Asexuality in YA Series: Day 7 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Asexuality in YA Series – Aces Out: Laying the Cards On the Table – Acing Romance: On Writing YA Love Stories as an Asexual – 5 Tips and Tricks To Writing Asexual Characters – Interview with Simon Tam – Reading While Asexual: Representation in Ace YA – Being Ace: Cultural Differences and Progress
by Morgan York
I’ve been experiencing demisexuality since I was old enough to develop sexual feelings. But I didn’t know the word “demisexual” until I was 21. If I’d known the term existed as a teen, it sure would’ve helped.
For those who don’t know, demisexuality falls on the asexuality spectrum. Us demisexuals are only able to experience sexual attraction if we’ve developed a strong emotional bond with the person first. That means celebrity crushes and sexual feelings for fictional characters aren’t possible (though we may be able to appreciate that these people are aesthetically pleasing to look at). It also means we’re less likely to develop as many sexual attractions as non-asexual (allosexual) people do. For instance, I’ve only experienced sexual attraction to three people in my life.
As a teenager, I realized my attractions were unusual, but I misunderstood why. I thought, “Clearly, I’m one of the few realistic people in the world when it comes to dating. These people who see someone and say ‘I’d bang that’ are talking about the distant future, right? After they’ve gotten to know the person? They can’t possibly find the person sexually attractive just by seeing them, so they must just be feeling hopeful that an attraction will develop. As for people who hook up with someone they day they meet them…maybe they’re faking the attraction? What other option is there?”
I didn’t consider that these allosexuals were, of course, not faking their attractions, or that my attractions just worked differently from theirs. Instead, I jumped to the conclusion that these people were stupid and I wasn’t. Super open-minded of me, I know.
This attitude carried over into how I experienced YA as a teenager. Twilight exploded when I was about 15. I didn’t just dislike the series—I let everyone and their grandmother know how much I despised the books (something I avoid doing now, since I don’t want Twilight lovers to feel judged or attacked for their taste in literature).
“It’s unrealistic!” I shouted at anyone who would listen. “All they did was stare at each other a bunch, start dating, and claim they were in love. They barely even know each other. Any story that includes ‘love at first sight’ is badly written, and I’m not interested in reading it.”
That’s right, I assumed narratives involving instant attraction were proof of a poor storyteller. Worse, I assumed all YA fiction would be like Twilight. It seemed like every time I glanced over a book summary, it hinted at a romance, and I couldn’t trust that it would portray a type of love that made sense to me. So I swore off YA novels entirely and focused on classics, preferably ones that didn’t position love or romance as a central focus.
This was a terrible idea. Not only did I miss out on many wonderful YA novels when my age group was intended as the target audience, but I was also writing YA books at the time. Except I refused to call them YA. Since my books “weren’t like Twilight” because they “weren’t poorly written or unrealistic,” I assumed they couldn’t fit in the YA category, despite the fact that my characters were high school age.
Any writer knows that if you don’t read books in your category or genre, you’re in for a painful surprise when you try to put your work out into the world. Reading contemporary works in your genre helps you understand what the market looks like, what’s standard for your target audience, etc. Since I was writing YA amidst a sea of classics, I had none of that, and I made plenty of mistakes as a result.
This might just sound like the story of a grouchy teenager who was angry at the world and enjoyed hating on a book so many people loved. All that is true, but there’s more to it. I saw the way I experienced attraction represented almost nowhere in fiction, and spewing so much vitriol at Twilight was my desperate attempt at protesting this reality. I made an effort to put a large amount of distance between Twilight and my own work, making sure I developed future romantic partners as friends before anything sexual happened between them. Sure, I included allosexual experiences here and there, but never for the main character. Because if I didn’t do otherwise, I thought my books would be unrealistic. I wanted my books to be good, and to me, good meant demisexual.
I can say all this now because I’ve figured out what demisexuality means and how I experience it, but I couldn’t have articulated these things at the time. If I’d stumbled upon demisexuality as a teen, or even just asexuality in general, I bet a light bulb would’ve gone off. My irrationally intense distaste for Twilight would’ve made a lot more sense. I might’ve sought out books with asexual/asexual-spectrum characters, if any existed back then, and reignited my interest in YA fiction. And I would’ve been armed with more knowledge when crafting my characters’ sexualities. Instead of writing a whole bunch of “accidental demisexuals,” I could’ve been more intentional about where everyone fell on the spectrum.
This is one reason diversity in fiction is so important. People who don’t see themselves reflected in fiction are more likely to remove themselves from it. They are more likely to be confused about why “everyone else” seems to see the world differently, unaware that people like them exist and their voices just aren’t being heard.
When members of the non-majority do find that representation, they often cling to it, because it reassures them that their experience is real. What single fictional pairing was I absolutely obsessed with as a teen? Harry Potter’s Ron and Hermione. They may not have been demisexual characters—Ron’s relationship with Lavender Brown is proof of that—but they developed feelings for each other after several years of powerful friendship. That’s, like, candy for a demisexual.
In honor of Asexuality Awareness Week, I hope my fellow writers think about how they portray romance in fiction. Romance is popular in YA. I know some writers include a romance no matter what, maybe because they can’t imagine a story without one, or it’s an automatic impulse because it’s so pervasive. But does the story really need it? Can the book focus on other types of relationships, like friendships and/or family members? There’s probably more than one asexual-spectrum teen out there craving a story like this.
As for those narratives that work best with a romance, consider how each character experiences sexual attraction before you proceed. Are all of your characters allosexual because that’s what you’re most familiar with? Or, I ask while side-eyeing my former self, are they somewhere on the asexual spectrum because that’s the experience you know best? Equal parts intentionality and diversity can make us all stronger, more flexible writers.
And Twilight lovers? Let me take this opportunity to give those books an apology. They didn’t deserve the degree of hate I gave them.
Morgan York is a writer of both YA and adult in the fantasy and contemporary genres and hopes to see her stories published someday. She recently graduated from the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, a design-your-own-major program at the University of Redlands, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in “Writing Fiction: Listening, Absorbing, and Creating.” In a past life, she was an actress who appeared in a variety of works, including Cheaper by the Dozen and The Pacifier. She’s a feminist, a gamer, a traveler, and a reader of everything from old Russian novels to modern YA to adult lit. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads.