YA A to Z: Let’s Talk About . . . Aromantic and Asexual, a guest post by Bridgette Johnson
It’s the second week of January, which means we’re discussing the Letter A in YA A to Z. Today we are talking about aromantic and asexual with librarian Bridgette Johnson.
Before we delve too deep into our topic, let’s have some super basic broad definitions:
Asexual: a person who experiences no sexual attraction
Aromantic: a person who experiences no romantic attraction
It’s important to remember these two terms are only a starting point, an umbrella term, especially in regards to asexuality. For example, two more super basic broad definitions are:
Demisexual: a person who experience sexual attraction only after a strong, personal, emotional bond has been established
Demiromantic: a person who experiences romantic attraction only after a strong, personal, emotional bond has been established
The terms above are arguably the four most broad identities. What some people still don’t realize is that you can experience any range of romantic attraction (hetero, homo, bi, pan, etc.) and be asexual. The terms are not one or the other. They are all that feel applicable to you. You may be a romantic asexual. You can be a demihomoromantic asexual. You can be aromantic asexual (often referred to as aro-ace). These identifiers are for romantic and sexual orientation only, not gender identity, which is an entirely separate topic. For the sake of explicitness and clarity, asexuality is a sexual orientation, just as gay, lesbian, bi, and pan are. For romantic asexuals, it’s not either/or. Sometimes it’s multiple things or all of the above.
People experience varying degrees of romantic and sexual attraction. There is no one way to be and there is no right or wrong way to be. There are many, many terms for attraction and chances are there is a term for whatever way you might feel. For example, you might be lithromantic or lithsexual, which is where romantic or sexual feelings are experienced, but there is no desire to have those feeling reciprocated. It’s all a matter of finding the term that fits you, or ignoring all the terms and labels if that’s what makes you most comfortable. You’re also likely to hear/read the word ace used in regards to asexuality. For example, if someone says “I’m ace,” they mean asexual. For those people who are not asexual or aromantic, a couple of terms you’ll often see used are allosexual and alloromantic, which respectively mean someone who isn’t asexual and someone who isn’t aromantic.
You may identify as gray ace, which usually means someone who is asexual, but doesn’t mind reading/watching things about sex, many know a lot of information about sex, and may have sex in their lifetime. It’s also important to note that having sex does not negate a person’s identity as asexual. If you’re asexual, you’re asexual whether or not you have sex. On the other end of the spectrum, some ace people are sex-repulsed, meaning they want nothing to do with sex in almost any form. Everyone’s comfort level is different.
Like all romantic and sexual orientations, aromantic and asexuality are not new. People have always felt this way. We just didn’t always have the right words for it. And it’s super important to remember that romantic and asexual attraction is a spectrum, and like all communities, is not a monolith. What is true for one person may not be true for another.
All of these varied identities within one part of the LGBTQIAP+ community is one of the many reasons we need more inclusive books in YA. For some kids, reading about a character who is aromantic or asexual or aro-ace may be their first exposure, and if that reader sees themself in that character? It could be life-changing and affirming to know they are not alone in the world and their feelings. To discover there is a community for them and what they’re feeling has a name can mean more than could ever be put into words.
Now that you’ve a brief primer on some ace terms, let’s talk about one of the librarians’ favorite things: books!
The availability of aromantic and asexual characters in YA is, to put it nicely, not the best. As with pretty much every other marginalized identity we’re looking for in books, there isn’t enough asexual rep. There isn’t enough intersectionality within the rep, and there isn’t enough #ownvoies rep. But progress is being made.
Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love has a biromantic asexual main character, Alice, who is a WOC. The cover is wonderfully designed in the colors of the Asexual Flag. I don’t believe it is #ownvoices in regard to Alice’s sexuality, but the author is a WOC and seems to really care about getting all of her rep accurate. You can read more about her editing process and worries here.
Another book that features POC characters is the upcoming Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. Now, Dread Nation is fantastic for about 80,000 reasons, but it’s even better for one specific thing. It has a character, Katherine, who is (minor spoiler) aromantic asexual. Those words aren’t used (this an alternate history where the Civil War was interrupted by the dead rising again as zombies) and no one really referred to people as asexual then. Through a conversation with the main character, Jane, it is clear that Kate is aro-ace. This is the first time I’ve ever read a character in YA that reads as, without any doubt, aro-ace. And it’s totally fine that she is. She’s reassured by her friend that it’s fine and the girls move one to talking about more important things. It is an impeccable scene.
Of course, there are other YA books with characters who are somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Just from 2017 there was Kathryn Ormsbee’s #ownvoices Tash Hearts Tolstoy (MC is romantic asexual), Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence (secondary character is homoromantic demisexual), Mackenzi Lee’s A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue (Younger sister of the MC reads as asexual, maybe aromantic, and Lee has confirmed off-page she would be somewhere on the asexual spectrum if she has access to Tumblr. Plus, she’s getting her own spin-off book!), and Julie Murphy’s Ramona Blue (a character is homoromantic demisexual).
So, progress, bit by bit, in fiction and in real life.
Again, the information here in barely the tip of the iceberg. It would next to impossible to cover aspect of asexual and aromantic in one post. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about someone who is aromantic or asexual is that they are not broken. They do not need to be fixed. They are not a late bloomer. They are not a robot or someone who can’t connect with another human being. They will not change when they meet the right person. They are not repressed. They don’t need to try “it” to know for sure. They are not celibate. They are not faking it. They are not broken. I’ll say it again for the people in the back
They are not broken.
For more information about asexuaity and aromantic, visit any of the websites below:
http://www.asexuality.org/?q=overview.html (This is part of the Asexuality Visibility Network (AVEN) and has ton of resources along with forums for those who wish to join the site)
http://www.gayya.org/masterlist-aromantic/ (A list of books with aromantic characters)
http://www.gayya.org/masterlist-asexual/ (A list of books with asexual characters)
https://medalonmymind.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/asexuality-in-ya/ (A mock Stonewall book winner blog; this post specifically is about asexuality in YA. Check out their posts for great YA books with LGBTQIAP+ rep)
http://www.asexualityarchive.com/the-asexuality-flag/ (The Asexual Flag)
http://wiki.asexuality.org/Lexicon (AVEN, mentioned above, has its own Wiki with some commonly used terms on the website and the forums)
http://www.asexualityarchive.com/ (An Introduction sections and many, many posts)
http://asexualawarenessweek.com/ (Features downloadable resources, FAQ, and will announce the 2018 dates for Asexual Awareness Week)
Meet Bridgette Johnson:
Bridgette Johnson has worked in Youth Services in public libraries for four years and bookstores for over nine. She received her MLIS from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2016. She writes fantasy for kids and teens and is thrilled to be a Author Mentor Match Round Three mentee with her middle grade fantasy novel. In her spare time, she loves to travel and attend geek and comic book convention. All opinions and thoughts are her own.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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