Experiencing Neither Romance Nor Spirituality

This is for the Carnival of Aros: “The Intersection of Religion and Aromanticism”. I somehow ended up discussing spirituality rather than religion.

The words ‘romance’ and ‘spirituality’ have something in common: they are very difficult to define.

‘Religion’ is also difficult to define, but I think it is easier to grasp than ‘romance’ and ‘spirituality’ (but maybe it is more difficult for other people). I can observe the organized sets of behaviors and ideas which English speakers label as ‘religion’ and I think I know what it means. ‘Culture’ is similarly difficult to define, yet I also think I have a firm grasp on what ‘culture’ means.

I think one difference between words such as ‘romance’ and ‘spirituality’ vs. words such as ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ is that, when you ask someone what is ‘religion’ or ‘culture’, there is a good chance they will point at specific and external examples of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’. They are less likely to require that the person asking the question examine their own feelings. By contrast, when you ask someone to define ‘romance’ or ‘spirituality’, a common response is ‘you will know it when you feel it’. There is a widespread assumption that all (healthy) adults will feel these things. So what if you are an adult who does not feel these things? Continue reading

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Coming Out as Aro Usually Takes More Effort than I Want to Give

This is for the April 2019 Carnival of Aros: “Coming Out and/ or Being Out as Aromantic Spectrum

The hardest thing about coming out as aromantic is that the vast majority of people don’t know what that means, and it is difficult to explain it quickly in a way that makes sense to someone who has never heard of aromanticism before. Asexuality is easier because a lot more people have heard of asexuality as a sexual orientation. Even if they have not heard of asexuality as a sexual orientation, they probably know what a sexual orientation is, which makes explanations easier. There is no widely-known framework like that which aromanticism fits into. Thus, I rarely bother to come out as aromantic.

I find it easiest by far to ‘come out’ as aromantic when I am in ace spaces, either online or offline (so far, I have not had much contact with specifically aro spaces, but my guess is that coming out as aro in an aro space would be even easier). Many of the aces I am in contact with are also arospec, and even if they are not, they generally already know enough about aromanticism that I do not need to go into a long explanation. I would go as far as to say that I am ‘out’ as aro whenever I am among aces. (By the way, since this blog has so many ‘asexuality’ posts, it counts as an ‘ace space’ for this purpose). Continue reading

Knowing That I’m Aro Helps Me Get On with My Life

This is a submission to the March 2019 Carnival of Aros: “It’s great to be aro!”

I would describe being aromantic as being ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’.

That said, knowing that I am aromantic is great.

I was luckier than many of my aro peers. To the extent that my high school years were difficult, it was mostly for reasons unrelated to being aro.

When I first entered high school, I had figured that I would develop a romantic crush on someone (who I expected to be male), and would at least try to get romantic with them. After my first year of high school I thought it was odd that it did not happen. It was even more odd that by the time I graduated from high school I had to interpret my feelings through some pretty contorted lenses to consider myself to have had any romantic crushes at all, and even if those crushes were romantic (which, at this point, I don’t believe they were), I clearly had not responded the way my peers would to such feelings.

In high school, I was able to deflect a lot of pressure with the idea that I was a ‘late bloomer’. I could also tell myself that I was too busy to deal with romance. And I loved some specific examples of romantic poetry, so I obviously could experience romance, right?

In my first couple years of college, I was just so busy, I did not even have time to think about whether or not I had romantic feelings, let alone actually pursue a romance.

(Though really, in the deep recesses of my mind, I did wonder. But because these were the deep recesses of my mind, I was not really processing my intuitive observations of myself). Continue reading

Aro Community, Ace Community

This is a submission to the February 2019 joint Carnival of Aros & Carnival of Aces

Like many (most?) aro aces, I found the ‘ace community’ first, and I discovered the idea of ‘aromanticism’ via the ‘ace community’.

If you want to know what I thought about being aromantic vs. being asexual in the year 2012, I have an old blog post for you. And, aside from being more certain that I am aromantic, my thoughts on this have not changed much since I wrote that post in 2012. In particular, I still think that being aromantic has a greater impact on my personal life than being asexual. Continue reading

I am bad at predicting my future, so I stopped trying

A recent theme for the Carnival of Aces was “All the birds but us…” which led to a lot of discussion in the ace blogging community about our expectations for our personal future. Of course during that month I was hiking, so my thoughts about the future were generally along the lines of ‘Maybe I will reach that campsite in two hours’ or ‘I think I will get to town in three days’ or ‘Tomorrow I am going to get water from that bad water source’ or, if I was thinking really far ahead, I would think ‘when I get back to San Francisco, I will do [x].’ To run with the bird metaphor, long-distance hikers in the middle of a long-distance hike are birds in the middle of a migration, so obviously there is no nesting.

But in a more general way, I do not have a good track record when it comes to guessing my own future more than a year or two out. True, when I was a kid, it was a safe guess that after I graduated from elementary school, I would go to middle school, and that after graduating middle school, I would attend high school, but I was bad at guessing anything less predictable than that.

If you had asked me when I was sixteen what I was going to do two years later, I would have told you ‘I’m going to be a student at one of the University of California campuses in southern California so that I can get as far away from San Francisco as possible while still benefiting from in-state tuition.’ Spoiler: I have never been a student at any campus of the University of California, nor did I go to southern California AT ALL during my years of higher education, not even for a brief visit.

If, during my third year in higher education, you had suggested that after graduation I would be moving to Taoyuan I would have responded ‘where the hell is that?’ and if you had explained that it is in Taiwan, my response would have been ‘why the heck would I visit Taiwan, let alone live there for years?’ In fact, someone did suggest towards the end of my third year of higher education that I could move to Taiwan, and I totally brushed him off at the time. Spoiler: after I graduated from college, I moved to Taiwan and stayed there for years.

There is an example where being aseuxal/aromantic is relevant. When I was middle school, I wasn’t attracted to anybody in a sexual or romantic way, but I assumed it would happen if I met the right person, so I was expecting to meet someone who I would find attractive in high school and he would become my boyfriend (because I expected this person to be male). Spoiler: it did not happen.

Nowadays, I accept that I am bad at predicting my own future, and I no longer try to imagine my long-term future very hard. I still have vague ideas of things I would like to do one day, I do have some multi-year goals (such as ‘see every Shakespeare play on stage live at least once), and I even prepare for the future in a non-specific way. For example, even if I don’t know what I will be doing in the future, I am guessing that having money will be useful, and ‘I will probably want money in the future’ definitely influences the financial decisions I make today.

Will I live in San Francisco for forty more years? Maybe. Will I move to New York in two years and never ever live in California again? Maybe. Will I discover that squash is the most awesome sport ever and suddenly immerse myself in the squash world? Maybe (as of now, I have never seen a squash match, nor do I even know the rules of squash). I am not trying to imagine any future more than a year or two out, and I’m okay with that.

AAWFC 2017: Musings on Headcanon Ace Characters in Wuxia Novels

This is for Asexual Awareness Week Fandom Challenge 2017 (even though I am not on Tumblr – if you are on Tumblr, feel free to share a link to this post under the #AAWFC tag).

Sun 22nd, Day 1: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in books and comics.

In the past year – since a I read a bunch of ace fiction for Asexual Awareness Week last year in fact – I’ve written plenty about canon ace characters in books. So I’m going to talk about headcanon ace characters instead.

Yes, you guessed it (if you read my blog in a regular basis). I’m going to write about Yang Guo and Guo Jing from the Condor Trilogy (or more accurately, the Eagle-Shooting Trilogy, but whatever).

There is Yang Guo with Xiaolongn├╝, the most beautiful woman in the world. He is naked, she is naked, they sit together like this for a long time, yet he never thinks about sex at all (according to the novel – I don’t know how they would convey this in the TV adaptation).

I’ve already written plenty about these headcanons – in fact, my very first submission to the Carnival of Aces was a series about how I headcanon Yang Guo as being ace, and years later I wrote about how I headcanon Guo Jing as demisexual.

Actually, while I am talking about headcanons and wuxia, I might as well mention that I headcanon Fei Ruoran in The Valley of Life and Death as being an *aromantic ace* (finding a female protagonist from wuxia who I can headcanon as aromantic is incredible). And yes, even though I have read a lot of novels in 2017, so far, The Valley of Life and Death is still my favorite.

So, what more do I have to say about these headcanons that I have not already said in previous posts? Let’s see…

If Yang Guo were explicitly a canon ace, then he would be the best example of the kind of ace character I want in fiction. Of course, he’s not a canon ace character, and I have to deduct a heck of a lot of points for that. However, while I have found much goodness during this past year as I’ve binged on fiction with canon ace characters, I still feel like I have not quite found what am I looking for. If I found a canon ace character who has all of the qualities which makes me like Yang Guo so much as a headcanon!ace character, would I then finally be satisfied? Probably not, because I would still want more aromantic representation, and Yang Guo very much is not aromantic.

Or is he? Okay, obviously, he’s not aromantic aromantic, but a case could be made that he is demiromantic. He only falls in love once in his life, and only after he had a close relationship with that person for years. That seems pretty demiromantic, and while Jin Yong rarely has characters fall in love with each other at first sight (unless they are supporting/minor characters, especially female characters), it generally takes something significantly less than living with a particular person for years to get a Jin Yong character to fall in love.

And there is Guo Jing who, at this point, feels to me that he is at the border between headcanon and canon demisexual. The way he is described in the novel fits the dictionary definition (or at least the wiktionary definition) perfectly. Is that enough to make him a canon demisexual, without writer confirmation or explicitly saying that he demisexual? How explicit is explicit enough? I feel that he is just one notch shy of being the kind of representation I could call ‘canon’ rather than ‘headcanon’.

And then there is Fei Ruoran, who is not from the Condor Trilogy at all, or even a Jin Yong novel. There is actually even less substantial evidence in the text that she is ace than for Yang Guo or Guo Jing. It’s mostly the total absence of any sign that she has sexual feelings. There is actually a tiny bit of evidence that she is aromantic – namely, the scene where she says that she does not even know what romance is. However, the mere fact that she is a female protagonist in a wuxia novel who doesn’t fall in love with anybody is enough to suggest aromanticism to me.

If you got this far, thank you for bearing with my meandering thoughts, and happy Ace Awareness Week!

My experiences with being ace in Vorkosiverse fandom

This is for the October 2017 Carnival of Aces: Asexuality in Fandom.

A few years back I wrote this, which is ironic, because about a year after that, I did actually develop an interest in fanfic, and two years later, I started writing fanfic.

There were a few stimuli, the most prominent being reading Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (GJatRQ). As a teenager, the Vorkosigan Saga was one of my most favorite series of books. GJatRQ was in some ways satisfying, and in some ways disappointing, and it was the latter which inspired me to write fanfic.

Another thing I wanted to play with was having an asexual character in the Vorkosiverse. As it so happens, I do not headcanon any of the canon Vorkosiverse characters as being ace (there are some potential ace headcanons there, it’s just that I don’t headcanon any of them that way), so that meant having original characters who were also ace.

For me, as a fan, the essence of the Vorkosigan Saga is that there is high levels of drama and chaos, and the characters have to grow and make a major change in themselves in order to earn their happy ending. The Vorkosigan Saga novels which best exemplify this, in my opinion, are Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign, which are also my favorites in the series. Another trademark of the Vorkosgian Saga, IMNSHO, is mad cap adventure – mistaken identities, implausible plot twists which are too bold for the reader to reject, Miles spreading chaos, etc. GJatRQ went against all that, so I wanted to respond by writing fanfic in which there was tons of drama, chaos, plot twists, etc. On top of all that, I wanted the protagonist to be difficult to like (some readers ended up liking him anyway, but I did not make it easy for them to like him!) In fact, my favorite comment which I received was this was … I can’t find it write now, but this was the summary “this OC is so awful, he’s the opposite of a Gary Stu, I can’t keep reading this!”

(On that note: if you want to find these fanfics I wrote, you can, but I am warning you that a lot of readers find this particular series offputting. So if you find them, and come back to me and say “Sara, those fanfics are so horrible, I wish I had never read them” my response will be “I warned you.”)

So, I wanted to write fanfic which centered a particular type of antihero, and I wanted to throw in asexuality, so this antihero ended up being ace (and aromantic too).

It was interesting to see how the (mostly non-ace) readers reacted to this original character being an aro ace. Based on the comments, some of them seemed to find him more sympathetic after they found out he was aro ace since it helped explain some of his actions, especially since he helped another ace character. And yes, I put in a second original character who is ace because it’s a lot easier to bring asexual themes into a story if there is more than one ace character. And since the second ace character was much easier to like, readers generally had a favorable opinion of her (she was also more boring, which is why she was not the center of the series). However, while most readers thought that the antihero helping the other ace character was one of the most likeable things he did, there was one reader who felt that he was hurting her by telling her that it was okay for her to be ace.

A problem I had while writing was that I am a lot more interested in Asexuality 201 than Asexuality 101, so these fanfics had a lot of 201 and not much 101. This resulted in some readers being confused. When I read ace fiction, I’m sometimes frustrated by there being more Asexuality 101 than Asexuality 201, but having had this experience, I can understand why writers sometimes put in more Asexuality 101 and less Asexuality 201 than I would like.

There were a whole bunch of other problems with this series of fanfics, but they weren’t related to asexuality, so I’m not going to discuss them here.

Even after writing this set of original-character centric fanfics, I still had not worked GJatRQ out of my system, so I went on to write a point-of-departure AU of The Vor Game. I killed off one of the major characters in The Vor Game right at the beginning (that was the point of departure which separates the AU from canon), which, among other things, led to one of the key events of GJatRQ happening during the timeframe of The Vor Game (i.e. more than twenty years earlier). (By the way, if you insist on reading my fanfic, I would like you to read this one first because I feel better about how it turned out. I am proud of how many cliffhanger chapter endings I was able to think up. And the fact that I am more interesting in using fanfic for cliffhanging than for shipping may reflect my aro-aceness).

Though this AU fanfic did not have any explicit ace content whatsoever, I was aware of some subtle ways that ace discourse was affecting the way I wrote this fanfic. For example, there is a scene where a character is talking about how he has sexual agency and can consent to sex, which was definitely influenced by ace writing about how it is possible for aces to consent.

I also put in three original characters in this fanfic who *I* think are ace, and I was debating whether or not to make that asexuality explicit. Eventually, I decided not to do so, and there is no hint in the fanfic that they are ace. Why did I not make it explicit? The in-universe reason was that they were not POV characters, and it did not make sense for them to come out as ace to the POV character. However, if I had wanted to make their asexuality explicit, I could have made up a reason why they would want to come out as ace. The real reasons were that a) I had just written some fanfics with very explicit asexual themes, and I wanted a break from that and b) I didn’t just want it to be a ‘by the way I’m ace’ thing but I also did not want to address asexuality in more depth in that fanfic because I did not want it to distract from the other stuff which was going on in the story. Thus, they aren’t even word of ace ace characters since I’ve never put out the word that those specific characters are ace.

***

Finally, a few comments on being ace in the Vorkosiverse fandom.

The biggest disadvantage is that the Vorkosiverse fandom is a heck of a lot smaller than, say, the Harry Potter / Supernatural / Sherlock / Marvel Cinematic Universe / Homestuck / etc. fandoms. It’s not even as big as the Miraculous Ladybug fandom. That means there are a lot fewer fanworks out there, and consequently, a lot fewer people making ace fanworks. In fact, as far as I know, I’m the only person who has made any ace fanwork for the Vorkosiverse fandom.

The big advantage of the Vorkosiverse fandom is that it is a lot less focused on erotica and shipping than many other fandoms. There is still plenty of erotic fanfic and shipping in the fandom, but there are also a lot of plotty fanfics, as well as fanfics which explore the setting of the series without focusing on sex or romance. For example, one of the most common tropes in Vorkosiverse fandom is Somebody Finding Out the Truth about the Escobar Invasion (in the past month alone, there have been two fanfics with this trope – “The King’s Quarrel” and “A Man of the Right”). There is a fanfic in which Gregor figures out most of it but thinks that Aral, not Ezar, was the mastermind, there’s a fanfic in which Komarran terrorists capture Aral, use truth serum on him, and then broadcast the interrogation on the vid network, and various other variations on the trope. And this trope almost never has much to do with sex or romance. As an aro-ace, this greater abundance of fanfics focused on something other than shipping makes Vorkosiverse fandom more appealing to me than many other fandoms.