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.
Of course, there are potential issues with the way cake is used in ace discourse – one can learn more here and here. Those issues can also apply to the way cake references are used in ace fiction.
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?
Oh interesting. I have reflected on the “cake is better than sex” thing a lot since engaging with those two blog posts you linked, and other sentiments along those lines, and am pretty cognizant of the issues these days, so much so that I don’t really like cake jokes even if the first time I heard it i loved it, and even if I kinda visually like that an artist can render a cake using only the ace flag colors lol.
Most of the aces I meet are more on the sex-averse, sex-repulsed side of things and for us, a more apt analogy would not be something seen as likely good/enjoyable that is better than sex, though, but rather something like “doing a load of laundry is better than sex” or any other seemingly menial task? Lol…
This trope makes me think of “the ace ring plot” as a thing I’ve seen in ace fanfiction though. They feel related.
I think generally the more silly this trope is used, the more I’m likely to enjoy it. When taken too seriously I am likely to be distracted by all the issues with the cake aspect of ace culture or something lol. The first time I hosted the Carnival of aces i chose the theme of analogies to an asexual experience. Ever since then the idea that analogies can only go so far has really stuck with me. I don’t think I really want an analogy or metaphor at all to explain asexuality in most fiction I read, but especially not one involving cake? That being said the more creative a writer is about their use of cake, the more likely I might be pleasantly surprised, including if the analogy takes on an unexpected level or something. I think cake just happening to be in the story, especially if it happens to have purple icing, will always make me grin though lol. Like an inside joke between writer and ace readers thar the characters are missing. I can’t see myself being overly critical of that. Idk.
I will say my local ace meetup group has used two different plush cakes owned by two separate organizers to help signal which table is ours for new members. Not every time but sometimes. We tend to embrace the silly fun of cake being an ace thing. And I think for realism if that kind of plot was in a story, or a character was at pride with an image of a slice of cake on their shirt, I would think that yeah, that’s just accurate lol.
I had been wondering about ace rings in fiction! I don’t recall seeing them in any of the fiction I’ve read, so it’s interesting that you’ve found them in fanfic.
And I get what you mean about being creative/silly makes the cake references better. I’m generally grumpy about cake references in fiction (I restrained myself while writing this post so that the grumpiness wouldn’t show too much) yet I admire the cake reference in Candy Land because it’s so over-the-top (I would not necessarily call it ‘silly’ but it does seem a bit ridiculous to me).
Now to clarify what I said at the end of my comment, I personally probably would hesitate to speak for everyone in my local asexual meetup group in a way that even implied assuming they all like the cake jokes or even know they exist or what the reference is. But I tend to let it go if it seems like a small thing happening amongst other organizers etc.
As for ace rings in fanfiction…
Here are 10: (AO3 Search for Asexuality tag + anywhere in work “black ring”)
Here are 2 more: (AO3 Search for Ace ring)
And one I remember from the very first fanfic I turned into a podfic… asexuality and the ace ring were not the focus but were a part of it! http://archiveofourown.org/works/2464703
So who knows how many others are like that last one? not showing up in those initial searches but have the ring as a part of it!
A quick Google search reveals two more, these on fanfiction.net… This one has the mention in the epilogue.
Just a small collection to establish yeah in fanfic it’s definitely something that exists.
I have literally said, to emphasize my sex-repulsion, that I would rather clean up dog diarrhea than have sex. (Which is literally true.)
Well, *my* sex-aversion isn’t (personally) actually repulsion. It’s not indifference either, but I would prefer (if I was talking about my own experience of liking a lot of things more than sex) to not bring to someone’s mind gross things I’d rather be doing, because it makes it seem like sex is experienced as gross to me. And for me, it’s more like psychologically painful, if anything… which I find a very different category of things? I feel it like clashing magnets, this invisible “cannot go there” force, a lot of the time… obviously it depends on what specific thing we’re talking about too… like my kissing aversion is a little different. It’s clearly complicated.
I think though, for either you or me, “cake is better than sex” really misses the mark… 😛
As I haven’t read a lot ace fiction yet, I will just give my thoughts on the third question.
As far as stereotypes go, I would say that loving cake isn’t the worst to get. It’s just a very broad one and it’s not like aces are the only ones to like cake. I can easily think of a couple of friends who love cake, but are definitely not ace. And likewise, I am fairly sure that not every ace like cake.
Either way I think I like the cake thing more as an inside joke than a stereotype, since it’s not a very accurate stereotype.
Yep, not all aces like cake. I don’t like cake because I think it takes gross (or at least, I think American cake is gross – cakes from other cuisines can taste very different). But, as you say, it’s not the worst kind of stereotype, and it’s arguably less problematic for aces than for fat people (another group who is stereotyped as liking cake).
I too prefer cake as an inside joke than as a stereotype.
I know some ace people don’t like the whole cake thing, which is perfectly fine, but I am a big fan considering it’s one of the reasons I instantly connected with being ace. I think it could definitely work as a great metaphor for explaining asexuality. There are, after all, lots of food references/analogies out there to help people explain other orientations. Cake is just the ace thing.
On a sidenote, one of the reasons that I like it as an ace symbol/metaphor because there are memes/mottos that relate to people who do and don’t like cake. Most of the time we tend to talk about how aces are obsessed with cake in “cake is better than sex” etc., but there is also another motto which fits people who do not like cake and also works in situations where cake is being used to symbolize sex “the cake is a lie, asexuality is not.”
My biggest issue with food metaphors in general (not just cake) to describe sexuality – especially if asexuality is involved – is that people literally have to eat to stay alive (when I say ‘eat’ I include the alternative methods of nutritional intake used by some people with digestive tract problems). By contrast, I have never heard of anybody literally needing sex to stay alive (I’m not talking about people who trade sex for things they need to stay alive, I’m talking about cases where the sex is directly keeping someone alive). Here’s a bad example (yes, it’s talking about abstinence rather than asexuality, but it’s still an example of a food metaphor gone wrong):
“Of all the birth control methods available, abstinence is probably the one that’s most likely to be left in the nightstand drawer. Sex is, among other things, a fundamental and powerful physical drive, deeply ingrained in us by millions of years of evolution. If your birth control method depends on your ability to just say no to sex until you’re ready to have kids… it’s a bit like having a birth control method that depends on your ability to refuse to eat. For a week. In a bakery.”
(from this source)
If I were stuck in a bakery for a week, and had no other way to get food, unless I thought the food was poisoned or something I’d probably eat it because I prefer to eat even awful food over starvation. To imply that the same could apply to sex, IMO, supports compulsory sexuality.
Not all food metaphors applied to asexuality are awful in this way (for example, I don’t think the Blank Spaces example at the top of this post is awful like this) but I have run into so many people using food metaphors which implicitly support compulsory sexuality that they leave a bad taste in my mouth (oh no I’m making a food metaphor myself to explain some asexuality-related idea, dammit).
Yeah definitely see your point there. I think we all have to be careful about unintended implications in analogies and metaphors in general. They really only can go so far.
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