Where are the asexual protagonists?

It’s Valentine’s Day when I’m starting this post, for context.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day.  On the one hand, fun candy and cupcakes and valentines when you’re in elementary school.  On the other hand…. Actually, let’s not discuss the other hand.  Instead, I’m going to talk a bit about love and sex and characters in stories.  So, fasten your seat belts.

Growing up as a teenager in a conservative culture, I was greatly bothered by all the adults telling me a series of things about love and sex, but most of them boiled down to:

When you’re a child, you’re only capable of puppy love.  Look how cute that is.  But once you hit puberty, then you start being capable of “real love” and so you should watch out and take care whom you date, whom you get attached to, how fast you let things progress, &c. &c.

The belief I encountered over and over was that a) children are not capable of “real” aka romantic love, and b) puberty aka “increased sex drive” is when love actually starts being possible.

I knew this was messed up at the time.  After all, my friends were more than capable of developing “crushes”, no matter that we were five, ten, or fifteen.  Sure, the feelings of the fifteen year olds were probably rated on a more intense scale than the five year olds, but the drama level wasn’t all that different between the age groups, nor was the complete sincerity of the moment.  To have the adults tell me over and over again that what we felt wasn’t “real” and that only when we were adults like them would real affection be possible was insulting, condescending, and seemed to me to be very short-sighted.  Had the adults all forgotten what it was to be young? Or were they just in some form of extreme denial?  Did they honestly think that children and adults were separate creatures? I wondered. Probably.

But today, as I was considering all the stories I sought but couldn’t find as a teenager, it hit me that it’s much, much worse than that.  The adults telling me that love only starts at puberty sincerely believed, at a subconscious level, that “real” love and sex are equated, inseparable, and…ugh. Ughgghghghg.

Take a look at this horrifying sentence: if you love me, then prove it by having sex with me.

Love, you see, only happens, at worst, when sex is involved, at best, when an activated sex drive is involved.

That’s messed up. Messed. Up.  Messed up. Messed up. Messed up.

This is me being squicked out.  But now we know where that creepy “request” snuck into our world from.


So, how does this relate to my request for more asexual and/or aromantic protagonists.

((Sidenote: For those of you unfamiliar with the terms asexual or aromantic, you might be more familiar with the other most-often quoted labels tossed around when discussing sexuality: LGBTQ – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.  Asexual is often added to the list as a label for those who are not attracted to anyone or anything on a sexual level, ever.  Though it’s also broadened occasionally to a spectrum of people who are simply disinterested in sexual relationships–for now or for all time, that doesn’t matter and doesn’t need disputing.  Aromantics, on the other hand, are those who rarely–if ever–experience romantic attraction.  For this discussion, I’m not going to stick within any rigid labeling systems or go into a debate on who is allowed to be called what but instead open up the spectrum of possibility. ))

When I was a teenager, the storyline I wanted most to read involved a female protagonist who was disinterested in romance or sex.  I wanted to see someone more like me who was more interested in doing her own thing, creating, exploring, having adventures, or saving the world (without squeezing a love triangle in). Oh yes, and developing lots of friendships with all sorts of cool, interesting people.

See, I loved reading, but the problem with reading a lot of books when all of them decide that teenagers are hotblooded young things is that my reading experience all felt the same, uniform, and so it all felt both unrealistic and, frankly, like an overdose.  Sure, I had hotblooded young thing friends who jumped from love to love, who got into indecisive or shy love triangles, who had secret crushes that then spilled over into tentative dating, who kissed passionately and lived on the wild edge of desire, or felt the need to find a partner to “complete” them at seventeen.  But were all of my friends like that?  No.  Were they like that all the time? No.  So, reading began to feel like eating a steady diet of chocolate.  Sure, there were different flavors of chocolate: milky and light, dark and lush, adventurous and spicy, waxy and fake, drinkable or eatable.  But what I really wanted, what I really craved was something–anything else.  Vanilla, maybe.  Strawberry, cherry’s jubilee, mango delight.  Something that felt closer to home, for once.  Something that expanded possibilities.

Something that also didn’t do the bait and switch of “she’s disinterested in dating guys–but only because she’s lesbian! woohoo!”  Nothing against lesbians, but when I was hoping  to finally get an aro/ace storyline, it’d jerk my chain. x.x

Sure, you can read books by men, they often don’t write romance, you might say.  But think again.  Most of the time when I’ve read a story without any romance at all written by a guy it’s when the cast is all male.  And if you add a female, suddenly her one goal in life is to pair up with someone.  And, um, those aren’t really very satisfying underlying assumptions.

Here, let’s change tacks.  This might demonstrate better.

Imagine Harry Potter where Harry, Hermione, and Ron don’t fall in love with each other but instead treat each other like lifelong friends and might-as-well-be siblings.  Funnily enough, just like the actors became.  Emma Watson said it felt weird kissing the other actors because it felt like kissing her brothers.  No kidding.

Imagine Legend of Korra where instead of putting together a hasty bisexual/romantic ending that implies that one way or another romance is always needed for a happy ever after, the gang is allowed to end with: making the world a better place and friendship is enough.

Imagine Star Wars where the “two guys & a girl” scenario doesn’t end up in her falling for one or the other–or both–of them.  I don’t know.  If Earth blew up, I think I’d be too busy grieving and fighting back to be flirting, and if some scoundrel tried to get handsy I’d tell him to grow a heart, but hey that’s just me.  ((And yes, I know there’s a whole chunk of the Internet who really wants Finn at the center of this new triangle, but to them I say: whyyyyyyyy does it always have to be about romance whyyyyy. *whine* ))

Imagine a Frozen that doesn’t feel obligated to end with a kiss, thereby uprooting the point of the whole story up till that moment.

Imagine an Agent Carter that is less about how many men hate her or fall in love with her or want up her skirt and more about her awesome platonic friendship and dynamic with Jarvis.

Actually, let’s just imagine for a moment a world in which spending time with someone (of any gender) doesn’t become a contractual obligation that you have to consider dating them.  And saying a polite “no thanks” to their interest isn’t an insult.  It’s like the Romance/Hook-up Story-line of Life has the right-of-way or something.  If someone is romantically interested it’s like you’re obligated to either indulge or tip-toe around their fancies or else you’re some sort of unnatural monster.

Which is one of the many reasons why I think asexual and aromantic protagonists are so important.  We are what we eat.  Our expectations of the world and life are shaped by the stories we read and watch and are told.

And even if you wouldn’t label  yourself “fully” asexual or aromantic I really hope you have multiple asexual and aromantic relationships in your life.  I hope your S.O. or partner isn’t your only relationship outside of your immediate family.  I hope, if sex disappeared tomorrow, you’d still be able to love and appreciate your partner.  And if you’re searching for a partner, I hope you treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness rather than a “oh, they’re not for me, TOSS!” or a “they won’t give me the time of day, TOSS!” attitude.

((Sidenote: Sometimes it feels like the conservative Christian cultural ideal of Heaven is divided into male and female sections and the only people allowed to cross over and talk to each other are spouses and siblings. x.x))


Here are a few asexual/aromantic spectrum character ideas to start the writing world brainstorming:

-a child character who travels to another world, becomes its ruler, and realizes that in this world everything and anything is possible–which means they don’t have to return home from Narnia and become a child again in order to avoid the complications of getting married there

-a teenage girl who is more interested in filming murder mysteries in a graveyard with her friends (some of whom may be ghosts) than going to the prom

-a teenage guy who isn’t interested in  masturbation and/or porn, not because he thinks it’s evil but because he thinks it’s pointless, boring, or unfulfilling.  (But this trait isn’t just to show how “wonderful” he is as a future romantic lead, please.)

-a teenager called on to save the kingdom/world who doesn’t automatically fall in love with the only opposite-gender member of their party.  They’re too busy saving the day to experience more than passing glimmers of attraction and respect, let alone worry about feelings or romance.

-a cross-dresser who finds everyone attractive and interesting but is completely disinterested in sex or romance

-a character who was sexually abused in their backstory, who can no longer feel sexual attraction but who lives whole and healthy and happy in their asexual relationship of choice with their S.O.

-a chronically ill character who still has a ticking clock for a uterus but has no desire to “do anything about it” with anyone, but desires only to fill the time and energy they have to spend with other interests and pursuits instead.  Plots and subplots ensue.

-a character who finds stargazing more engrossing than attractive-people-gazing

-a character who shows up at the scene of a crime and doesn’t automatically start narrating about how hot someone is while everyone’s standing over the dead body, and in fact doesn’t notice hotness at all because someone they knew just died.  Or else the mystery presented is more intriguing than the spectators or the colleagues, though this doesn’t mean they’re a jerk about it.

-an expert flirt who never goes past flirting.  The flirting’s the fun part.

-a courtesan who’s just doing their job.  The political maneuvering and the intrigue are the real perks.

– a character who lost their beloved spouse but then doesn’t turn around and fall in love with the next character you pair them up to adventure with during the course of your story.  Instead, they find a comfortable friendship.

-a pair of friends who grew up together who then (surprisingly *cough*) remain still just friends by story’s end

-an extrovert who loves people and whom everyone loves to be around, who is charismatic and charming, but who isn’t interested in dating “just yet.”  (They’ve been saying that for years–if not decades–at this point).

-a Regency spinster who thinks she got the best end of the deal

-a eunuch who doesn’t mope a lot about how he no longer has “real man parts”.  He’s probably too busy being besties with one of the ladies in the harem and making sure all the other eunuchs stop having dramas long enough to remember their duties–and solving the king’s murder.  Or maybe it’s the queen’s murder.  ‘Cause, y’know.  Just add murder mystery.

-an old, young-looking vampire who–after centuries of watching them be born, grow old, and die–has developed the boundaries necessary to not actually fall in love with mortals, but enjoys their friendship and their company.  (You might think this is impossible, that all it would take is the “right mortal” to woo him back to romance, but then I ask you how people generally don’t fall romantically in love with their siblings or, now, with their first cousins :p)  I would love love love to read a paranormal friendship romance sometime.

-a character who finds themselves completely disinterested in sex with their current partner, and finds this baffling despite their romantic attachment, …to be dealt with amidst high-stakes car chases, or something equally crazy but generally sexualized.

-a religious celibate who doesn’t make a morose martyr out of themself or pull a holier-than-thou or actually need to “suppress” or “fight” anything but enjoys their singledom with a sense of simplicity and true, relaxed enjoyment.

-a tender-hearted (rather than tough/stoic) knight, who loves deeply, who swears loyalty and protection, but who is uninterested in relationships beyond brother, sister, friend, liege.  Extra points if it’s a ladyknight, since everyone is constantly trying to pair those up with someone. :p

Later I might recommend some stories, but I think this post is long enough. -.-

What about you?  Favorite asexual or aromantic/non-romantic/platonic stories or characters? What about character wishlists or scenario wishlists? Let’s brainstorm together, wooooo~.


2 responses to “Where are the asexual protagonists?

  • LG

    I’m a reader who’s asexual and yet who still loves reading about romance. But yeah, stories where the romance keeps butting in as the characters are supposed to be concentrating on saving the world or whatever do tend to get tiresome.

    At the moment, my favorite books with asexual characters are M.C.A. Hogarth’s Mindtouch and Mindline (Mindtouch has a structure that makes it very nearly an asexual romance) and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy (particularly the third book, Ancillary Mercy, because of the lovely relationship the develops between three of its characters). Unfortunately, absolutely none of my favorite asexual characters are human. While I love that Hogarth includes a lot of asexual characters in her works, none of them have been human so far (well, maybe one, but that one was also born magically neuter). And Leckie’s asexual characters are artificial intelligences – a few of them having access to human bodies doesn’t change that.

    So I guess what I’d like to see is more books with asexual characters who are human beings. At the moment, the best I’ve got is the new Jughead reboot (although I haven’t gotten to the issue where it’s made clear that he’s asexual yet) and Fuyumi Ono’s Twelve Kingdoms series. Ono’s series has no explicitly asexual characters, but the world rules are set up so that sex and reproduction are completely divorced from each other, and the (human) main character of a couple of the books goes from ordinary high school girl, to learning how to rule a kingdom, to gathering her own army, without ever ending up in a romantic relationship or even thinking much about it.

    Sorry for the long comment. This struck a chord with me, especially after recently reading a comment somewhere else that said something to the effect that making a character explicitly asexual is a mistake because it limits the story. ::sigh:: That kind of thinking needs to change.

  • Here Be Aromantic and Asexual Protagonists | Dragons, Faeries, Space & Stars

    […] years ago this month I wrote my post “Where are the asexual protagonists?” making a case for more asexual and aromantic characters and storylines and suggesting quite […]

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