Maybe you knew this, maybe you didn’t, but it’s Ace Awareness week, a week near and dear to my heart! I wanted to talk a little about it too, because I have so many feelings, ESPECIALLY when it comes to asexuality in books. There’s been a lot of change for the better recently (namely that characters are explicitly asexual), but there’s a ways to go still to fuller ace narratives, and I’m not sure if people quite recognize it.
Before I get into it, a quick refresher, in case you’re a little lost: asexuality is an absence of sexual attraction. It is not necessarily a lack of romantic attraction, though, and there are shades of asexuality. Some aces are sex-repulsed or touch-averse. Others may have sex because it feels good or because their partner enjoys it. Grey aces are asexual people who experience sexual attraction super sparingly, as in maybe once or twice in their life, and people who are demisexual only experience sexual attraction to someone after forming a strong emotional bond (and even then, they may not always experience sexual attraction; it’s not everyone they form a connection with).
Basically, asexuality covers a lot of nuance, but is joined by the common thread of an absence of sexual attraction. At its core, it’s rather simple to understand. That said, recognizing it can be tough. I personally struggled at first to recognize it in myself because how do you know what you don’t experience if you don’t know how that experience feels? But it ultimately boiled down to (in my case) “I don’t have that kind of interest in anyone even when I’ve had the opportunity to,” and that was that.
Anyways, it’s been so vindicating to start seeing more asexual characters in the things I read. I feel seen. I feel represented. It feels amazing! A couple years ago, I couldn’t have named a single asexual character, couldn’t have thought of a book that even used the word “asexual” or explicitly mentioned an absence of sexual attraction. Now, I can name three: Victor Vale from VE Schwab’s Villains series, Alys from Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria, and Ling Chan from The Diviners series by Libba Bray.
But that’s the problem. I can only name three.
So that’s improvement. Three is more than zero, that’s for sure. But three is also a very, very small number, one that could be improved for certain. Not to mention there are other issues.
For starters, two of the three characters are secondary characters. Alys and Ling aren’t the core heroes of their stories, and while they are well developed and have key roles, they aren’t THE main character. Victor, on the other hand, is a main character, but his asexuality isn’t confirmed until Vengeful, and he’s not entirely a hero, not entirely a good person. This isn’t to say that ace people can only be good people, but it would be really nice to see more central heroes who are ace, clearly so, especially if the story doesn’t revolve around their asexuality. But since people sometimes conflate asexuality with aromanticism, I think there’s this impression that an ace MC can’t have a love interest, and books without love interests, especially in YA, have a harder time selling. People love romance, after all.
But the other big problem I’m seeing is that these characters share a personality type. Alys is logical and calculating, more inclined to be ruled by her head than her heart. So is Victor. And so is Ling. They’re all somewhat standoffish, all the logical friend of the group, all the least inclined to let loose and have some fun. And you know what? I kind of hate it a little.
Where are the asexual characters who are warm and inviting, the characters who are extroverted and incredibly visibly compassionate? The ones who get emotional and tend to be impulsive? Characters who don’t think before they act? Where are they? Because I have yet to see them, and I’m starting to get tired of the little representation I have being painted in the same cool, collected shape. Asexuality is not a personality trait. It does not automatically shape a character into the team brains or the restrained one. It can shape decisions, yes, but it is not a guarantee of anything personality-related, and I’m so tired of it feeling like that.
Maybe it’s better than I realize, because there have to be more asexual characters out there than I know about personally! And admittedly, a sample size of three characters is pretty small. But being three for three on extremely similar personality traits is disheartening, and I’m almost afraid to get into other stories with ace characters for fear of running into the exact same thing yet again. I’m seeing a part of myself, but at what cost?
So the situation feels a little bleak. But that’s where I’m looking to you: have you read any books with asexual main characters? Would you recommend them? Because the more that are out there, the more diverse they are in their representation, the more visibility they get, the better things will be.
And as an extra note: thank you very much for reading this post. It’s one of my more personal ones, and while it may not be as solidly structured as I’d like it to be, it comes from the heart. That always makes it harder to write but more worth it. 💜♡🖤