Category Archives: Q and A

Coming Up Aces: Pet Peeves

Brianna asks: What are your biggest pet peeves with bad asexual rep? Or, what are some of the most common, hurtful things we should be vigilant to avoid when writing ace characters?

Answer: While there are a number of answers to this question, I have to preface everything that follows with this—I am speaking from my experience, and I won’t hit all the points. What hurts me and the people I know is not necessarily a universal wound the entire ace community shares.

In my initial post for Coming Up Aces, I talked a little bit about this, but from a different angle. That post contained a list of everything asexuality is not, essentially a list of common misconceptions and myths. When looking for pet peeves and issues that will cause significant pain when an author gets them wrong, start there. These are common mistakes that are talked about a lot. Getting them wrong in your representation means you didn’t do much homework, probably didn’t talk to anyone who identifies on the asexual spectrum, and are probably looking for “diversity points” more than anything else. Don’t do that. People can tell, and they will call you out for it.

So let’s start there. My biggest pet peeve is authors who don’t take the time to research the experiences they’re trying to represent. You don’t have to include marginalized characters in your book. Honestly. You don’t. If you’re not going to take the time to read what others have written about their own experiences, interview people with questions specific to the needs of your story, and then find readers who can review your manuscript for accidental errors or poorly phrased statements, please do not include us in your book. Don’t include anyone different from you if you’re not going to put in the effort to do it right.

More specifically, it hurts when authors use asexuality as a trick or a smokescreen. Sounds ridiculous, right? It’s not. The first “example” of an on-page asexual I ever found did this. The character (meaning, the author) claimed to be asexual to push off advances from an admirer. He wasn’t asexual or even questioning—something he admitted later in the book—he was a virgin who had spent so much of his life isolated that he was terrified of intimacy. Do not do this. The noise I made when I first saw “asexual” used in print was ridiculous. I was so happy! That quickly faded as I picked up on where the author actually intended to go with this character. By the time we reached the end where the so-called “asexual” character had been “fixed” with sex and admitted he was never really ace to begin with, my heart hurt. I almost never return books, but you better believe I got rid of that one. It seems small, but the ace community doesn’t have much representation to claim. Even one character using asexuality as a ruse hurts. For a lot of readers, it was probably the first time they’d ever encountered the term, and now it seems like something people make up, a lie they use to cover up fear. That kind of belief (or disbelief as the case may be) is excruciating to face in real life. Having it reinforced by fiction helps no one.

Another huge issue is the misconception that sexual attraction and sexual action are the same thing. I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone. Romantically, yes, but it was never anything deeper than that. I’ve had sex, though, and the experience was enjoyable, even if I participated more for the emotional connection and to please my partner. That’s me, though, and my libido is nearly as non-existent as my level of sexual attraction. Others on the asexual spectrum have a much higher libido and enjoy sex frequently. Yes, there are those on the asexual spectrum who are sex repulsed (or even touch repulsed) and will never have intercourse with anyone, but that’s not a universal fact. All of these experiences are valid, but when writing an asexual character who enjoys sex, pay attention to the distinction between libido and attraction. Wanting sex is not the same as wanting another person sexually.

Since we’re on the subject of sex, there’s a big difference between portraying sex as an act that “flips a switch and fixes someone” and an individual who has been questioning where they fall on the asexuality spectrum and eventually discovers that demisexual is a more accurate label than asexual. There is nothing broken in someone who identifies as asexual, and therefore, there’s nothing to fix. However, new experiences can absolutely change someone’s understanding of themselves and make them reevaluate things they previously thought they understood. Tread carefully is you want to write this sort of arc and you’re not coming from a place of personal experience. It would be incredibly easy to accidently get this story wrong, even with the best of intentions.

I could keep going for a long time, digging into a lot of different mistakes and misinterpretations that can do a lot of harm to the asexual community. For today, though, I’m going to close this off with trauma. It’s a touchy subject for a lot of reasons—as well it should be—but it’s an experience a lot of people outside the ace community conflate with our experience. There is a pervasive belief that assault or trauma is the “cause” of asexuality. It’s not. It can be a contributing factor for many—I know my own assault and an emotionally abusive marriage had a huge impact on my perception of relationships—but there is no “cause” of asexuality. It’s not a condition any more than homosexuality or bisexuality is. If your character has a trauma in their past, be careful of how you tie it to their orientation. It can absolutely make them more leery of taking chances on new people or new relationships, and it can change their comfort level with touch and types of touch, but their innate orientation is a different story. Survivors of assault should be treated with far more respect than that kind of assumption grants them.

Like I mentioned before, there are so many more myths, mistakes, and misconceptions that bother me and hurt the community at large, and I could probably write a book on the subject, but these are some of the most common I’ve seen. They’re also incredibly easy to avoid if the proper research is done. Hopefully, this will offer a place to start for those willing to take the time and do it right.

Coming Up Aces: Historical Asexuality

Caitlin says: I’m ace, and I’m writing a book that features ace girls in love during the French Revolution. My problem is this: I’ve read a lot about how important it is to use the actual word of the sexual orientation in question on the page, especially in YA, as it might introduce teens to words they might need. However, “asexuality” as a word wasn’t coined until about 30 years after this book takes place, and then only in the sense of plants and asexual reproduction, not people. If this was a contemporary I’d put it all over the place very happily, but this seems different.

I know I’m probably using more words that aren’t period appropriate – though I’ll weed some out in edits, I’m sure – but should I skirt around historical accuracy and just use the word? It feels a bit clinical and out of place to me, but am I just being weird? I’d love some further thoughts from other people on this!

Erica says: To start with, thank you for asking this question! This is a subject I’ve been meaning to research in more depth for a while now, and this was the perfect nudge to push me in that direction.

Before we start, a reminder to readers just in case they (like me) couldn’t remember specifically: The French Revolution occurred between 1789 and 1799, and it definitely precedes any known public acknowledgement of asexual spectrum identities. At least any that have been translated into English.

Now, let’s cover the words we do know and when they were first used. 

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, asexual as a biological description meaning “having no sex or sexual system” was coined in 1829. It wasn’t first applied to human orientation until Mangus Hirschfeld used it in a pamphlet called Sappho und Sokrates that he wrote in 1896 (the original is in German, but you can read translations of some of the relevant sections here). Hirschfeld used it to mean “wanting [lacking] sexuality, being of or referring to neither sex.” Before that though, there was something else.

The term anaphroditous appears in the The New Sydenham Society’s lexicon, printed in 1879, and it means “not enjoying physical love; impotent” (pg. 205), but it may have first appeared before that date. However, according to sources the Online Etymology Dictionary pulls from, anaphrodisiac (“diminishing the sexual appetite”) was first used in 1823. Basically, it’s an antonym of aphrodisiac, so it seems to be more of a description for food or other things rather than people. The entry does list anaphrodisia, anaphroditic, and anaphroditous as related words, but there’s no entries for those specifically, and so it’s hard to know if any of those forms existed prior to that time. Anaphroditous certainly appeared before its inclusion in the Sydenham Society’s book, though.

So, great. Words acknowledging the existence of people who aren’t interested in sex are WAY, WAY, WAY older than most of the world realizes. Since there’s no concrete evidence (that I could find) saying when the related forms of anaphrodisia were first used, it’s believable to stretch it back in verbal use if not written another couple of decades. However, would the general population in 1823 know what anaphroditous meant? Possibly, but probably not unless you’re writing about people who are highly educated, well-traveled, and open to schools of thought about human psychology and sexuality that most of society didn’t acknowledge. 

Just because someone doesn’t know the word “asexual” or “anaphroditous” doesn’t mean asexual spectrum orientations didn’t exist. Actions, behavior, and beliefs matter, and all of those can be shown on a page. If the ace-spectrum character is a viewpoint narrator in first person or close third, you also have direct thoughts to contribute to the full picture of the character’s personality and opinions. And also their attractions (or lack thereof).

Even without a historically accurate word, there are still comparisons and descriptions that can be used—as long as they don’t rely on inaccurate metaphors. Calling your ace-spec character a priest, for example, draws an incorrect parallel between celibacy and asexuality. However, constructing a scene in which the ace-spec character gets hit on and then explains that they’ve never been attracted to anyone is a good idea. How the character interacts with the world and how an author describes them will also greatly depend on where the character falls on any number of spectrums. How do they feel about casual touch? Intimate touch? Sexual touch? Do they experience aesthetic or romantic attraction? Are they neurodiverse? Are they a minority in their society in a way additional to their orientation? All these factors and many more influence an individual’s opinions on and interactions with sex and society. They’re also crucial aspects of the character, especially if they’re a major player in the story.

If the character does have sex at some point in the story (an action which in no way invalidates their asexuality), a verbal statement concerning their lack of attraction will clue the reader in to their asexuality. As long as that idea is also repeated after the sexual encounter—otherwise, most readers will assume attraction between the sexually intimate partners and then assume orientation based on the stated gender of the partners. Honestly, without a word to use, the lack of attraction will need to be repeated several times in a variety of ways (thought, behavior, and dialogue) to reinforce the concept in the audience’s mind. As we know well by now, characters tend to be interpreted as straight until forcefully proven otherwise. And characters coded too casually (like Dumbledore, for example) don’t work when you’re trying to add representation.

An alternative is invention. If a historically accurate word doesn’t exist, create one with a basis in the language of the period. As a reader, I’d find it believable that a word once used in conversation but rarely written down would fall away and be forgotten. It happens. This applies to science-fiction or fantasy worlds as well. In my novel Island of Exiles, for example, I created the word ushimo to replace asexual. As long as the created word is explained the first time and then repeated throughout, it could conceivably be a stand-in for the language we use today.

A final possibility is the addition of an author’s note. These aren’t uncommon, especially in historicals. If there’s something you want to be sure readers understand, adding an explanation on the etymology of asexual could reinforce the idea in readers’ heads. And also introduce people to the current terminology. That’s a necessity if awareness and acceptance is going to spread.

Mostly, writing a character in a time “before” asexuality (no such thing!) is about the three Rs—repetition, respect, and representation. Represent your character’s actions and thought respectfully and repeatedly (with situational variation, of course). If you do these things, and get sensitivity readers to help you catch mistakes, you will succeed more often than not.

Have a question? Great! Submit it here for the ongoing Coming Up Aces Q&A.

DiversifYA Interview: Growing Up Ace

This interview was originally conducted by Marieke Nijkamp and posted on DiversifYA.

1. How do you identify yourself?

Since I didn’t discover the term “asexual” in the context of a potential human orientation until last year (I was 29 and already divorced), I’m still figuring out my precise classification. For now, however, I think heteromantic graysexual is close. Both sides of that label set are subject to change if necessary, though. 

2. What did it feel like growing up asexual? 

You know that feeling when you’re hanging out with a group of people who have known each other for ages and they’re all really nice and everything but they keep referencing people you don’t know, places you haven’t been, and inside jokes you don’t get?

Yeah, that’s what growing up asexual is like. Especially when you don’t know that asexual is an orientation option and so you can’t ever quite put your finger on why you’re ever so slightly on the outside of most groups. 

I didn’t understand celebrity crushes. I have never once called someone “hot” and meant it the same way everyone else seemed to. When I did develop a crush on someone, it was always someone I knew. Even then, the crushes felt different in my head than the way my friends talked about theirs. I never fantasized about anything beyond kissing someone. In fact, most of my relationship fantasies were more about having someone to go places with and hold hands with and kiss whenever I wanted than anything to do with sex. 

It’s not like I didn’t know what sex was or anything. My parents only filtered out the worst, most explicit of content, otherwise letting us choose to watch whatever we were interested in, so I’d seen plenty of portrayals in movies and on TV and, honestly, it always made me a little embarrassed when I watched those moments. Again, though, I couldn’t ever explain why I was so embarrassed. All I knew was that no one else seemed to feel that way about those super passionate on screen kisses or the moments when the romantic leads start losing clothing. 

Movies aren’t the worst of it. Friends, even the well-meaning ones, were a lot harder to cope with than the media. At least the media doesn’t have any expectations of you, right? Friends do. 

I remember a moment from when I was in middle school, something really innocuous and also incredibly telling. Three of my friends had apparently had a conversation about sex on a day I wasn’t there and, during the course of this conversation, had decided at what ages all of us were probably going to lose our virginity. One of them had already lost it, one they decided would probably lose hers around sixteen, one around eighteen, and then they looked at me and said, “You’ll probably be a virgin until you’re thirty.” 

They weren’t right (I was seventeen when I had sex for the first time), but they might have been if I’d known that was an option. Instead that proclamation from them felt like a judgement. The words felt like they had edges and that there must be something I was doing wrong if they thought that about me. I didn’t know what it could possibly be, but there must have been something I was doing to make them see me this way. It felt wrong and shameful and confusing because I didn’t know why it felt wrong and shameful. I didn’t know why it was such a huge deal that I thought kissing a boy was a big deal when I was in sixth grade. I didn’t understand why so many of my friends spent their energy gushing over this celebrity and that crush and how important it was that this person liked them back. 

For me, growing up asexual—especially without having that word in my vocabulary to help me understand just why I was different—left me feeling constantly off balance. It was almost like I was playing a part and hadn’t learned all the lines but I’d managed to fake it really well but still lived in fear of someone calling me on it. It was a quietly terrifying feeling because I knew that, when someone finally did call me on it, I wouldn’t have any way to explain it to them in a way that made sense. How could I when it didn’t even make sense to me?

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Biggest challenges? Romantic relationships. Although this may just be a personal challenge and fear because of my history with them. 

For a very long time I was in a relationship with (and then married to) a guy who fell practically on the opposite end of the libido spectrum from asexual. Yes, sure, all relationships involve compromise and finding a comfortable middle ground, but sometimes two people can be so far away from each other on a particular subject that the middle ground isn’t comfortable for anyone. It didn’t help that my ex was emotionally manipulative and abusive, continually reinforcing the “there’s something wrong with me” fear that had been present but far quieter during childhood and adolescence. The whole experience with him also reinforced the fear that I wouldn’t ever be able to find anyone who understood and accepted my sexual apathy. Years after my divorce, I still haven’t found anyone, but at least now I’m starting to believe that I one day might. 

In the perks department…ummm, I don’t know? People seem to spend a lot of time obsessing about sex, relationships, crushes, unattainable hotness, and the rest and I don’t? All of that seems honestly tiring, so I’m kind of glad it doesn’t often cross my mind!

4. What do you wish people knew about being asexual? 

That it exists. It’s a real orientation and as legitimately not a choice as being a brunette or homosexual or brown skinned or transgender or anything else. It’s a part of who I am, part of who a lot of people are, and denying its existence and/or validity can cause more damage than you know. 

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Honestly, I almost wish there were so many examples of asexuality in the media that I could answer this easily. There isn’t, though. The clichés and stereotypes I’ve seen come more often from others. What I have gotten from people who don’t know about or truly understand asexuality is usually something close to one of these: 

“You don’t like sex? Really? Are you sure you’ve been doing it right?”

“Oh, well you just haven’t met the right person! Wait until you do then you’ll see what you’ve been missing.” 

“So, what? You’re a prude?”

“Were you, like, raped or molested or something? ‘Cause then it’d make a little sense.”

“You’re asexual? You can’t be! You’re not a virgin!”

“Wow, so you actually expect to find a guy who doesn’t want sex? Good luck with that one.”

Let me just tell you now that those statements or ANY VARITION THEREOF are invalidating, offensive, and ignorant. Please, just…don’t. 

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Do NOT—and I really, really mean it when I say this—do NOT use the word asexual to describe a character if you’re going to eventually “fix” them with sex. Don’t. Also, do not apply the label asexual to a character who doesn’t actually fall into that orientation. I cannot even describe to you the wordless excited noise I made recently when I read a book and “asexual” was there staring at me from the page. It was there! A character who was kind of like me! Oh joy and rapture!! But then I kept reading and realized that, no. The character wasn’t actually asexual. Instead they were a virgin who had multiple non-sexual traumas in their past and a fear of inadequacy that made them decide to use that word to keep someone they weren’t sure they trusted at bay. I could see the rest of the plot unfold from that moment and, as I read, it did exactly what I’d fervently hoped it wouldn’t. It took away that one little bit of representation I thought I’d found and turned him into just another allosexual. 

I almost cried.

We don’t have enough examples of stated, actual asexuality in literature for authors to throw the label around like it doesn’t matter. It matters. So much. 

In a more general sense, “diverse” characters—no matter what their orientation, religion, gender, ability level, ethnicity, etc.—is still a character. They’re a person who is in some way going to represent a real person who exists in the world. Just like that real person who is out there somewhere, your character should be as individual as possible. Even identical twins have different experiences, perceptions, intelligence levels, interests, reactions, and emotions, so why the ever loving hell would you expect every single black/gay/asexual/woman/trans/(fill in the blank) to be exactly the same? 

Write the character as a person with their own thoughts, goals, and lives. Then, when you’re done, find a beta reader who belongs to the group you’re writing about. (And, FYI, by “in” I do actually mean “in,” not just “somehow tangentially related to the group because for one week in college they knew someone like that.”) When you get your feedback, listen to it but also keep in mind that just like your character can’t possibly represent every single member of their group, neither can whoever you chose as a beta reader.  You’re probably not going to get everything perfect and you’re probably going to get called on it. Listen to the criticisms, learn from them, and apply the lessons the next time you write. It’s all anyone can do. 

Halloween Book Trail

201410-HBT14 - banner

Welcome to the next stop on The Woods trail of Zoraida Córdova’s Halloween Book Trail! I got to answer some fun questions about Halloween and desert islands and fear and all sorts of things. Check it out here and then continue on your journey through The Woods!

201410-HBT14-The-WoodsIf your MC went trick or treating, what would they dress up as and why?

The last time Mariella went trick or treating it was in sixth grade. She and K.T. teamed up and they went as Antony (Mariella) and Cleopatra (K.T.). They made pretty much everyone treat them like royalty all week and everyone called them Tony and Cleo for the rest of the year.

Hudson didn’t go trick or treating much as a kid, but J.R. thought Halloween was amazing. The October before J.R. died, Hudson took him trick or treating for the first time. J.R. dressed up like Hulk—Hudson even painted the kid entirely green for the occasion—and he picked out Thor for Hudson. Since Hudson’s hair is so short, J.R. insisted on a wig. This insistence came in at the last minute so the only one Hudson could get was meant for young girls and was therefore too small for his head, too long, and had bangs. It looked ridiculous on him but it made J.R. happy and that was pretty much all that mattered anyway.


What scares the pants out of you?

Honestly, the intangible is more frightening to me than the tangible. And I’m not talking about ghosts. Spiders and heights and small, dark places are all less frightening to me than betrayal and abandonment. Those concepts and actions can do much longer lasting damage than a lot of other things worth being afraid of.


Do you legit believe in ghosts and things that bump in the night? (We won’t think you’re cray)

I’ve never seen anything, but yes! The universe is too vast and complex for there not to be things that we haven’t seen or can’t understand. What I don’t think is that any of it exists in the forms we have stories about. Vampires, werewolves, quasi-corporeal ghosts, etc. all may be based in something real, but most of that probably comes from the collective imaginations of humanity. Speaking of the human collective, the theory of universal consciousness is something I’m pretty much 100% sure is real.


If you were stranded on a deserted island or haunted house, what number are you to die and how?

Probably first. And it would be some stupid accident on my part or the fact that I exercise, like, never and am incapable of pulling myself up should I fall through broken floorboards or over a cliff or off a roof or something. Or, since I know nothing about shooting guns, I’ll misfire and hurt myself. Really, don’t trust me when things go to hell. I am not the person you want with you in a horror movie or zombie apocalypse or even on a deserted island.


What magical/supernatural creature do you secretly want to be?

I’ve never had an extremely strong desire to be a magical/supernatural/mythological creature (it seems like the cons really outweigh the pros most of the time; I would possibly make an exception for having the Gift out of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall world), but there are a few I would have loved to meet and/or have. Pegasus has always fascinated me as have fairies (the tiny, spritely ones, not the evil, manipulative ones). What I’ve really always wanted, though, is a dæmon out of The Golden Compass. I would jump on a chance to visit that world and meet my dæmon in a heartbeat!

 Want to continue on the trail? Next up is our fantastic hostess Zoraida Córdova! Visit her blog and study up! There will be a quiz. 😉

Q&A: So, about “stealing”…

Recently, I received a question about one of my previous posts Stealing: How to do it the Right Way. I thought that this question was a perfect example of the fine line between plagiarism and inspiration, so I asked her permission to post our Q&A as a continuation of that subject. Below you will find her question and my answer. I hope they help you out!

i wanted to ask you about your concept of stealing. see, i recently started writing a story/novel that was pretty much screaming at me to be written. however, i only got through the end of chapter one before i realized that it was shockingly similar to a short story i had read about a week beforehand. i stopped writing, but i think it was fairly good work. and since i REALLY don’t want to plagiarize against my favorite author, i have to ask: is the story of a half-angel who can feel when people need him and suddenly feels this suffocating need to help the new girl in school who has been damned to hell because she’s really a devil TOO similar to the story of a new boy in school who can feel emotions and notices an overwhelming pain coming from a girl whose heart has been shattered? (i’m sorry if that was confusing…) the former situation is in the short story by stephenie meyer in the book “prom nights from hell,” and the latter is my own plotline.

i ask you for your opinion because i’m sure you have MUCH more experience than me; also, i really do like the story — i felt a particular connection to the characters, which is a good thing, i assume — and i hope to continue it. i don’t think i can right now, though, knowing that it’s potentially infringing on somebody else’s work. i mean, i don’t suppose it matters, because i really doubt i’ll try to get this published, but all the same…

i really hope you can help me out a little. i don’t want to be stuck on fanfiction forever.

thank you so much!!!


Well, it depends. I do think that your story summary sounds incredibly similar to the Prom Nights From Hell story, but there is the possibility for it to be different. It all depends on HOW everything happens.

If you did research, I bet you will find numerous stories that could be summed up with that sentence: Boy feels girl who is immense pain and feels he has to help her. At the same time, each story is dramatically different. What you have to do is put your characters in a situation that brings out the differences rather than the similarities. For example, maybe the boy doesn’t want to help her at first. Maybe he never liked this girl and feels like she wouldn’t be worth the effort. Or, maybe this girl doesn’t want the boy to help her. Maybe, after whatever broke her heart, she is afraid of letting any guy get too close. Maybe the guy who broke her heart is the main character’s best friend, so he has to choose between believing whatever his best friend told him about the break-up and obeying his natural urge to help this girl who is in pain. Maybe that choice is even harder because he finds out the girl got drunk and cheated on his best friend.

There are hundreds of thousands of possibilities with a story like this. All you have to do is dress it up in a situation that makes it entirely your own. Get to know your characters; they’ll tell you where to go.