Content Warning: F-bombs
A few days ago, Blue Ice-Tea left this comment:
What’s needed is more resources that will give allosexuals a better understanding of asexuality and introduce them to ace 201 issues – but how do you get allosexuals to read them? Do you have any thoughts on how the book could have been made to appeal more to non-ace readers?
I gave a quick answer, but after thinking about it for a while, my answer has changed.
To get allosexuals to read about asexuality and ace 201 issues, we need to poke their pain points. We have to (non-sexually) sleep with them, know what keeps them awake at night, hit them there, and offer a salve (or at least hint at it).
Two of the most popular posts ever on this blog are Mortality on the Pacific Crest Trail and We Are All Barbara Yung. They are both posts about death which affects readers personally. A lot of people are scared that they or their loved ones will die on the Pacific Crest Trail and it keeps them awake at night. More than thirty years after her death, there are still many people who love Barbara Yung so much that her death still hits them in the heart.
Does that mean that ace media has to be about death to get allosexuals’ attention? No. The key is to find the pain points. Fear of death and grief over death just happen to be prevalent pain points.
Upon reflection, I think what strikes me as deeply weird about Ace is that on the surface it is targeting allo readers, yet it hits ace, not allo, pain points. That is why I think it’s going to get a much larger ace than allo readership. Yet because it’s written for the allo gaze, it seems to put ace readers in second place. It feels like a mismatch.
Before we can talk about how to get allosexuals to pay attention to ace media and learn about asexuality 201, I think we need to be clear about why we want them to pay attention, and what exactly we want them to learn. Without that clarity, I don’t think we can get very far.
I don’t think we need to convey all of asexuality 201 to allosexuals. Some of it is not relevant to them, just as some of the deeper aspects of being a woman in the 11th century Byzantine Empire are not relevant to me. The parts of asexuality 201 which we do try to communicate to allosexuals need to be carefully chosen.
Reading Blue Ice-Tea’s recent post “Asexuality: Not Just for Asexuals Anymore” and Angela Chen’s Ace, I think a key idea, possibly the #1 idea, both writers want to convey to allosexuals is “compulsory sexuality is bad for everyone”. This is a message I strongly agree with. I don’t think this is the only message aces may want to convey to allosexuals, but it’s the idea I’m going to use as my example.
To get the message “compulsory sexuality is bad for everyone” message to allosexuals, I think the best strategy is to make it about how compulsory sexuality is bad for allosexuals. Write a whole book about how bad it is for allos. Give it a title like “Don’t Let Sexual Expectations Ruin Your Life: Get People to Fuck Off Instead of Fuck You Over”. That title hits many allosexuals’ pain points and promises a solution. I bet it would attract a lot more allo readers than “Ace”. As a title, “Ace” vaguely promises to address ace pain points but promises nothing for allos.
There are a few select groups of allos whose pain points are closely tied enough to asexuality that they will read a whole book about asexuality. For example, a mother who is worried about her daughter’s future because her daughter is ace might read a book about asexuality. A sex therapist who is worried about mishandling an ace client and ruining their career might also read a book about asexuality. But these are very small, select groups of allosexuals. When most aces talk about reaching allo audiences, I don’t think they have these hyper-specific groups in mind.
A book about how compulsory sexuality hurts allosexuals, featuring stories like this, with some reference to how it hurts aces mixed in, would center allosexuals. But if you are targeting an allosexual audience, you’ve already centered them, you might as well go all the way.
Throughout this post, I’ve implied that allo and ace pain points are different. When it comes to (a)sexuality, I think that’s functionally true. And if we, as aces, want to reach allosexuals, we have to make an effort to understand them, which is hard.
Personally, I think I get a much higher reward-relative-to-effort by writing ace content for ace audiences than I would if I were writing ace content for allo audiences. But that does not mean that putting in the huge effort it takes to effectively present ace content to allo audiences is not worthwhile.
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For the record, writing the book we’re still writing for TAAAP for helping professionals is ideally targeting that hyper specific group of allosexuals you mention who don’t want to mess up with an ace client and it’s an interesting enough challenge trying to capture everything aces go through (and aros too) through a lens will make sense to the hypothetical alloromantic allosexual reader. Trying to think from their point of view.
A few of us at TAAAP will be speaking on a podcast in a couple days – well, having the conversation on Sunday morning, and hopefully the episode will be released for Ace Week. It’s a podcast with an allosexual audience, presumably, as all the episodes so far have centered allosexual experiences. (The podcast is called Ladies, Let’s Talk About Sex.) We will be attempting to give ace 101 but I’m also also some 201 might squeeze. I want this allo audience to really learn nuanced things about asexuality and the experience, with a goal of helping them see asexuality in a deeper way even if they already were informed enough to know the basics. I want them to be intrigued by us and no longer think writing us into a tv show would be boring, or no longer think we are lucky and have it easy being ace, things like that.
And i want to write a fictional book one day that centers aroaces in a queerplatonic relationship but isn’t ONLY appealing to aroaces or other ace or other aro people. I want the novel I dream I writing to be something people of all orientations enjoy deeply. So there’s that part of my imagination of reaching allos that’s… Idk.
Yeah, I know there have been multiple efforts to write about ace issues for a therapeutic/medical/etc. audience, which is why I mentioned it.
That podcast you mentioned seems equivalent to putting a chapter about asexuality in a book about something else rather than writing a whole book about asexuality (would that podcast have a mostly allo audience if EVERY episode were about asexuality?) Good luck with that episode, I hope you have the effect you want on the audience.
Fiction *cough* has its own challenges. First of all, especially in traditional publishing, there are the gatekeepers. As Ace (by Angela Chen) quotes Lauren Jankowski as saying that literary agents told her that novels must have romance to sell, and IIRC Lucy Mihajlich had the same experience, which is why she was forced to self-publish instead of pursue traditional publishing. I’ve also heard that the original version of Let’s Talk About Love did, in fact, mention/discuss grey-asexuality, but an editor or someone at the publisher had that section (sections?) removed.
But even if one bypasses the gatekeepers via indie publishing, reaching allo readers, especially allo readers who don’t know much about asexuality/aromanticism, through ace-aro fiction is, in my experience with fanfic, really hard. Not impossible, but hard.
I recently read this roundtable “Beyond 101” about trans speculative fiction: http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/articles/beyond-101/ – I think many of the ideas could be adapted for writing ace and/or aro fiction (speculative or not), not to mention that there is a shortage of trans ace characters so I encourage anyone considering writing ace fiction to learn more about how to write trans characters too.
EDIT: The main reason I linked that roundtable is this paragraph: “But marginalised writers of any stripe are expected to cater to one hyper-specific audience at all times—a group of people, outside their experience, that they need to “educate” and “humanise” themselves for … I think when we break ourselves of that assumption—that we’re writing testimony to educate those more privileged than we—it allows us to reach that blessed universality. Oddly, in being a trans writer who keeps a trans audience foremost in mind, you make your fiction more, not less, universal. Because in doing so, you reach deeper into what it is that makes us human, and in doing that, those who are willing to read deeply—regardless of their background—will find themselves lavishly rewarded.”
I think that’s a really great quoted paragraph to keep in mind for sure. I don’t want to be only writing to educate. I know that on some level. I’ve been immersed in queer fiction writer Twitter and reading lots of ace fiction and thinking about all of it from many angles. It’s just a thing to keep in mind like. Don’t call it “Ace” and expect Allos to read it but also don’t overcorrect and act like no one who’s read what you’re writing has ever learned asexuality 101 before. Don’t act like no aces are reading your book. Be the book they want but find some balance would be the goal. Idk if it’s possible. But it’s nice to strive toward!
I sent you a private email a couple of days ago. It’s okay if you don’t know how to respond, I just want to make sure that it was sent to the right address and that there was not a tech problem.
Thanks for this. I checked my email more closely and found it. 💜