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LGBQA+ Series: Asexuality

fuckyeahcharacterdevelopment:

This is a follower submitted article, written by queensheva.  All credit goes to her, and we would like to thank her on behalf of FYCD in its entirety.

As a person identifying as asexual, I am no stranger to having people express confusion and misunderstanding of my sexuality. It seems like everybody has questions about asexuality - even people who are allied to (or even included in) the LGBTQIA community - and that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Asexuality can be confusing, even to those of us who are asexual.

Recently, I have seen a rise in people who are willing to take on the task of writing an asexual character, which is in many ways inspiring and empowering. But as a member of a marginalized group, one of the things I dislike most is seeing characters of said-same marginalized group made into tropified caricatures. So, for my sake as well as yours, here is an in-depth how-to guide on how to write an asexual character.

Introduction

Now, briefly, I think it’s important for me to designate that one of the things that makes asexuality complex is that it’s really an umbrella term which houses a variety of sexual orientations. This means that how asexuality is manifested and expressed is highly subjective, and varies from person to person. The following is not a rulebook, at least not for the most part - only a guide. Just try to keep that in mind.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is asexuality?

Broken down into its most basic components, asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. Someone who is asexual does not experience sexual attraction. That does not, however, mean that asexual people do not experience arousal, or that asexual people cannot experience sexual attraction, or that asexual people are not interested in romance (although some are not). 

But more on all of that in a second.

What does that mean, “sexual attraction”?

Sexual attraction is the desire to have sexual intercourse with someone else. If you’re a sexual person (and most people are), how often you experience sexual attraction can be contingent on a lot of factors: you may have a naturally high, moderate, or low sexual drive; you may or may not be distracted by other existential needs like eating or sleeping or lawn maintenance; you may or may not find that certain aspects of the other person (or persons) enhance their aesthetic or sexual appeal to you. But chances are good that if you’re sexual, at least once in your life you’ve wanted to get good and randy with somebody else. 

So asexual people don’t feel this way?

Not generally. This doesn’t mean that asexual people aren’t attracted to people, and it doesn’t mean that asexual people are uniformly incapable of understanding what would make someone sexually or otherwise aesthetically pleasing. But it does mean that the number of asexual people who are going to want to fuck you are pretty astonishingly low. Not that that particular fact has anything to do with you, necessarily. 

You said that asexual people can still experience arousal?

So I did. And they can, though it’s very rare for asexual people to feel arousal for other people. Many asexual people can arouse themselves, either mentally or physically, and they can still masturbate. For the vast majority of asexual people, there’s nothing physical that prevents them from having or enjoying sex. 

Now, one subsequent question here that I won’t dignify with bold (mostly because I think it’s absurd) is: why do asexual people masturbate, and how? I think this is a silly question, but since a lot of people seem inappropriately interested in the answer: why wouldn’t we masturbate? Masturbation is fun, and orgasms don’t demand that you have any ‘special someone’ in mind in order for you to enjoy one. 

What is the difference between “sex positive” vs “sex repulsed” asexual people?

A “sex positive” asexual person can conceptualize and, sometimes, act in a sexual manner towards others. They can tolerate, and may even enjoy the sexual attentions and behavior of others. A “sex repulsed” asexual person can be indifferent to, or, as I am, actively terrified of sex. They will not enjoy the sexual attentions or behavior of others, and can be deeply put-off by even the hypothetical possibility of having sex.

Now, it’s important to note that demisexual people and gray aces (asexual people who can experience a degree of sexual attraction) can be either sex positive or sex repulsed. They are not necessarily any more likely to come from one camp or the other.

What is the difference between asexual people and aromantic people?

"Asexual" doesn’t denote romantic orientation, and so asexual people can be hetero-, homo-, biromantic, etc., or they can be aromantic. Aromantic people do not desire to form any romantic connections at all with other people, and will not strive to maintain any relationship that goes beyond something platonic. 

Just how many different kinds of asexual people are there?

A LOT. But let’s not get weighed down, here. It’s time to start talk about writing.

Writing an Asexual Character

The top 6 most important things to remember while writing an asexual character are as follows:

  1. Asexual is a sexual orientation, not a sexual behavior. Celibacy is a sexual behavior, and it is a choice. Asexuality is not.

    Many people get confused on this point, despite how simple it is. An asexual person can have sex. They can even enjoy having sex. But that doesn’t make them any more or less asexual. Sexual behavior (like celibacy) is how a personacts sexually, and it is a choice. Sexual orientation is how an individual personally identifies, and isn’t contingent upon any action they may or may not take. On that note:

  2. ‘Asexual’ is a label that your character - regardless of their true sexual orientation - may or may not be willing to use. 

    Speaking from personal experience, it is not a particularly easy or quick process to identify as asexual. As a sexual orientation that has only recently begun to receive attention from the LGBT community (and others), asexual people still face a large amount of discrimination and controversy over how their sexual orientation “operates.” Unlike strictly LGBT people, who often have to fear being physically intimidated or publicly denounced, one of the greatest slights dealt to aces is the prevailing ideology that people of their sexual orientation do not exist. This isn’t just something that makes people reluctant to identify as asexual: it’s something that makes it hard for people even to realize if they are asexual. Your character may persist, as many unidentified asexual people do, in the idea that they just haven’t met that one person yet who will spark their interest.

  3. Asexual people face discrimination, but often not from the people or in the way that one might automatically assume.

    As I mention above, one of the greatest sources of discrimination asexual people face comes from living in a society formed by a species that functions according to a biological imperative to reproduce. One of the most pervasive and destructive ideals to the asexual community is that of asexuality being non-existent, or unnatural. As an asexual person, my loving, supportive, wonderful mother (no sarcasm, I mean that) despairs of me never experiencing what she, as a sexual person, considers one of the ‘greatest things life has to offer’. Questions by family friends and colleagues about potential suitors get awkward when I confess that I have no interest. I have been called ‘unnatural’ by very intelligent people who care a lot about my welfare. People tell me that I ought to ‘just try it once,’ or that I ‘just haven’t met the right person yet.’ Like many queer individuals, it is constantly implied that I just don’t know myself the way other people do - that I’ll come around to their way of thinking eventually. 

    The only real difference between asexuality and, for example, homosexuality, in this way, is that sometimes these kind of tactless, offensive comments come from directly within the LGBTQIA community itself. Have a few straight guys volunteered to ‘fix me’? Sure. But not anywhere near the number of gay guys who have told me ‘it’s just a phase,’ and that I’ll ‘find somebody I like eventually.’ Asexual characters won’t necessarily face outright agression or bashing over their orientation from one person. They’re much more likely to face doubt in the integrity (the “realness”) of their sexual orientation from themajority of the people they interact with.

  4. Asexual people are not asexual because they were wronged or traumatized.Asexual people are asexual because that’s how they are. I cannot stress this enough. You do not try to be asexual, you are not made asexual by anyone else. Implying otherwise is pretty offensive. 

  5. Asexual people do not necessarily have a reduced desire for an intimate, romantic relationship with another person. Just because your character can’t have sex, doesn’t mean they’ll be entirely disinterested with the idea of romance. An asexual character may have an inbred desire to get married and raise children with their partner. No sex doesn’t, by any means, mean no romance. But it might. Knowing your character’s romantic orientation is just as important as knowing their sexual one.

  6. If you don’t know, research it. There are a multitude of websites that can aid in this endeavor, one of the best of which is AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network. But if those don’t help, ask around. Most out-asexual people are more than willing to talk about their orientation if you ask.

Asexuality in Everyday Life

Sexual orientation is only one piece of a character’s personality and only really applies to their sexual relations with other characters. But, in the way that all sexualities do, asexuality will color a character’s perception of many things that are not directly correlated to their sex life. It may, for example, influence their perception of the media - which, largely, will not cater to their tastes, or acknowledge their existence - or their interaction with characters of great or diminished sexual appeal. Depending on whether they are sex phobic or sex repulsed, they may have a more or less difficult time relating to the sexual behavior of their friends, family, or even celebrities and public figures. They may or may not have the tendency to project their lack of sexual attraction onto others. As always, it depends on the individual.

Within the context of everyday life, someone who is consciously asexual may feel alienated by many aspects of pop culture: sex and sexual drama in music, television and film, etc., will not speak to their experience of life. They will frequently be faced with the message, indirect or otherwise, that sexual love is tantamount and that their sexual orientation differs wildly from the accepted norm. They will find themselves unrepresented in nearly all forums of discussion on nearly any topic. How this affects the character will depend on other parts of their personality: how important is the acceptance of others to them? How secure are they in their own identity and their sexuality? How important is it to them to be “normal”? Analysis of these questions will help you to understand how asexuality will affect your character as a whole. 

Asexuality in Relationships

What many authors fail to realize is just how practiced they ought to be in writing multi-dimensional, non-sexual relationships. In a platonic context these relationships are called “friendships”, and they aren’t any different for an asexual person than they are for anyone else. 

What will be influenced by a person’s sexuality is their interaction with potential partners, and it is in this arena where the comprehensiveness of your understanding of asexuality will be key. This is also where your character’s individual type of asexuality will come heavily into play. Whether they are sex positive or repulsed, whether they are demisexual, gray-ace, asexual, or aromantic; all this will play into their assessment of and willingness to enter into a romantic relationship with another person. 

But what do you do then? What do people do in a romantic relationship where sex isn’t a prime objective? One of the most important factors in relationships where sexual attraction does not factor into the characters’ appraisal of one another is that they find other things about one another attractive. They may have a variety of interests in common, or feel very emotionally or spiritually close to one another. They may find engagement in the other person’s cosmology, be it similar or different from their own. A working non-sexual romantic couple will genuinely enjoy one another’s company. How they do that is up to you.

How your couple operates with regards to joint activities and the possibility of sex will be contingent upon your understanding of the interests and sexual proclivities of both. Some asexual people will be comfortable with cuddling, and even intimate touching. Be creative about this. Non-sexual intimacy can range from sitting very close and holding hands to kissing and petting. I personally really like touching the people I’m talking to: stroking hair and scratching backs, playing with hands and tangling legs together. As always, what your characters engage in will be based on their personal comfort levels. 

Tropes and Caricatures To Avoid

  • The asexual character who is magically cured of their asexuality by falling in love / having sex with another character.
  • The asexual character who is asexual because of something traumatic that happened in their past.
  • The asexual character who is torn between their self-identification as ace and their overwhelming sexual attraction to another character.
  • The asexual character who is tragically asexual despite how much someone else wants to have sex with them.
  • The asexual character whose otherwise healthy relationship is completely destroyed by their desire not to have sex.

Conclusion

While I was writing this post, I asked several of my friends what sort of questions they would like to have answered. One of them commented that, although the concept of being ace was foreign to them, writing an asexual character sounded like it would simply demand writing a character who didn’t have sex, and to therefore would be involved only in conflicts that did not hinge on who was fucking whom. I thought that this was an excellent point, and something worth staying aware of: as in all character creation and development, remember that your asexual character is a person first, and asexual second. And, when considering matters that may be influenced by their being asexual, you can refer to this guide, or any one of the following resources:

Thank you for reading. I hope this helps at least a few of you.

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