This is the second part of the crazy-informative article by author Cass Lennox about asexuality to inform ourselves and our work. You can find the first post here.
Love vs. Romance
So, friend, you’ve maybe noticed chatter about love and romance. Given the overwhelming emphasis placed by mass media (in the West) on romantic love and romantic relationships, there is a very strong association between romance and love. That’s okay – there should be.
However, there are many types of love and loving relationships beyond romance, but our society’s in a weird place where we’re deifying the romantic, passionate kind of love as the ultimate one to strive for, and thus the only one that’s worth any attention.
Not true. It’s such an obvious statement that I really wonder if this is worth expanding, but romance isn’t the only thing in the world, and it’s not the only important kind of relationship.
There are many kinds of fulfilling, deep connections with people – between siblings, parents and children, friends, communities, teachers and students (and I don’t necessarily mean in school, I mean the exchange that takes place when one person teaches another about something), and so on.
When these are acknowledged, culture seems to expect us to prioritise these relationships, with romantic partners, children or families coming first. In reality, all of these types of connections are necessary and important, as no one relationship can provide all of a person’s emotional needs, and prioritisation depends on circumstances (and personal preference in some cases).
It doesn’t help that English has just one word for love. The classic counter-example is Ancient Greek, which has something like four different words denoting four types of love. In English we have to modify ‘love’ – familial love, sisterly love, erotic love, dutiful love, friendship or platonic love (which feels inadequate, because ‘friendship’ can cover all types from friendly acquaintances to that wonderfully deep, platonic bond between two people: your “sister from another mister”, your “brother from another mother” etc), passion for your work, etc. Other languages probably have more options, but English isn’t great at conveying the expansive richness of love with just that one word, love.
So. That’s love.
Romance, then. What is it exactly? Excellent sex? Just feelings? Mutually attuned personalities and minds? Deep boundless ecstasy and delicious misery? Meeting of souls? Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep? All of these things? None of them?
I suspect it’s our wider culture that defines what romance should look and feel like, but rarely captures the reality of it. I wish I could give a definitive answer for this, but I suspect everyone will have their own ideas of what romance means for them. The closest I’ve seen to something generic is ‘different from platonic’, or just ‘a different kind of connection’ to a person.
I mentioned prioritisation above.
For some people, their partner is the most important person in their lives, and that prioritisation is part of their way of expressing romantic feelings or their intimacy style. Others will have a romantic partner, but will consider their friends just as important, and will try to give equal amounts of quality time and attention to all of their important people. Some people will have a partner, but don’t consider them a romantic partner – just a deep platonic bond. Some people don’t want a partner, romantic or otherwise, and are happy with other kinds of platonic bonds.
None of these are wrong, but these kinds of distinctions feed into the difference between aromantic and romantic asexuals.
If your character is aromantic, remember this: It’s not that they don’t love their friends and families and communities – they do. It’s not that they don’t love their partners, if they have them – they do. Aromantics have a different way of conceptualising that connection, and of talking about the people they love, and how they express that love. It won’t be romantic, but it is love.
If you want to write an aromantic character, take your cue from how aromantics describe themselves and their relationships.
Your asexual character should be like any other character you create.
Give them a backstory! A personality! Are they grumpy, bubbly, intelligent, creative, analytical, ambitious? Do they have a temper? What drives them? What are their likes, hobbies, pets, careers, etc?
Remember that they’re people and will be all that people can be. They can be petty, jealous, narcissistic, angry, dramatic, courageous, shy, selfless, kind, sweet, or funny. Just because the way they operate sexually and romantically doesn’t fit the wider cultural narrative doesn’t mean they’re not steeped in this culture, and can’t or don’t want to engage with it.
Example: I make innuendo-laden jokes all the fucking time (in your endo – oh god, I’m the worst ace, seriously) and so do other ace friends of mine. I know others who don’t like sexual humour at all – and that’s also okay.
Writing realistically also means recognising your character behaves and reacts to things depending on everything that makes up who they are.
I don’t just mean their sexuality – I mean their upbringing, their ethnicity (and racism around that ethnicity), their life experiences, their age, their education, their economic bracket, their religion, their country of residence, their health, their gender, and so on. Intersecting identities will mean two characters who seem similar on the surface may have different reactions to the same situation.
A simple example I can use from Blank Spaces is my two heroes’ reactions to a homophobic incident: one gets heated and outraged, the other is angry but brushes it off and refuses to rise to the bait. Both are legitimate reactions, but they stem from some very core differences between the two.
A more complex example: if your character is disabled in some way (visibly or otherwise), think about how disabled characters are often presented without any sexuality at all, and how your depiction of asexuality could interact with that compared to an able-bodied asexual character.
I hope this has been helpful and not too wordy (it’s so too wordy). I’m going to leave a list of asexual resources below as a springboard for research, as well as tl;dr list of tips. Happy writing!
TL;DR (aka The Lazy Dirtbag Read)
- Write well-rounded characters.
- Include emotions and emotional reactions.
- Have happy endings.
- Your research.
- Have fun with your character, and show them having fun.
- Let them make mistakes. People fuck up.
- Let them save the day. People rock.
- State the orientation/label on the page.
- Think about other identities your character may have, and how they intersect with your character’s asexuality.
- Show your character loving other people, be that family, friends, partners, or their community.
- Make the distinction between an orientation and an effect of illness or personal circumstance. Asexuality is a consistent, innate state that doesn’t cause distress to the individual; a significant change in libido or sexual response that’s distressing to an individual (because it’s a big change from their normal and is impacting their life) is different, and is something that individual should seek help with.
- Show asexual communities and other ace characters besides your main character.
- Write robotic, unfeeling characters, or use robotic, mechanical language around asexual and aromantic characters.
- Kill the ace character (unless you’re writing horror or Shakespeareanesque tragedy where literally every single character dies. I’m going to extend this to please don’t kill queer characters by default if you’re going to kill a character. Enough queer characters have been hurt in the creation of plots (and die in real life). Thank you for your attention.)
- “Cure” the asexual through the power of sex, religion, medicine, love, or magic.
- Make their orientation the only noteworthy thing about the character.
- Be afraid to show the character having sex or not having sex. As long as their behaviour fits within their place on the spectrum and makes sense to your character, either is fine and not a big deal.
- Assume romantic relationships are the most important type of human connection.
- Write asexuality as a result of abuse. Like any other orientation, asexuality is innate. If your character is abused, treat this with the sympathy and delicacy it deserves, but separate the effects of it from their sexuality. (And remember asexual people can be abused because of their sexuality, like bisexual, pansexual, gay and lesbian people.)
- Have an allosexual character reveal your ace character’s asexuality to them, otherwise known as the Allo Saviour Complex. If your ace character is struggling with feelings of brokenness around their sexuality, having an allosexual character dive in like some all-knowing sexuality superhero to save them from their confusion by telling them they’re asexual is both patronising and unrealistic.
- Fall into any kind of “purity” thinking, ie that asexual people are somehow higher beings or more pure/intelligent/good because their orientation “frees” them from “baser” desires. This is just not true, and frankly, the association of sex/sexual attraction with the concept of purity is gross. Having sex does not make someone impure. No one is “pure”, regardless of sexual status. We’re all disgusting mammals who sweat and eat and fart – like, no, okay? Purity myths need to be knocked back into whatever misogynistic swamp they came from.
- The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN)
- Asexuality Archive
- A Carnival of Aces Masterpost
- A great intro to the spectrum
A big thank you to Elyse Springer for her help with this post!