Category: Ace & Aro Studies

Writing Asexual and Aromantic (Fairy Tale) Retellings

Posted April 15, 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! 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.

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On the semantics of “just friends” and “more than friends”

Posted March 25, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, 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.

CN: Discussions of phrases harmful to aromantic people.

On the semantics of “just friends” and “more than friends”

Two of the most frequent and unintentional microaggressions against aromantic people are the phrases “just friends” and “more than friends”, but it can be hard to explain how and why these phrases are so harmful to aromantic people.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea is simple enough: these are phrases that posit that friendship is less important than sex and romance, that we can organise and categorise the importance of our relationships on uneven tiers and that society repeatedly tells us that sex-and-romance is the most important type of relationship a person can ever have. But asked how to explain why this implication exists can be… tricky, and it’s all down to semantics. Semantics, for those who don’t know, is the study of meaning in language. Semantics are what dictionaries use to explain words, if you need a more concrete example of what it does.

It’s easy to assume that everyone can see the implications made by these sentences, but the truth is that that’s not always true. I’ve been asked multiple times, after noting the harm and how to address it, to explain why the implication is there. If it was obvious, people would see it immediately, yet they don’t.

This week, then, I’m diving into linguistics – and semantics specifically – to try and explain why these phrases are harmful to aromantic people and offering suggestions on what you can use as an alternative, often with little visible change in meaning to anyone who is not aromantic.

I’ll start with “more than” because it’s the easiest of the two to explain and I’ll be using the Cambridge Dictionary (but any dictionary will result in roughly the same outline). The key in that idiom is the word ‘more’, so if we want to know how the semantics imply that friendship is less important than romosexual (romantic and sexual) relationships, that’s the best place to start. What does ‘more’ mean in concrete terms.

More, according to the dictionary, means “a larger or extra number or amount”. (We’ll get back to this.) We can also look up the idiom ‘more than’ itself. That nets us the definition of ‘very’, which doesn’t look like it makes a lot of sense in context – I mean what does ‘very friends’ even mean? – but pay attention to how the dictionary says it’s used. This particular idiom ‘more than X’ is part of a group of intensifying expression. Or, to rephrase it, it’s part of a group of expressions that makes something “greater, more serious or more extreme”.

Dictionary meanings can get a bit circular, but let’s jump back to the definition of ‘more’ since it just cropped up in our definitions again. If ‘more’ means “a larger or extra number or amount” that means there are, by necessity, at least two items involved. In this context those items are ‘friendship’ and ‘romosexual relationship’. One of them larger/greater/more serious/more extreme than the other because that is what ‘more than’ means. If one of them is larger than the other, one of them is also smaller than the other. Where there is a ‘more than’, there is a ‘less than’.

And here’s where things get fascinating and we can really start to get a sense of the way ‘more than friends’ is harmful. You see if we look up the idiom ‘less than’, the dictionary tells us it’s a phrase “used to say that behaviour does not have the good or attractive characteristic that is stated”. That’s… rather negative, but it’s a usage that’s automatically implied by the use of ‘more than’.

The sentences “They’re more than friends” and “They’re less than lovers” mean, in that sense, the same thing: friendship does not have the good or attractive characteristics imply by a romosexual relationship.

It can be hard for people to grasp that because, after all, saying “They’re more than friends” doesn’t literally say that friendship is less important and not many people would ever think to say “They’re less than lovers” to imply that they’re just friends.

Oh, wait. They do say exactly that. The thing is that they use different words to do it so we don’t notice it unless we’re paying close attention. Like all microaggressions, if they don’t affect us they can be incredibly difficult to spot and these are no different. Saying “They’re just friends” is effectively the same as saying “They’re less than lovers”, and if you’re struggling to explain why, the dictionary can come to our rescue. All we need to do is look up ‘just’.

Just is a word that has many meanings. We want the adjective because in this idiom it’s used as an adjective. As an adjective ‘just’ means “exactly or equally”, “only or simply”, “merely or barely”, “almost not or almost, “very” or “fair, morally correct”. Given the context of the phrase ‘just friends’, we can discard all but one of them: only or simply. We can prove that this is the meaning used because, in context, it’s the only meaning that makes sense. I’ll demonstrate:

Context

A: Are they lovers?
B: No, they’re just friends.

Synonyms

A: Are they lovers?
B: No, they’re exactly friends.

A: Are they lovers?
B: No, they’re only friends.

A: Are they lovers?
B: No, they’re fair friends.

Only one of those synonyms provides a sensible answer to the question A is asking. But, Lynn, I hear you say. We could also replace “just” with “merely”. And we can, but that would lead us, ultimately, back down the path of “more than” that we just walked. ‘Merely’, after all, emphasises that there is nothing more to their relationship than friendship. Same meaning, different words. We’re also ignoring that ‘fair’ has more meanings than ‘just’ because context.

So our next dictionary stop is ‘only’. Again, the word has a multitude of meanings, bu the one we want is the one that says that we use it to indicate “there is a single one or very few of something, or that there are no others” and that’s… hardly helpful. In this case, looking at the synonym ‘merely’ is a better idea. We’ve already covered that a paragraph ago, but to repeat: ‘merely’ emphasises that the speaker means exactly what they’re saying and nothing else. So with ‘only friends’ we’re in the exact same boat as ‘merely’.

Except. Except. These words, like ‘less than’ imply a negative. They’re a downward idea. It’s, presumably, why saying “less than X” acquired its meaning as “lacking the good characteristics of X”.

Whichever way we want to twist and turn these phrases and whatever positive spin we want to give them, they will always contain an aspect that implies that romosexual relationships are more important than friendships because what these phrases do is posit that one is greater than the other in some way and to some degree.

So how can we deal with that? What if you are, say, a romance writer who wants to write a romance that is friendly to aromantic readers because it avoids these phrases altogether? The answer is simple: don’t use phrasing that creates a tier between friendship and romosexual relationships, but one that puts it on even footing.

For example, instead of writing a blurb for your book that ends on “could they be more than friends?” say “could their relationship be something else?” Or, instead of saying “they’re just friends”, say “they’re friends” and just… leave out the quantifier.

Though the best options are somewhat dependent on the context, it really is that simply to make sure that your language is that little bit more aro-friendly. If you’re a writer, it requires no great rewrites on your part to tweak your language to be more aro-inclusive.

It won’t solve all microaggressions. Many are a lot harder to address than these, but it’s also a lot easier to explain why those phrases are microaggressions and harmful to aromantic readers.

So I hope that was interesting and helps you figure out ways to be more aro-inclusive in your language!

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Guest Post at The Book Smugglers

Posted March 17, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, News / 0 Comments

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I’ve been particularly slow to update this here because I have had massive update fail, but! Last month, I was over at The Book Smugglers with a guest post about asexual representation in mainstream publishing!

Here’s a snippet to summarise what it’s about:

As an asexual reader and indie author, I see conflicting messages about the state of asexual representation in fiction and my heart hurts. Almost every list of recommendations, every discussion, every moment includes a variation on the lament “There is so little representation” with no elaboration or qualifications. While this essay will prove there most certainly is a lack of representation in fiction, there is also more out there than these articles often suggest and, though it makes little difference to the numbers as a whole, it can have a large emotional impact on individuals, especially those seeking asexual representation. Even if one restricts their search to books published by the Big 5 companies in publishing – that is to say by imprints owned by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, or Hachette –, there is quite a bit more than people seem to assume.

Working with Ana and Thea has been a writerly bucket list dream for years and I’m utterly delighted with how the post came out. Ana and Thea are amazing editors and have fantastic insight, so be sure to check out all of their blog and their work on other sites such as Kirkus as well!

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Once upon a time… A Look at Labels in My Work

Posted February 11, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, My Work / 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.

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Asexuality Has Been Around Longer Than You Think: A Peek at the History of a Concept and a Word

Posted February 4, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, My Work / 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.

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A Rose by Any Other Name… On Using Identity Labels vs Using Descriptions

Posted January 21, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, My Work / 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.

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Let’s Read! Chapter 1 of Asexuality and Sexual Normativity

Posted January 9, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, My Work / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! Welcome to the very first official post of Let’s Read Asexual Academia, a series in which I read, react to and critically discuss academic papers about asexuality. You are cordially invited to join in reading about asexuality.

Currently, the let’s read is focused on Asexuality and Sexual Normativity: An Anthology. Published in 2014, this book collects a special edition of the journal Psychology & Sexuality in 2013. (I messed up the dates in the post announcing the let’s read. My apologies for that.) This post will cover some of the introduction, though its main focus is on the first essay in the anthology.

This first post is available to everyone, to give you all an idea of what to expect, but the remaining 9 papers (or chapters) of the book will only be available to patrons. I aim to have a discussion of a paper up once a week, which means we’ll finish this book around mid-March.

Without further ado, let me offer you the essay! (Note: It’s around 3,300 words long.)

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Asexuality vs Diagnostic Criteria

Posted January 7, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, My Work / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! Welcome to the new year! I hope it’s off to a great start for you and yours. Today, I’m introducing a new feature (ish). Or at least an attempt at one: weekly, short personal essays about, well, whatever people would like me to talk about or a random topic I came up with on my own. Comments currently remain disabled on the blog, yes, but you can hop on over to Patreon for now.

These weekly posts are immediately available to everyone and hover somewhere below 2,500 words. I try to keep them under 2,000 words, but sometimes you end up with more anyway. This one is 2,100 words! The next one will have a shiny new standardised intro and such loveliness.

This week’s rambly essay is called “Asexuality vs Diagnostic Criteria”. Also known as “But what the heck do the DSM and ICD actually say about asexuality?” Because the answer to that is slightly complicated and the question comes up… more often than you’d think.

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Books with Asexual Characters Available RIGHT NOW

Posted November 25, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies / 0 Comments

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So… earlier this month, I did a Twitter thread about books with asexual characters that are out RIGHT NOW. Also I read the vast majority of them and can vouch for the rep being at least decent in my opinion as someone who a) is acespec, b) has read around 100 of them, c) devotes at least some of her time to analysing how ace rep is handled in books in general, d) writes acespec characters herself. You can take as many grains of salt as you like, but I figured why not go all out with the credentials. If nothing else, it gives you context to see where I’m coming from, after all.

Anyway! It was fairly long thread. It’s not the first I’ve made and it won’t be the last. But I did want to collect it all in one place so I have at least one list that’s easily linkable if I need it (or if anyone else wants it).

Below, then, is the original list as I posted it to Twitter. The only thing I didn’t do was embed the image to show you what my tabs were like partway through. Everything else is exactly as-is.

Have fun exploring books! 😀

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Whose Words Matter Anyway? On using identity labels in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

Posted October 19, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, My Work / 0 Comments

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The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion Coming November 6th. "Aromantic, we call it. You know that, my sweet. Aromantic and asexual, in fact. If you're going to tell it, tell it loud. Tell it proud. That's why I agreed to do this. I want to hear no more of people like yourself who needed words they never learned because no one believed they were needed." Preorder now: https://www.books2read.com/thrushbeard
Oh, look! It’s time for another sporadic not-a-guest-post personal essay about The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion. This time about some of the less nice influenced on the story. You can read the Patreon version (and leave comments) here!

Whose Words Matter Anyway? On using identity labels in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

A few years ago, I started reading romance novels with demisexual characters in them. Either they’re protagonists or they’re love interests. That sounds great, right? Asexuality, as a spectrum, is gaining visibility and there’s enough visibility now that ‘demisexual romance’ is a term you can actually successfully look for. I’ve got a whole list of them!

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