Question of the Week: July 7th, 2015

What simplifications of asexuality are acceptable… in a work of fiction?

In the last fictional representation of asexuality I saw, asexuality was explained as meaning that the character didn’t want sex.  That’s acceptable to me, as long as it’s still framed as an orientation.

Really, I don’t expect fiction to explain asexuality at all, since I’m looking towards the utopian future where everybody just already understands what it means, or else they look it up.  On reflection, I would have higher standards if it appears on popular television or a movie, because I think that calls for a more realistic assessment of the level of public knowledge.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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6 Responses to Question of the Week: July 7th, 2015

  1. Sennkestra says:

    Hm, interesting question. I think my standards depends on the genre – for futuristic sci fi or high fantasy, my standards are extremely low – any persistent avowed lack of interest in sex or sexual desire, or a lack of interest in other people in a sexual way or anything like that works for me, regardless of any supernatural reasons that might exist for it. (though that might be just because there’s so little out there that for now I take what I can get)

    On the other hand, for something in a more current realistic setting (like say, a high school YA novel) I’d prefer something closer to how we actually define it.

    I think it also depends whether we’re talking about implicit or explicit asexuality – I have much lower standards for word-of-god asexual characters who may not explicitly call their lack of interest in sex or whatever asexuality; but if a character is going to be saying “yeah, I’m asexual, which means _______ ” then I prefer something closer to “not interested in anyone in a sexual way” or something like that.

    I’m generally not too bothered by characters who conflate asexuality and aromanticism, especially since that’s basically what I did before I found the asexual community as an actual asexual high school student, but I can see that being more of an issue for aces who aren’t aromantic.

  2. luvtheheaven says:

    I’d rather any specific orientation not be simplified, but rather if it’s going to be simple, that the focus is simply on what one character specifically feels. “I’m asexual and I’m not interested in sex,” feels different to me somehow than “I’m ‘asexual’, which means not being interested in sex”. The latter is wrong and misleading and might not really capture enough nuance of what asexual really means to so many people. The first is just true for your character.

    • Carmilla DeWinter says:

      Good point. I’d agree. There’s giving the wrong definition (though if you consider AVEN Germany, your example ist not exactly wrong) and then there’s stating personal feelings.
      As I writer, I’m valiantly trying. I write mostly high fantasy, so my ace characters will always be “word-of-god” ace, given how they usually don’t even have a concept of sexual orientation.

  3. There are some interesting parallels between trying to identify potentially asexual characters in fiction where it is not stated explicitly, and trying to identify potentially asexual people in history (a topic of this month’s Carnival of Aces!). In both cases, lack of interest in sex, lack of sexual desire or lack of sexual feelings towards others are probably the most useful proxy for asexuality. Characters who are sex-favorable or sexually active would probably need to be identified more explicitly as asexual or the author would need to describe in detail how they don’t experience sexual attraction and how this complicates their experience of sexuality.

    In other words, simplified presentations of asexuality will tend to be biased towards aces who are not interested in sex. Having representation of such characters is important, but in order to have a more diverse range of asexual experiences represented, authors will need to have a more nuanced understanding of asexuality.

  4. Paige Turner says:

    I think it’s most important to show how they experience asexuality through their thoughts and actions throughout the story. This way, the audience will already have some idea of how it works. Alongside that, a very simple one-line description would be fine for me, though it bothers me when it’s legitimately wrongly defined, such as conflating it with aromanticism. Basically, I think it’s more important to show the experiences themselves and then put a label on it than to use the label to show the experiences. Sorry if this isn’t very clear, I’m not good at writing out my thoughts.

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