Asexuality Reading List: Fiction

If you’re looking for aroace fiction, you should know about The Aroace Database. If you’re into fantasy or YAL you’ll be particularly well-served. This database is maintained by a team of people and you can search by:

  • Type of representation: Word of God (meaning the author has talked about it elsewhere e.g. in interviews), On The Page (asexuality is described) or Word Used (the word ‘asexual’ or ‘aromantic’ is used in the story).
  • Character importance: Is the ace character the lead (‘hero’), main (important) or side (minor)?
  • The most important relationships to the character
  • Who they’re paired with
  • Notes and warnings

Recently, an increasing number of bookish websites are promoting lists of reading material by and about aces, especially during Asexual Visibility Week:

Books on the lists illuminate how fantasy and YAL readers are increasingly well-served. Here are some ace non-fiction books to get you started:

  • A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger
  • Ace of Hearts by Lucy Mason (2022)
  • Aces Wild: A Heistby Amanda DeWitt
  • Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith
  • Clariel by Garth Nix
  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (2020)
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  • Everyone Hates Kelsie Miller by Meredith Ireland
  • Fire Becomes Herby Rosiee Thor
  • Funeral Girl by Emma K. Ohland
  • Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
  • I Am Not Your Chosen One by Evelyn Benvie (2022)
  • Inheritors of Power by Juliette Wade (2022)
  • It Sounds Like This by Anna Meriano (2022)
  • June and Devon Come to Life by Sandra Henry
  • Legacy of the Vermillion Blade by @Tallsquall (2022)
  • Little Black Bird by Anna Kirchner (2020)
  • Other People’s Butterflies by Cora Ruskin (2021)
  • Of the Wild by Elizabeth Wambheim (2021)
  • Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson
  • Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (2020)
  • Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim
  • Skeleton From The Closet by S.E. Wigget (2017)
  • Snowstorm & Overgrowth: A Queer Fantasy & Solarpunk Collection by Claudie Arseneault
  • Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
  • The Bone Season Series by Samantha Shannon (2013)
  • The Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman (2022)
  • The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong (2022)
  • The Kindred by Alechia Dow
  • The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann
  • The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (2020)
  • The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson
  • The Rhythm of My Soul by Elin Dyer (2021) with a sequel in 2022
  • The Threat of the Hunt by Madeline Dyer (2022) (all of this author’s books published under the names Elin Dyer and Elin Annaliese have ace characters.)
  • The Towers of Nine by Alyssa Louttit (2022)
  • We Go Forward by Alison Evans (2016)
  • What We Devour by Linsey Miller

However, sometimes a story resonates more when the asexuality (or other type of queerness) is metaphorical, and probably not intended. (On the topic of ‘intentionality’, I happen to think what an author intends is irrelevant compared to how a story resonates with readers, and what it actually does.)

Below is a different collection of narratives. These ones probably won’t make it into the Aroace Database. They are aroace for their aesthetic. Perhaps they depict an aroace way of being in the world rather than an ace character. Alternatively, they won’t make the lists because they are a bit older and therefore out of fashion, because the aceness is commonly explained away as something else, or because short lyrical fiction is seldom read outside academia.

How the aceness of these stories is typically explained away:

  • They’re not ace, the character was living in a repressive milieu
  • They’re not ace, the character is having a trauma response
  • They’re not ace, the character is actually gay
  • They’re not ace, the character is actually sociopath/narcissist
  • They’re not ace, the character is actually Autistic

Before arguing against the possible aceness of these characters, be aware that these exact talking points are also directed at ace people. The aces in your life will probably not be up for a fun, hypothetical literary debate over reasons for your non-ace take.

NOVEL AND FILM: THE REMAINS OF THE DAY BY KAZUO ISHIGURO

The popular view of Stevens: That he is repressed and constricted by his upbringing and circumstances. But his father had the same sort of upbringing and is different again. I read Stevens as ace.

SHORT NOVEL: ON CHESIL BEACH BY IAN MCEWAN

Many readers detect hints of sexual abuse in the backstory of Florence but trauma or not, Florence can be read as sex repulsed ace.

“OPEN HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL” BY JOHN WISWELL

I’ve analysed John Wiswell’s award-wining short story in depth.

Sometimes you find your queer rep on the page, named and explored and tied up with a bow, but sometimes you’ll find your queer rep at a metaphorical level. Sometimes the metaphorical kind is more resonant.

“SPACESHIPS HAVE LANDED” BY ALICE MUNRO

There’s a character in this (long) 1990s short story which I’m sure readers will decode as gay, but Alice Munro does a big switcheroo (in more ways than one) and there’s a case to be made that the ‘closeted gay’ character is in fact asexual. The word asexual is not used, but it wouldn’t be, because the entire story is about young people navigating their coming-of-age in the 1950s when people lacked concepts for a number of things, and when ‘choices’ weren’t true choices.

GRAPHIC MEMOIR: GENDERQUEER

(I probably shouldn’t be including ‘memoir’ on a fiction list but I’m including memoir anyway.)

Yep. The most banned book in American school libraries is the life story of an actual ace person who actually had these experiences as an actual young person. Heaven forbid others like the author see themselves reflected in literature.

The memoir was being taught in Milken’s 12th grade English course, Marginalized Voices, which introduces new perspectives to students nearing the end of high school. However, many parents believed that Gender Queer was too explicit for the classroom, despite those pages not being included in the required reading assignments for the text.

The Roar

Having read this book, there’s nothing salacious in here that teens aren’t talking about or doing themselves already, and it is the ultimate irony that the most sexually provocative book is in fact about an asexual person. (If that doesn’t prove Julia Serano’s theory about stigma in Sexed Up, I don’t know what does.)

GRAPHIC MEMOIR: HOW TO BE ACE: A MEMOIR OF GROWING UP ASEXUAL BY REBECCA BURGESS

Jessica Kingsley Publishers specialise in a lot of memoir about neurodivergence and queerness. They’re not a large publisher because of course large publishers don’t take bets on such books. So the books tend to be a little more expensive than the mass produced equivalents. Be sure to spend the extra few dollars, especially since books from smaller publishers don’t always stay in print for extended periods of time.

Adults who wouldn’t let their kids near Genderqueer surely (surely?) won’t have a problem with this one?

CLASSIC NOVEL: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN

Charlotte Lucas: aromantic. Mary Bennet has taken solace in the Bible, which irritates everyone around her (including Mr Collins) but it would be good to hear more of Mary’s story. As the outsider sister, and the only sister who isn’t interested in young men, Mary could be ace.

(Modern re-visionings of Pride and Prejudice given these women their own stories and invariably give them a sex life.)

CANADIAN CHILDREN’S NOVEL: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

a 1945 hardcover edition

Marilla and/or Matthew Cuthbert. Of course, Anne With An E gives Marilla a romantic past, and tries to do something with Matthew as well. For ace rep, you have to go back to the originals sometimes.

JAPANESE NOVEL: CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN BY SAYAKA MURATA

The Japanese title of Convenience Store Woman is コンビニ人間 translates to ‘Convenience Store Human’. I feel the Japanese title should have been maintained, because the main character sees herself as human before she sees herself as ‘woman’, and by calling herself ‘human’ she is both othering herself and also underscoring her humanity nonetheless.

Pressured to live a conventional, married Japanese life, she finds a man whose only desire in life is to stay at home and do literally nothing. Although there’s nothing romantic or sexual between them, suddenly the world is happy for her, proving once and for all that no one was truly interested in her, and her happiness. Everyone wants to see convention play out. That’s all.

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU BY PETER CAMERON (2007)

18-year-old James Sveck is generally decoded (and probably written) as a young man about to come out as gay. In fact, the book got a Ferro-Grumley Award for Gay Male Fiction 2008.

But James is not quite at the coming out stage yet.

For now, he’s going to therapy, is thinking a lot about this older guy at his part-time job and as the story ends he eschews a capitalist, patriarchal life which is his to take if he wants it.

You could easily read James as ace, especially if you read him as ace with a homoromantic orientation to go with. There’s really nothing in the story which stands against that take, because it ends before he has any big epiphany regarding his sexuality. The feeling of being a ‘misfit’, of rejecting the normie life, of perhaps being closer to your grandparent than to your parent, because it takes a certain sort of person to understand you, is common to the queer experience more broadly.

The 2007 YA book was adapted as a 2012 film.

EPISODE ONE OF WEDNESDAY

I intended to watch the whole series after close-reading the pilot, but unfortunately it went downhill very quickly — all style and no substance after episode one.

Wednesday Addams is clearly an aroace character but she has not been written that way. The Ace Couple, in December 2022, summed up in their podcast my own exact issues with this show.

Everybody is shipping #Wenclair. Netflix and the show’s cast are leaning into the queer community with interviews and “Wednesgay” drag events without actually showing us meaningful gay rep on screen. Meanwhile, Wednesday could and should be an AroAce icon.

show notes for the “Wednesday” episode of The Ace Couple

TV SERIES: KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF

The Ace Couple also introduced me to Kevin Can F**k Himself, which I wouldn’t have watched beyond the first minute had I not got a recommendation, because at first glance I didn’t pick up that the show was a spoof on those ‘I Hate My Wife’ sit-coms like Everybody Loves Raymond and Married With Children. (Is it called a ‘spoof’ if it’s tackling something serious? Like, domestic violence?)

I only have access to Season One here in Australia, but there are two. This show prioritises friendship and downplays the central role of romantic partnership, which is why it may appeal to aces. The satirical parts of the show are so well done they’re actually hard to watch, though.

TV SERIES: I MAY DESTROY YOU

So much to say about this one.

I May Destroy You is a British black comedy-drama television limited series created, written, co-directed, and executive produced by Michaela Coel for BBC. If I didn’t happen to know that Michaela Coel is aromantic, I may not have even picked that identity in the show itself, but the fictional character she plays is low-key aromantic: Arabella has strong friendships (friends are like family), and at one point exclaims, “I’m not straight! I just like d*ck!” Coming from a cis woman, I’m sure that confuses a lot of viewers. Realistically, queer people surround themselves with other queer people, and Arabella’s bestie is a gay man.

This is a show about sexual violence with content warnings at the start and a number for Lifeline. The storyline explores many different permutations of sexual consent, and, as you might expect, contains numerous sex scenes. Sex repulsed aces may not be able to watch it.

For romantic asexuals, Arabella’s room-mate Ben may be more relatable. This guy doesn’t have his own thread, but is always around the house, functioning as a kick-off board for Arabella and Arabella’s dramas (which stem from her need for a sex life). For most of the story, Ben is presented as someone perfectly happy not going out. He’s also the most sensible and level character out of everyone. But near the end we see him watch a YouTube animation about loneliness. Is he looking this up for Arabella’s benefit or his own? In any case, Ben doesn’t seem sexually driven in the slightest and also seems fine with that. Refreshingly, The Flatmate Who Never Leaves The House is not othered as a complete weirdo/creep as most other shows do with twenty-something flatmates.

THE WEIRD FLATMATE WHO IS WEIRD BECAUSE HE IS NOT HAVING ANY SEX TROPE

As counterpoint, take Fresh Meat’s Greg, the Scottish geology student, who appears to us first as a creep who wears a woollen jersey and no pants. (The reason for this is never given.)

Has TV Tropes already named this trope? Not exactly. For Greg we have:

  • Badass Bookworm: Series 3, episode 4: two bookworms fight over a book, Howard is victorious.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Boy is he ever. His first appearance sees him blow-drying duck carcasses with a hairdryer, while wearing a woolly jumper and no trousers. He tells Vod (who saw him like that upon first meeting him) that he is used to wearing “trousers of the mind”. Right…
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Referred to as ‘not dangerous’ by Josie during her first vlog.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Shares this role with JP and Vod, he’s a Meta Guy to boot pointing if Kingsley hates Josie he must like her.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Oregon calls him a freak when with Tony Shales. Though he’s way more normal and self-aware than Brian.
  • Lovable Nerd: Starts off as The Friend Nobody Likes, but the others warm up to him after a while, and he gets the highest grade at the end of the series.
  • Geek Physiques: Pudgier variant.
  • Nerd Glasses: He tries contacts but they don’t work out for him.
  • The Stoic: Or so he claims. To Stowe Boy JP, the term means something very different.
  • TV Genius: His list of pub quiz specialist subjects is rather impressive.

Another example: Maggie’s boyfriend’s flatmate Nathan in the pilot of Dolly Alderton’s All I Know About Love. The main (empathetic) characters sneer at Nathan for arriving home and making arrangements to meet someone at the gym:

Street: Ah, Nathan, this is Maggie.
Maggie: Hi!
Nathan: [opening his mail after arriving home from work] Ah, don’t worry, I’ll be out your way soon. I’m just getting changed and going to the gym.
Street: Nathan’s in marathon training.
Maggie: [condescending] Wow. Amazing! How’s it going?
Nathan: Ah, pretty bad to be honest. Yeah, painful and boring.
Maggie: Why you doing it?
Nathan: I dunno. Something to do. [awkward laugh]
Street: [addressing Maggie so that Nathan can hear] Nathan needs to have sex and then he’ll stop. What’s that word you and your mates use at the gym? Ah, grating.
Nathan: Shredding.
Street: [to Maggie] Have you got any single friends?
Nathan: Ah, that, that isn’t necessary.
Maggie: Uh, yah, loads. [gasping] Maybe I’ll give you Birdy’s number.
Street: Was she there the other night?
Maggie: Yeah, she’s the little one with the dark hair. She’s the best person in the world.
Street: Who were those other two? Nell and Amara, we met them at uni. Nell’s got a boyfriend though and Amara only ever seems to date spoken word performers or Southern Europeans. [to Nathan] That doesn’t seem to be your immediate… vibe.

Nathan’s immediate vibe

At this point, aces will probably be cringing at the familiarity of this exchange. Will the show itself do anything to critique compulsory sexuality? Well, not immediately. It continues with Nathan leaving the room, at which point the lovebirds turn to each other:

Maggie: He seems nice though.
Street: Yeah, but just the kind of guy that’s a bit too into barbecue food, you know?
Maggie: Mm. Or who says, “Brazilian women are the sexiest women on Earth.”
Street: [laughs] Exactly.

Why would a young man want to keep himself healthy if he doesn’t plan to have sex, amirite?

Even when Nathan says he doesn’t want to be set up, Maggie and Street launch into a detailed discussion about which girl they can arrange for him.

I can’t tell you if compulsory sexuality was ever critiqued in All I Know About Love because I stopped watching soon after that scene. We’ve seen these stories so many times before, which is what makes the character of Ben in I May Destroy You so refreshing. (He shouldn’t be. I mean, he doesn’t even get his own storyline, which shows you how low the bar is.)

After looking it up: Nathan does end up dating Birdie. Australian actor who plays Nathan says: “I really related to Maggie’s story of not wanting to let the party end and not wanting to let the early 20s end. […] I guess what I learned was that everyone’s going through such a similar journey.”

Aces may disagree that ‘everyone’s going through a similar journey, and wonder how much the creator of All I Know About Love really knows about Love. (The allocishets tend to assume they know a lot.)

The stated big theme of All I Know About Love: Can platonic love survive romantic love? This is perfect question to be answered by an aroace story, don’t you think, or at least an aroace subplot as counterpoint?

Back to I May Destroy You.

Another ace-relevant issue which comes up: When you have sex with someone (say, a one night stand), how much are you expected to disclose about how your attraction works? In the story: If a gay man has a one night stand with a straight woman and only afterwards tells her he’s gay, and that he’s just trying to work himself out, does this count as lying, or is it on the abuse continuum?

The show asks these questions but doesn’t come down morally on any particular side. This disclosure question is relevant for any queer person, and particularly pertinent for trans people. Why is it that only queer people are expected to disclose details of exactly how attraction and sexuality works, not the straights, even when everyone’s attraction works a bit differently, even in the group labelled ‘straight’? Extrapolating from the I May Destroy You storyline, if a sex favorable ace decides to have sex, is it disingenuous (and abusive?) to keep details of one’s own attraction to oneself? How much can we expect of a temporary partner when the contingency of the arrangement is mutual?

If you can stomach the sex (and rape), Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You is thought-provoking, and ultimately affirming of aceness as a type of queerness. We could ask for on-the-page representation, and a developed storyline for Ben, but this is a problem with the corpus, not with any in particular show in its own right.