:24 pm
This het cis white male wishes to thank you for this post, for adding something to his sense of his ace acquaintances and the un(der)represented world(s) in general.
February 27, 2015 @ 4:30 pm
@Susy Cottrell: It would be equally appropriate to turn that back to you, replacing “asexual” with “not bisexual”, or “not into BDSM”, or any of many other (negated) fill-in-the-blanks that, to many people, “feel good” and make “a nice connection to another person”.
February 27, 2015 @ 6:09 pm
I knew an asexual F-M couple. They were just BFFs who loved platonically. So, for financial advantages (and also probably to “pass”), they got married. It was an equitable, calm partnership, and AFAIK they’re still together after many decades. They slept in bunk beds to maximize floor space for more interesting stuff like bookshelves.
February 27, 2015 @ 7:48 pm
Thank you for this. It took me more than twenty years to find the vocabulary to fit myself, and a lot of wasted time waiting for something that was never going to happen. It took me years to be able to say to myself that there was nothing missing in me, nothing broken, even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way. I never quite saw myself as the villain–always, even when I was very small, I saw and dreaded seeing myself in the role of the ridiculed, socially awkward, spinster aunt. Well guess what? Even spinster aunts have stories worth telling.
February 27, 2015 @ 8:21 pm
Great post. I’m also ace (and maybe aromantic? still figuring that bit out) and I remember feeling so confused and lost because I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t want this thing that everyone else seemed to be so obsessed with. I worried that I’d never be able to be in an relationship because that would inevitably mean sex. And I got frustrated with books and movies because the women always ended up married, or at least dating.
So I have to recommend first book I found with a main character that was strictly no-romance: ‘Through Wolf’s Eyes’ by Jane Lindskold. It’s a fantasy world (and written about 10 years ago) so the ace terminology isn’t ever stated, but the main character, Firekeeper, spends the whole series adamantly not interested in sex or romance. There’s even a whole speech in the last book about how a romantic relationship doesn’t have to involve sex. It was the first time I’d seen a series acknowledge that idea, and it still has a special place in my heart.
February 27, 2015 @ 8:35 pm
Absolutely second the motion that stories that don’t include romantic or sexual relationships can be interesting to people who aren’t asexual, too! I have a pretty high sex drive and I’m still annoyed by the obligatory (usually heterosexual) love interest plotline pasted onto practically every damn adventure story out there. It must be even more annoying for people who don’t connect to that way of interacting at all.
I do feel like there are more badass female action heroes who aren’t specifically sexual or romantic than there are quiet, non-warrior women who are written as ace (or could be seen as ace). Hrm.
February 27, 2015 @ 9:58 pm
Jim, thank you so much for this response… I was already coming to thank you for publishing this guest post, but now I can more directly thank you, not only for that, but for this as well. You are a role model and a hero, truly, for your continuing efforts to spread awareness in so many different ways, for listening and helping give people a platform from which to speak. People like you, and all your guest writers, give me immense amounts of hope, and now that I’m trying to put it into words I’m finding that they are failing me but…. thank you.
February 27, 2015 @ 10:08 pm
Lauren, well said, and brava. My partner and I are both ace, as is my queerplatonic partner, and when I saw this post I immediately sent it to them with requisite amounts of “LOOK HOW WELL SAID THIS IS!” Thank you for putting your experiences and your words out there. Thank you for pushing back against the acephobic backlash of society. I agree with everything you said, and I honestly can’t come up with more to say than just THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. We are not niche, we are real people and we deserve to have our voices represented too. I’m looking forward to now spending the rest of my night eagerly devouring yet another ace blog on tumblr… yay!
And, for anyone looking for more, on behalf of my partner, I will share her recommendation of Garth Nix’s “Clariel” for asexual (and aromantic) representation in written fiction… I sadly haven’t read it myself yet but according to her, despite not being labelled as aro ace, the depiction is spot on.
February 28, 2015 @ 7:16 am
“They slept in bunk beds to maximize floor space for more interesting stuff like bookshelves.”
Those people know what’s really important in life. 🙂
February 28, 2015 @ 7:51 am
There’s a webcomic, Shadess of A. http://www.discordcomics.com/shades-cover/
The main character is asexual, but not aromantic.
February 28, 2015 @ 8:00 am
Thank you for this. I am not asexual but I have a low sex drive. I’m often told (by society) that it’s a sign that there’s something wrong with me. Sometimes medically (like heart disease), sometimes psychologically. I can only imagine what it’s like for the asexual.
I second Nenya’s comment. Sometimes it feels like sex or romance is forced in to a story that would be perfectly good without it. I’d like to read more stories that are good without romance/sex shoehorned in.
February 28, 2015 @ 1:17 pm
Just to note, Clariel is the main character and not totally unsympathetic, but there are ways she fails the “not evil” test.
February 28, 2015 @ 6:09 pm
Sherwood Smith’s “Banner of the Damned” has an asexual woman as main character/narrator.
February 28, 2015 @ 8:31 pm
Great great article. Thank you so much for this.
And yeah, I was right there with you growing up. Pretending to be interested when my friends talked about “cute guys”, so they wouldn’t realize there was something wrong with me. And waiting, waiting, waiting for “sexuality” to happen. It never did. I worried about it alot in my twenties, even hoped I was gay, so I could fit in somewhere — anywhere — because back then, nobody had ever heard of asexuality.
February 28, 2015 @ 11:49 pm
Thank you for posting this!!!
I was 24 before I saw the word “asexual” used outside of biology class (as in, “mitosis is a form of asexual reproduction.”). In fact, I read a forum post where a person identified themselves as “hetero-romantic asexual” and my first thought was, “that’s ridiculous.” And then, just a moment later, there was a heart-pounding, can’t breathe, earth-shaking realization: That’s me. “hetero-romantic asexual” describes me exactly. There’s other people like me. There’s a term for what I am. I’m not broken. I’m not a freak. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m allowed to be what I am. Holy crap.
I laughed. I cried. I was completely hysterical. It was a little bit ridiculous… and at the same time, not ridiculous at all. Because I fit. I may not be “normal” (which is, after all, just a town in Illinois) but I’m no longer alone.
March 1, 2015 @ 11:09 am
Lauren, as another asexual woman, thank you for writing this guest post. Some days it feels like frustration and loneliness are all I can experience as an asexual woman in fandom.
March 1, 2015 @ 11:12 am
Diana, I told a friend I was asexual, and her first response was “Oh, there’s medication that can fix that.”
I couldn’t believe it; she would never say something like that to our friends who are LBGT. In her mind, though, asexuality wasn’t an orientation, it was something to be fixed. I don’t need to be fixed, and more, I don’t WANT to be fixed. I’m perfectly fine the way I am.
March 1, 2015 @ 4:51 pm
I am not asexual myself but I appreciate the chance to learn more about it. I’m glad that you wrote this, and that Jim posted it.
March 2, 2015 @ 9:34 am
Elsa in Frozen might be a candidate for a strong-willed, moral and likable, asexual main character who doesn’t show a hint of sexual attraction to anyone.
March 2, 2015 @ 9:28 pm
Thank you so much for your wonderfully kind comment. I’m so sorry you didn’t have that ah ha moment, but I’m glad to hear you had a good friend to help you. It took me a long time to kind of come out of the asexual closet to the people I loved. I had a couple of friendships fall apart because said friends didn’t believe in my orientation and insisted I just needed to be fixed. It’s a really tough thing to go through. On the plus side, there is an exhilaration that comes with being out and proud. Also, language nerd that I am, it was awesome to expand my vocabulary to include all sorts of new terms relating to asexuality 😉
March 2, 2015 @ 9:32 pm
I’ve noticed that a lot of people have suggested Moon’s “The Deed of Paksenarrion.” I’ll have to look it up the next chance I get. This may be a bit of a weird question to ask but does Moon identify as asexual? Obviously, I’m not trying to suggest only asexuals can write asexual characters (that’s positively ludicrous). However, as the asexuality visibility movement has begun to seep into popular culture, people are able to name a couple ace characters (or characters who can be interpreted as ace) but almost no one can name an asexual-identifying artist/creator. That’s part of the reason why I started “Asexual Artists.” I wanted to see more asexual characters AND creators/artists. Because if you only have fictional characters, then asexuality suddenly becomes something only found in fictional narratives. And then that becomes a whole other problem.
Thanks for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 9:35 pm
Hi sistercoyote (love that name!)
Ace characters are tough to write. I’ve included a couple in my series and even though I’m aro-ace myself, I still find them difficult to write. And man alive, do I wish I included more.
Aw, thank you for your kind words. You’ve made me blush. Really, thank you 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 9:40 pm
I second Diane’s sentiments, Jim. Wholeheartedly. I really can’t bring myself to answer that comment. After hearing from so many aces who are still in closet for fear of that kind of mindset . . . it aggravates me to no end.
Your response was perfect and I thank you for it. Asexual-identifying individuals don’t often see non-aces sticking up for them. Your wonderful response (and the ones that follow) . . . I wish I could express how much that warmed my heart. If more asexuals saw this kind of defense of asexuality, it would be so much easier for them to be open about who they are.
Thank you 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 9:43 pm
Thank you! Your defense was brilliant and you’re a wonderful person for offering it. I loved every single word of it. Bravo you!
Don’t worry, I understand what you were saying about connections. We all make connections in different ways. For some people, it’s sexual or romantic. For others, it’s intellectual. For others, it’s platonic. For some people, it’s a mix of all sorts. One way of being is no better or worse than the other. It’s just different. And differences should be celebrated, not ranked.
Thank you for the comments 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 9:45 pm
I showed your comment to one of my best friends and she absolutely loved it (and agreed with it 100%). Like the above comments, it’s absolutely perfect. I need to write these down for the next time I’m confronted with ace-phobia, which happens fairly regularly unfortunately.
Thank you 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 9:46 pm
Hi A. Pendragyn!
I love your name. One of my cats is named Arthur Pendragon (I know, completely different spelling, but I still love that name). Thank you for the comment 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 9:54 pm
Susy: No. Full stop.
You’re still saying we are broken, because we don’t experience what you experience.
I don’t want to experience it. Asexual doesn’t necessarily mean incapable of sex. At the risk of getting too graphic (and feel free to delete this if needed, Mr. Hines) I’ve had sex. Multiple times. It wasn’t all that great. It was messy and gross, and I didn’t particularly feel much of anything. For me, this great pleasure people are supposed to get from it is a myth. For me.
I have far better connections with friends I’ve never had sex with, than with the people I did.
Obviously, you have had a different experience. That’s fine. That’s great for you, I’m glad sex is pleasurable and fulfilling for you. But I’m not going to tell you that I find it sad you can only experience a real connection with someone through sex because 1) I know that’s probably not true and 2) it would be extremely rude and presumptuous of me. Also, judgmental, regardless of my intent.
Please think about what you’re saying next time; those of us who are asexual are whole and complete as people without sex in our lives. I promise.
March 2, 2015 @ 10:05 pm
Thank you for the comment (my, I feel spoiled. Everyone’s so incredibly nice)! Asexuality is one of those topics that almost no one thinks about, which is part of why I try to be as open as I can be and why I’m so grateful for opportunities like this. Oh, I could go on and on for ages about the monosexism embedded in society. Shoe-horning in a romance, that’s another thing I could go on about for ages. I actually wrote a blog the other day about how asexuality really challenges the idea that there’s only one kind of love that matters: Asexuality and Challenging Dominant Narratives (http://tinyurl.com/k4o25o7). It can be frustrating sometimes when platonic love is seen as somehow less important than romantic and/or sexual love. I’m hoping that asexual visibility continues to grow because there are a lot of aces hurting because of the idea that one must be paired up in order to be happy.
Yeah, that rejection really stung (still does, even today). It also goes to show just how deeply embedded monosexism is in society. I still don’t understand why people would be averse to reading ace characters written by ace authors. We’re gradually (emphasis on gradually) starting to see better ace representation in fiction, but there are still very, very few ace authors. Even today, I have readers tell me they couldn’t care less who a character does (or doesn’t) sleep with or how they identify. They just want a good story. A lot of my readers actually like the aro-ace character in my novel. There’s at least one guy who that’s his favorite character. As the series progresses, there’s even more ace characters and I know most of my readers seem to respond most favorably to them. It might be because I’m better at writing characters on the ace spectrum than I am at writing other characters.
Of course, Ripley could definitely be interpreted as ace in the first movie (I only saw the first two). I don’t think it followed for the rest of the series, but that first movie, she was brilliant. As I mentioned earlier, I am definitely going to look up Paksennarion. Nowadays, I’ve pretty much thrown myself into “Asexual Artists.” I really want to show the world that there are some truly amazing ace artists out there.
Thank you so much for the kind words 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:05 pm
(blush)Thank *you*! I’m _very_ glad to have your approval of my comment.
March 2, 2015 @ 10:10 pm
It can be frustrating sometimes when platonic love is seen as somehow less important than romantic and/or sexual love.
Are you my spiritual animal?
I think you may be my spiritual animal.
March 2, 2015 @ 10:11 pm
Awww! Thank you so much. Readers seem to unanimously be interested in ace characters and stories, regardless of whether or not they identify as asexual. It can get rather frustrating to get really into a story and then suddenly there’s a romance just shoe-horned in (usually rather clumsily). I’m not sex-repulsed and don’t mind romance, if it’s handled with nuance, but does it really have to be in every single story!? I mean, come on. What really gets me is when characters can’t just be friends. Nope, they’ve got to jump into bed eventually. Insert eye-roll here.
That’s a really interesting observation. Action women seem to be less specifically romantic/sexual. Also, religious women tend to be written in a way that can be interpreted as ace. Huh. You know, there’s an idea about why this might be forming. Okay, I’m probably going to be thinking about this for the rest of the night 😉
Thank you so much for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:14 pm
You should read some of the lengthy conversations my best friend and I have about how toxic society’s hierarchical view of love can be (love should never hierarchical. Love is love. Period) 🙂
Thanks for the comment!
March 2, 2015 @ 10:16 pm
I wrote a DW post a while back basically saying the same thing, how frustrated I was/am that people always place platonic love beneath romantic love. The strongest, dearest loves in my life are my friends, and no one had better say that those loves are less than any other.
March 2, 2015 @ 10:22 pm
Goodness, my reading list is going to be even longer than it already is 😉 I can’t wait to delve into these novels eventually.
As important as ace characters are, I do worry about the lack of asexual identifying authors nowadays. There are plenty of characters who can be interpreted as ace (believe me, the ace portion of fandom loves interpreting numerous popular characters as asexual). It’s wonderful to see asexual characters who live without shame. Now if only we could get a few written by asexual identifying authors. Because I think that’s equally important: seeing actual asexual-identifying people living proudly and succeeding.
Thank you for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:30 pm
Oh my, thank you for your incredibly kind words. I’m offering you a virtual hug if you want it. Really, your comment was incredibly moving. Thank you so much.
It is a shame that the society we live in tends to neglect groups of people on the basis of size or if they go against the dominant narrative. I started a site on Tumblr and WordPress called “Asexual Artists” to highlight the contributions of ace-identifying people to the artistic fields. I didn’t expect much of a response. I receive emails almost daily along the lines of “I thought I was the only one!” And those always make me tear up a little bit because I remember exactly how that felt.
When I started writing, I knew my series was going to include quite a few asexual heroes (from all over the spectrum). Because, like I wrote in my essay, asexuals deserve to be seen as heroic and adventurous too.
Oooo, Minerva McGonagall could easily be interpreted as aro-ace (I need to revisit that series at some point). Good one.
Thank you for the comment 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:35 pm
Aw! Thank you so much for the comment. It is tough out there for asexual-identifying people, especially when it comes to representation. I really leaped at this opportunity because (a) I admire Jim and (b) I knew there were fellow ace-identifying genre fans who could relate. Whenever I have the opportunity to speak about genre, asexuality, and feminism: wild horses can’t keep me away 😉
Now I’m really curious about these Paksennarion books. Why did I have to find out about them now? It’s probably going to be another month or so before I actually have a chance to read for pleasure (between Asexual Artists, conventions, and marketing, any free time is gobbled up almost instantaneously). Ah well, it’s definitely on my list.
Thank you so much for the comment 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:42 pm
Well thank you for the comment! You know, I’ve heard quite a few people talk about how they wished YA didn’t need to have the obligatory romance. I don’t personally read YA, but most of my friends do and that seems to be a consensus among them.
I was never a huge fan of Athena, but Artemis is most definitely my favorite deity of all time (Isis is a very, very close second). Sexuality is fluid. Some aces are born ace and remain ace throughout their lives. Some kind of wax and wane, but that doesn’t make their orientation any less valid.
I think a lot of readers, both asexual and not asexual, would enjoy reading asexual characters. It’s a different perspective and experience. Then again, I’m always going to be slightly biased on the topic 😉
Thank you for the comment 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:44 pm
Aw, thank you so much. I’m really quite flattered. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay (that’s truly high praise). You’ve made me blush 🙂
Thanks for the comment!
March 2, 2015 @ 10:46 pm
That’s amazing! I really loved that story. It’s just so perfect: a pair of asexual book lovers, living in platonic bliss. What a lovely visual 🙂
Thank you so much for the comment!
March 2, 2015 @ 10:46 pm
I concur. Wholeheartedly 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:51 pm
Aw. Thank you for the comment. It really is difficult being asexual and not knowing the vocabulary. Even after I found it, I was so nervous about coming out to the people in my life. Because I didn’t want to hear the same old platitudes of “you’re just a late bloomer” or “you’re just shy” or anything along those lines. I’ve also noticed this tendency to infantalize aces: like we’re somehow afraid of sexuality. I also resent the notion that my life must be dull and/or depressing.
You’re 100% right: spinster aunts definitely have stories worth telling 😉
Thank you for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 10:56 pm
Thank you. That’s exactly what I felt: confusion. And I was so scared that I didn’t have any desire for what everyone else seemed to want. I wish I had understood back then that it was perfectly all right to be satisfied with platonic bonds. As I mentioned somewhere above, I think the way society values romantic/sexual love over all other forms is really damaging. Not just to asexual-identifying individuals either.
I have added “Through Wolf’s Eyes” to my list. I really love that title and am very intrigued by your description. It sounds like a good read.
Thanks for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:00 pm
Awww! Thank you so much. Man alive, you REALLY have me blushing over here. I’m incredibly flattered and touched by your kind words. I’m so happy to hear you and your partners enjoyed my essay. Really, your comment has made my entire week. I’m . . . my goodness, words are really failing me at the moment. Thank you (I offer you all the virtual hugs you want) 🙂
And I hope you enjoyed Asexual Artists.
I’m adding “Clariel” to my list (which is fast approaching book length) 😉 I can’t wait to devour all these recommendations.
Thank you so much for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:01 pm
Thanks for the recommendation. I have bookmarked it and plan to read it the next opportunity I get.
Thanks for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:14 pm
It’s ridiculous how people seem to think there’s some kind of measurement of sex drive. I don’t understand why people can’t accept that it’s different for everyone. Some people have a higher sex drive, some people have a lower one. One’s no better or worse than the other.
Oh dear, like a lot of other asexuals, I have a few horror stories. It’s quite disturbing how many people seem to think there’s a cure for asexuality. There’s been this really insidious trend in movies and TV when it comes to asexual characters: I refer to it as “fix the asexual” plot. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. There was an episode of “House” that used it. There was a recent movie entitled “The Olivia Experiment” that was basically all about “fixing” an asexual woman. I couldn’t help but wonder why no one saw how incredibly problematic this was.
There’s a show I almost hate-watch at this point called “Sirens.” There’s an openly asexual woman on the show, but she is always paired up with a guy. And okay, that’s fine, there are a number of asexual individuals who experience romantic attraction. But with this character, it seems like the writers are just completely freaked out by the idea that a woman could be content on her own. It’s like she absolutely has to be dating someone otherwise it’s just weird. Because how could a single asexual woman possibly be interesting? Obviously, I could rant about this for ages 😉
Thanks for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:20 pm
I had a friendship fall apart because said individual kept trying to suggest I get “fixed.” She just couldn’t accept me for who I was. It boggles some peoples minds that asexuals can be happy, healthy, well-adjusted individuals. Not only that, but proud of who we are.
I posted a link earlier about how asexuality really challenges a lot of society’s per-conceived notions of love. I love my friends dearly, as much as I do my family. The bonds in my life are no less important than any other bonds. Platonic love is no lesser than romantic love 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:21 pm
Thanks for the note. I’ll keep that in mind when I check it out 🙂
Thanks for the comment!
March 2, 2015 @ 11:23 pm
Hi Mary Aileen!
Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll add it to the list. Just because I always ask: Does Smith identify as ace? I’ll read the book eventually whether or not he does, but I try to raise awareness that ace representation needs to extend to creators as well 🙂
Thanks for the comment!
March 2, 2015 @ 11:28 pm
Thank you so much. I love that so many aces have responded to this essay (and favorably too). We aces often have to learn how to blend in. I was so self-conscious that I wound up isolating myself throughout high school. I think I had like 3 or 4 friends who I didn’t see that often. It really wasn’t until college when I came out fully as aro-ace that I really started forming meaningful friendships. I’m just so glad that there’s more information on asexuality now than there was then. Here’s hoping future aces have it easier than we did.
Thank you so much for the comment 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:33 pm
You know, it’s always the comments from fellow aces that move me. Because we all understand that, don’t we? Before we find that label, how lonely the world is. Most of us know what it’s like to feel broken, isolated, freakish. And then, that awesome moment when we realize that not only is there a label, but there are a whole lot of other people just like us out there.
When I first stumbled across the term “asexual,” I was actually in the midst of a panic attack. I was searching my “symptoms” as I did compulsively. I was in the library and I was struggling to get my breathing and heart rate under control. I somehow found the AVEN site and it was like my body slowly uncurled. My breathing and heart rate went back to normal. I just thought, “Huh. Well that’s not so bad.”
No, we aces are not alone. Sometimes learning that makes all the difference in the world.
Thank you for the comment! 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:35 pm
I love all your comments (always love chatting with fellow ace women!). The world can be an utterly frustrating place for asexual people. But hey, we’re automatically awesome just existing, being “ace” and all 😉
Thanks for all the comments! 😀
March 2, 2015 @ 11:36 pm
Thank you so much for the comment. I’m so happy that you’re interested in the topic. It’s an interesting one, whether or not one identifies as asexual.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:38 pm
Oh my goodness! So many of my friends have been raving about Elsa from “Frozen” and how she’s easily read as ace. From what I’ve heard, she’s easily read as asexual, which is really awesome.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
March 2, 2015 @ 11:45 pm
Well, I do like to talk. XD Sometimes, I should probably practice the listening thing instead. But I’ve enjoyed your responses, too.
Yet Another Story: So many people, including a good friend of mine, came out of the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier shipping Cap and the Winter Soldier (identity retracted just in case there’s someone who still hasn’t seen it) … and I came out of it going :/ because what I saw was a deep, strong, meaningful friendship, and I couldn’t understand why so many people had to take that and turn it romantic, as though it wasn’t viable for a relationship to be that deep, strong, and meaningful unless it was romantic.
To me, to ship them romantically came off as utterly insulting to platonic relationships and the intention of the writers. But mostly to platonic relationships and to the people who enjoy them.
I am SO asexual it isn’t even funny.
March 3, 2015 @ 2:35 am
«(identity retracted just in case there’s someone who still hasn’t seen it)»
I think the word you want is “redacted”: edited out or concealed.
March 3, 2015 @ 10:16 am
Yes, my fingers sometimes don’t get the proper message and type something else. XD Thanks.
March 3, 2015 @ 11:55 am
OMG, I am so grateful to have found this blog and reading all these comments has made me laugh and cry. I wrote the first draft of my first fantasy novel and I’ve got a female character and a male character and they are the center of the story, but every time I wrote a love scene or anything that made it seem like a kinda-sorta love story, I’d end up tossing it because it violated the characters. I still don’t know if the female protagonist is cis or hetero or ace, but I feel freed to find out. I’m so happy to read that I can let my characters be themselves and there will still be readers for my story. I’m so grateful to you, Lauren, for writing this blog, for being brave enough to find your own self and speak up for yourself and other aces so eloquently. And, Jim, thank you for having these amazing guest bloggers. I feel like I’ve finally found a community on Google Plus that goes to the heart of what I want to write about — which is how humans connect across the boundaries that divide us. Thank you so much.
March 3, 2015 @ 12:08 pm
Virginia, I would totally read a well-written novel (SERIES OF NOVELS) about ace characters. I so badly want more characters like me–canon characters, characters I don’t have to “interpret” or “read” as asexual, but who ARE asexual. Please help make this happen.
Jim C. Hines
March 3, 2015 @ 12:15 pm
I had originally intended to include a romantic thread in the third goblin book, and ran into a similar block. At the time, I told myself I just wasn’t a good enough writer to do goblin romance. But like you, I find that this post and the comments have me thinking more and in different ways about that protagonist…
March 8, 2015 @ 8:37 pm
I’ll admit, this is a minority that I’d never even considered. Yes, I’d read some of the mentioned books with characters who weren’t interested in romance for various reasons. Yes, I’d read about other characters who for various reasons weren’t interested in getting involved in romance. But I’d somehow never made the connection between the fact that there are so few of those in comparison to the many who consider romance/relationships/sex important as qualifying for a special description or classification. It had just seemed like logical parts of the characters, and I’d never really considered the Why’s for those who didn’t have it spelled out in the assorted texts. (Wait, this character trait makes them a minority? Ehhh?)
Please don’t take that as criticism of your life-choices or the choices of any other people who choose not to get involved sexually or have romances. You and everybody else are free to make your own choices about your preferences, be that heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, polysexual, nonsexual, or any other option. (Note to self, think more about the variety of options/choices/combinations of people and how they live their lives)
I will also give a vote against badly written relationships shoved into a story (written or visual) just to have it there. If it’s a better story without the Significant Other and the (optional) children, then leave them out!
Nobody should feel ashamed, marginalized, or villainized because of their interests or non-interests in partners. Nobody should feel like they HAVE to have somebody or be seen trying to have somebody to not be that weird loner. Just like nobody should be made to feel weird because the one they think looks appealing doesn’t do it for their peers. (Seriously, why should choosing ‘no thanks’ be more of a problem than choosing ‘same gender’? Because neither are as socially approved as ‘opposite gender’ – and you don’t see either as often in writing.)
Thanks for a post that makes me think about things. Thinking about the options available and the underlying assumptions and reactions is a good thing, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.
March 8, 2015 @ 8:43 pm
Um… You and everybody else are free to make your own choices about your preferences, be that heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, polysexual, nonsexual, or any other option.
I realize that you’re being supportive, and the vast majority of your comment is great.
But please, please, please understand that talking about sexual orientation (and gender identity) as a “choice” is not supportive, and in fact is the crux of the problem. So, so many people who are non-heteronormative in a variety of ways have to deal with being told that who they are is something they chose, rather than part of who they are, how they were born.
March 10, 2015 @ 10:24 pm
I’m working on the final draft of a novel… well, I thought I was working on the final draft before, and when I was 3/4 of the way through, it occured to me that I’m a total idiot.
See, the earliest bits and pieces of story I wrote about these characters, my main character was hetero-romantic ace, like me. But that was before I knew that there were other people like me.
So as I continued on I made him heterosexual. More recently, I tweaked it so he read as demisexual, but I was still too worried about the marketing to actually bring him all the way back to being completely ace. Particularly because he is part of a romantic subplot, and his girlfriend is heterosexual, and I’m honestly still worried about how that would received – that it wouldn’t be believable. (And isn’t it sad that I know so many people who won’t believe that my own orientation actually exists)
But just a couple of days before I read this thread for the first time, it started nagging at me. I think it read just fine with him being demi, but in my head it wasn’t right for the character and it wasn’t right for me. This article was perfectly timed… I went back to the beginning and started a different edit.
If/when it gets published, hopefully my fellow aces will like him.
March 11, 2015 @ 12:07 am
I won’t be saying anything new at this point, but thank you. Thank you for reminding me how I felt in fifth grade, when I was reading in a book of myths that conversation between Artemis and Zeus and thinking, “Please don’t make her change her mind later. Please don’t make Zeus change his mind later. Please don’t make one of the male gods or some random hunter or hero take what she said as a challenge meant for one of them to overcome.” And she didn’t! And they didn’t! And fifth-grade me thought that was so incredibly heartening (even if Artemis comes across as kind of like a female Peter Pan in later myths, cold and careless and more than a little overfond of killing as a go-to problem solving method. Like you said, she’s a Greek deity; petty vindictiveness comes with the job description).
You asked more than once in the comments for works by ace authors; have you read anything by An Owomoyela? I admit I haven’t yet run across any Owomoyela stories that feature explicitly ace characters, but the ones I have encountered all focus on non-sexual/non-romantic relationships between characters, plus ghosts speaking through computers, magicians that can identify fallen soldiers through the memories stored in their bones, that kind of thing. 🙂 Highly recommended.
March 12, 2015 @ 4:09 pm
Just found reference to this anthology, “Beyond Binary,” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13177385-beyond-binary. It features speculative fiction about people who don’t fit into the handy-dandy conventional boxes for gender and sexuality that our culture has set up. I haven’t read it, but am curious, and wonder if anyone else on this thread has read it? If so, what did you think? Thanks, everyone!
Diana M. Pho
March 12, 2015 @ 5:46 pm
I really appreciate you sharing your story, Lauren. Being ace was one of the orientations I only learned about the past few years, but I seem to run into more and more people who identity as such.
@Virginia Herrick: I wrote a review of Beyond Binary for Tor.com when it came out, and highly enjoyed the anthology. You can check that out here if you wish: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/05/beyond-binary-review
March 12, 2015 @ 6:56 pm
Thanks, Diana! What a great review! I will definitely check this one out!