How many canonically asexual or aromantic characters from pop culture can you name? My guess is not many.
There are lists out there, like Claudie Arsenault’s Aromantic and Asexual Speculative Fiction Database. But the fact that asexual and aromantic people have to resort to hunting through lists to find more than the rare occasional character in mainstream media is indicative of how poor ace representation actually is.
Putting up with queer stereotypes
Obviously, LGBTQ+/Queer representation has come a long way in the last decade or so. But the stereotypes of queer people are often hypersexualised, or have their asexuality written as a side effect of psychopathy.
And it means that there are hundreds of people out there, both teens and adults, who either think they’re broken, or are mocked by their friends for being ‘prudes’ or not being able to get laid, because of the consistent image that media perpetuates: that the best type of relationships, the truest relationships, are romantic and sexual.
It’s why it took me until I was 19 to even realise that asexuality was a thing that existed. It’s why it took me until I was 21 to definitively say, ok, this is a thing that I am.
Asexuality and aromanticism are also complex, and just to make it even more fun for those trying to figure themselves out, tend to be mixed up in aesthetic, sensual and sexual (or lack of) attraction.
And there are other aspects to the spectrum as well: demisexuality, for example where sexual attraction only occurs after a significant emotional bond is formed, or grey asexuality and aromanticism, where sexual/romantic attraction occur so rarely as to be an unusual occurrence.
So what about me?
Four years since my ‘discovery’ of asexuality on Tumblr, and subsequent research into the many facets of the spectrum, I’m fairly sure I’m somewhere between demi and grey asexual.
But I’m also a hopeless romantic. I used to fall in love with the idea of the people (mostly boys) that I met, and fantasise about what a relationship with them would be like – but almost never sex. Sure, kissing is fun, but…sex never really came up much in these fantasies.
I figured I was just naïve, emotionally immature in comparison to my flat mates who managed to pull on a semi-regular basis. In hindsight, I should have probably figured out that I was somewhere on the ace spectrum when the closest thing I ever got to a one night stand started with a four hour conversation on anime, Ghibli and Pokémon and finished with me running away in panicked tears after an admittedly subpar snog on a nightclub dancefloor, because ‘I didn’t do that sort of thing’.
But that’s just it. At 18 I’d never heard of asexuality, never even contemplated that that might be me, especially not when combined with my love of romance and fantasies of coupledom.
Now I know that I’m not alone
Time and time again I’ve read and heard stories of other ace people who haven’t realised that that’s what they were until after a relationship that ended badly because they weren’t willing to have sex right away, or forced themselves to have sex because that was what was expected. Similarly, stories of aromantics judged for being sluts or called cold and heartless because romance just isn’t their thing.
Or when you come out to someone and their response is, ‘Well maybe you’ll change your mind when you meet the right person’, and the sneaking suspicion that they think they’ve been vindicated because you’ve been in an official long term relationship with a man for fifteen months.
Asexual and aromantic representation is so important, not just for those people out there who are still bemused or uninterested in traditional relationships to know they’re not alone.
But for their friends and families as well, to have an idea of what they mean when they say they’re asexual.
No, I’m not a plant. No, being in a relationship doesn’t mean I’m no longer ace. Yes, there is a different between aesthetic and sexual attraction, as this fantastic comic by gckinsey on Tumblr explains.
If any of this has stuck a chord with you, go out and research. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) is a good place to start, especially for the more basic questions about the nature of asexuality. Aside for that, there are Tumblr blogs, YouTube videos and more for those questioning and coming to terms with their sexuality.
Siarlot Lloyd is Head of Design for Stand Up magazine and Editor of The Cosplay Dossier. When she’s not shouting at Adobe software, she’s usually being creative in other ways or hitting people with medieval weaponry.