Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my views may have changed since this was first written.
If you follow me (and maybe even if you don’t), you might have seen a bit of an argument ensuing yesterday about aro representation, among other things. I’ve also seen a lot of other stuff about representation recently, and I felt like talking about it. Under the cut because it got long and angry and a little bit sweary.
I have a feeling I’ve talked about this before, but I never knew I was ‘different’ because I never saw anything to suggest that I was – all of the books I read had people who (seemingly) appreciated people aesthetically and every now and then ‘decided’ they wanted a relationship with someone. I read all these books and saw all these TV shows and, while I can now see some glaring differences between me and those characters, at the time and with the knowledge I had, I was pretty much exactly like them.
Why is representation important to me? Firstly, because reading about just one character who made a clear distinction between aesthetic and sexual attraction would have let me find the ace community much quicker than I did. Reading about just one character who wondered what romantic love was and what it felt like and if they were feeling it would have made me so much more comfortable in myself.
For people who have representation of things they find important to them, this need to be seen seems superfluous because we found the community eventually, right? We found out who we were one way or another, and we’re getting the word out about our orientation in magazines and newspapers and talk shows. Maybe we need a bit more visibility, but we don’t need to see some fictional characters prancing about being unashamedly ace, right?
Wrong. Why is representation important to me? Second of all, it’s because I just casually wrote that I didn’t realise I was ‘different’ without even thinking about using ace/aro instead. I put quotes around the word because I knew that it wasn’t quite what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get my brain past that feeling of ‘otherness’. We need representation, not only for visibility’s sake, but to normalise our own existence.
I get up in the morning sometimes and wonder if I’ve deluded myself, if I’ve spent too much time on Tumblr and started to believe the hype about another internet fad because there’s no way I could be so not-normal and be completely oblivious to it for so long, right? I must have just got confused.
And then my mum watches a terrible TV programme so she can watch a fitness instructor, or I watch a TV show where a man thinks going to a lesbian bar would be fun, or I talk to a friend who’s crushing on multiple guys who they’ve barely met, and I realise that I’m not confused. Society is just shit and behind the times.
Those kinds of thoughts, though, they still leave a mark. They make special little neural pathways in my brain that remind me every now and again that I’m not like other people. A friend talks about what she finds attractive or what fictional character she’s got a crush on and my brain starts whispering things. Not normal, weird, inhuman, unlovable…
But still, who cares about me, right? We’ve got societal constructs to break down and we don’t have time to give little aces and aros representation that could be better put to use in crushing things that we want to crush because we like crushing. Crush.
I know, I’m getting a bit sarcastic, but the honest-to-goodness explanation I got yesterday was that crushing the stereotype that women need to be in relationships was a good reason to ignore aro representation. I’ve honestly never heard that argument before but now I want to address it.
It reminds me of the criticisms of feminism, actually. ‘But men have it bad too’ is a complete and utter misunderstanding of what feminism is (it aims to get rid of the inequality between males and females, ie it aims for us to be treated the same in every way, ie it aims for men to not have to hide their emotions away because ‘masculinity’). ‘But what about the awfulness of romantic relationships’ and ‘but what about sex positivity’ similarly misunderstand what aro and ace representation can actually do and what it actually means.
Having an aromantic character normalises non-romantic love and people who don’t have romantic relationships; it makes people realise that romance isn’t the be-all and end-all in everybody’s lives. Enough representation, and we could entirely do the fuck away with amatonormativity and hierarchical relationships – romantic relationships would be treated the same as friendships and it would be seen as more acceptable to leave them because they’re not this magical creature that is only seen at night.
Having an asexual character normalises non-sexual romantic relationships and people who don’t want sex; it makes people realise that you don’t have to be pressured into sex and that virginity isn’t the be-all and end-all. It makes people see that ‘sexual liberation’ is just as oppressive as judging people for consensual, legal sexual acts, and again, it takes the magic away from sex. For some people, it’s just a thing that other people like, and really who gives a shit about how you do it or who with?
That’s why representation is important for people it doesn’t directly affect; normalise being aro/ace and you make the world more accepting.
But maybe you’re too cynical or too far away from it all to be able to see the possible future ramifications for everyone. If you are, don’t worry about it; there are a lot of times where I don’t ever think it’s going to happen either. However, I hope you’ll be swayed by the fact that the small amount of canonical representation of asexuality I’ve seen (in particular this comic) is the reason that I finally accept who I am. Maybe every now and again I have doubts that I’m even real, but the representation I get not only brings a huge smile to my face but leaves me feeling validated. Reading Shades of A is like exploring a possible future for myself where I’m actually happy. Seeing a comic character going through everything I’m going through makes it all more real than my own experience. I honestly can’t describe the feeling that representation gives me, because it is important in so many different ways; the best I can do is that it feels like a really warm hug when you’ve had a fucking awful day. I couldn’t have accepted myself without representation. And that’s why I give a fuck.