It’s Asexual Awareness Week.
I’m asexual. It’s not something that I roll into my daily routine, but it’s absolutely a filter through which I view my life and, more importantly, my art and writing. The main character of my current visual novel project is asexual. It’s a big part of the story. A story that happens to be, at its heart, a romance story in a medium that’s driven by them. So, how do I, a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction, approach writing a story about sex and attraction and a character who doesn’t feel it either?
How Attraction Works
First, we start with a basic understanding of the different types of attraction and the split model, especially between romantic and sexual. In other words, you can have one without the other and feel them in different capacities for different genders. So, already, we establish that a person (or character, in this case) can feel romantic attraction without the sexual element. Think of any rated G romance story with no sexual content. A Disney movie or a fluff piece. It’s not nearly as foreign a concept as it seems on the surface. Disavow yourself of the notion that sexual contact is the ultimate confirmation of a romantic arc, and you’re halfway to understanding how one can exist so easily without the other.
The second point of consideration is the separation of “action” from “attraction.” A lack of attraction to something does not negate a desire or willingness to engage in a related action. Maybe you’ve never actively craved apple pie, but you’re not going to turn it down if someone serves it to you. Attraction can work the same way. This gives a writer leave to have asexual or aromantic characters engage in sexual and romantic acts even if they don’t experience the typical attractions related to those acts.
But should you write them that way? And I think that might be the more important question then how.
Applying the Parameters and Practice of Asexuality
If you’re writing a character who’s been straight through the entirety of your story, then, suddenly they find themselves attracted to or engaging in sexual activities with someone of the same sex, it’s going to raise considerable questions both within the story and meta-textually. Same thing for an aro/ace character experiencing allosexual attraction and activities. There should be a reason for it, a certain congruence of character. Now that reason can just be “because” or “they wanted to” or “they don’t know either.” I’m not saying the “explanation” needs to be tidy. People aren’t tidy. But having a solid idea of an asexual character’s internal rules and exceptions within their relationship to sex and attraction helps you figure out how they would navigate a romantic relationship.
In The D (Stands for Demon), the main character, Stella, is asexual. She’s not aromantic, however, so she’s still in a place where she’s casually seeking out possible long-term romantic partnership. The box around her asexuality is fairly firm in most places, but there are areas where it’s slightly blurred. She doesn’t experience sexual attraction as a rule, but she’s found a soft spot in an occasional attraction to members of a specific non-human species (because that’s a fun thing you can do with fantasy settings). She’s fairly apathetic about sexual acts but usually doesn’t mine engaging in them as part of a romantic relationship.
Though there’s obviously more to the plot, the story is ostensibly a romance. So this all absolutely comes up. In some of the routes it’s a bigger deal than others, but it’s a factor in every possible relationship. She’s tired of feeling like she has to give more of herself than the other party. She wants to be validated by the people she’s dating. She wants to be understood the way she is without feeling like she has to be something she’s not or do things she doesn’t want to do. All normal things to want. It’s just slightly more complicated for her because, at a visceral level, her desires are a little more in conflict with others’ than most.
Stella’s romance, then, becomes a story of compromise and limitations. But also a story of refusing to compromise and being firm in your limitations. It was important to me as ace writer, that the “lesson” of Stella’s romance wasn’t that she was “broken” or “needed to change” or “just hadn’t found the right one, yet.” She feels how she feels and she is what she is and she deserves someone that lets her be that without forcing their expectations on her.
The Language of Romance without Sexual Attraction
Something that comes a little more natural to me as an ace writer creating an ace character is the language of Stella’s attraction. She appreciates aesthetics but doesn’t necessarily find people “attractive” in the more common sense. She doesn’t feel one of those burning, rising desires you read about in romance novels. There are no rippling muscles or smouldering stares or, heaven forbid, throbbing manhoods. A couple of the routes actually read fairly platonic well into the “romance.” This is, in-part, a stylistic choice, but also an effect of the character being disinclined toward sexually explicit thoughts as part of the nature of her attraction.
I also write Stella just a little obtuse to certain cues. She doesn’t always pick up on when people are flirting with her. When she does notice it or feel a tinge of attraction, it’s noteworthy. She remarks upon it and its strangeness. And this isn’t in a naive, teen romance way. She’s a woman on the cusp of thirty, and she has experience that she can test these unsure feelings against. There’s no fear in her uncertainty, just novelty.
As the romance progresses and she’s engaging in semi-sexual acts, her thoughts on these trend toward the objective. There are no long, lingering descriptions of hot, passionate kisses because that’s just not how her brain works. Everything’s a little more mellow, quieter without seeming childish. Again, a stylistic and character choice, but one made because she’s asexual, like me.
Do these trappings make for better or worse romance as a genre? I couldn’t tell you. Not yet. But I want to see myself in the kinds of stories I enjoy, so I’m putting myself there. And that’s about the best I can do, right now.