This is part of a series on tropes in fiction with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace tropes” tag on this blog.
Vaughn bit his lip, gazing at Jonah. Those grey eyes were sad, almost pleading with him to understand. “You said sex for you was like chocolate,” he said eventually.
“You prefer dark, but you have milk because it’s still chocolate.”
“I don’t like chocolate.” His eyes were locked on Jonah’s. “I can see why people like it.” He grimaced. “Well, sort of. I see that it’s sweet and melts and is pleasurable. But I don’t understand why that’s such a great experience. It’s just okay. I’d rather,” his mouth twitched, “I’d rather have cake.”
– Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox
As many of you know, references to cake are common in ace spaces. It started as a running joke at the AVEN forums, but has expanded to become a marker of aceness both on and offline.
Thus, it’s not surprising to find cake references in ace fiction.
But is it enough for an ace character and a cake to be in the same place at the same time? Is it enough if an ace character eats a cake? I’m not sure – I have found examples in ace fiction where it’s possible that the writer was not thinking about the connection between aces and cakes, and the ace is eating cake by sheer coincidence. I did not include those examples. For that matter, while researching this trope, I discovered that a surprising number of ace fiction stories have pancakes in them.
However, when the ace thinks that cake-decorating shows are the best thing to watch on TV, and the other only ace character in the story agrees, I am 98% sure that is an intentional ace/cake reference.
An especially long cake reference can be found in Candy Land. [CN: child abuse] The ace character, Jack, was exploited and abused by his parents as a child. He had to work to feed them all while they were lazy and made more babies, which they sometimes sold for money. While the ace character was busy being miserable as a child, he dreamed of being able to eat cake, and eventually, he stashed away enough money that he was able to buy a cake for himself for his birthday, just as other kids got to eat cake on their birthdays. However, as soon as he got home, his father sold him to a stranger, and he never even got to taste the cake he had spent so much of his hard-earned money to buy. Many years later, when he’s an independent and free adult, he’s with a friend, and, oh heck, I’ll just quote the scene:
One of the boxes was in a familiar-looking sort of package of cardboard with shiny stickers decorating the outside. That one made Jack’s heart lurch. Ivy opened the box, revealing an elegantly decorated cake.
“Happy birthday!” Ivy smiled at him.
“Thanks.” Jack glared at the cake and kept himself on the opposite side of the table. He hated the memories, but hated the fact that they still bothered him so much even more.
Ivy set the cake aside and ushered Jack to a chair at the table. “Sit, sit. Presents first, then cake.”
[they go through all of the presents]
“Sorry, sorry. You should probably go. Tell everyone I appreciate their gifts.” He headed to the door ready to let Ivy out.
“Jack?” Ivy hadn’t moved from the table. “Come back and have some cake, please.”
Jack swallowed back bile. “I don’t think I can. Whatever you’re expecting of me….”
“I’m not expecting anything.” Ivy got up and began to open cupboard doors until he found the plates, then the drawers until he pulled out a knife and a couple forks.
“I can’t eat that,” Jack insisted. “You should go.” This was why he didn’t do friends. Things always got weird. His head didn’t work right. He wasn’t like everyone else, and not just because he shifted into an animal.
Ivy set the stuff on the table and stepped in close to Jack again, breaching his privacy bubble. Jack took a step back but the wall hindered his escape. “Candy said you’re shy. But you’re not shy. It’s okay. I understand. We’ll have some cake and you can tell me about your favorite books.”
As far as elaborate cake references in ace fiction goes, I think this one really takes the cake.
So far, I’ve just been discussing the ‘there’s cake, and there’s an ace, *wink* *wink*’ type of cake reference – a way of signalling that, yes, the writer is aware of ace communities to at least a shallow extent. One could say the writer is trying to participate in the inside joke.
Sometimes the cake references come out before the writer reveals that a particular character is ace. In these instances, the cake is used as foreshadowing. When cake references are used to convey that a particular character IS ace, it goes a little beyond being an inside joke and make it seem that liking cake is a marker of aceness. It’s analogous to the way female characters (such as Ms. Pac-man in the Pacman media franchise) are sometimes marked as female by having ribbons and lipstick, even though many female people do not wear ribbons or lipstick, and non-female people sometimes wear ribbons and lipstick too. Meanwhile, the non-ace characters are not marked, just as Pacman is not marked as male. This is distinct from hinting that a character as ace by having the ace character being confused about why sex is a big deal, or marking a character as female by using female pronouns.
In the webcomic Kimchi Cuddles, the character Ace (yes, that is his name), has basically only two personality traits: he is asexual and talks a lot about being asexual, and he likes cake. He is not assigned any traits (not even a name!) which is not blatantly coded as ace (well, I suppose he does like cuddling).
Furthermore, liking cake sometimes is used as a metaphor for liking sex, or it is otherwise used as a metaphor for sex. This is a lot like how it is used outside of fiction in discussions among real-live aces, so when an ace character is depicted as using cake in a metaphor to explain asexuality, such as in the example from Blank Spaces, this could be considered a realistic depiction of how aces talk. I have not read “The Princess Who Didn’t Eat Cake,” but based on the blurb, it seems that the whole story is an extended allegory to explain what demisexuality is. However, since the demisexual princess does not like cake, it is arguably a subversion of the cake trope.
Candy Land by Lissa Kasey
How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha L. Miller
Of Monsters and Men by Caitlin Ricci
Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox
Kimchi Cuddles (webcomic)
“The Princess Who Didn’t Eat Cake” by Lynn E. O’Connacht
Aces (web series)
1) How do you feel about *wink* *wink* cake references which are used for signalling? How do you feel about cake being used as a metaphor when explaining asexuality?
2) Are there other ways that ace fiction could signal awareness of real life ace communities without explicitly mentioning them?
3) Does liking cake risk becoming part of an ace stereotype? Would it be a positive or negative stereotype? Does the fact that cake memes started in the ace community make a difference?