On Ace Representation: Perceived Ace-coding and Confirmed Ace Rep

Posted April 8, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

On Ace Representation: Perceived Ace-coding and Confirmed Ace Rep

Today’s topic is likely a bit more controversial than the others, though it’s largely my own musings about ace and aro representation and the way that affects me personally. You see, I’m one of those people who will, quite happily, code everyone in a show or a story as arospec and acespec until proven otherwise, so spotting some of the negative ways in which ace-coding happens in older shows can be difficult for me to realise.

It’s hard, for example, to see Data as a prime example of the way aces and aros only exist in science fiction as robots (well, androids) and non-human if your base assumption is that all the humanoid (and alien) people on the show are also aromantic and/or asexual, unless the narrative proves otherwise like with Riker and Troi’s relationship. There is little out of the ordinary there to link Data’s lack of humanity to his lack of romantic or sexual attractions even in the episodes that revolve around them.

That doesn’t, though, mean the link isn’t there for others or that it’s not there at all. It just means that the way I interpret narratives obscures the way certain aspects of ace-coding work, and I can see the way that it affects me and how I relate to media and that’s something I’m still working through. It’s more than that, though. It took me a long time to work out that this was something I was struggling with and needed to pay attention to. The first time I consciously paid attention to the way characters were coded, by the creators, to be allosexual (or not) was Yuri!!! On Ice. I did that because the contrast between the way Yuri and his relationship to romance and sex are portrayed is so starkly different from literally every other character on the show and it was something I had never before experienced. Here was a show where I could not read every character as aroace by default. I could read Yuri as demi, though, and I imagine that the “He can’t be demisexual; he’s gay! Stop taking our representation, you fakers!” side of fandom hasn’t ever really stopped.

That fandom, though, and specifically that backlash was the first time I think I genuinely experienced ace-coding in fiction and the way it can affect us when the character’s creators don’t make that coding explicit in some way, even just as a comment in an interview.

It’s why I so vastly prefer to discuss books or narratives that contain confirmed asexual or aromantic representation. If it’s there on purpose, no one can lash out at us for misinterpreting subtext, no one call tell us that we’re taking representation away from one group to give it to another. As if there aren’t reams of philosophical thought and arguments about whether or not there can be One True Interpretation of narratives. (Cluebat: If there was One True Interpretation, we wouldn’t be arguing about what it is.)

It makes me excited when I see people argue that such-and-such character is acespec or arospec, like Sherlock Holmes or Yuri Katsuki. It’s also why I’m hesitant to work out my thoughts on how asexuality is a part of fairytales in general and how fairytale’s One True Love and Happily Ever After end up fetishizing demisexuality in particular.

Some of that, too, is down to the prevailing narrative that asexuality and aromanticism, as concepts, are ‘new’ and have only been around for, at best, around 20 years. As compared to other sexual orientations and gender identities. The lack of research into the historical depiction of asexuality and aromanticism doesn’t help there and trying to discuss what we do have and know about – such as whether any ‘romantic friendships’ or concepts like the Boston marriages – also tell us anything about the way asexuality and aromanticism occurred throughout history.

But it is virtually impossible to talk about the way aromanticism and asexuality may have been coded into our history, the way either affected queer history in particular because certain vocal groups of people would be up in arms about it, believing like the vocal group of Yuri!!! On Ice fans that aromanticism/asexuality cannot co-exist with allosexual and alloromantic queerness.

Which leaves me hesitant to discuss older books or older shows or games or anything that could be argued to contain asexual or aromantic representation because doing so risks running into groups of people completely uninterested in any kind of discussion or argument.

And I’m still working on unpacking that and finding my feet in reviewing asexual and aromantic representation in media that does not explicitly have either. I do feel it’s important to do so. It would greatly increase our understanding of queer representation in media and throughout history. But it will, I suspect, be a while before I convince myself to write about it in more detail, and that’s a shame.

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