Sara K. blogs at The Notes Which Do Not Fit, and has written a number of book reviews of asexual fiction. She is continuing the ace tropes series, albeit with more of a focus on books.
The asexual group had a standing reservation at a hipster coffee shop in Seattle’s University District, and when we showed up, a dozen people were already there.
“Zafir!” Alicia squealed as we joined them. She jumped up and threw her arms around me. “I haven’t seen you in forever!”
“I know. I’m sorry.” I hugged her back. “I’ve been working too much.”
Clicking her tongue, she released me and gave a disapproving glare. “What have I told you?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “All work and no play makes Zafir miss out on spending time with Alicia.”
“Exactly.” She turned to Brennan. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
“This is my first time.” He extended his hand. “Brennan Cross.”
“Nice to meet you.”
– All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher
The Asexual Agenda already has a post about The Ace Group. In 2015, Next Step Cake also had a blog post about this. Now it is time for this trope to officially join the Ace Tropes series.
In ace fiction, there is often only a single ace character. This is realistic, as it is common for aces to not know any other aces (especially offline).
Generally, there are only three tropes which lead to a story having multiple ace characters interact with each other. The Ace Group trope is one of them (the other two are Ace/Ace Romance and Ace Siblings). Just as it is realistic for an ace to not know other aces, it is also realistic that the Asexual Group is one of the most common tropes for getting multiple ace characters together, since that is also how aces often find each other in real life.
What kinds of ace groups are these? There are two general types: the casual social meetup, and the support group.
Casual social meetups are found in Shortland Street, All the Wrong Places, and Finding Your Feet. In All the Wrong Places the ace meetup scene is rather brief – the main function the ace meetup plays in the plot is to give the main characters a reason to spend all that time together driving to Seattle (yes, it is an Ace/Ace Romance, how did you guess?). The other two have the following scenario: Ace Character A meets Ace Character B and they hit it off, causing Character C to feel jealous. Since Shortland Street is the better known example, I’ll focus instead on Finding Your Feet: Tyler (who has major insecurities regarding dating) is developing a serious crush on Evie, who is asexual. At the Toronto meetup for aces on Tumblr, she meets Vaughn (who also appears in the novel Blank Spaces) who is handsome, gets along with Evie, and most of all, is asexual just like Evie, unlike non-asexual Tyler. Tyler is afraid that, because Vaughn is so obviously a better match for Evie than himself, he has no hope of ever dating Evie. Finding out that Vaughn is going to join them on their trip to Niagara Falls intensifies Tyler’s fears.
Hey, writers have to find some way to throw some kind of drama into the casual social ace meetups, otherwise it would be much harder to make it satisfying fiction.
Examples of the second type of ace group, the support group, are found in The Olivia Experiment, Divorce, and Of Monsters and Men. Since I haven’t seen The Olivia Experiment or Divorce, I’m just going to talk about Of Monsters and Men. In that novel, it is specifically a group for aces who are in therapy. The purpose of the group is not to ‘fix’ their asexuality; instead, its purpose is to allow aces to support each others in ways which their therapists cannot. In this sense, I consider it to be positive representation of asexuality, because it acknowledges both that asexuality is valid AND that some aces may need to have therapy for various reasons anyway. At the beginning of the story, the ace character is not out as ace to anybody except the ace therapy group, his therapist, and his roommate. Though the novel does not explicitly say this, it implies that the ace character first learned about asexuality as an orientation either through his therapist or the ace therapy group.
An ace trope which sometimes crops up at the asexual group is the Ace Police (when an ace tells another ace that they are doing asexuality wrong). Since that is a trope which is worthy of its own discussion, I’ll just note which works have examples of the Ace Police trope: The Olivia Experiment, Of Monsters and Men and Finding Your Feet. I have never seen the Ace Police trope appear in the same story as the Ace/Ace Romance trope, probably because it is not very romantic, nor in the same story as the Ace Siblings trope.
Though, like any trope, the Ace Group trope can be used badly, I consider it to be an overall positive trope. First of all, it allows a story to have multiple ace characters interacting with each other in a plausible way. This might allow discussions of ace topics which would otherwise be more difficult to introduce to the story. Having multiple ace characters also makes it easier to show that there are different types of aces. The Ace Group also acknowledges ace agency, and the capacity aces have for managing their own issues (unlike the Allo Savior Trope). Finally, since some aces consider ace groups to be an important part of how they experience asexuality in their lives, this trope allows fiction to present a significant part of the ace experience. I would like to see this trope used more often in ace fiction.
Shortland Street (New Zealand TV show) (the Asexual Society story arc is on Youtube: 1, 2, 3)
The Olivia Experiment (movie)
Divorce (Dutch TV show)
Of Monsters and Men by Caitlin Ricci
All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher
Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox
1. If you have both real life experience with an ace group and familiarity with at least one fictional example, how does fiction compare to reality?
2. How would you like to have an ace group serve a story’s plot and/or a character’s development?
3. In addition to the two types of ace groups discussed in this post, what other type of ace groups would you want to see in fiction? Online ace groups? Political ace groups? Ace communes? Ace superhero teams? Some other type?
It would be awesome to see ace superheroes
Instead of just ace romance coming out of ace groups, but in a similar vein, letting multiple ace characters exist as friends who first met via an ace group, whether or not the ace group was shown in the actual story, could be nice. Maybe even a group of more than two aces could all be friends, or roommates, or a superhero team or whatever simply because they first met that way (the group). That would feel pretty true to my own experience with ace groups, I guess?
OK I’m a person where 75% of my closest in real life friendships right now are because of an ace group and one of those friendships turned into a queerplatonic partnership that our other ace friends really support happily, perhaps with some curiosity. But the other friendships we both made via the group are hugely important to both of us, and a story about joining an ace group, finding a partner there, then leaving the group behind wouldn’t ring true to my experiences at all. I’m thinking like… The TV shows Queer as Folk and The L Word do a pretty good job of establishing a bunch of characters with the same sexual orientation being friends and sometimes in that friend group includes a couple who are together, married even, but like.. they’re still in the friend group? And aces could be portrayed in that kind of way too and it would at least ring true to me.
I have no experience with the ace group trope in fiction other than writing it into my own Fanfiction stories lol but I am interested now to check out some of these examples and see what I think. I’m pretty sure my local group in real life falls on the social side of the spectrum but at the same time we also provide support group type stuff for new members depending on the event.
I’m just going to say that that excerpt with the ace group immediately pinged as false since Brennan introduced himself by his full name.
Ha so true. That is really not how it goes in my experience too.
It did not ring false to me, but maybe that’s because I read the whole novel. Even though people generally don’t give full names in the ace groups I’ve been to, I can buy that Brennan specifically might do that.
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