Shortly before starting to write the first draft of Perfect Rhythm, I contacted my wonderful beta reader team and asked them if they would beta read a romance novel featuring an asexual character. One of my beta readers answered with an instant “sure” and then asked, “What exactly does ‘asexual’ mean?”
That’s a question my main character, Holly, has to face a lot as a homoromantic asexual woman—a woman who is romantically attracted to other women, but sexually attracted to no one. Whenever she comes out to someone, she has to clear up a lot of misconceptions about what being asexual means.
Here’s a short excerpt of Perfect Rhythm, in which Holly comes out to Leontyne (Leo), the other main character:
Holly sighed. Coming out as asexual hadn’t been on her list of relaxing things to do on her afternoon off, but she didn’t want a rejection to stand between them. She had come to appreciate their friendship too much to lie, even by omission.
Eating the remainder of her ice cream gave her a moment to collect herself. When the last crumb of cone was gone, she clutched her bare legs to her chest and gazed at Leo over her drawn-up knees. God, why was this so much harder than coming out as a lesbian?
Finally, she just blurted it out. “I’m ace.”
She wasn’t sure what response she had expected, but certainly not the crooked grin that spread across Leo’s face.
“Oh yeah,” Leo drawled with the husky voice that had won her three Grammys. “You sure are. Totally awesome.”
“No, I mean, I’m asexual.”
“Asexual?” Leo repeated it syllable by syllable. “What does that mean?”
Oh boy. Maybe that was what made coming out as asexual so much harder. Telling someone she was a lesbian didn’t require a half-hour education session.
“It means…” She glanced down and watched as she turned the black ace ring around and around on her right middle finger. “It means that I’m not sexually attracted to anyone.”
Leo stared at her, the last bit of ice cream cone apparently forgotten in her hand. “Wait… Are you saying you don’t like sex?”
“Not exactly. I’m saying I don’t want sex.”
A gust of air escaped Leo’s lungs in an audible puff. “You don’t want sex? Never? With anyone?”
The look of disbelief on her face made Holly laugh. “There are more important things in life, you know?”
“Yeah, but when it’s really good, sex can be mind-blowing.” She rolled her eyes skyward and fanned herself with both hands.
“I’ll have to take your word for it.”
Leo slowly shook her head back and forth. “Have you always been like this? I mean, this isn’t because something happened to you…is it?”
Holly often has to explain that her asexuality is not the result of a hormonal imbalance, sexual trauma, just a phase, or not having found the right person yet.
It’s a valid sexual orientation—but unfortunately one that most people aren’t familiar with.
People on the asexual spectrum are today where lesbians were decades ago: they are lacking representation in fiction and movies. That’s part of what makes them an “invisible orientation.” Most people haven’t heard of it or have only a very vague idea of what it means to be asexual.
When I first started researching asexuality, there wasn’t a single romance novel involving a homoromantic asexual woman like Holly. By now, there is another romance novel featuring an asexual woman: Thaw by Elyse Springer, a writer of LGBTQIA+ romances who identifies as asexual. She has been interviewed in an Author Q&A on Women and Words here.
Before that, there were only a couple of m/m romances but not even one novel featuring a female character who identifies as asexual. At least I couldn’t find one.
Considering that asexual people make up more than 1% of the population (which is about the same rate as redheads), I find that pretty astonishing—and not in a good way. How can “ace” (asexual) teenagers come to terms with their orientation if they don’t see their identity and their feelings reflected in the books they read?
I remember very well what it meant to me to discover lesbian fiction, so I set out to write a novel that would give some representation to ace-spectrum readers and make them feel a little less alone. Maybe it will also help make my allosexual (non-asexual) readers more aware of this sexual orientation. I really hope that a lot of my readers will give Perfect Rhythm a chance. I think there’s a lot to learn from Holly & Leo’s romance—not just about asexuality, but also about intimacy, trust, and compromise in a loving relationship.
Do you know of any other novel featuring a female character who’s on the asexual spectrum? Or have you read any other novel lately that features other underrepresented groups?
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Jae is the author of sixteen award-winning lesbian romances. She lives in the sunniest city of Germany, near the French and Swiss borders. The writing bug bit her at the age of eleven.
She used to work as a psychologist but gave up her day job in 2013 to become a full-time writer and a part-time editor. As far as she’s concerned, it’s the best job in the world.
When she’s not writing, she likes to spend her time reading, indulging her ice cream and office supply addictions, and watching way too many crime shows.
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