Queer Retellings, Aromanticism, and Centering Friendship in Your Narratives

Today, I’m happy to have author Claudie Arseneault on Read Diverse Books. Claudie is an important voice in the asexual and aromantic online communities. She is also behind the Aromantic and Asexual Speculative Fiction Database, which is a fantastic resource for those seeking books with aro and ace representation. Browse through the database, add some books to your TBR, and share it with others!

Be sure to follow Claudie on Twitter and Tumblr if you’re looking for smart, vocal, and active members in the aro and ace communities. Below is her guest post about why romantic retellings, even Queer retellings, are not enough for the Aro community. 

Claudie Arseneault 

We’ve all seen stories where characters develop a romance as their adventure unfolds, and in the end, that powerful connection allows them to overcome their fears and face the final challenge. We’ve witnessed countless wives and girlfriends get kidnapped or fridged for the benefit of a male hero. We’ve read story where the point was to finally be able to get together and live happily ever after, and others where love leads character into unrepairable mistakes and only tragedy can ensue.

Loveromantic lovehas been a motor of stories since pretty much ever. How often have I read that romance is part of any great story? (The answer is often: it might be the most common microaggression I run into in the writing/book community). It’s obviously an important part of great many lives, and the QUILTBAG community has been hard at work taking back those narratives of romance (especially the happy ones) and retelling them while showcasing queer characters. Claiming these tales as ours is powerful and vital.

But for the aromantic community, what would that look like? We can’t transfer these narratives the same way, and in fact, we often find ourselves erased from the queer retellings of the rest of the community. Whether it’s two girls or your run-of-the-mill straight couple who vanquish evil with the power of their love, it’s still all about that romance. LOVE is LOVE, these stories say… except when it’s not.

Our stories center friendships, family (found or otherwise), and queerplatonic relationships. They explore a space where the most important person in your life is not your husband, girlfriend, or romantic partner(s)there might not even be one person! Suddenly you fight the dragon to save your younger sister, you form an impossible circle of magic with your friends/found family, you turn your life upside-down to save a new friend. These flutters in your stomach are from a strange form of crush, in which you want to hang out forever with someone who gets you in a special, fireworks-in-your-head kinda way.

But beyond that… friendships in fiction are often static. The bestie is the rock upon which your main character relies as they go through the ups and downs of romance. Sure, the best friend might tell the MC off every now and then, but we all know it’s not for ever. The romance is the dynamic element, changing with the plot.

I don’t know about you, but my friendships sure aren’t as static. They deepen and stretch with time and events, sometimes a slow growth and sometimes like a lightning-strike—an intense flash but gone as fast as they started. It’s that dynamism that enriches my life so much. I wish we more often had the chance to see friendships evolve on the page… and as is often the case, my wishes spilled directly into my fiction.

I was halfway through revising Isandor when I realised how much it explored non-romantic relationships. They take so many shapes, go in so many directions. A queerplatonic relationship that draws one out of his shell and grounds him, a trio of friends shattered by the events, an unexpected bond with the enemy, a one-sided friendship, a hundred-year-old camaraderie resurfacing after a long absence, an inter-generational bond… name it!

The point is that there is a rich field of complex, heart-wrenching or lifting friendship stories to be told. These appeal to me as an aromantic writer and I’ve placed them at the heart of my writing. Stories of friendships, of platonic crews, of tightly-knit groups? They make me feel at home, like I belong at last—and that, in many ways, is the most powerful thing one can offer our too-often excluded and ignored community.

Giveaway Alert!!

Claudie has a new book, City Of Strife,  coming out on February 22nd, 2017. On February 18th, I will be hosting a giveaway for it on my blog. 

As the author describes it, City Of Strife is a “friendship-centered political fantasy with criss-crossing storylines and an all-LGBTQIAP crew.” 

Add the book on Goodreads if you’re intrigued and come back on February 18th for a chance to win the book for free!

About The Author:

Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her long studies in biochemistry and immunology often sneak back into her science-fiction, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. The most recent, City of Strife, comes out on February 22, 2017! Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro-ace characters in spec fic, and her unending love of octopi. Find out more on her website!

Follow her on: Twitter | Tumblr

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35 thoughts on “Queer Retellings, Aromanticism, and Centering Friendship in Your Narratives

  1. Yes! It’s so difficult to find stories that have characters on the aromantic spectrum. What an amazing database. It’ll be great to find stories that don’t focus on romantic love, as it does bore me when it’s the driving force of the plot.

  2. Although I am not asexual or aromantic, I enjoy finding stories that focus more on families and friends. Pity there are not many of them. If I do find stories that focus little on romance, I do make sure to menation them on my blog 🙂 i have not read third novel, but do try out queen of tearling series.

  3. This reminds me of a mainstream YA novel I read recently SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE. In many ways it was a conventional, white straight middle-class narrative (and it does have a straight romance subplot). But the main plot focused on an intense friendship between two girls that was wonderfully not toxic or competitive but was still complex. I was surprised about how much I liked the book and I think it was really because it had that focus on friendship.

  4. I have never heard anyone talk about this and I’m so glad to know there are people doing it! I can get sucked into a romantic storyline, but I am so sick of everything having to HAVE a romantic storyline. There are other kinds of human relationships, and they can be just as deep and important and interesting—often more so. Romance is pretty exclusive to the people involved, and to me it doesn’t take long before that gets boring. There are so many facets to other kinds of relationships, and I love reading about them when they’re really well-developed. I will absolutely be checking out City of Strife ASAP.

  5. I love books about friendships. I’ve never been interested in the whole romantic “shipping” thing that book lovers do. I usually don’t even remember who ended up with who at the end of the book. Great post! I have a post about asexual characters scheduled for next week on my blog. I think I included a link to the Speculative Fiction Database, but if I didn’t, I’ll add it. (This is what happens when I schedule posts in advance. I don’t remember what I wrote in them.) 🙂

    1. I do a thing I jokingly call “friend-shipping”, because instead of craving two people to get into a romance, I tend to REALLY HEAVILY WANT THESE TWO TO BE BEST BUDDIES. Especially if they’re rivals whom I think would get along.

      And yay for that post about ace characters! Can’t wait to see what you found. 🙂

    1. Yess, I’m one of those people who ships everyone and likes romance 😶 It’s posts like these that make me reevaluate how much I focus on romance. Family and friendship are also great! I need to read more books that explore platonic relationships

  6. Totally agree! Too often the only narratives we get have romance centred – even to the extent that it’ll be shoe-horned in where it’s really not needed. This is not only unfair to those on the aro ace spectrum, but also to single people in general, since so often the message is given that to be happy, you need a romantic partner (especially to women – cishet men are apparently the only ones allowed to be single and happy at the same time *sighs*.) This is *such* an important thing to keep in mind when making our reading (and writing) more inclusive!

    1. I agree. There is no such thing as single and happy anymore. I’m reading this blog post after Valentine’s Day, so I’m thinking more about how often we find it necessary to display our love for love or how in love we are. Look at meeee! I’m soooo happy! Of course, I say this from a place of privilege, as I am happily married to a white man and choose whether or not I want to openly display my love. Since I got married 8 years ago, though, I’ve found myself very, very critical of romance in books. I find an awful lot of it to be quite harmful, and characters do things that make me wonder, “Why would you suggest someone do X when it is so harmful to relationships?” Of course, there’s nothing like watching a character mess up so badly and then seeing them get back together with the One True Love again…but should they? I mean, think of all the horrible things characters do and then they are celebrated for saying, “Oopsie, that was bad.” Think about a book even like Pride and Prejudice. Granted, Collin Firth in the BBC version helps me get over my cynicism, but would you ever marry someone who told you what a bag of trash your family is? I was much more interested in the dynamics of the family, especially that little ball of hormones, Lydia. What if there WAS no Mr. Darcy or marriage? It still would have been a fantastic story idea.

  7. This post is definitely something that more people should be aware of. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Okay first, I love romance as much as the next person. I don’t have romance in my life (nor do I think I want one), but READING romance is definitely enough for me. Live vicariously through characters and all, right? But I also heavily appreciate stories where romance isn’t the main, side, or even driving point in the plot.

    I remember reading a YA fantasy and getting surprised that there wasn’t a romance, based on the POV of a female and male character (the book was Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen btw – totally recommend it!). Ultimately though, I REALLY liked the lack of romance because it wasn’t just realistic to the characters and their situation, but it also added another facet to their relationships, which were heavily complex already. And if there were a romance, then motives and reasoning would be totally different, right? I tried recommending it to my friends and a lot of them lost interest when they saw there wasn’t romance. In my opinion though, taking out that aspect only strengthens the exploration of the other relationships.

    I see queerplatonic relationships irl (one of my best friends is in one, and they’re so close I thought they were interested in each other – it was farrrr from that case) so why can’t they be shown in books? Whoops, I’m so sorry I went on a tangent. I guess it’s too many feels. Anyways, thanks again for this post! Three cheers for platonic friendships and the importance they have in our lives – much more, sometimes, than a romantic relationship.

    1. Hi, Aila! Thanks for stopping by.
      There are a lot of us who enjoy romance, whether we have romance in our lives or not. But there are also many people who don’t have romance in their lives but have important and meaningful friendships or familial relationships that should be explore more in books!
      I would love to see more queerplatonic relationships in books too. Before one of my best friends moved to a different state, we had such a close bond and people always thought we were together because we were both gay haha, but no, we were just good friends. Like, it’s totally possible for two gay guys to be just friends. x)
      Anyway, thanks for reading. I really appreciated Claudie’s thoughts on this and am glad she has brought such an important topic to people’s minds.

  8. 100% agree! Non-romantic relationships are incredibly important, and it’s so sad to see them constantly get pushed aside for the romantic relationships. It’s such a weird message to put out there, you know? That romantic relationships are the more life-fulling kind, or that they take precedence to purely platonic ones. It’s so great to see people becoming more conscious about non-romantic relationships – in terms of being inclusive towards aro and ace people, as well as people in general.

    TL;DR: Friendships are super important, too, y’all.

    Great post, Naz!

  9. Yes, yes, yes! While I personally don’t identify as aromantic, I feel like there is a horrible black hole where aromantic relationships should be in literature and media. Heck, I didn’t even *realize* this gap until the film Brave came out. I was completely enamored with a mother-daughter relationship being the center of a Disney film. My eyes were thrown open. Why don’t we look at the other relationships in our lives more often? In SO many ways these non-romantic relationships drive who we are and who we become WAY more than romantic relationships do (personally, I think this is fallout from religion and how marriage is a sacrament, etc. etc. etc).

    Thank you for providing this guest post, Naz.

    And THANK YOU, Claudie Arseneault, for helping to promote these ideals. Keep fighting the good fight! We support and salute you.

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