Another few heart-pounding moments passed, and then Sal [robot] curled closer, rolling from her back to her side to press more tightly to Clara, hold her close. “I can’t—physically,” Sal said. “I mean, I’m not designed to be sexual. That’s to say, I can act on others, but I don’t want—”
“That’s okay. Me neither.”
“It’s not something I need from someone else,” Clara [human] said firmly, willing Sal to understand.
– “The Cybernetic Teashop” by Meredith Katz
Sometimes a story which has a nonhuman ace and/or aro – particularly a type of nonhuman who tends to lack emotion – also has an ace and/or aro character who is human and has a more typical set of emotions. For example, in the story excerpted above, there is Sal, who is a robot, and Clara, who is a human, and they are both ace. The presence of the human ace and/or aro character may signal that, just because the nonhuman ace and/or aro character is there, does not mean that all aces and/or aros are like that.
But before we get into this trope, a little background on the trope it complements – having the ace and/or aro character to be a nonhuman, especially a type of nonhuman (or inhuman) known for lacking emotion, such as a robot, or an extraterrestrial alien, or a demon, or a sociopath (who would be considered inhuman rather than nonhuman), or something along those lines.
(Note: for the rest of the post, when I say ‘alien’ I mean ‘extraterrestrial alien’, because as far as I know, there is no particular tendency for ace and/or aro characters to be people who reside in countries where they are not nationals).
Having ace and/or aro characters be nonhuman/inhuman – particularly unfeeling types – is one of the most discussed ace (and aro) tropes ever. A lot of ace and/or aro people strongly dislike this trope. Why? Because making only nonhuman/inhuman characters asexual and/or aromantic (especially if they are nonliving, like robots, or not even from this planet, like aliens, or are supernatural, like demons) implies that humans cannot be asexual and/or aromantic, and by extension, our ace and/or aro identities (by ‘our’ I mean ‘human aces and aros’) are false. Furthermore, they also tend to emphasize how unfeeling the characters in question are, and that being ace and/or aro is connected to not having feelings. One can find more discussion of this trope here.
However, this post is not actually about ace-and/or-aro-as-nonhuman/inhuman trope in general, but specifically a trope which sometimes appears alongside it, that is, having an additional ace and/or aro character who is human.
What is the point of having a human ace and/or aro character in the same story as the nonhuman ace and/or aro character? First of all, it means that there is more than one ace and/or aro character in the story, which tends to be a good thing. This specific trope, however, makes it clear that there are humans with typical emotions who are ace and/or aro in a story which, in the absence of the human character, might suggest otherwise.
Q. So… can my robot/magical construct/non-human/inhuman sociopath/eccentric genius/immortal stuck in a pubescent body/other thing where it’d be weird or creepy for it to be in a romantic relationship/alien be aromantic or will you get mad at me?
There’s also human aros in the story, right? Like, you’re not presenting this as a You Can’t Be Human If You’re Aro/You Can’t Be Aro If You’re Human thing, right?
Some writers may be deliberately writing a human ace and/or aro character into the story so that their nonhuman/inhuman ace and/or aro character is less problematic, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Intentional or not, having a human ace and/or character changes the effect of having a nonhuman/inhuman ace and/or aro character.
A straightforward example of having both types of characters is The Zhakieve Chronicles. There are two ace characters. One of them is a demon. What kind of demon? The kind that devours humans alive without feeling any remorse. The other ace character is human, specifically the daughter of a man who the demons have devoured, and she has strong feelings about that – oh, and she’s also the protagonist of the second book. The other demon who devoured her father is clearly not ace, thus showing that ace demon is ace independently of being a demon.
Another variation of this trope is that, in cases where a character transitions between being human and nonhuman/inhuman, it is made clear that the character is also ace and/or aro when they are human, before the transition. One could say that the webcomic Heartless is an example of this, since the ace character is clearly ace before she dies and becomes a vampire (note: I did not put Heartless in the list of examples because it lacks an ace character who is never undead). But this variation is harder to execute well, so it’s better to use this alongside the basic version of this trope. That is what “The Fairy Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green” does – it has a human-to-nonhuman transition character who is aro, but it also has a clearly human character who is aro.
In a way, one could say that this trope is basically about counterbalancing the use of the ace-and/or-aro-as-nonhuman/inhuman trope by increasing the ace-and/or-aro-as-human-and-valid representation at the same time. Or actually, it is simpler than that. By putting in a human ace and/or aro character in the story, they are showing that their story’s universe has space for ace and/or aro people.
“The Cybernetic Tea Shop” by Meredith Katz
We Awaken by Calista Lynne
“The Fairy Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green” by Nicky Kyle
The Zhakieve Chronicles by A.M. Valenza
1) This post suggests that having a human ace and/or aro character, particularly one who does not read as being inhuman, in the same story alters the effect of having a nonhuman/inhuman ace and/or aro character. Do you agree, and if so, how much of a difference do you think it makes?
2) Does using this trope (having both a human and nonhuman ace and/or aro character) risk falling into certain pitfalls? For example, does it risk being tokenism?
3) “The Cybernetic Teashop”, where the excerpt at the beginning of this post comes from, is a human/robot romance. Does knowing that affect how you feel about the human character in the romance being ace?