graphic by Angela Zheng. Contributing authors: Jasper & Angela Zheng
Several months ago, I was shocked to hear someone say there’s no distinctive culture in the ace community. While I agree that it’s impossible for everybody along the ace-spectrum to identify with a single defining culture, I also believe there are plenty of things that resonate within ace communities. So, I have created a list of my personal favorite motifs, with brief explanations of what I think makes them so ace.
More specifically, cake has been a popular symbol within ace communities for over fifteen years. This trend can be traced back to AVEN (Ace Visibility and Education Network), when somebody asked, “What’s better than sex?” The response, as you can imagine, was simply “Cake.” Today, artists have created designs of that dessert where each layer is a color of the ace flag. Of course, cake is not everybody’s favorite, and so the association with asexuality has spread beyond cake to other desserts and foods.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who picked up a Pokémon game, encountered an Ace Trainer and said, “Oh my gosh, that’s me.” Ace Trainers are non-player characters featured in most Pokémon games who are renowned for their battling skills. They are often tougher than the average trainer, so it’s no wonder that plenty of folks who identify on the ace-spectrum are also whizzes when it comes to Pokémon. (Fun fact: Ace Trainers were initially known as Cool Trainers, until about 2004. This makes sense, too, because ace people are incredibly cool!)
I’ve discovered that plenty of ace folks are experts at using analogies, comparisons that use “like” or “as” to explain unfamiliar concepts. Just like plants and animals sport unique adaptations that enhance their survival, so too do many people on the ace-spectrum use analogies to better explain their sexuality to others. One fun example is the coffee analogy, which compares asexuality to coffee. Another popular one is this pond analogy about (the lack of) turtles in a pond, which someone else also illustrated into a comic! With practice comes improvement, and so I have met many wonderful aces who weave masterful analogies on a daily basis.
4. CARD SUITS
Have you ever heard somebody say, “I’ve got an ace up my sleeve”? In some games, aces are the best cards in the deck, so of course plenty of ace folks have begun to take pride in that. The ace of hearts is often used to represent folks who are asexual and alloromantic (meaning they experience romantic attraction but no sexual attraction), while the ace of spades is most popular among people who are both aro and ace (no romantic or sexual attraction). And of course, the ace of clubs means you’re ace and ready to throw down and fight!
5. THE MOON
Artemis is the Greek goddess of the moon, chastity, and the hunt. For those of us who grew up reading the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Artemis is known for her hunters who forsake romantic relationships, spending the rest of their immortal lives hunting with Artemis. Of course, chastity and choosing not to become romantically involved are not the same thing as a lack of sexual or romantic attraction, and plenty of ace and aro folks do have sex and romantic relationships. But how perfect would it be for someone who is completely undeterred by vows of chastity or forsaking romance forever to become a Hunter of Artemis? Not to mention, hunters commonly use arrows, which highlights the intersection of ace and aro communities. Basically, Rick Riordan said aro/ace rights!
6. FOUND FAMILY TROPE
As an avid reader, I often feel like sex and romance are treated as literary staples. Happy endings are typically characterized by two people falling in love, and some people think that books without sex or romance are boring. However, those are not the only things that make books engaging, and non-sexual relationships can be just as nuanced and compelling. The found family trope is one of the best ways to explore non-sexual relationships. It is generally defined by characters forming familial bonds with people to whom they aren’t related. Examples include ragtag groups of friends, especially when one or two become the group’s de facto parents. The idea of a happy ending consisting of a new group of close friends is one with which plenty of ace folks can identify.
7. BLACK RINGS
Another ace symbol that can be traced back to AVEN is the tradition of wearing a black ring on the right-hand middle finger. As early as 2005, people were discussing this style as a way to identify other ace folks in public. Black was chosen to be a neutral color, and the right-hand middle finger is supposed to prevent any conflict with other symbolic rings. The design of the ring does not matter, though the most common style is a simple band. (Fun fact: Aro folks have their own version of this tradition, that involves wearing a white ring on the left-hand middle finger!)
This color has gained significance largely because of its prominence in the asexual flag. It is the only color that is not gray-scale, and so it stands out to many as the most recognizable color, even though it is given an equal ¼ of the flag space. The most popular color in aromantic communities is green because it is the opposite of the traditionally romantic red. However, the purple in the ace flag has no more specific meaning besides “community.”
You can’t spell “space” without “ace,” and we’ve already established that the Moon is ace, so that’s one celestial body down. Perhaps space is so popular among ace folks because of its aesthetic, which matches very well with the black, gray, white, and purple of the asexual flag. Other identities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella have also adopted space as an unofficial mascot, but there is plenty of space to go around.
10. MISINTERPRETING PHRASES
I would like to take this opportunity to mourn the lost potential of the phrase “Netflix and chill.” For months, it seemed to me like the ideal way to pass an evening with a friend. And then, much to my surprise, I was told it has sexual implications. After talking about this with some ace friends (most of whom had the same emotional rollercoaster as me), I realized it’s not just the phrase “Netflix and chill” that is deceptive for many ace people. Plenty of sex jokes tend to go over our heads initially. Another such saying is “friends with benefits,” which apparently doesn’t involve marrying someone just for financial stability and tax-related purposes. Who would have known that the “benefits” didn’t include free healthcare.
It’s hard to pinpoint just why dragons are so popular in ace communities, but I have two theories. First of all, dragons are great plot devices in almost any story. If you don’t want to include a love interest, then why not include a dragon instead? Nobody can call a story like that boring! Secondly, watching a fantasy movie and rooting for the dragon, instead of the knight trying to defeat them and win the princess’ heart, is nothing short of a power move. Besides, society thinks we’re mythical anyways, just like dragons!
You can only be compared to a plant so many times before you decide you may as well just embrace it. Let’s be honest: Plants are amazing, and perhaps the easiest kinds to take care of are succulents! Many ace folks I know are big fans of succulents, and it’s a great hobby to get into! When people ask what you do instead of dating (if you are an ace person who doesn’t want to date), what better response than saying you take care of your succulents?
Asexual Awareness Week took place in October, near the end of 2019, a year which is known to some people as twenty-bi-teen and to others as twenty-none-teen. The first is a shout-out to bi folks, while the second is a shout-out to ace and aro folks. While some people may see these two titles as competing for popularity, I see no reason why they can’t co-exist. After all, there is tons of solidarity between bi, pan, aro, and ace communities, since many people’s identities overlap (i.e. panromantic asexual folks or aromantic bisexual folks). Further, so many of these identities are erased and fall outside of the mainstream knowledge of queerness. Our invisibility to others leads to solidarity amongst ourselves, and it’s always a wonderful idea to support your fellow LGBTQ+ siblings!