It’s Queer Here: Asexuality In Literature

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Hello and welcome to It’s Queer Here!

It’s Queer Here is a ten days long mini blog series which will hold from June 14 – June 25th (skipping Juneteenth) to commemorate Pride month. The purpose of this blog series is to centre more often forgotten queer voices, especially those which intersect with other marginalisations and affect their experience of queerness. It’s Queer Here can be seen as reminder, that although these identities less are presented, that they’re still here and they’re still queer.

Today on It’s Queer Here, two other asexual book bloggers, Natalia Martinez and Tee, and I talk in a bloggers chat about asexuality in literature. We talk about what is and what could be better.


Em/Zainab: Hello! I’m Em/Zainab, a nineteen year old aroace book blogger. I’m Black, Muslim, very Nigerian, living with chronic pain and a 4th year nursing student. I love books, which I guess is obvious since I’m running a blog about books, anime, chocolate, music and sunshine. A random fact about me? I hate the rain and my friends think I’m odd for that, lol and I have 10/11 names, which shocks a lot of non-Nigerians.

Natalia: Hi! I am Natalia I’m a 28 year old Queer Ace Latina Book content creator! I’m Puerto Rican and Dominican so it’s like my inner self’s are always at war but here we are:) I suffer from chronic migraines, which in a way has opened a whole new world of books for me which have always been my escape! I also run a blog and channel where I strive to uplift books from marginalized voices:) a random fact about me, I like to build replicas of places and architecture I have visited during my travels! I have a long name which is my ultimate pride, it kind of gives away where I’m from so no matter how many times people mess it up I’m keeping it lol.

Tee: Hi! I’m Tee, a South African reader and occasional blogger. I’m 22 and currently doing my undergrad in biology. Besides reading I really enjoy binging series with my sister, building puzzles and I’m also trying to get better at cross-stitch and embroidery.

In contrast I surprisingly have a very short name (just my first and last) which is actually unusual for most Black South Africans.

Em/Zainab: Natalia and Tee, its so nice to have this chat with you today. Thank you again for joining me. Since, Natalia suggested this topic, I’ve been thinking about how long it finally took me to start actively seeking out and reading books with asexual characters. The first book with an sexual character I read is That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert, which I read this year! Although, if I want to really thinking about it, I think I’d say The Black Veins by Ashia Monet, because although the character hasn’t thought much about this sexuality yet, the author has confirmed he’s ace-spec. So I guess first book with a character who has discovered their sexuality is That Kind Of Guy, and with a character that’s on his journey is The Black Veins.

Natalia: I read my first book with an Asexual Character during the summer of 2019, I remember seeing the author market it with bullet points which was becoming a trend at the time and she wrote:

Mistaken Identity

Demisexual MC and Bi-Sexual MC

Late Night texts etc ,

 It was a YA Book titled Technically You Started It (TYSI) for short, by Lana Wood Johnson! And I remember being so excited that I was finally going to be able to see myself in a book for the very first time:) The book is completely written in text message format so it allowed to delve deep into the characters and later allowed space for the discussion of identity between the characters. I will forever be thankful to the book that made me feel validated, and I’ve made an effort to search out others since then and That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert is on my list to read too! I’m glad you enjoyed it Em!

Tee: Thank you for inviting me to participate, it means a lot.

I’ve heard so much about The Black Veins and I had no idea it had aspec character 😭 the first book I read with aspec rep was Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman and it was completely by accident – I picked it up last year to see if I could read it for a bookclub I started with my coworkers and only knew it was about grief and healing. The main character is aroace, and though the words themselves aren’t used, the way it was explained and experienced basically punched me in the gut because I was like oh wait same I didn’t really expect to see parts of me in this but it’s great! Oh and before that there was a side-side character in What About Us by Becky Albertali and Adam Silvera who mentions she’s demisexual but that was before I realised I was ace and it was just the one line and she didn’t have much else page time so I don’t have any feelings towards that experience 

I’d previously bought Tash Hearts Tolstoy on sale and I knew that was like the one YA book that was explicitly about being ace but I only started it last month and so far I’ve felt so seen and definitely wish I’d known about it when I was younger

(I’m also casually jotting down the names of the books you both mentioned because there’s no such thing as too much rep)

Em/Zainab: Technically, You Started It and Summer Bird Blue are both on my tbr list. Yes, I’m that aroace clown who hasn’t read Summer Bird Blue yet *insert clown emoji here*. I’ve talked about one thing that came to mind immediately this topic was sugested, another thing that did was the state of representation of asexuality in literature, in terms of quantity. I feel like the state of representation is poor. I’m not going to blame authors for this, but the responsibility should be on publishers. Over the past few years, we’ve had a rise in number of LGBTQ+ books being published, by aspec books that have been published in relation to rest, is really small. Whenever I want to make a list of books with asexual characters finding recommendations is harder than finding for bi or gay characters, and I think that publishers should do better.

Natalia: Yeah this is something I am constantly in talks about with other people in the book community as well. If it wasn’t because of authors these days using that bullet point format to share main points in their stories asexual characters would be so hard to find. Which is why it bothers me that some people in the community get angry when books are marketed as LGBTQIA+, by saying that a book shouldnt sell just because it falls in this category. However I digress from that thought because there aren’t enough queer books out there, if you write a queer book I want to know about it, what identities does it have? Because I want to see me in books, so please scream to the sky that your book has Ace rep, or any kind of rep for others in the community cause we need it. I think asexuality as an identity is something that sadly many people don’t see as valid and I think that reflects in reading lists. I’m so glad that the upcoming generation of authors are people who had these talks at younger ages, and so now books in YA are starting to reflect other identities like asexuality and it makes me so happy, if we could only get some Ace rep into adult books too, I would be forever grateful but in the meantime Ace rep in YA has my heart!

Tee: I do think summer bird blue is one of those books you won’t know is aspec rep until you read it or someone yells it at you so you’re no clown 😅 it is also a heavy read because it’s mostly about grief and it doesn’t shy away from that, so take your time getting round to it if you need to.

I definitely agree on that front, even though I haven’t read a lot of books with aspec rep I do keep tabs on which ones I know are out there – and a lot of the time that comes from OwnVoice authors being like ‘hey I needed me in a book so here it is for all my aspec babies’. A lot of times the fact that characters are aspec isn’t announced like when characters are gay/lesbian/bi etc so it’s easy for those books to not be known as rep and we could be missing out on a lot of them. And even if that weren’t the case the numbers are still incredibly low.. I think it’s easy to get away with, especially in YA, because of the assumptions that being asexual is only about sex and not sexual attraction… So in YA books where usually sex isn’t even mentioned it could be easier to erase our identities. I think a lot of characters can be coded but that might not be the authors intentions and it’s always important to have the words explicitly on the page.

Em/Zainab: Honestly, you both have said all the things that are on my mind. From books being deemed ‘not queer enough’ for one reason or the other (and quite a number of books with asexual characters have been characterised as such) to invalidation of asexuality in adult books, particularly romances. You basically took the words out of my mouth.

It’d be quite impossible for us to talk about asexuality in lit, without talking about the quality of asexual books.

While most of OwnVoices asexual books are really good and representative of part of the asexual experience, let’s talk about how a lot of non OV books literally fail and have like yeah zero quality. I won’t lie, I really wanted to talk about this because when I see asexuality done badly in books, it annoys and hurts me because we have so little books about us out there and to see someone mess it up because they didn’t do their research well hurts. Earlier this year, I read a book  where the author had an asexual character say “I’m an ace” and I can’t think of many other things in books that rubbed me off so wrong, and then the author went on to conflate asexuality with romantic attraction. The whole experience was so invalidating and there are other books like this. This isn’t to say that all books by non OV authors are bad or low quality, Claire Kann writes asexuality really nicely in her book Let’s Talk About Love, and to the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t confirmed whether its OV or not. Talia Hibbert also isn’t demi, but her book has one of the best rep I’ve read.

In essence what I’m saying is that, non OV authors should do their research well before putting out books that misrepresent us.

Natalia: I truly agree with this, thankfully I haven’t had to experience bad Ace rep in a book before, I’m grateful that the ones I have read so far have been OV , but even when I experience bad Ace rep in other media it hurts too. Asexuality is such a complex spectrum and a very fluid one and while great research could make for good rep like Em mentioned, I normally gravitate towards OV Ace books because I find it so hard to explain it myself, I can’t imagine an author who doesn’t live it being able to speak to me the way OV do. However I do respect an author who can do that, so now I’m even more excited to read Talia Hibberts book! Even in my life some people dont take my asexuality seriously, and I feel like as part of the LGBTQIA+ umbrella a lot of queer books dont take it seriously either, it just comes down to Ace people being cold, or unlovable, or sex repulsed and like that’s not it at all.

Tee: Like I said earlier I haven’t read a lot of books with ace rep, so I can’t really comment on harmful rep that I’ve personally experienced luckily but that doesn’t make it any less unacceptable.

There’s so much misunderstanding around what it means to be ace or on the spectrum because so much of what we’re taught of sexual and romantic attraction and sex is all conflated. It took me a really long time to fully understand what the words meant and how they applied to me and I worked through it and gained the knowledge because I was trying to understand myself. If you aren’t doing it for that reason it’s easy to see the definitions of what it means to be ace and then automatically apply your knowledge of what the words mean without taking time to realise how it might not all be the same. Taking it at surface level is enough if you think it’s just a small trait to give to a character and not as important as getting other rep right.

I think non-OV authors can definitely get the nuance right if they take the time to understand what they’re writing about, and to listen – it’s all about how much you care for the community you’re trying to rep, really. But that’s not to say all mistakes or mishandling of rep comes from a lack of care. But it’s still hurtful at the end of the day

Most of the ace books I know about are own voices but I also don’t know if summer bird blue is ownvoice for the aro/ace rep and I thought that was handled with care and respect.

We all read to find solace and peace and no one should have to experience invalidation and hurt from that. I’m sorry you had to Zainab

Em/Zainab: Thank you so much, Tee. And I agree with what you both said. Going of tangent here, but Natalia you have read Talia Hibbert books. They’re so good and mostly queer. 

Back to the topic at hand, this prompt is basically like the previous one and about how properly asexuals are represented in books.

I’m going to reiterate and say OV books are good. I feel they represent asexuals well. Non OV books is a shaky ground because some do and some don’t. And now, in books where asexuality isn’t the main topic or isn’t even a theme, both queer and non queer, but especially queer because it hurts more from them. Like you said Natalia, in some books you have things like ace people are cold, abnormal, unlovable and something is wrong with us. It particularly hurts more from other queer people and books because they’re so rigid in the belief that lack of sexual attraction is abnormal, and from this community that should be ours, in these books that should also do right by us its very hurtful. So I guess in other queer books, asexuals are poorly represented.

Natalia: Going off of your thoughts Em , you are correct, it almost hurts a bit more when the author  is from within the LGBTQIA+ community because you would think that they would like their identity to be represented with care as well and they would share that respect onto others which sadly is not always the case. It’s interesting to see that sometimes Ace coded characters, or other authors write characters that read so Ace that I can’t help but see myself in them, and I give them a pat on the back as well in the community and out that they make an effort to write characters that are more than just one dimensional and varied in the way they portray their emotions and relationships.

Tee: I agree with both of you. I always feel like if you’re not going to bother to make the rep good and handle it with respect then we as a community are better off without your rep at all, especially if you identify as queer because it feels like an even bigger insult.

I’d like to think that it’ll get better soon, especially with the outpouring of love and respect I saw on the TL the other day when a lot of people were posting their aspec flags – these are the people who are going to demand nuanced and respectful (and explicit!) rep

I do think relaying sexual attraction in words is more difficult than romantic attraction so reading a lot of SFF YA growing up where ‘the love story wasn’t always the main plot, it was easy to not feel alienated from those characters, and it was easier to find characters who could be coded as aspec.

Em/Zainab: Whew, the disappointment we experience.

Moving on to more pleasant things, I just want to declare my love for Ashia Monet and Talia Hibbert again because their asexual characters make me so happy. Zach from That Kind Of Guy and Antonio from The Black Veins are my favourite asexual characters. Zach, because I understood everything he felt and he made me feel so seen and Ant because he’s a sweet, smol ball of sunshine. A character I’m anticipating to love is Ellie from Alechia Dow’s The Sound of Stars, because she’s a Black demisexual girl and I really can’t wait to read about her in that book.

Natalia: Ahhh you are going to Love Ellie!! And in case you werent aware the “Alien” is also Demi and it’s two different experiences of it which is just beautiful to watch! I cant wait to hear what you think.

If you cant tell my Ultimate Demisexual book is The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow and I wont stop screaming about it lol because like …. well you will see lol 

I cried and read for 8 hours straight , and the audiobook was magic so that should tell you everything you need to know.

Sadly like Tee I haven’t read many Demisexual on the page books only 2 so far, which makes me sad… because I need more out there.

But I do want to talk about two books that made me feel seen and had different aspects of asexuality coded into them, such as emotional intimacy in relationships that were not grounded in the sexual aspect . 

Something To Talk About by Meryl Wilsner, really pulls a punch with the emotional intimacy, discussions on ageism, and basically rediscovering or completely accepting your queerness later in life, which I know for me I only started really accepting this part of myself two years ago, so this book it really saw me.

The second one is This is How You Lose The Time War by Max Gladstone & Amar El Mohtar, this book is written completely in letter format and it’s literally an enemies to lovers that explores intimacy in so many different ways, emotions, binaries, in the most beautiful way.

I’ve been telling my friends that if you want to know the hopes for love I have as an asexual person, how I see my relationships as ace, and what I mean by emotional intimacy and getting to know me all they have to do is read the three books I have listed💕 my dream is however that one day when someone asks me to list three Ace books I love, I can list 3 books that actually mention Ace rep on the page.

Tee: I’m really excited to get around to those books now because of how highly you speak of them

I’m dying to read The Sound of Stars – the SFF premise alone is right up my alley and to know it has a Black demisexual main character has me feeling all kinds of soft

Another one I’m really anticipating is Tarnished are the Stars by Rosiee Thor. She’s an OV author and she is constantly speaking up about being ace on twitter and calling for better rep and speaking out against aphobia and again it’s SFF so it’s one more book about Aces and Space and I’m excited to support both those authors works

I also really appreciate Tash Hearts Tolstoy for the way it actively explains the MC’s identity as she comes out to her friends – I think it’s a good book especially for new baby aces who are still trying to figure it out

I definitely feel like I need to be more active in picking up ace books – I don’t read a lot compared to most people on book Twitter and I’ve mostly been trying to prioritise supporting womxn authors, especially Black womxn and womxn of colour but luckily a lot of these books also fit into that category so it just makes it better but I can definitely try harder for aspec book and supporting those authors.

Em/Zainab: Natalia, I was already excited for The Sound of Stars and you’re tell me the “Alien” is also demi!! And I had no idea those other two books were ace coded, they were on my tbr before but they just moved higher. Tarnished Are The Stars is also on my tbr and I have no idea why I haven’t read it yet. Like both of you, I also haven’t read many books with asexual characters sadly, but I aiming to change that from now on.

While its been great that we’re having more books with asexual characters and ace coded ones too, I really can’t say what I see in the future for asexuality in literature. The numbers in comparison to books other queer identities is still really low and I hope they get better. Overall, I’m hopeful than anything.

Natalia: I think I agree with that, I just hope the Ace rep increases, but I hope it increases on all ends, give me coming out stories, give me queer platonic romances, give me friendships that are full of love that just stay at friendships, give Ace people in a relationship with a non-ace person where they are  navigating honest and healthy discussions about how their relationship will be moving forward and growing together and respecting each others boundaries. Like Tee said it was so beautiful to see all the Aspec people in the community loving on each other and how many there are of us, all of us have different experiences and are at different parts of our journey, I want to see all of them, and for the love of everything please give me an adult book with OV rep in it lol!!

Tee: YES to the diversity of stories we get Natalia, we deserve it! 

I’m mostly hopeful – I’ve seen a handful of new authors state they have aspec characters, and while I’m looking forward to the day when having the words on the page is as common for other queer rep, I am still excited for whats to come.

I know these authors I’ve noticed are mostly SFF authors and those books don’t usually use queer labels explicitly because different made up worlds with different language so I think for a while we will mostly get coded language or explanations of identity rather than labels

I think the more people we get into championing loud ace rep the more chances authors will get to write it and have their stories out there. Hopefully I can start championing for these books once I read more of them.

If I could mention – The Obsidian Tower by Melisa Caruso is an adult fantasy book that came out nearly two weeks ago with an aspec character and I don’t know if a label is used but I read a review today (well technically yesterday) and it’s definitely more than just coded rep

Em/Zainab: I seems we have a consensus on hopeful and I agree about seeing everyone come out this year and the diversity, we’ll hopefully get. I can’t wait for that time to come.

Well we’re at the end of our chat now, so let’s make wishes. Wishes about what we wish to see more in books about sexuality.

I just want to see more asexuals in general. I want to see Black asexuals and other asexuals who are POC too. I want to see Muslim asexuals, I’ve never read one, but this rep is so important to me because the complexity of being Muslim and ace. I want to see disabled asexuals, oriented asexuals, more aroace characters. I want to see happy asexuals, thriving asexuals, asexuals in healthy relationships, asexuals coming out and basically everything Natalia said and more. I just want all that purple, grey and black.

Natalia: Haha I second this statement wholeheartedly I would also love to see a Latinx Asexual because dreams can come true right? So many things that intersect there that I want to see explored I’m lucky to say that I might have laid my eyes on one, and I very much hope we see it published in the next couple of years! I’m just also here for all of the purple, grey and black as well!! And please give me a questioning queer whose sure their demisexual but arent sure what genders they are attracted to, because I need it!

Tee: 😭😭 how could I follow up with anything after that!

You both have said it so well! I want all of the stories, I want ace characters to be plentiful and commonplace, going on wild adventures and exploring love in their spaces and taking on their own rules of what that means. I want characters who are sure in their identities and characters who are figuring it out

Mostly I want aspec characters to be respected and not invalidated by other characters

We are whole and contain multitudes and I want that plastered across pages for the rest of eternity 

Yes to all the purple grey and black.

Em/Zainab: We’ve finally come to end of this chat session. Thank you both so much for chatting with me today. I had fun and it was nice to see that other people agreed with me and also nice to talk to 2 more asexual bloggers.

Thank you again, Tee and Natalia and Happy Pride! 💜🖤

Natalia: Thank you for inviting me to be part of this interview, it was honestly so nice to speak about being Ace in a space that I knew I would be understood and seen. I hope we get those Acespec book dreams fulfilled soon, thankfully these days I have been seeing WIPs with #asexualrep in them so I am optimistic!

Tee: Thank you again for inviting me to this chat, it really was so lovely 🖤 very happy to have spoken to both of you, and to have expanded my TBR 😉

Happy Pride, friends, I hope all our dreams for ace rep in books are met with a quickness 💜


 

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(sorry the alignment and spacing is messed up!)


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10 thoughts on “It’s Queer Here: Asexuality In Literature

  1. LOVED THIS CONVERSATION! It’s so needed and I’ll be adding to my tbr all the recommendations here. There has to be more positive, accurate ace representation and I definitely agree with the inaccurate representation of ace individuals being cold when they’re not. Loved this and cant wait to see your future posts 💜💜💜

    Like

  2. Yes to more representation in literature! But not just any type of representation, but amazing, believable stories. Thanks for the recommendations. I try to read mainly African books, and I was wondering. Do you know any that feature ace characters?

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  3. I love this so so much Zainab! Your projects are always amazing. I don’t know how you have the time and energy to organise all of them, but they never disappoint! Thanks to Natalia and Tee for participating in this conversation and providing some recs for us. I hope 2020 brings more asexual representation in books 💜🖤

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  4. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with an asexual character! I don’t know why there aren’t more books with characters like us. In my humble opinion, I think we’re pretty cool. 😉 I’ll have to check out some of the books you mentioned!

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  5. Enjoyed the post. MagnifiqueNOIR by Briana Lawrence has a nonbinary character (Lawrence isn’t ace to my knowledge). The 2nd book in the series really dives into the character realizing this and thinking about how she wants to navigate romantic relationships. The series in general is about a team of Black LBTQ+ magical girls who use their powers to fight monsters, and the ace character is the leader of the group.

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