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.
Cisclaimer: this post was written by a cis person.
[Note: Co-Co and the narrator are in the same poly triad] Co-Co blew us both kisses. “Lovelies, hello. I’m Co-Co. Technically I graduated and am now getting my master’s degree. But my boys said I should come, and so here I am.” They crossed one leg over the other and bounced their ankle a bit. “I’m gender fluid, gay, poly, and I’m twenty-two. You have questions on any of that, you just let me know.”
If I thought people looked confused by me being asexual, they were really lost after Co-Co finished talking.
– Crush by Caitlin Ricci, Chapter 16
This trope is basically putting a cis ace and a trans allo together in some kind of close relationship. In the strictest definition of this trope, the cis ace and the trans allo are ‘shipped’ with each other into some kind of pairing. In the looser definition of this trope, the cis ace and the trans allo may join the same polycule, or they may have a parent-child relationship, or simply have a lot of interaction with each other in the story. In the example list, I distinguish between stories which meet the strict definition and stories which meet the loose definition.
However, not every story with both a cis ace character and a trans allo character is an example of this trope. For example, even though the novel Hopeless Romantic has an ace character (who is presumably cis) and an trans allo character, they basically do not interact with each other, therefore that story does not contain this trope.
This trope does have some overlap with the Queer Ensemble trope in that some stories which have the cis-ace/trans-allo duo also have queer ensembles. However, the cis-ace and trans-allo are often depicted as having an especially close relationship with each other compared with other queer characters.
It’s not just in the stories themselves, it’s also in the marketing. For example, Harmony Ink Press basically combines all ace fiction and all nonbinary fiction into the category ‘Queer-Spectrum’ whereas all L, G, B, and T stories are listed separately in their own categories (apparently Harmony Ink Press does not put nonbinary fiction in the ‘T’ category). When Riptide Publishing had their Pride Month sale this year, they dedicated one week to each letter in LGBT – the first week was Lesbian, the second was Gay, the third was Bisexual, and the fourth week was Trans, Asexual & Aromantic.
Many (though not all) of the stories which use the cis-ace/trans-allo trope contain problematic ace representation and/or problematic trans representation. For example. For example, most of the cis-aces are presented as being completely flawless in how they handle trans issues, and the trans allos are usually presented as being just as flawless in handling asexuality. As a cis ace, I find this implausible. I think I know more about trans issues than the typical cis person, but compared to the typical trans person, I am clueless. I think that most cis aces, even with the best intentions, are going to make some mistakes with regards to transness if they are in a close relationship with a trans person. However, the only example of this trope I know of which depicts a cis ace and a trans allo working out misconceptions they have about each other is the webcomic Shades of A.
In particular, the trans character will often allo savior the ace character and/or the ace character will cis savior the trans character (if you know of a good overview of the cis savior trope, please drop a comment). Sometimes the trans character even reads like a Magical Queer.
Also, the ace character will often have no contact with other aces, and the trans character will often have no contact with other trans people. The ace character not having contact with other aces can often be justified, but trans readers tend to find it implausible that a trans character would not know other trans people.
I have not read The Last American Hero by Nicole Field, but Matt, who is a trans ace, says this about the novel:
Leo does all the ace talking, but Bruce is the ace character. Bruce makes all the trans calls, but Leo is the trans character. Neither ever take a stance on what they know is best for them, and probably because they don’t seem to actually know their own backstories. And neither seem to have ever even heard of their own communities. Asexuality is depicted flat-out wrong (“obviously” no kissing, my left nut) and you have to be a very, very new baby trans man to not know what top surgery is. Honestly? Despite all the page time telling me they’re trans and ace, I didn’t feel it. I don’t believe it.
Matt has also reviewed Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox, another story which has a cis-ace/trans-allo duo.
And it can get worse. In some (though not all) examples of this trope, it can seem like the cis ace is paired with the trans allo so that the trans character can get a cis love interest – because trans people need cis people to love them (see #4 on the list) – and an ace will not be put off by the trans character’s body because aces don’t want sex. Oh, and trans people are also good partners for aces because they are ‘neutered’. For example, in the story “Wings of Destruction” the ace character hates sex but has to keep on finding ‘mates’ anyway, so the solution is to pair him with an angel who does not have genitalia. And that’s not the end of the problems with ace and trans representation in that story – you can get more details read this review by a demi-bisexual bigender writer. (Trans characters are also often paired with cis pansexual/bisexual characters so there can be a Cis Love Interest without having to ‘challenge’ a cis character’s monosexuality, but that’s not an ace trope.)
There is some justification for associating trans and ace identities. According to the 2015 Asexual Census, about 12% of the online ace community identifies as trans, and 31% don’t identify with a binary gender. This indicates that a large portion of the online ace community is trans. These numbers are similar among the allo respondents to the census, suggesting that trans allos are more likely than cis allos to have close contact with the ace community. (Source: private correspondence with Siggy.)
However, if the overlap between ace and trans communities were the main reason ace and trans characters were appearing in the same stories, then one would expect to see a lot of TRANS ACE characters. Instead, trans ace characters are rare. If the Asexual Census accurately measure what proportion of the ace community is also trans, then trans aces are severely under-represented in ace fiction. I can tell you that a lot less than 10% of the ace characters currently found in fictional media (especially the more widely known fictional ace characters) are trans. Furthermore, if the overlap between the ace and trans communities was the basis for this trope, then why are the aces and trans characters in cis-ace/trans-allo duos so often disconnected from other aces and/or trans people?
Speaking as a cis ace, I think it is strange that this trope (cis-ace/trans-allo duo) is far more common than trans ace characters. Most of the contact I’ve had with trans people in the past few years has been through the ace community, which means most of the contact I’ve had with trans people has been with trans aces, not trans allos. Admittedly, the statistics from the Asexual Census imply that I might be an outlier. Or maybe the trans allos who have close contact with the ace community mostly have contact with trans aces, I honestly do not know.
I do not think there is anything intrinsically wrong about a cis-ace/trans-allo pairing, but I cannot help but wonder why is the cis-ace/trans-ace pairing so rare, and why have I yet to find any stories with trans-ace/trans-ace or trans-ace/trans-allo pairings?
I’m not the first person to notice the disparity between the number of stories with cis-ace/trans-allo duos and the number of stories with trans-ace characters – embodiedinlanguage has said:
Currently my greatest ace fiction desire is to find ace characters who are also trans/nonbinary. As of now I know of exactly one character who fits that description, and although I get excited when a new book goes up on Riptide or Less Than Three Press that has both those tags, thus far it has always turned out to be “Character A is ace and Character B is trans.” Still holding out hope for my…I guess extremely niche representation?
However, as I said above, Asexual Census statistics suggest that this type of representation should not be extremely niche within ace fiction. Which raises some questions…
“Wings of Destruction” by Victoria Zagar
Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox
Alonso Munich is Now Dead by S. Gates
The Last American Hero by Nicole Field
“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire
“The Goose Girl” by Robin Gallica
Kimchi Cuddles (webcomic)
Shades of A (webcomic)
Blood Borne by Archer Kay Leah
Ace of Hearts by Caitlin Ricci
A Fine Bromance by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver (I know that there are some Word of Ace trans aces in this story, but based on what’s shown on page, the only explicit ace character is not trans, and the most prominent trans character is definitely not ace)
Crush by Caitlin Ricci
“Labyrinth” by Alex Beecroft
“Mr. March Names the Stars” by Rivka Aaron-Hughes [sibling relationship, the romantic relationship is trans-ace/cis-ace]
Dragonborn by Maeghan Friday
“Wandering Star” by K.M. Penemue
Winterbourne’s Daughter by Stephanie Rabig
Eth’s Skin (webcomic)
1) How do you feel about the cis-ace/trans-allo duo trope?
2) Why is the cis-ace/trans-allo duo much more common than trans ace characters?
3) How can this trope be used well (i.e. what are good reasons to put a cis-ace and trans-allo character together)?