I have a problem with most how-to-write-character-of-X-identity posts: representation loses complexity when we reduce it to a list of must-avoid tropes and stereotypes. While this simplification makes it easier to steer clear of accidental antagonism, rarely do such posts acknowledge how avoiding stereotype enables the erasure of those allo-aros–and people of other marginalised identities–whose lives happen to resemble them. Too often we end up praising and valuing representation that regards loveless, neurodiverse, low-empathy, aplatonic, non-partnering and non-monogamous aromantics as too “problematic” for depiction.
For some time, I’ve answered the question of “how to write allo-aro characters” in one sentence: write many allo-aro characters of differing experiences, intersectional identities and roles within their story.
Allies, however, keep asking me for resources. Pithy sentences may be honest, but they’re inherently flawed: they aren’t actionable. A list at least offers safety’s illusion by explaining what not to write! If you don’t know where to start, or so fear causing harm that you can’t, how can you write more than one allo-aro character?
For Aro Week, I’m expanding upon this with a two-part guide explaining the work allies should undertake in creating allo-aro characters and the stories containing them. I outline steps for educating yourself, discuss how to contextualise your work in the field that is “intentional allo-aro representation” and explain concerns I have as a potential allo-aro reader. Please keep in mind that I don’t provide concise answers! I’m only hammering guideposts along the path of your research and reflection when it comes to depicting allosexual aromanticism.
So let’s strap in for a discussion about language, sex negativity, and, most importantly of all, the role and duties of an ally to allo-aros.
First: The Allo-Aro Character Manifesto
Let’s begin with a list of truths ally creators should take to heart.
Truth 1: You can’t represent all allo-aro audiences within a single character. Instead of aiming for generally-applicable representation, create multiple characters representing specific shapes of allo-aro experience.
Truth 2: No matter how many different allo-aro characters you create, you still won’t represent all allo-aros. Create as many different allo-aro characters as you can, however, because the aim is to fail standing closer to the stars than you did at the beginning of your writing journey.
Truth 3: You may alienate, frustrate or even anger some allo-aros you don’t (or don’t fully) represent, even should you write thousands of different, impeccably-researched allo-aro characters. Please don’t expect to–or even try to–please all the allo-aros who read, watch or listen to your narrative.
Truth 4: There is no more profound or powerful act, as a creator, than to give even one reader visibility, recognition and life inside an affirming narrative. Everyone who does this in good faith, with consideration and compassion centred above all else, deserves that word: ally.
I believe that allies can write most tropes and stereotypes–even stereotypes that have been weaponised against us–when they showcase through several allo-aro characters the diversity of our experiences. In all circumstances, the best depiction of allo-aro identity is that which encompasses as many different characters as is possible for you to include.
Finding intentional allo-aro representation is like catching a unicorn. It’s easy to feel let down when representation labelled as “allo-aro” doesn’t fit our needs. I’m non-partnering and loveless; a book that focuses on allo-aros in a loving, monogamous partnership just doesn’t represent me. When the aro community historically celebrates any one character as representative for all aros–irrespective of the character’s other qualities, identities and attributes–representation not targeted at me can (incorrectly) feel like erasure. We must get better, as creators and audiences alike, at recognising and contextualising characters as the specific representation they are instead of generalising their relevance to all who yearn to see ourselves in story.
Never forget, too, that allo-aros are a young coalition of people possessing differing experiences, backgrounds and intersecting identities. One allo-aro may call you out for writing a loveless allo-aro who sleeps around because they’ve been harmed through others’ use of stereotype; others will insist that loveless allo-aros who sleep around both exist and deserve representation. Allies must be prepared to carry out research, check disagreements against other community conversations and draw your own conclusions in the face of competing arguments.
The subject of character is no small amount complicated. The more we find our allo-aro diversity included in that hopeful concept of “representation”, however, the less fraught the resulting conversation becomes.
Second: Interrogate Your Sex Negativity
If you’re reading this post, you likely have some knowledge of what constitutes aromantic antagonism. Yet even a-specs–even allo-aros!–are as likely to preach sex negativity as anyone else, a harm too often overlooked when it comes to discussing allo-aro representation. Allo-aro antagonism rests upon an amatonormative foundation that unnecessarily idealises the sex had within marriage and romantic relationships (while overlooking the ways marriage and romantic relationships can enable sex-related harms). We must acknowledge its inherent sex negativity.
Many progressive spaces have only scoured away sex negativity’s layers of raging heteronormativity (the presumption that acceptable sex occurs only between two cisgender partners of different binary genders). The underlying belief system remains intact. As allo-aros are more likely to have–or be perceived as having–sexual interactions that fall outside the romantic and/or long-term relationships believed to make sex safer, better or “acceptable”, our allies must challenge the mindset that human morality, dignity and decency is only bestowed upon the partnering.
Sex negativity as impacts allo-aros (while perpetrating and intersecting with other shapes of antagonism) is the regard of certain types of sexual activity as harmful, disgusting, dehumanising, predatory, soulless or immoral, such as:
- Sex outside marriage or long-term romantic partnerships
- Sex outside long-term platonic/queerplatonic partnerships
- One night stands
- Casual sex had with strangers or acquaintances
- The possession of more than one sexual partner at any one time
- A greater than “acceptable” number of sex partners over time
- A greater than “acceptable” number of casual sexual experiences
- Sex absent the presence of or potential for romantic attraction/relationships
- Sex absent the presence of or potential for platonic attraction/relationships
- Sex absent the presence of or potential for love
- Sex in a “friends with benefits” style, non-romantic/non-emotional relationship
- Relationships solely for or about sex
- Interactions solely for or about sex
- Sex had outside traditional relationship structures
- Cruising only for sexual interactions
- Non-romanticised sexual interactions/encounters
- Sex had only for the purpose of getting off
The frequency of one’s casual sex encounters doesn’t by default correlate to an increased likelihood of cheating. A person who desires sexual interactions sans romantic relationships isn’t by default more likely to lie in pursuit of sex. You may want or need your sexual interactions (if you desire any) to occur within intimate relationships. If you by default condemn anyone else who chooses to “sleep around” as gross or heartless, however, you’re engaging in sex negativity. You only support those allo-aros whose lives better fit Western society’s rules on what makes a moral person–and that makes you no ally to the many allo-aros who reject such norms.
Third: The Background Work of Allo-Aro Rep
Creators reading this may already possess an in-progress story or two (or more). You may be planning one; you may be rewriting a first draft; you may be fact-checking a closer-to-finished narrative. I believe this work is best done as early as possible, as possessing general allo-aro knowledge allows you to naturally shape your character(s) as you write. That doesn’t mean you still can’t tackle some or all of these steps, no matter where you are in your creative process.
Actively follow allo-aro creators and content online.
Browse discords, blogs, message boards, websites and social media hashtags collating discussions about allo-aro identities and experiences. Read posts in tags like “allosexual aromantic“, “alloaro” and “aroallo” on Tumblr. Follow bloggers who talk about their experiences or collate resources. Let allo-aro content become part of your regular online experience to the point where unlooked-for posts or videos find you on your dashboard or for you page.
This step is about perusing anything allo-aro. Be curious! You’re not yet researching specific information for your character; you’re expanding your general knowledge so that you gain familiarity with our pains, frustrations, joys and experiences. Here is where you’ll glean the minor details that make a character feel real! There’s no better way to learn how allo-aros think, feel and communicate than to browse publicly-accessible allo-aro spaces … and when you need to undertake character-specific research, you’ll already have some idea of where best to search or whom best to ask.
Be aware that not all allo-aro spaces accommodate access needs concerning sex repulsion. You shouldn’t expect consistent use of advisory tags on content with casual or non-explicit references to sexual attraction and/or experiences.
This work is also vastly easier for abled, English-speaking allies with a good internet connection!
Identify and examine your limitations as an ally.
Your feelings and experiences impact the characters, situations and scenes that populate your story, even as an ally. How may a severely-sex-repulsed asexual write an allo-aro character? Perhaps they create sex-repulsed allo-aros, giving them needed inclusion in fictional narratives? Great! Yet depicting these characters without reference to sexual desires, behaviours and/or attractions can result in erasing what it means to be allo-aro. You need to develop both your awareness of any character-impacting limitations you have as a creator and ways you can navigate or mitigate any unintended messages in your work as a result of said limitations.
So ask yourself:
- With what types of allo-aro-related characters and situations are you comfortable as a creator?
- Are you reluctant to write certain experiences, situations or scenes? How will this impact your character?
- Do you have any experiences or situations you won’t explore? How will this impact your character?
- Will your limitations restrict your ability to research? Are there other ways to gain needed information for developing your character, like asking allo-aros you trust to respect your access needs?
- Do you think your character will still be recognisable as allo-aro, taking your hard limits into account? Can you think of other ways to describe and celebrate their identity?
- Can you mitigate any potential erasure through use of suggestion, implication or fade to black?
You shouldn’t have to ignore or pretend away your limits, but you should acknowledge their impact. This can let you shape your story in all sorts of ways! Our hypothetical creator might write their allo-aro character in a queerplatonic relationship with a sex-repulsed asexual–a circumstance that avoids displays of sexual attraction but leaves room for exploring their character’s feelings related to navigating their differing identities. Watch out for any tendency to emphasise a character’s aromanticism at cost of their allosexuality or their allosexuality at the cost of their aromanticism, should one be more familiar or understandable to you. One part of allo-aro identity may be more important to your character than another, but no aspect should be forgotten or pushed aside.
If posting your work online, check to see if you’re permitted explicit or adult content. The sanitisation of the internet is particularly harmful in terms of depicting casual-sex-favourable allo-aro characters, but it limits any character for whom sex forms an aspect of their identity. Substituting scenes of non-sexual intimacy doesn’t always convey the fullness of certain relationships or experiences; no amount of casual references to sex can fill the void, in those characters for whom sexual interaction is a significant part of how they are allo-aro, left by a fade-to-black.
Access and peruse fictional media created by allo-aros.
If you’ve followed allo-aros on social media, you should find references to at least (as of time of writing!) a few fictional works by allo-aro-identifying creators. Please peruse them! Consuming and analysing extant media is the best way to learn how to describe, explain and categorise your own allo-aro characters and the works containing them.
If you can, don’t rely on works from mainstream publishers or productions. Gather a mix of mainstream, small press and independent or self-published pieces. Toss in some fanworks! Indie and fan creators can target an audience as narrow as “trans and non-binary multisexual aromantics who want stories centring on being allo-aro” in ways that more-commercially oriented works from mainstream publishers won’t or can’t. This will impact how a character’s allosexual aromanticism is described, referenced and conveyed, and observing the contrast may help you in considering the role of your own audience.
Things to look for in your reading include:
The work’s audience (and its impact on terminology and explanation)
Words like “aromantic” are new to many audiences; “allosexual” is even more arcane a term. “Allosexual aromantic“, with both words expressing a specific identity, is something with which even many queer folks still possess ignorance. Allo-aros frequently endure the real-life frustration of having friends, family and acquaintances misunderstand or erroneously contextualise our allosexual aromanticism as asexuality, so your presumed audience, as well as your characters’ understanding, will impact the language you use in-story.
So, while perusing any given work, ask yourself:
- To what audience do you think the creator targets their work? (Other allo-aros? Other a-specs? Speculative fiction readers? General LGBTQIA+/queer audiences? Teenagers? Adults?)
- How does the creator explain identity terms like “allosexual” and “aromantic”? (Is the explanation threaded through character dialogue? Quoted from a fictional or real piece of media, like a book or website? Provided as an expository paragraph?)
- In how much detail does the creator explain identity terms like “allosexual” and “aromantic”? (Expansive? Brief?)
- Do you think their use of terminology and/or explanation suitable for their intended audience?
- Can their explanation and/or depiction of their character’s allo-aro identity be misconstrued?
- What would you change about the author’s handling if the work’s presumed audience differs from yours?
Audience impacts how you describe and reference your character. Someone targeting a-spec audiences, assuming prior understanding, may provide cursory explanations of words like “allosexual” or “aromantic”–or none at all. An author targeting a general audience may devote time to language-related education–or avoid using “allosexual aromantic” in favour of general, no-terminology descriptions like “he desires people sexually but lacks interest in romance”.
To write allo-aro characters, you must evaluate the impact your audience has on writing a character of an identity not yet universally understood as extant.
The work’s setting (and its impact on terminology and language)
Setting also shapes and determines your use of language! Historical, cultural or fantastical settings mean terms like “allosexual aromantic” may not yet exist or hold relevance. A futuristic setting may use “alloaro” as readily as we use “queer”. Contemporary works will vary, but if it’s reasonable for a character to know these words, consider using them in the work itself. General references, metaphor and symbolism can pass unrecognised by allosexual alloromantics, but the actual words are harder to miss!
So, while perusing any given work, ask yourself:
- Does the creator instead describe a character’s allosexual aromanticism via metaphor, simile or symbolism? Do they use this in addition to, or as a replacement for, specific terminology?
- Does the creator use invented terms in addition to, or as a replacement for, specific terminology?
- Do you expect allosexual aromanticism to be generally understood within the work’s setting?
- Does the creator’s use–or avoidance–of specific terms feel appropriate to the setting?
- Does the author refer to their allo-aro characters in the blurb or summary? Does this reference differ from their use of language in the work itself?
If you’re creating an allo-aro protagonist or another summary-worthy character, don’t forget to examine how allo-aro creators reference theirs in blurbs, cover copy, descriptions, tags, keywords and even file metadata. The setting may inhibit use of clear, identity-related terminology, but you can use “allo-aro” in your communications about the work!
Speculative fiction authors may also use current language, even if it sounds anachronistic, from a desire for clarity or a distaste for inventing alternate terms. (If I can call a horse in an alternate-world fantasy story a “horse”, I don’t see why I can’t call an aromantic an “aromantic” even if the story is vaguely approximated from 1800s Europe.) It felt intensely empowering, as an aro, to realise that I don’t have to invent fantasy replacement terms in favour of our actual words.
The work’s characters (and their impact on terminology and explanation)
In any work with limited viewpoints, your characters determine your terminology, the nature of your explanations and even what is perceived as allo-aro identity. Consider writing a story where a narrating character, unaware of concepts like “aromantic”, discovers themself as allo-aro. How does your use of language differ compared to a story where the mystery-solving protagonist already knows themself as allo-aro? What about a story where one third-person narrator knows about aromanticism but another doesn’t? In a novel with an allosexual alloromantic narrating protagonist, you may find yourself depicting a side allo-aro character only through the perspective of a character with varying degrees of ignorance. How might their use of terms differ when compared to other protagonists? Or over the course of a story as a character evolves? How might your viewpoint character recognise behaviours or experiences related to allosexual aromanticism … if at all?
While perusing, keep an eye out for when the creator of your work introduces or uses terms, why a viewpoint character may impact their introduction or usage, and how the provision of these terms is earlier foreshadowed with symbolism, metaphor or general references to relationships/experiences (that a narrating character may or may not recognise).
Extant formats, languages and genres
While you can create whatever character calls to you, if you’re writing specifically to provide representation for allo-aros you should consider what stories with allo-aro characters currently exist. Do intentionally-created allo-aro characters appear (with any frequency) in comics, podcasts, games or short films? In poetry and literary fiction? In murder mysteries and works targeted at young adults? In narrative media conveyed in non-English languages?
If allo-aro writers are publishing fantasy or young adult stories, allo-aros who prefer adult crime fiction are still in want of representation. If most works are are in text format, allo-aros who prefer podcasts, games, comics or film are still in want of representation. Allies do allo-aros a great service if they can recognise and fill gaps in extant narratives, especially if they coincide with your creative preferences in genre, language or format.
Extant character identities and relationships
As said earlier, many allo-aros lack intersectional representation. My trans and non-binary multisexual aro characters don’t and can’t represent all the experiences of aromantics who are both cisgender and heterosexual. We always need more works featuring disabled allo-aros and allo-aros of colour. (“Disability” is such a diverse category: how can autistic allo-aros represent allistic allo-aros with autoimmune diseases?) What about stories with cupioromantic or bellusromantic allosexual characters? Allo-aros in queerplatonic relationships with aro-aces or allo-aces? Allo-aros in romantic relationships? Allo-aro characters from non-Western backgrounds? Allo-aros in contemporary fiction that isn’t set in the USA? Married allo-aros? Divorced allo-aros? Allo-aro parents and grandparents? Retired allo-aros?
In your perusing of allo-aro media, can you identify those allo-aros who aren’t yet represented? Can you find ways to include some of these missing intersectional experiences and relationships within your story, keeping in mind how they shape and impact your characters’ being allo-aro? Your role as ally is most profound when you’re not echoing what currently exists but broadening allo-aro representation as a diverse whole.
And now, consider your character and story.
You’ve gathered background knowledge, identified your audience and evaluated your impact as author. It’s almost time to get back to the work of character building and storytelling … but you may want to take a moment to reflect on your character and story-to-be (or story-in-progress). What else should you research? Remember that your character exists in the context of setting, identity and relationships: you’re no longer interested in general allo-aro information but discussions relevant to the specific way in which they are allo-aro. Go back to your allo-aro blogs and videos, perusing content with your character’s needs in mind.
Some experiences, terms and concepts you may want to research for your character include:
- Allosexual aromantic antagonism (and its differences from general aromantic antagonism)
- Allosexual aromantic erasure and (its differences from general aromantic erasure)
- Amatonormativity (especially its intersection with sexual relationships)
- Aromantic and a-spec terminology
- Queerplatonic relationships/partnerships
- Non-partnering aromantics
- Lovelessness and/or aplatonicism’s potential intersection with allo-aro identity
- Romance-favourablity’s potential intersection with allo-aro identity
- Spectrum-specific identities like demiromantic or nebularomantic
- Heterosexual aromantics’ erasure from queer/LGBTQIA+ spaces
Otherwise a-spec creators should keep in mind that common a-spec experiences may not look or feel the same for some allo-aros, so it’s always worth the time to check your assumptions!
And that’s it for part one! Part two covers character tropes that need careful handling as well as the meaning of the word ally in the phrase “ally creator” … because your efforts shouldn’t stop at including allo-aro representation.