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.
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?