by JL Douglas
I identify as demisexual. For me, that’s defined as “maybe I want to kiss and hold hands, but probably only after I’ve known the person for years.”
I also write Young Adult romance. So far, none of my characters are demisexual. They get crushes, and sometimes they even act on them in ways that go beyond kissing and holding hands. Generally, their approach to romance is much more fast-paced than the one I know. They feel attractions, sometimes to people they just met!
Lunaside, my first book, is in part about a girl dealing with her immediate attraction to another girl when she already has a girlfriend. Moira, the main character, feels attraction in a very immediate way that she can’t avoid. She spends a lot of time being made breathless by the two girls she likes, and feeling very physical things toward them.
This isn’t at all what the story looked like at first. There was no breathlessness or physical feelings or love scenes. The initial tension came from the inner workings at the summer camp where the story is set (also called Lunaside).
But then I sent Lunaside off to its first beta readers and I realized just how much my asexuality informs what I write.
By that I mean that eventually all of them got back to me with some version of “ok, but have you considered sexual tension?”
Until that point, I really hadn’t. What I’d written was a story about a girl who works at a summer camp and is eventually in love with another girl. Something I could relate to.
Even though asexuality was somewhat visible (my university had pamphlets about it in their counseling centre!) by the time I identified as ace, as a writer and reader of YA romance there was always that lingering afterthought of “oh right, I guess YA romance needs the sexual stuff.”
Because of that, I listened to my beta readers without question. I’d never intended for Moira to be asexual, mostly because all of the advice I’d gotten told me that YA books with asexual main characters don’t get published. I did include a biromantic ace side character, but in the end I wrote a romance featuring an allosexual lesbian lead. There’s sexual tension and even a suggestive (not explicit) love scene.
The good news is that being published really gave me a lot more faith in my own work. It also exposed me to the ace readers who have read Lunaside. Layla, my biromantic character, has gotten an unexpectedly positive response. Since she’s a side character I created mostly for me, I hadn’t anticipated anything like that. But it has boosted my confidence to the point where the book I’m working on now (a sequel to Lunaside) features Layla along with an aroace secondary main character.
That one is out to beta readers for its first round of critiques now. Once again, I’ve written a story about a girl who works at a summer camp (different girl, though), and is eventually in love with another girl. Still no demisexual main character, but I’m definitely closer to being able to write one than I was when I got my first feedback notes from Lunaside.
Maybe my beta readers will ask for more love scenes again.
Maybe this time I won’t listen.
JL Douglas is a demisexual Canadian lesbian. A former summer camp counselor, she wrote Lunaside to answer the question “is there life after summer camp?” The answer was “yes, writing books about summer camp.” Although she believes this goal will keep her busy for a while, she’s secretly playing the long game of working toward one day opening her own summer camp.