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.
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?