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Too Niche – Lauren Jankowski

“Like most asexuals, I spent a good portion of my life feeling broken.”

That’s the very first line of Lauren Jankowski‘s guest blog post. Think about that for a minute. Think about being one of those 1 in 100 people growing up with that message.

And it’s not even a lack of representation, exactly; it’s selective representation. Heroes have to have a romantic storyline. Villains, not so much.

Just let that sink in…

Like most asexuals, I spent a good portion of my life feeling broken. While watching a movie or devouring the fantasy novels I loved, I felt more like the villain than the hero. Not in philosophy or beliefs or actions, but being alone and not experiencing the same desires as heroes often do. The hero’s happily-ever-after almost always involves settling down with another person. Even if they fail to achieve that ending, the audience is made to root for that outcome. You read about the chemistry or sexual tension between characters. As a society, we’re made to want that happy ending: marriage, 2.5 kids, and an overall blissful family.

What about the archetypal villain? They tend to be alone (sometimes widowed, sometimes just because). Oh sure, they occasionally have henchmen, but more often than not, they’re isolated. Their arc tends to be opposite the hero’s, probably because their desires are meant to run counter. They don’t want people or family. They want power and control. This is especially true of women villains: just think of almost any Disney villainess.

Imagine being a teenager and everyone around you is sorting out their identities, discovering new labels and desires, and connecting with a community of people who share this label. Gay, straight, bi, or trans. Some of these terms are used in sex education, and all of them are found in U.S. popular culture. Learning these labels helps people discover who they are.

Now, imagine you don’t fit into any of these labels. You don’t fit into any of these communities. Imagine you can’t find a label for what you feel, your identity, because it doesn’t exist as far as you know. Imagine people telling you who you are, telling you that you’re going to fit into one of these groups eventually. Imagine that never happens.

That was the situation I found myself in: I was perfectly content with platonic friendships but experienced no sexual or romantic desire. Not even the typical crush teenagers are expected to have.  Everyone around me was pairing up, diving into relationships, and I was left feeling rather confused.

I turned to the fantasy novels I loved so much only to have them suddenly fail me. I searched desperately, often late into the night, my eyes and fingers darting over the tiny black print. “Please,” I would silently plea. “I don’t want to be alone. There must be someone like me. Someone who isn’t broken, twisted, and evil.”

There wasn’t, at least not any women. Every now and again, there would be an old white man who seemed to not experience any attraction (Tolkien’s Istari, Lloyd Alexander’s wizard, etc.). The few women found in these pages were either in a romantic relationship or evil. I was alone.

On a whim, I revisited some ancient myths and I found her. A woman who had always been there, but one who I hadn’t realized would become so important to me in the future. Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, a woman who went out of her way to remain unattached. This powerful goddess specifically demanded that she not be romantically involved with any man. And Zeus, the King of the gods, agreed! He didn’t protest or suggest that perhaps she just “hadn’t found the right one.” He basically said, “Yeah, sure” and let her do her own thing. At last, a powerful woman who, like me, didn’t appear to experience sexual or romantic desire and was perfectly fine with that. There was hope!

The years went by and I continued to search through modern fantasy for a fellow asexual woman, even before I had the term for my orientation. Books blended together and my search continued to be fruitless. There just weren’t any modern asexual women in fantasy. Whenever I got frustrated with what seemed to be a pointless search, I always returned to stories about Artemis. Yeah, she did some pretty horrible things, but she was a goddess. All deities had their petty and vindictive moments.

DoomsdayAnd then I found Eden Sinclair in the movie Doomsday. Imagine my shock, sitting in a theater, watching a woman kick so much ass and experience little to no attraction to other characters in her story. She wasn’t evil, she wasn’t a villain. Sinclair was a tough-as-nails soldier who was there to get a job done. And she was an interesting character: an orphan (an adoptee like me), someone who was a mystery. Sinclair kept a cool head in hostile territory and outsmarted every opponent she encountered. There wasn’t a large audience in the theater, but I looked around anyway, curious what my fellow movie-goers thought.

I’ll never forget the feeling that bloomed in my chest when I saw how riveted the few people in the audience were. They were rooting for her. They were rooting for someone who was like me. It didn’t matter that she never flirted with the other characters. It didn’t matter that she was an archetypal lone wolf. She was a badass and the audience loved her for it. I think I may be the only person who got misty-eyed during Doomsday, a post-apocalyptic horror film with copious amounts of gore and violence.

As asexual visibility has gradually begun to form into a movement, there has been a predictable backlash. In genre, many creators have dug in their heels to resist the idea that so small a group needs representation. Whether it’s Stephen Moffat declaring Sherlock Holmes can’t be asexual because he’s too interesting, or the literary agent who told me “asexuality is too niche to move books,” ace phobia and the erasure of asexual voices and characters continues in genre.

When I came out as asexual, I decided to be as open as I could. I would wear my label proudly because it was who I was. Being naturally quiet and introverted by nature, this was a bit intimidating. Then I thought of other girls like me: alone and scared, desperately paging through the stories they loved in the hopes of finding someone like them and being disappointed.

Nobody deserves to feel alone or broken or invisible. People should never be labeled as too niche. Asexuals can be interesting and heroic and adventurous too.

Lauren Jankowski is an aromantic asexual fantasy author and a passionate genre feminist from Illinois. She’s the founder of Asexual Artists (on Tumblr and WordPress), a site dedicated to highlighting the work of asexual-identifying artists in all mediums. Author of the ongoing series The Shape Shifter Chronicles (Sere from the Green, Through Storm and Night, From the Ashes, Haunted by the Keres), she specializes in strong heroines and hopes to bring more badass women (including ace women) to the fantasy genre. She’s also still very much platonically enamored with Artemis.

Lauren Jankowski

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
There are some, but they are rare, especially women asexuals. Off the top of my head I can only think of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon.

We're often hidden in plain sight because it's not obvious to others the difference between 'can't get a relationship' and 'not interested in a relationship/sex/stuff like that'. Although there are variations even under the asexual umbrella, including those of us who are primarily asexual, but may be demisexual.

I got very tired of the 'You'll meet someone someday' thing myself. (Admittedly in a sort of way I did, but none of the people who said it to me could have imagined what my current situation is)
Feb. 27th, 2015 05:23 pm (UTC)
Sherwood Smith wrote an asexual protagonist in Banner of the Damned.

Elizabeth Bear wrote an asexual protagonist in the Jacob's Ladder Trilogy. (She only really goes into detail about it in the first novel Dust, though, so a lot of people interpret the character as being bisexual or lesbian if they're more focused on the later books.)

R. J. Anderson wrote an asexual, but not aromantic, protagonist in Quicksilver.

(All of them still center around relationships to a large extent. Just not sexual relationships. I don't know of any other books where the characters are explicitely asexual.)
Feb. 27th, 2015 04:58 pm (UTC)
I never would have come to the conclusion that Sherlock Holmes was asexual on my own, but once the concept had been expressed to me I found it very easy to accept. The original Holmes never expressed an interest in anyone, male or female, that went beyond loyalty (Watson) or intellectual respect (Adler). And Cumberbatch? I haven't seen anything on the show yet to suggest that he's playing Sherlock as sexual in any way, no matter what Moffett says. (Yes, even the episode where he was apparently fucking a woman to get information. I read that as "he's capable of performing sexually, but He Would Prefer Not To, TYVM.") Ace!Holmes is in my head-canon now.
Feb. 27th, 2015 05:15 pm (UTC)
Personally, I tend to form close relationships with a very small circle of friends. So I'm not necessarily looking for a loner asexual character as much as I'm looking for acknowledgment that there are other kinds of relationships that are just as important as sexual ones, other kinds of stories besides romance stories, and people who are motivated by things other than physical attraction. Which is very hard to find in modern writing.

(Also, I never really felt broken except in high school/right at the beginning of college. Maybe I was broken then. Heh.)
Feb. 27th, 2015 07:11 pm (UTC)
So I'm not necessarily looking for a loner asexual character as much as I'm looking for acknowledgment that there are other kinds of relationships that are just as important as sexual ones, other kinds of stories besides romance stories, and people who are motivated by things other than physical attraction.

That. That, so much that. (The irony is that I somehow ended up happily married in a cishet (not, autocorrect, cashew. Really. NO.) relationship. It kind of happened. And it's awesome. But that's not the point.) I'm still the person I was for the last 20+ years of my adult life, and I still want to read about the whole range of human relationships. I want to read about worlds where past self and my friends who are single, poly or in long-distance relationships are every bit as welcome as I allegedly am, and I find a majority of relationship portrayals completely unrealistic; they do not reflect my experience at all.

Which is very hard to find in modern writing.

It seems to be getting harder. Not that I'm necessarily hankering after the good old days where women just didn't exist in books (this, too, persists). And it's not about getting romance cooties out of my reading: I want more of the spectrum of humanity, not just people who fall in love/lust with a person of the opposite gender and live HEA. *Especially not* if the people in question don't seem to like each other very much.

Feb. 27th, 2015 10:41 pm (UTC)

And I say this as a, er, highly (and at times unwisely) sexual romance author. I like sex. I find sex compelling. But as far as close and/or important relationships go, the ones I have with my friends and family come way ahead on the list.

It was one of the quibbles I had with the Oathbound/Oathbreakers thing: the Goddess makes Tarma lose interest in sex, which, fine, but "so she'll be impartial"? Dude, I'm *way* more partial to my platonic female friends than I am to a good two-thirds of the guys I've fucked. (And usually if I'm biased toward the other third, it's because we were already friends.) Shut up, Shin'a'in Goddess.
Feb. 28th, 2015 02:28 am (UTC)
This this this this oh so very much this. I like close friendships. I like healthy familial relationships. I would love to see more close mentor-student relationships. It's not that I don't ever want romance in my fiction, it's that (well, aside from the fact that romance is so very rarely well-done) I want romance to stop being treated as the One and Only important relationship in a person's life.

Edited at 2015-02-28 02:28 am (UTC)
Feb. 27th, 2015 07:07 pm (UTC)
Being asexual has never made me feel broken but it did take me thirty-odd years to figure out that that's the label that applies to me. That's what happens when a group is so invisible in the media that you don't really know it exists. I think one problem with asexuality and characters is that while it is easy to see sexuality when it is portrayed, it is hard to tell whether a lack of it means the character is asexual or whether it just means that sexuality just didn't happen to enter in to that particular story.
Feb. 27th, 2015 07:53 pm (UTC)
I spent years and years assuming that I was heterosexual because I had crushes on boys, and that was normal, right? And then in college I thought I might be bi, because I noticed girls were pretty too. It wasn't until several years after graduation that I realized that no, I'm not actually attracted to people, and what I feel isn't romantic. I thought that all the things I read were just exaggerated for narrative purposes, so I didn't think I was BROKEN. I thought everybody felt like me and just talked about it differently.

And then I discovered that asexual and aromantic are things, and it just CLICKED. I'm 36 and I've never been in love, or romantically attracted to anybody. I LIKE people, I even love them, but really, it's much more siblingish. But the erasure meant that I didn't have a label... which meant that I couldn't understand my friends' experiences and that they differed from mine. Not as personally damaging, maybe, but still a problem nonetheless.
Feb. 27th, 2015 10:56 pm (UTC)
Girls With Slingshots. Online comic wherein one character is asexual who is in a relationship with some one who is ... fluid in her sexual preferences. It's a very interesting comic and the storyline wherein the one character's asexual nature (but interest in a relationship) was done in a compelling way (from the perspective of a person who is not asexual). I freely admit it might be doing a disservice, but I'd not know directly as I'm not inside that community. From outside it APPEARS to be respectful.

Feb. 28th, 2015 06:47 am (UTC)

I am asexual.  I prefer girls.  I married a guy because of who he is, not what he is.  I am a mixed up mess.  And yes, I have spent much of my life feeling broken and wrong, for those and other reasons.

And for putting all that into words I couldn't manage, thank you.

Feb. 28th, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC)
I think my niece is asexual, although I've never talked to her about it. I hope the world becomes easier for folks like her. Thanks for doing your bit to make that happen.
Mar. 1st, 2015 08:03 pm (UTC)
M.C.A. Hogarth writes about found family and friendships from a variety of sexual and gender orientations (including asexual). Please note: she does not believe in trigger warnings, and does have rape scenes in several of her novels. That said, I recommend "Mindtouch" which does not include any sexual assault, and does include an asexual character. Look at her other works here:
Mar. 6th, 2015 03:57 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this.

I'm asexual and aromantic, and I never considered myself broken because of it, but it often seemed like most other people do. (People have told me that I'm selfish for not dating/marrying/having sex with people. I've also been told that people find it somehow disturbing. Indeed, I found out statistics about the number of asexuals in the population via friends who felt the need to research the topic.)

And I have often wished that there could be more protagonists without romantic angles.
Mar. 6th, 2015 03:58 am (UTC)
I have also identified with Artemis since grade school, so there's that, too. The maiden huntress/warrior archetype shows up in a lot of cultures.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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