Asexuality Awareness Week & Writing Asexuality by Matthew J. Metzger

For those who missed it (and shame on you), this week was Asexual Awareness Week. And given that a fair number of you will have gone ‘huh?’ at that very first sentence, I’m going to start from the top.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation. Get your head out of the biology textbooks, geeks, ’cause it is not about splitting yourself in half or making tiny clone yous. Although that would be pretty sweet. An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.

That’s…it.

Think of someone you absolutely, definitely are not sexually attracted to in any way, shape or form. Your mum. Your little sister. Your pet hamster. (I really hope, by the way, all these fall into the ‘would not bang’ category for you guys.) Now imagine the entire world is that person.

That’s what being asexual is like. It’s a whole world of people in the ‘would not bang’ category.

That’s not to say asexual people don’t find others attractive in different ways — we still meet people we’d like to date, we meet people and go ‘holy hell, you’re awesome, I’m gonna keep you, let’s be friends’, and we are perfectly capable of forming very deep, very intense, and very permanent attachments to others.

We’re just not into the whole sex thing.

And that’s it. We’re not into sex. So why is asexuality still so enormously underrepresented in queer fiction (and queer romance especially), and so misunderstood by the people creating, talking about, and enjoying that fiction world?

Don’t believe me?

I got talking about asexuality four times in past two weeks with readers and writers of queer fiction. One said she understood asexuality, then promptly asked what I meant when I said I was an aromantic asexual. Another asked how I could have a libido but be asexual. A third — a fellow author — said he didn’t want to write much about asexuality or transgenderism until he’d done heavy research into the matter. And the fourth…well, we’ll come back to the fourth in a minute.

Now I’m sitting here going ‘you’re kidding, right?’

If I was gay, those would be downright stupid questions. Who doesn’t know the basics of gay in this industry, come on! And yet I wasn’t in the least bit surprised about any of them. Which in itself is a major problem when we’re talking queer romance! We’re not talking only gays, or only lesbians — we’re talking queer, the whole QUILTBAG, and A stands for Asexual.

So.

Let’s play a numbers game. One of the biggest resources for understanding asexuality and meeting asexual people is AVEN: The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. In a nutshell, it’s a forum. Shall we wander in?

At the time of writing (29th September), there were over 8,600 topics in the ‘Asexual Q&A’ forum, which is where people ask questions about being asexual — typically starting with ‘is it normal if…’ and ‘am I asexual if…’

Another forum, Asexual Relationships, had over 7,300 topics, comprising of over 119,000 individual replies. We’ll come back to this one too.

Two subforums under the umbrella category ‘Visibility and Education Projects’ had over 3,800 topics.

The identities area, which is where people whose asexuality intersects with other aspects such as disability, gender identity, romantic orientation, ethnicity and so on, had over 5,000 topics.

And in the UK section of the ‘Meet-Up Mart’, where social gatherings in the real world are planned and carried out on a regular basis, there were nine upcoming (in the next four weeks) meets jostling for attention.

This is a big-ass community, guys.

I’ve seen gay and transgender forums quieter than this. Which in itself says something: that so many are flocking to a forum simply to find out who they are. The invisible orientation really can be sometimes, and it can be a damn lonely place. In AVEN, a community has been built…and yet the wider world has no idea it exists.

Sadly, queer romance is suddenly part of that wider world.

A while ago, I came out of the closet as a transgender asexual. This was partly in response to an incident where I saw a gay male author openly stated on a queer fiction page that, in his esteemed opinion, asexuality was not an orientation but a sign of psychological or physical malfunction. And part of the reason for such blind ignorance persisting even within the queer fiction community is that asexuals are still being left by the roadside. We’re slowly seeing more good bisexual characters. We’re gradually seeing transgender stories creep in around the seams. But for asexuals, the TBR pile is still vanishingly low.

A community with over 7,300 topics about asexual relationships.

Asexuals can fall in love. Asexuals can be loved. They can have fun, silly, messy relationships, and get their hearts broken. They can try and work it out with a sexual person, or get together with another ace and laugh at all the bad rom-coms that make such a big deal out of the big D. The last asexual meet I went to, I learned that two of the other guys there had just gotten engaged. And they are, frankly, one of the most sweet and affectionate couples I’ve ever seen. It’s great news! (And their wedding better have stripey purple and grey cake.)

Now, I want to end on a big motivational speech about not being scared of writing people who are only different from you in that they’re not interested in sex, but people will only read it, make the appropriate noises, and then never motivate themselves to do any research they feel is necessary, and that ‘they’re different’ mentality sticks.

So here’s a starting point, to get you over the ‘zomg, different!’ hurdle.

Listen to the asexuality podcast, Pieces of Ace. Hosted by some of the weirdest and funniest guys AVEN has to offer, this is asexuality at its random best. They have an episode every Sunday, cats usually crop up somewhere, you can watch it live or watch it later, and it really is the weirdest and funniest thing the community has to offer. And if you’re an Anglophile from the US of A, watch it harder. This is what British nerdery really looks like.

I will finally shut up with a few lines from an asexual reader who got in touch with me this weekend. The fourth person I mentioned earlier. She said it better than I ever could:

“…I read also your post about asexuality on your blog and how it is mostly ignored by the LGBT community and how you feel invisible and oh, I share that feeling. I am asexual myself, I didn’t know something like that existed before I read a fan story about an asexual character three years ago and I used google to educate myself. It was such an overwhelming relief to find out that there are other people like me, that there is nothing wrong with me for not wanting to have sex, for not being sexual attracted to people. And at the same time I felt terrible out of place, because asexuality still is viewed as a curable state, something which has to be fixed or which cannot exist in the first place.

“People who write about asexual characters, have them fixed by sex in the end, the LGBT community mostly ignores us and in real life we are viewed as a strange specimen…Asexuals are not broken, we don’t need to be fixed, we can have valid relationships – friendships, (non-)romantic relationships etc. I too hate those stories, which transfer the message that asexuality is erased as soon as the right guy/women etc. comes across.

“I think those stories are so very damaging. I do get it that it is hard for not-asexual people to wrap their mind around the fact that there are women, men etc. who aren’t experiencing sexual attraction, because our society does focus a lot on sex – look at all those romantic movies, books etc. and it is nothing wrong with it – I enjoy to read those books, watch those movies, but still I think sometimes you also have to try to think outside the box…

“I just wanted to thank you for your blog entry, for the things you wrote – for causing awareness. For making me want to cause awareness too! Thank you. Thank you so much.”

So what are you waiting for?

Stop being scared of writing people who are just like you, without the screwing.

Now go write them.


About Matthew J. Metzger

Matt is an asexual, transgender author living and working in the wet and windy British Isles. He writes both adult and young adult fiction, typically focusing on gritty issues such as domestic abuse, mental illness, prejudice, and – of course – the queer experience. Matt has a special fondness for characters with rough edges, writing accents into dialogue, and mixing humour with emotional turmoil.

When not writing, Matt is usually sleeping, working out, or crunching numbers at his day job. He wonders sometimes what it’s like to have a life, but is then reminded that the next book is due soon.


About The Suicidal Peanut

matthewLife’s not easy when your mum’s nuts, your uncle is becoming your aunt, and one of your crushes could — and probably would — break your face if he found out how you felt about him.

That’s Tab’s life, though, malevolent gods and all. His text-flirting with Demi, the brother of his best friend, is going nowhere: Demi already has a boyfriend and anyway, who dates their best friend’s twin? But then, the pining after Nick is going nowhere either, because Nick probably likes gay-bashing on Friday nights for fun. He’s gorgeous, but he’s dangerous, and Tab knows better than that.

So what’s a bit of harmless flirting, when one is taken and the other is straight? It’s just a bit of fun.

That is until Demi is suddenly single, and Nick is not looking as straight and scary as he was before.

Grab a copy on Amazon US

Amazon UK

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Maybe you have to have been there, but I can’t see getting angry about someone wanting to research something before writing about it. It means they don’t want to mess it up. I see POC and other less represented groups on twitter all the time desperately reminding people to please do their homework and get input from someone, preferably several people, before writing about an experience they haven’t had themselves.

    • It grates largely because I see a lot of people saying ‘oh yes I would love to write [insert thing to write about that isn’t common knowledge] but I’d have to do more research first.’ And then never do the research. It’s too often used as a way of ending the conversation rather than actually committing to doing anything about under-representation, or learning anything about the group in question. And the result is that the issue is never really addressed, is pushed aside by murmurings of ‘I need to do more research’ without any commitment to actually undertaking it. I’m not saying everyone does this, but I’ve seen too many people do it. Hence I focused more on what’s being left behind (i.e. a sprawling community that’s come together largely because it *is* so forgotten) than why it’s been left behind.

  • Thank you for this post. It’s nice to see someone get upset about the underrepresentation of a group of people for a change. There are more books showing up with ace characters, but as you say, the number is vanishingly small. They do exist, however, because of people like you and Sam Burke and Alex Beecroft and T.J. Klune and others. Thank you very much from a fellow ace!

  • Thank you for a wonderful post, Matthew! I’m proud as punch to be sharing this Queer Romance day with you. I really enjoyed your clear explanations and analogies of what can indeed sometimes be a difficult notion to get one’s head around. And I really appreciate your encouragement to the wider community to write more ace characters. It can feel very freeing to a writer to be told it’s OK.

  • Thank you so much for writing this post — and again, to put a spotlight on asexuality. As an asexual reader myself, I can feel what that reader in your blog says. ALTHOUGH, I also come from a culture where sex is not as blatant as in the U.S. So in that regard, I maybe a bit lucky, although I’m not sure people will have any idea what asexuality is all about as well. Heck, I just found out about it myself when I hit my 30’s! And I feel grateful every single day for being able to find the materials and information that I needed.

  • Wow, thank you, this is a really fascinating piece! This is definitely an area where I’m still learning & there is quite a lot to learn.

    As for the A of LGBTQIA being invisible, yeah, it’s very weird how you can see & say those letters all the time, but not really *see* all of them and not really realize you’re not seeing them! It’s like that acronym, in many cases, is used more or less as a more politically correct term for “gay” or “lesbian”

    And also, I think there’s been such a basic misunderstanding of asexuality that has contributed to this erasure. Like, I think people assume, as I did at one time, that asexual means, not only not sexually attracted to anyone, but not romantically attracted either. So I assumed, there wouldn’t *be* any romances about asexuals. And then when a much more aware queer friend talked about asexual romances I was like, oh! And felt really embarrassed at having not considered this possibility. #duh

    Again, as I said in another comment about bisexuality, it’s you can *know* something, yet somehow it can still be a complete blind spot. Because I *know* there are asexual romances. Absolutely I have personally known of people who, whether due to intrinsic asexuality or some other reason, medication or illness related for example, have no interest in sex, yet are unquestionably in love. So why did I draw this stupid conclusion, with regard to romance novels, that asexual automatically meant aromantic?

    Though I admit I’m not even certain I’m using aromantic in the correct context there, with regard to romance novels. Having done some research, I realize that aromantics can have very close platonic relationships – but it doesn’t make sense to me that there would be “romance” novels, per se, about someone who is aromantic – unless they were in a platonic relationship with a person who, on the other side, was romantic about them. Which no doubt can & does happen. Or, do I have that wrong? But, on the other hand, could there be sort of – “Aromance novels”? Or, more particularly, asexual Aromance novels? Might that be sort of like what is often referred to as a “bromance”, only with any sex/gender configuration rather than just with two guys? However, if there are such things, I’m not aware of them. Like, there are books about something else, an adventure or mystery, etc., but I’m thinking more along the lines of a book specifically about an asexual, aromantic but very close relationship. In which that relationship is the central relationship of the story. Do such books exist? Because I think that would really be fascinating. I mean, there are things like Thelma and Louise, where the relationship between the two women is like that, but they are clearly not asexual as there is sexual attraction to men.

    And sorry for this looong comment, but also I just came across the word “squishes” as the aromantic version of “crushes” and I have to say, omg, squeee! I’m completely in love with this word! Or maybe I should say I have a squish on it! <3<3<3 And I *absolutely* have had these, only I’ve thought of them as a platonic crush. But I’m so loving that there’s an actual word for this 

  • I’m an ace writer, but I still haven’t figured out how to write about it myself. It feels completely ridiculous that I can’t seem to reflect that part of myself in fiction, but there it is. Maybe it’s just that this is still something I’m trying to come to terms with. I keep trying, and I do find it encouraging that, if you dig far enough, there *are* ace stories out there to be found. Even a year or two ago, that’s something I didn’t have.

  • I love the directness of this post, no hiding, no hemming and hawing, just laying it all out there. \m/

    This needs to be shared, and shared again, and reposted, and continually discussed, and more and more. I get that people, in general, can feel uncomfortable and therefore want to avoid discussing what might be initially an uncomfortable subject but, really, git over it because awesome stuff usually results once you push past that.

    Like this post here.

    And then? Welp, no more discomfort, more people feel acknowledged and welcomed and included, and on and on it goes.

    again, rockin’ post. \m/

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