If you haven’t read it already, you may not be aware that Cass, the main character of my book The Summer We’ve Had, is asexual.
Wow! Shock! Horror! According to much of the bigoted closed-minded Twitterati I’ve been seeing on my timeline in the last few weeks, this is a travesty of love. Or indeed a travesty of anything. I’m going to explain, as simply and succinctly as I can, why it’s not. And why I decided to write about asexuality in my Sapphic fiction book.
Firstly, let’s define asexuality. According to Oxford Languages, to be asexual is ‘experiencing no sexual feelings or desires; not feeling sexual attraction to anyone’. To break it down etymologically, the suffix ‘a’ connotes ‘absence of’ while ‘sexuality’ speaks for itself. That doesn’t mean that asexual people are all virgins, or indeed that they are all celibate. Indeed, they may choose to have sex for a variety of reasons. It means – to me, at least – that they don’t feel that zing in their body when they meet a person they find attractive. That’s not to say that they don’t find people attractive – aesthetic attraction occurs, and is separate from sexual and romantic attraction – but they have no desire to act on it. To go to bed with someone, or form a sexual connection with them.
Which, in turn, is not to say that they don’t experience romantic attraction. Asexuality is a separate entity from aromanticism. The two often go hand in hand but not always – and certainly not in Cass’s case. This is the first reason I wrote Cass to be asexual: to prove that. To dispel the rumblings that a lack of sexual feelings translates directly into a lack of romantic feelings. And – crucially – to prove that there are people who will accept that. That sex is not the be-all and end-all of all romantic relationships. There are still ways to make it work, and asexual people can have fully functioning, rewarding romantic relationships.
To further cement the fact that sexual and romantic attraction are two separate beings, I made Cass biromantic. In the same vein as bisexuality, to be biromantic is to feel romantic attraction to two genders. Etymologically – ‘bi’ meaning two, ‘romantic’ explaining itself. So she is biromantic and asexual: feeling romantic attraction to men and women, but sexual attraction to nobody. Bisexuality and biromanticism are vastly underrepresented… well, everywhere, so it was important to me that at least one of my characters in The Summer We’ve Had was bi. (Actually, thinking about it, we’ve covered quite a few letters… the L, the B, the A, the Q…)
Until now, I haven’t drawn much attention to Cass’s asexuality. I don’t in the book, either. It’s mentioned just a handful of times, and obviously there are no sex scenes. I’ve also not really talked about it when promoting the book, because it shouldn’t be a big deal. Just like in real life, it should just be another part of someone, one of the many things that makes them their wonderful self. But with this recent despicable uprise in hatred and aphobia – directed largely at Yasmin Benoit, model and asexual activist – I felt that I needed to say something. To defend asexuality, and asexual people.
Not that they should need to be defended. But my overarching theme, my one primary mission for my writing, is to give voices to people who are lacking them. That’s why I wrote Cass’s girlfriend, Felicia, to have Dissociative Identity Disorder, a mental health condition of which that surprisingly few people are aware. That’s why I also wrote Cass to have depression, another vastly underrepresented (and, like DID, inaccurately represented) mental health condition. I wanted to stand up – metaphorically – and shout, “THESE PEOPLE EXIST! THEY EXIST, AND THEY DESERVE LOVE AND CARE AND TO BE LISTENED TO. SO LISTEN TO THEM!!”
Listening to them, if the bigoted closed-minded Twitterati are anything to go by, is apparently too much to ask at the moment. But when they’re ready – because the day will come, it simply has to – then my book, and other books with asexual characters, will be there. And until then, I hope that my book connects with asexual people. Helps them feel represented, and not alone. That’s another reason why I write. Because I’ve heard about people who don’t know about asexuality. Who don’t know it’s a thing, and think they’re defective because they don’t experience the same carnal desires as other people. They’re not broken. They’re asexual. And those are two very different things.
So, let’s summarise with a direct quotation from Cass herself.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen asexuality represented in films or on television. I think I’ve seen it in a book, once or twice, but that’s it. Part of the reason why it’s so misunderstood, I reckon. People equate it with aromanticism – they think that because we don’t feel sexual attraction, that immediately translates to not feeling romantic attraction, or not wanting a romantic relationship. But I do feel romantic attraction. To men and women, although with a female preference. That’s why I’m biromantic, as opposed to bisexual. I just don’t have the desire to rip their clothes off! And I don’t understand why that’s such a difficult concept for people to understand.”
It shouldn’t be. It really, really shouldn’t be.
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