Perhaps you wondered where this column ended up over the past few weeks. Never fear – Dragonrage is back and better than ever! This week starts a shiny new feature on our blog called Dragons Raging. While my raging intersectional feminism is all well and good, at the end of the day, I am just a young straight cis able-bodied white girl. I can only talk about what I’d like to see from a very privileged point of view.
Dragons Raging will feature interviews with people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, or all three rolled into one.
Change starts by listening to the people we so often shun.
In this week’s Dragons Raging, I talk to Julie Sondra Decker, an agented writer who identifies as asexual.
Tell us a little about yourself! (Not your sexual orientation – literally things about you. Like if you like Avatar: The Last Airbender or are addicted to chocolate.)
I’m a very busy writer and a very greedy reader. I write and read mostly fantasy and science fiction, in all age categories, and I also write a fair amount of nonfiction. I’ve sold several long and short pieces. I love art (though I’m not very good at it) and enjoy drawing my two webcomics (one weekly fantasy comic, one monthly joke comic for authors). And I adore singing and making videos from silly to serious, some of which involve both silliness and singing. I also play tennis, rock at Dance Dance Revolution, eat lots of jellybeans, and enjoy coffee.
I’m a gross fangirl of Adventure Time, Dar Williams, Tenacious D, Eyeshield 21, Douglas Adams, Imogen Heap, Welcome to Night Vale, They Might Be Giants, Monty Python, The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, Diane Duane, the Indigo Girls, Animaniacs, Shannon Hale, Suzanne Vega, Invader Zim, Tori Amos, Red Dwarf, Weird Al, and most musicals (especially Wicked and Dr. Horrible).
Oh, Wicked is my favorite musical! You have great taste.
You identify as asexual. What does that mean to you?
It’s a sexual orientation of “no thanks.” I don’t find other people sexually attractive, and in my case, I’m also aromantic—I don’t find anyone romantically attractive either. I happen to be content with this and don’t find it lonely or alienating, but sometimes people’s disbelieving and dismissive responses—almost all of which include projecting their own values and desires onto me—are frustrating to deal with.
How do you explain asexuality to others?
My explanations of asexuality depend entirely on how the subject comes up. Since I do a fair amount of asexuality education online, sometimes people will comment on my content and engage with me (in both constructive and not-so-constructive ways). In those cases I sometimes attempt to answer their questions and back up my explanations with links to articles, videos, or blog posts as appropriate. But if the subject comes up in some unrelated context with people who are finding out I’m asexual for the first time—and they’ve never heard of asexuality—I usually start with something very neutral-sounding: “I’ve never found anyone attractive that way, so I’ll call myself asexual until or unless that changes.” For some reason, people can get agitated when they perceive asexuality as a decision—processing it as if I’m afraid of commitment, got burned by a bad relationship, or am close-minded about new experiences—so making it clear that it’s just a description, not an oath or decision I made, sometimes makes them relax.
I just follow their lead after that. If they’re condescending or start mocking me—which happens—I usually express surprise that they’re so ignorant and encourage them to read up on the subject . . . since it’s actually quite shocking that they’d laugh at something so central to someone else’s identity. If they’re just curious, I usually don’t mind answering their questions directly or gently redirecting them to resources so I don’t have to spend forty minutes providing individual education.
Sometimes it helps to quote a scientific study (so they know it’s been investigated), mention “asexual communities” (so they know I’m not alone), or mention some of the resources I’ve created (articles, blog posts, interviews, an introductory book on the subject).
Do you think we need more asexual characters? What kinds of stories would you like to see?
We could definitely do with more asexual characters. Canon asexual characters in mainstream media are almost nonexistent, and characters interpreted or rumored to be asexual are often played as uninterested in sex/relationships for a specific reason (they’re an alien, they’re a villain, they’re ill, they’ve given up).
I would love to see both “issue books” about asexual people AND books in which characters are incidentally asexual. We need both of those things.
For “issue books,” it would be great to see some about teens coming to an asexual identity in the midst of their non-asexual peers’ first sexual attractions, and see those characters actively coming to terms with their situations.
I’d like to see older asexual people (past their teens as well as all the way up to elderly), and people who navigate relationships within the context of their asexual identity. Asexual people having relationships with non-asexual people, or with each other, and/or in unconventional partnerships like poly families and open marriages.
I’d like to see asexual characters whose sexual identities are intersectional with other marginalized or misunderstood parts of their identities—LGB+ asexual people, asexual people with disabilities, asexual people of color, autistic asexual people, asexual people who have experienced abuse, asexual people with mental illnesses, transgender and nonbinary asexual people. (This will help kill the narrative that asexuality can only be authentic in uncomplicated, straightforward cases; when we treat asexuality as a last-resort diagnosis that we’d prefer to blame on another marginalized identity if we can, people whose identities are intersectional in these ways will continue to be erased even if the asexual identity itself is popularized and legitimized. It’s very important to show how multiple marginalized identities can coexist.)
And in non-“issue” books, I’d like to see stories with asexual characters who are explicitly identified as asexual, have their asexual identity shown as integral to their personality, don’t have other characters try (or “succeed”) at “fixing” them, and otherwise don’t make a big deal out of it; it should be as obvious but as inconsequential as it is for our heterosexual characters.
What do you hate in asexual representation today?
Mostly, I hate that there really isn’t any.
But on the few and far between instances that you do see it, the vilest handling of it is the “fix them” plot. I’ve seen people referred to as asexual in mainstream media who literally got “fixed” with hormones or an operation, after which they were presumably “normal again.”
In the instances of characters who are simply presumed asexual, they are usually represented as missing a vital part of their humanity. It’s clear that when some non-asexual writers try to write asexual characters, they’re imagining people with something missing that makes them incomplete, and they write them with this very disturbing hollowness that can be damaging to our community and the individuals in it. Asexual people should be written as having formed whole without sexual attraction, not as people of other orientations with something taken out of them.
What do you like in asexual representation today?
I like asexual characters who experience realistic and/or positive interactions with others when their sexuality comes up.
In the short-lived television show Huge, asexual counselor Poppy mentioned being asexual to her co-counselor, and his only real reaction was to ask for clarification and then say “Okay.” It was never brought up again, which was refreshing (though not great for visibility purposes).
In the ongoing New Zealand soap Shortland Street, biromantic asexual character Gerald has difficulties in relationships because he’s romantically interested in men and women but finds himself reluctant to have sex and insecure about pleasing his partners. His issues are sensitively handled, though sometimes depressing (most notably, when a woman who dated him went back to “just friends” with him and made it clear she didn’t even think of him as a man).
There are a handful of novels with asexual characters in them, but this representation has yet to work as a vehicle for getting asexuality into the public eye as a somewhat uncommon but perfectly natural/ordinary identity. And some independent creators are paving the way with asexual characters in webcomics—like Tab Kimpton’s Shades of A, Danielle Corsetto’s Girls With Slingshots, and Michael Lee Lunsford’s Supernormal Step.
I’m planning for my next novel to feature an asexual teen lesbian, but I’d love to see non-asexual authors attempting asexual characters, as long as they check for understanding and do their homework. Bad representation is worse than no representation, in my opinion.