Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 2
There was a horrible moment in realising I was aromantic where it hit me for the first time that the majority of my life plans had gone out the window. Where I’d been taught there should be experimentation and heartbreak and marriage and a happily ever after, usually with some flowers or flowery language involved, I suddenly realised I didn’t want any of it, really. All these experiences, these plans, these expectations for the rest of my life didn’t feel right. And it was terrifying.
I assumed that my life was going to be empty – I was going to die alone, or be miserable or some nonsense, and fiction didn’t teach me any better. The general agreement in YA is that some paranormal pretty boy with a bad attitude would be able to ‘fix’ me, and give me the key to my future happiness. And if that didn’t work, I’d be a villain (which isn’t great), the irrelevant side character killed off for shock value (significantly worse), or some mystical spinster who only turns up for a chapter’s worth of divine exposition (cooler, but also likely to be doomed). If what I read was to be believed, I was going to live devoid of all love, fun, and meaning.
For some reason, it didn’t occur to me, or any of these authors, that friendship exists.
It’s only been recently that I’ve actually realised how rare genuine friendship is in a lot of mainstream, heteronormative YA, particularly where girls are involved. Female protagonists in these books are restricted to very limited, very romance-oriented friendships. Female friends are there almost solely to discuss potential love interests and discourage the lucky protagonist from shying away from relationships, and god knows male friends are a love triangle waiting to happen – in short, everything is arranged to allow the protagonist’s love life to become her only life, with minimal outside interference. But that’s not, and never has been, how friendship works.
There were two series in particular that made me realise what I’d been missing. Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology both center around groups of friends who bond and grow together, solidifying into families as their stories progress. There are romantic subplots, yes, but they never undermine any of the unique, individual platonic bonds between the characters. It’s beautiful, and natural, and it feels so real that you have to wonder: why isn’t this everywhere? Why isn’t this what everyone’s doing? Out of all the books in my bedroom – and there are many of them – I can only think of a handful with strong, fulfilling friendships like those, but there are also only a handful without any kind of romantic involvement.
Aromantic representation, anywhere on the spectrum, is practically nowhere – intentional, insightful rep especially – and god knows I want it. I want to see myself in the characters that I love and the stories that inspire me. But we’ve got a while to wait until there’s even close to enough, and until then, there’s another barrier that needs to be beaten down: the idea that friendship is somehow lesser than romance. It’s exhausting, and it’s everywhere, and until it’s at least partially gone, people are still going to assume that being arospec is some sort of tragedy when it’s not, it’s absolutely not.
So, I want friendships. I want casual friends who keep each other sane through the couple of classes and inside jokes they share. I want ride or die, inseparable from childhood best friends. I want found family, touchy and borderline-romantic friends, friends who never stop laughing together, friends who sit awake for hours just talking. I want the friends that everyone wants to have, and the ones everyone has, and the ones that make you feel okay when nobody else really can. If anything can convince the rest of the world that aromantics are okay, that we’re happy and fulfilled and loved in ways that matter, it’s this. And hopefully, with a bit more of it in stories, it can convince a few of us who’re doubting, too.
Ruairi lives in Scotland, and spends most of the time wishing they were either somewhere else, better represented, or taller. They’re currently drowning in novel ideas and schoolwork, but they occasionally post their most coherent thoughts on either their twitter (@mindhowyego) or their blog (https://mindhowyego.wordpress.com). Interests include dragons, fantasy, and anything gay.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 1
by Laya Rose
I’ve recently launched my webcomic, Mistlands! It’s about an aroace half fey girl from a small New Zealand town who suddenly gets herself and her friends caught up in the world of the sidhe – up until now she’s only ever come into contact with smaller harmless fey. It’s a combination of some of my favourite things: faeries, LGBTQIA+ characters, and the New Zealand landscape. This story has been in the works for a couple of years and I’m so happy I’m finally starting it!
I’d never really thought about writing my own stories until the last few years – somehow, I’d never thought about the possibility. I always assumed I’d end up illustrating other people’s stories (which I’d still love to do!). But then I started making a few OCs for fun, and a few artists who I knew started making their own webcomics and I thought…this could be a thing? It took me quite a while to write the story and the characters (and I’m still figuring it out), but I eventually committed and started actually drawing it. It’s been through a lot of changes since my first ideas in terms of the plot, but from the start I’ve always had a really clear vision of the aesthetic of the art, and the fact that I wanted aromanticism and asexuality to be part of it.
Es, the protagonist is aroace, which will be established pretty early on (in the first chapter, though the actual words aromantic and asexual won’t be used until the second). Two of the other main characters are on the aromantic spectrum, but that won’t be canon in-comic until quite a bit later. In fact, many of the characters are arospec and/or acespec, and pretty much all of them are queer. I’m not sure how much of this will be explicitly in the comic yet, but hopefully as much as I can. Almost all of the main relationships are platonic, and there’s only a tiny bit of romance.
I’ve also made a patreon where you can get early updates and extra content!
But enough about me! I also want to talk about other webcomics with aromantic characters. There are so many amazing webcomics out there, and I only read a handful of them… I also realised that there are fewer with aromantic characters than I realised. And most of those are aroace – which isn’t necessarily a problem (I’m aroace) – but, most of the time, when a character is aroace, the aromantic representation comes second to the asexuality.
I’m assuming this is because aromanticism is even less known about than asexuality, and also that a lot of people don’t known about romantic orientations in the first place. Hopefully more and more comics (and all forms of media) start to address aromanticism explicitly – and some of the comics I’ve mentioned below do! (The rest are word-of-god). Many of them are also only a chapter or two in, so they may do so yet.
SideQuest: A cute comic about friendship and dodging destiny, by a good friend of mine. All three main characters are aroace!
Ignition Zero: A complete comic about college age kids who get mixed up with local faeries and spirits. One of the four main characters is aromantic.
Griefer Belt: Slice of life about criminals. One of the main characters is grey-aro.
Supernormal Step: This comic has been going for years but I believe it’s ending this year! It’s about a magic parallel universe and the protagonist is aroace.
Rock and Riot: A cute comic about queer high school gangs in the 50s. One of the major characters was just revealed as aroace recently! There’s also another aroace and a demiromantic character.
Let’s Celebrate: A group of people with festively themed magical-girl-like powers. The protagonist is aroace.
Les Normaux: A slice of life comic about lots of Supernatural beings living in Paris. There are two aro side characters (one is demiromantic).
Rechargable: A comic about a gang in Australia in the future. One of the main characters is aro and one is demiromantic.
Ambrosia: A comic about an angel exiled on earth who meets a boy hitchhiking across the US. One of them is aro and the other aroace.
Yellow Hearts: A fantasy comic about three childhood friends who did a deal with a demon when they were kids, and have met again years later. One of the main characters is aroace.
You can find more here, though unfortunately the tag for aromantic and asexual are combined, so it’s pretty hard to find the specifically aromantic ones.
During our Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week series, we want to use our space on GayYA to support AroSpec voices. Last year, we decided to host Awareness Week Series over the various LGBTQIA+ Awareness Weeks throughout the year. Though we hope to include everyone on the site at all times, we wanted to dedicate a concentrated space to people from a specific community to talk about how they’re represented in YA. The response from the community was phenomenal– we got to feature many fantastic and thought-provoking posts, and watched as the community fostered some nuanced discussions via our identity-centric Twit Chats. I personally remember feeling amazed as I read the posts that were sent in and scrolled through the Twit Chat hashtag. I realized I wasn’t alone in my feelings of discontent regarding the representation of my identities, or my hopes for what that representation could look like in the future. I got to meet and connect with so many smart and passionate people.
So of course, we had to do the Awareness Week Series again.
This week we’ll feature several posts from various AroSpec contributors. We’ll also be discussing aromanticism in YA all week long on the #AroYAChat hashtag. We’ll be posting prompts & questions, but please feel free to use it to talk about anything related to Aro YA Books!
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, tweet us @thegayya or email me at email@example.com
-Vee, admin and co-founder of GayYA
During Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, we want to use our space on GayYA to support AroSpec voices. Last year, we decided to host Awareness Week Series over the various LGBTQIA+ Awareness Weeks throughout the year. Though we hope to include everyone on the site at all times, we wanted to dedicate a concentrated space to people from a specific community to talk about how they’re represented in YA. The response from the community was phenomenal– we got to feature many fantastic and thought-provoking posts, and watched as the community fostered some nuanced discussions via our identity-centric Twit Chats. I personally remember feeling amazed as I read the posts that were sent in and scrolled through the Twit Chat hashtag. I realized I wasn’t alone in my feelings of discontent regarding the representation of my identities, or my hopes for what that representation could look like in the future. I got to meet and connect with so many smart and passionate people.
So of course, we had to do the Awareness Week Series again this year.
During the 2017 Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, we’ll feature 3-5 posts from various AroSpec contributors over the course of the week, and dedicate a space to talk about AroSpec representation in YA.
Interested in contributing? Here are the details:
Posts should be between 800-2500 words, and center around AroSpec representation in YA. Your posts may go through light edits or a collaborative workshopping process.
Send your post as a Word or Google doc to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a 2-5 sentence bio about yourself including links to your blog, Twitter, website, or tumblr. Any links you’d like to use should be included as hyperlinks in the post. If you’d like to include a headshot or other images please attach them to the email– do not embed images in the document!
We do not offer monetary compensation of any sort, but are usually happy to help you out in other ways if we can. Just ask!
The deadline for submitting a post is February 1st. We’ll let you know by the 10th if we’ve selected your post for the series.
A Few Words of Advice:
We will consider any topic that is related to LGBTQIA+ YA, however please be aware that we try to avoid repeating similar takes on identical topics. The more specific you can be, the more likely we are to accept your submission. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:
-Why AroSpec representation is important to you
-A character you read as AroSpec
-What kind of AroSpec representation you would like to see
-Other media (webcomics, podcasts, webseries) that feature AroSpec characters
-Microagressions toward AroSpec people in YA fiction
If you have a couple topics in mind, you can also email email@example.com with your ideas, and we can narrow it down to what post topic would work best.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. We look forward to reading your submissions!
Asexuality in YA Series: Day #6
Previous Posts: Even a Little is a Lot: Asexual Representation in YA by Lucy Mihajlich | Representing the Asexual Experience by Tabitha O’Connell | My Kind of Normal by Kelly Murashige | What’s So Important About Ace Representation? by Kazul Wolf | Navigating the In-Between: Demisexuality in YA Lit by Dill Werner | Introduction: Asexuality in YA Series by Vee S.
by Justine Mitchell
In 2012, age nineteen, I entered my first and only romantic relationship, with a boy I’d been friends with for a few years. I’d been interested in him for most of that time, too. I’d read about romantic love and sexual attraction and I thought I recognised the symptoms. I thought a relationship the correct logical step.
It might have been logical, but it wasn’t correct. As I—we—tried to make a relationship work, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I felt anxious for what seemed to be no reason at all; my initial insomnia gave way to crawling fatigue. I felt tongue-tied. I felt crowded. I felt overcommitted and off-balance. I felt like I was curling myself into smaller and smaller shapes within my own skin. I felt like there was no room for me in my life. I found myself avoiding any form of intimacy in this relationship I had initiated.
I was troubled most of all because I didn’t know why I felt that way. Nothing I had ever read had prepared me for the situation I found myself in. Some nerves are normal, people told me. Try to relax. But weeks and then months passed and the nerves didn’t go away. If you don’t like him, dump him, people told me. Simple. But I did like him; my affection didn’t stop my unease. I couldn’t explain the problem, so no-one I talked to could help me find a solution. I stopped asking for advice.
This state of affairs lasted for three uncomfortable months.
It’s rare to come across a story or an idea at the exact moment that it can change your life, but it was towards the end of those three months that I got my copy of Sherwood Smith’s novel Banner of the Damned.
Banner of the Damned is the story of Emras, personal scribe and confidante of Princess Lasva, of Colend. When Lasva marries the prince of the warlike kingdom of Marloven Hesea, Emras accompanies her. But there are rumours that the Marlovens have been corrupted by Norsunder, an evil outside of time. Banner is also Emras’s defence testimony: she is on trial for her life. How and why she came to be writing it from a prison cell is not revealed until quite late in the book, by which time we understand that although she acted with good intentions, she’s not entirely innocent.
Banner of the Damned is a standalone novel, one of a dozen or so more-or-less loosely connected books by Smith set in the world of Sartorias-deles. Some are aimed at children and young adults, while others (including Banner) have been marketed to adults, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to teenagers and young adults. The stories range from swashbuckling adventure to romance to coming-of-age and epic fantasy. Smith has been writing stories set in this world for most of her life, and it shows in the rich worldbuilding.
One aspect of that worldbuilding is the refreshing practicality with which love, lust, sex and marriage are treated. In Banner and the Inda series, there are characters who treat sex as a gift and those who treat it as a game; characters who love lightly and those who love deeply; characters inclined towards monogamy and those inclined towards polygamy or polyamory; characters attracted to men, to women, or to both.
Or to neither.
Colend, Emras’s home, is a country of sophistication, art and beauty. The Colendi language has definitions and poetic descriptions for many shades of emotion. There are many Colendi words with the base elen, to love. Elas refers to those who have a preference for women; elan, a preference for men; elendre, a preference for both. The word elor refers to those who “prefer to remain asexual”. Although awkwardly phrased—’prefer’ suggests choice rather than characteristic—the concept is introduced in the second chapter of this 700-page doorstopper as a commonplace. Some people are simply not inclined toward sex. Everyone else accepts that and moves on.
Even so, for a long time, Emras assumes she’s simply slow to develop more than a “vague, academic” interest in sex. After all, it runs in the family: her mother and cousin were both late developers in that respect. Events and politics make Emras’s life busy enough that she basically forgets about sexuality and relationships for a while. She is finally confronted with the subject when a charged moment with her best friends Birdy and Anhar leads to an unspoken invitation to join them in bed—a situation that Emras flees, and which prompts a realization:
Love had bloomed—of a kind. I was very sure that I was in love with Birdy. Thinking about our conversations made me air-light, drenched me with color, and I liked to linger over his image in every detail, from his old tunic to his hair escaping from his braid in tufts, and his big ears, his beak of a nose. He was Birdy, but when he was close to me, his breath hot and shaky, his hands reaching, I wanted peace and air.
For the first time, I comprehended that love, at least for me, had nothing to do with sex. I was elor—I didn’t want him, or her, or anyone. Not in that way.
Emras’s sexuality is an important aspect of her character, but a relatively minor aspect of a book that spans about thirty-five years and an entire continent. It doesn’t define her in the same way that her scribal training does, or her loyalty to her friends, or her actions and their consequences. It is simply part of who she is. Cuddles and caresses make Emras sleepy, not ardent. Other people’s ardency makes her feel crowded and uncomfortable. She might love people, might even fall in love, but physical intimacy is not something she will ever want.
A few days after finishing Banner of the Damned I was doing the dishes and trying for the umpteenth time to explain to myself why my relationship felt wrong. I thought, I feel crowded. And with Emras and her story fresh in my mind, I finally had a framework in which to realise what feeling crowded actually meant.
I felt crowded by and uncomfortable with intimacy. Emras felt crowded by and uncomfortable with intimacy. Emras was elor, asexual. Maybe the reason my relationship wasn’t working was that I was asexual too.
It felt obvious. It felt right. It felt like the answer to a question I hadn’t known I was asking. I hadn’t known relief—joy—could be so devastating. I felt free.
I ended my relationship the next day. We parted on amicable terms, but have since lost touch. I regret the loss of that friendship, but I don’t regret the self-knowledge the entire episode bought me. I have been happy, the past four years. I have episodes of self-doubt or second-guessing or loneliness, but I’ve learned to listen to my instincts, and to not try to manufacture attraction where none exists.
We humans are a subjective species. We can’t ever experience someone else’s life, so we form our understanding of the world from what we experience, what we observe, and the stories we hear. Stories are important. Representation is important. As a child, I thought I was straight, because straightness was everywhere. As a teenager, I believed I was bisexual, because I’d come in contact with a broader range of possibilities and realised I felt the same sorts of affection regardless of gender. It wasn’t until I’d read Banner of the Damned that I realised I’m not inclined toward romantic or sexual attraction.
I had heard of asexuality before I read Banner of the Damned. I’d even read stories with asexual characters in secondary roles, such as Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead or Sherwood Smith’s earlier Inda series. But I’d never made the connection, because I’d never encountered a description of what it felt like from the inside. Nor have I read any story since (and yes, I have read Clariel) that comes so close to my own experience.
Banner of the Damned will always hold a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf because it gave me the story I needed to understand myself.
The author is a 23-year-old woman of New Zealand pākehā descent. She no practical interest in sex or romance, a great interest in history and an insatiable appetite for speculative fiction. Justine Mitchell is a pseudonym.