WHAT THE HELL: An Aromantic (Moi) Thinks There Aren’t Enough (Villainous) Alloromantic Characters in Fiction

Lots of aro bloggers ask for more aro-umbrella characters in fiction. Here is a recent blog post with a linkspam about getting more aro characters in fiction. In particular, there are calls for aro characters who are not villains. That is because a disproportionate number of characters who are shown as *not doing romance* (beyond being just ‘single at the moment’) are villains.

I think that there is a significant flipside.

First, do the characters in this brief clip from Sailor Moon seem to be goodies or baddies? If I did not know the story of Sailor Moon and saw this clip out of context, I would assume that they are goodies, because I know that fictional characters who express their MUTUAL ROMANTIC FEELINGS are goodies, or at least redeemed baddies. Of course, since I did watch Sailor Moon as a kid, I know that these two are most definitely baddies. The fact that they are in love with each other does not change the fact that they are both trying to help the arch-villain steal human energy and take over the world.

(Yes, I know that those two characters were both male in the original, and they were changed into a male/female couple in the first Engilsh dub because depicting same-sex romance in mainstream North American children’s television was not done in the 90s. If you prefer the new English dub, which presents it as a male/male relationship, click here.)

It is remarkably rare in fiction for villains to be depicted as having romantic feelings WITHOUT those romantic feelings used as a redeeming feature OR it being a case of unrequited romantic feelings driving them into villainy. The example above is the exception since it presents the villains’ romantic feelings as neutral – those feelings do not make them eviler, but it also does not make them less evil, at least if you measure ‘evil’ by the ethical/moral quality of their actions. Furthermore, the romantic feelings are obviously requited.

Even when a villain is driven into villainy by unrequited romantic feelings … it’s still an aromantic-hostile position. In most such stories, the implication is that, if the romantic feelings were requited, then the villain would stop being / would not have become a villain! So you see, having romantic feelings prevents/stops villainy!

Does anybody else have any other fictional examples of villains having romantic feelings where the romantic feelings are not presented as a redeeming quality OR the unrequited romantic feelings pulls them towards villainy (and it’s implied that requiting the feelings would redeem them)?

I will allow that getting more aromantic characters who aren’t offensively written into fiction is much more important than getting alloromantic villains who are not redeemed by romance. However, I do think having more alloromantic villains would really help break the ‘having romantic feelings = morally good / not having romantic feelings = morally bad’ concept. In fact, I think it would be fantastic to have a fictional story with an aromantic hero(ine), and an alloromantic villain where the villain’s requited romantic feelings do not redeem them.

Thoughts on Coming Out as Aro

It’s Aro Spectrum Awareness Week.

The prompt for today is:

Friday, February 19: Write about your coming out experience. Was it tough to come out? Did you have to explain your identity on the spectrum to people? Do you have any advice to give to other aromantic and arospec people who have yet to come out? Alternatively, have you come out as aromantic or on the aromantic spectrum? What are some hopes that you have when/if you do?

You know, I think there have been only two times I ever came out to anybody who was not a member of the asexual and/or aro community.

One time was when my my mother was reading The Invisible Orientation. She was a bit overwhelmed with the complexity of the concepts used in the asexual community, including the ideas around romantic orientation, so she came and asked me which, if any, of these labels applied to me. I told her I was aromantic. Fortunately, since she was reading the book, I did not have to spend much energy explaining to her the definition of “aromantic”. Thankfully it was not a big deal. If anything, it was helpful, since it helped get the notion out of her head that I was interested in dating and partnering up in any sort of conventional sense.

So, based on that experience, my advice to people who want to come out is … have some kind of aro-101 material at hand that you think your intended audience will be receptive to. For example, my mother was more receptive to The Invisible Orientation than she was to websites. That said, she was to a large extent receptive to The Invisible Orientation because she had known for years that I was asexual. That was plenty of time for her to wrap around her head that, yes, I really am asexual, and thus develop a genuine interest in learning more.

The other time was at Manga Bookshelf, but since nobody commented on me coming out at aromantic, it was a very anti-climactic way to come out.

The biggest barrier to me coming out as aro to more people is that I do not want to go into exhaustive aro 101 if I do not have to, and without aro 101, I don’t think people would understand what I was saying if I said I was aromantic, and what’s the point if people don’t have a clue what I’m saying?

The long term solution to this, of course, is more aro education and awareness. Cheers for Aro Spectrum Awareness Week!

I Didn’t Love Mandarin Until I Learned It

Language learning has been one of my major lifetime hobbies. There are many languages which I find beautiful without knowing much about them. By ‘beautiful’, I may mean that they sound beautiful, or that I find the grammar elegant, or that a combination of features of the language simply please me, even if I only can understand a few phrases in the language.

The first time I started dipping my toes into Mandarin, I did not like the language. Since at that point I was just doing it for fun – seeing which languages suited my fancy – I did not see much point in pursuing it much further.

Then I decided to move to Taiwan. And the most useful language in Taiwan – and the only one which is practical to study in the United States – is Mandarin. So, I chose to seriously learn Mandarin because of Taiwan.

Studying beginner level Mandarin was not much fun for me. I did not like the writing system, I did not like the sound of the language, I did not like the grammar, etc. My strong motivation to be able to get around Taiwan without English is what carried me through.

However, as I grew more proficient in Mandarin, I found more and more beauty in the language. For example, while I do not find the shapes of Chinese characters to be beautiful (yes, calligraphy can be beautiful, but that’s thanks to the calligraphers, not the basic shapes) as I got to know the Chinese characters better, I found quite a bit of beauty in the relationships between radicals, components, readings, and meanings. For those of you who have not studied Chinese characters, let me put it this way: Chinese characters represent multiple levels of information. The level of information which is apparent to people who are illiterate in Chinese characters – the visual shapes of the characters – is not aesthetically pleasing to me, but as I could understand more levels of information within the characters, I found levels which I find beautiful.

Another thing I came to appreciate about Mandarin – once my Mandarin vocabulary was sufficiently large – is that there are very few words of Indo-European origin. Once I got over the difficulty of learning a language without the aid of cognates, it dramatically increased the novelty value, and using an almost entirely new vocabulary base stretched my mind in ways that learning languages like French or even Japanese did not. I have written an entire blog post about this.

Speaking of novelty value … if something is phrased in English, and is also phrased in non-English which I understand, unless the English phrasing is particularly aesthetic, or the non-English phrasing particularly not, I’m going to find the non-English phrasing more beautiful. It will feel fresher to me. English is by far the language I’ve used the most in my life – thus it’s harder for something phrased in English to feel fresh to me. On the other hand, the lower my level of comprehension, the less opportunity there is for me to find beauty.

Mandarin is now in the sweet spot where I can understand lots of it at a high level, yet it still feels much fresher than English.

For example, I think rupan na prithak shunyata sunyataya na prithag rupan (a phrase I only understand through translation) has prettier sounds than 色不異空,空不異色 / (sè bù yì​ kòng​, kòng bù yì​ ​sè). However, given that I actually understand 色不異空,空不異色 without translation, I find it overall to be more beautiful. I also think that 色不異空,空不異色 is a much more beautiful phrase than “emptiness is not separate from form, form is not separate from emptiness” because … well, I think in this case the Chinese phrasing really is more elegant, but even if it weren’t, it would still feel fresher to me than the English version.

I have also reached a level in Mandarin where I can tell that some phrases are more beautiful than others. For example, “Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs, make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes, write sorrow on the bosom of the earth” is more beautiful than any sentence I’ve composed in this post (note: anybody who can figure out which Shakespeare play I’m quoting without the use of a search engine / search function wins bonus points). I can also now tell that 曲曲折折的荷塘上面,彌望的是田田的葉子 is more beautiful than, say, 我看見很多荷塘上的葉子 even though they both (roughly) mean “there’s a view of many leaves on the lotus pond” (note: anybody who can figure out where this quote is from without a search engine also wins bonus points).

Finally, finding books and other media which I love in Mandarin (especially the wuxia genre)has done much to improve my esteem of the language.

I doubt I will ever become as proficient in another language as I have in Mandarin (though who knows – life can be surprising). I am glad that I have come to love the language I spent so much effort studying.

DIY Death, or Living (Dying) Off the Escalator

Just a couple days after reading “Asexuality and the Relationship Escalator”, which brought to my consciousness once again the relationship escalator, I saw the documentary A Will for the Woods. For those who do not know, the ‘relationship escalator’ refers to the series of ‘steps’ which ‘serious (sexual/romantic) relationships’ are expected to automatically progress, and A Will for the Woods is the story of a man, Clark Wang, who literally planned his own funeral.

One issue which gets brought up in broader discussions about the relationship escalator is that … it’s not just about relationships. For example, in much of United States society, there are also expectations about completely college, moving out of one’s family’s home, getting certain types of jobs, and so forth, which often tie to the relationship escalator.

In the United States, we like to pretend that sex is a taboo, edgy, or forbidden topic. To some degree, it is in certain contexts, but a topic which people go to further lengths to avoid is death, particularly discussing death in any degree of detail. There is, in alternative culture, a backlash against this – for example, the “Death Positive” Movement. However, for the most part, death is not discussed, and when death does happen, most people in the United States are either filled with embalming fluid and buried in a cement vault, or they are cremated.

Clark Wang, the man featured in the documentary, did not decide how and when he was going to die, but once he had fair warning of both the cause (lymphoma) and timing (2011) of his death, he put serious thought into what would happen to his body in death – both in terms of environmental impact and the impact it was going to have on the people in his lives – and he figured out that he did not like any of the ‘conventional’ options. He persuaded a cemetery manager to create a different kind of cemetery just so he could have the kind of burial he wanted. This included preserving a patch of forest which had previously been destined for clear-cutting.

Through the documentary, I could not help but think that the way he stepped outside of the normal ‘track’ which United States society sets of for the dying and dead, thought about what he really wanted and what was best for his people, the environment, and himself, and then made it happen … is not unlike the people who get off the relationship escalator, think about what they really want and need, and build relationships around that rather than just ride the escalator.

As it so happens, I have not thought too much about my own funeral, or any wishes I may have related to that. Even though I’m still ‘young’, it may be something I should do … after all, one of my high school classmates, who I remember as being a lively and assertive person, died when she was just twenty years old. It’s also a conversation I should have with my parents, but knowing my mother – who will probably die first – it will not be an easy conversation to have, if we can have it at all.