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Even a Little is a Lot: Asexual Representation in YA

Asexuality in YA Series: Day #5

Previous Posts: 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.

interface

The future always seemed bright, but it turns out that was just global warming. Meals don’t come in pills, shoes don’t lace themselves, and there are flying cars, but the gas mileage sucks. There is one difference. People have always searched the internet for answers. Now they actually worship it.

Pen Nowen’s father was the founder of Interface, a computer company so big and powerful that people began praying to it. Especially when his death almost tanked the economy.

Seven years later, Pen’s just finished her junior year of high school. For their summer vacations, all of her friends are going to Disneyland, Tijuana, or Disneyland Tijuana, but Pen’s going on a pilgrimage to pray for what’s left of her family. She’s on her way to the Interface flagship store when she gets kidnapped.

It’s the second time this year. She’s about to begin the ransom negotiations when the kidnapper says that he doesn’t want money. He wants something else from her. Before Pen can text 911, he says something even creepier. He knows the truth about her dad’s death.

Interface is a young adult dystopian trilogy set in 2047. I love series like The Hunger Games, but I always wanted to know how modern society could turn into the kind of dystopias we’re used to reading about, so I decided to write that book. Although I started writing Interface in 2012, to be honest, 2016 has made it a lot less difficult to imagine.

Interface is my first book, so I didn’t expect much when I started pitching it to literary agents. After a few rejections, I received an offer from ICM Partners, one of the biggest agencies in the world. It felt like a pipe dream come true. Then my agent asked me to add a romance between the two main characters, because romance was “crucial to the plot.” The protagonist of Interface is asexual and aromantic.

Pen’s sexual orientation isn’t stated explicitly until the third book, because discovering that you’re asexual usually doesn’t happen overnight. Asexuality is so underrepresented in the media that many adults have never even heard of it. I was lucky enough to learn about it in college.

Pen knows a lot more about the sexual spectrum than I did at seventeen, but she experiences so much pressure from society to have the kind of romance featured in most young adult fiction that she doesn’t feel comfortable identifying as asexual and aromantic until the third book. The pressure Pen feels ended up mirroring the pressure I felt from my agent to add romance to my book (which I always had the uncomfortable feeling was euphemistic for sex). When I refused, the agency withdrew their offer.

After a lot of ice cream and Radiohead, I decided to try posting Interface on Kickstarter. It was 122% funded. It was released this Thanksgiving.

I received an overwhelming response from the asexual community. They donated, posted, Tweeted, and Retweeted. Almost every time I thanked someone, I got a thank you in return for writing a book with an asexual character. I never really felt like I deserved it. When I made Pen asexual, I wasn’t thinking about representation. I was just obeying the age-old adage, “Write what you know.” I didn’t think having an asexual character would be a problem until I got rejected for it. That was probably naive of me, but it led me to Kickstarter, and that led me to start thinking about representation. About why asexuals are so desperate for a book, a TV show, a movie, in which we can see ourselves. Why we don’t want kids in 2047 to grow up feeling as broken as we did.

Hopefully by 2047, asexuals will have more representation, but there’s a reason 2016 has felt a little dystopic. Bigotry and hate aren’t going away anytime soon. There will still be societal pressure on asexuals to conform to heteronormative standards, just as there’s still pressure on gay and transgender people, decades after movies like Philadelphia and Paris is Burning. Representation matters, but it’s not the only thing that does.

Interface is just another self-published book from a first-time author. I know it won’t contribute much to our representation, but when we have so little to begin with, even a little is a lot.

Lucy Mihajlich lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. She’s very popular on the internet, or at least her mother’s Facebook page. Interface is her first novel.

By | December 16th, 2016|Categories: Author Guest Blog, New Releases, Publishing People, Writers on Writing|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Even a Little is a Lot: Asexual Representation in YA

Representing the Asexual Experience

by Tabitha O’Connell

As an asexual reader, I love finding characters I can relate to—so few exist whose sexuality is similar to mine that it’s really special every time I encounter one. Sometimes, these characters have the word “asexual” explicitly applied to them in-text, and it’s always great to see my label used and normalized. However, what I most enjoy reading are narratives that convey what it’s like to be asexual—and using the word isn’t necessary for that to happen. In fact, some of the ace characters who have been the most meaningful to me are ones that aren’t actually labeled “asexual” in the text. And I don’t mind that, because when the experience of being asexual is described in a real, authentic way, I can recognize and relate to it, whether the character is called “asexual” or not.

What follows is a discussion of three YA books that represent the asexual experience, even though none of them uses the word “asexual”. Each character’s version of asexuality is different, proving that it’s possible to represent a diversity of ace experiences even if labels like “sex-repulsed”, “sex-indifferent”, or “aromantic” don’t exist in your setting.

Nadin

Nadin of Lyssa Chiavari’s sci-fi novel Fourth World is a member of the heteronormative ruling class of her planet. Matched with her future husband by the government and destined to govern a citidome with him someday, she’s used to seeing marriage as a practical business arrangement, and while she’s glad that her chosen partner is also a good friend, she doesn’t feel any sexual interest in him. She also doesn’t realize that that’s unusual—until, that is, she sees sexual attraction on display during a rare excursion among the working class. She is immediately uncomfortable, and expects her companion, Isaak, to be the same:

Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari (2015)

Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari (2015)

“You mean that didn’t”—I paused, struggling to find the right word—“bother you?”

“No. Honestly, it’s the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve seen anyone act human.”

I glared at him. “How is that what makes someone human?”

“I dunno.” He shifted, looking down at his shoes. “Being happy. Being in love. No one in the underground seems to love each other.”

His words stung. “We all love each other,” I corrected him. “We live for each other. It’s the way of Iamos.”

“Yeah, but, I mean… it’s different with your partner,” Isaak said. “Isn’t it? I mean, don’t you and Ceilos…?”

He trailed off uncomfortably. I felt something twist inside me, an unfamiliar niggle of worry. “No.”

A common experience among real-life aces is not realizing for a long time that experiencing sexual attraction is the norm for most people. It’s easy to assume everyone else is like you, even if there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary; and if you lack such evidence (because you grew up with a family and peers who didn’t talk about sex, for instance), that makes it even easier. So when you discover that, actually, the majority of people feel something you don’t, it can be somewhat of a shock. Nadin’s feelings, and this conversation between her and Isaak, are a very genuine depiction of someone who’s ace but is only just starting to realize that.

Nadin is forced to confront her difference further when she brings up this incident to her partner, Ceilos, and he reveals that his feelings don’t match hers. When he kisses her, she feels only revulsion, and is left upset and confused:

I was shaking. I didn’t know what to say. It was like I was asleep again, having some kind of horrible nightmare.

He blinked a few times, his eyes coming back into focus. “What’s wrong? Didn’t you like it?”

Why would I like that?! my mind screamed, but I couldn’t find my voice.

He pushed away from me, getting to his feet. “I’m sorry, Nadin,” he said, his voice impossibly small. “I thought… I thought you loved me, too.”

I jumped up after him. “I do love you!” I protested.

“Then why don’t you—” I flinched, and he lowered his volume. “Why don’t you want me?”

I had broken him. No, I had broken us. I could feel it as surely as the cold air around us, as the fading atmosphere outside the dome. Something was wrong with me, and it had ruined Ceilos and me forever.

The pain of having a partner not understand your asexuality and be hurt because they think you’re rejecting them is perfectly captured here. To Ceilos, sexuality is an expression of love and affection, but to Nadin, it’s traumatizing. The fact that Nadin lacks the words to articulate her feelings—that she can’t just explain “I’m asexual”—is part of what makes this scene so poignant and relatable. At this point, she’s realized she’s different, but she thinks her difference is a relationship-ruining flaw. So many aces have thought they were broken before they found the asexual community, because that’s what happens when everyone expects romance and sex to go hand-in-hand.

Fortunately, Isaak’s society does have the words to explain Nadin’s feelings, and while at the end of Fourth World she still doesn’t know that, the author has confirmed that she’ll find out later in the series. However, this first book captures her asexuality perfectly without needing to label it, and in fact, her lack of the word is an essential part of her experience—just as it is for so many real aces.

Clariel

The fantasy novel Clariel by Garth Nix presents a character who is clearly identifiable as ace, but who has a very different experience from Nadin’s. Far from being repulsed by sex, Clariel tries it several times, curious; however, she finds herself indifferent, “not caring one way or another about repeating the act itself or the emotional dance that went with it.” She also lacks interest in romance, and wonders if she is “naturally a singleton.” Being different from the norm in this way doesn’t bother her; she just wants to be free to live her life the way she wants to. Other people have different ideas, though, including a friend with a crush on her:

Bel wanted more, obviously, but she did not. She liked his company, and he was a friend, as she judged things, proven by his actions. But she felt no passionate attraction, no giddy desire. She’d never felt that[…]

Clariel by Garth Nix (HarperCollins, 2014)

Clariel by Garth Nix (HarperCollins, 2014)

“I’m just not . . . not interested in men,” said Clariel.

“Oohh,” said Bel, blushing again.

“Or  women either,” added Clariel.

But even after this very clear statement on where she stands, she’s still not sure if she’s gotten through to Bel. While Clariel is open and unapologetic about the way she is, she faces the frustration of not being believed when she tries to communicate her lack of romantic and sexual feelings to the people in her life. Even with the word “asexual” at their disposal, many real-life aces face this same difficulty. Knowing yourself, and being okay with the way you are, doesn’t mean other people will understand or accept you, which Clariel illustrates very poignantly. Even Clariel’s own father denies what she says about herself:

“I don’t want to be married. I’m like Aunt Lemmin. I am happiest by myself. I would like to live by myself.”

“Lemmin is a very good woman, and has been a good sister to me, but she is not a usual person, Clariel. Even when we were  children she was not at all—”

“Father, I am not a usual person either! Can’t you see that?”

“You are just young,” said Harven. His smile flickered across his face for a moment. “I daresay you haven’t met the right young man. There are far more eligible young men here—”

“I don’t want a young man, eligible or otherwise!”

“You don’t know what you want!” snapped Harven.

I’ve ready many accounts of aces having conversations quite similar to this one with their parents or other older relatives. “You’re too young to really know” and “You just haven’t met the right person yet” are both common responses when aces come out. Try as she might, Clariel can’t make her parents understand that this isn’t something she’ll grow out of, but a central part of who she is. Too many real aces still go through this exact same thing.

Ennaline

Of these three characters, the one I personally relate to the most is Ennaline of RJ Astruc’s fantasy novella Cold Ennaline. Growing up in a very religious society, Ennaline is expected to marry a man someday; parents arrange their children’s marriages, and staying single is not presented as an option. This leaves Ennaline feeling alone:

How can I explain to him that I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for marriage? To anyone. The things I hear other girls talk about—their crushes, their desires—seem alien to me. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to experience the urges and impulses they seem to be suffering from every day.

Cold Ennaline by R.J. Astruc (2015, Harmony Ink Press)

Cold Ennaline by R.J. Astruc (2015, Harmony Ink Press)

As a homeschooled Christian teen, I got my information on what was sexually normal from church—and with Sunday school classes emphasizing sexual purity and “waiting for marriage”, I quickly learned that I was not normal. The books we read told us it would be hard to resist sexual temptation, but worth it when we got to enjoy sex with our future spouse—but I wasn’t interested in having sex with anyone, spouse or not. I didn’t know how to tell this to anyone, though, because no one ever told me it was possible to not experience sexual desire.

As with Nadin, lacking the words to describe her feelings—lacking the concept of asexuality—is an essential part of Ennaline’s story, just as it was a major part of mine. “You’re so weird,” a classmate tells Ennaline when she says she’s not romantically interested in either of her two close male friends; Ennaline tries to explain that she doesn’t have those feelings for anyone, but just gets called “weird” again. So she comes up with an excuse: “I’m too used to them. They’re like my brothers.” This is something that makes sense to her classmates, a reason they can accept. In the same way, I came up with alternative explanations when people asked why I didn’t want to get married. “I don’t want to be tied down” seemed a lot more understandable than “I don’t want to have sex”, and kept me safe from being thought strange or broken.

Eventually, Ennaline talks to the counselor at her school about what she refers to as her “coldness”. But because such things generally aren’t discussed in her society, this is hard for her to do:

“Forgive me, I’m still struggling to understand. You don’t feel any sexual desire for any boys?” [Mrs. Fane asks.]

“No,” I say, twitching at the terms she’s used, but glad we’ve finally found a common understanding. “I feel nothing. I feel… love, friendship, happiness, anger, all that stuff. But nothing… sexual.” It’s difficult to get that last word out. I don’t think I’ve ever said it aloud before.

Another barrier to my telling anyone about my lack of sexual interest was that sex wasn’t talked about openly in my family or at church, outside of those designated purity classes. I definitely got the sense that sex was secret and shameful, which left me uncomfortable with the idea of bringing it up in any way, even just to say that it wasn’t for me. Ennaline’s aloneness, her hesitancy and embarrassment about talking about her feelings, definitely reminds me of my younger self/are exactly what I went through as an ace teen.

***

Until I found the word “asexual” at 20, I felt completely alone, never having encountered anyone else, real or fictional, like me. This was a defining aspect of my experience of asexuality, and reading about characters going through similar things—not knowing how to explain their feelings, being misunderstood when they do try to explain, feeling like they’re the only one who feels this way—is so meaningful to me.  Stories like these remind me that I’m not alone, and never was, and I’m sure they do the same for many others. As long as a book authentically represents the asexual experience, I think it does an important service to ace readers—whether it uses the word or not.

Tabitha O’Connell is an asexual feminist who loves animals, abandoned places, alliteration, old buildings, long walks, and long sentences. Visit her online at tjoconnell.wordpress.com.

By | December 15th, 2016|Categories: Archive|1 Comment

My Kind of Normal

Asexuality in YA Series: Day #3

Previous Posts: 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 Kelly Murashige

I thought there was something wrong with me. Some sort of genetic, chemical, or otherwise biological malfunction that made me so much different from every other girl in my grade. While my third grade classmates whispered about the boys they kissed in the girls’ bathroom stalls, I stayed silent. When my friend said she was in love, I didn’t know what to say. Even my best friends wondered why, by the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh grade, I had never fallen head over heels for a guy.

“Are you gay?” my parents asked me one day after sitting me down. “It’s okay if you are. We accept you no matter what.”

“I’m not,” I told them. “I just don’t have crushes.”

I don’t know if they believed me. I don’t know if I believed me, either. After all, it seemed like no one else was like me. All my favorite TV shows had at least a dozen different possible “pairings.” The movies I watched on Netflix used “who slept with whom” as a constant source of drama. My favorite series in middle school, The Hunger Games, featured one of the most iconic love triangles in young adult literature. And yet, I found myself unable to gush about a boy the way everyone else could.

Even once I had my first crush, an innocent and unrequited one on a boy four years my senior, I never imagined us kissing. I couldn’t even picture us holding hands. All I wanted was to talk to him.

I thought, by the time I was eighteen, my love woes would be over. But when I kissed my first boyfriend, it was quick. We didn’t open our mouths. We didn’t even breathe. And that’s exactly the way I wanted it to be. When we kissed for the third time and he started going farther, I didn’t move closer. I didn’t put my hands around his neck or lightly scratch my fingernails against the material of his T-shirt. I didn’t even feel a flutter in my chest, a warm feeling I should have been craving.

No, I stepped away. I pretended I didn’t understand. I pretended the very idea of something besides kissing didn’t make my throat close so much that I couldn’t breathe. I excused myself, saying I had to get home, but the whole ride up the elevator to my apartment floor, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About what was supposed to be such a natural thing, another step in a relationship, but made me feel like bursting into tears.

Something was wrong with me. After years without crushes and a truly anxiety-inducing fear of anything past closed-lip kissing, it had to be the only choice: I wasn’t normal.

It took me days to finally confess to my best friend.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I texted her.

“maybe ur asexual,” she replied. And time seemed to stop.

Asexual.

I’d heard of the word before, of course. It’s impossible to get through high school without hearing it. But I’d always thought asexual meant no feelings of romance at all, something I eliminated during the summer where I fell for the older boy.

“But I’ve had crushes,” I told my best friend.

“look it up.”

I remember prying open my laptop, curiosity sending ripples down my spine. Could I finally have a reason for my abnormality?

Asexuality. I typed it into the search bar. And there, I found that asexuality doesn’t always mean a complete lack of romantic feelings. Asexuality, just like heterosexuality, homosexuality, and everything in between, has a spectrum. There are people who don’t feel attraction at all, and there are people like me: Though I like kisses and surprise gifts from boys, I don’t want anything more.

And that’s normal.

When I told my parents, they didn’t seem to understand.

“Those feelings will come in time,” they told me. “When you find the right person.”

I waited for my need for normalcy to take over, to reply with a meek “You’re probably right.” But that time, I didn’t. I said, “No, it’s how I feel, and there’s no changing it.”

For once in my life, I accepted who I was. I accepted how I felt. It didn’t matter if I didn’t want to sleep with someone, no matter how much I loved him. That’s my kind of normal.

Only days after my realization, I came across an article about an upcoming YA release: Tash Heart Tolstoy. Written by Kathryn Ormsbee and featuring an asexual protagonist, it made my heart race. Here, finally, was a story about a girl like me. A girl who knew who she was, even if she was still coming to terms with it.

I only wish the book could’ve been released when I needed it most. When I sat quietly on the side as my classmates argued over which jock was “hotter.” When I read about Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne and wondered why I didn’t ever find myself craving physical contact.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t regret discovering my asexuality, no matter how twisted its path. I just hope someday, people like me will be able to pick up a book without sex, without making out in the hallways or in a car, and say, “There. See? That’s my kind of normal.”

img_9368Kelly Murashige is a first-year at Mills College. Studying Creative Writing, she hopes to be an author someday. She loves reading, writing, and birds. Find her online at www.smidgeofhappy.weebly.com
By | December 14th, 2016|Categories: Archive, Guest Blogs, Readers on Reading, Teen Voices|Tags: |Comments Off on My Kind of Normal

What’s So Important About Ace Representation?

by Kazul Wolf 

We all know that representation matters. This is a blog on diversity, I mean, it goes without saying. Asexual representation, however, is a tricky thing.

Growing up ace but completely ignorant of what asexuality is wasn’t a fun experience, as most asexuals would know. I was never into the things that other girls liked, but not in the I’m-better-than-them nonsense sorta way, I just didn’t get it. Why did the princesses always want princes when they could have DRAGONS? So I never got into Disney, I avoided anything that was pink or frilly because I knew what that entailed. Luckily I had a gang of friends that stood by me and my obsession with fantasy, video games and the weird books I dug out of the library.  

At least until puberty hit. Oh yeah did that sucker hit me too, but not like them. While my interests flipped around a lot, how I perceived other people didn’t change like everyone else. At fourteen, I confessed as much to my best friend at the time, and he suggested I might be asexual. I was confused. I’d never heard it before. After searching Google for a bit, I found the Wiki article on it and I scoffed. I’m not that, I said. I’m not broken.

It took me seven years to come to figure out that I was an ace. Seven years of wondering why I wasn’t attracted to people like others were. That, yeah, I would develop feelings after getting to know someone, but I still didn’t want to have sex with anyone. It fed my depression and anxiety to dangerous places. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be like literally everyone else I knew, everything I’d ever known? Then, finally, I remembered that Wiki article that had scared me so much.

I cried for about a day. I was broken. Since I was born, I’d been broken. In everything I’ve read, everything I’ve watched, everybody kissed and wanted to kiss, everybody had sex and, boy, in some instances seemed like they never thought about anything else. What could I be besides broken? There was nothing to make it okay for a long time. I confessed to my mom how I felt, and she confirmed it: I was broken. “It will get better, you’ll meet the right person.” But she didn’t understand, it never changed. No matter who I met, even I might find them pretty, there was never that attraction. I wondered if I was born without the right hormones, or my brain was defective.

So, naturally the internet was where I next went. But most queer communities weren’t welcoming to who I was, and neither were the straight communities. It took a lot of searching for me to finally stumble across a few Tumblr blogs for aces. And I found out I wasn’t alone. I discovered I wasn’t broken — and even if I was broken in some way, it was completely okay.

I could want nothing to do with any kind of partner, I could only want romance with the “opposite” sex, the “same” sex, I could be only sometimes romantically attracted to people, and sometimes occasionally sexually attracted to people, and it was all okay. Maybe I was only asexual after a trauma, maybe I was born this way. It didn’t matter that my mom refused to accept that I wasn’t broken, that I’d had friends drop me because they thought I was too dramatic, making it up because I wanted to be special. Because here was proof that I wasn’t alone.

So now, with a few more years under my belt between now and then, I can’t help think: what if little-me, the me that loved dragons and video games and books with her whole heart, had found a book where the leading female didn’t have to end up with anyone. Where she maybe even just had a partner that meant something special to her, or at least that she didn’t have to kiss or feel a burning desire from. Maybe, if I had had the word asexual in my vocabulary before I was fourteen, I might not have been so utterly devastated at being 1% of the population. My depression and anxiety might not have eaten at me over who I was for so long. There might have even been a place for me to go without having to dig for shelter.

Which is why it’s so frustrating to want desperately to write an ace character, to represent what I needed so, so badly as a child, and hear it deemed as unsellable. Even if all of my books have emotional relationships, it’s not enough. I’ve had published authors tell me how no editor will look at my book unless there’s more chemistry, there’s more hormones. It doesn’t matter if I say that’s the point; it doesn’t matter that representation could mean something to someone; it doesn’t matter that suicide among asexual youths is alarmingly high and knowing they aren’t alone might save them.

I know it’s an industry. I know people need to make money, support lives and families. But it is my life’s goal to bring this representation to the table. Because livelihood is important, but so are lives. I never understood representation until I held a book with an ace side character in my hands and couldn’t stop the tears. I knew this could have saved me so much hardship, so many close calls. It could save others. But it’s still nearly non-existent in any sort of media.

So maybe we aren’t “queer enough” for safe queer places, and maybe we aren’t “straight enough” to be safe among hetero spaces either. I know that aces don’t experience the same hardships as other identities do, that our pain may seem small to others. But we need a safe place too. That’s why brick by damned brick, I’m going to help build it. And I dare you to add a brick to that wall, too.

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Kazul Wolf (aka Bacon) is a fantasy author, leegndrary typoer, chef of all trades, and a dragon that prefers capturing cats and dogs as opposed to princesses. You can find her at her website, Twitter, Tumblr, or on Facebook.

By | December 13th, 2016|Categories: Guest Blogs|Tags: , |Comments Off on What’s So Important About Ace Representation?

Navigating the In-Between: Demisexuality in YA Lit

by Dill Werner 

I can only speak for one person when it comes to demisexuality—me. My experiences, my preferences, my sexuality, me. Being a queer demisexual means that I fall somewhere along a spectrum within a spectrum along another spectrum. I am a demisexual floating in the asexual spectrum hunched under the queer umbrella. It’s…complicated.

Demisexuality is a very individual and emotionally-linked experience, which makes it difficult to draw out an exact description of what it is to be demi. Being demi means my sexual orientation falls somewhere between asexual and sexual. I feel sexual attraction but not in the same way sexual people do. Demis need a deep, emotional bond in order to experience sexual attraction toward another person. Keep in mind that sexual arousal and sexual attraction are not the same thing. A person can be sexually aroused but not sexually attracted to someone, and no always means no.

There is a growing list of books with confirmed demisexual characters. Notice that many are word-of-god demi, meaning the author has confirmed the character is demisexual off the page. This in itself is problematic. As someone who identifies openly with this sexuality, it leaves me feeling unworthy when a character is merely hinted at being demi. Why can’t I be shown on the page like heteroromantic or homoromantic characters? Even bisexual and pansexual characters are becoming more common. Readers need the words spelled out on the page where they can find characters to relate to. Self-identifying goes beyond Google searches and Tumblr posts. A character is like a friend sitting next to you, having a conversation about sexuality. Oh, you feel this way? I do, too. Together, you figure things out in the course of 250-or-more-pages.

An example of a canon demisexual is Aled from Alice Oseman’s RADIO SILENCE. Main character Frances is determined to get into an elite university but becomes involved with her favorite podcast and the shy genius, Aled, who created it. The book discusses under-represented sexualities in a way that’s open and fluid. Plus, it uses the terms bisexual, asexual, demisexual on the page.

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“Wait, I don’t understand,” said Daniel. “I thought that meant someone who doesn’t like having sex at all.”

“I think that’s the case for some people…” said Aled. He sounded a little nervous. “But asexuality means…erm…someone who doesn’t feel, like, sexually attracted to anyone.”

“Right. Okay.”

“And some people just feel like they’re…like…partly asexual, so…they only feel sexually attracted to people who they know really, really well. People they have, like, an emotional connection with.”

“Okay. And that’s you.”

“Yeah.”

“And you are attracted to me. Because you know me really well.”

“Yes.”

“And that’s why you never have a crush on anyone.”

“Yeah.” There was a pause. “Some people call that ‘demisexual’ but, erm…it doesn’t really matter what the word is—”

“Demisexual?”

Yeah, being demi does mean you’ll have friend crushes. It’s inevitable. Deep, emotional bonds can develop between friends and can be platonic or become something romantic. It all depends on the situation. My closest friends are more than just friends, they’re family. Demis will love you, care for you, and cherish your friendship. We’ll be your greatest cheerleaders and the roots of your support system. You’ll sometimes wonder why we’re so unconditional, but it’s our nature. We find our people and stick with them, no matter what.

Being demi means I have eye-rolling moments when I rarely find myself on the page. As with any demographic, there are tropes. In current YA representation, demi characters will either fall in love too easily or too often. We’re not completely asexual or sexual for a reason. We experience relationships on a different level than our peers.

Imagine that your (sexual) friends have a jar filled with tiny clear marbles. You, a demi person, have a jar filled with only a few marbles, but your marbles are large and multi-colored with swirling fantastic designs inside them. Your friends play with their marbles daily, throw them around, clank them together, and misplace them. They shrug it off, no big deal. If the marbles break, they’ll get more from inside the jar. It’s like their jar is constantly refilling with marbles. For you, each marble is like a treasure. You only play with them using the utmost care and diligence. Your number of marbles is limited, and you don’t know when you’ll be down to your last marble or if you’ll ever get another marble again. Sometimes, you feel like your jar is empty, but it might not be so. There’s always the possibility that there’s one more marble waiting for you in the depths of the jar. When you reach in to pull a marble out, it might be a small, clear marble. You look at this marble, hold it in your hand, and feel nothing. It lacks the same enthusiasm you would experience with one of the larger, intricately designed marbles. So you drop the clear marble back in the jar. It wasn’t meant for you to play with.

The clear marbles you let go can be painful. They can be violent. They can cut you down in ways you never imagined. Being demi means dating is, well, difficult.

Being demi meant I’d always have to have “the talk” with my romantic partners. And let me be clear, it doesn’t matter what type of relationship you’re in—gay, straight, cis, trans, non-binary—you will have to out yourself every time because not telling the other person can have consequences. “Why did you waste my time?” consequences. You’ll spend half of your time explaining what demi is and the other half assuring the person that, yes, it is a real thing.

Being demi meant I’d get to the point where my partner wanted to take things to a sexual level and my body would shut down—emotionally and physically—because I just couldn’t force myself to feel the same way they did. I couldn’t make myself experience the same sexual attraction after days, weeks, months, or even years of knowing this person any yet not knowing them the way I needed to. Then, I’d be stabbed in the heart by the words no queer person can stand to hear.

“Why can’t you be like other people?”

Twist the knife, watch the blood pool.

“Why can’t you be normal?”

Yes, those words. The ones that make me want to crawl out of my skin and hide. I wished I could be like everyone else, especially when my friends started dating in high school and throughout college. I was left behind, confused when they would move from partner to partner and talk about “hook ups” or one-night stands. The idea of both casual sex and casual relationships repulsed me. It isn’t the same for all demisexuals. Each person has their own preference on sex, masturbation, and partnerships regardless of sexuality. Never assume any two people are the same.

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In Shira Glassman’s Mangoverse series, the author has confirmed Rivka to be demisexual. Glassman tweeted, “Demi ppl say that my Rivka is demi so I kept on writing her that way. Demisexual warrior woman! With dragon!” In Glassman’s YA book THE SECOND MANGO, Queen Shulamit and Rivka discuss Rivka’s previous heteroromantic relationship with a man:

“He wouldn’t want you to feel this way. And he wouldn’t want you to have stayed alone so long for his sake.”

Rivka’s face wrinkled into a cranky scowl. “I’m not saving myself for a memory! I just don’t fall in love every five minutes like a lady-in-waiting in some bard’s tale.”

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” Shulamit looked down. “I know it’s not love, but I notice women so easily. Even when I was missing Aviva with all my heart, there were the willing women, the statue, the—the make-believe trick woman back there…” And I approached you, too, that way at least three times, she added inwardly, glad they were past that.

“That’s not how my mind works,” said Rivka.

It’s more than Rivka saying, “I don’t want to sleep around or give myself to someone willingly.” She can’t do it. Like Rivka said, it’s not how we work. Demi a grey area of asexuality where we don’t choose not to have sex or when/who to date. We often times can’t do either. Our bodies will tell us when it is or isn’t right.

Being demi meant I didn’t understand how my friends engaged in relationships so easily. Meanwhile, I was called a prude and made to think it was a conscious decision for me not to have sex. But it wasn’t a decision. I couldn’t shut off this part of my brain that lit up each time. The warning lights flashed blue and red as the sirens shrieked. “Nope,” the little voice in my head would command. “We are not doing this.” Whenever I came close to having sex with someone I hadn’t connected with, my body and brain would scream at me that it was wrong, all wrong. My heart would race and my muscles lock. Panic flooded me. I knew this person and cared about them on some base level, but it was wrong.

Being demi meant I wasn’t choosing to abstain from sex because of moral or religious beliefs. It meant that sex wasn’t right for me. It caused me mass amounts of anxiety when with a partner. On my own, I was fine. I didn’t really have any desires to be with anyone intimately. And that was okay. What I needed was time to find the right person and make the connection.

Being demi meant I had to experience something more intense than love before I could be sexually intimate with someone. Sometimes, the spark is effortless. A connection knits between your ribcages like a white-hot thread, binding you forever. You have one conversation and know the rest of your life will be filled with making memories together. If you’re lucky, you never have to snip the wire, never have to let go of them. This is why demis get irritated with people dismissing insta-love as a played-out trope in YA fiction. It might be overly abused (authors only have so much wordcount, people) but demis know insta-love. It’s real. It’s valid. And it deserves to be recognized.

Once I found my person, our two worlds click together to form something bigger than I ever thought imaginable. After two weeks, my partner and I looked at one another and said, “We’re getting married, right?” Dear reader, we did. After years of sadness and shame, I finally understood the hype of love and relationships. My friends even joke that my partner thawed my cold, dark heart. “Ha-ha! Made you love me,” my partner often reminds me. Yeah, they did.

Being demi means I want to share my experiences with other people, to help them understand what it’s like when you’re stuck somewhere between the lines, drifting in the world of grey that’s often overlooked. We’re not a one-size-fits-all sexuality. We need to have our stories told—preferably by Own Voices authors—which means putting the full scope of our experiences in print. Being demi is about more than including one scene that outs the character. It’s about going into depth and explaining the emotional turmoil we face in everyday relationships.

We love. We long to be loved. We just need to do it in our own way, on our own time.

Dill Werner is a genderless blob floating in a sea of confusion that strings words together for fun and profit. In reality, they is a genderqueer, demisexual, pansexual author who writes young adult and adult LGBTQ+ fiction with the supportive Knight Agency. When not conspiring to take down the gender binary, they cheerleads amazing people in the queer community and edits their Own Voices narratives, one of which takes place in a magical queer circus with a heteroromantic demisexual character as the antagonist. Find them on Twitter or check out their Blog for more ramblings about gender, sexuality, and book reviews.

By | December 12th, 2016|Categories: Archive, Guest Blogs|Tags: , |Comments Off on Navigating the In-Between: Demisexuality in YA Lit