Ace Tropes: Ace Ensemble (Wish Fulfilment Edition)

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.

“Let’s see here. Levar is demisexual, Nadia is aro ace, Julio is heteromantic ace, Sydney is a lesbian ace, Tatiana is sex-repulsed grey-A, and I think I may be ace but I’m not sure and for now I prefer to let people think I’m allo. We’ve got a lot of the ace spectrum here in this maker space.”

– this isn’t a quote from a work of fiction; Sara K. just made that up while writing this post

The ace ensemble trope is similar to the queer ensemble trope, but instead of having characters with various different queer identities who are mostly not ace, it has characters who are all in different places under the ace umbrella. I would say, at the very bare minimum, there needs to be at least three ace characters to invoke this trope, though I feel the real minimum is four ace characters.

Usually, I will only write about a trope if I’ve found at least three instances of it in ace fiction. I am making an exception this time mainly for my own wish fulfillment. This is a trope I would love to see a lot in ace fiction, yet so far, I have only found it in “Four Ace Faces” (a Glee fanfic) by luvtheheaven. If there are more instances of this trope, please leave a comment, I would love to write a more ‘conventional’ ace tropes post about this.

Why do I want to see this trope so much? First of all, one thing which often disappoints me about queer ensembles is that many stories trying to represent as many kinds of queerness as possible offer fairly shallow representation, and the ace character is more likely to be one of the ones presented in a shallow way. This is not necessarily bad. Sometimes breadth is more important than depth, and it is difficult to do good research on every single queer identity, especially when they are deliberately chosen for diversity. Nonetheless, I am disappointed because I find it a lot easier to find good shallow representation of asexuality in fiction than to find good deep representation of asexuality in fiction, and I’m personally more interested in deeper representation.

I have seen how narrowing the range of queer identities and choosing a diverse ensemble from there can totally flip this around. Last month, I saw the entire first season of The Switch, a TV show in which 4-5 (depending on interpretation) out of the seven main characters are trans. If you are not familiar with the show, you can watch the trailer, as well as the first and second episode for free. Each trans character represents a different type of trans person (rather than all of the trans characters being, say, binary transwomen), just as queer ensembles represent various different types of queer people. The Switch definitely delves deeper into trans experiences than almost any story I’ve read or seen employing the broader queer ensemble trope. At the same time, the breadth of the trans characters offers a wider perspective than would be possible with a single trans character, no matter how central that one trans character were to the story.

I would like to see the same kind of breadth and depth in ace experiences in fiction. I want good exploration of individual experiences, as well as comparison of very different ways of being ace. One reason I like the Ace Group trope so much is that it allows ace characters to interact with each other. Unfortunately, in every example of the Ace Group trope I’ve seen, only one or two of the ace characters is fully fleshed out, and the other ace characters are too undeveloped to serve as a full ace ensemble. I’m not saying those stories are doing it wrong – it might be exactly what the specific story calls for – but I want more.

How does “Four Ace Faces” measure up? First of all, I have never seen a single episode of Glee, which interferes with my enjoyment for the fanfic (one of the main reasons I don’t read much ace fanfic is that nearly all ace fanfic is in fandoms which do not interest me at all). Beyond that, a lot of the story is about allo characters, is told from allo perspectives, and is about ace characters relating to allo characters rather than aces relating to other aces. This was a deliberate choice on the writer’s part, and I respect that. I also recognize that some ace readers are a lot more interesting in seeing ace/allo intimate relationships in fiction than I am. The story still demonstrates both depth and breadth in ace experiences.

Maybe what I really want is not so much an ace ensemble as a story which is unabashedly ace. I recently attended a reading of a play called Can I Hold You? (An Aromantic Comedy). I can say that, without question, it is the most unabashedly ace work of fiction I have ever seen, heard, or read. As one of the other ace audience members said “this feels like a story written for us” and she wants to bring fifty friends when the play is in full production so they can understand some of the nuances of how being ace feels to her. The version I heard does not quite have the ace ensemble trope – out of the five characters, only three are explicitly ace (and one is just a cipher for ace people on the internet, not a full character), but since the play is still in development, its final form may have the ace ensemble trope. The play covers a lot of things many aces experience in real life yet are rarely depicted in ace fiction or only depicted superficially (and, as the title implies, some aromantic experiences are also covered).

Nonetheless, asking for ‘unabashedly ace’ stories is such a vague request that I doubt it is much use as a suggestion to writers. So instead, I request something more concrete – an ace ensemble, which is like a queer ensemble but with all ace characters. Bonus points if the story puts equal or greater focus on the relationships between the ace characters than the relationships the aces have with allos. I’d like to be able to write about this trope again after I have seen/read/heard multiple examples in fiction.

Discussion Questions:

1) Have you found other examples of ace ensembles in fiction (note: I am asking about on page / on screen representation, not Word of Ace representation)?
2) What would make a story ‘unabashedly ace’ for you?
3) What are potential advantages of the ace ensemble trope? What are potential disadvantages?
4) Are there any tropes in ace fiction which you would love to see, but have never seen described on this blog or in ace fiction?

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.
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8 Responses to Ace Tropes: Ace Ensemble (Wish Fulfilment Edition)

  1. paradox11 says:

    I’m actually in the process of making one of these right now, in the form of a visual novel game called The A-List about 4 ace spectrum superheroes with “useless” powers saving the day. The prologue can be seen here: https://metaparadox.itch.io/the-a-list

  2. Rivers says:

    I really like the idea of having an ace ensemble. As I have grown more and more confident in my own identity, I have started seeing more queer and ace characters naturally pop up in my writing, and the more I have wanted ace characters in the fiction I read or watch. So I think it’s very possible that I could have an ace ensemble one day. I do have several prospective projects that could definitely go that way, and I like writing large casts … definitely something I look forward to writing or reading/watching in fiction. Especially like the unabashedly ace part of this post. Really liked the concept.

    • Sara K. says:

      (as someone who sometimes makes up stories in my head to amuse myself) I don’t think becoming more confident as an ace has made more ace characters appear in my headstories. I think the difference is that they are a lot more likely to be openly ace, or at least be self-aware even if they do not use ace vocabulary. Before I educated myself about asexuality, I was one of those aces who used to think everyone was a little ace, so the characters in my headstories also had ace tendencies (why would they want sex? etc.)

      Anyway, if you already intend to write stories with large casts, I hope you’ll give ace ensembles a try.

      • Rivers says:

        I can definitely see where you are coming from there. And I think it’s interesting how certain factors may have influenced us differently in how we came to start creating more ace or more openly ace characters (whether it be in our heads or on page).

        Because, for me personally, it was becoming more confident in being ace and discovering myself before I started writing/thinking about characters who were ace or queer. I was writing three or four years before I realized I was ace, and coming from a very conservative community, that possibility hadn’t really been open to me.

        Therefore, I had some rather heteronormative writing habits. Even though who I was did bleed into my characters, I did end up thinking that my characters HAD to get into relationships, even when writing those relationships were my least favorite part to write or even think about.

        Now, I want to see myself in fiction. I want to see ace characters who discover themselves. I want ace characters who are fully confident in who they are. I want to write ace characters. And I would like to see them everywhere.

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    I think it’s wonderfully fitting that before I even saw this post existed, around noon my time yesterday, I get a text from my close ace friend that is so clearly an example of “aces relating to other aces”, and the text read: “Hey, one of your fanfics was the main subject of ace tropes!” These are the kinds of things aces can get excited to each other about but that are just so hard to capture in a way that feels accessible and natural and not too specific or too niche in fiction.

    One thing I felt in writing my fanric was this urge to really flesh out and explain my headcanons and WHY Emma, Marley, Kurt, and Beiste all feel ace to me in the actual tv show canon, to draw from actual scenes and… The way that played out most notably is often because they are surrounded by the allo characters who make being ace an issue for them. Marley explicitly refused to have sex with Jake on two occasions, and Marley is never shown or even implied by the end of Glee to be into sex. Emma is teased as an adult virgin for seasons of the show, confirmed to have not consummated her marriage to Carl before their divorce or annulment or whatever happened, and season 2 episode 6 “Never Been Kissed” has Beiste explicitly discussing being 40 years old and having never been kissed. Kurt has in depth discussions on Glee about sex in season 2, episode 15, “Sexy”, and well, because it’s fanfiction, my inspiration came from a very different direction than it might’ve had it not been fanfiction. One of my favorite parts of fanfiction is exploring more in depth something that is already indeed canon, or playing “what if” based off of specific canon moments. The 4 characters here don’t actually interact almost at all in canon, which made making ace/ace interaction fairly tricky to work in given the way I wanted to do it. I still gave Beiste & Emma, as co-workers on the same staff, a closer friendship in my fic with multiple scenes alone together than what the show ever gave us. I still ended my story with Marley and Kurt working toward something pretty close to the kind of thing you’re describing as a wish in this post: a story – in my fic’s case writing a Musical because well it is a Glee fanfic –
    which is unabashedly ace, where there’s an asexual main character, and while I didn’t dive into details or flesh out what the musical really is, and my ending of my story is honestly pretty weak loo… it’s a hint of how that kind of thing is totally on my mind too, a hint of how I would love more stories that feel written for us aces and aren’t merely shallow representation but really are unafraid to let the aceness take over everything.

    All in all, thanks for this post haha. I totally agree with everything you’ve said and you’ve made me want to start watching The Switch. I already really loved The Fosters’ attempts to make some basic points on how not all trans people have the same experience by featuring two trans guys, both actually played by trans actors, who have different ways of handling the same situations, as well as of course pretty different lives in general. I liked the nuance allowed by even 2. And shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word get more opportunity to really flesh out what being gay or being lesbian means when they show more than 3 characters with that same letter in the acronym as their identity, even if they fail miserably in certain ways and still have tons of room for improvement.

    I would love to come across more fiction with an ace ensemble for sure.

    In the meantime I’m in the very early stages of planning a podcast about asexuality & fandom and I’m hoping we’ll have an “ace ensemble” of co-hosts… Lol… But I’m not kidding. Like Idk yet how it would play out exactly but. A variety of types of ace co-hosts is on the horizon as a real possibility.

    • Sara K. says:

      Yeah, I can understand needing to work with what the canon gives you (a point I probably did not fully appreciate when I wrote this post because I don’t know the Glee canon). And the idea of the unabashedly ace musical was one of my favorite parts of Four Ace Faces.

      I definitely feel that the $15 I spent to download the first season of The Switch were very well spent. That said, I recommend watching the free episodes on YouTube before spending money (unless one needs closed captions, which come with the downloads from Vimeo, but aren’t free). The Switch also casts trans actors to play trans roles, and also gives them (sub)plots which do not revolve around being trans.

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