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.
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.
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
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.