Asexual Awareness Week has ended, but Aromantic Awareness Week has just begun! We were not aware of it until a couple days ago so do not have a separate series (though many of the posts from last week touch on it). But we’re thrilled to present this fabulous guest post from Sarah (who is also helping to run LauraLamFans)! Minor spoilers for Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor.
When I re-immersed myself in reading YA books freshman year of college, I knew I was asexual, but I was still content to turn to popular romance-heavy young adult books purely for escapism. I wasn’t actively looking for queer representation, yet when I picked up the Daughter of Smoke and Bone books, by Laini Taylor, I thought I had found representation in an unexpected place.
In the second book, Days of Blood and Starlight, a side character, Liraz was described as asexual. This was very exciting for me; I had never seen my sexuality in a book before. I had never really seen the term “asexual” used in this way outside of online fandom and queer communities. From that point forward in the book, I paid extra attention to Liraz and her story.
Originally just a side character, Liraz became a significant player in the books, and in my heart. She was a complex character – a fierce warrior, yet brittle and uncertain beneath a mask of icy ferocity. She cared incredibly deeply for her two brothers. Liraz was already so many things I admire in a character that being asexual was practically an added bonus.
In the book, the only times Liraz refers to her own sexuality is to acknowledge its absence, and her siblings agree that the idea of her being sexual is unimaginable. Though both of them have had sexual relationships, Liraz has never expressed any desire to explore that with anyone. Liraz harbors a great fear of intimacy, and an acute protectiveness towards fellow female soldiers who are being forced to sleep with the men in power.
Not only did Liraz read as asexual, she also seemed decidedly aromatic. Numerous times, she expresses incomprehension of the concept or romantic love. She feared that her inability to relate to these feelings would leave her all alone; that her brothers would value their romantic partners over their love for her and leave her behind. In a story so full of epic and fast-moving romances, a character who didn’t want or need to be in a romantic relationship was refreshing. When I finished reading Days of Blood and Starlight, I praised Laini Taylor, expressing my excitement that – whether it was intentional or not – she had written an incredible asexual and aromantic character.
When the third and final book, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, was released, I devoured it immediately. I loved Liraz’s character development throughout the final book, the way she overcame her grief and pain to grow into a powerful force for of truth and justice. She learned to open her heart to laughter and friendship and mercy; to embrace her own vulnerabilities. I wasn’t so sure I loved the way she had been written into a romantic relationship with another character, Ziri.
The text maintained that Liraz had never previously looked at a man or a woman in “that way,” that the very thought of a relationship like that terrified her. Yet, after the exchange of only a few conversations and meaningful glances with Ziri, she is curious to find herself relating to the longing and fear she had witnessed in her brothers relationships.
Although I loved Ziri independently as a character, I didn’t like the idea that Liraz should fall in love with him just because he saved her life. Why should romance magically heal her in ways that other relationships couldn’t? I was so incredibly disappointed that this character ended up in a romantic relationship after never expressing any romantic inclinations, and being so strongly opposed to the idea.
Though I was bitter at first, the situation became an opportunity for me to re-evaluate the subtleties of what it means for someone to be asexual and what it means to be aromantic. Asexual people and aromantic people can still date; many still want to do sexual and romantic things. Many people live in the gray areas, experiencing romantic or sexual attraction occasionally or only in certain situations. Sexuality is fluid and people’s romantic and sexual orientations can change over time.
Rereading the book, I’ve found that Liraz and Ziri never truly express anything sexual. Beyond a bit of blushing and admiring each other’s appearances, there is some hand-holding, but no kissing. I’ve come to accept Liraz as asexual, sex-repulsed, and gray-romantic, and prefer to think of her relationship with Ziri as purely non-sexual and queerplatonic.
Additionally, this situation with Liraz helped me to recognize and articulate some of the overarching issues with finding asexual characters in literature. It’s hard enough to recognize, define, and understand asexuality within one’s own life. In the asexual community, we often struggle to define what sexual attraction even means – what it looks and feels like – because we don’t experience it ourselves.
Applying this frame of reference to fictional characters is its own challenge. Authors don’t distinguish between romantic, sexual, and other types of attraction the way people on the asexual spectrum have learned to. When the word “asexual” is used in a book – like in the case of Liraz – I’m not sure if the author is really referring to the orientation, or if they are simply using it as a convenient throwaway adjective. Additionally, many YA books are indirect in the way they way they talk about sex and sexuality, in order to keep the material “appropriate” for young adults.
Although having these dialogues about potentially asexual characters can be exciting and constructive, it would be so much better to have actual explicit representation. And though the gray/demi areas of asexuality are important – and true to real people’s life experiences – I’d love to see more characters who remain asexual and/or romantic throughout the entire story. I want to see the entire asexual spectrum represented in books!
Sarah is asexual and queer. A college student living in Oregon, she studies graphic design and women, gender, & sexuality studies. She spends her not-so-free time reading YA books and watching too much tv. Visit her personal blog at idenythisreality.tumblr.com, especially if you want to jam about queer headcanons and fan creativity.