A guest post by amazing Cait Spivey
I learned sexual desire from books and film.
At least, what it looked like. What it sounded like. How it is discussed. With that accumulated evidence, I got very good at acting out “desire,” even though it was at best boring and at worst, deeply uncomfortable.
When I came out, there was a lot of, “But you seemed interested in sex before!” As always, it’s difficult to explain, to those who don’t feel displaced by it, the pressure of constant messaging that seems to declare this is how normal people are, you are messed up, something is wrong with you. I learned and demonstrated sexual desire because I thought I had to, because it was expected, because it was bad enough that I kept falling in love with girls but at least I knew what that was.
I learned desire from books; I never learned that desire isn’t mandatory.
This is something I want to rectify in my books. In From Under the Mountain, it must be said, there’s not explicit representation—I was limited by both the setting (in which our modern terminology feels jarring) and by the pace and focus of the story. Only Eva and Guerline have time for a romantic relationship, and not much of it at that. But you can take me at my word when I say that canonically, Theodor Warren is panromantic asexual, and Aradia Kavanagh is aromantic asexual, and Guerline herself is a demisexual lesbian (something that gets explored more in the sequel).
[As an aside: last week, I tweeted a bit about how I love writing large casts, and I encourage readers to explore for themselves and fill in things I don’t put on the page. Some secondary and tertiary characters have canon attached to them that I may never get to share—for many, I haven’t had a chance yet to fully explore their lives. So many stories live in this world, and if you know them, by all means tell them.]
In most of the media I’ve consumed, sex scenes just seem like set dressing. Perhaps this is the point where my ability to empathize with allosexual people ends, but I’ve never seen a sex scene that feels powerful or necessary to the story, because sweaty bodies getting fluids on each other isn’t meaningful to me. It seems to me that what’s meaningful is all the emotions leading up to and following that—affection, vulnerability, passion—and one doesn’t need to bump uglies to get the most out of that cocktail. And even if that’s something one wants in real life, it’s not going to aid the storytelling (unless, as in certain genres, that’s the kind of story being told).
“But Cait,” you say, “You included a sex scene in From Under the Mountain!” Yes I did. But I’m the first to say it’s not necessary. I wrote it in because there was some hang time in the narrative, and I wanted to give Eva and Guerline their moment. And, as an asexual woman married to a sexual spouse, it was more than a little vicarious—what must it feel like from the other side? Surely it’s transcendent—surely it’s not just a sometimes pleasant sensation, akin to curling up in front of a fireplace? I’ll have to rely on others to confirm the level of my success.
It’s honestly funny to me how resistant some can be to writing asexual characters or, in fandom, theorizing that a character could be asexual. I get that desire must be powerful to those who experience it; I can understand that many view sex as some kind of Important Rite without which love is just really intense friendship, or something. I mean, they’re wrong about that last part, but I understand how they came to that conclusion.
But in these stories, the sex isn’t what makes us love these characters—right? It’s the characters themselves, and the relationships between characters that draw us in. Romantic relationships, friendships, family bonds. Sexual desire, contrary to popular belief, is not inherent to romantic love, and romantic love is not the only compelling kind of relationship.
There are many, many books, films, shows, out there that present love without sex, but the sex is always assumed—by fans, by creators, by a society that presupposes the universal importance of desire. My question is, why? Kisses, sex, they’re actions that, like all our actions, have only as much weight as our emotions give them. I’m as happy as anyone when my favorite ship finally kisses for the first time, but the kiss isn’t the only thing that can make me happy. I want Dean to kiss Cas because I know Dean is a sexual person, but I felt the same giddy rush when he said I need you.
I struggled to find a way to end this post, because one should at least try to put forth a solution when bringing up a problem. The problem is that the heavy focus on sexual desire in relationships erases a lot of people. It makes us doubt ourselves, it makes us submit ourselves to what is expected, it threatens us with these expectations.
How, then, to solve this?
I’ve decided to start a new feature on my blog called A+ Ships, to highlight ace characters and their relationships, gush over the connections and the moments that fuel them. With any luck, this will give us a space to celebrate our identities, and spread the word about how awesome we are.