Ace Tropes: Model Queer Interactions

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.

When you see queer characters, would you rather see them encounter queer-related problems, or would you rather have a moment to forget about all those problems?

Many queer webcomics clearly follow the philosophy of escapism, and as a result you can find many very positive interactions with queer people. Like, unrealistically positive. It’s as if everyone involved is fully trained in queer etiquette, and well-practiced too. Everyone uses correct pronouns or quickly corrects themselves, nobody makes a federal issue out of any orientation, and people politely listen about anything they didn’t previously understand.

In other webcomics, it’s not so much about escapism as it is about providing positive models for interactions with queer people. You might have some especially rude or violent characters, and other characters who get everything right. It’s as if to say, “Those are the reactions I have to deal with, and these are the reactions I wish I got instead.”

As a result, interactions with queer people can be very black and white. Writers want to make it obvious which interactions are the good ones and which are the bad ones, and make sure the readers know it. Portraying more ambiguous interactions requires trusting the audience to be able to judge for themselves.

The Positive Queer Interaction is a general trope in queer webcomics, but sometimes applies to ace webcomics as well. It usually occurs during “coming out” scenes, or within relationships. Characters will politely listen to the Explanation, or do independent research. And of course, they always respect boundaries.

Examples:

Ignition Zero
Rechargeable
The Hues

Discussion questions:

1. Would you rather see stories that deal with ace-related issues, or stories that help you “escape” from those issues?
2. How can stories strike a balance of being positive and happy, without downplaying real world issues?
3. What positive interactions do you wish for, in relation to asexuality? What interactions might other people think are positive, but which are negative for you?

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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6 Responses to Ace Tropes: Model Queer Interactions

  1. Sara K. says:

    1. Both. I like to have stories which deal with ‘ace issues’ and stories which offer ‘escape’.
    2. Being positive and happy without downplaying real world issues is easier if it is set in a different universe (and it is plausible that aces would not have ‘ace issues’ in that universe). Alternatively, ace problems are not evenly distributed even in this world, so if the story is set in a corner of this world where ace people would realistically have less severe ace issues, that is another way to go about it.
    3. I think being able to make it known that I am ace without having to put much effort into explanation is pretty positive. However, a potential issue with dropping the ‘ace explanation’ from a story is that people who are ace but unfamiliar with asexuality as an orientation may not recognize themselves in the ‘ace’ characters.

  2. Rynwin says:

    I think both are fine, and also that anyone who decides to tell stories centered on queer characters should choose which approach to take on the basis of what they personally would prefer to see more of.

    My own experiences with telling people my orientation have largely been positive. The most cringy interactions have been either online (which unfortunately is to be expected), or with my father (mainly because he’s oblivious idiot who doesn’t understand how words or feelings work; it’s enough to make me question which of us is actually the autistic one).

    My biggest struggles have been entirely internal, and the lack of good ace-centric media, idealized or otherwise, has been a problem. I think I would be in a far worse space if I hadn’t grown up watching Anne of Green Gables and had Anne and Diana’s romantic friendship (among others) to look up to.

    At this point it’s far more important that stories with queer characters exist at all – and that more make it into the mainstream – than that the surrounding circumstances and interactions with non-queer characters are true to life. After all, they aren’t only an example to us, and an idealized example is often more effective than an accusatory one.

  3. Siggy says:

    In response to my own questions,

    1. I prefer stories that deal with ace-related conflicts. I care a lot more about representation of ace stories, rather than representation of ace characters per se.

    2. Although I like to see ace-related conflicts, I don’t necessarily dislike positive interactions or feel that they downplay real issues. I guess I find it plausible that, with the right friends, or in the right fantasy/future world, things can go right. Similar to what Sara said.

    3. I like when people are willing to talk and ask about asexuality, but aren’t pushy about it.

  4. luvtheheaven says:

    1. I like angst anyway, I like fiction that resonates with negative things in my life (like my abusive parent, or how grief feels, etc) and asexuality was a struggle for me to accept about myself, and it is not always easy when coming out to feel understood or fully respected so I want to see that struggle represented too. I also really would rather read ace romances that have at least SOME issues whether both characters were ace or not, because not all romantic relationships are sunshine and rainbows just because people have compatible orientations or just because one partner is happy to go along with the amount of sex/no sex is preferable for the other.

    2. I think Orson Welles is quoted as saying, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” I think deciding to end positive can be a good way to balance negative and positive things, by showing characters grow and improve over time, or whatever angst is there be mostly resolved by the end, or at the very least showing that if the character comes out as ace to more than one person, the two people should have at least slightly different reactions?? “Without downplaying real-world issues”… I mean you could always make the story be really happy and not portray real world issues, but still express in dialogue or internal thoughts from the ace character that they were worried about ___ real world issue or they knew an ace friend who dealt with __ so they’re grateful they don’t have that experience? Perhaps?

    3. In fiction, I wish for at least some curiosity and questions and answers about asexuality if asexuality is gonna come up. People might think simple, quick acceptance of the fact that a character is asexual is positive, but for me it just continues to perpetuate invisibility and erasure and confusion if people just say they’re asexual and someone else says ok and that’s the end of the interaction? I don’t know…. Or like if a character realizes they are asexual and it’s a relief that not only won’t feel true to my own experiences, so it’s not amazingly positive for me, and like, when it’s anti-allosexual/something about people being interested in sex being a bad thing, something overly elitist, people might think it’s positive, it’s all ACE IS THE BEST, but it’s actually really not positive, it’s a bad message to be sending in my opinion and gives asexual people a bad reputation.

  5. ettinacat says:

    1. I like both. I find it really frustrating when the only representation I can find is people dealing with prejudice (try finding a kid’s book about an effeminate boy that isn’t about bullying) and when you are feeling overwhelmed or self-hating, seeing a positive experience can be uplifting. But I think the negative side does need to be addressed, especially for the non-ace readers who might not realize that it can be a problem for aces.

    2. I think the balance should be different for each story. I think we need the “everyone is handling it respectfully and no one is prejudiced” stories, and we need the “this is exactly why it can really suck sometimes” stories, and we need stories somewhere in between. One thing I really don’t like, though, is the “straw whatever-phobe” who is a one-dimensional bad guy. I’d much rather see prejudiced characters who are sympathetically portrayed, as human beings with flaws. (Shades of A seems to be doing this well, from what I’ve seen.)

    • ettinacat says:

      Forgot question 3.

      An example of something which seems positive but isn’t, IRL, is people telling me I’m ‘lucky’ I’m asexual/aromantic, because that means not dealing with the dating scene. There are good and bad points to being aroace, and saying I’m lucky makes me feel like the struggles I’ve had with the bad points don’t matter. (Saying “I’m sorry” would of course be worse.)

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