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.
Sometimes a recurring character in a series / long (web)comic / etc. will eventually be revealed as ace. This is a trope which is specific to serial fiction – there must be a significant amount of real life time and progression of the story between the installment where a character is introduced, and the installment where the character is revealed as ace. This can happen in novel series, comic book series, movie series, TV shows, webcomics, etc. However, when a novel or movie is released whole, even if a character who is introduced at the beginning is not revealed to be ace until the very end, it’s not an example of this trope. On the other hand, if it’s a serialized novel, one chapter is released per week, and it takes ten chapters between a character’s first appearance and the reveal as ace, then that is definitely an example of this trope.
For clarification, I will explain what this trope is not:
- This trope is not a creator putting out a Word of Ace after a series is complete, such as Tamora Pierce saying that Keladry of Mindelan in the Protector of the Small quartet is ace long after the quartet was initially published.
Though Pen has yet to be revealed to be ace in Interface, Lucy Mihajlich has said that she will be revealed to be ace in the third book in the series. Conditional on Lucy Mihajlich following through on that promise, I am including Pen from Interface as an example of the ‘Eventually Revealed as Ace’ trope.
- This trope is not a new character who happens to be ace being added to a series, such as when Diane Duane put in a completely new and explicitly ace character (Lissa) in the tenth installment of her Young Wizards series.
- This trope is not (necessarily) an ace character coming out to other characters in the story. It’s about the audience learning that a character is ace, not other characters learning that the character is ace, though sometimes both the audience and other characters learn that a particular character is ace at the same time.
To be fair, it’s not clear how much time must pass in the real world or how much story must happen for it to count in this trope. For example, even though Clara appears in the prologue of the webcomic Heartless but it’s not clear that she is ace until Chapter 2, and it took several months to get from the prologue to Chapter 2, I don’t consider this an example of the trope because the stories of webcomics tend to move really slowly and I feel like the amount of story covered between the prologue and Chapter 2 was so little that Clara was still practically a new character.
By contrast, Erin in the webcomic Girls with Slingshots (GWS) first appears in strip #654 which came out in 2009. At the time, I was a regular GWS reader, and I followed the various subplots around Erin until I stopped reading GWS about a year later. After I stopped reading, in GWS #1363, which came out in 2012, Erin was finally revealed to be ace. When I found out about it (much later) I was a little surprised that Erin is ace, but it did not contradict anything I remembered about her. Clearly, a 3 year wait in real world time between installments, and more than 700 comic strips worth of story is enough for it to count as an eventual reveal.
Anyway, enough with the definitions. Let’s see this trope in action.
Sometimes there are hints that a character is ace long before the reveal. Hiresha, the protagonist of the Lady of Gems series, is not revealed to be ace until the very last book, The Dark Lord’s Wedding. However, even in the early books in the series, there are hints that she is ace. Would I have picked up on those hints or headcanoned her as ace even if I had not known in advance that Hiresha was a canon ace character? I don’t know. However, her reveal as ace is consistent with the way her character is presented throughout the series.
Though sometimes creators intend for a particular character to be ace all along, sometimes they decide that a character is ace long after that character has been established. I have not verified this, but I suspect that Jughead from Archie Comics was not originally intended to asexual rather than heterosexual.
When a fictional work has multiple creators, getting all of the creators to consistently portray a character as ace, even after the reveal, may not happen.
Something which happens a lot with this trope is that people in the audience get used to the idea of a character being allosexual (possibly because the character had romantic interactions and the audience assumes romance and sexuality are connected, or simply assumes characters who are not marked as ace are allo) well before the character is revealed as ace. Thus, the reveal is sometimes shocking. It can be a positive shock – ace fans in particular tend to be happily excited when a recurring character is revealed as ace (though this may not happen if there is a problem with the presentation of asexuality). Non-ace fans may also be pleased. On the other hand, some members of the audience may react negatively to learning that a particular is not what they thought.
An example of this happening is the reaction to the ace reveals the Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux. In Part and Parcel (the third installment of the Sidewinder stories, which is part of the Cut and Run series) not just one, but two recurring characters are revealed to be ace. El, who is ace, reacted thus when she encountered the first ace reveal scene in the book:
I read a book last week that made the breath catch in my throat, made me pause and re-read a dialogue exchange once, twice, and then punch the air and shout “YES AWESOME!” That book was Part & Parcel by Abigail Roux.
However, while El was very happy about this reveal, some fans of the series were upset, claiming it was unrealistic, even going so far as to describe it as a ‘slap in the face’. You can read more about this in El’s essay “The Mythical Unicorn of LGBTQIA Novels (Or, the A doesn’t stand for Ally.)”
One factor which might have caused some of the negative reactions to the ace reveals in Part and Parcel is that the Cut & Run series contains a lot of highly detailed sex scenes. Certain readers may like the series mainly for the erotic parts, and thus may particularly resent that two of the recurring characters are ace (though most readers seem to be okay with the presence of ace characters).
By contrast, I have yet to find anybody reacting negatively to Hiresha in Lady of Gems being revealed as ace. Maybe that just reflects the fact that a lot fewer people read Lady of Gems than Cut & Run. However, (allosexual) readers may be more willing to accept Hiresha as ace because she appears in a dark fantasy series, and they perceive her aceness as fitting the general weirdness of the stories (if this is true, then there are some problematic implications here, though these would not negatively reflect on Lady of Gems itself since I don’t think there is anything wrong with including ace characters in generally weird fiction).
Why do reveals get delayed to the middle or the end of a series? Obviously, if a character was not originally intended to be ace, that would explain why the reveal is delayed. Another possibly reason is that the ace character may not have words until midway through the series, and though it is very possible to indicate that a character is ace even if they do not have words, it is easier to reveal when they have words. Being ace may not become relevant to the story until a later part of the series. Also, a character may be revealed as ace when they transition from being a non-POV character to a POV character. Finally, a creator may wish the audience to get to know the character as an individual before they do the ace reveal so that aceness will not be the character’s defining trait. There may be other reasons, but those are the reasons that come to mind right now.
Shortland Street (TV show)
The Lady of Gems series by A.E. Marling (Hiresha)
Supernormal Step (webcomic) (Fiona)
Archie Comics / Jughead (Jughead)
The Cut & Run / Sidewinder series by Abigail Roux (Digger & Kelly)
Shadowhunters (TV show) (Raphael)
The Ultraviolet / Quicksilver duology by R.J. Anderson (Tori)
Girls with Singshots (webcomic) (Erin)
The Hidden Gem trilogy by Lissa Kasey (Jack)
Sister Claire (webcomic) (Claire)
The Interface series by Lucy Mihajlich (Pen)
1) What are the advantages of revealing a character as ace as shortly after they appear? What are the advantages of delaying the reveal until long after the character’s first appearance?
2) What factors may influence how ace audiences react to a reveal? What factors may influence how non-ace audiences react to a reveal?
3) What character from an ongoing series/webcomic/etc. would you love to see revealed as ace (even if you never expect it to happen in canon)?