Writing Realistic Aces, or: On Listening to Your Characters (March 2015 Carnival of Aces)
[ This is my first submission for Carnival of Aces! Hope I didn’t fuck it up. ]
I have been writing about the same two characters for almost twelve years now. When they first came to me when I was a wee teenager, Tanim and Daren were theoretically heterosexual. I say theoretically because even though they both had girlfriends (HAH!) they were very, very, very good friends. Suspiciously good friends. Like, “major homoerotic subtext” good friends. But I was young and inexperienced as a writer and didn’t really understand that your characters drive the story, not you. You’re just the scribe. So I kept on pushing them at these completely 2-dimensional female characters when they were obviously making googly eyes at each other.
What I learned from this experience is that you can’t tell a character their sexuality, just as you can’t tell a real person their sexuality. They tell you. And what Tanim and Daren told me, in excruciating slowness over years of angst and tragedy and dramatic professions of love, is that they were far from heterosexual. Neither, though, were either of them strictly gay, or even bi. They fell somewhere on a spectrum I wasn’t even aware of at the time (thank you, college Psych 101, for introducing me to asexuality!). For though the connection between Tanim and Daren was definitely romantic*, I knew neither of them would be interested in any other man – or any other person, for that matter. Likewise, though in certain story fragments they did engage in sex, I knew it was something Daren was often repulsed by, and something Tanim participated in for reasons other than physical gratification.
If I had to put my boys on the spectrum, I would say Daren is strictly asexual and aromantic, and most likely sex-repulsed to sex-indifferent depending on the story. Tanim, on the other hand, is possibly gray-asexual or demisexual and homoromantic (though he’s basically doomed to only fall in love with Daren). Tanim’s asexuality is complicated by his fetish, however*. He desires sex not because he’s sexually attracted to other men, or because he has a high libido, but because he craves submission. This leads him to frequently engage in dangerous sexual practices and definitely makes him seem like an allosexual character, but at the end of the day the attraction still isn’t there. So while my characters appear outwardly to be in a sexually active homosexual relationship, the reality is much more complicated. And don’t we all love complex characters?
I’m probably not making much sense. I hope I am. The point is, I didn’t tell these characters they had to be asexual. I didn’t set out thinking, “I want to write about asexual characters, and poof! here they are”. I set out to write about these two characters and they turned out to have been asexual the whole time (much like me, haha). I suppose you could call that accidental diversity, but maybe we need more of that; not diversity for diversity’s sake, but diverse characters for the sake of being true to the characters themselves***.
In short, writing realistic asexual characters is as simple as letting the character be themselves. If they tell you, “I’m asexual but when I meet this other character, I’m going to have sex with them,” then cool! That’s what’s going to happen. If they say, “I’m asexual and all I want is a queer-platonic life partner,” then awesome! That’s what you write. And if they say, “Wait a minute, I’m not asexual, what are you doing?” you listen and let them tell you who they really are. As an ace who thought she would never date and never have sex, but who now finds herself in a sexually active, committed lesbian relationship (that could be considered semi-poly if you count Tanim and Daren in there) let me tell you, life throws curve balls. Asexuals come in all shapes and sizes and flavors and colors. Don’t be afraid if your ace character seems to veer away from the stereotype – chances are, the less stereotyped your character is, the closer to representing real asexuals they are.
*Though their form of romance is rather… unique…
**I am forever grateful to the asexual people who discuss their kinks (especially BDSM) online; you have validated what I thought was possible but didn’t know for sure. Thank you!
***Which could be a great tie-in for what Michelle Rodriguez was saying about creating new POC superheroes instead of just changing the race of currently existing ones, but that’s a discussion for a different time and a different person.