Ace Tropes: When Do I Tell Them I’m Ace?

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.

Abby knew what people had said about her in the past: that she was frigid, weird, broken. That not wanting to have sex made her somehow less than human. And despite that, she’d accepted her asexuality for what it was, never mourned the loss of something she didn’t want in the first place.

But she didn’t want to lose Gabrielle.

Thaw by Elyse Springer, Chapter 19

Character A is ace. They are agonizing over whether, when, and how to tell Character B that they are ace. Character A is worried that Character B will reject them in some way, which is why Character A has not told Character B already. This creates tension which makes the audience want to find out what happens next. That is the essence of this trope.

Most often, Character B is Character A’s love interest. This offers a clear reason why Character A fears rejection by Character B, as well as a clear reason why Character A would want Character B to know that they are ace. Sometimes, Character B is Character A’s friend, not love interest. In such cases, Character A fears losing a friend, not a romantic prospect.

In some cases, Character A has a history of people reacting badly when they come out as ace. This tends to make Character A even more nervous about telling Character B, and thus they delay coming out.

In order for this trope to happen, Character A pretty much needs to be a point-of-view character. I suppose it might be possible if the POV character is a confidante of Character A, but it just makes it easier to convey how Character A is trying to decide whether/when/how to tell Character B if they are a POV character. In every story I’ve read which uses this trope, Character A is the protagonist.

Another prerequisite is that Character A must have a firm sense of their asexual identity. Sometimes stories with the not having words trope will also have the ace character feeling that they have to tell some other character something, but they will be so vague about it that, if there is any tension, it tends to be be around whether or not the ace character will realize they are ace, not whether they tell another character about it.

The most complicated example of this trope I have found is in We Awaken. It’s complicated because there are two ace characters involved. One ace character wants to come out to Character B, and the other ace character does not, or at least wants to delay it. Thus, rather than being an internal struggle, it is a (minor) conflict between two ace characters.

Inevitably, Character B eventually finds out that Character A is ace, because having all of that buildup without a payoff would disappoint the audience. Generally, Character A will finally have the courage to come out, or it simply becomes so difficult to hide their aceness that they give up. In We Awaken, one of the ace characters finally outs herself because it has become too awkward for her to stay in the closet, which causes the other ace character to also come out at a time which is not comfortable for her.

In theory, Character B could simply accept that Character A is ace and not make a big deal about it, but in practice, I have not seen this happen, possibly because writers think it would be too anti-climactic. Thus, the reaction tends to fall into one of two general categories:

Category 1: Character B turns out to be ace or a sex-avoidant allo. This is supposed to be a surprise for the audience, and thus a sufficient payoff.

Category 2: Character B reacts badly to finding out that Character A is ace. In these cases, the payoff is drama. Character B may accept the validity of Character A’s asexuality later in the story, or they may not.

I have read stories in which an ace tells an allo character that they are ace, and the allo character responds well (without being a sex-avoidant allo), but in those cases there is no particular buildup to the ace coming out – it just happens at the first sensible moment, which means there is not much tension, and the story moves on.

Sometimes this trope works very for me, and makes me want to keep turning pages. At other times, I think “sheesh, can’t you just tell them you are ace already!”

I consider this to be a realistic ace trope (even though the execution is not always realistic). When aces talk about dating, one of the most common questions they ask is when or how to tell their date that they are ace. In my own experience, there have been times when I’ve debated with myself whether/when/how to tell someone that I am ace. It’s not a question with an obvious answer, and thus it is interesting to explore in fiction.

Examples:
Thaw by Elyse Springer
How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha L. Miller
Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
We Awaken by Calista Lynn
Dark Lord’s Wedding by A.E. Marling

Questions:

1) Do you like this trope? Why or why not?
2) For storytelling/dramatic purposes, do you prefer Character B to have a Category 1 response or a Category 2 response? Is there some alternate response you would prefer?
3) What details do you think could make the execution of this trope work better for building suspense OR feel more realistic/authentic?

About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who has previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.
This entry was posted in Articles, Coming out, Media and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Ace Tropes: When Do I Tell Them I’m Ace?

  1. Rivers says:

    1) I personally do like this trope because I recognize it as something I’ve experienced in real life with all the important people I’ve wanted to come out to. I also like the potential for drama and build-up and all that good story stuff.

    2) I think it depends on the situation. Depending on the circumstances of the relationship and the general feel of the story either could be “more dramatic”. However, as an ace, I think I would actually prefer to read a story where Character B does not blow up in Character A’s face because that would remind me exactly why I’m not out to most of the people in my life. It might hit just a little too close to home.

    • Sara K. says:

      I can understand why you feel that way about Character B reacting badly. I think in real life, none of us would want that kind of reaction, and finding it in fiction is not necessarily fun either.

  2. Sara K. says:

    1) I do like this trope. I think fiction writers could do a lot more to explore this trope.

    2) It depends on the story. However, I think there are alternative responses which could still be storyworthy. For example, Character B could be confused and try to be as nice as they know how to be about it, but because they are confused and uninformed, they do not know how to be nice about it (I suppose this falls under the category of ‘reacts badly’ but it’s a variation I haven’t seen yet).

    3) I think they could expand the categories of people who one may wish to come out to. For example, as an aromantic, I do not personally relate to having to tell a love interest that I am ace – but I can hella relate to having to tell a parent that I am ace.

    • Rivers says:

      Yeah, I really like that suggestion for number three because I go through this struggle 99% of the time I come out to people. It would also be interesting to see Character A being conflicted about coming out to multiple people, who could all have their different reactions to it. Also, Character A being afraid to tell Character B, even though they know Character B would be chill, because that means Character C, who would not react well, would find out. Navigating coming out can be very sticky and messy and fiction should reflect this.

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    I at least like that I’ve seen a few shows with this kind of thing explored for lesbian, gay, or bi characters, like mainly family focused shows. You have Saul on Brothers and Sisters struggling to come to terms with being gay even after so many decades of living that life, telling his gay nephew before his sister, etc etc, or Marissa on The OC having very different attitudes about talking to her best friend Summer about how she’s dating a girl now than she does about her mom and… Was that her stepfather? Haddie on Parenthood is shown having a conversation with her mom that is different from the one with her cousin and also she has this unspoken different exchange of understanding with her dad. Etc. I like the nuance if even with married parents it can be different for both your mom and your dad, and it would totally be really cool to see this play out in complicated ways with asexual folks, who don’t just have the “I’m dating a person of the same gender” easy enough thing to put into fiction, but much like with the bi characters sometimes there is and usually there should be more nuance with explaining I’m not a lesbian/gay but rather am bi, I know this is confusing, there’s this extra stuff to unpack with asexuality and/or aromanticism. Coming Out becomes much more complicated and I’d love to see more of it explored.

    I liked how in How To Be A Normal Person how even if Casey, the ace, wasn’t the POV character, we heard from other characters how big of a deal it was for Casey to choose to come out to Gus so early, and we saw Casey made it a big deal and was hoping Gus would react well, Gus’s point of view still conveyed a lot of Casey’s emotion in that pivotal scene. It’s not this trope but it’s adjacent and interesting to see coming out as ace handled that way.

    I don’t think I’m familiar enough with the trope to know if I like it or not but in theory, I think I like the idea a lot. I wish the character could be not reacting badly while still not being surprise!ace too or sex-avoidant love interest. I wish it could be leading to a breakup even but still in an amicable way because I’d love to read more stories featuring that kind of thing. Lol. I don’t know. This is all just a lot of great food for thought.

  4. Pingback: AAWFC 2017: Musings on “Ace Representation in General” | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  5. Pingback: Interacting with gay coming out stories as an ace | The Asexual Agenda

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