Hello everyone and welcome to Day 4 of Let’s Talk About Asexuality – my five day blog series surrounding the topic of asexuality! If you missed day 1’s post, titled Introduction & Ace 101, click here. If you missed day 2’s post, titled My Personal Experience, click here. If you missed day 3’s post, titled Diverse Ace Experiences, click here.
Today’s post is pretty similar to yesterday’s post except I’m going to be interviewing authors instead! All 6 of these authors fall somewhere on the ace spectrum so I wanted to include their different voices to my blog series as well. Make sure to check out all these author’s books, social media links, etc. and give them lots of support!
Meet the Authors:
1. Introduce yourself! Tell us a bit about yourself, what you write, and how you’re involved in the book community.
A.B. Rutledge: I’m A.B. Rutledge and I write books about queer kids finding each other and loving each other and healing each other. My debut Miles Away from You will be published by HMH on March 20, 2018.
Sarah Viehmann: Hello! I’m Sarah Viehmann. I got my start writing YA/NA fanfiction, but my debut novel, Unrooted, releases with REUTS Publications in Winter 2018. It is a diverse retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with asexual protagonists.
Kathryn Ormsbee: Hello! My name is Kathryn Ormsbee, and I write Young Adult contemporary and Middle Grade fantasy (as K.E. Ormsbee). My most recent novel, Tash Hearts Tolstoy, came out from Simon & Schuster in June 2017.
Erica Cameron: Hello! I’m Erica Cameron, and I’m an author of young adult fiction. Currently, I’m in the middle of publishing a fantasy series called The Ryogan Chronicles with Entangled Teen. It’s a sprawling epic with immortals, magic, conspiracies, sibling bonds, and a society where bisexuality is the most common orientation, but all others—including asexuality—is not only present but openly accepted. Book one, Island of Exiles, released in February of 2017, and book two, Sea of Strangers, will be out in December. I’m working on the first draft of book three now, which will close out that series, and then I’ll be starting up a sci-fi trilogy that I am very excited about.
Claudie Arseneault: Hi, my name is Claudie and I am bilingual (French) writer from Québec. I’m also arospec and asexual, I have an immunology degree, and I am well known for my love of squids. I am a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, and I publish novels that have 1) ace and aro heroes, 2) center non romantic relationships, 3) are awesome. I’m part of the Kraken Collective, a small alliance of queer self-publishers who write queer SFF. While I do review the books I read, especially for ace and aro rep I’m not really a book blogger. My biggest contribution to the community is without a doubt the ever-growing Database of Aro and Ace Characters. 🙂
Destiny Soria: Hola! My name is Destiny Soria, and I write YA, primarily in the fantasy genre. My debut novel Iron Cast was released in 2016 by Abrams/Amulet. It’s a historical fantasy about magic, mobsters, and two best friends kicking ass in 1920s Boston. My upcoming novel Beneath the Citadel is a high fantasy about a city ruled by seers and prophecies. Four teens who are the remnants of a failed rebellion must uncover a secret prophecy to save their home and themselves.
2. Where do you fall on the asexual spectrum?
A.B. Rutledge: I’m probably somewhere between demisexual and gray, but I prefer to call myself demi.
Sarah Viehmann: I identify as asexual, greyromantic.
Kathryn Ormsbee: I identify as demisexual.
Erica Cameron: Although it has shifted across the spectrum over the years, I now identify as asexual, and I don’t see it changing again. At least not any time soon.
Claudie Arseneault: I’m asexual–not just the umbrella term, but the specific ID too. I don’t experience sexual attraction under any circumstances. Even aesthetic attraction is pretty foreign to me.
Destiny Soria: I identify as gray-romantic asexual.
3. How old were you when you discovered that you were this identity? How did you figure it out? Did you ever think you were a different identity in the past?
A.B. Rutledge: It’s been a few years since I first saw the term “demisexual” online and thought it fit. I was probably in my late 20s/early 30s. I never thought of myself as having a different identity before then. I just thought there was something wrong with me. It was such a relief to see that there was a term for it and that I wasn’t alone.
Sarah Viehmann: I was twenty years old when I first realized that the term ‘asexual’ fit me. I was taking a transgender literature class and the topic of sexual attraction came up. I realized that I had no idea what that was. I did lots of research online and found the ace community on tumblr, but it took a few months before I really got comfortable with it. Before that, I assumed I was straight, but in hindsight I can see that I never was.
Erica Cameron: I absolutely thought I was something else once, namely cishet and allosexual. In my early 20s, I even married the guy I’d been dating since high school. That was a very bad idea. A few years after we got married, we got divorced, and sex was one of the major factors in that incredibly messy and painful breakup. It wasn’t until several years after the divorce was finalized—and after months of therapy—that I even heard about asexuality. I was 29. Now, I only regret that I wasn’t able to learn about the orientation a decade or two sooner.
Claudie Arseneault: I was 100% convinced I was straight until … 24? When I ran into the term on tumblr. I got pretty excited at first, except the more I read, the less I felt like it fit! Looking back, I had a lot of impostor syndrome over not being queer enough, and already being in a relationship. Took me about eight months to fully embrace it. Much less than the two years it took for aromanticism!
Destiny Soria: -cue dramatic documentary music- From an early age, I always felt different from my peers. While everyone was experiencing first crushes and first kisses and first “other things” (I’m from small-town Alabama—you don’t talk about sex where I was raised), I never had any real interest. Sometimes I faked crushes so I wouldn’t feel left out, but secretly I couldn’t understand why anyone liked kissing. It’s just two people mashing their faces together! It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned more about the asexual and aromantic spectrums and began to realize that there was an identity that fit me.
4. Do you identify as anything else LGBTQIA+ related? If yes, when did you discover those parts of your identity? Was it before or after you figured out your asexuality?
Sarah Viehmann: I do know that I’m greyromantic, but anything more specific than that is difficult to pin down. I was comfortable with the asexual label before the question of my romantic orientation really occurred to me.
Erica Cameron: My romantic orientation is still a bit in flux. Right now, I’m leaning toward demiromantic, and the gender part of that orientation is a big question mark. For me, a lot of my realizations have come from different experiences and my relationships (romantic and platonic) with various people. I’ve only had one romantic relationship since my divorce, and that occurred during a time when I was pretty emotionally unstable. Without another experience to judge from, it’s hard for me to feel confident of this half of my orientation.
Claudie Arseneault: Aromantic. Some weird arospecness that falls between demi and lithromantic. I definitely figured that one out after, and through much unlearning and questioning and doubts.
5. What is the first book you read that you felt truly represented your asexuality? If you haven’t found this book yet, tell us about a book that had an ace-spec character and why you liked or disliked it.
A.B. Rutledge: I have yet to see a demi main character in a book (other than my own) but I did like the way asexuality was at least mentioned in a few books recently. I loved Every Heart a Doorway, though the ace rep was a bit brief. I also liked seeing the main character in Tash Hearts Tolstoy explain her identity to her friends.
Sarah Viehmann: The first was the audiobook for Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire. I was convinced I didn’t care about asexuality representation that much, but when Nancy explicitly said she was asexual, I teared up and realized that I cared about representation way more than I’d thought. The most thorough representation was definitely Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee and I related to that book very much.
Kathryn Ormsbee: I had a friend recently recommend Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith, and I really enjoyed Smith’s exploration of sexuality and identity in a fantasy setting. The protagonist, Emras, identifies as elor, or asexual, and I found her to be a compelling and relatable character.
Claudie Arseneault: FOURTH WORLD, from Lyssa Chiavari. It has two acespec protagonists which HI YES HELLO. Isaak is demisexual, and Nadin is asexual and sex-repulsed. She goes through some shit with respect to being ace in a relationship with an allo partner that was almost word for word my experience. I had to put down the book from how much that hit home.
Destiny Soria: A couple years ago I was living with fellow YA author Kathryn Ormsbee (Hi Puffin!), and she let me read the manuscript of Tash Hearts Tolstoy. I knew it was about an asexual girl, but otherwise I wasn’t sure what to expect. Spoiler: I loved it. For the first time, I was reading about a character who felt the same way I did about sex. I never realized before how much I needed that connection. (I may or may not have sobbed through the last thirty pages.) I had convinced myself that sex was just a normal part of life, and there was no reason to expect that anyone would ever want to write or read about characters who weren’t interested in it. Tash showed me how wrong I was and how incredibly important representation is across all spectrums of identities.
6. Have you had any ace-spec characters in your book(s)? If yes, tell us a little about your character and your process in deciding to make the character ace-spec.
A.B. Rutledge: The main character in Miles Away from You is a sex positive demisexual. I knew going in that I wanted to have an on-the-page demi, but Miles is also someone who’s trying to figure out what that means for him. Content warning for Aces who don’t like to read about sex: there is a fair amount of sex in this book. Miles thinks that maybe having the right kind of sex with the right person will fix everything that’s troubling him, without realizing at first that that’s not actually what he needs or wants from a relationship.
Sarah Viehmann: Yes! My two main protagonists are ace-spec, but in different ways. My Snow White character, Nevea, is asexual and on the aromantic spectrum, and she’s also sex-repulsed. I decided to make her ace because I was interested in earlier versions of the fairy tale wherein the prince displays really creepy behavior, and I also thought that Nevea’s motivations for wanting to be with him had to be something other than romance. I also wanted to subvert the very sexual imagery in the Snow White fairy tale and make her asexual. My other protagonist, Pomona, is grey-sexual and grey-heteromantic. Due to a deadly curse that forbids her from touching anyone if she knows their name, she’s had a fairly secluded upbringing. So, the “reason” for her asexuality is different (though still valid!). She’s more interested in romance than Nevea, but doesn’t think it’s a possibility for her. There are other ace- and aro-spec characters throughout the series, but it’s most obvious in my two protagonists.
Kathryn Ormsbee: I have! Tash Zelenka, the protagonist of Tash Hearts Tolstoy, identifies as heteromantic asexual. I knew from the start that Tash was going to be asexual; she’s one of the few characters I’ve written who came to me fully-formed. I identify as demi, but I don’t share Tash’s identity, and it was so important to me to get the rep right. I researched as much as possible, I worked with a sensitivity reader who identifies like Tash, and I gave the book to other asexual readers for their input. Even then, I realize that every single person’s experience is different. I hope many ace readers will see themselves in Tash’s story, but I know there are plenty of others who will not. That’s why we need more ace rep in YA in general! I’m also writing other ace-spec characters into future works, and I’m excited to share those stories when the time comes.
Erica Cameron: Absolutely! Part of how I discovered asexuality actually involves my books and one of my characters. At 29, I was in the process of writing Deadly Sweet Lies, the sequel to my debut novel, and one of my narrators was causing some trouble. More than one of my readers wanted me to up the sexual tension between him and one of the other characters, but every time I tried to do that, everything felt wrong. Then a friend of mine said, “Well, right now it kind of reads like he’s asexual.” A light went on for me, and I realized they were right. I started doing a lot of research, and so much of what I found was like reading about my own life. It was my experiences and my relationships laid out for me on someone else’s website. I included a lot of that information and those realizations in Deadly, and ever since then I’ve promised myself I’d include at least one asexual-spectrum character in each series I write. It’s a promise I’ve kept, even if—like in the Laguna Tides series—the on-page confirmation of the character’s ID hasn’t happened yet.
Claudie Arseneault: *nervous laughter* I have a lot of them. Let’s see…
Henry Schmitt is the MC of Viral Airwaves, and kind of the Bilbo Baggins of his universe. He loves to stay home and safe, to eat his instant noodles and dream of better days for his tiny town and of hot air balloon flights. Henry is kind, a bit naive, and the kind of person who never loves things halfway (whether it’s his friends or food or hobbies).
Nevian is part of City of Strife’s main cast. He’s an apprentice to a rather abusive master. He’s dedicated (read stubborn) and blunt, and under all his hard layers there’s a teenager who really just wants a safe space to learn cool magic. He is also asexual, touch-averse, and sex-repulsed. These are all very clear identities for him, and in the second novel (City of Betrayal, out Oct. 22) I got a chance to explore how these combined with romantic attraction, and the slow build of a hurt/comfort relationship that didn’t involve tons of touching, hugging, squeezing, etc. As someone who prefers not to be hugged when I feel like shit, that was very validating and interesting to explore.
Cal is also part of City of Strife, and the aromantic and asexual cinnamon roll. He is a priest from Ren, Master of Luck, and someone aptly describes him as “the luckiest and most generous person in the city”. Cal is everybody’s friend, and in many ways he is my answer to the idea aromantic asexual people are cold, heartless loners.
There are others, both in City of Strife and scattered throughout my other stories (my next novel, Baker Thief, has a demisexual MC). One is in my Circuits & Slippers, an anthology of sci-fi retellings in which I have a story. It has an ace girl, Céline, and that story was a conduit for me to talk about sexual pressure and how it’s framed as obligatory to healthy relationships.
Most of the time, the process is not so much about making them ace-spec as deciding what part of the experience I want to represent. Are there tropes I want to answer to? Specific events or parts of the spectrum I want to shine a light on? And since I’m usually not writing about aceness as much as with aceness, how do I integrate these things into the story? It’s also important for me to keep up with more literary analysis of how aceness is used in fiction, because I find even ownvoices writers can easily reproduce structural narratives about aceness.
Destiny Soria: Alys, one of the main characters in Beneath the Citadel, is asexual, though it’s not a major plot point. Honestly, I put a lot of myself into Alys—way more than I intended while I was writing—and her asexuality just kind of happened as a natural part of her character.
7. If you haven’t written a book with an ace-spec character already, do you want to in the future? What would the character be like?
Sarah Viehmann: Well, I know I want to continue writing ace characters in the future, because there are so many different ways to be ace that I’d love to write more characters like that.
Claudie Arseneault: See previous answer. I’ll add, my current project, Baker Thief, has a demisexual woman as one of the two MC, and a lot of other aces. One of her police partner is a trans man who is also autochorissexual and who will have his own mini-series, and I’m looking forward to writing that. Plus the third tome in the City of Spires trilogy has some new exploration of Larryn’s gray-asexuality and the kind of shock it can be to suddenly experience attraction. I … have a lot of projects.
8. What is one misconception about asexuality that you can’t stand to hear?
A.B. Rutledge: I generally get pretty annoyed at the policing that happens within the queer community. It takes a lot of guts to be open about your sexuality, and it kills me when anyone’s voice gets silenced for not being ___enough.
Sarah Viehmann: I don’t like it when people confuse it for celibacy or something that I chose. I definitely didn’t choose to be ace, but there’s also nothing wrong with me for being ace.
Kathryn Ormsbee: The idea that being asexual means you are frigid or somehow emotionally deficient. Aro ace individuals especially have to contend with this stereotype, and it’s a perception that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve also seen that misconception seep into certain kinds of storytelling, where the one ace character is invariably a cold, calculating villain. Ace individuals deserve better representation than that.
Erica Cameron: Only one? There are a lot, but some of my least favorite are that asexuals are unemotional prudes, that we’re doomed to be alone forever, that we can’t possibly live happy and fulfilled lives without sex, that meeting the “right person” will suddenly make us see “what we’ve been missing”…
Claudie Arseneault: That it means not wanting sex. Look, a ton of ace people don’t want sex, that’s true! But that isn’t what asexuality is about, and saying so erases a whole subset of aces. Furthermore, it ties our orientation to our behaviour, and that’s how you get assholes saying aces are basically straight people who don’t want sex, and that we shouldn’t be part of the queer community.
Destiny Soria: That aces don’t find other people attractive. Every asexual person is different, obviously, but I for one take great pleasure in the aesthetic beauty of certain humans (young Harrison Ford stole my heart at an early age and never lost it).
9. What do you wish all people could understand about asexuality?
A.B. Rutledge: We’re not cold, heartless robots and we’re not broken.
Sarah Viehmann: It’s 100% possible for people to be happy without sex and/or romance! I don’t appreciate it when people talk to aces and aros like we should be pitied. Most of us are quite happy how we are!
Kathryn Ormsbee: I think the more we talk about sexuality in terms of a spectrum, the better understanding we can achieve. If all aspects of sexuality, from orientation to expression to attraction, exist on a spectrum, then the ace spec makes perfect sense. I think a big issue is that there simply isn’t enough asexual education or representation out there.
Erica Cameron: There isn’t one way people experience asexuality, so making assumptions based on pretty much anything you think you know about the orientation is a bad idea. We all have different comfort levels with sex (both talking about it and participating in it), and different perceptions of it. Asking, if you’re comfortable enough with someone who’s on the asexual spectrum to do so, is the only way to know anything for sure.
Claudie Arseneault: Not experiencing attraction has deep ripples in my life. It’s a core element of who I am and, again, I’m not “just straight minus the sex”. This affected how I related to other beings, how I approached potential romantic relationships, how I interacted with clearly allosexual friends in my teens (I felt off and different and weird), etc. I don’t think people understand how deeply being an asexual person evolving in an allonormative world changes you.
Destiny Soria: That it’s not a deficit. We’re not “missing” anything. The way some people act, you’d think sex was as vital as oxygen or water. -insert eye roll emoji here-
10. Have you come out to anyone (either online or in real life)? What was your experience(s) like?
A.B. Rutledge: I don’t talk about it much in real life, but I do mention it on Twitter fairly often. One of the things I love is that literally every time I post something that gives a clear definition of demisexuality, a new person will randomly message me and go, “Whoa, thank you for posting that. It sounds just like me.”
Sarah Viehmann: I came out online first, and that’s been a fairly good experience so far. I’m out to my brother, a cousin, and my colleagues in real life, and though I’m trying to be more open about it as a rule, I’m still selective about who I’m out to. I’ve had bad experiences of coming out to coworkers in the past who then looked at me like I had six heads, but thankfully my current work environment is a positive one.
Erica Cameron: I’ve been coming out over and over again for the last three years, and each reaction is different. I’ve gotten incredulity from some people (“But, like, are you sure? Weren’t you married?”). Others have been more worried (“Aren’t you afraid you’ll be alone? A relationship without sex won’t be the same.”). Most of the support I’ve gotten has come from online friends and the YA community, and I’m incredibly grateful for everyone I’ve met there. In the real world, it’s much riskier to talk about. I always brace myself for an argument or to at least to spend the entire conversation justifying my identity, orientation, and—sometimes—my intelligence and self-awareness.
Destiny Soria: I’ve come out to a few friends “irl”, and they were extremely supportive. I don’t even think any of them were surprised. Apparently they were tipped off by my repeated demands over the years for someone to explain to me what was so great about kissing—you know, for science. (Still haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer. @ me.)
11. Do you have any advice for people who are questioning whether or not they’re on the ace spectrum?
A.B. Rutledge: Labels are great if you want them, but you’re not required to have them or keep them forever if they don’t suit you.
Sarah Viehmann: For one thing, it’s okay not to be totally sure! The labels are for your use only, and you don’t have to feel bad if nothing fits you exactly. You’re still valid! It’s also okay if you change labels over time; that doesn’t mean you were lying or wrong, just that you were still growing and figuring things out. Also, don’t confuse discomfort with affection for asexuality—they might be connected, but the only criteria for being ace is a lack of sexual attraction. We’re a friendly community! If you have questions, feel free to ask.
Kathryn Ormsbee: You can take your time and figure out things at your own pace, for however long you need. You’re not alone, and you can find great resources and communities online; I’d recommend starting with AVEN (asexuality.org). No matter what conclusions you reach or where this journey takes you, remember that your experience is valid, and you are infinitely valuable.
Erica Cameron: Take your time, and accept that your identity may change. Outside influences may impact your life and your personality in a huge way in some years. Other times, it’s simply your understanding of yourself that changes. Either way, it’s fine. When I first identified on the asexuality spectrum, I leaned toward demisexual. After a year, my understanding had adjusted, and graysexual began to feel more accurate. Another year, and I’ve embraced the ID of asexual. Change is a part of life, and this applies even when we’re talking about orientation.
Claudie Arseneault: Take your time. You do not have to figure it now. You may not even need a precise word! If you’re unsure, follow ace-spec people who talk about it regularly, seek out those who enjoy sharing their experiences. I’m a lurker by nature, so often I just find an array of different voices and listen until I know if it fits me or not.
Destiny Soria: Don’t feel pressured to label yourself if you don’t want to. And if you identified as ace in the past but don’t think you are anymore (or vice versa), that’s totally fine! It doesn’t mean you were wrong or lying before. Humans are complex and ever-changing. You’re valid and amazing just the way you are. ❤
12. Do you have any advice for writers who are considering writing about ace-spec characters?
A.B. Rutledge: Same as with any marginalized character: use sensitivity readers and don’t make their marginalization the reason they do questionable things.
Sarah Viehmann: If you are not ace yourself, you should talk to ace people and get ace sensitivity readers. People assume ace characters are easy to write because they “just don’t like sex,” but that isn’t always true, and this mentality can make it easy to trip into some hurtful stereotypes, such as the awkward robot, the frigid plant, or the social recluse. Asexual and aromantic people aren’t sociopathic or sick or villains, so stop trying to present us that way. If you approach the character with good intentions and an open mind, however, you’ll be off to a much better start.
Kathryn Ormsbee: I believe that good writing in general begins with empathy. You cannot create multi-dimensional, well-developed characters unless you research thoroughly and put yourselves in their shoes. When it comes to writing ace-spec characters, I think it’s vital to research the history of asexuality as an identity, to familiarize yourself with different asexual experiences, to read other published ace narratives, and to consult with ace individuals—especially readers. Also, recognize your limits. Asexuality covers a broad range of personalities and experiences, and not every ace reader will identify with your particular story. What’s most important is that you write your ace-spec characters—whether they be primary, secondary, or tertiary—from a well-informed and deeply empathetic place.
Erica Cameron: Please do not use sex as a fix, and please don’t make the physical consummation of a romantic relationship the pinnacle of their bond. Asexual characters can absolutely be involved in a sexual relationship, but it should be only a small element of how two people are bound together, not the whole of it. Also, ask questions and do your research. Use resources online (like the Coming Up Aces column I run on Queership), and make sure you get multiple ace-spec readers before the book is published. One person’s opinion definitely isn’t enough, because what one person views as offensive or hurtful might exactly match another person’s experience. It’s incredibly important to understand the potential pitfalls and problem areas of a story before it’s thrown out into the world. It’s also crucial that you remember something else—there aren’t so many examples of asexual characters in fiction that we can afford to have even a handful of harmful representation. The damage it could do is incalculable.
Claudie Arseneault: More than can reasonably fit in an interview, haha. Research. A ton. Research the tropes (no villains, no robots, no aliens), research the narratives (the exile, the death, the allo saviour). And read books by ace-spec authors writing ace-spec characters. Not only will it give you insight in how we do it–in how unique our voices are–but it will also give you people to promote and support alongside your own work.
Destiny Soria: Doooo it. The more the merrier! But do your research and strongly consider hiring some sensitivity readers, especially if you’re writing outside your lane.
Stay tuned for Day 5 of Let’s Talk About Asexuality where I’ll be wrapping up the blog series by sharing resources, a poem written by an ace-spec person about asexuality, and my closing thoughts!
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