Ace Tropes: The Allo/Ace Romance

This is part of a series on tropes in webcomics with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace webcomic tropes” tag on this blog.

In the previous post, I covered the Queer Ensemble, which is currently the largest source of ace representation in webcomics. The second largest source of ace representation is the allo/ace romance. Of course, this isn’t so much of a trope as it is a whole genre, or at least a twist on a pre-existing genre.

To trace the influences on allo/ace romances in webcomics, you’d have to start with Yaoi. Yaoi, also called Boys Love or BL, is a genre of Japanese manga about m/m (male/male) romance and often sex, typically written by women for women. There are many webcomics that draw from yaoi, as well as from the tradition of slash fanfiction. The result is a new genre, although it still goes under the name of BL. In the same vein there are also many f/f romance comics, but they are much less numerous.

Allo/ace romances most often arise from the BL genre or the f/f analogue, so it’s not too surprising that most of them are m/m, followed by f/f. In fact, the only other combination I can recall seeing is the m/nb relationship in the Shades of A backstory. Ace/ace relationships are also very rarely portrayed, as are any poly configurations.

Ace/allo romances can be used for several ends. Sometimes it seems to be a way to insert more diversity. I mean, you obviously already have one gay/bi character, and you still have to fill out the rest of that Queer Ensemble. Other times, the allo/ace relationship is a way of addressing a particular kind of relationship conflict.

I find it funny how conflicts in the romance genre vary by orientation. In straight romances, conflicts usually arise from miscommunications, lies, and toxic gender roles. Same-gender romances tend to involve a perfect relationship embedded in an unfriendly society. Allo/ace romances also tend to involve otherwise perfect relationships, only they have this orientation difference to deal with.

Sometimes, allo/ace relationship conflicts can be resolved in troubling ways. Some years ago there were complaints that fanfiction about allo/ace relationships would almost always be resolved with the ace character having sex with their allo partner. While this narrative represents at least a subset of ace experiences, it’s obviously problematic when that’s the dominant narrative. I don’t know if this is still true in fanfiction today, but I think it’s much less true in webcomics.  Sometimes ace characters have sex, but there are also plenty of other narratives, like ace characters who try sex and don’t like it, or ace characters who refuse.

From what I’ve seen, the allo partner is quite frequently a “special exception” to the ace character. I know uniqueness is supposed to be romantic, but I consider it a sad commentary on how for aces and aros, positive relationships are the exception.


Ace of Hearts
Shades of A [nsfw]
Sister Claire [nsfw]

Discussion questions:

1. What conflicts would you like to see in an allo/ace romance?
2. What other kinds of relationships do you wish you could see more often in fiction?
3. How do you prefer portrayals of allo/ace relationships to deal with sex?

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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10 Responses to Ace Tropes: The Allo/Ace Romance

  1. Sara K. says:

    1. There is not a specific kind of conflict I’m looking for, so I’m tempted to say a combination of internal and external conflict (i.e. how about miscommunication, gender role issues, AND not-entirely-friendly society).
    2. Aro-ace / aro-ace relationships (or really, aro/aro relationships of any sexual orientation). If we are talking specifically allo / ace relationships, I would like to see more relationships between people who lack sexual attraction on both ends (for example, female hetero / female ace, lesbian / male ace, etc.)
    3. Ideally, there would be diversity, because there are many ways to handle sex in such relationships. However, in light of the review I wrote yesterday, I would say that I don’t want an asexual having sex with their allo partner to be the ‘happy’ ending unless it’s clear that the asexual is in an emotionally stable place, and knows that they have other options (and actually has those options), and, if it makes sense for the setting, has access to other asexual people. I suppose my personal preference is for stories where they don’t have sex.

  2. ettinacat says:

    I really want to see more ace/ace romances, personally. Particularly ace/ace relationships that fall into the grey area of queerplatonic, committed friendships or atypical romantic relationships. I love seeing characters who are very committed but have no interest in making their relationship sexual. I’d love to see characters who actually make their nonromantic commitment explicit, and aren’t siblings who explain their commitment to each other as due to being siblings (as strongly committed siblings has been done before – eg Winchester brothers, Dipper & Mabel, Elsa & Anna, etc).

  3. queenieofaces says:

    My main reaction to allo/ace relationships is actually that I wish portrayals of ace/ace relationships were less…”well, no one here is allo so there are NO POSSIBLE ISSUES HERE.” Allo/ace relationship conflict inevitably revolves around sex (or lack thereof), which means that when people write ace/ace relationships, it feels unrealistically perfect to me. (The only exception I can think of is this:

    Also, I’m realizing that I like a fair amount of allo/ace fanfic (partially because nobody seems to write ace/ace stuff that satisfies me), but I tend to like it a lot more if there’s an explicit negotiation element. If it’s just an “I’m ace, let’s have sex anyway” coming out scene, I tend to find it boring or unrealistic or distasteful. (I was joking with a friend the other night that the only sex scenes I find interesting are the ones where something goes horribly wrong–not in a sexual violence sense, but in, like, a somebody getting accidentally elbowed in the face or somebody being utterly bored and stopping in the middle sense.)

    • Siggy says:

      The only two ace/ace relationships in fiction I can recall are Ignition Zero (where the conflict is low-key or absent) and Shortland Street (which had a major jealousy issue).

      I take it that you have seen ace/ace relationships elsewhere, such as fanfiction? And, if I may ask, in these relationships, is there usually no conflict whatsoever, or is it simply that all the conflict comes from external sources?

      As I mentioned in the OP, I find that a lot of m/m fiction portrays relationships as if the only problems come from outside. However, external pressure usually induces internal conflict (“I can’t admit my love for you, so I’m gonna be homophobic towards you instead.”), which goes a long way towards concealing how idealized the relationships are.

      • queenieofaces says:

        Yeah, so there’s Ignition Zero which is ace/ace. I’m currently reading We Awaken, which is ace/ace f/f (such a rarity!). Pretty much everything else I can think of is fanfic, which, as chrysocolla says below, tends toward fluff and wish fulfillment. If there’s conflict, it’s usually external (and still often about sex–either outside parties thinking they should be having sex or the aces themselves thinking they should be having sex [often because they don’t realize their partner is also ace]). I read a lot of it like five years back, but now I mostly find it emotionally unsatisfying.

    • To butt in, the very few ace/ace fics i’ve read where there has been conflict —because most are fluff drabbles— it has always been external and/or still related to sex (like in that vampire au where apparently sexual attraction is supposed to be replaced for blood lust, but since character A didn’t used to feel the former he now was umm… starving without realizing it).

      And i’m also team “the best sex scenes are the awkward ones or the ones where something goes wrong”. Nothing like having characters stop because they gotta talk feelings or because it was just. So bad.

  4. Shiver says:

    I definitely feel like the reason allo/ace relationships are otherwise perfect is due to allo people seeing asexuality in an allo/ace relationship as an immediate conflict or worse, a character flaw.

    When writing an allo/ace relationship, you should never imply that the problems in their relationship (e.g. differing opinions on sex) rest entirely on the ace’s shoulders, making it their fault for being asexual/not wanting sex.

    Also, I’ve noticed the allo character usually has some sort of savior complex–they’re usually under the impression that they can persuade the ace to have sex with them, or at least teach them that it’s not “always” a bad experience, which a lot of allo writers portray as a life lesson that everyone needs to learn.

    Allo writers have a tendency to depict the allo character as effervescent, enthusiastic, and energetic, while the ace character is cool, calm, and composed 100% of the time–due to all the thinking they must be doing in their free time because of the *obvious* gap in their life.

    Someday, I want to be able to read a story where there are absolutely no stereotypes to indicate a character is asexual, and the only time we get an inkling of their identity is during a single conversation when they talk about how they don’t really feel sexual attraction, and how it has almost no impact on their life.

    THAT is the type of story I want to see allos writing. Leave the stories about asexuality being a key component of someone’s identity, affecting their everyday life because of a past trauma or family member to us. I promise we know our lives and experiences better than you ever will.

    Represent us in your stories, put us in relationships with allos and a-specs, but don’t tell our stories. That’s our job.

  5. Pingback: Ace Tropes: Ace/Ace Romance | The Asexual Agenda

  6. Pingback: Ace Tropes: Sex Avoidant Allo | The Asexual Agenda

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