Why Are There So Few Grey-A Characters in Ace Fiction?

This post is for Ace Week.

Grey-A (greysexual, greyasexual, etc.) characters are under-represented in ace fiction. I am not just saying they are under-represented in fiction in general, I am saying that, even among the fictional works which do have at least one ace character, grey-a characters are under-represented.

According to the Asexual Community Survey’s 2017-18 summary report, about 12% of aces who responded to the survey identify as ‘grey-A’. I can tell you that a lot less than 12% of canon ace characters I’ve encountered in fiction were grey-A. Granted, some of them could be interpreted as grey-A, but it’s also possible to interpret them as not-grey-A without going against canon. Whenever I’ve checked other lists of ace characters in fiction that list grey-A as a separate category from demisexual, I’ve always seen that grey-A characters are under-represented relative to asexual and demisexual characters. And there is one case where I thought that a particular character was grey-A based on how he was written, but the writer claims that he was demisexual.

I cannot know for sure why there are so few grey-A characters relative to asexual and demisexual characters since I am not a mind reader, but I think the reason is the greyness of being grey-A. With asexual and demisexual characters, it is relatively easy to contrast them with allosexual characters to show that they really are not allosexual. But grey-asexuality is too grey for sharp contrasts. It’s harder to demonstrate that a grey-A character is not ‘just’ allosexual or ‘just’ asexual.

Speaking of demisexuals in fiction…most demisexual characters I’ve found follow a ‘they never felt sexual attraction until they formed a close relationship with the other half of their One True Pairing’ narrative. The real-life experiences of demisexuals don’t always fit this narrative. So, on the one hand, there is more demisexual representation than grey-A representation. On the other hand, most of the demisexual characters I’ve found in fiction fit a narrow type which happens to be convenient for conventional romance plots.

The most obvious technique to demonstrate that a character is grey-A to use the terms ‘grey-A’ or ‘greysexual’ or ‘grey asexual’. Sere from the Green by Lauren Jankowski does this. This is rare. (If the word ‘grey-A’ had not been on-page, I probably would not have thought that Isis is grey-A).

I’ve heard a rumor that the well-known ace novel Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann originally included a reference to greyasexuality, but it was removed at the request of someone working for the publisher because it would make things too confusing/complicated for readers. I have found a few confirmations that some version of Let’s Talk About Love mentions greyasexuality (such as here) but have otherwise been unable to confirm this rumor. Even if this rumor about Let’s Talk About Love is false, it is plausible that an editor might decide that throwing words like ‘asexual’ and ‘biromantic’ into a novel is already ‘complicated’ enough and that adding ‘grey-A’ would be overkill.

Beyond saying on-page that a character is grey-A, what is the best way to show it? I don’t know, partially because I have found so few canon grey-A characters in fiction. At least with demisexual characters, I have more examples and can suggest that writers look beyond that one popular demisexual narrative. I am rather fond of making fictional characters grey-A within my headcanons (sometimes it’s the only way certain characters make sense to me), but interpreting those characters as not being grey-A is also valid.

I hope that more fiction writers will try to write canon grey-A characters. If they fail, their failures will be useful examples of mistakes to avoid in the future. And if they succeed…

8 thoughts on “Why Are There So Few Grey-A Characters in Ace Fiction?

  1. This is very interesting to consider both as a reader of a lot of ace fiction who has never found a gray-asexual character where that word was used as far as I recall except maybe in a Sherlock fanfic lol, and as a person interested in writing asexuality and demisexuality into my fiction but not particularly planning to explore gray-asexuality much in the future. I did write in that Glee fanfic of mine from 5.5 years ago which I know you read, “Four Ace Faces”, 4 types of aces – an aromantic asexual, a quoiromantic asexual, a gay gray-asexual, and then a heteroromantic demisexual… So I guess I actually did explore writing gray-asexuality once. But I wasn’t particularly planning to write it in depth again anywhere because it’s… it feels like I don’t even have a handle on “common gray-asexual experiences” to do it justice. It’s not my experience and it’s been such a limited number of narratives I’ve heard, that honestly I think I could do a much better job at this point writing allosexual aro stuff, but I’d be lacking so much confidence if I tried to write gray-asexuality.

    Grayromanticism on the other hand… that is my experience and therefore would be pretty easy lol.

    I do really hope to see more gray-A characters in fiction in the future!

    • I’m not gray-A either, but it’s my understanding that there is a lot of variation between different grey-A people, so there isn’t One True Grey-A Narrative.

      Even though I say that writers messing it up are useful as a source of bad examples, I realize no writer actually wants to be the one who messes up and gets used as the bad example.

      • I was in a queerplatonic partnership with a gray-asexual guy. You’d think i could write things like his experience at least… Maybe I can try someday 😉

  2. I’ve yet to write a visibly gray-a character, so this posting is actually an incentive to do so and might solve a problem I had with an plot I’m currently working on.
    Other than that, yeah, the grayness and “not one single gray experience” thing make it hard to even consider trying adequate representation.

  3. Pingback: Links on Grayness | The Ace Theist

  4. Pingback: Ace Media Analysis & Meta-commentary | The Ace Theist

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