alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Hwaet! I was on Twitter the other day when I intercepted a tweet from Dvorah saying “My next book is going to feature an asexual character, so if anyone has suggestions for what to do/not to do, I’d love to talk about it!”

My first thought was “I am an asexual and I have written a novel featuring an asexual character, which several people have told me represented the ace experience recognizably well. I could probably help!” So I said as much. Dvorah said “I’m mainly trying to get a sense of any big Nonos for writing ace, and the commonalities among differing experiences,” which struck me as something I could do, so I started typing out my first thoughts on the subject.

But then my second thoughts were “but I already know that I can’t speak for all aces any more than one person could speak for all straight people.” I’ve been in enough inter-ace disputes by now to know that we’re really diverse as a grouping.

So then I thought “Well, perhaps what I should do is type up my own thoughts, and then put the whole thing on my blog so that other aces could join in and speak up for themselves.” And that’s where I find myself now.

Below is my response to the initial query, unfiltered through my second thoughts, but I invite any other aces who might be reading to weigh in with their own takes, and either correct me, back me up, or add things I’ve overlooked, as necessary.

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Off the top of my head I would say the things to avoid were any assumption that an ace character must be inhuman in some way – where we are depicted at all it’s often as robots or aliens or childlike innocent beings whose understanding of the complexities of life are poor. We’re not cold and unemotional. We’re not incapable of having crushes and starry eyed romantic feelings (unless we’re also aromantic, which presumably isn’t the case for your character.)

On the other side of things we are missing that orientation towards sex with other people that other orientations have. So we’re unlikely to ever be checking anyone out, sexually. We’re usually going to be completely unaware of how others react to us sexually. We’ll put on nice clothes to look smart and well dressed, and be surprised when that equates to other people as ‘trying to look sexy’ – because sexiness is just not on our minds as a thing to be aware of.

If someone else is wearing a ‘sexy’ outfit, I would probably be like ‘are you sure you’re comfortable in that? Doesn’t all that leather kind of chafe?’ And they’ll be ‘but look at my butt!’ and I’ll be ‘Yeah, it’s a butt. It holds up your legs. So?’ Because to me there’s nothing sexy about sexy clothes or sexy body parts. They’re neutral, like pieces of furnature. They might be pretty, like a particularly nice carpet or lawn chair, but they’re not something to get sexually worked up about.

I personally don’t like dirty jokes or innuendo. It jolts me, because every time it happens it reminds me that human life is driven by this big dumb stupid factor that isn’t even all that important. Every time, it smacks me in the face with the fact that I’m abnormal because I’m missing something that everyone else has. (But I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I don’t want it for myself, I just wish people would stop rubbing my face in it all the time.)

On the other hand, I know there are aces out there who are fascinated by dirty jokes. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s in a spirit of research or something. You’d have to ask them.

When I wrote Aidan from Blue Steel Chain, I wrote him without a sexual fantasy life, because I didn’t want readers who were unaware of things like autochorissexualism to get confused about how someone who was asexual could have fantasies that involved other people boning. But surveys of slash writers and queer romance writers seem to indicate there’s a large number of aces for whom sharing the sexuality of imaginary characters is – I can’t think of a better way to put this – is the closest thing they come to having a sexuality of their own. (I’m only allowing myself to say this, because I’m in this group, so I’m talking about myself.)

It still doesn’t mean we find actual people sexually attractive, mind you. If offered the chance to somehow become part of that fictional world and join in, I would go “ew, no!” Because I’m not actually attracted to either of those people. I’m just imaginatively sharing an experience that I personally don’t have and can’t have in any other way.

So what I’m saying here is that there are aces who have a sexual fantasy life, and there are aces who don’t. It’s just their sexual fantasy life almost certainly doesn’t feature themself having sex with anyone.

Equally, there are aces who masturbate and aces who don’t. Masturbation doesn’t involve finding another person sexually attractive, so your character wouldn’t have to turn in his ace card at the door if it’s something that he did. He just probably wouldn’t be thinking about any real life people – not even his lover – while he was doing it.

However, I’d also say that a level of sex-revulsion is quite common. It’s normal for a person to have a cycle of responsiveness from “we could do sex if you wanted” to “don’t even talk about that gross stuff in the same room as me,” in the same way that presumably allosexual people are not equally up for it all the time.

This is one reason why we insist that it’s an orientation rather than a behaviour, btw, because it’s not about what you do, it’s about the way you think and the things you notice and value in the world. Some aces can actually enjoy the act of sex – because an orgasm will happen if sex is done well and all your bits are in working order, and an orgasm is… nice. It’s enjoyable. But the drive to have sex is not there. It’s entirely possible for an ace to have great sex with someone they love the night before, and still wake up in the morning with no feeling that sex is important or valuable or that they particularly want to have it again. There are many more important things to be concentrating on.

We’re also no more a group-think than any other orientation, so you’ll have aces who are outgoing and bubbly and cuddly and fascinated with everyone’s relationships and great at giving advice, through to aces who are introverted and touch-averse and really love Star Wars. The second sort are the stereotype at present, so if your character is like that, you may get accused of writing a stereotype. However, I am the second sort, so you wouldn’t actually be wrong.

In a similar way, you’re going to get stick whether or not you show the ace character having sex with the non-ace character. A lot of aces will be “oh, fuck it, why are we always the ones who have to compromise? Why can’t the allo-sexual character give up sex for the ace instead?!” And a lot of other ones will be “I’ve had a happy 20 year relationship with my partner. Sex is not that important so why wouldn’t I occasionally do it to please the one I love?”

I am also the second sort in this hypothesis, but I can see the first people’s point. It is vanishingly rare to see a love story where the ace doesn’t have to consent to sex. I think ace readers would find it immensely liberating to read a story where it was the allosexual partner who had to conform their expectations to what the ace character wanted rather than the other way around. OTOH, your allosexual readers are going to find that very challenging!

I think it’s interesting to write a romance where sex is the main conflict rather than a force pulling the characters together. You can’t just have the characters gravitating together by sexual chemistry – there have to be other reasons for why they would fall in love. Shared goals and perils, genuine admiration for each other’s characters, that kind of thing. And that kind of thing has to be compelling enough to counteract the fact that they have mismatched sexual needs. Also the mismatched sexual needs will need to be negotiated and renegotiated every time with continuing respect and love. That problem will never go away. It will always have to be managed and lived with, but it can be done successfully if the love is enough.

Heh. I don’t know if that helps. Now I read it back it sounds angrier than I expected. I thought I was very chill about it, but it turns out it can be quite alienating, living in a world where you just don’t get, at all, that one big thing that everyone else claims is a basic human drive.

Notice on Brighton beach

And with that I throw open the comments for anyone else who wants to weigh in or ask more questions 🙂


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I have a book recommendation for you!

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I read this recently when I was not very well, and it made me cry in several places. On a basic level, it’s the story of the clan composer of a conquered people whose music has been taken without his permission by the court composer of the conquerors. He comes to court to protest the theft and ends up falling in love with the thief (and slowly coming to terms with the dominant culture.)

Recently, thanks to many reviews of my own stuff that went “cut down with the flowery language for crying out loud!” I’ve been pruning my own language back as far as it will go and learning to rely a bit more on a surprising metaphor or two. So it took me a while to get back into the sheer gorgeousness of the language of this. But the gorgeousness is in place and apt for a story that deals with the intricacies of a court setting whose intricacy and studied beauty reminds me of Imperial Japan.

Once you get into the flow of it again, you find you’ve been slowed down enough to start appreciating all the questions of culture and colonialism the book takes on in the middle of a love story.

I’m not doing this justice! I’m trying to be all intellectual about it and I shouldn’t, because what I really loved about it was that it’s a story set in a culture of people with men, women, hermaphrodites and neuters, and although the love story is between a man (Amet) and a Third (Dancer) – a hermaphrodite – it’s a poly relationship, because the Third is already in a sexless relationship of intimacy and love with a Fourth (Always Falling) – a neuter. And throughout the book, the relationship with Always Falling is acknowledged as equally important to Dancer, if not more so, than the love story, and it’s clear that Always Falling is not going to be usurped, squashed out or forgotten. It’s clear that unless they are fully involved with the relationship, there will not be a happy ending.

The last time I read a book where I felt that there was a character who I could latch onto as being like me was The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin. And that was Therem Harth rem ir Estraven – a person who was fully gender neutral and sexless about 90% of the time. I feel very fortunate that I’ve now met Always Falling, and that they are written by an author who can handle language with as much beauty as LeGuin and who simply *gets* them – gets their integrity and importance as a human being in a way even LeGuin didn’t.

I’m so delighted to hear that the next book is the love story between Amet and Always Falling! I’ll be getting that one on the day it’s out.

Basically, this is not a well put together review. What I’m trying to say is that if you are agender and asexual, and you’re thirsty for representation, and you’ve never (or rarely) seen anything like yourself in any form of media, this book not only gives you representation but also does it in a work of great beauty. It could not be better!

(Though as a niggling little point, I don’t personally like ‘it’ as a pronoun. I’d have rather had ‘them’ or ‘ze’ or something. I find it hard to reclaim ‘it’ from non-personhood. But I’m not going to quibble about that when everything else is so damn good :) )


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Or: A guest post on The Novel Approach (with giveaway) celebrating the release of Blue Steel Chain–

BlueSteelChain_500x750

When False Colors came out in 2009, I still thought I was straight. I remember the furor that was kicked up by the marketing campaign for that book, which was released as part of a four book attempt to take m/m romance to the mainstream under the ill advised marketing slogan “m/m romance by straight women for straight women.” The four authors involved were somewhat startled by this because they were Erastes, Lee Rowan, Donald Hardy and me. That’s two bisexual women, a gay man, and an asexual person who really still isn’t quite sure about this whole gender business.

I’ve digressed. My point was that at the time I didn’t know that asexuality existed. I thought I was the token straight in that group. I’d always been aware that I’d never been very good at being straight. I’d always felt that there were vast areas in our culture that I just wasn’t getting. The whole business with sex, for example. What was the attraction? What was the point? I could see that it seemed to be a huge driving force in human interaction, and yet for me it was a blank space. Did that mean I wasn’t human? I sometimes felt that way.

I defined myself in negatives. I wasn’t a woman but I wasn’t a man. So I probably wasn’t trans. I wasn’t gay or bi or poly, but I really wasn’t very straight either.

How could a person who was so nothing ever actually exist at all?

That may not sound like an important question, if you’re the kind of concrete realist who can then go on to say “and yet I do, and my existence is valid.” But as an artist and an INTP, I’m a pattern maker by nature, and when I didn’t fit into any of the available patterns it did tend to lead me down the road of “then you must be a mistake. If there’s no space for you in this world, perhaps the world would be better off without you.”

An interesting thing that happened to me recently was that I began to go to a therapist (for non-writing related reasons). On one occasion I said to her “My depression hasn’t been so bad the last three years.” Another time I said “I found out about asexuality about three years ago, and that cleared up a lot of questions I’d had.” She was the one who said “You don’t think the timing of those two things is significant?”

I think it probably is.

I’m supposed to be talking about Blue Steel Chain, aren’t I? But this backstory is relevant to that book. By the time I discovered that asexuality was an actual thing, I had already lived for forty seven years. I had lived for 47 years not knowing that I wasn’t simply a failure at being a human being.

Asexuality is known as one of the ‘invisible orientations,’ because there is so little awareness in society that it exists at all. Asexual people can go their whole lives asking “what’s wrong with me?!” and never get an answer.

Naturally once I’d found this out, I knew I had to do something about it. I had to spread the news and let other people know that they too were not as broken as they might have thought. So I wrote Blue Steel Chain, a romance in which one of my main characters is asexual.

I thought I was writing it mainly for me – mainly for the thrill of thumbing my nose at all those people who assumed that I was writing romance for the sex. “I’ll show them what I really think about sex!” I thought. “That’ll teach them.”

(Because I’m clearly a very mature person these days.)

What I didn’t anticipate was that the moment I said I was writing a book with an ace main character, so many people would start saying “Yes! I feel represented. I can’t wait!”

I really hope I don’t let you down. There are as many different ways to be ace as there are people, and Aidan can’t be all of them. But I hope those of you who are ace can recognize something in him and go “Ha! Yes! It’s just like that.” And I hope those who aren’t will find it fun anyway, and useful for knowing how to deal with the Aces you meet in your life.

Judging from the latest surveys of slash writers/readers I think there are a disproportionate number of us amongst m/m fans. So the chances are you will meet one of us sooner or later. Be prepared!

 


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Ace-logo4

I’ve always been weird. I remember my parents being concerned because I dressed so much like a boy. “Don’t you want to look attractive?” they would say, and I would think “Why on Earth would I want to look attractive? I don’t want to attract anybody.”

At university, I was briefly locked in a rivalry with another girl over the affections of a boy with lovely, long, coal black wavy hair. Eventually, because he apparently didn’t really have a preference, he told us that he would go out with whoever would have sex with him that night. I could see no point in that and slept alone. He went out with my rival, and I was briefly angry about the shallow and unfair nature of his selection criteria. But a couple of months later he cut his hair and I realized he’d never been much of a catch anyway.

In my fourth year at university – when I was doing a Masters degree in the Cult of the Horse in Early Anglo Saxon England – I had a conversion experience and became a Christian. If I thought about sex after this, it was simply to assume that my total disinterest in sleeping with anyone was a case of natural virtue. But really, I didn’t think about it. I was busy and happily employed thinking about the Saxons, playing AD&D, listening to Prog Rock and writing my first novel, and I didn’t have any time for or interest in all that. It didn’t seem strange to me at all that I didn’t want to have sex with anyone. I didn’t feel I was missing out. My life was full and lacked nothing.

It wasn’t until I was out of university, settled in London and established in my first job that I began to feel that perhaps I was doomed to be alone for the rest of my life. They said that if you didn’t have a boyfriend in university, you never would. And although I still had no desire to sleep with anyone, I started to feel very much that I would like to have someone to love – someone I could settle down with and share the rest of my life with, in sickness and in health. I prayed that God would bring the right person into my life, resigned it to Him, on the understanding that if He chose for me to be single and celibate all my life, I would accept that with good grace, and about a month later I met the man who was to become my husband.

Because I had no notion that anything like asexuality existed, I naturally assumed that when I got married my sex drive would kick in and of course I would want my husband. I loved him very much, and I was delighted and disbelieving and overwhelmed by the fact that he loved me back. It stood to reason that if sex was a basic drive for every human, I would have it too.

But I didn’t. And now that I was married I went from being ‘virtuous’ to being ‘frigid’. That wasn’t a nice thing. I had to face the fact that if sex was a basic drive for every human, then I must not be human.

I had also struggled with my gender when I was growing up. For a long time I thought I was transgender. I wanted to be a boy. I had always found m/m stories hot, and m/f stories skeevy. So I thought “Perhaps I don’t want sex because I’m not the right sex myself? Perhaps what I want is to be male so I can have the kind of sex I find it hot thinking about?

When I found the slash and m/m writing community, I discovered that there’s a name for that, and it is ‘girlfag’. So for a while I thought ‘maybe that’s what I am.’

But it seemed out of true to ascribe myself an identity where sex was central, when the truth was that for me sex has always been so peripheral that most of the time I forget it’s a factor at all. I am always, continually surprised and put off by the number of ways people will find to make a conversation about sex when it wasn’t, and that just derails from the genuinely interesting thing you were trying to talk about instead.

So the more I thought about that, the less right it seemed.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I came across a mention of asexuality. I no longer remember where, but I followed it to AVEN and I found out that there was a community of other people who would also genuinely rather have chocolate than sex. When I read their discussion boards, I discovered that these were people who thought the same way I did – people who also forgot sex, who didn’t find it particularly interesting. People who looked at human interaction and zeroed in on all the other things that make us human.

At first I wondered if this too was a label that would fit less well the more I thought about it, but it hasn’t been that way. The more I’ve reflected on myself and my childhood, on the way I interact with the world now, on the basic thought processes of my mind, the more I’ve found that the label fits. It explains things. Finally, after 49 years of feeling that there was not a box for me – that I was inhuman, incomplete, badly made, wrong, frigid and useless – I’ve found that no. I’m actually just queer.

I find it typical of myself that I should be queer in a way that isn’t universally considered ‘properly’ queer – that I should be queer in an invisible way. After a lifetime of being weird, after searching for a label that was so carefully hidden that it took me half a century to find it, it’s fitting that the label I found is still relatively unknown. I’m not getting into whether we should be considered part of the queer community or not. After having lived so many years thinking I was uniquely broken, it’s revelation enough for me to know that an Ace community exists and that I’m actually not the only one in the world after all.

This week is asexual awareness week, so I am making this post to say that I am aware I am asexual, and I’m very glad about that.

We are apparently 1% of the population, which means there are as many of us as there are redheads in the world. That’s… actually quite a few. If any of this sounds at all familiar to you, I can do no better for you than to pass you over to AVEN where you too can find out you’re not alone. If you’ve felt peculiar all this time and you’ve tried to find out whether you were some desultory version of gay or trans or one of those better known labels, but they’ve never quite fitted either, you may be looking for this very label yourself. (Or one of the others on the asexual spectrum, such as grey-a, demisexual or aromantic.) Go and find out! You may actually, finally have come home.

 

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Look! We even have a flag :)


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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