I’m submitting this article to this month’s Carnival of Aces. Please consider adding your own contribution!
I recently came across a webcomic called 14 Nights (NSFW). The description on the front page says:
This story is about a guy who is afraid of sex. I wrote it because it was something I wanted to read, but didn’t seem to exist yet. Due to the subject matter, it contains nudity and sex.
If you’re like me, then you frowned intensely at that description. It conjures up a vision of a story about a guy who is asexual in all but name, but by the end of the story they of course overcome their fear of sex and become a normal functioning human being. I mean, some allosexual people have anxieties about sex, and they can write stories about that particular conflict, but I don’t personally want to read it, because as an ace I have different sorts of anxieties.
But I read the comic, and it’s not like how I imagined it at all.
14 Nights is about the relationship between two men. Nikita is an abrasive overweight Russian immigrant with a claw for a hand. Lucian is a quiet data analyst with an affinity for plants. Lucian doesn’t like sex, he just never has. This puts a strain on their otherwise adorable relationship, and they try various sex acts to see if it will ever work. The story is interspersed with symbolic dream sequences, and it’s all rendered in beautiful black and white.
I suspect that the main conflict is not, “How can Lucian get over his fear of sex?” but “How can Lucian overcome his feeling of brokenness, and how can they reconcile their relationship?”
Lucian is not explicitly identified as asexual-spectrum, but it’s very hard for me to see him otherwise, intended or not. What most gets me is that he doesn’t think about anything when he masturbates. This is a fairly common experience among asexuals, but is not what most people imagine asexuals are like before they’ve met any asexuals.
But this is a webcomic in progress, so there’s no telling which direction it will go. The only way to find out is by investing more in the story. I know stories are about the journey, not the destination, but there’s a risk of an upsetting destination here. I suppose this is the pr0blem with having a non-explicit ace character.
Even if 14 Nights is intended to be about an ace character, and has an ace-friendly resolution, there is still potential for a more subtle problem. The story falls into a pattern that Chess-ka observed in fanfics with asexual characters: the asexual characters always end up having sex with their partners, and they enjoy it because they know it brings joy to their partner.
By writing asexual characters that must engage in sexual acts in order to validate their romantic relationships, writers are – unintentionally, I am sure – prioritising the needs of sexual people, and insisting on a very narrow definition of what constitutes a romantic relationship. It contributes to asexual erasure by making sex a fundamentally, immovably important part of a romantic relationship.
I definitely see the issue, even though I myself am in an ace in a sexual relationship. The fact of the matter is that even in a ace/non-ace relationship that involves sex, both parties must acknowledge that sex is not necessary to legitimize their relationship. (Of course, I hold out hope that 14 Nights is actually about how a mixed couple solves their relationship problems by learning exactly this lesson.)
I must say, that regardless of the destination of 14 Nights, there are some things I really love about it:
- The sex acts often skirt the boundaries of what we think of as sex. We often talk about asexuals having sex for their partner’s sake, but this is a different sort of compromise that I’d like to hear more about.
- There’s an interesting interaction asexuality and disability.
- It deals with partner guilt.
- It perfectly captures the multiple layers of irony I feel whenever someone assumes something about my sex life.
- I enjoy the superficial similarities of the characters to me and my boyfriend. The body types are similar, and my boyfriend also has a disability.
I recommend this comic to anyone who is interested in a compassionate and sexually explicit story about an ace/non-ace relationship.