Not Accepting Romance Submissions: Bringing Asexual Characters to YA

A group of proud asexual folks in the 2015 London Pride Parade. Photo by Funk Dooby (Creative Commons).

My friends think I just haven't met the right guy yet. My doctor offered to run some tests. Even the DSM-5 categorizes lack of sexual arousal as a disorder.

Asexuality is one of the lesser known—or invisible—sexualities. It’s like pansexuality: People don’t talk about it, mostly because they don’t know what it is. It’s even erased from queer discourse. There was a presidential proclamation issued this week declaring June 2016 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, but it didn't mention asexuality. Even when LGBT is lengthened to LGBTQA, the A often stands for “ally” rather than “asexual.”

I’m not an expert. I’m just someone who identifies with the label and no longer feels broken.

I’m asexual and aromantic, so I’m not interested in either sex or romance, although many asexuals do maintain healthy romantic relationships. I tried dating a few times in high school, but I didn’t enjoy it the way my friends seemed to. After I got my first kiss, I went home and cried. He wasn’t even that bad of a kisser. A lot of my high school friends were queer, and they were heavily involved in the gay rights movement. I was involved as an ally, but I never thought of myself as queer because I didn’t face discrimination the way they did. I just thought I was a freak.

The author, Lucy Rose Mihajlich.

I learned about asexuality when I was in college. Not in class, though—I learned about it on Tumblr. There wasn’t a moment of clarity. Identification was a gradual process for me. The more I learned about asexuality, the more I began to understand and accept myself. I became a closet asexual, not discussing my orientation, because I was afraid of other people’s reactions. It was easy. I was used to dodging questions about my love life, fending off pity when I was alone on Valentine’s Day, hiding how I felt or didn’t feel. That was when I began to realize how much discrimination asexuals actually do face.

I’m not in the closet anymore. I don’t dodge questions, and I’m not ashamed to spend Valentine’s Day going to see Deadpool by myself (it was great!).

Now I face a different kind of discrimination. There are times when protecting yourself is more important than raising awareness. If a guy is hitting on you, and you want him to stop, throwing around the word “sex” in any context can be a bad idea. Instead, I mention that I am aromantic. The word “romance” is a much more effective way to get rid of guys who are looking for hookups.

Asexuality can also be a lonely experience. Not because we’re not getting laid, but because media makes it seem like we have no value if we’re not getting laid.

In pop culture, when characters don’t want to have sex, they’re usually depicted as prudish, insane, or diseased. At best, their asexuality is treated as an obstacle. For example, when an asexual couple was featured in an episode of House, one of them ended up having a disease that inhibited their sex drive, and it turned out the other person was faking it—so neither of them were actually asexual. One of the better asexual characters is Voodoo in the USA series Sirens—she’s clearly not faking it, nor does she think she needs to be “fixed.” Other characters, though, belittle her and quiz her about her sexual feelings.

When it comes to books, representation is similarly limited. The DSM-5 is practically the only literature out there on asexuals.

It’s particularly hard to find asexual characters in young adult fiction, which is unfortunate since adolescence is when most people begin to discover their sexual orientations. Having a character to identify with can go a long way towards self-acceptance.

        Read This Next: We're Not Broken — Asexual Characters in Pop Culture
        Read This Next: In Defense of Unlikable Women

One of my favorite genres is young adult dystopian science fiction. I ate up The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, but I could never identify with the romantic subplots. I have always wanted to read a young adult dystopian novel where the protagonist was too busy saving the world to worry about her love life.

So I decided to write it.

Love triangles: Not really my thing.

My Interface series is a young adult dystopian trilogy, but it’s not about a sarcastic teenage girl who saves the world from a totalitarian regime and still finds time to get the guy. She doesn’t get the guy—she doesn’t want him. Interface is a coming-of-age story, so it takes the protagonist until the third book to discover her sexual orientation. In fiction, romantic fulfillment is usually delayed to create conflict, so most readers will probably assume that the two main characters are going to hit it off (and get it on) in the third book. To be fair, all you have to do to create that assumption is put two characters of opposite genders in the same room. Or continent.  

I spent four years writing the Interface series. That was the easy part. The hard part is getting it published, but I started sending query letters to agents who requested young adult and science fiction. Eventually, a literary agency sent me an offer of representation. Not just any literary agency—it was one of the biggest literary agencies in the world. They said they wanted to pitch my book to HarperCollins and that the Interface series could be the next Hunger Games.

I should have known it was too good to be true.

After almost a year of revision, the agent changed her mind. She told me romance was “crucial to keep readers invested.”

I decided to try self-publishing instead. Many people still associate self-publishing with vanity presses, but the industry has changed a lot, thanks in large part to the internet. I put Interface up on Kickstarter. It was made a Kickstarter staff “Project We Love” pick on the first day and is now 70 percent funded. I think it’s important to get my narrative out to young people—even if it means publishing the book myself rather than going with a fancy publisher. A big reason why there are so few asexual characters in print or on screen is because media creators seem to think there’s no market for them. After all, sex sells, right? If we want diversity, we need to show them that it sells too.

        Read This Next: We're Not Broken — Asexual Characters in Pop Culture
        Read This Next: In Defense of Unlikable Women

by Lucy Mihajlich
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I'm the author of the Interface Series, a young adult science fiction trilogy set in 2048. Big Brother is binge watching. 

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1 Comment Has Been Posted

Thank you so so so much for

Thank you so so so much for doing this!! I'm asexual myself and coincidentally I also figured it out via Tumblr in college. Thankfully my friends have been very accepting, but I would've found myself much sooner if there were books about people like me! Like a lot of introverts, I learned a lot about the world and people in general from books, so an asexual character would have been amazing! I'm looking forward to reading your books!!

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