Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Asexuals Writing Asexuals

Here's a thoughtful article about asexual writers portraying asexual characters. Some thoughts ...

Things have been personally stressful lately and for an asexual, though it isn’t personal, sometimes it feels very personal to constantly face messages from the media, social networks, friends, or family that posit (1) sex is essential for a relationship and/or (2) relationships without sex as are not as important.

Sex is not essential for a relationship, and indeed, is toxic to many major relationships such as siblings, parents/children, and other relatives; or is inadvisable as in student/teacher or boss/employee. Some of these relationships have profound effects on people's lives.

It isn't sex that makes a relationship important, it's involvement -- chiefly time and intimacy. If you spend a LOT of time with someone, they become part of your life even if you're not intimate, like how coworkers get to know each other pretty well and rely on each other. If you share deeply personal things, you can become very close very fast. While sex is often used as one way to create intimacy, it doesn't do nearly as much of that as most people think. It can't tell you someone's deeply held beliefs or life plans. And people often fuck without attaching any meaning to it beyond physical pleasure, which is perfectly fine as long as you don't mistake that for intimacy.

That is, the messages that call an allosexual being in a monogamous relationship with an asexual abusive, because the asexual person is “withholding” sex from someone who enjoys it. The messages that place a spouse on the top of some sort of relationship hierarchy. The constant message that sex is good and all people must want – or need, or deserve – it.

This is horseshit. While it is possible to imagine withholding sex as a way of abusing someone, this tactic is deployed far more often by sexual folks than asexual folks. People who like sex may use it to manipulate each other. Asexuals just aren't interested in it at all. This is often a point of tension in mixed relationships, but that doesn't make it abuse.

Sometimes I think we write to explore the things most important to us. Sometimes however we write to explore other ways of being.

These two things are equally important. TELL ALL THE STORIES!

Sometimes we don’t write about the things that we hold dear because of fear or anxiety; fear of exposing parts of ourselves, of “doing it wrong”, of being labelled in a certain way because of what we’ve sent out into the world, or perhaps because it feels too close for comfort.

These fears are valid, because sometimes people are horribly cruel. However, a majority of them can be addressed by writing anonymously or under a pseudonym. You can put things out there and do some good, without putting your own name on it or ever talking with your readers.

But why not more? Is it because I’m afraid that people won’t read about asexual characters that I keep hedging with “demisexual/grey-ace” when maybe the character fits the asexual label better?

This depends on your audience. Mine happens to love asexual and other QUILTBAG characters. I enjoy writing them, which attracts readers with those traits as well as ones who share my love of diversity. Other authors wishing to write ace characters would thus be well advised to make friends in the QUILTBAG community and promote their work to asexuals and ace-friendly readers. If you're writing niche material, sometimes you do need a little extra work on promotion. Conversely, the competition is MUCH lower. Readers who want to read acefic just don't have a lot of options. I routinely get prompts for things because readers want them but can't find them.

Is it because I’m afraid that a book with an asexual lead character, or “too many” asexual characters will get labelled as “asexual fiction”, the way fiction can be labelled as “LGBT” or “women’s fiction”, rather than genre fiction (fantasy, supernatural, etc) that happens to have an asexual character?*

Well, that can happen. If you're marketing your own work, however, you have complete control over how it's classified, and busy booksellers or librarians usually just look on the cover where it names one or more genres and put it there. List them all if you wish, but if you're afraid of it being misfiled, only list the place you want it filed. As long as you have content of that type it is a valid listing.

On the other hoof, it's really handy to have subgenres to help find more stories of a similar type. In this regard, crosslisting is quite valuable. People who want to read more acefic need a place to go with that. As someone who has made recommended reading lists for panels, it is a lot of work to find books about something that isn't widely sorted and listed.

Is it because I’ve grown up absorbing the messages that we marry and have sex and have children, and that’s the only real happy ending? And therefore asexual characters must not be worth writing or reading about?

This often happens. It doesn't have to, though. Asexual characters are just as important as anyone else. They can marry; some do. They can have sex, although most choose not to. They can have children, or they can adopt -- procreation does not depend on sexual orientation. Childbirth isn't fun but people do that because they want kids. And of course, not all stories about are sex, romance, or kids! There are scads of other genres out there where acefolk can have all kinds of exciting adventures without ever needing to unzip. Aliens rarely care about human sex/romance. And occasionally it's an advantage, like an ace spy who is never susceptible to honeytraps.

It does raise questions about my acceptance of my sexual orientation. Mostly I’m comfortable with it but I am concerned that I can never have a monogamous romantic relationship because of it. That fear is deep-seated, and I’m not yet desensitised to being told I cannot have it. Though I’m still questioning my romantic orientation, that denial hurts.

Acceptance is a challenge for many orientations. Perhaps most, the way society considers sex dirty while at the same time using it to sell everything. Asexual romantics can certainly have monogamous relationships, which is easier with each other than in a mixed orientation relationship. The main challenge is simply that asexuality is uncommon, which makes it hard for aces to find compatible partners. But it does happen. It would probably be easier if the community had more cohesion, making more opportunities for aces to meet other aces. A heterosexual person can pick a random object of interest and have a 90% chance of orientation compatibility. For aces it's maybe 1% which sucks.

One final word on tropes. I love to read, watch, and write bedsharing. Not sex, just two (or more) characters sharing a bed. I recently came across an article that made it seem impossible to do this without sex resulting, because two adults in a romantic relationship will have to have sex, even if there’s no birth control available and another pregnancy could harm or even kill the female partner in a mixed gender relationship. How can I dream of a relationship when any sensual intimacy I might enjoy is viewed only as a precursor to inevitable sexual intercourse?

That's a weird sentiment of modern America and some other cultures. It is by no means universal and is fairly recent. Because historically, people often piled into beds together for lack of other options. Poor people in particular still share beds for that reason. Sharing a bed is most definitely not attached to sexuality, and in fact, it is extremely rude in many cultures to make sexual advances when sharing a bed with someone who is not already your sex partner. Plenty of people share beds in a platonic way, and it is a great opportunity for lots of healthy touch which humans need to stay sane.

In closing, maybe I should write more fiction with more explicitly asexual characters. Maybe more asexual spectrum writers should. Food for thought.

With any underrepresented group, it is essential to tell their own stories. There is no substitute for the horse's mouth. You will just plain notice things that nobody else will. If the only stories about you are written by outsiders, that has consistently bad results. If nothing else, ace-friendly sexual people need good resources to understand how asexual folks think, feel, and behave in order to write a diverse cast of characters that includes aces. Even other asexuals benefit from reading each other's ideas, because there is diversity within the asexual experience too.

Tags: activism, gender studies, networking, reading, writing

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