I was on Facebook the other day and saw a post asking about the asexual representation in The Scorpion by Gerri Hill. I’ve read a lot of books by Gerri and always enjoyed them. Considering the amount of books I read while doing research for Rising from Ash, I was surprised to learn that she wrote an asexual character. However, this character has some problematic elements, touching on damaging tropes. Rather than assume, I snagged the audiobook from Hoopla and listened to it over the weekend. Here are my thoughts.
Problematic themes around asexuality in fiction
When an uneducated person writes about asexuality, they often succumb to one of these themes. The asexual person is cold and uninterested in human companionship in any way. The asexual has a health condition that, when solved, makes them just like an allosexual person. The asexual is uninterested in sex until meeting the right person. That asexuals aren’t fully human.
These are dangerous characterizations that lead to asexuals being abused, dismissed, or forced into treatments that cause further damage to their mental, physical, or emotional health. Fiction is never just fiction.
The potential for harm is why I’m exploring this book.
When nuance is too subtle
I haven’t reached out to Gerri to ask her about this book, so this is purely my interpretation of the story. Her character, Marty, has had a traumatic and difficult life. She’s also never had a sexual reaction to another human. Her therapist believes it’s due to her past trauma.
This character element brings up a debate even within the asexual community. If a person is asexual due to trauma, are they truly asexual? Some will say no, but many say it doesn’t matter why a person is asexual, they need the same support and understanding as someone born asexual. One difference is that a person born asexual is unlikely to change, where trauma has the potential to be healed. This is a crucial difference in this book.
Marty briefly states that she isn’t asexual in the normal sense, but it’s the best label for her (paraphrasing). Unfortunately, the difference between her experiences and others on the asexual spectrum isn’t explored. This could lead people to believe all asexuality is trauma based or possible to fix by meeting the right person.
I don’t believe this was Gerri’s intention though. She shows Marty’s struggle to understand herself and her body as it begins to react sexually to Bailey. I personally found this well done. Marty was content with her life and who she was. She wasn’t trying to fix herself or change herself. Nor did Bailey.
What about the love interest?
I never got the sense that Bailey didn’t take Marty’s asexuality seriously. She respected Marty from the beginning, which I appreciated. There was no celebratory gloating over converting an asexual or curing Marty. The one thing I missed was a good conversation between the characters about this change. This may be the difference between a romantic suspense and a true romance. Or perhaps I’m just too concerned that some readers will take the wrong lesson from this book.
I’m torn. Overall the book is good. There were times when I was unsure how realistic the plot was, unrelated to the relationship aspect, but I kept listening to see how it ended. And I enjoyed their relationship developing. But the asexual representation could be better.
At the same time, this book was written more than 11 years ago. Understanding of asexuality was far less common then than it is today, and it’s rare to find someone educated now. Considering that, I believe the representation isn’t bad. I don’t believe it’s truly harmful, though harmful is always up to the reader’s discretion. I believe the effort was made to differentiate this from other types of asexuality and appreciate that immensely.
I suspect that Marty would still fall under the demisexual or gray asexual umbrella. She didn’t have a sexual attraction to Bailey until they developed an emotional connection. It didn’t sound like she’d ever had sexual feelings for others either. In this case, I think her therapist is incorrect. I think Marty was always demisexual. Trauma made connection more difficult, but it didn’t cause her asexuality.
In the end, I wouldn’t avoid the book but it wouldn’t be high on my recommendations either. It’s sitting in the middle somewhere for me which is far better than what I expected going into the book.
I hope this was beneficial. Please share your thoughts in the comments.