Representation Matters 9

Today marks one month since the audiobook release of TJ Klune’s How to Be a Normal Person.

As with many titles, Audible gave me a bunch of promo codes that can be used to download a free copy. The idea is to send these out to blogs and reviewers who will then provide an unbiased review, hopefully driving visibility and sales.

I didn’t solicit a single review. But I did give out over twenty copies of the audiobook.

Where did they go? To the Ace Community.

I contacted several groups, on and off Facebook, which are focused on the asexual community. I offered them as many copies as I could spare, and didn’t ask for anything in return; not reviews, not write-ups, not extra promotion.

Why? Because representation matters. And How to Be a Normal Person represents brilliantly.

I am not an asexual myself, though I have known several aces in my life.

I am, however, gay. More importantly, perhaps, I know what it is to crave representation.

I’m young enough to have avoided the toughest and darkest moments of gay history. I was raised and came out during a time when Pride parades and festivals were held in every major city, when gay bars and clubs could openly advertise, when HIV/AIDS was not a death sentence. I am incredibly grateful for all the brave and courageous men and women who risked and sacrificed so much to bring us this far. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also thankful to have not lived through the toughest decades myself.

But I’m also old enough to remember when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a major victory worth celebrating. I remember what happened to Matthew Shepherd, and the terror of that event that still grips me. I remember when gay marriage wasn’t even up for debate. I remember most of my friends in high school thinking homosexuality was either a choice or severe mental disorder. I remember one of my first boyfriends, who lived in a group home because his parents threw him to the streets when he came out at 15.

And I remember feeling so incredibly alone.

I remember the trifecta of gay representation on television – Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Queer as Folk – and the hatred they received from both sides. On one hand, it was abhorrent for homosexuals to be presented on TV; on the other hand, they were derided as destructive to the community, as reinforcing stereotypes, being overly sexualized, or conversely too sexually censored.

And I remember loving them all. Because whatever angle or slant was applied, the fact remained that here, on the television, I could see people, characters, and actors “like me.” It didn’t erase the loneliness, but it made me feel a little less different, a little less broken.

Representation matters.

I’m a big fan of gay romance. Sure, I like the romance itself. And yeah, I appreciate the sexy bits. But most of all, what I find myself drawn to is being able to follow heroes who just so happen to be gay men. Often, this isn’t even a big deal. It’s just a subtle fact. The alpha werewolf, the private detective, the hardened rancher, the courageous firefighter; they are men, who just so happen to be attracted to other men. They are men like me.

As far as we have come, this is still a rarity. And being able to escape into such worlds is just…well, it’s hard to describe. It’s more than refreshing, more than affirming.

And I know it’s even rarer for asexuals.

There are a lot of things that I love about How to Be a Normal Person. The humor. The absurdity – and relatability – of Gus. The sweetness of the romance. The jabs at cable companies, Tumblr, and the internet in general. The celebration of uniqueness.

But one of the things I love most is how brilliantly it addresses the asexuality of Casey. It’s not a central conflict. It’s not a problem he has to overcome for love (speaking of which, it’s distinguished from being aromantic). Where asexuality is described, addressed, explained, there’s no fourth wall breaking lecture, just a natural progression of story and character development.

When I got the codes, I knew right away that I wasn’t sending them to reviewers. I was going to find some ace groups, and just give it to them. Let those for whom the story would likely mean most be able to experience it. I’m not asexual, and so can never wholly understand what it is to be asexual, but I was pretty confident that this book does it right.

(As it turns out, I was right, with several commenters on one giveaway post discussing how they’d already read it and how much they appreciated and loved the way asexuality was presented.)

The importance of representation has resurged as a topic of conversation lately, with the particular focus this time around being on the under-representation of Asians, as highlighted by the casting for Ghost in the Shell.

If you haven’t experienced under-representation, it can be challenging to understand just how important it is. I know this isn’t my best written post, and above all else I’m failing miserably at even trying to really explain what this feels like…but…just believe me. It’s a big deal.

So think about it. Open your eyes to it. And keep supporting works that do it well.

How to Be a Normal Person

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