Ace Tropes: Word of Ace

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.

Sometimes the only way you know a character is asexual is because the creator says so. When that happens, what do you call it?

When a creator makes a statement about an ambiguous aspect of canon, TV Tropes calls it the “Word of God“. TV Tropes also lists “Word of Gay” as referring to those times when the Word of God is specifically saying that a certain character is gay. Thus, when a creator says a character is ace, I’m calling that “Word of Ace”.

The most famous example of Word of Gay is when J. K. Rowling said that Albus Dumbledore was gay. While many people were happy to hear that a beloved character had been gay all along, it also raised many questions. First, is the author’s interpretation necessarily authoritative? After all, the author is just another reader, albeit the first one. Second, why couldn’t Rowling show this aspect of Dumbledore in the text itself?

Many people have complained about Rowling’s statement, because it seems a poor excuse for queer representation. Some people have even called it “queerbaiting”, meaning that it’s an attempt to appeal to fans of queer fiction, without giving them real queer representation.

When it comes to the Word of Ace, however, we tend to have lower standards. We’ll take any ace representation we can find, even if it’s only by Word of Ace.

There are also many situations where it may be difficult to unambiguously convey that a character is ace within a story. Perhaps the ace character doesn’t understand their own experience, or doesn’t have the words to describe it. Perhaps the author just doesn’t want to have an Ace Explanation scene. In a way, the Word of Ace actually widens the set of ace experiences that can be portrayed in fiction.

There are also a few wrinkles added by the webcomic medium. Most webcomics are works in progress, and perhaps the aceness of a character will eventually become relevant, but hasn’t yet. Advertising ace representation upfront may encourage readers to stick around in hopes that it will eventually appear in the story. It’s also common for artists to mention that characters are aro/ace on their cast pages, or in illustrated Q&A sessions, which might or might not be regarded as part of the comic text.

In principle, I am not bothered by comics where characters are only known to be aro or ace by the author’s say-so. However, in practice, I mostly find these comics via listings, and there is an ever-present risk that a webcomic under the aro/ace tag doesn’t actually have any aro/ace representation. I just can’t tell until I read the whole webcomic, including the parts yet to be completed.

Examples:

Girls With Slingshots
No End
Lovespells [at time of writing]

Discussion Questions

1. How satisfied are you with Word of Ace? Do you feel it is enough to count as representation?
2. What kinds of ace or aro experiences do you think would be difficult to portray without some sort of Word of Ace or Aro to clarify it?
3. What are some of the motivations you think creators might have for using Word of Ace? Is there a difference between creators who are ace themselves, and creators who aren’t ace?

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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18 Responses to Ace Tropes: Word of Ace

  1. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    I’ve yet to read stuff that is “Word of Ace”. I’ve produced some, because pseudo-mediaeval fantasy equals lack of the concept “sexual orientation”. So Word of Ace is very useful for a character lacking the words to describe their experience for whatever reason, and it might be useful (by markting standards) for characters who are decidedly not out/actively in the closet, to draw in readers with the promise of a reveal later in a series.
    Whether Word of Ace is enough will probably depend on the representation. Is the ace-ness or aro-ness something that has an actual influence on how the character is portrayed, or is it just “I need an ace character”? In the latter case I’d call laziness and I’d wager it’s something asexual authors would do less.

  2. AceAdmiral says:

    With regards to question 3, I think our particular orientations present a problem because I’ve been noticing an increasing number of authors invoking Word of Ace because it’s only now someone has introduced the possibility to them. So when I try and evaluate, for example, Tamora Piece’s recent statements, she couldn’t possibly have had any intention or design in 1999 when she created the character, so I can only conclude she’s considering the character in a new light after someone brought it to her attention. Which means… it’s at least representation enough to make a chunk of the fanbase recognize themselves in the character and bring it up to the author.

    My real problem with Word of God sexualities (assuming they’re not gross; see also J.K. Rowling) is that they’re so easily missed by the readership at large. For example, a Japanese webcomic I read had a reader question in 2007? 2008? where one character was confirmed to have a Single Target Sexuality. Well, the original blog the author used at the time has been deleted, the English translation at the time was not interpreted correctly, and most people now don’t even know it happened. So it’s kind of hard to call that Word of God representation if no one knows about it and are surprised when I assert it. I think ultimately the character is either ace enough that the supposition stands without author confirmation or they’re not and no about of author say-so is going to convince the majority of readers. (Unless and until we get stereotypes strongly enough associated with us that it will “prove the negative”)

  3. Sennkestra says:

    I like word of ace characters well enough, especially since I tend to get attached to the kind of minor characters who are on screen for maybe 10 minutes/10 panels total – for that kind of side character, word-of-god is usually all we’d get about their sexuality anyway.

    But when it comes to representation, it’s kind of like candy – it’s light and sweet and I do enjoy it, but when you’re really hungry for actual representation, it just doesn’t cut it.

    • Siggy says:

      It’s interesting how we clearly have different ways of consuming stories. I would never get attached to minor characters or try to imagine the rest of their lives. (See also: my disconnect with fandoms or fanfic.). To me they’re just facades, and I have no reason to think I’d find anything if I stepped off the ride and looked at them from the other side. So my feeling about minor ace characters is basically “so what?”

      • Sennkestra says:

        Yeah, it’s definitely interesting to see how different people enjoy stories. I think that for me, part of it is that I get frustrated when characters are visibly incompetent or make bad decisions (which main characters in certain genres do all the time because it’s an easy way for writers to generate drama). Minor characters who have less time on screen also have less time to make mistakes, so it’s easier to picture them as nice, sensible, competent people. (And it’s easier for writers to keep them that way).

        I think I also get attached to other minor characters specifically because they get less attention to their sexual/romantic life, meaning they are the most likely to be depicted as having either 1. a stress-free single life or 2. a calm, stable relationship – things I prefer but are really difficult to find in main characters because relationship/romance problems are another of writers favorite ways to generate conflict.

  4. Tylerelyt says:

    In fairness, in Girls With Slinghots, Erin is explicitly stated to be ace within the comic. It’s definitely not just a word of god thing.
    http://www.girlswithslingshots.com/comic/gws-1363

    But your point stands. Word of Ace isn’t as solid of representation as an in-canon statement of their sexuality. Idk, though. In most cases I find the Asexuality 101 section really jarring. I recognize that it might be necessary for lots of readers, but I just have such a hard time reading through most instances of it. If you can get away without it, or you can downplay it, that helps. It’s another reason why Word of Ace can help widen how you tell ace stories, because then you don’t have to shoehorn in the characters having the Ace 101 talk, you can just have it as a meta discussion.

    I think it’s also fair to say that I hate romances too, though, and it’s hard to tell a story about people who don’t feel sexual and/or romantic attraction in a setting where sex/romance have no impact, so I’m not necessarily the target audience for stories where Word of Ace can be/is a thing.

    • Siggy says:

      I haven’t ever read GWS, so I never saw that asexuality was mentioned in-comic. Thanks for pointing that out. (And for the record, I haven’t read No End either, and Lovespells looks like it will very soon become canonical.) I don’t particularly like that Erin is stated to be asexual by her partner, and not by herself. In IRL I consider that to be a red flag that the relationship has some conflict and is failing to communicate about it. Although maybe that portrayal is intentional?

      • Tylerelyt says:

        It definitely is intentional. In the 3 irl-years prior to this point in the comic, where their relationship was beginning/evolving, there was a lot of miscommunication about sex, and it was *the* source of conflict within their relationship. The way everything plays out, that particular panel feels more like they finally had a conversation about it off screen, rather than Jamie making an assumption.

  5. queenieofaces says:

    I wonder if there’s a name for characters who are revealed to be ace in canon…and then nothing ever comes of it, it’s never brought up again, and if it weren’t for the explicit “I’m ace” scene you would never have thought they were ace. It kind of feels like the author ticked a checkbox to achieve maximum diversity, but then didn’t…really get beyond that. It’s not quite Word of Ace, but it’s its disappointing cousin.

    • Siggy says:

      On TV Tropes, the nearest equivalents are “token minority” and “informed attribute”, both of which are broader than that.

      I didn’t write an article about characters briefly mentioned to be ace, but it’s definitely common in webcomics. Like, over 50% of the time.

      My theory here is not so much that authors are trying to tick off checkboxes, but that maybe this is what a lot of people actually want to see, Maybe it comes back to my discussion with Sennkestra above–many people enjoy minor characters who are mentioned to be ace, enjoy imagining how that affects the rest of their lives. Or maybe people find it relatable when there’s an ace character, whose lives are mostly unaffected by being ace. Maybe it’s something peculiar to creators, who often are more invested in their own characters than we are as readers. I personally have difficulty understanding the appeal, so I’m just throwing out guesses.

    • Sennkestra says:

      There’s the semirelated “But not too Bi” and “But not too Gay” tropes: “But not too Ace” ?
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ButNotTooBi
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ButNotTooGay

      …and then as I wrote this I actually found an even closer one as I typed this: “Have I mentioned I am Ace?” http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HaveIMentionedIAmGay

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