It is far from just showing a perpetually single character.
Aromantic and asexual representation are still rarities in mainstream entertainment media, particularly when it comes to TV and film. Yet, both communities deserve reflective and empowering stories about their identities. So, what exactly does good asexual and aromantic representation look like?
Acknowledge that asexuality and aromanticism are different things.
While some people may have both identities, a lot of people may have only one. Asexuality and aromanticism are often conflated and the result is that asexuals are often assumed aromantic, with aromanticism almost never discussed or recognised at all. Asexuality specifically pertains to sexuality. It is about not experiencing (or rarely experiencing) sexual attraction. Aromanticism deals with romanticism and means to not (or rarely) experience romantic attraction.
This basically ends up putting two marginalised communities against each other to fight for any recognition they can get, while erasing alloromantic asexuals and allosexual aromantics. Many asexuals and aromantics may possess other queer identities, including pan, bi or gay identities. It’s therefore hugely important to understand the differences between the two. That’s the only way that asexual and aromantic representation can ever hope to be accurate.
Centre consent and normalise consent culture.
One of the easiest ways for creators to show they understand and support aromantic and asexual identities is to do something they should be already: centre consent in relationships and normalise consent culture.
Consent is absolutely crucial. There are often huge pressures on asexual and aromantic people to conform to certain expectations in relationships, and this can create a culture of forced silence where asexual and aromantic people are at risk of abuse and/or exploitation. It’s therefore vital to show characters talking about their boundaries, for them to be okay and to show that whatever answers they give will be listened to and respected without any pressure.
Now asexual people may engage in sex or they may not, and aromantics may engage in romantic activities or they may not but their consent should be made clear. These conversations are absolutely beneficial to wider relationship writing too. A culture that normalises and seeks consent is a culture of empowerment. Poor alloromantic and allosexual writing is harming everybody.
Allow characters to talk about their feelings.
One of the worst tropes in media is a character who is brooding but suddenly finds the ‘one’ and never talks or thinks about anything else. Unknowingly, it plays into horrific tropes about demiromantics and the idea that one person can save them – but it also feeds into the idea that we don’t exist until we’re in a relationship.
This is really problematic for several reasons. We should absolutely be allowed to talk about past relationships, past feelings and even present crushes in relationships. By not allowing characters to talk about their feelings, we’re immediately shutting down conversations about different queer identities (and this particularly impacts bi, pan, ace and aro characters).
Allow different expressions and explorations of asexuality and aromanticism.
Asexual and aromantic people shouldn’t just have to cling onto rare scraps of representation. Creators should be producing multiple ace and aro characters. Some of these may desire to be single, and that should be shown to be wholesome and as empowering as ace and/or aromantic people who may desire relationships. If relationships are explored, then their aromanticism or asexuality should not be erased. Different types of relationships should also be examined such as queerplatonic or those which are not strictly romantic but not entirely platonic (alterous).
There is a wide range of possible stories for asexual or aromantic people but too often the only ones on offer are: acearos who are shown to be robotic and stay robotic or acearos who are shown to be heartless and/or robotic but then are eventually ‘saved’ by an unexpected relationship.
Consult ace and aro sensitivity readers.
To ensure that stories are empowering and don’t fall into tropes then it is vital to hire sensitivity readers. This is always a worthwhile endeavour but particularly when it comes to identities which are so rarely talked about because it is incredibly easy to end up writing poor representation simply due to ignorance or misunderstanding.
Ace and aro communities deserve good representation and not just stereotypes. Providing better writing will benefit all audiences and readers too. Ultimately, reflective queer representation is good storytelling.
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