Don’t know how many folk know this, but, every month, The Asexual Agenda blog puts out a call for submissions on an ace-related theme. This month’s theme is Literature, Academia and Storytelling, and some of the questions posed by Aria’s Hollow, December’s host, really caught my eye. These three for example: How do you feel about current ace representation in literature? What changes would you like to see? What kind of stories are you most interested in seeing more of? Now, I’m not an avid reader of ace-rep stories, and I think the reasons are connected with my answers to the questions.
Firstly, I want my ace characters to be explicitly ace. I don’t want to be asking the question ‘Are they or aren’t they?’ That might have to be something asked of fiction written before asexuality was a known and talked about orientation (which maybe contributes to my reasons for giving a lot of works a miss) but, for me, please, not now. If the characters are ace, I want to know it. I want to see the word used either on the page or in the author’s note to the reader. No ‘maybe’s. I want to think ‘Oh, there’s something here for me!’
Secondly, I want my ace characters to inhabit a world that’s mundane. By ‘mundane’, I don’t mean (Google search definition number 1) ‘Lacking interest or excitement, dull’, but, rather, definition 2: ‘of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one’. I would add ‘nor a fantasy nor paranormal one’ to that. I know that fantasy and the paranormal are much loved and very popular genres, but for some reason that I fail to understand, my imagination will not let me go to either. So, to identify with a story’s characters, to see my thoughts mirrored in theirs (or not mirrored if there is a learning curve), I have to read fiction that is deeply grounded in terrestrial soil. So, what sort of mundane (definition 2) explicitly ace stories would I like to see more of? One theme in particular: navigating a route through an asexual-sexual relationship. The reason is simple enough: it echoes my real-life experience.
I’m switching from reader view to writer view here and asking a couple of questions of my own. In what ways can writers approach the asexual-sexual scenario? What are the possible story lines? In each of the following possibilities, I’m assuming that the ace character experiences some sort of attraction to the non-ace one. Romantic, sensual… something.
People meet, but the relationship fails. Their a/sexual needs are so different.
People meet, and despite a life without sex, they live happily ever after.
People meet, and they compromise. Sex not often, but sometimes.
People meet, and both are poly-favourable. Perhaps there’s a QPR.
The first: my feeling is that this is a likely result irl; it’s certainly one that surfaces on forums. However, I don’t want to read about unhappiness in a story. I don’t want to be left with a feeling of sorrow and sadness. Life is hard enough without being brought down by a broken-heart tale. I want… I want a happy ending. The second plot line then, but how do you write a love story with protagonists who are content to dispense with sex? T. J. Klune managed in the delightful, funny, wonderful How to be a normal person. An ace/non-ace relationship that works, but (big but) there’s a tiny bit of me that feels that the outcome is almost too good, too happy to be true. Most sexual people (I think) do want sex, at least sometimes. I like my fiction to be truthful, if that makes sense, and so I think that sooner or later there would be a need to compromise. Hence, scenario three. But compromise is rarely satisfactory. By definition, neither party is really getting what they want; each is forfeiting something. It’s an idea that I explored in the story Scar Ghyll Levels. Its two young men are striving (and so far succeeding) to make their relationship work, but are either of them truly satisfied? One has sex he doesn’t really want. One has sex, but not as often as he’d like it. It’s a story line that I would like to see explored more often. I think there is scope for some really sensitive character development and for thoughtful navigation through a very tricky situation. (I’m not implying that I managed to do this successfully! Scar Ghyll is just a short ebook and YouTube video. It scratches the surface, no more.) However, the compromise trope necessarily excludes those characters who are sex repulsed or sex averse. How can a writer bring their stories to life?
I really would like to see more tales that focus on polyamory and queer platonic relationships. There is scope offered within those foci to explore situations whereby a sexual’s needs are met, but the ace’s well being isn’t threatened. There’d be boundaries to establish, problems to face, solutions to be worked out… The protagonists wouldn’t find it easy, but, by working together with commitment to the cause, they could reach their goal. These sorts of lifestyle choices fascinate me, and I’ve been working many of the details out in Books 3 and 4 of my County Durham Quad series. I don’t want to give everything away, but I do think Book 4 has an ace and a non-ace happy ending: all the characters get what they want. I’m sure that their future will have difficulties (Book 5?) but a poly/QPR/ace scenario is, for me, an interesting and exciting way to examine an asexual-sexual relationship.
Okay, as this was written in response to a blog request, I don’t wish to offer PR details of my own work directly: it would seem wrong to do so! There are plenty of details on my other Poly All Sorts posts – novel buy links, YouTube link – all there. I will just say that the latest novel, Body Parts And Mind Games (which does contain one short, intimate description) is available as an ebook and in paperback and I wrote it precisely because it’s the kind of thing I like to read and the kind of thing I’d like to see more of! Thank you for reading this – Jude, at Poly All Sorts.