Educating People about Ace Fiction

This is for the June 2017 Carnival of Aces: Asexual Education.

Around October of 2016, I figured out that there had been an explosion of published ace fiction in 2015 and 2016, especially from LGBTQ+ publishers. My reaction was “What? How did I miss this? I need to learn more!” And so I embarked on educating myself on all of this new ace fiction (and a little older ace fiction). I assumed that many other aces, like myself, had missed a lot of this new published ace fiction, so that was one of the reasons I wrote so many reviews.

Now, I’ve moved away from writing reviews towards writing meta-criticism, mainly contributing to the Ace Trope series at the Asexual Agenda (at least so far), which I enjoy more than writing reviews, and I think is even better for educating people about what is out there in ace fiction than just writing reviews.

Why bother educating anybody about ace fiction?

With regards to educating myself, it was definitely a matter of curiosity, though it is fair to ask why I am so curious about ace fiction. I want there to be ace fiction because I have experiences, as an ace, which I rarely see expressed in fiction in general (unless I interpret fiction in a very metaphorical way). It’s not so much that I am interested in characters who just happen to be ace, just as I am not interested in characters who happen to have hazel eyes (even though I have hazel eyes myself), as that I am interested in ace experiences.

Why bother educating anyone aside from myself about ace fiction? Other readers, like myself, may want to find ace fiction for themselves, so I can help pave the way just as critics such as Agent Aletha helped me. And the more readers there are who support ace fiction in their own way, the more incentive writers/creators have to make more ace fiction.

So far, I have focused on reader education (especially myself), mostly ace readers. I am not sure how to go about educating a non-ace audience, or even whether that is a worthwhile goal. I would like ace fiction to be for ace audiences first. If ace fiction is primarily directed at non-ace readers, it could lead to challenges like the challenges gay men have with their representation in M/M romance, a genre which is mostly written for a female audience (Jamie Fessenden, a gay man who writes M/M romance, has a nuanced take on M/M being written for female audiences). That said, ace fiction can also be a great tool for educating non-aces about asexuality. It is also true that, the wider the readership there is for ace fiction, the more support there will be for ace fiction. I suppose my main concern is that I do not want ace fiction to cater so much to non-ace readers that it fails to cater to ace readers.

A group which I think could seriously benefit from education about ace-fiction are the writers/editors/creators who create ace fiction. I know Erica Cameron wrote some kind of guide for writing ace characters which I cannot find right now (if you have the link, please drop a comment), which was basically asexuality 101. Which is entirely necessary. And for some ace stories, asexuality 101 might be enough for a writer/editor/creator to represent asexuality properly. But even when a story gets the asexuality 101 right, or at least not wrong, it can feel … off. And there are tropes which are way overused, such as Allo Savior Complex, but one won’t learn how to use the Allo Savior Complex trope in a good way from asexuality 101 (the Allo Savior Complex trope can be used very well, but most of the time I just find it irritating, or if it’s really badly handled, offensive – so my advice to writers is, unless one has a good reason to use it, don’t use it). And just as there are tropes which are overdone in ace fiction, there are also things which a lot of ace readers want from ace fiction, but ace fiction is not delivering.

By the way, when I talk about educating writers/editors/creators of ace fiction – I’m not distinguishing between those who are ace and those who are not ace. Though I have yet to do a statistical analysis, my impression is that non-aces are much more likely to make an ace 101 level mistake than aces are, but GIVEN that a non-ace has already avoided 101 level mistakes, ace writers/etc. are almost as likely to make ace 201+ mistakes as non-aces. Though past the 101 level, it is a lot harder to determine what even is a mistake, since there is a lot less consensus about upper-division asexuality than there is about asexuality 101.

At this point, I think the best education available about ace fiction for writers/editors/creators which goes beyond asexuality 101 is the comments sections of the Ace Tropes series at the Asexual Agenda. Not so much the posts themselves – though I suppose one has to read the posts to make the most sense of the comments. I have learned a lot about how ace fiction could be improved from reading the comments. And if a writer/editor/creator came to me, and wanted to know how they could write asexuality better, my three recommendations would be a) make sure you have asexuality 101 down b) read the comments of the Ace Tropes series c) learn a lot about the real life experiences of different kinds of aces d) read a lot of ace fiction so you know what’s already out there, what is being done well, what is overdone, and what is missing.


20 thoughts on “Educating People about Ace Fiction

  1. I just want to say that as an ace I really love your ace fiction reviews. I really didn’t know that aces had much of anything, and it really opened me up to some things:)

    As for the Ace Tropes series, it couldn’t have had better timing! As an ace writer, I was starting to really long for ace characters in what I write, and the ace tropes series will really help me think things through. And the comments section is always a great source of other people’s experiences … Thank you for starting that up. It’s helped me think.

  2. I also prefer the tropes way of discussing fiction, because when all people talk about is specific works I feel like I have to be reading/watching/playing the same thing everyone else is, and I find that slightly oppressive. I never really thought about the tropes series as a way to educate writers, but now that you’ve said it I totally agree.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Erica Cameron article, but there are plenty of articles out there which basically give direct advice about how to write ace and/or aro characters, including endless “PSA”s on Tumblr. But the ace trope series has several advantages over that: a) it’s entertaining on its own even if you’re not looking for writing advice, b) each concept has plenty of room to breathe, and c) there are no absolute guidelines.

      • We’re trying to work it into an event for my queer theory reading group next fall, but I suppose a discussion amongst graduate students does not guarantee graduate-level work, haha. I anticipate doing a little remedial 101 and a lot of 201 to get us to the point of actually talking about interesting things. I’m just happy someone proposed it!

  3. Pretty much everything Siggy and Rivers just said here. I’ve appreciated all your ace fiction reviews so much, Sara K., and the ace tropes series even more!! (And you’re right, the comments sections there are so useful and insightful and interesting. I started following every new comment on The Asexual Agenda blog a little while before that series of yours (& Siggy’s?) started, emailed about new comments whether or not I had commented on a blog post or not, and I finally saw/learned/was able to understand *exactly* why a lot of ace fanfiction I’d experienced had been boring/repetitive or felt “off” etc, etc (fanfiction being the only type of ace fiction I’ve actually read so far, and also the only type I’ve written — and yes, I have repeatedly given a shot at writing it too). I finally was able to conceptualize what I really craved to see in fiction. And instead of just nodding along at general “how to write ace characters” guides, I actually felt inspired and had creative ideas about specific possibilities for plots involving aces after reading the ace tropes series. Ace Tropes was – is – the prefect melding of two of my biggest passions/hobbies for years – asexuality and aromanticism 201 type discussions and in depth fiction and media analysis. 😛 Just when I was starting to feel like maybe all there was to say about asexuality had been said and I’d read it ALL, lol not quite but basically… this was something fresh and a new angle at which to explore life from an asexual perspective.

    I really want ace fiction to be accurate to the ace experience so that aces both feel represented, something we desperately have been craving for years (if not… well, on some level forever,) and also so that non aces can just… really “get it” finally. Narratives, nonfiction stories about people’s lives, concrete examples of how things play out… they can capture what asexuality is much better than a definition. But fiction… fiction resonates so much more powerfully with some people. Fictional characters don’t have the same need for privacy OR being respected as real people and people can really dissect a fictional character’s experiences and life and criticize them in a way that would be entirely inappropriate for a real person.

    One thing I particularly loved when reading anagnori’s discussion of BBC Sherlock and if the character was aromantic asexual was the way anagnori handled #7, how the themes work with an asexual worldview, and that was just… an aspect of analyzing fiction I hadn’t thought about until I came across that series of essays.

    I think this all is a nuanced yet so very important aspect of ace education, and I’m very glad you wrote about this topic this month for the Carnival of Aces. 🙂

    • I’m curious – what did feel ‘off’ about the ace fanfic you were reading, and how did the ace tropes series help you understand why?

      I probably passed over that analysis by anagori in the past because I have never watched BBC Sherlock, but I’ll take a look when I have time.

      • Oh things like the allo savior trope or how quickly and easily characters feel relief to learn the word after “Not Having Words” is very much something thar teens to ring hollow and not quite feel accurate, as is maybe the way the ace/allo (romantic) relationship trope tends to play out in these stories… I could probably come up with a more nuanced answer with more thought even but as I kept consuming more ace fiction as I read this tropes series of yours, I had a more critical eye and I still really enjoyed some of it but I think about all of it. I’m so grateful ace fanfiction is out there and I really love some of it. But.

        There is one other thing that ace fanfiction has, in order to make it feel “off” that I’d presume is less likely in original fiction, which is sometimes characters who don’t read ace in canon or aren’t coded as ace still being written as ace… it’s up to interpretation but. Sometimes the surprise at the end of the BBC Sherlock fanfic about ace!Sherlock with John is that oh John is ace too but. Like to plenty of people that doesn’t really work the same way it’d with in original fiction. We all know it’s a stretch, a creative exercise, etc and not “really” how John tends to act…

        There’s probably more I could say but this covers my really quick initial thoughts lol

      • The main reason Siggy and I haven’t included fanfic in the Ace Trope series is that we read very little ace fanfic. If you’ve identified a fanfic specific ace trope, well … the Asexual Agenda is always open to guest posts 😉

      • “thar teens” – lol my autocorrect is out of control. “That tends” is what I meant…

        I recently read this fic and liked it enough to turn it into a podfic (recording my own voice performing it), and yes I mentioned and linked to 3 of your trope series pieces as what are featured in the story: because I just… I couldn’t help myself! This was a fic that I felt, for instance, used the allo savior trope more palatably because after she tells him he might be asexual, she admits she’s not great with the nuance, and she asks the non-understanding questions of how can he be in love or in romantic relationships in the past if it turns out all along he’s been ace? So it just… rang more true, felt less “off”, if that makes sense? For instance.

      • I went ahead and listened to the podfic. I agree that the hesitancy makes the allo savior trope more palatable (in Far from Home, the fact that a third character says ‘hey, you can’t tell someone else what they sexual orientation is!’ make the allo savior trope more palatable than it would be otherwise as well).

        I am also flattered that you included those links.

      • I’m not sure I can specifically call anything a real “trope” that happens in ace fanfic that I don’t see happening in pro fic/original fiction. But thank you, I’ll keep that in mind as I… keep reading, perhaps.

        I’m so glad you’re not upset that I included the links… 😛 Lol. And I’m very flattered you listened!!

        I’m working on finishing editing another ace!podfic right now, a longer one (I have 1 hour and a half of audio to work with right now, probably will be an hour total in the end but idk… – the fic is ~11k words), and I don’t like the story as much as the one you just heard, but how I ended up podficcing it is a somewhat complicated tale lol. This fic ends up making Clark Kent (a.k.a. Superman a.k.a. Kal-El) asexual. Which ends up meaning an alien happens to be the one asexual character in the universe. And the whole fic is about his asexuality.

        There’s this quote: “Before Jor-El could remind him that his sex drive was normal by Kryptonian standards, and even among humans it wasn’t completely unheard of, Kal-El removed the octagonal key from its slot, effectively returning Jor-El to low power mode. ” which is one of many lines in the middle section of the fic which explain that Clark (Kal-El) is asexual because he is of a specific alien race (Kryptonian), yet this one line tries to work in a hint of the “And There is a Human” trope, without actually going to the trouble of there being a human. Which idk, it kinda works for me because the fic seems very much like it’s written for people who already have some baseline knowledge of asexuality as a thing that exists (of course, among humans). Also Clark Kent is infamously a very “human” alien anyway, in a lot of the ways that “matter” to audiences. He is relatable and stuff… not to mention not at all desexualized, he’s in fact supposed to be extremely attractive, at least while in his Superman persona.

        This particular fic I’ve been podficcing does have plenty of aspects that I do enjoy.

        I’m about to start reading a few fics about Kara Zor-El/Supergirl (also Kryptonian) being ace, because… I am happy to have just now discovered they do indeed exist (however short they may be) and am curious to see what the fics are like. Because I like Kara a lot so seeing her as ace sounds fun to me. But I suspect again the alien part of it might be handled… in a way that might reinforce asexuality as something non-human in these fics. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. For now I think my own personal gut is telling me that I vastly prefer relateable, moral superheroes who happen to be aliens being written as ace occasionally in fanfics, rather than villains being written as aro and/or ace.

  4. I just recently discovered your reviews and the ace tropes series, and I love both! I used to run the Tumblr blog, so I was always interested in in-depth reviews of ace books, but could never find that many (and while I love fiction and would love to read and review a bunch of ace books myself, I’m not the fastest reader, so I only actually read the ones that I’ve heard are good or know I’m definitely interested in). So it’s super cool to find someone doing a project like this, especially since you’ve read some of the more obscure books (like Candy Land, Crush, and Cracked!) that I don’t think I’ve ever seen any aces talk about before. After reading your reviews, I’ve added several more books to my to-read list, since I’ve now actually seen them recommended by a fellow ace. I hope you do continue to write reviews if you keep reading ace books, because I’d love to read them!

    • Oh, why thank you!

      For now, I’m stopped writing reviews so I can focus on the Ace Tropes series (and Siggy writes them too, not just me). I think that’s a more effective use of my energy since, even if someone has only one ace fiction story, they can write a review of it, but to work on a project like the Ace Tropes series one has to have read (or watched) a lot of ace fiction, so fewer people can do that. I may write more reviews, but if so, it would probably be for either a) stories with an ace content rating of 4 or higher or b) if it’s just a super interesting story (whether it’s super interesting in a good or bad way).

      Also, since I’m going to away from reliable internet access for a while, I’m not going to write any more new Ace Tropes posts for the next two months (though there is one post which is going to be published on Monday). However, Siggy is going to continue the series during that time, and I plan to be back at it in September.

      • Oh yeah, I’ve seen Siggy’s webcomic ones too, but since I don’t really read webcomics those aren’t quite as interesting to me. That makes sense about your focus on the tropes; I have seen very few posts/series like that, so I definitely see why that would be a better use of time than individual reviews. (I just also really appreciate in-depth looks at individual works.) Thanks again for doing these projects; I’ll continue catching up, and will look forward to new ace trope posts from you in September!

      • Reading more of the ace trope series made me curious about some of the books you mentioned (LT3 press has really been churning out ace books lately!)–so I was wondering if you might ever create a list of the ace books that you’ve read and include each’s asexuality content rating and whether or not you recommend them, or a one-sentence review, or something like that? No pressure or anything, it’s just something I would be interested in, and maybe other people would too. (It’s just rare to find someone who has read as many ace books as you!)

      • Like the flash mini webcomic reviews Siggy did? Hmmm. Maybe, but it will have to wait until September (and by then I will have read more ace fiction anyway).

      • I hadn’t seen Siggy’s lightning reviews before, but I just found them, and yes! Something just like that for novels/novellas would be awesome. So if you do feel like doing that in September, that would be super cool. 🙂

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