Aromantic Awareness Week | Do I need to see myself in books?

Happy Aromantic Awareness Week!

I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog that I identify as somewhere on the aroace spectrum, meaning I am both on the aromantic and asexual spectrum. I say I’m on the spectrum because I’ve certainly had strong feelings for people before, but I’ve never really been someone who has crushes; when I was younger and still in school I’d often make up fancying someone because all of my friends seemed to fancy someone and I didn’t want to be left out. I wanted those experiences everyone around me was having, because they were the ‘normal’ experiences teenagers are expected to have.

I especially felt this coming from a family that thrives on weddings and babies. My family is wonderful and loving, but being aroace in a family like mine is like being a fish in a family of birds.

Romantic love was something I was kind of obsessed with throughout a lot of my teens and my early-mid 20s—when was this true love thing going to happen for me? Was I overthinking it all? Why did the idea of love thrill me but the idea of actually doing anything about it make me feel so uncomfortable?—and even now I sometimes catch myself wishing I was ‘normal’, wishing I could be let into that world of casual dating and knowing what to do when someone shows an interest other than to extricate myself from that scenario as soon as possible. In fact when one of my best friends suggested I might be aromantic a couple of years ago, my immediate response was that I couldn’t possibly be, and yet now here I am feeling so much more comfortable with myself now that I’ve been able to think of myself as someone on that spectrum.

It’s strange, really, that so many people who know me online, whether it’s here or over on Twitter, know I’m on the spectrum because I talk about it, and yet so many people in ‘real life’ don’t. None of my family know and I still don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell them, because aromanticism and asexuality (particularly aromanticism) aren’t talked about as much as other identities within the queer community. In fact there are even other people within the queer community who don’t think someone like me belongs there.

It’s why I love having this blog as a space to talk about books, both books I have read and books I want to read, that include characters that are somewhere on the aromantic or asexual spectrum. Something I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is whether I need representation in the books I read. Do I need to see myself in books? And what does that even mean when my experience of being on the aroace spectrum will be completely different to someone else’s experience?

I guess, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t need to see aroace people in the books I read in the same way I need clothes that fit or money to pay my bills. I tend to think of myself as a hopelessly romantic aroace person because I love nothing more than being able to get behind the kind of ship that gives me the warm fuzzies and makes me ache with how much I want two fictional people to be together and happy. Yet I can’t deny it’d be nice to see more aroace characters—particularly in fantasy, purely because it’s my favourite genre—or that it’d be nice to see more characters who aren’t on the aroace spectrum whose happy ending isn’t defined by romantic love.

For me the biggest missed opportunity here is Katniss Everdeen, who I personally read as being on the aroace spectrum. While I do get why Mockingjay ends the way it does, I’ve always felt a bit let down that Katniss’s happy ending (for lack of a better word, there’s still a lot of darkness in this story right until the last line) involves marriage and children. There are certainly people on the aroace spectrum who find happiness in marriage and children, and want one or both of those things, but to this day that ending still doesn’t feel right to me, I still don’t believe it, and I’m still annoyed Katniss has two children it’s clear from the epilogue she wasn’t entirely happy to have. I wish Katniss ended the series alone, which I know might sound depressing, but I think there would have been something empowering and peaceful in this woman who sacrificed so much being allowed to retreat into the woods and live in the quiet.

I also can’t help wondering if I might have understood my own feelings sooner, and known that they’re completely fine, if there had been characters in the books I read as a teenager that were somewhere on the aroace spectrum. Maybe I’d have spent all the time I spent wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me educating and helping other people even younger than me who were having those worries. Representation really does matter, and that’s no different for those of us on the aroace spectrum—especially when there are still so many people out there who don’t believe being aroace is a real thing, or believe that a person can only be aroace because of some past trauma.

So I decided to celebrate Aromantic Awareness Week by finally ordering myself a copy of Common Bonds: An Aromantic Speculative Anthology edited by Claudie Arseneault, C.T. Callahan, B.R. Sanders and RoAnna Sylver, and I’m very excited for it to arrive! The books being published today are already so much more inclusive than they were ten years ago, so all we can really hope for is that they continue to be more and more inclusive and reflect the world as it truly is.

Would you be interested in seeing more characters on the aromantic and asexual spectrums in your fiction? What are some of your favourite books with aro/ace characters?

14 thoughts on “Aromantic Awareness Week | Do I need to see myself in books?

  1. Rabeeah says:

    This is such an interesting and well-written post, and a great discussion. Now that I’m thinking about it, I really can’t recall the last time I read a book that didn’t have a romantic subplot. I agree with you on representation in fiction — it really is so important. And it’s encouraging to see a bigger variety of stories being published now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Thank you! I love a good romantic subplot–I’m genuinely a huge shipper if there’s a couple I can get behind that make my chest ache–but it would be nice to see more stories where romantic love isn’t portrayed as the most important relationship a person could have. I don’t even need characters to be on the aroace spectrum, I’d just love to see more novels focus on friendship! I think we are seeing that more and more these days, though, which is great.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Tammy says:

    I love this post, and I personally love stories without romantic elements. I’m not sure why they seem so scarce! But I’m glad there are more and more stories these days that have acearo characters and explore other possibilities besides romantic ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Thanks Tammy! Haha it’s funny I do love reading books that have a romance element to them–if a romantic relationship gets into my feelings, I will jump right on that ship–but I’d love to have the option to see more aroace people involved in the stories I love reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Catherine@basedonthebook says:

    I definitely think we need more books where all the characters don’t get paired off at the end. What you said about Katniss is interesting, I wish she’d ended up on her own too, it was a nice ending with Peeta in theory but it just felt so sad and a bit off, I think it would have felt more natural if they’d just stayed close friends and been survivors together. Tamora Pierce has said Kel from ‘protector of the small’ could be aromantic – I didn’t initially see her that way as she has crushes and stuff, but she could be read as aro i think and she’s a really great character!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies says:

    Really interesting post — thank you for sharing! I think a big piece that’s important about representation in fiction, in addition to being able to see oneself, is “normalizing” (sorry, couldn’t think of a better word) people’s lives that often go unseen, making sure that the world knows that so many different ways of being and living and feeling exist and need respect and acknowledgement. That said, I can’t think of many examples of aroace characters in fiction, other than The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats & Piracy. Good point about Katniss – the ending does feel pretty tacked-on, and could have gone a different way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Thanks Lisa! Yes, I think that’s one of the reasons why representation in fiction is so important–it’s lovely seeing yourself in the pages of a book, but it’d also be so much easier for me to tell people about being on the spectrum if more people knew about it through stories.


  5. Aj @ Read All The Things! says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! I was the same way as a kid. I’d pretend I had crushes so I could fit in with the other girls. They were obsessed with celebrities and would cut their pictures out of magazines and hang them on the walls. I’d be like, “Yeah, that random dude is . . . very sexy.” I’ve discovered that I don’t need to see myself in books. It’s awesome when an author captures an aspect of my life perfectly, but I tend to avoid books that sound too similar to things I’ve experienced. I read to escape. I usually don’t want to think about my own life while I’m reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Haha yep, I know that feeling! I have so many memories of friends pointing out a guy with a ‘cute butt’ and I’d be like ‘I mean… he poops out of it like everyone else’. Probably should have known then! That’s so true, reading is very much an escape–I’d be very bored if I read a book with a character with my exact experiences, but I would also love to see more fantasy, in particular, with prominent aro and/or ace characters because I never really saw that part of myself in fantasy growing up.


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