Writing From Factor X

June 12, 2011

What I’d Like To See

Filed under: Visibility — Sciatrix @ 8:50 pm
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Last week, the Ace Eccentric asked me on Tumblr what I’d like to see in media in terms of representations of aromantic people. And I got to thinking. (For the purposes of this post I am more or less categorizing my wtfromantic identity under a larger “aromantic” umbrella–I’d count any character who isn’t sure they fit well with the concept of romantic orientation here.) Here’s my list.

0. I want to actually see some aromantic characters to begin with.

I am pathetically grateful to see aromantic characters at all. I very rarely see aromantic characters written from the perspective of someone who is paying attention about asexuality, and I don’t believe I have ever seen a work written respectfully about an aromantic sexual person.

From an asexual perspective, when it comes to writing about asexuality (particularly in fandom, which is currently my main source of writing about asexuals because the writing doesn’t really exist in published fiction), I see a lot of emphasis on writing romantics, which in the absence of writing aromantics can feel erasing. For instance, there’s this project called queer_fest which involves writing about the experiences of queer characters and which this year explicitly welcomed asexuality. When I was watching the prompts go up for it, I noticed that a lot of them used the phrasing “asexual but not aromantic” character over and over and over again–but I never saw anywhere near the emphasis on naming aromantic  asexuals in other prompts.

That said, here’s my wishlist for the characters once I have them.

1. No more aromantic sociopaths. Or inhuman characters. 

Please, please, please. This is an offensive stereotype. Aromantic people are not necessarily emotionless. We are not robots, serial killers, sociopaths, emotionally stunted–we’re just people who don’t grok the romance thing. I would like more aromantic characters who buck this stereotype.

Experiencing romantic attraction does not necessarily make you a good person. It does not necessarily make you emotionally open or a warm person, either. So why do people seem to assume that taking romantic attraction away makes you evil or inhuman or emotionless?

Treating aromantic characters as otherwise normal people who don’t happen to experience this one kind of attraction would be nice. So would making more of them unquestionably human. I’m done with robots and aliens, thanks.

2. I’d like to see more aromantic characters who are not men.

Seriously, what is with this one? I don’t know if it’s a combination of the sociopaths thing with tropes about women being more in tune with emotions or what, but the aromantic characters I’ve seen have been heavily male.

Actually, since women are more likely to be shoehorned into works primarily as romantic interests for male leads, combined with stereotypes about women being more focused on avoiding being single, I think it might just be that fewer women are portrayed as single at all, let alone anything that could be construed as terminally single. It would be nice to see more works that buck that stereotype altogether.

(I’d also just like to see more nonbinary characters in fiction period. Hence phrasing this as “more not-men” rather than “more women.”)

3. I want to see characters that actually read to me as aromantics, not romantics who just so happen to be single at the moment.

I mean. As a person who doesn’t do the whole romance thing? I do not think like a romantic person who just so happens to be single at the moment, okay. My orientation informs how I think and how I plan for the future and how my interpersonal relationships work, as well as a whole other things about my personality.

I’ve noticed this trend where characters, if they’re labeled as asexual, never have the narrative spend much time on what that actually means to them. And this seems to be somewhat worse for aromantics than romantics, in my limited experience. I think a lot of people assume that since aromantics aren’t dating anyone that they have no particular special problems and can be more or less written like a perpetually single romantic character, especially if they’re also asexual. The thing is, it doesn’t actually work that way.

Think about what being aromantic means. You’re generally going to have the same need for emotional intimacy and support, but you’re not going to be able to get it from the same source that society has “set aside” for that purpose. Some people draw their support from communities, either large ones or small ones. Some people draw it from groups of friends of varying sizes or from their families. Either way, I’d like to see aromantic characters being shown finding support from alternate, nonromantic channels.

4. I want to see the long-term effects that being aromantic has on a person.

I actually don’t know any aromantic or wtfromantic people who are all that enthusiastic about the future of their personal lives. I’ve written before about how I plan to be alone, and that hasn’t changed–I’m sufficiently pessimistic about my chances at getting to have friendships that last, particularly in meatlife, that I assume it’s not going to happen. (I have gotten very slightly more optimistic in the past month, but not much.) And okay, maybe I just hang around with pessimistic people, but that planning to be alone is something that every aromantic or WTFromantic person I know does to a greater or lesser degree.

I also want to see characters who worry about losing friendships or having friendships with unequal emphasis on the importance of the relationship. If you’re trying to rely on friendships for emotional support and your friends all happen to be romantic and subscribe to a model of friendship that says “friends are back-ups for when your romantic relationship isn’t working,” there’s going to be an imbalance between your view of what the friendship is “for” and theirs. That can be painful, and I’ve written about that to a limited degree before, too.

I want to see what the effect of being told that you’re basically inhuman for not experiencing the whole romantic attraction thing is. Because I’ve seen that over and over again, including people telling me that to my face when I explained what my orientation actually is. And it’s actually, as far as I can tell, worse for aromantic sexuals in this respect. That kind of thing takes its toll, and everyone reacts differently to it.

5. I want to see the aromantic character’s extant relationships acknowledged as important.

This doesn’t mean a queerplatonic relationship, necessarily (although I’d love any author who gave me one for ever). But it does mean that I want to see the relationships the character has acknowledged as important. I hate the “we’re ‘just’ friends” phrase in all situations, but I would be especially upset to see an author frame friendships or other platonic relationships as unimportant with an aromantic character. I don’t care how the aromantic character derives their emotional intimacy, be it a queerplatonic relationship or several friendships or larger communities or something totally new, but I want to see their relationships treated with respect.

6. I’d like to see happy endings in there somewhere.

This isn’t so much a realism point as a personal wish list. Going back to that fourth point about a lot of the aromantic and wtfromantic people I know being pretty pessimistic about their long-term chances… well. This is contradictory to a point with the rather gloomy things I’ve discussed there, but it would be nice to see works that tell aromantic people that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that good things are possible.

Besides, in my experience happy endings in fiction tend to go right along with finding a romantic partner to settle down with, possibly with children involved. It’s a type of ending that is almost perfectly geared to leave aromantics out in the dark.

That’s my wish list. Anyone have more points to add?

33 Comments »

  1. Can I first just say, being an aromantic female, how much I love this?

    Anyways, to comment more on your points

    0. Agreed,

    1. Yes, it is a very hurtful and offensive stereotype. We may not care about romance or forming romantic relationships, but we can be just as emotional and passionate about anything else, whether that be philosophy, science, art, etc. I think this is a big indicator as to how much the concept of ‘love’ is conflated with ‘romance’ – This really needs to be addressed.

    2. YEEEESSSS!!!!

    Gah, this one annoys me to no end, because it just makes my want to relate to characters all the more difficult. To add further to this, there seems to be this perception in terms of portrayal in women in fiction where there appears to be progress because more women are appearing with professions/out of the kitchen. I can understand this viewpoint. BUT, I think it hasn’t gone far enough, because whilst getting a job is an option, the same cannot be said with romantic relationships. I think people don’t notice this as often because it’s alot more subtle (and most people assume that everybody wants romance anyway), but when you get the same image over and over of women who focus on their career as cold, bitchy, heartless, overworked, always too busy, closed off, and simply put, never happy, then in my eyes there is a problem.

    3. Yes. And can I add to this characters who ‘simply are too busy for relationships’? and also that younger/prepubescent characters who don’t show interest in romance/romantic relationships don’t cut it, because that just further perpetuates the correlation between aromantiscim/immaturity.

    4 and 5. Agreed. One of the things that I have realized what I want so much is ideals/guides on how to build and form relationships that I do want? What I mean is, there is a plethora of examples in tv, movies, and literature, and advice columns in magazines etc. for those who wish to form romantic relationships. There is also an (perhaps increasing as of late?) history and precedent for those who wish to form bromances. But about the female, or any body who wishes to form bonds and relationships with others of the opposite gender that is similar to say, that of the rat pack, the three amigos, etc? Simply put, out of luck.

    6. Agreed. I think a big part of this is the way people so often use romance in fiction. To quote Pippin from dreamwith

    “And then there’s the representation of aromanticism in fiction. Oh, oh wait. No, there isn’t. There’s sexual aromanticism which is often misogynist (guy players are cool! girl players are hoors who need a man to settle her down!). Asexual aromanticism, however? That’s what you pull out when all your inhumanising methods have failed. The most normal thing in media is wanting a romantic relationship. If someone doesn’t want a romantic relationship (and if they’re not just waiting for the right man~~) they are probably going to commit genocide.

    On the flip-side: romanticism is often used to humanise and/or reward a character. It’s lazy and it’s cheap, but it works. Robots want to be human? The thing they want the very most is a romantic relationship. Ex-villain is being rehabilitated and redeeming themself? They’re gonna start dating. Previously creepy/whacky side character starts being more important? Get them a significant other stat. Saved the world? Get a prospective girl/boyfriend. Realised they don’t need someone to be happy? Suddenly: someone to make them happy”

    Ugh, of course, I could also ramble on with the concept of people going with what sells and that, in turn, creating a positive feedback system, but I imagine you know that already

    Comment by Sy — June 12, 2011 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

    • I would like to also add more to point 3. that I would like people who read to me as aromantic, and not people who ‘need to learn how to love?’

      and to add more to point 2. more female aromantics who 1. Aren’t aromantic because they hate men or have been burnt by men/etc in any way 2. Don’t, by narrative/writer, etc. have the implication that they ‘need to remember/learn that they are a girl/female?’

      Comment by Sy — June 12, 2011 @ 11:59 pm | Reply

    • I am glad you enjoyed it!

      Yeah, the way that women are portrayed in fiction as being more or less incomplete without a significant other (almost always a male one) bugs me a whole lot, too. I don’t know if it’s just more obvious because, you know, that’s basically me they’re mocking there or what, but it’s a really common motif and one that’s really frustrating to see. And oh god, the “they’re aromantic because they were burnt by a previous lover! thing is aggravating beyond belief. No, actually, one bad relationship cannot change your orientation, but thanks for playing.

      On 3, that’s a very good point about not trying to “count” characters who are meant to be essentially prepubescent. The funny thing is that the “too busy for relationships” line is something I more or less use to get people to leave me alone if I don’t want to out myself. It’d be pretty interesting to see a character subvert that line in a story, I think.

      (I mostly count the ‘need to learn how to love’ thing under general “inhuman/sociopath” stereotyping, but it’s something I maybe should have made more clear.)

      And yes SO MUCH on wanting models to build relationships on and role models more generally. I want to read about people who have managed to make alternate models work so I have something to look at and make myself feel better, you know?

      Yeah, if I never have to see a romantic relationship used as a cheap, crappy way to humanize an inhuman character I think I’ll die happy. It’s such a godawful trope, and yet it’s so very pervasive.

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 13, 2011 @ 4:30 pm | Reply

  2. I agree with this list completely but as a writer and a romantic asexual who loves writing nonsexual love/romantic love relationships, I would be unsure how to…. do all this correctly. I think it’s a real challenge to write a character relationship that is neither sexual nor romantic yet still presents a very serious love. Obviously, those relationships exist, but I wouldn’t know how to write them without straying too far into what is ordinarily interpreted as “romance” territory. That’s the only issue I see with generating this kind of content in fiction and film/tv. Probably also why the aromantic sociopath is such a common stereotype because it takes away the need for the effort and super specific clarification of the person’s relationships and feelings, etc. It’s something we need to move past….. I just don’t know HOW to do it in a satisfying way. Even if the writer writes a character or character relationships that he or she does not intend to be romantic, the audience wants to interpret strong emotions as being romantic AND sexual in nature. It’s hard enough to convince them that those feelings/relationships are romantic WITHOUT being sexual, let alone conveying that: “This relationship is loving and emotional but it’s not romantic or sexual, nor is this person engaging in it.” Short of writing that very sentence, which is too explicit to fly, I don’t know how one would get that message across.

    So it seems like a conundrum to me. But I hope there’s a solution….

    Comment by Marie — June 13, 2011 @ 4:55 am | Reply

    • Yes, the bit about portraying nonromantic, nonsexual relationships that are also strong and valued by both characters is difficult. I’m guessing that’s why so few people seem to do it.

      Here’s some ideas: you don’t have to focus on a single relationship for your aromantic character. Write several strong platonic relationships and emphasize all of them; I hate to say it, but fewer readers who are automatically assuming all close relationships are romantic and sexual in nature are also looking for polyamory. You can do this by invoking the Nakama trope, or you can have all the relationships be more or less individual to that character with the other friends not interacting that much. You could use family members to be a source of emotional support.

      You could have another character interpreting the relationship between your aromantic character and their friends as romantic and/or sexual in nature and have both characters react in a confused or annoyed fashion. You could have an aromantic character and another character briefly try dating as an experiment and find it unpleasant and not a word that fits the relationship well, or you could have the character mention that they tried that in the past and it didn’t work. You could show the aromantic character’s friend dating someone else and the friendship still being respected as very important to both characters.

      Parts of the audience are going to misinterpret close relationships as romantic and sexual no matter what you do with those relationships. (This happens in real life to asexual and aromantic people, too–growing up I spent way too much time having to explain to certain people that I was not in fact dating certain friends and didn’t want to.) Coming up with relationships for aromantic characters doesn’t have to be so obvious that even the most obsessive shipper in the audience isn’t going to misinterpret them. Which is good, because that’s an impossible goal anyway. For it to work for what I’m looking for, I just want the narrative to come down on the side of the character being aromantic and the character having relationships that are acknowledged by the story as important. That is, no “we’re not really dating!” and little narrative moments shown to indicate that really, the characters are infatuated with one another but don’t want to admit it, no having characters date for real ANYWAY and fall in love in the end (whoops!), no “but secretly she loved him from afar all ALONG!” moments.

      It would help to be willing to use the word “aromantic” or a variant from the character’s own mouth to explain what they are rather than making an audience who has never heard of aromanticism guess at what it means. Alternatively, you could have a character at some point go “I don’t seem to do romantic relationships” or something like that in a conversation with another character. It would also help to have aromantic character as a point of view character. (Probably unsurprisingly, I can think of exactly one aromantic PoV ever.) A lot of these are much easier to explore if you can get into the mind of the character you’re working with.

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 13, 2011 @ 9:10 am | Reply

    • As an aromantic who has to watch/read things without (non-angrymaking) aromantics, I latch onto subtexty relationships quite heavily. Like Neal/Peter(/Elizabeth) from White Collar and Xena/Gabrielle — the sort of relationships where the writers/actors are “tee hee are they aren’t they~~” and 99% of fandom goes “OH THEY TOTES ARE”… because I can ignore subtext! I can go “wow, they have such an amazing and close and strong friendship/platonic life bond” and feel happy and hopeful. (Though, obviously, the purposeful homophobic fanbaiting that some shows set out to do is not something to celebrate!)

      So: looking at those sorts of relationships in the media could be a starting point, but there’s still the difficulty of going the extra distance from ‘subtext’ to ‘textual aromantic relationship’,

      Comment by pippin — June 14, 2011 @ 12:40 pm | Reply

      • I do this, too. And, you know, it’s especially frustrating to see this and know it’s just baiting, and you’re not even the audience they’re trying to bait. I don’t know about you, but when I think about it I feel very, very invisible. You definitely have a good point about making sure to go the distance from subtext to textual aromanticism, and I should probably have focused on that a bit more.

        Fandom can be… frustrating about this, too. I enjoy spending time in fannish spaces, but the fact that fandom often seems to view any close relationship as both sexual and romantic can feel pretty erasing. So does the fact that fandom tends to view all relationships through a sexual and romantic lens–which is actually why I’ve completely stopped reading asexual fic in the Sherlock fandom, because I see more and more of it as being so completely focused on traditional slash tropes that they more or less stop portraying a character who reads to me as asexual in a meaningful way at all. Not to mention the fact that fandom’s focus on the romance can be especially alienating for me as an aromantic person, because a lot of the time it seems like writers can’t think of a way to discuss relationships without fitting them into the entire paradigm of romance. Which feels pretty erasing, you know?

        Comment by Sciatrix — June 15, 2011 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

        • Oh, yes. The group I usually watch White Collar with has a range of sexualities (straight girls, gay guy, bi girl, me), and whenever I’m going “gosh, he’s so pretty in his waistcoat” or “this is one of the best friendships on TV :3″ they’re going “he sure is pretty – I hope there’s another shirtless scene” and “they are soooo gaaaaay hehehe” and… I certainly know which reactions the writers/directors are expecting and which they aren’t.

          And then someone will go “look up this show/book, it has an asexual character in it”. So I look it up and, pretty much every time, end up going “uhhhhhh no”. But there are almost zero shows/books with an ace character that DON’T make me go “uhhhhh no” so I can’t really blame them (almost always sexual people) for not thinking/realising that these portrayals are problematic to me.

          Just can’t win. .___.

          Comment by Pen — June 16, 2011 @ 1:29 am | Reply

  3. Sci, this is an amazing post. Simply amazing.

    Marie- I’d reccommend a read through Charles’ ‘good books for asexuals’ series- http://en.wordpress.com/tag/good-books-for-asexuals/

    Comment by slightlymetaphysical — June 13, 2011 @ 5:14 am | Reply

    • <3 Glad you liked it! And yeah, seconding that rec–Charles has been doing some really good reccing lately.

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 13, 2011 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  4. Since I’ve been involved with the ace community, I’ve begun to realize that I’m seeing many of my main characters as default aromantic and/or asexual. Lately, I’ve had a few original fic ideas kicking around in my head with ace characters, but I haven’t done anything with them, because they’re either unformed, or shameless knockoffs of a certain TV show. This post may have catalyzed me back into action.

    Comment by Aydan — June 13, 2011 @ 9:21 am | Reply

    • I like this idea! And it’s interesting that your default is aromantic and/or asexual–I’d assume people to default to writing to people “like them,” but I’ve seen a couple of people say that they can’t write asexual or aromantic characters, although they themselves are asexual.

      I’m glad you might be catalyzed into action again!

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 13, 2011 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

      • The thing is, I didn’t realize I was writing asexual or aromantic characters until I realized that what I was (ie, aromantic asexual) was not in fact how everyone else is.

        I do have some sexual and romantic characters, but if I ever go back to those stories, I’ll have to reexamine exactly how I handle their sexuality and romanticity. Because my default is not the default.

        Comment by Aydan — June 14, 2011 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  5. I have about 4 only-slightly-different versions of the same Dragon Age 2 story in the works (which basically means I write it once and then make relatively small changes 3 times), at least one of which will feature two of the main character(s) as aromantic asexual (not wanting to give too much away, I will attempt to write a tight and loyal relationship that is not romantic for at least those two but possibly more characters). I think you’re not much into video games (from what I recall), and I’m not really writing this story with people in mind who haven’t played the game (or at least know the background), but anyway, sometime soon it will be out there… on my dreamwidth set to friends-only because of stuff… In case anyone wants to check it out.

    Comment by Norah — June 13, 2011 @ 11:26 am | Reply

    • Oooh, that sounds like a fairly interesting set-up. I’m not into video games much, but I hope someone does take you up on it!

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 13, 2011 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  6. I admit my intentions in asking you this were kind of selfish, as I have a story currently in the planning stages (sooo many plot issues) where the main character is an aromantic ace. This is very helpful!

    Also, just generally interesting. I do want some day to set about collecting literary wishlists for lots of different points on the asexual spectrum, but I will have to wait until I have the mental reserves for that kind of project and some idea of how to organize it, and in the meantime, ask people about it when they ask for writing ideas.

    #1 was at the top of my list, because it’s my general least-favorite trope ever. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I’m a science-fiction and fantasy fan, but I can’t take one more alien or robot or magical creature who’s supposed to represent non-heteroromantic-heterosexuality.

    #2, I haven’t noticed before you pointed it out, but now that you have, I can see it everywhere (well, ‘everywhere’ in the limited scope of what’s out there). I’m trying to think of a book focused on a female character who didn’t in some way get into a romantic or sexual relationship, and beyond younger YA books, I… can’t actually think of one. (And I can’t think of any non-binary human characters.)

    #3 is something that I’m currently trying to fit into the plot, because I know it can’t just be demonstrated by not having the person in a romantic relationship at the moment. Upthread, I see you mentioning writing a character who’s friends with someone in a romantic relationship, and that’s very helpful for me, this was going to lean heavily towards an ensemble cast anyway. I did want to put a lot of emphasis on her making new friendships and connections at this new school, so I’m glad I wasn’t off-base to think that would help out the portrayal.

    I’m debating on the merits and drawbacks of having a coming out scene — not that I don’t think coming out scenes are good, just that I’m not entirely sure of my ability to handle them, since generally speaking I’m not motivated to come out and I fear anything I wrote in this area would be clunky. I had considered her somehow coming out and then later in the story being approached by a friend who is wondering if they could be aromantic, too, and having enough of a conversation to figure out that that person is demiromantic. Slanting the focus a little away from “it’s the Coming Out Scene, y’all” more towards “strengthening her new friendships.”

    #4, I will definitely keep in mind. In a previous incarnation of the story, the main character had actually transferred schools after coming out to her previous set of friends and being rejected for it. I may keep that. It’s also YA, so looking towards the future and having discussions about where they’ll be in ten years won’t be that hard to work in. That might actually settle the “how to slip in the word aromantic” question. Hmm…

    #5, do you remember if that big post on the word queerplatonic was on Dreamwidth or Live Journal? I remember reading it and since you mention it, I’d like to find it again, but I’m not sure where to look. Most of the results I’m finding are from Tumblr, or people just mentioning the definition, and I feel like there was a longer post than that. Of course, my brain might be making that up.

    #6 – I’m really bad at writing unhappy endings (at least for my main characters), but I will remember this as well. :)

    Thanks again for taking the time to write this!

    Comment by ace eccentric — June 13, 2011 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

    • Well, every time I write something like this I get people saying “ooh, I will keep this in mind–I want to write ace/aromantic characters!” So clearly I win anyway. :)

      Do you maybe want to do that through the blog carnival? I know you’re signed up to host it in a few months. Er, I don’t know if you look at Asexual_Fandom at all, but they spend a lot of time discussing asexuality in fiction and also writing asexual characters. It might not be a bad idea to post there asking for wish lists? I know there have been a couple of “describe what you’d like in a character” posts in the past there, too.

      Re #2: I can! It’s actually my favorite portrayal of an aromantic in fiction period, which is Tarma from Mercedes Lackey’s Oathbound books. Tarma is this ass-kicking swordmaster wandering around with her zucchini (I swear, THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE), who is a mage, being awesome mercenaries together. She’s also the only non-white aromantic asexual character I’ve ever seen, which is another point I meant to make in my original list but forgot. More intersectional characters would be nice to see! That series also contains the main aromantic happily-ever-after I’ve seen. It is problematic in some ways, don’t get me wrong, mostly relating to Tarma’s backstory–but it’s problematic in ways that are pretty novel from an aromantic standpoint. (The first book is also problematic on trans* issues–there is an extended subplot in which a male character is placed into a female body and the narrative refers to him with female pronouns, as a warning.)

      Unfortunately I haven’t got any non-binary characters to recommend for you either. Maybe Charles knows of some.

      Re #3, yeah, coming-out scenes can get kind of clunky and stilted, especially since both asexual and aromantic comings-out already have a tendency to devolve into Exposition Central even in real life! The thing is that aromantics seem to solve the intimacy problem in a lot of different ways. I don’t think everyone is immediately going to start after queerplatonic relationships–I know that there’s also been discussion of people who find their emotional grounding in communities, for example. It’s just that you’re going to have to find alternate models of them figuring out what their long-term plans are besides assuming that there’s a romantic relationship in the future, you know?

      Re #5, I do in fact know where that is–it came out of the comments on a post Kaz did back in December. It was on zer Dreamwidth blog. (Scroll down to meloukhia’s comment.) No one’s really bothered to do a big post on that sort of thing since then, which I should really get around to doing…

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 13, 2011 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

      • I was thinking of doing a general literary thoughts thing for the blog carnival, but yeah, it might be easier to do the wish list then. I was going to suggest it as an option among several, but for my own nefarious purposes focusing on that would help ;) I have been on asexual_fandom a bit under my fandom DW account. Sometimes I miss posts, though, I’ll have to go back through at some point.

        I have heard a lot about Mercedes Lackey over the years but never got around to trying any of her stuff out. Also, not heard about it in this context; it’s an interesting thing to learn. (Also, thank you for the warning.)

        I’m looking forward to getting to know the main character’s new group of friends and seeing how they all relate to each other and everything. I definitely want to make it clear that even if they don’t end up in the same spot after high school, they’re not going to fall apart on each other. I’d like to experiment with relationships structures for sure; the better to have a group of people to work with. (And, if I wrote a different aromantic character in the future, make sure I didn’t fall back on the exact same structures I’d thought of before.)

        #5 – Yay! Thank you. I could’ve sworn it was on DW, but when you search text it must just be for posts and not comments, because that one didn’t pop up.

        Comment by ace eccentric — June 14, 2011 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

        • Hey, it’s your round and you get to do whatever you want with it! I have to confess, I’d be excited to see either subject. I bet that if you ask for another wishlist by then I’ll have thought of more ideas.

          These novels are some of her better ones in terms of actual quality, as it happens–if you want to try them, they’re her writing at its best. (Since I assume if you’ve heard a lot about her writing you’ve heard that some of it is, uh. Better experienced at the age of twelve.) I don’t think there’s any other problematic content in them besides the pronouns fail, but it’s been a while since I’ve reread them.

          And oooh, that sounds like a lot of fun to be messing with! I’m actually starting on a creative writing project of my own for more or less the first time at the moment, and I confess it’s a lot more fun than I would have expected to form the characters and explore the way they interact with one another. I’m having a lot of fun tinkering with the different relationship structures that have been set up between different people.

          Comment by Sciatrix — June 15, 2011 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  7. I really, really appreciate this post, because I’m working on a couple of original-fiction pieces right now, and I’ve been seriously second-guessing the fact that none of my main characters have romantic relationships. (I’m not necessarily sure they’re all aromantic or asexual, although I think one of them is, but romance is just not interesting to me, as an aromantic myself.) But I think they’re all well-rounded people, and I’m hoping they will be appreciated (and hopefully published) even without the stereotypical happy ending.

    Comment by Jen Moore — June 13, 2011 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

    • I am glad you have found the post helpful! And I mean, speaking from a purely selfish point, I’d love to see more works with main characters that avoid romantic relationships. The fact that romance seems to have to be shoehorned into everything can be a bit frustrating to deal with sometimes, especially when I just want a bit of escapist wish-fulfillment.

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 13, 2011 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  8. Oooooh, I think you’ve managed to spawn an aromantic character somewhere in the back of my brain. Not sure which project I’ll plonk them* into yet, but… thanks for that. :D

    *They’re being all gender-indecisive. -sigh- And yet they know they want to be ginger… My brain confuses me.

    Comment by Edgar Night — June 13, 2011 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  9. I was asked to write about asexuals in fiction, and when I realised I’d better talk for a bit specifically about aromantics, it was very difficult to not just go “ha. hah. sob.”

    But: even though I realised a few years ago that I COULD write aromantic characters, it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking about writing characters who are aromantic more… actively than passively, I guess? and about what specific things regarding aromanticism I want to explore. It’s one thing to be happy that I don’t have to try and force any romantic relationships, but I think it’ll be quite another thing to have characters who can make readers go “hey! ace!” rather than “I wonder what they do off-page?” (Well, I guess there’s the Asexual Fairy Tale Retellings where the characters go “I’m aromantic and I can’t love you romantically ever!”, but one day I will run out of fairy tales. :p) Especially with stuff like point 4 — I’m so unsure of the future myself. I tend to gravitate to writing nakama-like relationships because they’re so comforting, and you’ve prompted me to think about characters who are less like shounen wizards and pirates and more like me. Thanks!

    (But man, coming out scenes in non-modern/futuristic settings are a pain. So much of how I explain things to people is rooted in terminology and theory that my secondary world fantasy characters wouldn’t have, and I usually end up throwing my hands up in the air when trying to write around them.)

    Comment by pippin — June 14, 2011 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

    • Oh, yes. “ha. ha. sob” was my first reaction to this particular prompt, too. (Well. Actually, it was “I’d like to not see my sexuality equated with sociopaths!” and then I got to talking to friends about what they’d like to see and actually the responses tended to set the bar even lower than I did and then I had to go off for a bit and be depressed.)

      And yeah, I think that when most people think about writing asexuality and especially aromantic asexuality, the knee-jerk reaction is to go “oh, all they’re doing is writing a lack of something! I can just not have them fall in love with someone/be attracted to someone within the timeline of my story and be fine!” Which…. it’s much more complicated than that, actually, and I think that’s not immediately obvious to a lot of people. I think because a lot of the really complicated active aromanticism seems to be long-term, in the way you look at the future (and I admit, I don’t know a single aromantic person who isn’t unsure of the future), and that’s harder to notice in the scope of a single work of fiction that doesn’t necessarily follow the character over the course of their life.

      (Coming-out scenes are a pain even in modern settings, because you have to weigh how much of the jargon the person is likely to have encountered–even modern-day characters might not have gotten around to Googling asexuality, after all!–and how much they’ll actually use in-scene. Hell, even when I come out these days I often just leave it at “asexual” and don’t explain more unless the person I’m coming out to expresses interest, which I can get away with because I’m not trying to avoid giving potential romantic partners the wrong impression. There’s so much very fine-tuned and, hm, difficult to explain shades to my full identity that trying to explain all of it accurately in one go is more or less impossible unless I want to give a lengthy lecture. I wonder if that might be a better way to approach non-technological coming out as asexual scenes–not to use words, but to explain what the character wants and doesn’t want?)

      Comment by Sciatrix — June 15, 2011 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  10. I’d just like to say I adore this list. Especially the last four points right now. I’ve just had a horrible and lonely weekend, and I can’t escape the feeling that it’s because I’m constantly regarded as secondary to all of the more ‘valid’ relationships in my friend’s lives. (Being honest, I think I’m just being paranoid in this particular case, but hell, it’s not the first time I’ve had cause to feel this way. Sometimes the accuracy of these feelings of exclusion are less important than the feelings themselves.)

    More relevant to media representations, a little while ago I rewatched all of Star Trek: DS9. First time I’ve seen it since becoming aware of my aro-aceness, and good lord I must say I hate what they did with Odo. What I hate the most is that by the end my favourite characters were by far Kira and him, and their relationship genuinely provoked strong feelings from me. If the writer’s could have just gotten over their obsession with romance, they could have written more-or-less the same character arc for Odo while maintaining his initial aromanticness. Most of the his later scenes with Kira would have worked just as well as an intimate friendship.

    Comment by Finbarr Ryan — June 19, 2011 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  11. Thanks for this list – it was a good kick in the privilege, and made me re-evaluate stories I’m writing – for example, I’m writing a bunch of entirely aromantic stories, because a) I love reading and writing epic and unlikely friendships, b) I think friendship is an underrated experience, c) Most of the characters are focused on their careers anyway, and d) I assume my hypothetical audience are gonna be shipping everybody anyway, might as well make it easy for everybody.

    At no point did I actually think, ‘Hey, maybe aromantic asexuals be happy to see someone like them’. So thanks for inspiring a whole new perspective when I write.

    Comment by Tristan J — June 24, 2011 @ 5:37 am | Reply

  12. [...] From Finbarr: A wishlist for aromantic characters. [...]

    Pingback by Links of Great Interest: Tons of signal boosts this week — The Hathor Legacy — June 24, 2011 @ 9:36 am | Reply

  13. [...] Plus, there’s a good chunk of asexuals who don’t want to be in romantic relationships at all — and representing aromanticism only with the character turning down requests to date is not going to cut it. Aromantics have to deal with being in a society that says the only really worthy relationship in life is a romantic one. Representing them by writing an aromantic just not dating is not writing an aromantic character. There are lots of other concerns. Sciatrix speculated on some of those here. [...]

    Pingback by Importance to the Plot « an asexual space — June 25, 2011 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  14. Thank you for this article!

    I agree with everything you say, and I’d like to add a tactical, ‘political’ reason for having more aromantic protagonists*.

    There are groups in our societies (fundamentalist religious groups, ‘men’s groups’) who want to reverse even the meagre gains the feminist movement has won and send us, barefoot and pregnant, back to the kitchen — and, in the absence of a broadly based ‘progressive’ movement, the voices of these groups are growing louder and shriller.

    Now every time Meredith Gray hops into bed with Dr McScreamy (or whatever the tabloids call him) in “Gray’s Anatomy,” or Neela Rasgothra of “E.R” fame finds herself unable to resist the ‘charms’ of the new Aussie doctor, a dog-whistle** goes off in these people’s ears, a dog-whistle that says, “See, this just goes to show that men and women can’t work together as friends and colleagues. They’ll always be tempted towards carnality. So the best thing for everyone is to remove one group from the workplace. In our view, it is the man’s role to be the breadwinner and the woman’s to be the homemaker. Therefore it is women who should go.”

    And so, what many women (and some men) see as a lovely romantic story with pleasurable dashes of ‘sexual tension’ — even I enjoy love stories of a certain sort — can become a trap. Now I am *not* saying that ‘romance’ should be banished from popular culture — we will have a hard row to plough to overcome three or four centuries of the self-absorbed individualism inculcated as ‘natural’ by capitalism (not to mention 3 000 years of Abrahamic obsession with sex) — but we could certainly benefit from more ‘mainstream’ stories where men and women, straight and gay, are shown interacting happily and harmoniously simply as comrades!

    *I have used examples from TV rather than literature, but the point stands.
    ** “Dog-Whistle”: A subliminal message meant to arouse a particular response in a certain group of people, encoded in a seemingly innocuous message directed at a general audience.

    Comment by Sally — June 26, 2011 @ 10:44 pm | Reply

  15. SO reading your post prompted me to write Really Bad aromantic fiction. It just happened, okay. I figured I’d share it with you since you participated in making it happen (if unintentionally.) http://archiveofourown.org/works/225679

    Comment by blank — July 19, 2011 @ 7:11 am | Reply

  16. [...] continuum – A wish list of what you want to see in ace continuum characters (as I’ve asked Sciatrix already) – Specific concerns you have about people portraying the ace continuum or characters [...]

    Pingback by Carnival of Aces Call for Submissions « an asexual space — August 2, 2011 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

  17. [...] respected for the length of the third of the story that he appeared in. I would like to say that my favorite ace character, one of the most respectful portrayals of my sexuality I’ve ever seen, isn’t one who [...]

    Pingback by This Is Not My “Better Half” « Writing From Factor X — January 24, 2012 @ 6:48 pm | Reply


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