Confirmed asexual characters in fiction

I have seen at least three posts on tumblr within the past month lamenting the lack of asexual characters in anything ever, and Siggy wrote about the characteristics of an asexual character last month, so I figured it was time to talk about confirmed asexual characters.  Yes, you read that right!  There are characters that are canonically asexual!  And, no, I’m not talking about fanon ace characters like Sherlock from Sherlock or the Doctor from Doctor Who or Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory;* I am talking about characters who explicitly identify as asexual.  (Now you can stop writing posts about how there are no asexual characters in anything ever.)

Here’s a small selection of the canonically asexual characters I know about (if I didn’t include one of your favorites, you should drop a note in the comments!):**

Here are a couple of things you might notice about this list:

1. The gender split is almost 50-50, which is interesting, since surveys of the asexual community have found that there are more female-identified aces than male-identified aces.

2. If you’re familiar with the works on the list, you might realize that the majority of the characters listed wind up outing themselves because of their relationship (or potential relationship) with another character.  (I think the only exceptions might be Poppy and Tarma, but since I haven’t read/watched their respective works, I can’t be entirely sure.)  I wonder how much of that emphasis is because it’s easier to write stories that way and how much is real life aces discovering/disclosing their own sexuality in similar circumstances.

3. There’s actually a whole lot of diversity in terms of romantic orientations and relationships depicted.  (Not much diversity in terms of place on the asexual spectrum, though.)  Siggy has written about the dearth of homo/bi/pan representation in mainstream media before, but if you look at the 9 works above, you have aces of basically every major romantic orientation, aces in sexual relationships, aces in romantic relationships, aces in platonic partnerships, and a whole lot of diversity in terms of the gender of their partners.  You also have aromantic aces who aren’t depicted as emotionless robots!  It is great.

4. You probably noticed that almost half of the works are webcomics.  Given that asexuality is still unfamiliar enough in mainstream media to garner a “wow, these people exist, how weird is that?” news story every few months, it’s not exactly surprising that most of the confirmed asexual characters will come from media on the fringes.

However, there’s another trend I’ve noticed in the stories on the list: they tend to be stories featuring asexual characters rather than stories about asexuality.  What do I mean by that?  Well, the person’s entire character arc tends not to be “wow, look at me, I’m asexual.”

As a teenager who read most of the LGBT books in the YA section of my local library (which admittedly wasn’t many and was mostly G with a smattering of L), I very quickly discovered that the majority of LGBT YA could be categorized as “books about being gay.”  If the gay character was a supporting character, his (or, very infrequently, her) entire subplot was about being gay.  If the gay character was the main character, the entire plot of the book was about being gay.  The blurb on the back cover usually went something like, “[main character] is living in the small town of [wherever], but he has a big secret!  Can he stay under the radar and find true love?” or “[main character] is handsome, popular, captain of the football team, and dating the hottest girl in school.  But there’s just something about [obligatory openly gay love interest]…”  The gayness of the character was always front and center and composed the entire core of the story; you wouldn’t get blurb that went, “It is the future and [main character] is a space wizard fighting evil tentacle aliens with his boyfriend,” because [main character]’s space wizard shenanigans might distract readers from the fact that HE IS INTO GUYS, OMG.  Needless to say, it was a major bummer, especially since my genre of choice was fantasy, and so I was forced to choose between reading about magic and dragons and fantastic worlds and reading about LGBT (okay, gay male) characters.  The magic won out, for the most part, especially since, once you’ve read seven cis gay white teenage boy books (“[main character] just can’t stop imagining kissing [male love interest], but he’s not gay, okay?”), you’ve basically read them all.***

But when you look at stories with confirmed asexual characters, you not only get stories that don’t boil down to “[main character] is asexual, omg, wow, drama,” there are actually a whole range of genres with ace characters.  For example, Vows and HonorIgnition Zero, and Guardian of the Dead are all pretty solidly fantasy, and Quicksilver is science-fiction.  (Supernormal Step also falls under the SF/F umbrella, but I don’t think I’ve read enough of it to be able to classify it more precisely.)

Even the more realistic, slice-of-life-type stories tend to feature characters that have a personality beyond their asexuality.  Unlike those awkward ~obligatory gay friend~ characters who don’t seem to really have character traits aside from their sexuality (ouch), these aces have hopes and dreams and interests and likes and dislikes and really funky senses of humor.  And, yes, occasionally their asexuality will be used as a plot point (I’m looking at you, Guardian of the Dead), but much more often their asexuality is treated as an integrated part of their personality that informs their desires for relationships, emotional intimacy, and physical contact.  (If you aren’t already reading Shades of A, lemme tell you, Shades of A is particularly marvelous at this and you should get on it.)

What’s the deal?  How come so many of the canonically ace characters are, you know, actually good ace characters?  Well, one could argue that being out of the mainstream has actually helped representation–perhaps writing for a more niche audience has allowed the authors to skip over the “wow, there are actually people like this, haha, how weird” factor and get to the good bit.  If you’re writing a free webcomic (and you don’t have any burning desire to become internet famous), there’s no need for you to pander to the (heterosexual) masses.  On the downside, it means that stories with asexual characters very much stay niche works and thus aren’t particularly good at spreading awareness of asexuality.

Another explanation could be that, since aces are such a small audience, the relative lack of focus on the characters’ asexuality is because the author doesn’t think a story about Asexuality and Nothing Else would be particularly interesting to the (predominantly non-ace) readership/viewership.  That might be why the asexuality of so many of these characters is referenced but doesn’t take over the brunt of the plotline.  Both main characters in Ignition Zero have had scenes where they outed themselves as ace, but then the storyline continued without sidetracking into dramatic soul-searching.  Poppy’s asexuality was referenced once, and never really became a huge deal.  It took literally thousands of pages for Fiona to out herself, and, again, it seems as though there are way too many other things going on in the story for her to take a detour to the land of internal monologues.  It could be the old “asexuality is boring” trope, but somehow I don’t think so.  Maybe the creators of the aforementioned works grew up reading the same sorts of LGBT YA that I did and swore that if they ever included a GSRM character, they wouldn’t make their GSRM-ness the entire plot.  Or maybe the creators of the aforementioned works realized that, hey, asexual people are just people who are asexual, and so making their entire storyline about how asexual they are (isn’t that weird?) isn’t as interesting as making a story about how asexual they are…while fighting evil tentacle aliens.

What other trends have you noticed in depictions of asexual spectrum characters?

*Okay, so, technically, Moffat said Sherlock was asexual then changed his mind and then changed his mind AGAIN (maybe; I’m not sure anyone knows what he thinks at this point).  Similarly, Moffat has said the Doctor is not asexual while Matt Smith swears he is.  Last I heard, Word of God said Sheldon wasn’t asexual (and instead said he was third gender????), but I must admit that I’m not a fan of TBBT, and thus might not be up on the latest news.  Jo recently wrote a piece on Sheldon and Amy’s relationship, though.

**There are lots of other comprehensive lists out there!  For example, here’s a list of books featuring asexual characters.  Everything I included on this list is stuff I’ve read/watched and enjoyed OR stuff that I have mostly heard good things about.  I made an executive decision not to include works that have garnered significantly more negative attention, like No Touching (novel, reviews herehere, and here) or, more recently, Sex Brood (novel).

***LGBT YA has fortunately gotten significantly less dire than when I was a teenager.  Sometimes there are bisexual and transgender characters!  Sometimes the couple actually winds up together at the end!  Sometimes the characters have a personality beyond being gay!  However, I know of no books about space wizard boyfriends, so clearly there’s still a hole in the market that needs to be filled.

About queenieofaces

QueenieOfAces is a graduate student in the U.S. studying Japanese religion. She is a queer asexual. She also blogs over at Concept Awesome and runs Resources for Ace Survivors. She is never quite sure what to write in these introduction things, but this one time she accidentally got a short story on asexuality published in an erotica magazine.
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51 Responses to Confirmed asexual characters in fiction

  1. Seth says:

    There’s also Horizontal Process, a relatively new webcomic about college, sex, and left-wing politics featuring a canonically ace protagonist. It’s only 54 pages in, and I’m undecided about how interesting the story is, but I’ve seen nothing objectionable in it so far.

    “However, I know of no books about space wizard boyfriends, so clearly there’s still a hole in the market that needs to be filled.”
    Doesn’t surprise me. I was trying to think of examples among webcomics and other independent media, but all I’m coming up with is either extremely campy, still focused on the gayness, or else no longer extant. That’s a bit disappointing.

  2. Siggy says:

    Clearly a lot of our fears have been unfounded… so far.

    Theory: Most explicitly asexual characters right now are pretty good because the kind of writers who would include asexuality are the kind who are most representation conscious. They all thought about it way too much, and it paid off.

    • queenieofaces says:

      That’s probably an accurate theory! I know that the authors of Quicksilver and Shades of A did extensive research before starting to write, and the author of Ignition Zero is asexual, so we’ve got a lot of works written by people who actually care about representation. It may be that as we enter the mainstream we get more of the House episode-style writers (I thought this was cool and you should be happy you were represented at all!).

  3. fluffy says:

    Many of the characters in my comics are specifically asexual, including Juni, Thena, Kuri, Lena, and Cerie, although it’s only really come up in the story for Juni (who identifies as neutrois, and has had a few glimpses of being erotically-charged, but they pass quickly). Tanya may be as well (and at one point was questioning whether she identified as neutrois) but I purposefully left that question unresolved.

    Well, and of course, so is my self-portrayal character for my journal comics but that’s different.

  4. BlackSphinx says:

    If I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure at least one of those webcomic authors that have at least one asexual person in their comic, is asexual themself which would explain why the depiction is so good.

  5. Cleander says:

    Tarma’s effective asexuality (in the vows and honor cycle) is the supernaturally-endowed result of an oath she takes to a goddess after being traumatized by a rape and the murder of her clan, which sort of does play into some stereotypes…but on the other hand she’s well adjusted and a total badass and she and her [heterosexual] life partner Kethry are basically my idea of a perfect queerplatonic relaitonship which I feel makes up for it.

  6. Cleander says:

    Also the (not yet released) film “The Olivia Experiment” (http://www.theoliviaexperiment.com/) has a main character questioning her sexuality (though the film was inconclusive about whether she actually was), but it also has several confirmed asexuals as very minor side characters in one scene. It’s probably not the best for nonproblematic portrayals of asexuality but it gets points for talking about it.

  7. Norah says:

    I don’t know most of the works above, so I don’t know how things are there, but with GWS and Supernormal Step: while I really like Erin, I have lately appreciated Fiona even more because she is *the* main character of the comic.

    • Seth says:

      The ace in Shades of A is the protagonist, and the two aces in Ignition Zero share the spotlight. I highly recommend both of those comics. Can’t tell you about rest, though, as I’m only familiar with the webcomics in this list.

      • queenieofaces says:

        Of the non-webcomics on the list, Tori and Tarma are both protagonists, and all the others are side characters.

  8. Sara K. says:

    I recently read O Pioneers by Willa Cather, and the protagonist, Alexandra, seemed pretty ace-spectrum to me. There’s this quote:

    “She had never been in love, she had never indulged in sentimental reveries. Even as a girl she had looked upon men as work-fellows.” (Note: at this point in the novel, Alexandra is 40 years old).

    The novel never explicitly says ‘Alexandra is aromantic/asexual’, but it was published in 1913, so I would have been extremely astonished if it had.

  9. I seem to have stumbled across a surprising amount of Space Wizard’s Boyfriend recently. For example, there’s a really good YA series called ‘Mortal Engines’ (or ‘Hungry Cities’ or ‘Moving Cities’), which I’ve been reading for years (set in a steampunk post-apocalyptic future, so fairly space wizardy), and in book 7, the protagonist is like ‘Yeah, actually, I’m bi. Now, are we gonna go save the world or what?’ I think it is starting to get out there.

    Out of interest, does anyone have any theories on who buys all these lGbt YA fictions which are just white teenage boys having shit lives? I can’t think how there’s such a big market for them. Surely any one person will reach saturation at some point, even if they’re a white gay teenage boy with a shit life?

    • Cleander says:

      wait, there’s 7 mortal engines books now!? I really need to catch up – I stopped reading when there were still only three…

    • queenieofaces says:

      The number of people suggesting Space Wizard Boyfriends (or else offering to write me Space Wizard Boyfriends) makes me extremely pleased. I’ll have to check that out!

      I actually read an article on why “sad white boy” is such a common genre in lGbt YA, and the author was saying that previously publishers didn’t think anything else would sell to a heterosexual audience. Because I guess heterosexual YA audiences really want to read about sad white boys? But given that other LGBT YA is selling just fine right now, it might just be that publishers were completely out of touch with reality.

      • Siggy says:

        Don’t you know? If LGBT YA sells fine, that means they don’t need to change anything. If it’s not selling fine, that means there’s no market. You can’t win.

        I’ve watched lots of LGBT movies about sad white kids. If you want movies about gay men, you pretty much choose between high school dramas and sex comedies.

  10. Claire says:

    And Emras in Sherwood Smith’s Banner of the Damned.

  11. Erin says:

    To add to this list: the webcomic Rain (the first page: rainlgbt.smackjeeves.com/comics/1047163/prologue-1) has a canonically asexual, homoromantic character. She’s introduced 100+ pages in, and doesn’t get an Asexuality Moment for another 200 pages, but she’s there!

    Actually, I (and some commenters on the page) don’t particularly like how the Asexuality Moment is handled (random cishet classmate explains orientation to everyone (and not particularly well either), wtf?), but overall I like the character.

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  13. Pingback: Aseksualiteit in fictie | Een blog over aseksualiteit

  14. B R Youmans says:

    On ace characters: pretty much the entire cast of One Piece, the best-selling manga series in recorded history, is confirmed ace. The author absolutely did NOT want romance in the series, so he said “fuck it” and made almost everybody ace, with one possible exception. At the very least, he has explicitly stated that his main character Luffy is an ace.

    On LGBT Space Wizards, I have both Space Wizard Boyfriends and Space Wizard Girlfriends in the same series, although they’re more Interdimensional Gods than Space Wizards. All the same, really. You’ve probably already heard it, but, yeah: Homestuck. One of the greatest webcomics out there, once you get past the art. They also do an incredible job of keeping the plot on course and never reducing any characters to their sexuality alone. Rose and Kanaya are in a committed lesbian relationship, Jake and Dirk had a more dysfunctional gay relationship, with Dirk being gay and Jake bi. Almost every single troll character has had interest in both genders and it’s never made into a big thing. Troll alien culture also makes a huge point out of keeping sex-inclusive relationships on equal meaningful par with platonic relationships. I didn’t phrase that well. Neither of these is more important than the other culturally, is my point. Nobody is explicitly ace (although I have a few suspicions), but that could largely be due to that whole bit where nobody gets a big deal made out of their sexualities. That, and they’re all pretty young.

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  17. Miriam Joy says:

    When I read Quicksilver it was just as I was beginning to classify my tentatively queer identity as “asexual” and it was just so nice to see it there in front of me in a book, to realise that other people knew about it and I wasn’t just sitting in a corner with a word that nobody understood. And it made me very happy.

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  21. One of the main characters in my upcoming novel, Make Much Of Me, is asexual and aromantic! It’s set in the Jazz Age, and it’s about four girls at a music conservatory in New York.

  22. Try SEETHINGS about an asexual marriage, available https://www.createspace.com/4337560 or (Kindle) http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00P2Q4YGS – A

  23. Shari says:

    The creator of the walking dead actually said that: “Daryl Dixon is being somewhat asexual on the show”

    I understand that it’s not fullon Ace, but just the thought of the actual creator saying that the most populair character on the show may be Ace made me incredibly happy.

  24. fcjoseph says:

    Also the TV show sirens has a ace character in it

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  28. Alice says:

    Thanks for all the links! I’ve been dying for a decent asexual character, and you supplied many spectacular ones. Thought you might want to add Voodoo from the USA TV show Sirens to the list. They do out her halfway through the first season, but the show runners (nor her love interest) never try to change her sexuality.

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  30. An Ace Girl So Please Don't Be Mad says:

    The Doctor isn’t ace, he has children and grandchildren

    • Not mad, also ace says:

      Firstly, the OP stated that it was fanon. Fans can read characters however they want. I don’t know if I agree with this fanon, but it is a relatively popular one. Secondly, I want children in the future. I’m not completely sure right now but I might eventually have sex in order to have children. That does not make me any less asexual then an asexual who is not willing to do that. It just means that we have either different attitudes towards sex and/or different levels of desire for children.

  31. LizaGrace says:

    I know that this post was written a couple of years ago now, but I just thought I’d mention a book that came out recently as another example of asexuality – ‘Clariel’ by Garth Nix. Clariel, the main character, is a 16 year old girl and, while it doesn’t use the terms asexual or aromantic, she clearly states that she doesn’t want a sexual or romantic relationship. Although the guy that’s attracted to her is disappointed, he doesn’t push her, and several other characters are accepting and understanding, for example one says that being “a natural singleton” isn’t unusual.
    SPOILERS BELOW
    (Although Clariel does turn out to be an anti-hero/turns to the dark side at the end, this is down to her being unwillingly corrupted by magic, and not anything to do with her asexuality.)

  32. Myrrh in “A Net of Dawn and Bones”.

  33. AbsolX says:

    There is a book series/universe with a gay character and a sort bisexual character (I’ll explain why it is a sort of). They’re just like “yeah your gay, we get it,can we get back to saving the world?”. There’s also several headcannon aces. I’m talking about the Percy Jackson series/ Rick Roridain’s Mythos Universe. Spoilers for the Greek timeline up to Trails of Apollo. If you haven’t read this far, skip the following paragraph.

    So, in House of Hades Cupid/Eros outs Nico as gay, right after we listen to the God of the West Wind tell us about how he and Apollo fought over this one guy. Jason is like “okay” and it leads to some hero team bond building. In Trails of Apollo, the author doesn’t gloss over Apollo being bisexual in the Greek myths.(I said sort of because Rick didn’t make the character). He’s also happy that his demigod son, Will is with Nico and only worries about Nico being a moody child of Hades. The headcannon aces are Artmis, Athena, and the Hunters of Artmis. Now I can pretty much say that Athena is a hertoromantic ace. I mean her demigod children cannonly came out of some magic thing, as in the myths Athena was a swonice virgin. You know who less are sworn virgins, the Hunters of Artmis. Although in the myths, the hunters gave up dating to escape the patriarchy, atleast some of the modern day hunters have to be aces(also Nico’s sister was one). Artmis is also a sworn virgin and won’t even do the magic demigod making thing, so possibly aro?

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  38. elsa says:

    jughead from the archie comics was explicitly confirmed as ace!!

  39. Dee says:

    One more character/novel:
    Sparrow , from Bone Dance. First, Sparrow’s revealed as physically asexual, with potential to modify to one sex or the other, then turns out to be asexual, and content to be physically neuter.
    Another well written story and character (by cisgender author Emma Bull)

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