Pramana

New Literary Theory Considers YA Fiction Asexual Representation!

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Pramana

There's a new literary theory journal article that considers asexual representation in young adult fantasy novels. Here's the abstract:

"According to Stacy Pinto, asexuality is one of the most underresearched, misunderstood, under-represented sexual identities of the
21st century (331) despite the fact that there currently exists a small social movement, perhaps akin to the gay rights movement of the
1960s and 1970s, which has brought together a diverse group of people who identify as asexual‖ (Bogaert 244). Due to the limited
awareness of asexuality, relatively few asexual characters exist in literature and even fewer could be considered examples of positive
representation. Instead, asexual representations in media tend to serve as denial narratives (Przybylo 189) which invalidate the
asexual identity and render asexuality illegible. The absence of positive asexual characters can have an alienating effect on those
who identify as asexual and find themselves in a culture which promotes sexuality as a necessary part of human existence. A rise in
fantasy novels that feature asexual protagonists may challenge the trend of asexual erasure and problematize prevailing notions of
human sexuality. In the following thesis I investigate how the fantasy genre can facilitate the awareness and normalisation of asexual
identities. This will be done by introducing and contextualising asexuality before discussing the effects of past negative representations
of asexual characters in literature and popular media. Following this, I analyse two contemporary young adult fantasy novels, namely
Clariel by Garth Nyx and Quicksilver by RJ Anderson, that feature positively portrayed asexual characters to determine how the fantasy
elements and concepts such as identification with the protagonist (Varsam 205) effectively depathologizes queerness."


Simelane, Smangaliso. “Positive Representations of Asexuality in Contemporary Young Adult.” WritingThreeSixty 4, no. 1 (2018): 77-85.
http://epubs.ac.za/index.php/w360/article/view/327

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Camicon

Contrary to the abstract Simelane never really analyzes Quicksilver and focuses almost all of their attention on Clariel, but an interesting read nonetheless. I wrote a significantly shorter essay last year on roughly the same topic, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the author and I are of a like mind.

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Slice of Ace

Hey, I've read Sabriel but never the later books! Given that Clariel is a prequel, I'm definitely going to check that out! 

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Tunhope

Is it possibly simpler to offer up positive asexual characterisation in a fantasy story than it is in a fictional but non- fantasy story? Just curious.

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Camicon
36 minutes ago, Tunhope said:

Is it possibly simpler to offer up positive asexual characterisation in a fantasy story than it is in a fictional but non- fantasy story? Just curious.

I don't see why one genre would make it any simpler to create an asexual character that doesn't fall into the typical invalidation tropes.

 

I think that, in the fantasy genre, it might be slightly more difficult to create an explicitly asexual character, because words like heterosexual/asexual/etc. are not part of the usual fantasy lexicon. When the article cites Clariel's "reveal" as being asexual what she says is that she's "just not... not interested in men...  women either", without any specific use of the word "asexual". Fiction which is set in more modern eras (or future ones) can have a character say "I'm asexual", and it will feel far less jarring, be less likely to pull a reader out of the narrative, because words like asexual/heterosexual/etc. are a part of our current lexicon.

 

What fantasy does very well is allow the author to challenge the assumptions of the reader without necessarily provoking a defensive reaction. When people are directly challenged on their beliefs/assumptions/etc., then they are likely to get defensive. A person that is defensive is unlikely to engage in a constructive dialogue, or to change their mind. A person who feels they are under attack is going to double down on what they perceive they are being attacked for. So if you are able to engage in a dialogue with someone where you are directly challenging their beliefs without them feeling like they are being attacked, they are more likely to listen to, reflect on, and consider what you say.

 

Reading a fantasy story necessitates a certain suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader: we accept non-human sapient species, magic, etc. In light of accepting those clearly fictional, alien things that we really have no frame of reference for, a character who is is asexual seems practically mundane. Familiar even. And when something is perceived as mundane and familiar within the context of the fantasy, the reader can engage in the narrative that the author constructs around it without feeling like they are being attacked.

 

Including gender and sexual minorities in fantasy stories normalizes these things to the reader in a safe, judgement free environment. Fantasy stories provide an opportunity for the author to challenge the beliefs and assumptions of the reader in a more direct way, where the reader doesn't necessarily feel as if they are being lectured to or argued with, and lead to them reconsidering their beliefs and assumptions after the fact. More so, at least, than one can do in other genres.

 

That's what I think, at least.

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Tunhope

Thank you for such a full answer. It was thinking about suspension of belief v. being categorically told something  (and putting the reader on the defensive ) that formed part of my thinking and contributed to my question. A lot of food for thought in what you wrote. Thanks @Camicon

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