Coming Up Aces: Asexuality as Armor

Question: Hi! I’m an ace author who is currently writing a fantasy novel with an ace main character. This is my first time writing an ace character, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. My character uses her asexuality as an armour of sorts, and is somewhat repulsed by sex, yet still willing to use her femininity to her advantage when she needs to. Is this ok? I feel like I’m projecting my own feelings as an ace woman into my character, but I don’t know whether these are personal to me or whether they are ‘typical’ ace traits.

Answer: To begin with, it’s impossible to say definitively whether or not something is okay. “Typical” is also impossible to define. Like “normal,” it doesn’t exist. Experiences, and how people interpret and/or react to those experiences, vary as much as DNA. In those on the asexual spectrum, there definitely seem to be shared moments (feeling out of place or broken at least once, confusion over celebrity crushes, the “aha!” moment when asexuality is discovered), but those moments can have very different impacts on the people living them.

No group is a monolith.

When people discuss diversity, they often talk about “lanes.” Specifically, there is often the question of whether or not people should stay within their lanes when writing. The inherent problem with this analogy is that it takes a whole group’s experience and then contains it within a single lane. This is not only impossible to do (for more reasons than the one I mentioned in the first paragraph), it is damaging to our understanding of both characters and the lives of those people these characters are meant to represent.

No group can fit in a single lane. It’d have to be something more like a superhighway, a massive one with almost twenty lanes and multiple on and off ramps and express lanes. Within any group, experiences and reactions to those experiences differ. Within any group, some individuals are going to disagree about what their “true” experience is like and what accurate representation “should” look like. Sometimes, even if an author writes a story that exactly mirrors and mimics their own life experience, someone somewhere will think they got it wrong. 

As for the scenario you presented, I think it will very heavily depend on your presentation of the character, the situations you put her in, and how both she and the other characters react to those situations. A character who uses her asexuality as “armour” is not inherently problematic—I’ve done exactly this before—but there could be problems in how you describe the feeling, in how the other characters react, or in how the world perceives asexuality in general. There could be problems with the characters reasons for using this as armor, too, especially if those reasons in any way come back to the character hating themselves for this aspect of their personalities.

Everyone needs armor sometimes, and we can use different physical things or personality traits to serve that purpose. I’ve seen people use clothes, jokes, physical appearance, insults, and, yes, orientation as a distraction from some other part of themselves or as a way to distance themselves from others. It happens.

The same logic applies to someone “willing to use her femininity to her advantage” while still being “repulsed by sex.” The combination of these traits in one person is far from impossible, but executing them in a believable and respectful way could get tricky. Keep in mind, too, that readers will be inside the character’s head as they make decisions, and in the descriptions and reasonings an author uses there is the potential for harm. Proceed as the story demands, but do so with care, conscientiousness, and caution.

One thing I do want to mention on that last point, and that I hope to talk about later in greater detail in another post, is that speculative fiction is a vehicle for hope. You can carry our current prejudices and ideologies over into a sci-fi or fantasy world, but you also have the opportunity to create a world without them. Make sure, whichever side of that coin you choose, you are making the choice consciously. Books can be a powerful tool for normalization. I encourage authors to use that tool when they can.

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