Ace Tropes: The Ace Foil

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.

This is the last part of the series that I have planned, but I might write more later. I invite you to suggest other tropes, or to write your own articles to continue the conversation!

You might say that asexuality is the subtlest orientation. Often, if a character lacks interest in sex, or lacks sexual attraction, there’s just no way you could know. After all, maybe they experience sexual attraction off-screen. To achieve more satisfying ace representation, sometimes you need something to highlight the aceness.

One way to highlight a certain aspect of a character is to present them alongside a contrasting character. This is called a character foil. For ace characters, I’m dubbing it the Ace Foil.

As you might expect, the Ace Foil usually likes sex. A lot.

Often the Ace Foil is a best friend, or a partner of the ace character. This not only highlights the differences of the ace character, but also shows how they interact with people who are different. It immediately heads off the misconception that aces are opposed to sex, while simultaneously showing that aces are sometimes made uncomfortable by it–or not, as the case may be! Also, in the context of webcomics, the ace foil sometimes allows artists to depict the sex that they want to depict, without requiring that the ace characters be participants.

The Ace Foil can sometimes have unfortunate implications. For example, if the ace character is introverted and reserved while the foil is confident and outgoing, doesn’t that just seem stereotypical, on both sides? And it’s not at all clear to me that the opposite of being ace is being hypersexual. Aces can also make lots of dirty jokes, be very flirty, read slash fiction, or exhibit other “sexual” behaviors. In fact, one of my favorite examples of a foil is in David Doesn’t Get it, where David and Miriam have contrasting attitudes towards sex–but they’re both asexual.

Because of the potential for stereotyping, I think the Ace Foil works best when it’s clear that both characters are unique individuals. In other words, the foil should not merely be a set of character traits that are “opposite” of asexuality, whatever that means. They should have many incidental differences, one of which is orientation.

Examples:

David Doesn’t Get It [csa]
Decked Out
Shades of A [nsfw] (Anwar and J.D.)

Discussion Questions:

1. What kind of character would you design to contrast with an ace character? What things would you avoid?
2. How about an aro character, or demisexual character?
3. How realistic do you think it is for an ace to be best friends or partners with their foil?

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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4 Responses to Ace Tropes: The Ace Foil

  1. Sara K. says:

    I’m too tired to think about what traits I would put into a character to be an ace foil (or aro foil), but I have to say that the novel Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox is the perfect example of this trope. Those in that case, the characters do not just contrast in terms of sexuality, they contrast in other ways (the ace character is rich, the gay character grew up in the foster care system and lives paycheck to paycheck, the ace character loves art, the gay character thinks art is pointless, etc.). Ironically, what the two characters have in common is that they are totally uninterested in conventional romantic relationships (I don’t read them as aromantic, but they might be quoiromantic).

  2. Quinoa says:

    I think this describes Theo and Jake from Horizontal Process pretty well too. I think it’s often how things work out in real life–I’ve heard a lot of people say they realized they were asexual when they realized other people weren’t, and that certainly describes my experience. The people who were more open about their sexuality made me realize that it wasn’t something that was just made up. They also noticed that I didn’t fit some of the behavior patterns that would be expected for most people.

  3. Funaria says:

    I can’t speak to the writing/creative aspects of this, but my best friend is essentially an Ace Foil. She is hypersexual and extremely outgoing to my 0 libido extreme introversion and it works perfectly for our friendship.

  4. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    Foils for aro characters are easy: get someone who believes in the overwhelming power of romantic relationships and is permanently on the lookout for “the one”. Foils for demi-characters might be people who are into one-night-stands a lot.
    Putting ace vs. the hypersexual does work, obviously (I’ve also done it), however, a well-placed demisexual friend who is very in love (and newly in lust) with their partner could also be a worthy foil. Besides that – why not turn it over completely, have an ace character totally obsessed with leraning about human sexuality to foil their steady-going heterosexual vanilla friend, who, as opposed to the ace, has no idea what a (insert sex toy of choice) is.

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