It’s here! I’ve finally polished up the draft version of my In Stillness essay and am officially sharing it with the world. :O Prepare yourself because this is 4,970 words long minus quotations, end notes and works cited list. With, it’s about 5,837.
The Perception of Asexuality in Seanan McGuire’s “Every Heart a Doorway”
Before August 2016, I had never read a story with a character who explicitly identified as asexual. It is tempting to say that, before that time, I had never read any character like me before. This is not true. I’d read several stories with asexually-coded (ace-coded) characters before then, but August 2016 marked the month when I first read a story featuring a character who explicitly used the label to describe herself.
That character was Nancy from Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and until I read that novella I did not truly understand why I too needed labels in fiction, why I too needed to see such blunt visibility and recognition. Every Heart a Doorway was published on May 10th, 2016 and has gone on to be nominated for (and sometimes winning) several major awards. To date, it has won the 2016 Nebulas, the 2017 Locus Awards, and the 2016 Hugo Awards, and it was one of the books named on the Tiptree Honors list in part for its portrayal of Nancy’s asexuality.
Being published by a respected traditional publisher, written by a well-known and popular queer SFF author and explicitly including a discussion of the definition of asexuality has seen Every Heart a Doorway rise to prominence as one of the major books included on recommendations lists featuring asexual characters. Arguably, it has gone on to become the poster recommendation for asexual representation within fiction.
As a reader on the asexual spectrum, I was initially delighted by the narrative that McGuire wrote. I was dazzled by the fact that here, for the first time that I could recall, there was a character written specifically and deliberately to mirror my experiences. It wasn’t a complete match, but it was close enough to hit home. It also, deliberately, called out some of the most harmful stereotypes regarding asexuality that I have seen and experienced. That, more than anything, is what I fell in love with the first time I read it.
When I reread it for the Hugo Award nominations in the spring of 2017, however, my experience was markedly different and I found the amisia in the central premise almost unbearable. Nancy’s personal storyline revolves around her desire to return to the Halls of the Dead, the portal world that she visited, loved and wants to return to with all her heart. While the narrative is aware of its amisia on a surface level, this essay will show that once one looks below that surface the story actually perpetuates the very ideas that it so strongly attempts to deny.