Representation in acefic

I’ve been meaning to write a post on asexuality in fanfic for a while, especially since chess-ka wrote her piece on some issues with asexuality in fanfiction.  This post is probably best read as an extension of her post, as I’m talking specifically about issues of representation in acefic.  This is in no way a quantitative study!  Someone with more time than me should do a quantitative study at some point.  The analysis in this post is based off of my experiences reading acefic (a LOT of acefic) for several years.  Also, talking to other folks who read a lot of acefic.

If you start reading acefic, you’ll very quickly realize that almost all the male characters are either homoromantic or aromantic and almost all the female characters are either aromantic or (much less frequently) heteroromantic.  In my experience, acefic about male aces is at least ten times as common as acefic about female aces.*  I can’t think of any acefic with non-binary ace characters…or even acefic with binary trans characters.  Want to find acefic with homoromantic women or heteroromantic men or bi/panromantic…anyone?  Well, best of luck to you, ’cause you’re going to be looking for a long time.  The good news is that there’s a fair amount of variation in place along the ace spectrum (although there definitely seem to be more asexual characters than grey-A or demi characters); the bad news is that the variation mostly exists so that the ace character can wind up having (fairly normative) sex with their partner.

In a weird way, representation of romantic orientation in acefic is actually worse than representation in non-fanfic media.  Just among the ten characters I picked to talk about confirmed asexual characters in fiction, at least two are either bi- or panromantic (Orson and Anwar).  (It’s worth noting, though, that representation in TV and movies isn’t doing anywhere near as well.)  Siggy has expressed some concern about erasure of homo/bi/pan ace people in mainstream media (and I’ve written about the difficulties of having both my sexual and romantic orientations erased), and that’s essentially what’s happening here, despite that fact that, at least in my experience, most acefic is written by actual asexual people.**

Let’s look at demographics.  Despite the fact that the majority of acefic features male aces (often in relationships with other men), male aces seem to be in the minority in ace communities.  Similarly, take a gander at the breakdown for romantic orientation:

Heteroromantic: 22% 
Homoromantic: 6% 
Androgynoromantic: 1% 
Other monoromantic: 4% 
Bi/Panromantic: 22% 
Aromantic: 16% 
Other: 29%

It’s exponentially easier to find homoromantic aces in acefic than bi/panromantic aces, and yet homoromantic aces only make up 6% of our community!  Given how few male aces there are and how few homoromantic aces there are, homoromantic male aces are drastically overrepresented in acefic.

What’s going on here?  Well, to some extent I think the representation we’re seeing in acefic is part of a larger trend in fandom to prioritize male stories and characters (as well as m/m pairings).***  It’s also part of a trend in fandom to represent men in m/m relationships as “gay” (even if they are canonically attracted to women!) or “straight with a single exception because they’re so in love” rather than the more logical “bisexual” or “pansexual” or even “queer.”  It reflects trends away from femslash–thus the ace ladies interested in no one or (much less frequently) interested in men, but not interested in women.

To some extent, acefic mirroring fandom as a whole is another case in which [romantic orientation] aces are presented as “[sexual orientation] Lite.”  Homoromantic men take the place of the “gay” men while aromantic men sometimes (problematically) take the place of the “straight with a single exception because they’re so in love” men.  In fact, a lot of the time, m/m acefic reads a lot like G-rated slash.  In cases where, as chess-ka discussed, the ace winds up having sex with their partner, it just reads like slash.  This might help explain the lack of ace f/f–the higher physical bar to legitimize f/f relationships probably means that a lot of nonsexual f/f relationships would read as “just” close friendships, whereas the bar for m/m is significantly lower, so m/m acefic can just have cuddling and still be “legitimate” m/m.  (Why there isn’t f/f acefic where the ace winds up having sex with her partner is another question entirely.  It’s probably for some of the same reasons that there isn’t much non-ace femslash.)

So, if aces in acefic are A. often depicted as G-rated versions of the “gay” or “straight but true love” male characters and B. depicted in relationships that aren’t particularly different than sexual m/m relationships other than the sex (and even then, that’s negotiable), why do aces bother writing acefic?  After all, when you put it like that, it seems like acefic is basically a watered down version of slash, or maybe slash “with a quirk” that doesn’t alter the overall trajectory of the storyline much.  If aces are writing acefic in the hopes of seeing themselves reflected in the media they consume, wouldn’t we expect to see demographics that more properly reflect the make-up of the community, relationships that more properly reflect the relationships we really have,**** and emphasis on the parts of our experiences (isolation, confusion about our orientation(s), feeling broken, etc.) that aren’t already written about in fanfic?

I don’t really know, but I can wildly speculate!  Maybe people don’t want to too wildly deviate from the accepted fanfic narrative, ’cause, hey, spreading awareness of asexuality is great, but having no readers is not.  Maybe it’s a question of “write what you see everyone else writing”; if everyone else is writing about vaguely gay men in m/m relationships, you feel pressure to join them, ’cause adding asexuality to the mix is already a level of abstraction from the rest of fandom.*****  Maybe it has something to do with the preponderance of fanon ace characters who are (white) cis men–if there aren’t many fanon female aces, it’s difficult to write fic about them.  Maybe it’s because G-rated fic rarely gets as many hits as explicit fic, and authors of G-rated fic will often be bombarded with comments asking, “But when are they going to have sex?”

Now you may be thinking, Okay, but why does it matter whether the demographics of the asexual community are properly reflected in acefic?  It’s just fanfiction!  Well, yes, it is just fanfiction, but you might be surprised how many people (both aces and non-aces) first stumbled across asexuality via fanfiction.  Kris Ligman writes:

Oddly, I have fandom to thank for this bit of self-discovery as well. Over the summer I got into BBC’s Sherlock series. […] [B]ut it was really the way themes of self-identity and asexuality were unpacked by fanwriters, many of whom are themselves asexual and speak from first-hand experience, that finally allowed things to line up for me. […]  It took reading a fanfic told from the perspective of an asexual character by an asexual author for me to connect the last dots.

Fanfiction is an effective method of spreading information about asexuality–scroll down to the comments of many acefics and you’ll find someone has written, “I’ve never heard of this before, but this resonated with me a lot!  To Google!”  Especially among the tumblr ace demographic, there seem to be a fair number of aces who first heard of asexuality through fandom.  So if fanfiction is serving as an introduction to asexuality for so many people, it would be nice if there was more acefic about ace women, about bi/panromantic people, about trans aces, about non-binary aces, about people in the grey area whose sexual orientation isn’t just a plot device for them to have sex, and about relationships that aren’t just “slash minus the sex” (if the sex is removed at all).

*For example, scrolling through this sex-free and asexual-inclusive tumblr blog, which has been getting a fair amount of attention recently, it took me until page 6 to find an f/f ship, and m/m ships vastly outnumbered f/m ships.

**The one exception to this rule seems to be the Sherlock fandom.  It’s still predominantly acefic written by and for aces, but there are also a number of allosexual authors writing acefic, sometimes with incredibly problematic consequences.

***There’s been a whole lot written on these phenomena, but let me drop a few links here: a ranked list of the most popular relationship tags on AO3, centrumlumina on m/m fans: sexuality and gender and some musings on why m/m is so popular, a longer conversation on heterosexual female slash fans, some theories on why f/f isn’t populargreenchestnuts‘s quantitative study of misogyny and slash in the MCU, and saathi1013 on slash and queer fetishization.

****I’m not saying that the relationships depicted in acefic are totally absent in ace communities, because they’re not.  If you look at the community survey, though, you’ll see that aces who have (and enjoy having) sex are a definite minority.

*****This seems to happen quite frequently with other identities as well.  Making a character trans doesn’t actually change the trajectory of the story; it just adds an extra scene where the main couple talk about trans issues.  The same often happens when writing characters with certain types of disabilities.  This gets back to some of the discussion on detachable identities that has been on the Agenda recently; fanfic writers often write as though sexual orientation/gender identity/disability/etc. is a detachable identity, which is part of the reason why even acefic can follow the same trajectory as slash fic.  That topic’s probably a post in and of itself, though.

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.
This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Representation in acefic

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    Wow that was a link-heavy post, not that I’m complaining. I have done a lot of reading through of many of those other links (most of which I hadn’t seen before), before finishing reading this post. 😀 Thanks for all of them. I’m enjoying my Sunday. 😀

    Lately, I have been thinking about the percentages of slash/femslash/het/gen fanfiction lately (and what in the world is “gen” anyway? I feel like it means something different to everyone lol), who writes all of it, and why a lot lately and reading quite a bit about it via places like the LadyGeekGirl blog sparking my interest.
    http://ladygeekgirl.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/why-is-there-so-much-slash-fic-some-analysis-of-the-ao3-census/
    And I’ve even been discussing these topics with two of my allosexual fandom friends in a lot of in-depth emails back-and-forth.

    I don’t watch Sherlock, or Supernatural, or Doctor Who, so I’m not gonna be interested in reading Ace fics within my fandoms. My taste in fandoms is more eclectic (since 2010, when I first became involved in fanfiction, I have written 21 fics in about 10 different fandoms, and I’ve read for many more fandoms than I’ve written for). I have written only “het” or “gen” fics in the past, and mainly only read those types of fics too, with the major exception of having read quite a bit of the Glee ship Klaine (Kurt/Blaine) which is a canon “slash” ship between two canonically gay male characters, rather than queering “straight” men, which I somehow think is a different category in and of itself (and that it’s not really your typical “slash”) although no one seems to be discussing that? So I’m not sure what all of that says about me as a fanfiction writer/consumer.

    I do know that around February is when I *first* started reading Ace & Aro fanfiction, and I haven’t read all *that* much of it. I’ve maybe read up to 20? total fics that include “Asexual Character” or “Asexual Relationship” or something along those lines in the tags on Archive of Our Own, and I’ve *never* stumbled across an asexuality fic on fanfiction.net.

    I found 2 Teen Wolf fics with ace-spectrum girls mentioned briefly in passing as a not-main-plot, but found them disappointing when I was looking for a more asexuality-focused fic, and all of the (maybe 18?) asexuality-focused fics I’d found had male characters being ace. (These fics, given what fandoms I was looking for, ended up being in the 3 “most popular” fandoms out of the MANY fandoms I read: the Glee, Teen Wolf, and Harry Potter fandoms.)

    I decided for Asexy April to make this fanvideo:
    http://asexy-april.tumblr.com/post/82518218329/title-did-you-know-multi-fandom-fanvideo-all
    but also to write at least 1 fic and I was determined to make a female character ace for once, to maybe begin to balance out the ridiculous number of males who were Ace in fanfiction.

    I did, I wrote a Switched at Birth fandom fic where Bay’s experiences lined up pretty darn closely with my own. You said above “If aces are writing acefic in the hopes of seeing themselves reflected in the media they consume, wouldn’t we expect to see… emphasis on the parts of our experiences (isolation, confusion about our orientation(s), feeling broken, etc.)” and… I’m not sure why that actually being EXACTLY WHAT I DID makes me so “unique”, lol!!

    The only reviews I’ve gotten so far are from allosexual people, I’m pretty sure, and they’ve only been on my FFN posting of the fic. AO3 does not seem to be very popular for this particular fandom, however I do have 3 “kudos” on my posting of the same fic over there, as well.

    Granted, 2 of the 6 reviews I’ve gotten https://www.fanfiction.net/r/10286945/ were from people who were already friends of mine, and 1 of the reviews is from one of those friends of mine passing the fic along to a friend of hers who has since become a new friend of mine (lmao)… so only 3 of the 5 reviews are from random fans stumbling across my fic (the second, third, and fourth reviews chronologically – so you should be counting from the bottom). But still. I find the reactions interesting, especially since part of my hopes when writing the fic was to spread awareness of what it’s like to be ace to allosexual people.

    I wanted to write 2 fics, actually, for Asexy April this year, but I never got around to my second one. However, I am thinking maybe this week would be a good time to write the first Glee fic (out of all those tagged on AO3 as having an asexual character) that actually has a FEMALE asexual character for once. 😛 Yes, I want to do something different, there, lol. I’m actually planning on that fic including Emma as a demisexual woman in a het relationship with Will, and Marley as a high school girl realizing during the fic that she’s completely asexual. I haven’t decided exactly where the fic will go, but for once I’m thinking I might want to make an ace fic an actually multi-chapter type of thing – another thing I actually have not seen at all so far in my own personally fic-reading experiences. All of the ace fics I’ve found have been oneshots, I’m pretty sure. 😛 However, I realize that making Emma and Marley the two ace-spectrum characters is probably not my best bet, as I look on FFN and find that Emma and Marley both have barely been written about AT ALL in the past year, in any capacity. I love both characters a lot, though, and this makes me sad. Lol. Hopefully some people will find and enjoy my fic anyway, even without me writing about the most popular ships or characters.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      “so I’m not gonna be interested in reading Ace fics within my fandoms.” was supposed to be “so I’m not gonna be interested in reading Ace fics within THOSE fandoms.”

      Because I actually am *very* interested in reading it within my own fandoms.

      Whoops. I wish there was an option to edit your comments on WordPress. 😛

    • queenieofaces says:

      The links have been slowly encroaching on my posts, which either means that at some point I’m going to calm the heck down and stop linking so much or I’m going to wind up writing a post that’s entirely composed of links. 😛

      The majority of the acefic featuring female aces I’ve found has either been about kind of peripheral female characters (like the Teen Wolf fic you mentioned), written in a smaller fandom, or…in MCU, for some reason. Natasha is probably the only female main character in a major fandom (that I can think of) who has a fair amount of acefic written about her. (But, inevitably, she’s either aro or heterorom. Or occasionally aro and paired with a guy anyway???) So, yeah, basically, if you want to add to the very small group of fanon lady aces, I will cheer you on!

  2. Siggy says:

    I think my concerns about potential lack of homo/bi/pan- romantic asexuals in fiction have proven completely unfounded so far.

    I never read fanfic (except HPMOR), but this discussion interests me as a consumer of other fictional media, and as someone now trying to write a novel. I like seeing m/m pairings a lot, mainly because I am male and homoromantic. Why don’t all the female aces also want to see themselves reflected in fiction? Perhaps, in a world where so much fiction is male-centered, they’ve given up (or never had) the expectation to see reflections of themselves. But then, isn’t it odd that asexual women want to see their asexuality in fiction, but less so want to see their femaleness?

    • Aydan says:

      I don’t really think it’s odd. My belief is that lack of female characters in fic, and the dearth of f/f ships, is due to internalized misogyny and a lack of female characters in source material. There’s no reason to expect that these factors affect female aces less than they do women of any other sexual orientation.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        I think this is likely true. I think when fandoms have more female characters, more femslash is written, like OUaT and Glee having two of the biggest femslash ships in fanfiction right now – Emma/Regina (SwanQueen) and Quinn/Rachel (Faberry) – these are shows with other female character choices too and lots of canon scenes between these characters on the actual show, lots of storylines that do not revolve around their male love interests, etc. But many shows don’t have that. Many shows have at the core of their show a “bromance”, for instance. So people expand on that.

        • Carmilla DeWinter says:

          Agreed with Aydan about women and female characters. Even women writers like JK Rowling often fail at writing female characters I can actually relate to, so I’m probably not the only one with this problem. I tend to go for the geeky, socially awkward kind – Starscream, Snape, Tony Stark, Loki, Bruce Banner, Sherlock, and well, Hermione until she started showing an interest in Ron Weasley.
          I’ve written two acefics for Harry Potter – both available on ff.net, luvtheheaven 😉 – based on some prompt that requested Snape as ace/aro. There’s a definite lack of sex and romance therein, plus a couple OCs, so I don’t have all that many hits for the both of them.
          (This also reminds me to expand on internalized misogyny for my other blog …)

          • luvtheheaven says:

            If you wrote it in English, I’d love to see a post you’d write about internalized misogyny. And I’ll look for your ace/aro Snape fics! They sound good. 😛

    • queenieofaces says:

      Seconding everything Aydan and Camilla have said about the lack of women/femslash.

      Also, Siggy, I’m not actually sure your fears are unfounded. There’s a definitely lack of homo/bi/pan representation FOR WOMEN, even among the fairly-good-representation-wise confirmed asexual characters in fiction list; I think Erin’s the only one who is alloromantic but not heteroromantic, and all the others, with the exception of Tori (who is unclear), are aro. Homoromantic representation is doing okay-ish for men, but bi/panromantic representation is pretty nonexistent for all genders (only slightly better for men, if you’re looking at webcomics, ’cause there are bi/pan ace male characters).

  3. Jo says:

    I have noticed in the few times I’ve browsed around for ace-fic that a lot of it seems to be m/m slash (which I don’t actually read) and also follows that trend of the characters just having sex anyway. Which is fair enough, but definitely overrepresented.

    Most of the fic I used to read was in the HP fandom, centering around Hermione, and in the Doctor Who fandom. I never really got into much other fic, so when I look at the AO3 census and see how popular slash is and how much male characters dominate, it always surprises me. But not entirely…

  4. Pingback: Asexuality in Fandom linkspam | The Asexual Agenda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s