AAWFC 2017: Musings on “Ace Representation in General”

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).

Sat 28th, Day 7: Post about asexual representation in general. What does it mean to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? Why is it important to you to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? What sort of stories/plotlines would you like to see about asexual/spectrum characters? What genre do you really want to see asexual/spectrum characters in? How would you like to see asexual/spectrum people represented?

Such a simple set of easy-to-answer questions, isn’t it? I don’t think I could give a full answer to this prompt in a single blog post, so I’m only going to answer the parts I want to answer right now.

For some reason, the vast majority of human beings want to see themselves in others. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s simply a trait we have because we evolved to be a social species who tends not to survive individually if we do not belong to a group of humans. Anyway, that is how almost all of us are.

I am no exception. I like being able to recognize myself in the fiction I read (or watch, but I read more than I watch). For example, I generally think it’s cool to see characters in fiction who grew up in San Francisco (unless it’s obvious that the writer did not do their research on San Francisco). Do I crave more of this? Maybe a little. Narratives about San Francisco tend to be dominated by people who moved to San Francisco, which is a bit different from being from San Francisco (though YA set in San Francisco does tend to focus on characters raised in San Francisco). But finding stories about people from San Francisco is a very low priority for me.

However, even though many people react like I’m some rare species of bird they were lucky enough to encounter in the wild when they find out I am from San Francisco, there is a general awareness that some people do grow up in San Francisco. There is no need to have a ‘People Who Come from San Francisco Awareness Week.’

Perhaps I want to see aces represented in fiction because that is an aspect of who I am who which I do not see in stories as often as I would like.

Except … in the past year, I HAVE read a lot of stories with ace characters. I don’t think I would want to read more stories with ace characters per month than I have. The thing is a) I had to specifically seek ace stories to pull that off and b) many of those stories would have had little interest for me without the ace character and c) many of those stories do not have ace representation which satisfies me. Obviously, I want more.

It would take a lot of words for me to say what kinds of stories/plotlines I would like for ace characters, so instead I will point out this old post and list the ace tropes which I particularly like and wish to see more often in fiction: The Ace Group, Not Having Words, Ace/Ace Romance, and When Do I Tell Them I’m Ace. One could also look at the ace fanfic (even though there are problems with the ace fanfic I’ve written, they do represent a lot of the things I want to see in ace fiction).

What genre do I really want to see ace characters in? I want ace representation in all genres because readers of all tastes could benefit from being exposed … blah blah blah, that’s all true, but who am I kidding, I especially want to see ace (and aro!) characters in the wuxia genre, which I’m sure is no surprise to anyone who follows this blog. I do not think it is a coincidence that I headcanon some wuxia characters as being ace but I currently do not have ace headcanons in any other genre.

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AAWFC 2017: Canon Ace Characters Who I’d Want to See Meet Each Other

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).

Fri 27th, Day 6: AU day! Post about what canon/headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters from different fandoms that you would like to see meet. What would their meeting would be like, why would you like to see them meet, what sort of relationship do you think they’d have, etc.?

The cover of All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher

I would like Nate Albano from For a Good Tim, Call… to meet Brennan and Zafir from All the Wrong Places. Technically, they are already in the same fandom since they all appear in Bluewater Bay novel, but they were created by different writers, so they are at least from different corners of that particular fandom.

Why do I want them to meet? Because they live in the same (fictional) small town! Furthermore, Nate Albano meets characters from other Bluewater Bay novels (even novels by different writers), so why can’t he also meet Brennan and Zafir?

Where would they meet? Now, that is a bit tricky. Nate is a newcomer to Bluewater Bay, and he works on the TV series. He may not even stay in Bluewater Bay after the TV series stops filming. By contrast, Brennan and Zafir are locals who have little to do with the TV show. So it does make sense that they would not necessarily meet each other. But…

Nate gets together with a local guy. Maybe the local guy knows Brennan and Zafir? But that does not mean he would have a reason to introduce them to Nate (he knows Nate is ace, but he probably does not know that Brennan and Zafir are ace). On the other hand, since Nate is a guy who gets together with a dude, and Brennan and Zafir are another dude-with-dude couple, maybe the dude-with-dude couples in a small town would get to know each other? (Though there are a lot of dude-with-dude couples in Bluewater Bay, given that it’s a novel series published by an LGBTQ+ publisher).

AHA! I know how Nate would meet Brennan and Zafir. Zafir goes to the Seattle ace meetup regularly. Maybe it would occur to Nate that he could also go to the Seattle ace meetup, and he could meet Brennan and Zafir there.

NATE: Hey, so this is my first time here. I came here from Bluewater Bay.

ZAFIR: No way! We live in Bluewater Bay too!

NATE: You SERIOUS??!!

BRENNAN: This is too much of a coincidence! Of all the places in western Washington another ace could come from, what are the odds that another ace would come from Bluewater Bay? It’s a fictional town for crying out loud!

ALICIA: To be fair, this meetup is also fictional. The real Seattle ace meetup isn’t a casual get-together at a hipster coffee shop in the university district, it takes place at a LGBT center and they create an agenda of asexual topics they are going to discuss at each meeting.

Then again, the novel All the Wrong Places mentions that there is also an ace group in Port Angeles, yet it is never depicted. Maybe Nate meets Brennan and Zafir in Port Angeles?

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 Xiaolongnü, 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.

My Fellow Hikers, Part 6 (Final)

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, and Part 5.

HIKER OF SECTION L – RAINY PASS (WASHINGTON) TO MANNING PARK (BRITISH COLUMBIA): JUST JON
Origin: Sacramento, California
Hiker Type: Flipping Thru-Hiker
Trail Resume: I don’t know

In a previous post, I mentioned a wonderful surprise water source. That water source is where I first met Just Jon.

Just Jon is the hiker sitting on the right in this photo.

Jon had started at the Mexican border, like most northbound thru-hikers. Like many thru-hikers this year, he skipped the Sierras. He had wanted to continue hiking in Oregon, but Oregon was already on fire. Thus, he decided to start at the northern end of the Pacific Crest Trail, and continue south to finish his thru-hike. This is known as ‘flipping’.

According to my maps, this was the last water source before Cutthroat Pass and Granite Pass. Day hikers confirmed this. It turned out that there were actually quite a few more water sources before Cutthroat Pass, though they were not as good as this one.

He had started at Rainy Pass, hiked all the way to the USA/Canada border, and was on his way back south. I asked why he started at Rainy Pass and not Hart’s Pass (which is much closer to the border). He said that it was much easier to get a ride to Rainy Pass. I can believe that, but getting a ride *out* of Hart’s Pass was fairly easy (I could have gotten a ride out of Hart’s Pass if I had wanted to end the hike at that point) so I don’t understand why he decided to hike south from Hart’s Pass to Rainy Pass. Oh well.

A water source near Rainy Pass, Northern Washington.

He warned me that he had washed his clothes in the pool at the water source, but that did not bother me, because I was going to take my water from the stream anyway (in most cases, flowing water > standing water). Because Jon was not wearing much clothing (he was drying his clothes) he got attacked by biting flies. I would not have even known that there were biting flies at the water source if he and the other hiker there hadn’t complained about them (I was wearing my permethrin-treated clothing, which meant I couldn’t rinse my clothes like other hikers can, but given a choice between dirtier clothes and being harassed by insects, I’ll choose the dirtier clothes).

A view from Cutthroat Pass, near Rainy Pass, Northern Washington.

As you can see in the photo above, another hiker, Mini Boss, was there too. Jon and Mini Boss had actually met each other in Southern California, so this was a reunion for them. Jon collected both of our emails. When he is off trail and has time, he said, he would like to email as many PCT hikers as possible and do some project collecting our stories. This was a really weird year for the Pacific Crest Trail, since the Sierras were snowbound until late in the year, and the fires in Oregon were also thwarting hikers’ plans. As he put it, everybody basically has their own unique itinerary this year.

The view from Cutthroat Pass, near Rainy Pass, Northern Washington.

I was heading north, and he was heading south, so I thought I would never see him again.

Ha ha ha ha ha. You NEVER know who you are going to run into again (one would think my encounters with No English would have taught me better).

Fast forward about two weeks later.

The train on the left is going to Los Angeles. Union Station, Portland, Oregon.

I was in Oregon, on the train to Los Angeles (though I was getting off in the Bay Area, not Los Angeles). I overheard somebody talking about hiking, and I of course wanted to talk to him and ask him where he had been hiking, but I was in the middle of a card game. As it turns out, he ended up recognizing and approaching me. Why, it was Jon again!

Obviously, I had gotten off trail because I had reached the northern end of the PCT. But he was a thru-hiker going south. Why was he on the train?

Wildfires. Of course.

He got off the trail at Stevens Pass. I was surprised, since the PCT was open from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. He said that, even though the PCT was open, there was a lot of smoke in the air, and there were so many fire closures south of Snoqualmie Pass that there was no way he could complete his thru-hike this year. He generally seemed very down about it. I asked if he was going to hike the PCT in the Sierras, and he said there was not enough time in the hiking season left for the entire Sierras. I said that he could still do part of the Sierras, especially since his family is in Sacramento. He said that maybe he would do part of the Sierras.

View from Granite Pass, between Cutthroat Pass and Methow Pass, Northern Washington.

Most of the train passengers were impressed with our hikes. I humbled myself by pointing out that I had not hiked as many miles as Jon (true). Jon countered by saying that I at least completed my planned hike, whereas he had fallen far short of his goal of completely the PCT this year.

I happened to spy him with a copy of More Than Two, and he was talking to another train passenger about polyamory. I asked to borrow the book, searched the index for ‘asexuality’ and read everything the book had to say about asexuality. Generally, I was not impressed, and their definition of ‘demisexual’ was just wrong.

View from the ridge above Glacier Pass. This was a few miles before I met Jon. Between Glacier Pass and Hart’s Pass, Northern Washington.

At some point in the conversation about polyamory (the other train passenger had never heard of polyamory) I came in, and mentioned that I am an aromantic asexual. I think this is the first time I have ever told another PCT hiker that I am ace or aro (or talked about asexuality/aromanticism on Amtrak, for that matter). I shared my opinion of what More Than Two says about asexuality. Neither Jon nor the other passenger had heard of human sexuality before. At first they did not clearly understand that it was a sexual orientation (I’m not sure if the other passenger ever got it, because at one point he said ‘between your [Jon’s] approach and your [my] approach, I think I’m leaning towards yours [mine]’ (asexuality is not a choice! though abstinence from sex is a choice). Someone, a lot of the conversation ended up being about the other passenger’s relationship dilemmas, and it was an interesting conversation.

So, why did Jon have a polyamory book? To summarize what he said (and put it in different language), he feels that escalator relationships do not work for him, so he’s exploring alternatives.

The trail going towards Hart’s Pass, Northern Washington.

It really does not surprise me that PCT hikers would be reading about polyamory. The Pacific Crest Trail attracts people who are interested in alternative lifestyles because being on the Pacific Crest Trail *IS* an alternative lifestyle.

In addition to the alternative lifestyle factor, I think polyamory has benefits specifically for PCT hikers. A common problem for PCT hikers is maintaining relationships with ‘significant others’. This is not a problem for me because I don’t have significant others (though I have other types of social problems on the Pacific Crest Trail, but that is another topic). Ideally, the significant other of a hiker will also want to hike, and they will have completely compatible hiking styles. THIS ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS. Assuming they both want to be on the trail, there will probably be incompatibilities in their hiking styles, which means they will need to compromise (a system which sometimes works is that they will hike separately, but arrange to meet each other for lunch and at campsites). And often, one of them wants to be on trail a lot more than the other one, which can really mess with the relationship. And if one is on trail and the other is not on trail, and they are separated possibly for months … well, that can be difficult for other reasons. I’ve heard of thru-hikers learning that their significant other is seeing somebody else, and I am sure that some thru-hikers with significant others at home have also taken up ‘trail romances’. If a hiker must separate from their significant other to hike the PCT, I think a polyamory mindset could help both the hiker and the off-trail significant other to meet their needs while maintaining the relationship.

***

That’s the end of my series on hikers from my summer hike on the PCT. There are so many hikers who made my experience more meaningful who I haven’t described in this series, such as that Texan guy I met at a water source eight miles out of Cascade Locks, the father and son who shared my first campsite in Washington, Takokat, The Dude, Seaweed, that three-generation family I met near Big Huckleberry Mountain, Scott, a different father and son duo who shared my campsite near the Cispus River, Pony Express, those therapists from the Tri-Cities area, the hikers I camped with at Pipe Lake, Sidney, the young woman I met at Ginette Lake, Party, the uncle-and-nephew duo I camped with, Portia and Trevor, Quetzal, Cougar Bait, Eric from San Francisco (yes, another hiker from San Francisco!), the woman I camped with at Lemah Meadow, the rock-climbing party at Gravel Lake, Bob Ross & Scaredy Cat, Mountain Rabbit, Just Wait, Chatterbox, Lazy John, Pirate, The Kid, Mr. Clean, that young guy from Vancouver WA, that guy I camped with a few miles north of Seiad Valley, the Finnish hikers, and so many hikers who I am not even mentioning here! However, while I did not do everybody justice, I think this series of posts has offered a good sample of the types of people I met on the trail this summer.

Leading the Ace Walks

This is for the July 2017 Carnival of Aces: “Ace-ing It Up Offline”

For a few months I led a monthly ‘Ace Walks…’ event through my local ace meetup group.

Why?

Oh, there were various reasons. First of all, at that time, I wanted more frequent offline ace meetups. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the way the local meetup group has worked for a long time is that there is a three month cycle – one month in Berkeley, next month in San Francisco, following month in the South Bay, repeat. I go to most (though not all) of the San Francisco and Berkeley meetups, but I have never been to the South Bay meetup because it’s not worth it for me to take the train down there (this is ironic, because I was living in the South Bay for part of the period of time I was figuring out whether or not I was ace).

Furthermore, the Bay Area ace meetups tend to center around the East Bay. That’s because the main organizers live in the East Bay, and the East Bay has more than 3x the population of San Francisco (even if you combine San Francisco and San Mateo County, there are a lot more people in the East Bay), so it is very probable that there are more aces in the East Bay than in San Francisco. However, those of us in San Francisco would prefer to have more meetups over here. I knew that some of the aces living in the East Bay did not know parts of San Francisco away from the downtown BART stations very well, so I wanted to share my city with them.

Another reason is that the regular meetups tend to happen in cafés and casual eateries, where one is generally obligated to buy something from the business providing the meeting space. This is fine, but I wanted the option of meetups which did not require people to spend money at the venue (people still have to spend money on transit, but they have to spend money on transit anyway). And even aside from the (non)commercial aspect, I just wanted a wider variety of ace social activities.

Yet another reason is that I was doing it at a time when I was immersing myself in San Francisco history and going on a lot of City Guides walks (BTW, if you visit San Francisco, and you enjoy exploring city streets, I recommend taking at least one City Guides walk – if you have trouble moving up and down slopes, I recommend the “Historic Market Street: Path Of Gold” tour because it’s one of the flattest of the regular tours). For example, I led a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge shortly after reading a book about the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, so I was able to pepper the group with trivia (such as the three times the Golden Gate Bridge was almost destroyed – the most ridiculous near-destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge was during the 50th anniversary celebration when so many people packed the bridge that they could not move and the bridge flattened out, and if the weight capacity had not been increased by retrofits in 1986, the weight of all of those people would have broken the bridge).

What happened?

I ended up leading about 5 walks (I don’t remember the exact number). Unsurprisingly, aces who live in San Francisco were more likely to show up than anyone else. Sometimes a lot of people showed up, and one time, only one other person showed up.

Incidently, my blog post “The Fake Ruin, the Real Ruin, and the Ruin in Waiting” was inspired by the Ace Walks (though it was inspired by the places we walked through, not by the aces themselves).

Looking back, I have really fond memories of the experience. I’m not sure how other participants felt.

Why did it stop?

Well, the proximate reason I stopped leading them is that I started travelling more, which meant that I was not necessarily in San Francisco every month, and planning my own travels made me less incline to plan walks (for example, this post is scheduled to go up almost exactly around the time I plan to depart for this trip). And nobody else proposed their own Ace Walks. And once I fell out of the habit…

Also, I am not as intensely interested in increasing the frequency of local ace meetups as I was before. I’m not sure why.

I think it’s be nice to have the Ace Walks continue, though at this point, I think I would prefer it if someone else led them. However, maybe I’ll get around to leading some more at some point (I’m more likely to do this if aces in the Bay Area nudge me to do it).

The Valley of Life and Death: An Wuxia Novel with a Female Protagonist who May Be Aro-Ace

The cover of The Valley of Life and Death

I have found something amazing – an wuxia novel with a female protagonist who is not at all interested in romance. If you haven’t read as many wuxia novels as I have, you can’t appreciate just how amazing that is. It’s called The Valley of Life and Death (《生死谷》), by Zheng Feng (鄭丰). Did I mention that it’s amazing?

Anyway, before I continue, I’ll offer a brief overview of the story…

What Kind of Story Is This?

The story is set during the late Tang Dynasty (in the early 800s A.D.) when the imperial government of China is unstable.

Fei Ruoran is the daughter of a high-ranking minister. At the beginning of the story, she’s seven years old, and she’s friends with Wu Xiaohu, the bastard son of the prime minister. They are both captured, and thrust into a valley with about two hundred other children. They are trained in skills such as climbing and martial arts, and over the years, they have to pass the ‘three tests’. For example, the second test is that all of the surviving children are left in the valley for winter without food, and they will be kept there until only eight are still alive – and the most readily available source of food is each other’s bodies. Fei Ruoran and Wu Xiaohu just want to go home, but after years of being in that valley, will they be able to return?

If this sounds like The Hunger Games set in China in the Tang Dynasty, that’s because it sure feels like that (though, for what it’s worth, I think The Valley of Life and Death is better than The Hunger Games). in fact the preface specifically mentions that it’s like stories such as The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and The Drifting Classroom (and a few other examples which I don’t remember).

But Back to Talking about Fei Ruoran and Her Lack of Interest in Romance and Sex

The story starts when Fei Ruoran is seven years old, and (if one excludes the epilogue) ends when she is nineteen years old.

One would not expect a seven year old to be particularly interested in romance or sex, so at first, I had no idea that she would continue to be uninterested as a teenager, especially since this is an wuxia novel. As she grew older, I kept on expecting her to start showing interest in romance (though not necessarily sex because, again, this is wuxia), and it was not until the end that it turned out that, nope, she never becomes interested in romance at all in her entire life.

At the beginning of the novel, it seemed there would be two co-equal protagonists, Wu Xiaohu and Fei Ruoran, and that Wu Xiaohu (who is may) may even become the top protagonist. Thus, I was also surprised when Wu Xiaohu gradually became a less important character, and while he retained major character status all of the way to the end, the finale of the story is really about her, and not much about him. Though there are other wuxia novels centered on female protagonists (as well as Tiān​ Xiāng Piāo by Wolong Sheng in which the male protagonist dies halfway through the novel so the women who were in love with him are suddenly promoted to protagonist status)​​, this was still a pleasant surprise.

It is stated over and over again that Fei Ruoran only considers Wu Xiaohu to be a friend and a brother, and that she has no romantic feelings for him. At one point in the novel, (when she is about 15 years old IIRC) another character assumes she must have romantic feelings for Wu Xiaohu because she is so close to them, and she thinks that, not only is she certain that Wu Xiaohu feels like a brother to her, she does not even know what romance is. This is strongest evidence in the novel that Fei Ruoran may in fact be aromantic.

Zheng Feng’s afterword to the novel is very interesting, but I am just going to focus on the part where she talks about the lack of romance in the novel. She says in the afterword that she did try to work in a romance for Fei Ruoran, but it did not work, so it was taken out of the story. She also says, and this is a quote:

《生死谷》是我唯一一本沒有牽涉太多愛情的小說,大概因為我的人物都是整日在生死之間掙扎的殺手,愛情對他們來說,實在太過奢侈了吧?

The Valley of Life and Death is the only novel I’ve written which does not involve a lot of romance; that’s probably because the characters are all killers who spend the whole day struggling with matters of life and death; wouldn’t romance be too much of a luxury for them?

I am relieved that Zheng Feng put a question mark at the end of that sentence, indicating that she’s not really sure why there is not much romance. To me, and an aromantic, the explanation that they do not engage in romance because it’s a ‘luxury’ not make much sense. It could explain why they do not pursue romance, but it seems to me that alloromantic people will experience romantic feelings whether or not they can or want to pursue romance. Furthermore, since a lot of people compare this novel to The Hunger Games, I will say that the characters in The Hunger Games have even less opportunity to pursue romance, but that does not stop them.

For me, the most plausible explanation is that Fei Ruoran is simply aromantic. Especially since, unlike Katniss Everdeen, she never has anything to do with romance during her entire life.

At this point, I suppose I ought to say a few words about the major male characters, Wu Xiaohu and Tian Shaxing. I don’t know what their sexual or romantic orientation is. They both develop strong feelings for a female character other than Fei Ruoran, and it is not clear whether or not these feelings ever become romantic or sexual. Furthermore, Tian Shaxing is never a viewpoint character, which makes this kind of thing harder to judge.

By the way, did I mention that this is a great novel, possibly my favorite novel that I’ve read in 2017 so far? I’d love it even if there was no sign of the protagonist being aro or ace.

Anyway, more about the implications of Fei Ruoran being aromantic.

A good portion of the novel is about Fei Ruoran trying very hard to protect/help/keep alive her friends Tian Shaxing and Wu Xiaohu. I do not want to spoil the novel, so I’m going to have to find a very vague way to say this … you know how some aro people feel like there alloromantic friends accept the benefits of being their friend without investing as much in the friendship as the aro person because they do not value the friendship as much? That arguably happens in this novel, in that Wu Xiaohu and Tian Shaxing do not always invest as much in Fei Ruoran as she invests in them (again, my point would be clearer if I were more specific, but I do not want to spoil. If you can’t read Chinese but really want to know what I’m talking about, you can ask me and I will respond in the comments).

Unfortunately, I don’t think this counts as aro ace fiction.

Even though Fei Ruoran being aro ace makes way more sense to me than any other interpretation, and I will hella recommend this novel to anybody looking for an aro-friendly wuxia novel, I would not go so far as to put this on a list of fiction with aro ace characters. I don’t think fiction necessarily explicitly state that a character is aro or ace, nor do I think Word of Ace is necessary, but I think that, short of an explicit statement that a character is ace or aro, the experience of being ace and aro needs to be described clearly enough that it is recognizable. I think this novel is one step short of that, but it is still short of that. Thus, I would not, say, use it as an example for the ace tropes series.

That said, I will still see if any of the ace tropes described so far apply to this novel and … none of them apply.

Nonetheless, I am still super happy with this novel. And I would like to point out that I’ve have previously written about another Zheng Feng novel in the post A Novel Featuring a Non-Sexual/Non-Romantic Intimate Relationship, which goes to show that even Zheng Feng protagonists who do not seem to be aro or ace can have intense nonromantic personal relationships with someone of a different gender.