Question of the Week: May 27th, 2015

Suppose that we wanted to make a list of examples of ace representation in fiction. What kind of tags would we want for different kinds of representation?

I’ve seen many many lists of fiction with ace characters, but the problem is that everyone seems to have a different idea of what belongs on such a list. If no standards are enforced, then people will give many examples of characters which merely fail to express any interest in sex at any point. You can enforce stronger standards, such as having only explicitly asexual characters, but there’s clearly a desire for other kinds of representation. The solution is to have tags, so that people can narrow down their search to their own desire.

One such tag system has been implemented by AgentAletha’s library. For example, there are tags for:

Asexual not used – We think the character is asexual, but the canon doesn’t use the word to describe them.

Identifies as ace – The character self-identifies as ace.

Word of God – The creator has said the character is ace.

Character:not human – The ace character isn’t human.

What other tags might be interesting? This is purely hypothetical, so you can also come up with ideas that don’t describe any work of fiction that you know of.

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
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35 Responses to Question of the Week: May 27th, 2015

  1. AgentAletha’s tagging system already contains a lot of the things I would use like gender of the character and romantic orientation.

    One thing that I’d like to see is tagging about relationship status and types of relationships. Does the ace character have a primary relationship or not? Is it a romantic relationship or a non-traditional relationship type like queerplatonic? Is it a same-sex/gender relationship or different sex/gender? That way, it would be possible to find out how many stories have been written about, for instance, asexual women in same-sex queerplatonic relationships.

    This is inspired by Queenie’s post on representation in acefic[1], which showed that certain types of relationships are significantly over and under-represented in fanfiction.

    [1] https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/representation-in-acefic/

    • Penny says:

      I would love something that cross-indexed asexuality and relationship status. Sometimes it seems like there’s only alloro-ace stories out there.

  2. Siggy says:

    In response to my own question, I would like tags for incidental representation (where a character just happens to be ace) vs having an ace-related plot or subplot. I don’t look for characters who are “like me” but rather stories that address themes I care about.

    Also, thinking about weird edge cases, I would be amused by a tag for ambiguous word of god, or a tag for when the word asexual is used, but not by the character themself.

    • Sennkestra says:

      I’d like to second the request for a tag to identify characters who are referred to by other characters as “asexual” (but may or may not actually be or identify that way). I notice that this type of character often pops up in analysis of asexual fiction, like the sinwell paper.

      I’d also be interested in a way to distinguish cases where asexual is used how we mostly use it (asexuality – as – sexual – orientation) vs. Instances where it seems to be used in other ways (for example a character who dresses in sexless/genderless clothing or is otherwise “genderless” – I.e. lacking sex as in gender as opposed to see x as in procreation.

      Also, similar to ambiguous, a “conflicted” tag (or “canonic – conflicted” or “word of god – conflicted” etc.) For cases where creators disagree (I.e. Sherlock) or where the canon conclusion is complicated (ex. House where they clearly Id as asexual but that is supposedly “disproven” by the canon)

      Also, tags for asexual characters vs. Discussion of asexuality – some works discuss the topic of asexuality (or talk about not being asexual) without having a character who is actually asexual.

      And maybe “asexual by another name” or similar where characters clearly ID as lacking sexual attraction, and have a name for it, but that name is not asexuale (ex. Nonsexual);

      Also maybe a tag for like, “magical asexuality” for cases where characters are asexual but for supernatural reasons, etc. (Like Tarma).

      And for more tags, “ace major character” vs. “Ace minor character” too maybe?

      And of course tags for grey-spectrum and demi characters if they ever start to show up, as well as romantic orientation tags when applicable.

      • cinderace says:

        I think Agent Aletha does have an “asexual interest” tag for works that are somehow relevant to aces but don’t actually have an ace character.

        • Sennkestra says:

          I think what I’m looking for is something a little more specific – there’s a lot of things that are relevant to aces that aren’t what I’m thinking of. I’m specifically interested in discussions which specifically use the word “asexual”, that just aren’t about a character. (As opposed to say, stories about nonsexual partnerships, which might be relevent to aces but never actually discuss sexuality)

          • cinderace says:

            Oh yeah, that makes sense. I’m not sure how narrowly Agent Aletha is defining “asexual interest”… I should look again to see what works have that tag.

      • cinderace says:

        Oh and I think that list has tags for supporting vs. main characters too.

        • Sennkestra says:

          Oh, I see! The tag list is hard to read on.my phone so I haven’t really been able to read it closely yet.

          • Yeah, sometimes it’s really hard to see the full name of the tags, depending on what listing you’re looking at. A couple of the tags I mentioned in my earlier comment are actually there, but I didn’t realize that until clicking through some of the tags I couldn’t see the full name of.

      • Seth says:

        Similarly to “asexual by another name”, it sometimes happens that a character is canonically described as experiencing no sexual attraction, but never labeled at all (e.g., Accord in Worm). “Asexual by definition”, maybe.

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    As Laura said, AgentAletha’s tagging system already contains a lot of the things I would use. It’s pretty comprehensive and includes things like “has sex” which I think is important. I don’t know. 😉

  4. cinderace says:

    I’d like tags for, basically, well-done representation and problematic representation. An ace character is great, but I’m not going to want to read the book if the person ends up getting “fixed” in the end.

  5. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    Totally off topic: Just realized I’m in the library. Wheee!

    Anyhow. Can’t think of anything that wasn’t already said. Though, concerning cinderace’s caveat, if I were putting together a list, I’d probably not even list stories of characters who get “fixed”.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      It might be important if the book is on other asexual character lists to note in a better list “yes we know about this book but it’s really problematic/offensive/harmful representation, FYI”. So it might be good to have it mentioned somewhere near a list of books or other media with asexual characters, even if the mention is to warn people that it’s awful.

      • Carmilla DeWinter says:

        You’re totally right. There’s fanfic out threre tagged with “asexuality” that is totally harmful, after all.

      • cinderace says:

        Exactly, I think a list should be comprehensive for this reason but then have a tag to warn people away from the bad stuff.

  6. elainexe says:

    How about instances where the word asexual is used but you might be unsure if it’s really used in the same way we do?

    And tags for individual asexual-spectrum identities. And romantic orientation labels.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      Definitely. Like “asexual” to describe “vaguely nonsexual” or asexual to describe an actual sexual orientation. And also definitely tagging specifically demisexual characters, specifically other types of gray-asexuals, etc.

  7. Writer Ace says:

    I think it would be useful to have a tag differentiating between “asexual from the beginning” and “asexual partway through”. That isn’t to say that the character suddenly becomes asexual halfway through the story, but it would be a way to differentiate between the ace character being one who identifies from the beginning as ace and the ace character finding out/figuring out partway through the story that they’re ace (and then presumably having to come to terms with it).

    I also second (third?) the idea of having a label (or maybe a modifier to the “canonically ace”) for a character who is ace (or gray or demi) in a world that doesn’t have the words for those. The character may still be explicity canonically ace but can’t use the word asexual.

    • Penny says:

      Yeah, I have several ace/aro characters in fiction and poetry that exist in secondary worlds where those words are just never used, and while I can understand people being cautious because the words aren’t used (I’ve been rec’d “the character doesn’t have sex!” and “the character says they don’t want to have sex with one particular other character!” which… yeah nah I need to see something more concrete there), my characters are canonically, definitely ace and/or aro.

      • Carmilla DeWinter says:

        Mh. Had that problem, too, when writing: Character with asexual orientation vs. character with asexual identity.
        I mean, I also have guys in there who would be called “gay” in our world, but there aren’t words, so they can’t build an identity around them.

  8. cinderace says:

    A tag for age might be interesting as well. So far I feel like most fictional aces are fairly young, at least from what I’ve seen.

  9. Are you making a website for this? Please tell me you’re making a website for this. Because I’ve wanted to see this -for years- and no one’s done it yet. I think I still have a web hosting gift certificate that I will give to someone making this site, if they want it. (I was even thinking of trying to crowdsource it at the conference next month…)

    In my dreams, it’s not just for fictional characters, it’s also for actual people. Mainly, I want this because I’m tired of seeing lists of people who are said to be asexual, without any context or supporting evidence. Without any more details, you’ll think that Keri Hulme, Janeane Garofalo, and Emilie Autumn are all flag-waving members of the Black Ring Society, where in reality, Keri Hulme is a confirmed ace, Janeane Garofalo mentioned the word once in a joke routine about not liking sex, and Emilie Autumn used the word in a completely different context (likely while drunk and/or stoned) in an attempt to mess with a reporter and be controversial, and later walked back the entire claim!

    In terms of some of the tags, here are some of the classifications I had thought of:

    “Confirmed asexual” – They use the word as we use the word. This would be fairly rare, and pretty much impossible for historical figures.
    “Likely asexual” – There is enough evidence to build a case, but there has been no explicit confirmation.
    “Unclear” – When someone has exhibited asexual characteristics, but an equally plausible alternative explanation exists.
    “Likely not asexual” – When someone could potentially be, but there is enough evidence to indicate that they probably are not.
    “Not asexual” – When someone has done or said something that indicates that they could be, but there is confirmation that they are not.
    “I do not think it means what you think it means” – When someone has used the word “asexual”, but they’re obviously using it in a different way.

    It would also be important to note that different versions of certain characters might belong to different classifications. For instance, ACD Holmes and BBC Holmes might fit under the “Likely asexual” group, but Elementary Holmes probably would not.

    I think some minimal standards would need to be set regardless. For such a list to be useful, it can’t be full of random headcanons of “Likely asexuals”. I’ve seen people whose criteria for inclusion on a list of ace characters is literally “They were on screen for five seconds and didn’t sleep with anyone!” (And if the character did sleep with someone, then *clearly* they’re “Likely demisexual”.) There would need to be some concrete indication that the character or person could be ace, and it can’t overlook contrary evidence.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I don’t have time to maintain another website for this either, but I’d also really love it if someone did. And so much yes on the celebrities.

      One other tag you didn’t mention is something for a celebrity like Tim Gunn, who has described himself as asexual multiple times and seems to mean it in the same way that we mean it, and definitely seems to fit the definition, but it’s not totally clear that he’s aware of our community and definition so he could potentially mean something else. Would be so nice to be able to get clarification from him on that.

      I don’t know what the best wording for a tag like that would be, though.

      • I would put him under “Likely”. Maybe “Likely, but Unverified”.
        …and then I would encourage someone to reach out to his publicist for comment.

        • Elizabeth says:

          I dunno. It seems to me like in this case, it’s a little stronger than just “likely” and “likely but unverified” seems slightly misleading? Given that he’s said it several times and cited it as a reason for breaking up with his last (and final, since he is now permanently single) boyfriend in his book. There are quite a few more details than just some comments in an interview somewhere in this case, so it’s a lot closer to verified than many other celebrity cases. Just… no direct acknowledgement of the ace community, as far as I’m aware.

          Maybe one of these days when I’m a little less swamped with RFAS stuff I’ll try to contact him.

          • He used the word in his book, and seems to fit, but at the same time, he’s also mentioned a fear of AIDS as one of the compelling factors in why he’s celibate. In the TV show where he briefly talked about it, he made this comment: “And I have feelings, it’s not as though I’m some barren forest.” But he doesn’t elaborate on what those feelings are, specifically. I seem to recall in the clip that I saw that there was some indication that they might have been sexual feelings, but I’m not sure. It was all very ambiguous.

          • Elizabeth says:

            I’m not sure how the fear of AIDS is something that might indicate he’s not asexual. I mean, whether he’s ace or not, how could a gay person of his age NOT feel it’s a compelling reason to be celibate? And the ambiguous quote about feelings means very little in light of all the doubt that’s so common for ace people, and it could just as easily have been about his romantic orientation. I don’t really feel like it’s enough to question his self-identification that strongly. Even if he did mean sexual feelings, I’m still reasonably confident that would at least put him somewhere on the ace spectrum. So… I feel like some sort of tag that says something to the effect of “almost definitely at least ace spectrum” (more succinctly?) would be useful.

    • Siggy says:

      I had no plans of making any such website, so don’t let my QotW stop anyone else from doing it!

  10. AgentAletha says:

    Wow, I’m late to the party. I’m not sure how I missed this? I would love to talk more about tags with anyone still interested!

    I’m also always open to taking suggestions. Age, hmm, I could see the benefit of that. What categories would you want to see? Older adult, adult, teen preteen? Or just adult, defined as over 21? I do mark the young adult books under genre, but that doesn’t necessarily give the complete picture.

    I’ve considered tags for different levels of asexuality focus, but mostly just “coming out” versus “just happens to be ace”. If anyone has suggestions I’m happy to try them.

    I have a tag “bad reviews”, but I’m thinking of adding a stronger tag like “bad representation”. I’m trying not to include ones where they really are “fixed” but which honestly I haven’t found too much of in published works – it mostly seems to happen in fanfiction or it’s a case of ace head-cannon meeting the creators’ reality of “ace, what’s that? We never meant to imply that anyone isn’t sexual under the right circumstances!”

    I’ve definitely been tempted to use “it does not mean what you think it means” especially for older works when the current definition wasn’t as set (ie deadeye dick where asexual means passionless about everything, not just sex). There’s also room for when it’s used not for orientation, as several people mentioned, but I’ve most been ignoring those cases because they’re quite varied and unless they’re confusing people I haven’t thought of them as very relevant. Sounds like there’s interest though?

    Also I’ve mostly switched to tagpacker ( https://tagpacker.com/user/ace.reads ) and I’ve added a couple of categories there. I added a “debatable” tag for situations like the daughter of smoke and bone trilogy, where the character is basically “fixed”, but seems to have become beloved by a decent number of people anyway.
    One subcategory of non-human is now “ace because not human”. Feel free to suggest alternative names but it’s meant to distinguish characters like tori from quicksilver whose asexuality is not a result of her being non-human from those who are asexual because they are a machine/alien/whatever. Magically ace is good though. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone other than Tarma it would apply to, but if it does come up more than once I’ll probably use it. Same with “uses a different word for ace”, which So far I’ve only seen in banner of the damned but can imagine getting more popular in sci-fi/fantasy as asexuality becomes more widely known.

    Carmilla, anything to add to your entry?

    I’m glad my tags seem to have the basics covered at least!

    • Siggy says:

      Sorry I didn’t notify you about the conversation. I tend to assume that website owners can see their incoming links. We also noted your switch to tagpacker in one of the linkspams. 🙂

      • Elizabeth says:

        Worth noting that The Asexual Agenda never appears in any of my sites’ referral stats, even though I know people are clicking links since I can see it from TAA’s stats. I thought it was just WordPress being weird, but then that’s also happened with Google Analytics on RFAS. I have no idea what the deal is with that.

        • Siggy says:

          Uh, that’s pretty weird. I tested with my own statistics (Statcounter) and clicks from here are labeled “no referring link”. I tested with another wordpress.com blog and I got the same issue. I tested with a wordpress.org blog and it didn’t have this issue. I guess wordpress.com is selfish about its data.

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