What Am I Looking for in ‘Asexual Fiction’?

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog lately, you are aware that I have been posting a lot of reviews of ‘asexual fiction – you can get links to all of the reviews here and here (except this one, which isn’t on any list yet). This is way more asexual fiction than I have ever read before.

First of all, the explosion of asexual fiction in the past two years (2015/2016) blows my mind. I am pretty sure there is at least 10x more novels featuring explicitly asexual characters now than back when I started this blog in 2012.

For a long time, I would have been really happy with just a character coming out and saying ‘by the way, I am asexual’ without incorporating asexuality into the story in any deeper way. Part of this was just that there was just so little representation in fiction that I was ready to take what I could get (as long as it was not toxic).

Even now, I think I would still be happy for a character to come out and say ‘by the way, I am asexual’ if it is in a story which I do not expect to feature asexuality at all. Asexual representation is still so thin that, when I am not fiction specifically for asexual content, the chances of me finding it in the fiction I’m reading are slim. Thus, it’s a pleasant surprise (again, assuming it’s not handled in a bad way).

However, when I am reading something specifically because it is ‘asexual’ fiction, and then I find that asexuality is only once or twice and does not have much bearing on the story, I find it a bit disappointing. If it led me to read a good story I otherwise would not have given a chance, it is still a net positive, and I do want more “by the way, I’m asexual” stories to exist. It’s just not what I’m looking for in ‘asexual’ fiction.

I think my standards for ‘good’ asexual representation have gone higher. Even as recently as two or three years ago, I would evaluate how a story presents asexuality much less critically than I would now. That is partially because, now, I have read quite a bit of asexual fiction, so I’m not exactly starving for asexual content in fiction like I was before. It’s also an effect of having been involved in asexual blogging for years, which makes me think much more critically about asexual topics than I would have otherwise.

Does that mean I’m looking for stories which would hit a ’10’ on the asexuality content scale? Well, I would like to read such a story, since I have never read any original fiction which would hit a ’10’ on the scale and I’m curious. But curiosity aside, that’s not what I’m really looking for either.

I think, when I read something marked ‘asexual fiction’, I’m hoping for a story which is in the mid-rage of the asexual content scale – 4 to 6. I want stories which contain meaningful reflection on what being asexual is like, while still having a plot which is to a large extent being driven by something else.

Review: “Bender” by Gene Gant

The cover of "Bender" by Gene Gant

This is part of my series of reviews of fiction published by Harmony Ink Press featuring asexual characters. You can find the introduction here. I originally was not going to review this, but then there was another Dreamspinner sale, so I decided to pick this one up too.

What Is This Story About?

Mace Danner, a teenager from Chicago, is a freshman in college who moonlights as a BDSM submissive rentboy. He has never liked sex – he never wanted sex with his ex-girlfriend who is going to school in San Francisco. But he feels like he deserves to be punished because he feels that he is responsible for his brother’s death. He avoids his dorm mates, but some of them have a clue anyway. Some of them want to help, but don’t know how. But one dorm mate has much more malicious intentions…

What Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There are multiple sex scenes, both consensual and non-consensual. As far as violence, there is false imprisonment, gang rape, whipping, choking, beating people up, somebody falling out of a window and dying, and … I am probably forgetting something, but I think that’s enough to offer a general picture.

Tell Me More About This Novel.

I am going to be upfront: I don’t know what it’s like to be a prostitute, to engage in BDSM, to experience gang-rape, or to have my brother die to save me (I don’t even have a brother). Therefore, I am going to say this:

IF ANYTHING I WRITE IN THIS REVIEW SEEMS LIKE IT IS INVALIDATING AN EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD AS AN ASEXUAL PERSON, YOUR EXPERIENCE IS VALID, AND I AM AN IGNORANT PERSON ON THE INTERNET

I have read about asexual people who have experienced sexual abuse who then went ahead and had lots of sex as a form of self-harm. That aspect of this story is plausible to me. Also, since it’s stated in the story that Mace really does need money, that makes him going out to be a submissive rent-boy even more believable.

What really made me think “Deus Angst Machina” was when it was revealed that Mace’s brother got killed by preventing Mace from getting killed by a drunken exploit. Okay, I get it, there had to be a reason why Mace believes that he’s responsible for his brother’s death so he will go out and get himself punished, but … it felt too contrived to me.

And when Mace stops being a rentboy (I don’t think that’s too much a spoiler, since I’m not stating how/why he stopped, or whether he goes back to being a rentboy) the financial issue is ignored. If Mace did not have any financial need, and if being a rentboy had been strictly a means of self-harm, that would have been one thing, but since the story did say that he needed the money, it ought to have either explained a) how he got another way to meet his financial needs or b) show the consequences of not having enough money.

This is a nitpick which almost nobody will care about, but since I am from San Francisco, I have to comment on this part:

She laughs. “I just reached Fisherman’s Wharf. I’m about to meet Carter for lunch, so I’ll have to hang up.

Why is somebody who is from San Francisco going to Fisherman’s Wharf? Does she have a job there? Because otherwise, it does not make much sense. Unless one has to go to Fisherman’s Wharf for work or if one is entertaining out-of-town guests who really want to see Fisherman’s Wharf, there is basically no reason to go there. It’s overpriced tourist-trappy food, which makes little sense for a college student, and it’s not even near any of the universities. If the writer wanted to drop in a famous San Francisco location, Haight Street would work much better because a) restaurant prices in Haight Street are low enough that locals, not just tourists, will eat there and b) it is near a university, and a lot of students hang out there. In short, this reference to “Fisherman’s Wharf” tells me that the writer doesn’t know much about San Francisco.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = ‘By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality is never mentioned again, 10 = a story all about asexuality and little else) I would rate this story as a 4.

Mace is asexual. However, I generally felt that the point of making Mace asexual was not to illuminate the experience of asexual people, but rather to pile on the suffering he experiences, both by making him lonely, and to make the sexual experiences he has even more unpleasant. Oh, and it also gave a non-asexual person a chance to comfort him by explaining asexuality to him.

On top of that, this story is an example of “I want to have sex even though I don’t like sex because I want to give my partner pleasure”.

Neither the “non-asexual explains asexuality to asexual character” or “I want to have sex to please my partner even though I don’t like sex” tropes are intrinsically bad. They can be done well. However, I felt that they way they are used in this story is distasteful.

So what do I think could have been improved? First of all, pointing out that there is such a thing as the asexual community would have been an improvement. It would have also been good if the story made it clear that having close and loving relationships without sex is an option so that, even if it is not the option that Mace ultimately chooses. Having an asexual character be the one to pull Mace out of his problems would have also resolved some of the issues I have with this story (and it would have meant there was another asexual character in the story, which would be a bonus).

Yes, I know the guy who Mace has consensual sex with is freaked out about having sex with Mace since Mace clearly is not turned on and he knows that Mace uses sex as a form of self-harm, and that he only goes ahead and has sex with Mace after Mace asks him to do it multiple times. That means he is someone who does not want to commit sexual abuse. However, even though it is consensual, I am still bothered by the way this sexual relationship is portrayed.

But really, I felt it was distasteful because it seemed that it’s purpose was to satisfy a hurt/comfort fantasy for non-asexual people, not to speak to asexual readers. I’m not going to begrudge people who are really into hurt/comfort, but I wish they either left asexuality out of it, or dealt with asexuality in a way which was not “non-asexual person rescues helpful asexual and asexual is so grateful that they have sex JUST SO THAT non-asexual rescuer will feel pleasure”.

Clearly, I disagree with this reviewer:

In the end, Bender is a powerful novella that gives the reader a glimpse into what it is to be asexual and find a lover who is willing to understand your needs, and often hold back their own.

Given how many kinds of asexual people there are out there, there is probably someone who is like Mace, but … he is really not representative, and since the story does not mention other kinds of asexual people, or that most asexual people would rather not have sex with partners just so that their partners will feel pleasure, I think the story promotes attitudes which pressure asexual people to have sex they don’t want. Also, why are there so many stories about asexuals who have sex with their partners because they want to give their partners pleasure, but not so many stories about non-asexual people who will stop having sex or work out a non-monogamy arrangement so that they make their asexual partners feel comfortable? For more information about this, read this class tumblr post about asexuality in fanfic.

However, I admit that I also hope that some asexual people who are more knowledgeable about these types of experiences will read this story, and offer their opinions (self-care comes first of course – please don’t read this story if you don’t think you can handle its content). It’s possible that I am overreacting, and if asexual people who have experienced sexual abuse and/or like to have sex to give their partners pleasure say that this story accurately represents them, well, they would know better than me.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Novel?

No, I don’t. It was an unsatisfying experience.

Where Can I Get This Novel?

I got it from the Dreamspinner Store. One may also get it from the Harmony Ink Store (note: the Dreamspinner Store often has sales, the Harmony Ink Store not so much), and from various eBook retailers.

Thoughts on Relationship Anarchy

This is for the November 2016 Carnival of Aces.

Like many people in the asexual blogosphere, I was introduced to the concept of Relationship Anarchy via The Thinking Aro (which was then called The Thinking Asexual), and traced it from there back to Andie Nordgren. At the time, I thought it was interesting and cool theory.

However, it has the classic problem which Yogi Berra describes thus: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

The theory of relationship anarchy – at least as it is described in Andre Nordgren’s manifesto which I linked above – is vague enough that it is easy to project whatever one wants to project onto it. As an aromantic asexual who isn’t interested in coupled relationships, what I like to project onto it is a refusal to consider sexual-romantic coupled relationships the most important personal relationships. However, when getting into deeper discussions on relationship anarchy, it becomes clear that people interpret it in different ways. For example, in this post, Sciatrix says:

One of the things that bugs me about “relationship anarchy” is that you just can’t devote equal amounts of emotion and time to everybody in your life. I don’t have all that much free time, honestly, and I have even less that I really want to spend socializing. There are only so many relationships I am capable of maintaining at a time, and I’m going to invest more energy into the ones that are really super important to me. And that’s okay.

Thus, Sciatrix interprets relationship anarchy as being about devoting “equal amounts of emotion and time to everybody in your life”. It’s understandable that Sciatrix rejects that, but I think just about any proponent of ‘relationship anarchy’ rejects that too because it is utterly and obviously impractical.

However, in the comments to that post, we find:

I don’t think relationship anarchy requires spending equal time with everyone- in fact, I’d question why we judge a relationship’s value by how much time we spend with it. I think relationship anarchy is more about seeing your relationships as not comparable. A relationship where I go out once a month with philosophy friends and discuss papers is fundamentally different from this other relationship where I cuddle and watch a movie once a week with a person, and they (either because of the activities, or more likely the people in them) are too different for me to compare and rank in a meaningful way- even if I spend a lot more time in and maintaining the cuddle/movie relationship.

Thus, Captain Heartless interprets relationship anarchy as being about not comparing and ranking relationships. I am not sure how that concept of relationship anarchy is useful. After all, most people who value sexual-romantic relationships about all feel that it is natural, so if you tell them ‘don’t compare/rank relationships’ they’ll say ‘of course I don’t compare/rank relationships’ and then continue to ‘naturally’ treat sexual-romantic relationships as being more important that other kinds of relationships.

Another comment on that post is:

Also, my understanding of RA is it doesn’t rank significant relationships, not not ranking relationships at all. Granted, an acquaintance I’m on good terms with is less important to me than my SOs, and a common friend is somewhere in between. I think the spirit of RA is not ranking relationships based on arbitrary rules, e.g. “My husband’s needs always come first, because marriage should be the #1 priority.” However, if you just naturally click better with one person than another and see the former as more important, that’s totally okay.

So, according to Eponine, relationship anarchy still ranks relationships – it distinguishes between ‘significant’ and non-significant relationships. Eponine herself lists three categories – significant other, common friend, and acquaintance. She says that what distinguishes relationship anarchy from mainstream approaches is that it’s not based on ‘arbitrary rules’.

See what I mean about people interpreting relationship anarchy however they want, and ending up with such different interpretations of relationship anarchy that they are not talking about the same thing?

Anyway, how does relationship anarchy work out in practice? I do not have personal experience with putting ‘relationship anarchy’ into deliberate practice, but what I’ve read about people describing their own experiences with relationship anarchy tend to be negative. The most detailed writing I have found in this vein is Rotten Zucchini’s series, including this post.

In conclusion, I find ‘relationship anarchy’ to be too vague to be useful.

Review: Ball Caps and Khakis by Jo Ramsey

The cover of Ball Caps and Khakis by Jo Ramsey

This is part of my series of reviews of fiction published by Harmony Ink Press featuring asexual characters. You can find the introduction here.

What Is This Story About?

Manny is a Korean-American teenager living in a small town in Michigan, and is the only male friend Jim has. Jim moved to Michigan right after he spent a month in juvenile detention center after being convicted of rape, and since word of this has gotten around town, most people in town are hostile towards him.

Then someone is sending sexually explicit message to middle school girls. A lot of people assume that it was Jim, but Manny believes the Jim is innocent. Will they force Jim out of town for something he did not do? And who is the perpetrator?

What Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is nothing sexual that happens in the story itself (even the sexually explicit messages sent to middle school girls are not in the novel itself, instead characters read the messages and say “Nobody should ever write anything like that to a middle school girl!” or something like that) Jim’s past as a rapist gets discussed a lot, and there are occasional vague references to various characters’ history of child sexual abuse. In terms of violence that happens in the story itself, there is stalking, arson with the intent to cause injury, and a possible suicide attempt.

Tell Me More About This Novel.

This is the sixth and final book in the Deep Secrets and Hope series. This is the only book I’ve read in the series, so here is a blurb from the publisher:

Growing up is never easy, and experiencing bullying and harassment can sometimes make it feel impossible. But when friendships are formed and confidence is allowed to blossom, hope is sure to follow—and not only for those who suffer mistreatment. With support, even the bullies can change and grow.

Just browsing through the books in this series, it seems like an example of the Queer Ensemble trope, albeit without any character representing the T in LGBTQ+

The premise of this novel is obviously controversial, since it is told from the POV of a character who is good friends with a convicted rapist. It raises the question – if a rapist pleads guilty and accepts punishment in accordance to the law, how should people treat them afterwards? There are some obvious wrong answers – such as framing them for crimes they didn’t commit – but it is a sensitive topic nonetheless.

It’s repeated over and over again in the novel that Jim never stalked anyone, that he only raped girls his own age who he was already dating, they never said no, etc. which is a) literally true and b) useful for guessing how likely he is to be the one sending the middle school girls creepy messages. On the other hand, in our culture and society, there is a subtext that, because it was ‘just’ date-rape, it was less bad. That is more the fault of society at large than this specific novel, and the novel counters it by having both Manny and Jim say over and over again ‘rape is rape’.

I feel that, not having read the earlier books in the series (especially the books which features one of Jim’s victims as the protagonist) there is limit to how useful my evaluation of this part of the story is. I do gather that Jim was the primary antagonist in the early books in the series.

I figured out really early on who the perpetrator(s) behind the inappropriate messages to middle school girls was/were. There is a little bit of a twist, but I even saw that someone ahead of time. On the other hand, I still wanted to see them get caught, so that kept me reading.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = ‘By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality is never mentioned again, 10 = a story all about asexuality and little else) I would rate this story as a 3.

Most of the time, Manny is caught up in the drama around Jim getting framed. However, when he can pull himself away from the main plot, he’s involved in this subplot around how to tell people (specifically, his parents) that he is a homoromantic asexual.

This is the first that this mentioned in the novel:

I didn’t even bother commenting about the marriage and children part of what she’d said. Having children would involve marrying a woman, which didn’t really appeal to me.

It would also involve having sex, which appealed to me even less. As in, not at all.

Two more things I didn’t dare tell my parents. When I thought about spending the rest of my life with someone, it was usually a guy. No one in particular but definitely male. Preferably one who didn’t want to do anything sexual. Maybe if I loved someone enough, I would want to have sex with him, but somewhere deep down, I knew love wouldn’t make a difference. Sex just wasn’t something I wanted.

Even though he does not have the vocabulary at this point in the novel, he does have a clear sense of his orientation.

There is more to say about this subplot, but it would be difficult for me to say it without getting into spoiler territory.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

I don’t know.

Why is this novel titled Ball Caps and Khakis?

I don’t know. Neither ball caps nor khakis are prominent in the story.

Will Manny grow up to become a musician who writes songs about being a homoromantic asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Novel?

Yes, I do.

Where Can I Get This Novel?

I got it from the Dreamspinner Store. One may also get it from the Harmony Ink Store (note: the Dreamspinner Store often has sales, the Harmony Ink Store not so much), and from various eBook retailers.

If you want to buy the entire six-book series, at the time this is being posted, you can buy the bundle (eBook only) for 9.99 USD.

Review: “As Autumn Leaves” by Kate Sands

The cover of "As Autumn Leaves" by Kate Sands

This is part of my series of reviews of fiction published by Harmony Ink Press featuring asexual characters. You can find the introduction here.

What Is This Story About?

Kayla love dancing. She used to be a cheerleader, but after she started dating the popular athlete Jason, and then he asked her for sex, she said no, they broke up, and she then decided to quit cheerleading too. Many of the other cheerleaders – and other girls at her high school – are calling her the ‘Ice Queen’ because she would not have sex with the super-hot Jason. And Kayla believes that she is broken because she cannot accept sex.

At least Kayla has figured out who is willing to be her friend anyway, and because she has so few friends now, she does not dare lose them. And when she learns that one of her very few remaining friends is a) a lesbian and b) has a crush on her, things get really, really awkward.

What Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is kissing, and discussion about Kayla not wanting sex. I do not recall anything violent happening in the story.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = ‘By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality is never mentioned again, 10 = a story all about asexuality and little else) I would rate this story as a 8. That is because, if you took the asexuality out of this story, there would be so little remaining it would be incoherent.

Kayla’s problems all stem from her refusing to have sex with her ex-boyfriend (which is why he is an ex-boyfriend), and she refused basically because she is a sex-repulsed asexual (the term ‘sex-repulsed’ is never used in the story, but it’s implied by her actions). She feels that she is broken, and that she could never have a successful close relationship with anybody, and that even her few remaining friends might leave her if they really understood that she is not into sex.

Quite a bit about the story is about Kayla and her mother, and how her mother reacts to Kayla’s (a)sexuality. An example is here:

“What, would it make it better if I said he was a dickbag who was trying to pressure me into sex and I didn’t want to, so I broke up with him?”

“He didn’t do anything, did he? Hurt you, or force himself—”

“Mom, no,” Kayla said. “I’m a virgin, okay? I will probably be one for a very long time, boys don’t interest me, and neither does sex! I don’t want it!”

The room fell silent, so quiet they’d be able to hear a pin drop as loud as a booming crash. They stared at each other, and Kayla’s cheeks warmed with embarrassment. She wished the floor would open and swallow her whole. This discussion was the last thing she wanted to have with her mother.

“I understand that you’re a late bloomer,” her mom started slowly. “And no mother in her right mind would have an issue with their daughter not rushing into sex. But I want to make sure you fully understand what it entails—”

“I’m sixteen! I know what sex is.”

“I’m sure you think you do, but at your age—”

“We had this talk when I was fourteen and it was the most embarrassing conversation on the planet, I’m not doing it again.”

Hmmm, so we have the following bingo squares filled out: a) “late bloomer” b) did something happen to you? c) it’s great that you’re saving yourself and d) you’re too young to understand.

Also, there are all of Kayla’s peers bullying her for not wanting to have sex with the hot jock they wish they could have sex with. That is not presented much on-page, but it is referenced many times.

There is, of course, more, but I think I am near the limit of what I can say without getting into spoiler territory.

Tell Me More About This Novella.

I honestly do not have much more to say. It was hardly the most gripping story I ever read, but I found it very readable, and it didn’t have any particularly glaring flaws either.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Novella?

Yes, I do.

Where Can I Get This Novella?

I got it from the Dreamspinner Store. One may also get it from the Harmony Ink Store (note: the Dreamspinner Store often has sales, the Harmony Ink Store not so much), and from various eBook retailers.

Review: After I Wake by Emma Griffiths

The book cover of After I Wake by Emma Griffiths

This is part of my series of reviews of fiction published by Harmony Ink Press featuring asexual characters. You can find the introduction here.

What Is This Story About?

Carter Rodgers is a published teenage poet who, at a party, gets drunk, decides to punch a frozen river, gets hypothermia, has to have her left hand removed because of gangrene, becomes depressed, and attempts suicide. That is the backstory – this novel is primarily about what happens as Carter deals with the aftermath of all that.

What Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is practically no sexual content (unless one includes repeated usage of the f-word as an expletive). There is the suicide attempt and a lot of cutting (self-harm).

Tell Me More About This Novel.

This is very much a head-space novel. It’s mostly about Carter’s inner life.

I’ve never had depression, and I’m far from an expert on the subject, so I don’t know how accurate this story’s portrayal of that is.

Carter is self-centered and narcissistic. She also is aware that she is self-centered and narcissistic, and she tries to work through that it a way which will not feed into her depression and inclination to cut herself (she does not always succeed).

The parts of the novel which most interested me were how she related to other people given everything I mentioned in the above paragraph.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = ‘By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality is never mentioned again, 10 = a story all about asexuality and little else) I would rate this story as a 1. Asexuality is only mentioned at two points in the novel. The first instance is:

I was usually invited to those parties because I fell into the writer’s category, and I went to represent the A in LGBTQA because I’ve always been absurdly full of asexual pride.

The second instance is:

“My dear Carter, is this love?”

“Only in the most brotherly of fashions. You’re gay, and I’m asexual, it could never happen.”

However, asexuality does not seem to have much impact on her life/story, and if it were not for these two explicit mentions, I do not think it would have occurred to me that she is an asexual character. That said, sex is basically not on Carter’s mental radar. I don’t know how realistic it would be to have an entire novel about a non-asexual’s teenager’s thoughts and feelings without bringing up sex at all since I’ve never been inside the head of a non-asexual teenager, so maybe the utter absence of sexual thoughts in Carter’s head is a bigger clue that this is asexual than I realize.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

I am not sure. The writer reblogs a lot of posts about asexuality on her tumblr, but that does not necessarily mean she is asexual.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Novel?

I do like it. It is far from my favorite thing ever, but it is different from a lot of things I read, and I appreciated that.

Where Can I Get This Novel?

I got it from the Dreamspinner Store. One may also get it from the Harmony Ink Store (note: the Dreamspinner Store often has sales, the Harmony Ink Store not so much), and from various eBook retailers.

Some Thoughts on What I Like and Don’t Like in Fictional Romance

Generally, when writing all the reviews of asexual fiction I’ve been doing lately, I try to avoid reading reviews written by other people so that what I write reflects more purely what I think and feel about the story. I sometimes make exceptions (especially if I was on the fence about buying a story in the first place, and looked at reviews to make the final call). However, after I wrote this review of The Painted Crown, I decided to go to Goodreads and see what other people say.

It turns out, all of the other reviewers have very different opinions from mine. Now, that’s partially because this story was just released, and most of the people who would have read it this soon were probably already fans of Megan Derr’s writing. I, on the other hand, had never read anything by Megan Derr before, and I read this so quickly because a) I had pre-ordered it and b) I was excited about reading a 70,000+ word story about asexual characters. Over time, as more readers who are not fans of Megan Derr’s writing post reviews, the range of opinions may grow wider.

The comment which most struck me was this:

However, the slow burning love between them is very rewarding. I love how the tension between them drove me quite mad and I needed them to kiss so very, very bad.

As anyone who read my review knows, I found the ‘slow burning love’ the opposite of rewarding. And I cannot think of a single time I have ever “needed” fictional characters “to kiss so very, very bad” – not just in this novel, in *any* story.

So I was thinking about it. There are some fictional romances I have enjoyed a LOT, but I cannot think of a single example where I enjoyed watching characters develop romantic interest in each other. Sometimes, when characters are developing romantic interest in each other WHILE something really interesting is happening, it works for me, but it is due to the really interesting thing that is happening, not the ‘budding feelings’ of the characters.

The romance stories I do like are about characters who already *know* they have strong feelings for someone (even if they have not quite pinned down what those feelings are), and are trying to figure out what to do about those feelings. An example of a romance I like is Viola/Orsino from Twelfth Night, or What You Will. We never see Viola fall in love with Orsino, she simply declares (to the audience, not any other character in the play) at the end of Act I, Scene iv, that she wishes she could marry Orsino. Then, during the play, we watch her deal with those feelings. Also, I enjoy Viola/Oliva because that pairing is clearly doomed and inspires me to eat popcorn.

Oddly, I generally buy the ‘love at first sight’ trope. That may seem odd for an aromantic asexual like me, but the thing is, I sometimes have felt a strong personal connection to people as soon as I met them. It wasn’t a romantic connection, but it does not feel ridiculous to me that people could have a strong romantic connection to someone they’ve just met. And in practice, thinking about stories I like vs. stories I don’t like, I strongly prefer the “fall in love at first sight” trope than tales of “slow burning romance” – the “first sight” trope conveniently cuts out the part of romance stories which I am generally least interested in.

Maybe this is why I’ve never been able to finish reading Pride and Prejudice. I really don’t care whether Elizabeth continues to be prejudiced and Darcy continues to be proud.

Another kind of romance story I enjoy is where the protagonists have a relationship which would be interesting even if it were non-romantic. I can enjoy the interesting non-romantic relationship without needing it to be romantic at all, and if it turns romantic later in a way which fits the story, well, I can often continue to enjoy the ride (caveat: if it is going to turn into a romance, I’d like it to at least be heavily foreshadowed in advance – I don’t like getting 80% of the way through a story, thinking about how lovely it is that a woman and a man were able to work together without it being romantic, only for it to suddenly become romantic at the end). An example of this kind of romance story is – if you have been reading this blog for years, you can probably guess which example I am going to cite – Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ. They knew each other for years before they became lovers, but their relationship as teacher/student was interesting in it’s own right (and very abusive – at one point Xiaolongnü threatens to kill Yang Guo because she thinks that she is dying and does not want him to outlive her) and would have continued to be interesting even if their relationship had never become romantic.

Oh, and I also tend to enjoy trainwreck romances like Viola/Olivia mentioned above.

However, what most boggles me is the “I needed them to kiss so very, very bad” part. Why are people invested in whether characters who do not already have romantic feelings for each other develop romantic feelings for each other? I can understand being invested in whether two characters who are already in love with each other manage to have a happy romance – I can get invested in that too – but wanting people who don’t already have those feelings for each other to have a romance together? That does not compute for me.

Consider my experiences as an aromantic woman. I have never wanted to enter a romantic relationship. However, countless people have told me that I ought to have a romantic relationship, that it would make me happy, that it’s inevitable, blah blah blah. Therefore, I feel that telling any living person who they should have romantic feelings for is extremely rude, and even with fictional characters, I find it unpleasant. Just to be crystal clear: when dealing with fictional characters, rather than real living people, I do not think people who enjoy ‘shipping’ or whatever have to stop doing that. However, it is still something I do not enjoy.

So how does that tie back to my reaction to The Painted Crown? As always, I did not mind if the protagonists never had romantic feelings for each other indefinitely, therefore there was no ‘tension’ for me in that. Okay, I was invested in innocent children not getting hurt, however nobody objected to the marriage, and the protagonists did not seem to have any significant struggle with that, so that was boring.

That is not to say that such stories about people gradually falling in love with each other are bad or wrong or anything, it’s fine for the readers who do find it appealing. It is just something which is not appealing to me.