Subverting Stereotypes: A Look at Asexual and Aromantic Representation in RoAnna Sylver’s ‘Chameleon Moon’

Posted July 22, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies / 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!

Normally, Monday Musings are somewhere below 2,500 words. This week is slightly different. And by that I mean that this week’s post is in excess of 6,000 words because it’s a proper aroace literary analysis post! By popular Twitter vote, I’m releasing my essay on the asexual and aromantic representation in RoAnna Sylver’s Chameleon Moon for everyone today! Have fun!

Subverting Stereotypes: A Look at Asexual and Aromantic Representation in RoAnna Sylver’s ‘Chameleon Moon’

Back in 2017, when I first read Chameleon Moon, I did not know how to write an essay about it. I knew how to outline the essay, but though that filled me with excitement, the thought of working it out filled me with dread. Sylver’s book is ambitious in a way few books are even today and I, truthfully, not knowledgeable enough to do that ambition justice.

Chameleon Moon is a book about a city on fire. Literally and figuratively. It is most often described as ‘hopepunk’. The term, coined by author Alexandra Rowland in 2017, is intended as the antithesis of grimdark.

Hopepunk says that genuinely and sincerely caring about something, anything, requires bravery and strength. Hopepunk isn’t ever about submission or acceptance: It’s about standing up and fighting for what you believe in. It’s about standing up for other people. It’s about DEMANDING a better, kinder world, and truly believing that we can get there if we care about each other as hard as we possibly can, with every drop of power in our little hearts. (Rowland)

Much has been said, and misunderstood, about hopepunk, but Chameleon Moon is a quintessential example of Rowland’s initial and long definition. Sylver themself has referred to Chameleon Moon as ‘dyshopia’ to capture both the strong sense of a dystopian future and the hope that underlies the core of the narrative.

Perhaps most importantly of all, hopepunk frequently centres marginalised people and this is where Chameleon Moon truly shines. Sylver’s novel is an ambitious intersectional novel touching on numerous levels of marginalised identity. It is this intersectionality and this ambition that stopped me from writing an essay initially. I was, at the time, almost entirely new to the concept of intersectionality or analysing in fiction.

I always wanted to write an essay that focused on Sylver’s use of asexual and aromantic tropes because it subverts reader expectations, but it is impossible, and indeed negligent, not to at least acknowledge the way the subversion of these tropes fit into the wider narrative that Sylver is telling.

As this essay focuses predominantly on the asexual and aromantic tropes, it only considers Chameleon Moon itself and will not cover either of the short story collections or the sequel, The Lifeline Signal. I posit, however, that there is a wealth of analysis in the way it treats intersectionality that can be done on the series as a whole as well as on individual books.

Overarching Themes

Before looking at the way Chameleon Moon uses its aromantic and asexual tropes, it is imperative to build up an overview of the intersectionality of the narrative and how it functions as hopepunk.

Its function as hopepunk is fairly easy to address simply by looking at a synopsis of the story. The book is set in a city called Parole. Parole lies in the Tartarus Zone, a forbidden zone in the middle of nowhere within the United States. Surrounding the city are electric fences or energy nets designed to keep its citizens trapped inside. Underneath Parole lies a fire that refuses to go out, based on the underground fire in Centralia in Pennsylvania, and that threatens to take Parole and all its citizens down with it.

Parole is watched over and ruled by a corporation known as Eye in the Sky which has blocked all internet access and all communication with the outside world. The main characters of the book are all marginalised people fighting against the corruption and danger posed by Eye in the Sky whether as secret resistance fighters or vigilantes.

The full impact of this setting is not explored until The Lifeline Signal, which is partially set in the Tartarus Zone, but for the purposes of this essay, it is most important to know that Parole is a dystopian setting and that its heroes are seeking to create a better place for one another.

Another important aspect of the setting is the use of superpowers as Parole is a city filled with what, in another setting, would be called ‘mutants’. Following the discovery of a miracle cure drug called Chrysodine, many people (in the US) take it as Chrysodine reportedly cures anything that is physically wrong with the taker. However, it soon becomes apparent that the drug has incredibly dangerous and potentially lethal side-effects. Those who survive the drug’s initial effect and the withdrawal, though, develop superpowers. For reasons that Chameleon Moon itself does not make clear, survivors of Chrysodrine find themselves trapped in Parole.

Through this combination of dystopia and superpowers, Sylver builds their setting, centring kindness and rebellion against corrupt political forces in a way that allows them to include and subvert multiple stereotypes.

One of the book’s protagonists, for example, is Evelyn Calliope, a polyamorous, biracial, transgender singer and (former) vigilante. Her superpower is her voice, which she can modulate to create sonic shockwaves, soothing songs and more. By giving Evelyn a superpower that amplifies her voice, and showing the reader how she uses those voices to fight against Eye in the Sky, Sylver echoes the way transgender women of colour have always gone to bat for others throughout (queer) history. It is a way for Sylver to highlight these women, and the cost of their choices, in a narrative designed to celebrate them.

Sylver also draws a direct comparison between the way that marginalised people stand against governments refusing to grant them basic rights and the way that many allies do. This is exemplified in a conversation that happens early on in the book. In this conversation, Evelyn is meeting with her white cousin, who is presented as an able-bodied cisgender man, and they discuss solutions to the fact that Parole is, quite literally, on fire. Liam’s plan is to put out the fire and assume that everything will be all right afterwards. As Evelyn points out, however, the isolation Parole is suffering was never about the fire lit underneath them.

“Then what is it… about?”

“The people inside. Even if we had a flood tomorrow, they wouldn’t let us out of this prison. It’s us and our identities they want to destroy! They won’t stop until every last one of us is dead!” (Sylver, “Chameleon Moon” 123, original emphasis)

Liam, it is made clear, has no connection to the people inside Parole itself. Prior to this part of the discussion, the novel has highlighted how aggressively Liam has walled himself off from the city to purportedly cares about. His home’s automated defences are so sensitive that not even the return of someone with express permission to be there, his cousin, is allowed to enter safely and without his direct intervention. While Evelyn has been living in Parole with her family, Liam has locked himself away within Turret House, looking down on the city through smoke and ashes, and has, as the conversations show, even cut himself off from Parole’s only reliable news source.

If ever the book had a scene contrasting the work done by marginalised people and their allies, this conversation is it and it is telling that Sylver structured the conversation between a rich, white, cisgender man and a transgender woman of colour struggling to make ends meet. Transgender women of colour experience the most poverty, violence and hate crimes out of all people, especially those who are Black, as made clear in, for example, the Human Rights Campaign’s report A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2018. It is often those most directly affected by policies who are at the forefront of change and Sylver encapsulates this in the way Evelyn demands that Liam, upon telling her he has a plan to put out the fire under Parole, give her a concrete plan rather than a platitude.

Sylver’s ambition to highlight what marginalised people deal with does not end with Evelyn, however. Rose, one of Evelyn’s partners, is a disabled woman with regenerative powers[1]. Tellingly, however, Rose’s regenerative powers, though showing her survive a fatal bullet wound, do not restore her legs: she uses prostheses. Giving Rose restorative powers that are directly responsible for saving her life and yet not restoring her legs and mobility is a powerful commentary on conventional discussions and depictions regarding the desirability of miracle cures and their effects in speculative fiction. Her powers and abilities are a direct commentary on the trope that magically healing disabilities is the desired outcome because it is an outright and unambiguous rejection of this trope. In a 2013 discussion post by Disability in Kidlit, Marieke Nijkamp and s.e. smith both discuss why they dislike the trope and the harm it can do to disabled readers.

“This narrative positions disability as something tragic and terrible that needs to be fixed, and sometimes as something a character should be ashamed of—only after the disability is cured does the character become whole,” s.e. smith says of the trope. Sylver, disabled themself, outright rejects it. Rose is never depicted as lacking, as broken, as not-whole, because she has no legs. If anything, Sylver aims for the opposite: showing Rose’s disability as something to find strength and pride in. At no point does anyone ask about why Rose’s regenerative abilities have not restored her legs. It is refreshing to see her disability so accepted by the cast. No one suggests that she takes Chrysodrine again to regrow her missing limbs. No one wonders why her regenerative powers heal potentially fatal bullet wounds but not lost limbs.

Evelyn and Rose are only two examples of Sylver’s approach to the superpowers and disabilities seen within the narrative, but they are all varied and almost all of them are visibly tied to issues marginalised people deal with on a daily basis, whether it’s society telling disabled people they are better off dead or magically cured, whether it’s society telling transgender people – and women especially – to be silent, whether it’s the feeling of invisibility felt by asexuals and aromantics… Parole as a city is a magnifying glass and a metaphor for the way our western societies treat marginalised people. Nowhere is this clearer than the speech in the epilogue.

But even if they [know what happened to us in Parole], they’re going to hate us, and say terrible things. You’re going to hear that you were born wrong, or you made the wrong choice, or that you’re sick and disgusting and evil and need to be wiped off the face of the earth.

But listen to me. You’re beautiful.  I really mean it from the bottom of my squishy, fuzzy heart, every single one of you listening to this is beautiful, and worth it, and you need to survive. We need you to survive.

People will try to hurt you. People will try to shut you up and bring you down and even kill you, and they’ll do whatever they can to convince you that you’re alone, and nobody cares, and that’s how they’ll win. They’ll use guns and they’ll use words, and the worst part of all is that you might listen when they say you’re a freak or a monster, and you might start to believe it.

But they are lying. Don’t believe them for a minute. Just keep singing. Sing for the ones you love, sing for the people who are fighting, and for everybody who didn’t make it. Maybe even sing a little bit for me. But mostly, sing for yourself.

And they can’t silence us. My signal is still going strong, and so is yours. Listen to my voice, and use your own and never, ever stop. Your voice is your power, and nothing and nobody can take it away from you. Love yourself, love the people around you, and never give up. If you need help, reach out. If you’re drowning, make some noise. There are people who love you, who will throw you a life preserver. That’s what it all comes down to, love. That’s how we’re gonna get through this. And we are gonna get through this. (Sylver, “Chameleon Moon” 431-432, original emphasis)

This is almost the entire penultimate page of Chameleon Moon and these words are aimed directly at the marginalised readers who have picked up the book. For over 400 pages, Sylver has shown us marginalised characters building a community together and finding hope in abysmal circumstances. Two of them, the ones this essay will look at in more depth, have both been portrayed as physically monstrous or simply inhuman. Regan looks like a lizard; Zilch like Frankenstein’s Monster. Even Rose, one of the kindest and sweetest characters in the story, is shown to grow thorns or healing plants from her body.

Yet none of its characters are presented as monstrous. None of its characters are presented as undesirable in any way. Time and again Sylver’s narrative makes it clear that while these characters may not look the way we would imagine a human ought to look, they are absolutely, unequivocally human, echoing sentiments from the X-men’s portrayal of mutants. Queer readings of the X-Men are nothing new and have even appeared in academic papers, such as in Michael Lecker’s 2007 paper “Why Can’t I Be Just Like Everyone Else?”: A Queer Reading of the X-Men. Like the X-Men, Chameleon Moon has both characters who could pass easily and those who could not. Like the X-Men, the main characters are part of persecuted minority groups and many of them face discrimination not only for their fantastical status as ‘not human’ but for the minority group they are a part of.

Chameleon Moon strongly implies that Evelyn Calliope fled her childhood home because her family largely rejected her queerness. When she meets up with her cousin again after years, at first he refuses to use her name or any sentences that would make him use pronouns for her that would acknowledge her gender. Though he clearly loves and misses his cousin, he is only reluctantly convinced to respect her in the conversation briefly quoted earlier. These discussions are few and contrasted by the far larger number scenes of quiet, unquestioning acceptance everyone else shows Evelyn and that Evelyn shows everyone else.

Though the links between Chrysodrine, disability and/or race are immediately obvious, these moments of acceptance result in the narrative also linking queerness to the way that Chrysodrine physically Others as Sylver clearly demonstrates that the majority of their cast falls somewhere under the queer umbrella. Yet by centralising these characters what Sylver actually accomplishes is the opposite. Instead of presenting these characters in a way that says “these people are different from us”, the narrative presents the characters in a way that says “these people are just like us”. Chameleon Moon uses its intertwining of physically Othering both the cast and the setting as well as the characters’ ability and drive to build a better, more accepting community to Same its characters, to state without question that they and people like them are human. This is why the epilogue is not afraid to address its readers directly and why it is so effective in doing so.

There is no way to read Chameleon Moon that is not, in some way, queer. It is present both textually and subtextually. As such it is impossible not to read the dystopian setting and its oppressive regime as commentary on current events, but an in-depth look is beyond the scope of this essay. The level of intersectionality hinted at in this section highlights the way that Sylver’s depiction of negative tropes about asexuality and aromanticism feed into the way that the narrative subverts and undermines negative tropes and ideas in general. Showing the way that the narrative treats Evelyn and Rose sets up a pattern that is carried through in all of the story’s main characters, though this essay is largely concerned with exploring that pattern in depth through the depictions of Regan and Zilch.

Playing with Ace and Aro Tropes

Previously, I broke down some of the most common fictional tropes and stereotypes when it comes to asexuality and aromanticism representation. Chameleon Moon includes two of these tropes – the ostracised aro and ace as well as the allo saviour – as well as the lack of visibility in society as a whole.

The ostracised aro/ace breaks down into several different subtypes, depending on the genre, and Sylver explicitly subverts three of them: the alien aro/ace, the death-adjacent aro/ace, and the socially isolated aro/ace. These are, however, three variations on a single theme. All of these variations put the aro/ace character in some way apart from society. Some I have already touched on, such as the way Sylver uses physical descriptions. While their goal is, as discussed, to ultimately convince readers that these physically Other characters are, in fact, the Same as everyone else, it is an unmistakable and unforgettable part of the way that Sylver plays with the tropes in general. There is no denying that Regan looks like a humanoid lizard or that Zilch looks like a stitched-together monster from Frankenstein and is generally described and depicted as an undead zombie.

One of Regan’s superpowers as a humanoid lizard is that he can turn invisible at will. Rather, he can blend into the background in a way similar to how a chameleon can, tying him directly to the title of the book and the series as a whole. More than a play on the title, though, Sylver is playing on that sense of invisibility that is so prevalent one of the most well-known non-fiction books about asexuality is titled The Invisible Orientation. Sylver toys with the possibilities of that link almost from the moment Regan is introduced.

At first it may not strike readers as particularly remarkable. The opening chapter does not deal with Regan’s sexual or romantic orientation. The former becomes clear later on in the book, making the link explicit.

The first chapter of the book is set at a club, moments before the famous Evelyn Calliope is set to perform. The reader is first introduced to Regan as he tries to press himself against a wall, presenting himself as someone who is not approachable. He rejects a girl’s attempts to make conversation with him and he rejects Evelyn’s invitation to sing with her on stage. Yet even in those brief moments, Sylver already plants hints that this book will not be playing by the rules of the stereotype. The girl who tries to talk to Regan recognises him, or thinks she does, and with the suggestion that everyone else in the bar looks at least humanoid it is hard to imagine that she would simply forget having seen a lizard-person. Nothing is made of his appearance when Evelyn shines a spotlight on him to invite him to a duet, ensuring that his appearance feels like it belongs within the society of this world.

Not only that, but the next scene Regan appears in sees him deciding that he is done with assassination attempts and, presumably, keeping himself apart from society to succeed at them. His conversation with Hans is filled with gaps a reader diving directly into Chameleon Moon will not be able to answer, but they imply that Regan has a family and a place in society that, on second thought, he is not willing to give up.

This decision to work with his family and friends to find a way out of the burning city they are trapped in rather than working in secret and isolation from them prompts Hans to erase Regan’s memory almost completely. Regan’s isolation from society then is shown to be an artificial creation rather than anything inate to asexuality or aromanticism. Moreover, this artificial isolation barely lasts more than a few sentences because the next scene sees him meeting Evelyn again and Evelyn immediately takes him under her wing and draws him into her social circles. While Regan is isolated from his own family and friends and has been deliberately severed from his understanding of Parole, it is only in these first few pages that Regan can be said to be truly isolated from society.

An argument could be made that his final appearance in the book also plays into this trope of isolation as Regan sets off into the Tartarus Zone deliberately leaving his friends behind. Regan, however, is not alone the way that he is in this first chapter where he only reluctantly works with Hans. Even with the way Sylver subverts asexual and aromantic tropes, the book plays it fairly straight. Its difference lies in the way that Sylver makes its artificiality explicit and attempts to sever its implied connection to asexuality and aromanticism by linking that isolation not to Regan’s anxiety, personality or physical appearance, but to Hans’s machinations.

Further, the opening scene also serves to subvert the idea that asexuals and aromantics are invisible. Not only does Regan fail repeatedly at making himself invisible, but he is not present as the only person who has this particular ability.

“One job, Regan. You had one—I picked you because you’re basically a ghost, and it takes one to know one. You are Mister Invisible. And what do you do? You let them see you! And when you’re actually visible you kinda stick out with all the scales and junk!” (Sylver, “Chameleon Moon” 20)

These are Hans’s words to Regan, outlining how the book is going to present Regan’s invisibility. By Hans’s own admission, and as the reader will be able to tell from the narrative several times, he too can turn invisible. Though the narrative tells the reader little, if anything, about Hans’s orientations, the notable point is that he is neither presented as clearly asexual or aromantic and Regan is not the only person who can literally turn invisible. Regan is not alone and, indeed, visibility comes up in numerous ways. Evelyn, Rose and Danae have hidden from their old lives as vigilantes in some ways; Garrett Cole plays with masks upon masks; Zilch hides their appearance behind hoodies and sunglasses. At no point is Regan’s ability to become invisible literally the only time and the only way visibility comes up. More so, Hans’s words about Regan here hold true: when Regan wants to be seen, none of the characters can ignore him. The narrative juxtaposes Regan’s personality as either that of a lizard or that of a dragon. Sylver links his lizard traits to when Regan is anxious and struggling with the pressure of being seen, and his dragon traits to when he is feeling confident and in control.

Notably, when Regan meets Jack, Evelyn’s son, Jack’s first word to Regan is ‘Dragon’, despite the fact that Regan is feeling anxious and out of his depth.

[Jack] grinned up at them like a nature pixie in the forest of flowers that draped and coiled around his face–then his dark brown eyes grew wide and round when they fell on their green, scaly visitor.

“Oh, I’m…” Regan started to apologize and take a step backwards, fighting the urge to turn invisible again, now that he knew what that felt like. He’d jumped as his own reflection the last time he’d caught a glance of himself in the mirror. Now he was about to make a child cry.

“Dragon.”

“What?” Regan blinked.

“You’re the dragon.” The little boy grinned. “Count to ten and find me!” (Sylver, “Chameleon Moon” 54-55)

Jack shows no fear of Regan’s appearance, though Regan clearly expects it, and though he is anxious and looking to fade away and hide, Jack sees the dragon underneath Regan’s anxiety. As Hans mentioned, when Regan is visible he stands out, and even a young child has picked up on the fact that there is more to Regan than meets the eye.

The second way Sylver’s first chapter plays with the trope of social isolation is, as already alluded to, the way that Regan is not the only character presented this way. Many tropes and stereotypes work on the concept that the asexual or aromantic character is different from the others because of their lack of social connections and the narrative circles around them forming new ones.

Regan’s story, however, is as much about reconnecting to the relationships he already had as it is making new bonds with Evelyn and her family. When Evelyn takes him in it is with the express and explicit purpose of helping him discover his past and to reconnect with his loved ones. All of his new relationships are created in order to restore his existing ones, which is what makes the developments surrounding his new relationship with Zilch so poignant.

Though Regan does not remember it[2], he and Zilch are in a polyamorous relationship. When they meet, Zilch deliberately refuses to tell Regan all they know about their shared past to keep from pressuring this Regan into something he may no longer feel comfortable in.

Sylver’s portrayal of Zilch, too, addresses several tropes and stereotypes about asexuality and aromanticism, notably the claim that asexuals and aromantics are ‘dead’ because they experience no romantic and/or sexual attractions to other people. The idea behind this stereotype is that being unable to feel romantic and/or sexual attraction means someone is utterly incapable of any (positive) feelings whatsoever. The idea is that asexuals and aromantic characters are utterly devoid of emotions.

On the surface, the way Zilch’s narrative revolves around the search for their missing heart may suggest that Sylver is falling into these stereotypes themself, but nothing could be further from the truth. Zilch is consistently and repeatedly shown to be compassionate, kind and considerate, such as when they refuse to tell Regan about their shared past so that Regan will not feel constrained by that shared history or when Zilch literally runs into a burning fire to save others.

Like Regan, Zilch is initially introduced as apart from Evelyn’s social group and finds themself drawn into it quickly, tying together Regan’s past and his future. Like Regan, Zilch is never portrayed as truly alone. Unlike Regan working with the antagonist, though, Zilch is paired with someone else they love. Though not all zombies in fiction are shown to be devoid of emotion – think of books such as Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies or Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie – the stereotypical image people have of them is that of slow, undead, gruesome and mindless monsters whose only goal in life is to eat the living. Zombies are a staple in horror fiction, and Zilch is diametrically opposite to that portrayal.

“Evelyn Calliope.” The face in question was, admittedly, terrifying under the dark hood under which it had been previously obscured. But more relevantly, its eyes were wide and staring with what she immediately knew to be fear. At once, the strange and unsettling Zilch got a lot less frightening; Evelyn always knew what came next when people were frightened, and needed protecting. “Finn. My friend. Taken. Save him. Please.” (Sylver, “Chameleon Moon” 202)

This citation is indicative of how Zilch is physically portrayed in the book. Every time Sylver mentions their physical appearance, it comes paired with this kind of softening and the call out that, though Zilch may look different to the point of terrifying at first glance, they are not and are, in fact, just as prone to human emotions and feelings as the rest of the cast. In this chapter, Zilch appeals to Evelyn and her family for aid in rescuing one of their beloveds and a mutual acquaintance.

Their heart, though missing, shows up several times within the narrative when one might expect it not to. Such as in chapter 11, “Zilch hesitated. Somewhere, their heart began to pound[,]” the text states. Though the narrative at this point has already confirmed that Hans has, somehow, taken Zilch’s heart and hidden it, leaving Zilch’s body literally without one, their heart is part of the narrative.

By making Zilch’s heart part of the narrative this way, Sylver actively counters the concept that zombies (and thus by extension the asexuals and aromantics finding representation in the book) have no feelings at all. In this scene, Zilch’s heart is beating because they are nervous. They are about to tell Finn, one of the people they love, about their past working for the sinister government in Parole and are concerned about how Finn will take this.

Were this scene written from the perspective of someone alive, noting their heartrate would be a good way to suggest that it is higher than normal and create a subtle link between the reader’s own experiences of nervousness in comparable situations and the inclusion would be utterly unremarkable. The fact that Sylver is explicitly including Zilch’s heartrate after making it incredibly clear that they are dead and do not need to breathe, encourages readers to make the same connections between their own emotions and what Zilch is going through. The times their heart shows up are always times of great emotion on their part, completely undermining the concept that zombies have no feelings or desires other than eating someone’s brain. Zilch, I should note, is never shown to be interested in eating people. Only in protecting their family and Parole from the corrupt government trying to destroy them all.

Both Regan and Zilch at first glance look to be the very embodiment of the ostracised ace and aro. Even within a setting filled with superpowers and characters that look different from how our society assumes humans should look, these two characters look yet more different still and their powers directly tie into stereotypes about asexuality that are rife within society. Regan’s memory loss and Zilch’s decision not to tell Regan about their mutual past keeps them both isolated from one another and the community they were a part of at the start of the book.

Yet both Regan and Zilch find each other again. Both of them find community. Regan relearns to control his powers of invisibility. Zilch’s strength is in their compassion toward others and they eventually find their heart. Regan, especially, manages to exploit people’s expectations of his invisibility to create a better future for everyone, and if his narrative ends on abandoning both his old and his new social groups to trek into the desert, he has a companion and the knowledge that he will return.

Sylver takes negative tropes about asexuality and turns them into something powerful, something the characters own and use as suits their needs whilst building up a core showcasing that these stereotypes are only that: people’s prejudices about what a certain marginalised group is.

As mentioned, these tropes are not the only ones that Sylver utilises. They also use the allo saviour trope when Regan and Evelyn discuss Regan’s sexuality in chapter 6. The allo saviour trope is a trope that occurs predominantly in contemporary romance novels and serves as a way for the author to introduce their main character to asexuality (or demisexuality) through an allosexual character telling them about these orientations. Often, these conversations are presented as stand-alone scenes and are swiftly forgotten by the narrative. Though Sylver still plays the trope fairly straight-forward, it is noticeably different in the way that the narrative handles it.

Evelyn and Regan segue into discussing asexuality when their conversation about their experiences and Parole in general drifts towards Regan’s missing memories and whether he’s discovered anything new about himself. Notably, though the discussion involves that Regan is polyamorous, it is a scene that is focused entirely on Regan making sense of himself, not because they’re discussing romantic entanglements, but simply because Regan has lost so much of himself and his identity thanks to Hans’s machinations.

“Don’t know who I actually am,” he mumbled. “No way to tell surrounded by strangers, that’s the problem. Don’t feel anything unless I’m already with someone. I’m a freaking paradox.”

“If it helps,” she said, tone tentative but casual. “I don’t think you’re a paradox. But you might be asexual.”

Regan’s mouth fell open. He looked up with wide eyes again but for a much different, much better reason. Slowly, the tension melted out of his shoulders and his frill dropped back down to hang loose. When he looked at her now she saw something else in his eyes. One of her favorite things to see. Hope.

“I can’t say for sure, obviously, but it might explain a few things,” she said, voice calm but with an undertone of restrained optimism. “I’m not, myself, but I’ve known a lot of wonderful ace—asexual—people in my life, and you’re saying a lot of the same things they do.” (Sylver, “Chameleon Moon” 161-162)

This quote offers a good demonstration of how the allo saviour trope works. The asexual character is upset about their lack of sexual attraction[3], whereupon the allosexual character informs them of the existence of asexuality. In Regan’s case, he has literally had neither the time nor the resources to look up his sexuality on his own. Mere days have passed since Hans took his memories and most of those days were filled with simply learning how the world of Parole works and not getting killed, never mind his own orientations. These time constraints weaken some of the trope’s more baffling aspects: the idea that an asexual character has never before thought to wonder about their lack of sexual attraction.

Another major difference is that Sylver has Evelyn actively encourage Regan to try the label out for himself and to see if it fits, whereas in many cases the allo saviour trope simply tells the character definitively that this is who they are with, as mentioned, no further integration into the narrative. In fact, most allo saviour trope conversations end with the asexual character explicitly renouncing the label altogether.

In Chameleon Moon, however, this discussion of Regan’s sexual orientation covers only roughly 15% of the conversation in a scene of over 6,000 words discussing everything from Evelyn and Regan’s opinions on Parole, to Regan’s memory loss and asexuality, to Evelyn’s home life and the effect of Chrysodrine and the type of people who might take it. The scene never, ever exists simply as a way to bring up asexuality. If anything, bringing up asexuality exists as a way to strengthen the friendship between Evelyn and Regan and to flesh out Regan’s characterisation in more detail.

Conclusion

Chameleon Moon suggests a way to use negative stereotypes and tropes that is both empowering and powerful and though this essay only looks in detail at the way it uses and subverts tropes about asexuality and aromanticism, it is an approach that demonstrably underlies the very foundations of the book.

Regan and Zilch are powerful symbols of asexuality not despite the way the book relies on negative stereotypes but because it knows how to twist these tropes into strength, highlighting the ways in which marginalised people are not Other but Same. Sylver’s hopepunk subversive look at dystopia, relying on (found) family every step of the way, choosing to centre marginalised characters – and not one but two characters commonly believed to be incapable of participating in society in any way at all –, presents readers with an incredibly powerful look at society as it exists today and questions what it is that society ought to hold dear and promote.

References

Decker, Julie Sondra. The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality. New York: Carrell Books, 2014. Print.

Human Rights Campaign. “A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2018.” 2018. Human Rights Campaign. PDF. 25 March 2019. <https://www.hrc.org/resources/a-national-epidemic-fatal-anti-transgender-violence-in-america-in-2018>.

Lecker, Michael J. “‘Why Can’t I Be Just Like Everyone Else?’: A Queer Reading of the X-Men.” International Journal of Comic Art 2007: 679-87. PDF.

Rowland, Alexandra. The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk… July 2017. 25 March 2019. <https://ariaste.tumblr.com/post/163500138919/ariaste-the-opposite-of-grimdark-is-hopepunk>.

Sylver, RoAnna. Chameleon Moon. Self-published, 2016. Print.

Whaley, Kayla, et al. Discussion: Disability tropes. 25 July 2013. 25 March 2019. <http://disabilityinkidlit.com/2013/07/25/discussion-4-disability-tropes/>.

End Notes

[1] In keeping with the way Sylver draws on Greek mythology throughout the text, Rose is best considered a dryad. Evelyn Calliope is, of course, named after the muse Calliope. Introduced later on, Evelyn’s Black mother Cassandra is a reflection both on the myth of a prophet unheeded and the way Black women often go unheard and disbelieved when they speak up.

[2] And, to be fair, Chameleon Moon only hints at their relationship being polyamorous.

[3] Or, in the case of demisexuality, their confusion about suddenly experiencing sexual attraction.

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