This guest post is written by Tiffany Rose, one of the co-authors of Hello World, which I featured earlier on CandidCeillie in a character interview.
I’ve recently noticed that allosexuals (that’s people who are attracted to others) don’t pick up asexual coding. So if you see someone running around labeling everyone in sight ace, that’s probably just me. Flippant article title and jokes aside, I earnestly want to talk about how a character, accidentally or not, can read this way. This is also related in part to my debut novel, Hello World, where I too wrote an ace character without originally knowing it only to go back and find several scenes with the relevant subtext. That’s right friends, you can even code a character as your own identity if you don’t know it’s you at the time.
I think most people are familiar with gay subtext, so I won’t explain it. The problem happens when people see a character uninterested in a different gender and therefore assume they are interested in the same gender. But that excludes much of the community, like bisexuals, pansexuals, and asexuals. (And that doesn’t even get into gendered issues about same or different gender.) For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say a binary view of gay or straight is fundamentally flawed and get onto what ace coding is.
I think people learn best by example so I’m going to use pop culture characters showcase my key points.
Solas (Dragon Age Inquisition)
I’ve written at length about the specific coding of this character so I’ll summarize. But first let’s discuss what it means not to have a character show sexual attraction.
The basics of asexuality is lack of sexual attraction to others, other definitions sometimes include the lack of being drawn to the act itself. Remember that asexuality is not being chaste. Someone who is allosexual and chaste is drawn towards sex, but abstains for whatever reason.
Iron Bull in contrast, freely talks about his desires. Whereas Solas never does even when wording suggests he could. For example, when prompted about “side benefits” and further mirrored in his flirt options that result in hesitation as he tries to denote their meaning.
None of the flirt options are sexualized in the main game, and when you get to DLC that has the first obviously sexualized comment the player can make, he corrects you. When other characters suggest sexual behavior he groans in annoyance. Not once, but twice.
The most subtle, yet specific, ace coded line is shortly after you kiss.
Inquisitor: If I’m pressuring you…
Solas: No, you’re not. I am perhaps pressuring myself.
Most aces try to meet expectations, which generally results in pushing ourselves into situations that are generally deemed sexual in nature. Sometimes this happens because we want to prove something, and other times it happens because we want to please others.
Sherlock has been coded as ace for so long, it’s actually where many negative stereotypes of asexuals come from. Logical and cold ace tropes likely stem from here. This isn’t to say, he’s a harmful representation if ever confirmed, but any time an author writes a character that values logic above sexual desire, and that character has no inner conflict about this fact, you end up with ace coding. In stories where Sherlock seems to get with women, it’s always case related. Further showing that behavior can be done for several other reasons besides attraction.
Jughead (Archie’s Comics)
This one is likely the most obvious because Jughead’s character has always been the character who isn’t into girls and would rather have food. If Jughead has the chance to say he is laughably uninterested in dating or romance, he always takes it.
This isn’t just in recent comics either, this has been a defining feature for decades, and is as consistent as Archie liking both Betty and Veronica.
Favoring food over sex is such a common ace joke that plenty of aces are now greatly annoyed at the mention of cake at all.
Yuri (Yuri on Ice)
Episode two of this anime literally has the main character being confused by the idea of sexual attraction. And the plot in part revolves about him being able to understand that feeling only through his bond with Victor.
Asexuality is not a black or white experience, like Jughead’s very obvious aro ace coding, Yuri is practically a by definition demisexual.
Scott (Hello World)
Okay, maybe it’s cheating to include my own character on this list but I wanted to show you the first scene I wrote with him where I realized his reactions are that of an asexual.
“Oh yeah?” the girl asked, batting her eyes at me. She placed a hand on her hip as her demure changed to suggest something. “Do you personally have something better?”
I chuckled, trying to keep myself from actually laughing at her approach of things.
Characters who show confused amusement of other’s attraction towards them are often hinting at their own lack of it. Aces realizing their reactions are not the same as others is how most of us figure it out in the first place. It has nothing to do with shaming them, and everything to do with simply realizing you are different.
Common wisdom suggests you write character’s by knowing their motivations. If your character shows little to no personal motivation towards sexual things they are going to be coded as asexual if you meant to or not.
I’ve seen allosexual authors just find a side character who has no sexual (or romantic) subplots and declare them asexual. While I’m pleased both JK Rowling and Cassandra Clare are aware of the existence of asexuality, the lack of behavior itself is not coding. And it excludes those who might be romanceable like Solas, aromantic like Jughead, or aces who might have sex if compelled to do so by other factors.
If you liked this article, I can almost guarantee you’re going to like Hello World. The novel publishes on February 21, and the e-bookcan be pre-ordered now through Amazon. The paperback will be available for order on the publication day!
Scott’s skills as a surveillance expert come in pretty handy when he’s breaking down firewalls. But hacktivism isn’t enough; he’s going after the holy grail—UltSyn’s Human Information Drives, human assets implanted with cerebral microchips. While plenty of hackers are trying to save the world these days, all Scott wants is to find his sister.
After following the clues to London, he makes a plan to kidnap the technical marvel heading into town. When this Human Information Drive turns out to be someone unexpected his nerve waivers. The HID, who calls herself Sonia, would be priceless on the market, but born out of joint self-preservation the two team up.
With her contacts, they travel across Europe in the search of personal secrets and leave a trail of industrial espionage all for the sake of misdirection. As the unlikely pair digs deeper into restricted databases, Scott discovers that those who enlist with UltSyn get far more than they bargained for. Not only is this secret HID program is much bigger than he had imagined, students are lining up for a future they only think this biotech wonder company can provide. Even worse, these leads are getting him nowhere closer to his own goals.
Plunged into a world of human trafficking, Scott is determined to find his sister no matter the cost, which tests Sonia’s fragile friendship with him. But when the information reveals the people closest to Scott have been working for UltSyn all along, he has to find them—before UltSyn finds him.