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.

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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.

Something about Bedsharing

Over the years, the post on this blog which has gotten the most views by far is “Can we reserve ‘sleep with’ for when we literally mean ‘sleep with’?” (the blog post which is in second place has not had even half as many views, according to WordPress). It’s a blog post which fits the theme of this month’s Carnival of Aces: “Kissing, Hand Holding, Bed Sharing, etc!”, so is there anything else I have to say about bedsharing?

When I was a young child, and my nuclear family only had two bedrooms, and each of those bedrooms had only one bed, obviously at least one bed was going to be shared, so sometimes I slept in the same bed as my mother, and sometimes I slept in the same bed as my father.

This is where most people I talk about this with will go “WTF why didn’t your parents share a bed?” The answer is that my mom strongly dislikes sleeping in the same bed as my father and will only do so if it’s the only way to get any kind of decent sleep (note that when I say ‘sleeping’ I mean it in the strictly literal sense). Since I grew up with this state of affairs, it seems so obvious to me that it does not feel like it needs mentioning, but strangers understandably do not know about my mother’s sleeping preferences.

Nowadays, if the three of us had to split two beds, we would not need to discuss it – my mom and I would share a bed, and my dad would get a bed to himself. Even though we have never said it explicitly, because I am now an adult, it no longer feels alright among the three of us for me to share a bad with my father, even in the very practical situation of there being fewer beds than people. Fortunately, my mother feels that I am less disruptive to her sleep than my father is.

However, when I was a very young girl, my family felt that there was no problem with me sleeping in the same bed as my father. It meant a lot to me, because in those days, my father got up early to go to work, and he only got back home at 7pm or 8pm, and he would be tired, so sleep was the only time I really got to be with him during weekdays.

I also have fond memories of sharing a bed with my mother. I do not remember why sometimes my bedroom arrangements were changed.

This was all before I even knew what sex was, so it never occurred to me that there could be anything wrong with me sharing a bed with my father.

Eventually, we got a third bedroom, so that was the end of bedsharing at home.

I do not think I will ever be innocent that way again. Even though I am asexual, I have to be aware of the perceptions of anyone who would share a bed with me, and to some extent, I have to be aware of the perceptions of third parties.

Ever since I became an adult, I have only shared beds / sleeping spaces for practical reasons.

A photo taken in Julian, San Diego County, California, USA

Usually, I do get at least something of my own sleeping space – for example, even though I slept on the same floor as a dozen other people during my night in Julian during my most recent hike, with a couple of strangers just inches away from me, I was still on my own sleeping pad and in my own sleeping bag. And the one occasion I can recall as an adult when I really did share a bed with someone, I was wishing I could have had a better defined personal space. So I think that my preference is to have always at least a minimal physical boundary marking my space when I sleep.

This is inside Seseok Shelter in Jirisan National Park, South Korea. The white marks on the floor mark where guests may lay down their sleeping bags/pads, and they are numbered. The night I stayed there, it was not full, but it was plenty crowded, and there were dozens of people sharing a (large) room with me.

During my many stays at various hostels, I have been in mixed dorms so many times I don’t think twice about, say, sleeping in the same bunk as a man I’ve never met before. Heck, I don’t mind sharing a mountain shelter with men I don’t know. I do sometimes opt for ‘female dorm’ because a) sometimes mixed dorms are not available and b) sometimes the female dorm is a better deal for some reason (I realize I have cis-privilege, and that this is more complicated for many genderqueer people).

This is Walami Cabin in Yushan National Park, Taiwan. This is the first place I ever truly slept alone, miles from any other human being. The fact that it was a building rather than a tent helped, but it was still quite an experience.

However, I do not like the opposite, which is sleeping alone. I do not mean sleeping alone in a bedroom within a unit occupied by other people – I do that all the time. I do not even mean sleeping alone in my own housing unit, since I lived like that for years – but I had to get used to it, and it was not an easy emotional adjustment at first. What I mean is sleeping when you are the only human within a mile, or within five miles. I’ve done it, and I can even sleep, but I always prefer having some people near me when I sleep. When I do a multiday hike solo, I am always relieved to find another person at my sleeping spot. And when I realize that nobody else is going to come, that I have to get through the night alone, I have to brace myself. Some of my best memories hiking the Pacific Crest trail have been getting to know the ONE person who just happens to sleeping in the same place as me, the person who spared me a night alone on the trail.

The main building of the Mount Laguna Lodge (which is also a grocery story and a post office) in Mount Laguna, San Diego County, California, USA.

When I stayed at Mount Laguna during my most recent hike, I stayed at the lodge for two nights, in a room which can occupy up to two people (they do not have any truly one-person rooms). I was hoping to get a roommate, not just to save money (though splitting the bill was certainly a major incentive to share), but so I could have a little companionship at night. That is why I chose a room with two small beds rather than a room with one big bed (the room rate was the same). The first night, I had the room to myself – which was not so bad, since it meant I had privacy – but I was happy when I got a roommate for the second night. We talked for hours.

So, I suppose I like sharing my shelter, but I am not so fond of sharing the bed itself.

What does any of this have to do with being asexual? My personal inclination is to say it does not have anything to do with asexuality. I do not have any sexual interest in bedsharing, but other people might, so I have to take that into account when I share a shelter. And I think the psychological benefits/costs which apply to me also apply to many people who are not ace. However, some potential considerations, positive (ZOMGOSH I want to be next to that hot person!!!!) or negative (I do not want to be tempted to have risky sex) may not apply to me because I am ace.

I don’t know what to call this post, but this post discusses anti-Jewish bigotry, anti-atheist bigotry, rhetoric, Steve Bannon, and at the very end, asexuality

This is for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces.

This is related to asexuality (or at least I think it is, you are free to disagree with me) but it is going to take a while for me to bring asexuality into this post.

I am Jewish. My mother’s family is Jewish (my father’s family is not Jewish, but that’s beside the point). My Jewish family has very diverse political views, and as such, we do not all agree about recent political events in the United States (for one thing, some of us are Americans, and some of us are not, which in itself tends to cause some differences in opinion). However, as far as I know, none of us has felt threatened as Jews because of the election of Trump. Furthermore, even given our varied political opinions, to the extent that I know my relatives views, we consider attempts to present Trump, whose daughter and grandchildren are Jews, and whose Jewish son-in-law is one of his most trusted advisers, as specifically an anti-Jewish bigot as something which delegitimizes the critique which is making that claim. Specifically speaking of myself, when someone lists ‘antisemitism’ as a reason to oppose Trump, I take that as a sign to consider their arguments which increased skepticism. And when a non-Jew tells me personally that I ought to feel scared as a Jew because of Trump without backing it up with reasoning, and especially without listening to me as a Jew … well, I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but it ain’t a good feeling.

Around the time of the election, I encountered a lot of claims that Steve Bannon is ‘antisemitic’. Even though I think most people who say this are claiming that Steve Bannon is bigoted against all semitic people, not just Jews, I am going to use the term ‘anti-Jewish’ rather than ‘anitsemitic’ for clarity, except when I am quoting somebody else.

As a I Jew, I was very interested in learning about Steve Bannon’s ‘antisemiticism’, so I did research. It was very frustrating that most of the people who were claiming that Steve Bannon is anti-Jewish did not present evidence. Sometimes, when I clicked a link which presumably would present evidence of Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry, it was just another website claiming that Steve Bannon is ‘antisemitic’ without presenting evidence (to be fair, the online essay I had intended to use an example has apparently made an edit an no longer says anything specific about Steve Bannon).

Ultimately, the evidence I did uncover was:

– During a divorce proceeding, Bannon’s ex-wife said that Bannon did not want their daughters going to schools with Jews, and Bannon denied the allegation. I think the allegations that Bannon committed domestic violence are more disturbing than the part about choosing a school for their daughters.
– Breitbart News has a lot of anti-Jewish bigoted readers, and a lot of anti-Jewish bigotry in the comments. I admit that I have, at most, read one article on Breitbart years back, so I have not looked at this evidence first-hand. However, I know that I have sometimes seen anti-Jewish screeds in the comments of progressive websites which I do not consider to have an anti-Jewish slant. I’m not going to judge a publication just based on its commentariat. Furthermore, during my attempt to find evidence of Steve Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry, I learned that Breitbart News was founded by Jews and has hired a lot of Jews so … it is going to be really difficult to convince me that a news organization which has so many Jews working for it is bigoted against Jews.

Mind you, my conclusion at this point is ‘the evidence that Steve Bannon is bigoted against Jews is insufficient’ not ‘Steve Bannon is *not* bigoted against Jews’. I think it is still possible that he is, and if anyone is aware of further evidence, feel free to bring it to my attention.

I also find it amazing that people are focusing so much on Bannon’s (and by extention, Trump’s) anti-Jewish bigotry when there are so many firmer grounds to critique them. I am going to bring up a grounds to critique Bannon which a) is much easier to substantiate with evidence and b) which almost nobody in the media I read has brought up – I discovered it on my own.

A few months back, I read what Steve Bannon said at a Q&A at a conference in the Vatican in 2014, and I re-read it while preparing this post. Anti-Jewishism? Steven Bannon does use the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ repeatedly, which is a problem because, well, I am going to quote the essay “The Superseded Jew”:

“Judeo-Christian”, of course, is a nonsense phrase that is 100% Christian and, where it does happen to overlap with Jewish perspectives, does so completely by accident. And where Jewish ideology clashes even a little bit with Christian hegemony, it is immediately jettisoned from the pantheon. So we get Katherine Harris telling folks that adhering to “Judeo-Christian values” means only electing Christian legislators (presumably, not Jews), and Duncan Hunter explaining that the reason Israel can have gay soldiers but America can’t is because the latter’s combat troops have, you guessed it, “Judeo-Christian values.” Effectively, the “Judeo-Christian” concept nails Jews from both ends: conservatives get to claim Jews (against our will) to obtain faux-diversity, liberals happily cede us to them so they can bash us as part of the oppressive Christian/conservative power structure they’re warring against. What’s lost in all of this is the simple fact that Christians and Jews are different. Ask 100 people about the “traditional Judeo-Christian position” on abortion or the death penalty. I guarantee 90% of the time you’ll get an answer reflective of traditional Christian conservatism – but one that will have nothing to do with the way those issues are treated in classical Jewish texts … Ultimately, the refusal to situate Jews inside their own narrative and experience, instead defining them as mere extensions of Whiteness or Europeaness or what have you, is a replication of the supersessionist ideology in which Jews were stripped of their subjectivity as human actors.

If anyone wants a longer-form explanation of the problem with the term ‘Judeo-Christian’, there is the essay “There Is No Such Thing as Judeo-Christian Values”.

However, the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ is also often used by people with good intentions who are simply uninformed, so the use of the term is not sufficient for me to label someone as ‘anti-Jewish’.

Here is a quote from that Steve Bannon speech (bolding is mine):

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war, really the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists, right?

Here’s another quote:

The other tendency [which is very disturbing] is an immense secularization of the West. And I know we’ve talked about secularization for a long time, but if you look at younger people, especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration.

This is clear anti-atheist bigotry. It is not at all subtle.

I admit, these days I pay almost no attention to atheist media/blogs, so for all I know, they are discussing this in depth (or screaming their heads off about this, which I think is justified in this case). However, a lot of the claims that Bannon is ‘antisemitic’ is not coming from Jewish media. And when I read/hear many ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ list all of the vulnerable groups which Bannon and the new administration threaten, such as Muslims, immigrants, LGBT people, Jews, women, disabled people, etc. – I do not recall any listing atheists as a vulnerable/targeted group.

I have spent months pondering this – why exaggerate the case that Bannon (and the Trump administration) is bigoted against Jews, and ignore the case that it is bigoted against atheists? Ultimately, I cannot read minds, but I do have a hunch.

People who oppose Bannon and his ilk want him to be an anti-Jewish bigot because then they can rhetorically tie him to the anti-Jewish bigotry of the Nazis and the Holocaust. In other words, they are trying to invoke Hitler as Boogeyman, rather than actually consider the implications for Jews alive today (if these people have solid evidence of Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry that I am completely unaware of, then I retract this comment).

It is true that some Jewish media publications are among those claiming that Bannon is an anti-Jewish bigot. To me, that smells just like when Jews who defend Israel’s far-right policies claim that anyone who critiques those policies is an anti-Jewish bigot. Those right-wing Israelis (and allies) are also trying to invoke the legacy of the Holocaust to silence their critics. I find it sad that some left-wing Jews are now sinking to their level.

By contrast, including atheists as a vulnerable group who is specifically targeted by Bannon’s rhetoric does not bring any such rhetorical advantage. On the contrary, many Americans (mistakenly) believe that Hitler was an atheist, and (not-so-mistakenly) associate atheism with Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.

The Democratic Party (and ‘liberals’ in general) only took up the cause of black people, LGBT people, disabled people, etc. because those people forced the Democrats/liberals to take their concerns seriously. And the Democrat establishment still only take those concerns seriously when marginalized people hold their feet to the fire. For whatever reason, atheists have not pulled this off yet. I think that is why atheists are not typically in the lists of vulnerable groups who Democrats and/or liberals supposedly intend to protect. This is not to say that atheists are any less deserving of protection than other marginalized groups, simply that we (yes, I am an atheist) have not gained the symbolic protection of the liberal elite yet (and LGBT people only got that ‘protection’ very recently, and that protection is still very … shaky).

Okay, I think it’s finally time to explain what the heck this has to do with asexuality.

Though more and more ‘social justice’ types are including aces among the marginalized groups they stand with, it is still more of the exception than the rule in ‘social justice’ circles. Mostly, we are still ignored, and sometimes deliberately excluded. And we are not even on the radar of mass political movements/ideologies. Often, asexuals do not conveniently fit into the rhetorical paradigms which people are used to using, such as the paradigms of ‘sexual liberation’, just as atheists do not fit as well as Jews into the rhetoric which some of Bannon’s critics want to use.

Also, a lot of the rhetoric used by trolling ‘alt-right’ types, such as calling people who were devastated by Trump’s election ‘special snowflakes’, is rhetoric which I first became aware of when people, often people who identified as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’, were using it against aces. I do not know where this type of rhetoric originally came from, but I see common patterns.

I almost decided to sit out of this Carnival of Aces for various reasons, and I still feel that this post is rougher than I want it to be. And I feel bad about posting it on February 28 (even though it is being published on February 27 in my timezone) and wished I had finished this a little earlier. I hope I will at least be able to write a post more appropriate for the 70th anniversary of the February 28th Massacre and publish it before February 28 ends in my time zone. However, I decided it was still better to put this out in its flawed form than to keep these thoughts stewing in my mind unexpressed.

The Most Different Kinds of Ace Characters I Can Think of

This is for the January Carnival of Aces – Many Ways to Be Ace.

As anyone who has been following my blog for the past few months knows, I’ve been binge-reading ace fiction lately. So, in response to the prompt, I was thinking ‘which of these ace characters is the MOST different from the others?’

Of course, there are many ways characters can be different from each other. A 6000 year old elf who lives in Seattle in 2013 is really different from a human detective for hire who lives on a different planet in an age of interplanetary travel, but that’s not the kind of difference which I consider interesting for this kind of question.

Going through the list from the prompt – “ethnicity, religion, romantic orientation, gender, background, career, etc.”

1) Ethnicity – a plurality of the ace characters in the fiction I’ve been reading lately are white people from the United States who seem to identify more strongly with whiteness than ethnicity.
Now, here it’s tricky. I don’t want to imply that USA-white people who do not identify strongly with an ethnicity are a default, and that everyone else who deviates from that, whether they are white people who do identify with an ethnicity (Italian-American, for example), or who are not white, or who are not American, are some deviation from that default. On the other hand, there is a reason why lists such as ‘Murder Mystery Stories with POC protagonists’ are more useful than lists such as ‘Superhero Stories with white protagonists from the USA’.
So, to acknowledge that being white from the USA is not at all a default, I will throw in one story with a white-from-the-USA ace character: Crush.
Then, I offer a list of characters from stories who are either a) white yet non-American or b) are not white (note: this list is not exhaustive because characters’ ethnicities are not always clear OR I’ve forgotten):
Ball Caps and Khakis, ace character is Korean-American
Candy Land, ace character is from post-USA North America (i.e. the United States no longer exists as a nation)
Fourth World, ace characters are Martians, one of the Martians is of Mexican descent
Blank Spaces, ace character is white Canadian
The Painted Crown, ace character is from pseudo-medieval-Europe
We Go Forward, ace character is white Australian
To Terminator With Love, ace character is Asian-American (most likely Chinese-American, but it would not have made much of a difference to the story if the ace character were, say, Malagasy-American as opposed to Asian-American)
The Life and Death of Eli and Jay, ace character is Siksika (a First Nation ethnicity in Canada)
The Zhakieve Chronicles, both ace characters are from (and live in) pseudo-medieval-Eastern-Europe
Open Skies, ace character lives in space opera with fictional planets
Quicksilver, ace character is Canadian and, well, to say more would be spoilerish.

2) Religion – the religion for most of the ace characters in the fiction I’m reading is not defined. The only ace fiction story I’ve read in which religion is significant to the story is “Cold Ennaline”.

3) Romantic Orientation Aha! Jackpot! Most of the ace fiction stories I’ve been reading are published by LGBTQ+ presses which require or at least strongly encourage romance. Thus, it is no surprise that the most common romantic orientation in the stories I’ve been reading is homoromantic. Even though most of the LGBTQ+ presses would accept a M/F romance as long as the characters are not cishet (for example, an M/F romance featuring trans characters), they definitely publish way more same-sex romances, even for ace characters. In fact, I can’t think off hand of any fiction stories I’ve read with a heteromantic or biromantic ace character off-hand (though maybe I’ll remember something later). As far as, say, demiromantic, or quoiromantic … well, there are characters which arguably fit those labels, but none that I would feel confident putting on a list.
There have been a few stories with aromantic characters, which I will list here:
“Any Way the Wind Blows”
Open Skies
Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story
Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart
“The Galloway Road” (actually, I’m not sure, but IIRC, the character seemed aromantic)
We Go Forward

4) Gender – well, some ace characters are (cis) male and some are (cis) female. More male characters than female characters (probably because I’ve been mostly drawing from LGBTQ+ presses, and they publish so much more M/M than anything else it’s ridiculous), but still plenty of ace female characters to choose from. The only genderqueer ace character I’ve encountered in fiction so far is Blake in the Assassins series. I’ve only read the first book, in which Blake is just a minor character and SEEMS to be male, but the second book supposedly reveals that Blake is actually intersex, agender, and greysexual.

5) Background – this one is so broad I am not even going to try.

6) Career – hmmmm. I don’t want to list out all of the different careers I’ve seen ace characters have, so I’ll just select a few which jump out at me.
Blank Spaces – art gallery worker / painter
“Any Way the Wind Blows” – farming
Assassins: Discord – assassin (which is what one might expect from a novel called ‘ASSASSINS’)
To Terminator With Love – electrical engineering student at MIT
“Bender” – BDSM rent boy (notable mainly because rent boy is a rather unusual career for an asexual to pursue)

7) etc. – in here, I am going to put in Personality.
Ace characters in fiction tend to be intellectual, not be very social, not have many friends, be ‘introverts’, tend to be emotionally reserved, etc. To be fair, a lot of people who identify in real life as ‘ace’ are also like this. However, I like seeing ace characters … who are not like that. I’d like to see more ace characters who are loud, bold, brash, socially engaged, etc. – which I suppose I could sum up as being ‘extroverted’ (though I don’t particularly like the term).
Here is a list of stories where the ace character breaks out of the most common personality molds of ace characters in some sense:
How to Be a Normal Person (ace character is more sociable and socially engaged than the non-ace protagonist)
Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart (ace character thinks acting like a vigilante – including shooting people with his gun and interrogating witnesses even though he is not a law enforcement officer – is a good idea)
“As Autumn Leaves” – ace character used to be a cheerleader, and though she has a lack of friends, that is not due to her social inclinations

So, there you go. I hope that this is useful, or at least interesting, to somebody.

I do not need more privacy as an asexual, but the privacy I want is a bit different

The call for submissions for this month’s Carnival of Aces with the theme of ‘privacy’ includes this prompt:

-Do you think privacy or the right to privacy is more important to you than it would be for another sexuality or for someone who identifies as straight?

My short answer is ‘no’. I think privacy would be just as important to me if I had a different sexuality, even if I were heterosexual. However, just because I don’t think asexuality affects how important privacy to me is, it does affect which kinds of privacy are more important to me.

For example, I don’t have sex, and I think the fact that I am asexual is a major reason for my lack of sexual activity. Most people, at least in my culture, strongly prefer to have sex in private, and generally seek much more privacy for their sexual activities than I do for my, say, reading activities. That includes finding spaces to actually do the deed (I am way more okay with reading in public than most people are with having sex in public) as well willingness to discuss in detail (I am way more okay with discuss my reading habits in detail than many people are with discussing their sexual activities in detail). There is a need for some level of privacy with reading habits – see this about the US Patriot Act and Libraries to learn a bit more about that – but generally, people consider privacy around sex to be more important than privacy around reading. One of the effects of this is that I have a higher tolerance of communal living than a lot of other adults (of course in much of East Asia, people tend to live communally yet pay for privacy for sexual activity by going to motels – even motels which don’t market themselves as ‘love’ motels often charge a separate rate for staying at the motel for just an hour or two than for staying overnight).

However, the fact that I am asexual, and in particular, because I am aromantic, I keep some things private which I might otherwise not keep private. I generally don’t mind if people know I am asexual or aromantic (with some exceptions) but I usually do not reveal that I am an aro/ace because I do not want to go through the tiresome Asexuality 101 / Aromanticism 101 when I don’t expect to have a close relationship with someone. Generally, if I do not volunteer information, people just assume that I am straight and don’t ask much about it. However, on some occasions, I will dodge certain questions because I want to avoid explaining that I am aromantic (for me, aromanticism tends to be the sticking point more than asexuality).

This is, of course, a reflection of my individual situation, not a representative portrait of asexual experiences with privacy.

In short, I don’t think asexuality affects how important privacy is to me, but it does influence what I keep private and what I do not.

Thoughts on Relationship Anarchy

This is for the November 2016 Carnival of Aces.

Like many people in the asexual blogosphere, I was introduced to the concept of Relationship Anarchy via The Thinking Aro (which was then called The Thinking Asexual), and traced it from there back to Andie Nordgren. At the time, I thought it was interesting and cool theory.

However, it has the classic problem which Yogi Berra describes thus: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

The theory of relationship anarchy – at least as it is described in Andre Nordgren’s manifesto which I linked above – is vague enough that it is easy to project whatever one wants to project onto it. As an aromantic asexual who isn’t interested in coupled relationships, what I like to project onto it is a refusal to consider sexual-romantic coupled relationships the most important personal relationships. However, when getting into deeper discussions on relationship anarchy, it becomes clear that people interpret it in different ways. For example, in this post, Sciatrix says:

One of the things that bugs me about “relationship anarchy” is that you just can’t devote equal amounts of emotion and time to everybody in your life. I don’t have all that much free time, honestly, and I have even less that I really want to spend socializing. There are only so many relationships I am capable of maintaining at a time, and I’m going to invest more energy into the ones that are really super important to me. And that’s okay.

Thus, Sciatrix interprets relationship anarchy as being about devoting “equal amounts of emotion and time to everybody in your life”. It’s understandable that Sciatrix rejects that, but I think just about any proponent of ‘relationship anarchy’ rejects that too because it is utterly and obviously impractical.

However, in the comments to that post, we find:

I don’t think relationship anarchy requires spending equal time with everyone- in fact, I’d question why we judge a relationship’s value by how much time we spend with it. I think relationship anarchy is more about seeing your relationships as not comparable. A relationship where I go out once a month with philosophy friends and discuss papers is fundamentally different from this other relationship where I cuddle and watch a movie once a week with a person, and they (either because of the activities, or more likely the people in them) are too different for me to compare and rank in a meaningful way- even if I spend a lot more time in and maintaining the cuddle/movie relationship.

Thus, Captain Heartless interprets relationship anarchy as being about not comparing and ranking relationships. I am not sure how that concept of relationship anarchy is useful. After all, most people who value sexual-romantic relationships about all feel that it is natural, so if you tell them ‘don’t compare/rank relationships’ they’ll say ‘of course I don’t compare/rank relationships’ and then continue to ‘naturally’ treat sexual-romantic relationships as being more important that other kinds of relationships.

Another comment on that post is:

Also, my understanding of RA is it doesn’t rank significant relationships, not not ranking relationships at all. Granted, an acquaintance I’m on good terms with is less important to me than my SOs, and a common friend is somewhere in between. I think the spirit of RA is not ranking relationships based on arbitrary rules, e.g. “My husband’s needs always come first, because marriage should be the #1 priority.” However, if you just naturally click better with one person than another and see the former as more important, that’s totally okay.

So, according to Eponine, relationship anarchy still ranks relationships – it distinguishes between ‘significant’ and non-significant relationships. Eponine herself lists three categories – significant other, common friend, and acquaintance. She says that what distinguishes relationship anarchy from mainstream approaches is that it’s not based on ‘arbitrary rules’.

See what I mean about people interpreting relationship anarchy however they want, and ending up with such different interpretations of relationship anarchy that they are not talking about the same thing?

Anyway, how does relationship anarchy work out in practice? I do not have personal experience with putting ‘relationship anarchy’ into deliberate practice, but what I’ve read about people describing their own experiences with relationship anarchy tend to be negative. The most detailed writing I have found in this vein is Rotten Zucchini’s series, including this post.

In conclusion, I find ‘relationship anarchy’ to be too vague to be useful.