DiversifYA: Teresa Santos

TessaWe love it when posts lead to connections that lead to more posts. Remember that TIDES giveaway from a couple of weeks ago? I’m so excited to introduce the winner here today!  Tessa is a full-time geek and spare time Biology student with a penchant for fairytales, photography, and cats. When she is not busy thinking of how vampires can look just like humans and yet have a completely different digestive system, she writes maniacally whilst belting out Irish folk tunes – that is, when she’s not sobbing over a Broadway musical she just found out or the death of her favorite characters. Refusing to believe fairies do not exist, she hopes to one day become a published author whilst studying the mammals’ genes of cuteness, or even help discover life outside Earth. Follow her on Twitter and make sure to read her review blog!

1. How do you identify yourself?

There are so many things I identify myself as, Potterhead, Whovian, Disney and musicals geek, biologist, … Well, you get the gist. In a way, I am part of dozens of communities, but there is always a little something in all of them that doesn’t allow me to fully embrace them. You see, we live in a highly sexualised world, and I’m an aromantic asexual.

2. What did it feel like growing up aromantic asexual? 

As a child in the 90s, it made no difference. Everyone was more preocuppied with Pokémons and finding a good hiding spot to care, but once the hormones started kicking in, it became obvious that I wasn’t exactly like the rest of my peers. I clearly remember being the only girl in a class of twelve-year-olds who did not care about which boy was the cutest or getting a boyfriend, which nobody really understood. It got to the point where I quite literally made the choice to fancy Daniel Radcliffe because that would keep others from harassing me. Of course that brought a whole lot of different teasing and people didn’t quite stop asking me why I didn’t have a boyfriend throughout the years, but it worked for a while.

As a teenager, things didn’t get easier. Back then, there was nobody talking about asexuality in Portugal. Wanting to kiss, date, and closing the bedroom door with someone of the opposite sex was seen as a rule of sorts. My schoolmates, friends, family, complete strangers, and the media loved to remind me of that. So, as the years went by and I still wanted nothing to do with boys, I was certain I was broken. I had to get fixed. But no matter how many times I willed myself to fall for a guy (for I couldn’t be a lesbian. I didn’t like girls like that either), I never did. In time, I gave up. The feeling of wrongness stayed but I just couldn’t be bothered to care anymore.

It was when I was nineteen that I found there were others like me. The weight of a closet was added to my shoulders, but I knew I wasn’t wrong or broken. That was enough.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

I suppose that the two biggest challenges are 1) living in a sexual, romance orientated society, and 2) ignorance. People who are aromantic and/or asexual are simply myths for the majority of people. Even within the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve seen erasure of asexuality. I have heard of heteroromantic asexuals being told they were not queer enough, seen discussions in LGBTQ forums where asexuality was laughed at, been told by a homosexual that it is “just a phase” and that I’ll “change my mind”, etcetera. I am not saying that all LGBTQ+ people are like that, quite on the contrary. I’ve been welcomed with open arms by many in the community. However, it is a fact that asexuality and aromanticism are still so badly known that they’re often laughed at, dismissed, or regarded as a symptom of disease.

Plus, it doesn’t help that nearly every book, TV show, film, etc you pick will shower you in romance and/or sex. People only know what’s shown to them. So, obviously, they’ll be worried when someone they know doesn’t conform to the rules (cue family dinners where half the conversations people have with or about you are about how “having a boyfriend is fun!”). Either that or consider you a freak and mislabel you. It’s funny how many people think of you as a closeted homosexual just because they’ve never seen you showing any interest in the opposite sex.

But, of course, there is one big perk: the community. Sadly it doesn’t come with free trips to Disneyland, but what can you do? With so much searching to understand why you don’t conform, those in the asexual spectrum generally have a broader understanding of sexuality than most. Ironic in a way. Also, it has a huge number of very helpful and friendly people who will get out of their way to support and help any asexuals or aromantics who need it. There’s always someone with a tray of brownies to share if you ever need them.

4. What do you wish people knew about being aromantic asexual? 

I wish people would know that we’re not broken. We do not need to be fixed. We exist. We are not a joke. We did not necessarily have or witnessed bad relationships. We’re not scared. And for God’s sake, no, we are not waiting for “the one” or for maturity to knock at the door. There is more to everyone’s lives than who or whether or not they kiss.

Aromantic asexuals are people who just happen to feel no or very little romantic and sexual attraction to others. There is no more to make us different from everyone else than that, just like disliking pears or spinach doesn’t make anyone an alien. However, it does mean that we’d prefer it if you didn’t shove pears down our throat. You can eat yours as often as you’d like, just don’t force us to do the same.

We’re also not as few as it may seem. The likelihood of finding us in a Pride Parade may be slim, but it must be taken into account that not many know of asexuality, let alone aromanticism. Bi, homo, and heterosexuality are the best known sexualities out there. Most people don’t know about all others. Including aromantic asexuals. When they’ve never heard of asexuality, what else could they identify as other than straight? I have read and heard of a number of asexuals as old as seventy who were only recently able to name their sexuality. The likelihood that you know an asexual is higher than you think.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Well, to be honest, I’ve never seen anyone in the media being called an aromantic asexual. However, there are a few characters that come across as such (until the writers decide to “make them human” by giving them a love interest). Taking those into account, I’d say the whole idea that we’re very cold individuals, incapable of love. We’re often portrayed as either scheming villains or crazy scientists out of touch with the world. While I am all for both types of characters, it is a very narrow sight of what aromantic asexuals are. Yes, some of us do get overly-excited about our hobbies, but don’t a lot of other people regardless of sexual or romantic orientations?

Outside the media, there isn’t much of a difference. People tend to think of us firstly as childish, immature and prude, and secondly as alienated from the world. Others think there is something wrong in our brain, or point us down as lonely people who can’t admit they want nothing more than a traditional relationship but can’t even hold a friend. Apparently, we only need to wait for our prince in a shining armour to come and change our minds, or to “grow up”. I have also come across the misconception that we’re amoebas. As cool as it would be to reproduce by binary fission, I fear that is not the case. We’re thousands of times bigger than amoebas for starters.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Allow yourself to err. No matter how much research you do, you won’t be able to cover every single experience of every single person of the group you want to write about. People will point out your mistakes when you make them. Don’t be defensive. They’re the ones who live those lives. They know better than you. Listen to them. Talk to them. Learn. Next time, you’ll know better.

But before that, before you tackle the writing, do some research. Read other novels that successfully portrayed diversity. Read one or two that didn’t do that as well to see what to avoid. Read non-fiction about the group, be it books, articles, interviews, etcetera. Do the same with films, TV shows, documentaries, just everything you can lay your hands on, until you feel like you have a grasp of what it’s like. And then, talk to the people, walk among them if you can. Dare to ask them questions. They’ll prefer it if you ask than if you assume. Word of caution, though, when asking, don’t forget that you’re talking to a live, breathing human being. They’re not specimens for you to prod. There might be things they won’t want to share, and that’s okay. If you’re trying to understand, be understanding.

When you’re done writing your novel, don’t forget to add “diverse people” to your beta readers list. They’ll help to identify and correct whatever mistake you might have made, and it’s always best for those to be found before publication than afterwards. And who knows? It may help to give your characters and/or setting some more flavour!

Most of all, have fun! It’s hard work, yes, but it’ll pay off in the end. You’ll be more knowledgeable and empathetic, challenge yourself and your readers, and work out your writing muscles. In the end, you might even see colours in the world you never did before. So give it a try. It’ll be worth it.

4 Responses to DiversifYA: Teresa Santos

  1. Thanks so much for sharing, Teresa!

  2. Really informative. Thanks for sharing!