How (Not) to Ally is a series discussing the supportive content made by well-meaning asexual allies to allo-aros–and why some approaches still fail to recognise, promote, welcome, protect and include us.
It’s now not uncommon to see alloromantic allies asking questions about how best to write (or not write) aro characters. It’s also not uncommon, in response to open questions or in discussing a-spec and/or aro representation, to see not-allosexual aros and alloromantic asexuals reference allo-aros in their answers. Writers should include and depict a diversity of aros in their works, so we do need our asexual kin to remember us!
Unfortunately, most discussions argue that good allo-aro representation encompasses the following:
- Sex occurring in the context of close, intimate, “serious” relationships or partnerships
- Emphasis on monogamy or exclusivity
- Idealised, non-harmful depictions of sexual relationships
- Emphasis on possession of meaningful, intimate bonds with other people
- Capacity and desire for friendship and emotional intimacy
- Emphasis on ability to love and experiencing love for others
- Focusing on non-sexual thoughts and experiences
- Avoidance of sexualisation
- Emphasis on healthiness and “wholeness”
When I look upon such lists, all I know is this: they do not include me.
Problem One: Reduction of Character and Diversity
Our allies understand the importance of non-harmful representation. They know that while few protagonists are intentionally written as allo-aro, many antagonists are coded as allo-aro. They don’t want to see characters drawn as villains because they are allo-aro any more than I do!
Sexual attraction absent alloromantic attraction has long been regarded as repulsive or dangerous. Predatory behaviours–in fiction and real life–are often excused or condoned under the veneer of romance or love, while loveless, romanceless lust tells the audience to fear or despise a character. Scores of novels have redeemed a rake or fuckboy only when he falls in romantic love. When we are not depicted as villains, elements of our lives form the barrier between a potential hero and their (romantic) happily-ever-after.
Fiction doesn’t need to identify itself as allo-aro to tell harm-causing stories.
In wanting better representation for us, allies also emphasise avoiding the following:
- Promiscuity, frequent casual sex, one night stands
- Sex had outside a “close” or “serious” relationship / friendship
- Being a “player” or using people just for sex
- Focusing on sexual (over non-sexual) thoughts and behaviours
- Predominant or sole interest in having or seeking sexual experiences
- Intimate interactions or relationships based only on sex
- Coldness, heartlessness, aloofness, isolation
- Lovelessness or inability to love
- Inability to form or difficulty in forming relationships
- Unhealthy relationships
- Antagonistic or predatory behaviours
- Being or feeling “broken”
Including everything on the first list and nothing on the second may result in representation both inoffensive and non-stereotypical. This character will represent some allo-aros and provide them with a much-needed balm against the agony of only seeing characters hewing to a limited stereotype. Characters written this way are needed and necessary.
Telling people to only write one type of allo-aro character is also a grave injustice to those of us who are loveless, enjoy one night stands, don’t desire long-term partners, think about sex more than “sometimes”, struggle to form relationships, only desire relationships based on sex, or have committed the common human sins of cheating or, yes, using people for sex. Too many allo-aros lose the chance of seeing ourselves in an affirming story when our allies favour select criteria as “acceptable” representation.
Allo-aros who fit the stereotypes of “sleep around” and “only interested in sexual relationships” exist alongside those who don’t. Those qualities don’t, by default, make us villainous or predatory.
Furthermore, stripping our stories of common mistakes and harms–while alloromantic allosexual narratives feature them in abundance–denies us the joy of seeing our real humanity. It narrows our opportunities within the narrative, stripping characters of the learning and redemption permitted to the less-marginalised. It denies us the potential of seeing the entire spectrum of emotion and consequence in the characters communicating allo-aro stories.
Only writing this character creates another stereotype: the “good” allo-aro, forever existing in opposition to the promiscuous villain.
Allies shouldn’t write all allo-aros as interested in one-night stands or inclined to cheat on a partner. Neither should you write us, in response to the antagonism of the former, as only interested in long-term partnerships or always possessed of close friendships. While we should not be depicted as antagonists because of our allosexual aromanticism, honest representation includes diverse characters with varying qualities from either or both lists.
Preaching the creation of a new stereotype isn’t allyhood. It’s erasure.
Problem Two: The Non-Vacuum of Sex Negativity
It’s not coincidental that the character our allies recommend against defies Western tenets constituting acceptable sexual experiences and relationships.
We are marginalised by the societal regard of the non-alloromantic sexual experiences we may have and those alloromantics think we must have. We can’t escape the unquestioned privileging of “romance”, “long-term relationships” and “love”; we can’t avoid the unexamined demonisation of sex and sexuality occurring outside romance (or even love). We are denigrated because of the alloromantic presumption that we have or desire types of sex (unromantic, casual, frequent) that amatonormativity and sex negativity together reckon aberrant, unacceptable or immoral.
Experiences, behaviours and desires had by some allo-aros are wielded against other minorities on the same principle: bigots justify hatred, dehumanisation and violence due to a minority’s actual or perceived sexual desires, expressions and experiences. In response, targeted marginalised groups often promote or emphasise their capacity for love and romance. Allo-aro members of said groups can feel pressured to repress our aromanticism or perform romance in order to avoid handing bigots the weapon wielded against our own.
(As an aromantic, I am the monster cishets weaponise against multisexuals. I am also the monster my fellow multisexuals deny in their eagerness to convince cishets that we’re similar enough in the ways that matter–romance and love–to be undeserving of their hate.)
While the asexual, a-spec and aromantic communities are aware of sex negativity as an oppressive force, rarely do their understandings support allo-aros. Asexuals’ need to discuss and express sex repulsion can cross the line into denigrating sex itself; this can leave allo-aros unable to safely access shared a-spec and aromantic spaces. To participate in and connect with an a-spec community still centring asexual needs and experiences, allo-aros again feel enormous pressure to repress everything associated with the “allosexual” part of allo-aro identity.
Our allies don’t preach the creation of an ideal allo-aro character–an allo-aro who doesn’t resemble a stereotype crafted by and in response to bigotry, amatonormativity and sex negativity–in a vacuum.
They preach it in a world where we are beset by the same message from all sides.
When allies speak, I hear old bigotry given progression’s burnish: you should only exist in story if you fit within a system privileging sex had in monogamous, long-term partnerships. We will celebrate your aromanticism only if your sexual expression doesn’t defy too many unquestioned assumptions.
Reinforcing sex-negative norms in the name of shaping allo-aro representation isn’t allyhood. It’s erasure.
Impact: Betraying My Own Allosexuality
I am an allo-aro author of many allo-aro characters. Writing them should ease my wounds from years of forcing my stories to fit in genres shaped by amatonormativity. The knowledge that allo-aro writers now plant our seeds in the garden of the greater literary canon should gift me a proud, joyful delight. Finally!
But little terrifies me more than writing allo-aro stories.
By the measure of every guide I’ve seen on writing aros and allo-aros, I am a purveyor of bad representation. Every new story demands a fight between the fear of provoking condemnation and the need of depicting loveless characters like me. Mara, Darius and Ila exist in large part so Kit, Suki and the Forest Witch–characters who call to my heart–can exist without my solely depicting a disliked stereotype.
Should I erase, or at least reduce, one character’s desire for frequent sex? Should I stop writing a character who uses people for sex, even though this occurs because of amatonormative oppression? Does my character think about sex too much? Should I add an allo-aro character in a long-term relationship … but only because my work-in-progress features two “promiscuous” allo-aro characters and readers must think that harmful?
Nothing has changed: I am still forcing my characters to fit.
In a sex-negative, amatonormative world, I struggle to carve out breathing space between the crushing forces of society and authenticity. I struggle to exist as a creator within society’s norms while walking the talk of allo-aro pride and representation. I struggle to create in ways true to how I understand my own allosexual aromanticism. I struggle.
I’d rather sew pride patches, most often, than write.
To create allo-aro characters without succumbing to anxiety, insecurity and doubt, I must embrace an uncomfortable truth: everything I write is problematic. It’s problematic because I’m a loveless, neurodiverse allo-aro who doesn’t want to bow to sex-negative attitudes in narrating my feelings and experiences. It’s problematic because I exist in a world that frowns upon my existence and teaches others to do the same. If I cannot make my stories acceptable, what worth is there in being less than I am through trying?
I have to learn to embrace my truth as a creator of problematic, honest representation.
Meanwhile, my allies undermine those lessons in the name of convincing other non-allo-aros to write the “right” kind of allo-aro characters.
Solutions: You Shouldn’t Discuss Allo-Aro Representation. You Just Shouldn’t.
In my first post for this series, I said that “I need asexuals to help educate other asexuals about allo-aros“. This has never stopped being true, but sometimes your efforts should involve only the provision of authoritative resources before you absent yourself from the conversation.
This is one of those times.
Most asexuals, on the subject of allo-aro representation, speak what seems reasonable truth–what you believe allo-aros desire and need. This belief is often limited at best! Yet some allo-aros request their allies to only create erasing representation that stresses healthy relationships or doesn’t depict us as “just sleeping around”. (We also must unlearn sex negativity.) If we don’t have consensus on how allies should depict us, how can asexuals speak on such a complex subject while lacking lived experience?
In a small community with limited access to representation, your missteps cause immeasurable harm to allo-aros.
Please: don’t discuss, explain or elaborate. Don’t.
If you’re asked questions about allo-aro representation, provide links to allo-aro-authored discussions/resources and name allo-aro creators who may answer questions or whose work is worth perusing as examples.
If you’re asked questions about a-spec or aro representation generally, mention that allo-aros have distinct needs before providing links to allo-aro-authored discussions/resources and naming allo-aro creators who may answer questions or whose work is worth perusing as examples.
If you see non-allo-aros offering up information about allo-aro representation, provide links and name creators.
Your job as an ally is simple: name and link.
Let us do the rest.
Most ally-authored posts, discussions and how-to guides are created by people intending to help. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t erase the harm caused by preaching a shape of identity that erases many allo-aros, denies us human flaws in the characters telling our stories, and perpetuates a culture that doesn’t support all allo-aro creators.
Much of what makes an allo-aro character “bad rep” is, itself, aro antagonism, amatonormativity and sex negativity. At best, our allies are directed to create representation that doesn’t engage with these forces, choosing only qualities regarded as “more acceptable” under various systems of oppression. At worst, they are directed to only create representation that perpetrates and perpetuates these harms.
All authors of allo-aro representation tell stories that can’t not be problematic in a world that has so normalised sex negativity and amatonormativity. Some allo-aros are harmed more than others by the notion of what’s peddled as “good” allo-aro rep, but all allo-aros are “problematic” by being allo-aro.
Until our allies can understand and embrace the complexities of that truth, you serve allo-aros best by leaving conversations on representation to us.