I rarely see ace (short for ‘asexual spectrum’) people in mainstream media, either depicted in or as creators of that media. Sometimes news outlets will show interest in our community around the month of Pride or during Asexual Awareness Week but for the most part, aces aren’t a common sight.
No matter whether it’s a work of fiction, an interview, a film, a podcast, or a television show, we don’t get a lot of favourable or accurate media representation. Also, work done by ace creators isn’t well-recognized. Both of these issues are especially true for aces who are queer, trans, of colour, survivors of trauma, disabled and/or on the aromantic spectrum.
Why does ace media representation matter?
I always notice when there’s someone like me in the media. I get excited when I see an East-Asian news anchor and I smile when I hear about my favourite characters being confirmed as queer and/or gender non-conforming. It’s totally natural to want to see yourself in the stories around you. Sometimes I’m looking for something affirming and comforting and other times I just want relatable fun.
But it goes beyond simply being represented in the media — that representation has to be meaningful and accessible, two things that the majority of ace media currently isn’t. A lack of relatable and widespread media representation produces problems that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The perpetuation of a normative ace identity. It might be tempting to say that any representation is better than no representation, but that’s no reason to be complacent. When we do get representation, it’s overwhelmingly white and cisgender and the conversations in the media don’t reflect the diverse makeup of the asexual community in subject matter or proportion. This in turn suggests that there’s a standard for what an ace person is or looks like, which makes it harder for aces who don’t fit that normative standard to claim being ace as an identity.
- Ignorance, especially when the little representation we do get is negative. It leads to harmful misconceptions and stereotypes and perpetuates the belief that we don’t exist. Minimal, negative representation promotes isolation and feelings of loneliness and can discourage aces from coming out or sharing our experiences of being ace with others.
- Pathologization. This happens when asexuality is depicted as “abnormal” and presented as a problem that can or needs to be fixed. Some people will try to invalidate the asexual spectrum by suggesting that it’s a medical problem and that aces should see a doctor about it. While asexuality itself isn’t a diagnosis or a medical issue, there are aces who also have medical conditions that interact with their experiences of asexuality, which is just as valid as that of aces who don’t.
- Negative self-perception. If we don’t see examples of aces doing great things in real life and if we don’t have stories with ace characters, we receive the message that we don’t fit into these narratives of success and happiness. These narratives aren’t relatable, especially when we live in a world that tells us that the only fulfilling way to live is to be in a heterosexual, monogamous marriage where sex is involved.
What can we do about it?
Although there’s a documented increase in the number of novels that feature ace characters, we still have a long way to go. All hope is not lost, however; there’s a lot you can do to help promote ace representation, whether that be by creating your own representation or sharing representation that’s already out there.
1. Support projects by ace creators, especially if they’re less likely to get exposure because of other aspects of their identities
Just because the media doesn’t show ace creators doing amazing things doesn’t mean we’re not doing it! If you find a project or a blog or a story by an ace person that you like or that resonates with you and you feel comfortable sharing it, go ahead! It doesn’t even have to be about asexuality specifically — anytime you support projects by an ace person, you’re showing them that the world is a better place for having their contributions in it.
Similarly, you can share content about asexuality that features ace voices even if the content creators themselves aren’t ace. If you’re not comfortable sharing content at all, sending a creator a message or making a donation are both things you can do to show your appreciation for their work. Enthusiastic reception and resources allow us to keep doing what we do.
2. Make your own representation
Initially, the idea of sharing my own experiences intimidated me so I had my work published in a zine under a pseudonym. Once I got comfortable with the idea of writing under my own name I decided I wanted to write an educational feature on asexuality because I hadn’t seen a comprehensive ‘Asexuality 101’ article that included more complex portraits of what it means to be ace. While writing that article,
Of course, creating your own media doesn’t just mean writing an article; you can do anything you want. If you’re not ace but are interested in creating an ace character, there are a number of resources written by ace people that you can consult.You can also base what you create on existing works. Appreciation for fan creations is growing and the concept is gaining credibility. In a world where we’re expected to assume that everyone is cisgender and straight until we’re told otherwise, there’s little confirmation that characters could be queer. Well, who’s to say that we can’t assume everyone is queer until confirmed straight? It’s no coincidence that fan communities generate queer narratives where they’re not confirmed in the original stories.
If you want to interpret a character or a relationship as asexual and to engage with it by writing fanfiction or talking to other fans, the chances are that there’s someone else out there who loves that interpretation too and wants to see your take on it. Some fans take this one step further and petition for queer elements to be openly included in the source material.
3. Ask your local media outlet to cover asexuality.
If you’d like to see more about asexuality in the media, let them know! Look for LGBT and queer-friendly outlets first — they’re more likely to be interested in ace-related content. Maybe they’ve never covered asexuality before and it’s a topic that would fit in with their values and mission. Maybe they’re already familiar with asexuality but you have ideas about how it can be explored further and from different angles.
If you’re going to your local news source, see if they’ve covered topics like sexual orientation or Pride festivals before and whether you enjoyed that coverage. Those are good points of reference for you to use when considering whether they would be interested in or would do a good job of discussing the asexual spectrum.
When you or someone else in your community is doing ace-related work, you can send the media a press release about it. Be sure to communicate why this is timely news and why it’s relevant.
4. Involve your library
If you’re having trouble finding and accessing books on the lists linked in this article, you may be able to find them at your local library. They might also carry non-fictional texts about asexuality too. Checking out these books lets the library know that there’s still interest in the material.
If your library doesn’t have the books you’re looking for, you can request them. It’s a great idea to get as many people as possible to request the books because if there’s higher demonstrated demand, it’s more likely that your request will be fulfilled and then the books will be there for others to enjoy too.
As a community, we can support each other and spread knowledge about the asexual spectrum to build a more accepting world. As a person, you have the power to challenge the narratives that exclude so many of us and to build them in ways that make sense to you.