An Ace Up My Sleeve: Asexual Representation for Ace Week 2021
If you thought this post would be about playing cards or magic tricks, I'm afraid you've been misled. October 24-30, 2021 is Ace Week, formerly Asexual Awareness Week. It's "an international campaign dedicated to raising awareness and expanding education of asexuality." And since I'm asexual, I truly do have an ace up my sleeve. It's me. I'm up my sleeve. Well, my arm is. I also have an ace in my wallet that I carry everywhere. And a joker, for some reason. I do sometimes have books about asexuals up my sleeve too – when I'm wearing really huge sleeves, and it's a really small book.
Okay, so it's a terrible pun of a title. Please bear with me.
What is asexuality?
Asexuality is a sexual orientation. It's sometimes referred to as "the invisible orientation". And while an estimated 1% of the population identifies as asexual, the number could be a lot higher. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) offers a great definition:
"An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, just like other sexual orientations."
Asexuality isn't new, either. The Kinsey Scale included a category for asexuality – marked with an X – as far back as the 1940s. The current understanding of the history of asexuality dates back further. But changes in language and acceptance of different sexual orientations can make that tracking difficult.
Before we dive deeper, I also want to share a few terms related to asexuality that I'll be using in this post:
- Ace or aces: a common abbreviation or nickname for asexual, used by members of the community.
- Aromantic or aro: someone who does not experience romantic attraction, and the most common abbreviation.
- Aro-ace or aroace: someone who is both aromantic and asexual.
- Grey-asexual, grey-sexual, grey-a, demisexual: terms for people who are on the asexual spectrum and only sometimes or rarely experience sexual attraction.
- Asexual spectrum or asexual umbrella: someone who is asexual or aromantic, grey-asexual, demisexual, etc.
- Allosexual or allo: a term for someone who isn't asexual, who experiences sexual attraction. Sometimes also just referred to as "sexual".
These and other terms are explained in greater detail on the AVEN definition page.
Why does awareness and acceptance of this "invisible" group matter? Because there's still a lot of stigma and prejudice against people who are asexual. Aces can be told "it's just a phase" or "you haven't met the right person". They may be told they're just scared of sex, men, women or intimacy. Others are told that they must be sick or have something wrong with them. All kinds of horrible things. For people, particularly young people, who are questioning their sexuality and sexual orientation, it's important to know that they're not alone. Reputable information and accurate representation are an important part of that.
With that, here are some recommended books that are totally ace!
(See what I did there?)
Books About Asexuality
The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker
Published in 2014, this book may feel a little academic at times, and some of the information and statistics are out of date. But it's still a great resource for learning about asexuality, particularly for anyone wondering if they may be asexual. It also has a great section of tips for partners, friends and family of someone who is asexual or who might be asexual. The author is asexual and aromantic. The Invisible Orientation was a finalist for the LAMBDA award for nonfiction in 2015.
The author of this book is a journalist who interviews multiple aces about their experience. The book offers insights on intersectionality too with race, gender and disability. Chen also talks about sex positivity, and the need for asexuality to be accepted along with other sexualities. Angela Chen is asexual, a prolific article/essay writer, and a senior editor for Wired magazine.
The ABC's of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell
This book is aimed at teens who are questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation. It touches on a wide variety of topics on sex and gender and includes a section on asexuality and aromanticism. The author is a 2SLGBTQ+ educator, blogger and YouTuber.
Books with Asexual Characters
When I first started looking for ace characters, they only seemed to exist in fantasy and science fiction novels. And most of them were non-humans, robots or aliens. It was disheartening because I really wanted to find more realistic characters like me. While there are definitely fantasy novels on this list, all of the aces in them are human. And there are a lot of books set in real life, too! I've also noted which of these books were written by someone under the asexual umbrella. Most of these books are teen or younger adult books.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
I've lost track of the number of times I've recommended this book in different contexts. The Wayward Children series is a great read for any teen or adult who really, really wanted Narnia to be real. In these books, teens wind up finding a door that leads them to the world that matches their souls. Problem is, they can't stay unless they're sure. This first book follows Nancy, who has just returned to the "real world" and desperately wants to go back to her underworld. Nancy is asexual. She describes her feelings toward other people as being able to see and value their beauty, but adds "I wouldn't want to date a painting". The author, Seanan McGuire, is demisexual. Nancy shows up again in later books, but each one of the series features a different protagonist.
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
I think this is the first book I ever read with an explicitly asexual main character. Kevin, who's ace, is best friends with Ellie, the protagonist. The book begins with the aftermath of Ellie confessing her feelings for Kevin... and Kevin turning her down as gently as possible by coming out as asexual. Ellie struggles with this information, especially since Kevin winds up with the new girl shortly after. Turns out he's being magically seduced by an evil faerie queen. Ellie has to reconcile her feelings and fight to save not just Kevin, but her whole community.
Vanilla by Billy Merrell
This novel in prose features two teenagers in a relationship – Vanilla and Hunter. For both of them, realizing they're gay and have feelings for another guy is pretty new. While Hunter wants to spend every moment kissing and touching Vanilla, Vanilla would rather just cuddle and talk. Neither of them is honest with the other about what they truly want, and it results in two very unhappy people. Some readers have criticized this book as being "aphobic" or asexual-phobic. This is because Hunter is unable to accept Vanilla as he comes to realize that he is asexual. But people who are just figuring out who they are and what they want can easily hurt someone else. This book is the case of a youthful relationship gone horribly wrong. It isn't all doom and gloom, though. Thanks to Vanilla's friend Angel, Vanilla undergoes a great deal of self-discovery in this book. By the end, Vanilla starts to feel comfortable in his skin.
This can be a truly worthwhile read, but I wouldn't recommend it for someone looking for comfort and romance!
I recommended this book for the TPL Reading Challenge post "a book that is narrative non-fiction". It's a true-crime story from California in 2013. One of the two teenagers in it, Sasha, is autistic, asexual and transgender. While there isn't a great deal about their asexuality in this book, it's always good to have some real-life representation too. I found this book to be gripping, an absolute rollercoaster. In the end, I found myself rooting for both Sasha and Richard – the two teens mentioned in the title.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
I loved this graphic memoir. For the TPL Reading Challenge 2021, I'd consider this "a book by or about someone you'd like to meet". We have so much in common! E is queer, non-binary and asexual. Feels awfully familiar to me. Not to mention, e's also a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
How to be Ace by Rebecca Burgess
In this graphic memoir, the author shares a great deal about their fear of being alone forever. Burgess writes about her life from a young age to her early 20's.
Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann
A pretty fluffy young adult novel about an ace teen who wants a romantic relationship. Aside from the romantic happily-ever-after, this novel also tackles the pressure teens face to excel academically.
Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
Tash and her friends produce a modern webseries remake of Anna Karenina. One day it really takes off after being mentioned by a popular blogger. When the series is nominated for an award, Tash finally has the chance to meet her online crush in person. Problem is, he doesn't know that Tash is asexual and she's not sure how to tell him. This book is a story of the ups and downs in friendships, and missing out on what's right in front of you.
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
This novel features a group of three friends that slowly evolve into a triad relationship. One of them is demisexual. Also, they have a podcast! The author is aroace, and one of my colleagues has another recommendation by her.
More Recommendations from my Coworkers
Generally, I try to read every book with asexual representation that I can. But I haven't read all of them! So here are some recommendations from fellow aces Denise and Chelsea.
Loveless by Alice Oseman
"Loveless is one of my personal favourites. It definitely helps that it's about an aroace girl performing Shakespeare with her friends. I read it during the pandemic when I'd been weekly performing Shakespeare plays over Zoom, so it hit home."
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
This book by an Indigenous, asexual author features an Indigenous, asexual protagonist! Elatsoe – Ellie for short – has a ghost dog as her best friend. Together, they work to solve the murder of Ellie's cousin.
Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappa
"This is a young adult, paranormal mystery with an ace protagonist (Zora). It definitely veers towards the lighter side. It's nice to see a book with an ace character that isn't all about their sexuality. It's just a part of who they are. Since it isn't a romance, I think their asexuality is only mentioned on the page once. But it's done so through the character literally saying the phrase, "ugh. I'm too asexual for this", which I think most of us aces have thought at times, so that cracked me up." The author is asexual, too.
Tarnished are the Stars by Rosiee Thor
This is a young adult science fiction novel. There's three different point of view characters in it, and one of them is aroace. This book does have the "broken asexual" trope though. It takes the character a long time to find friends who accept him and don't view him as weird, wrong or "damaged".
Available in eBook Format
Currently, these titles are ebook only.
- Keeping Casey: Keeping Him #1 by Amy Ainslin. A romance between two male hockey players. One of the protagonists is demisexual and has rheumatoid arthritis. The author frequently writes demisexual characters.
- Play it Again by Aidan Wayne. A cute romance between two men. One of them is slowly figuring out that he's ace – and his allosexual partner is very supportive of him.
- Claudie Arseneault is an aroace Canadian author and her work features aroace characters and platonic relationships. She's also the creator of The AroAce Database.
- His Quiet Agent by Ada Maria Soto. One of the protagonists is asexual, and the other comes to realize that he's demisexual. It features some asexual stereotypes, but the romantic relationship is entirely about emotional intimacy and holds definite appeal.
More Books with Asexual Representation
Most of these books are ones my coworkers and I have heard good things about, but haven't had a chance to read yet. Some of the asexual characters in these books may not be entirely human, or the asexual character is a minor character.
- The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun (just released September 2021)
- Rick by Alex Gino
- Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson, sequel to Ultraviolet
- Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman. The author is on the asexual spectrum.
- Belle Révolte and What We Devour by Linsey Miller
- Not Your Backup by C. B. Lee. Sequel to Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain. The whole series has a fantastic cast of 2SLGBTQ+ characters. This third book has an aroace protagonist.
- Beyond the Black Door by AdriAnne Strickland
- Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria
- The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. The asexual character becomes the protagonist in the sequel, The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy.
- The NeoG series by K. B. Wagers has a minor aroace character.
Do you have more books with asexual characters to add? Please share below in the comments!
With thanks to Denise and Chelsea.