Today we’re joined by Tabitha O’Connell. Tabitha runs one of my absolute favorite asexual blogs: Asexual Representation. She also happens to be a phenomenal writer and has just sold her first short story (YAY!). Tabitha is a fellow ace feminist, which is always awesome to see. I could not be happier to feature her on Asexual Artists. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I write nonfiction about asexuality and feminism, poetry (once in a while), and fiction of all lengths. My fiction is usually either fantasy or contemporary/realistic, and I like to explore interpersonal conflicts and complex relationships, awkward situations, and characters feeling alone and navigating social spheres where they don’t really fit.
I just recently had my first short story published; it’s a bit different from what I normally write in that it’s a light, happy fantasy story with a younger protagonist, but it was fun to write something different and I’m glad that it found a home!
What inspires you?
Sometimes it’s noticing a lack — I’m inspired to write certain kinds of characters or stories because I don’t see them in existing media. Otherwise, it’s usually just something random — a place, a dream, something someone says, an experience I had, an interesting fact.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I’ve been writing basically ever since I could; I’m not sure exactly what got me into it, but I know I always loved characters and stories, so I guess that naturally led to me creating my own. When I was younger I would carry a notebook around and write Star Wars fanfiction or original story fragments wherever I happened to be; when I was first learning to drive, I didn’t know how to get anywhere because I’d spent my whole life reading or writing in the car instead of paying attention to where we were going. I got a laptop when I was 15 and started writing more seriously then, although I’ve only recently started actually submitting anything for publication.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
One thing that reoccurs in almost all my fiction is ace characters! Before I knew the word “asexual” and knew that I wasn’t just weird, I didn’t realize it was an option to write characters like me; I thought I had to make them all “normal”. I wasn’t interested in writing about sex/sexual attraction, though, so I basically wrote ace characters without intending to. Even after finding the word it took me a while to realize that I could write explicitly asexual characters, but once I did I think my writing significantly improved because I stopped trying and failing at writing non-ace protagonists (and I got lots of new ideas too). So in all my longer works now the protagonist is ace, and several of my short stories feature ace characters as well.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
It’s okay to take a break. You’ll hear that you need to practice every day, you need to keep going no matter what, but trying to do that can just lead to burnout and guilt. Last year I got discouraged about my writing, and at first I tried to force myself to keep it up anyway, but that made it even less fun. So eventually I accepted that I had lost my enjoyment and motivation for the time being and let myself temporarily give up and spend my time on things I did enjoy. I’ve since gotten re-inspired, and am now happily back to writing regularly again. So I just want other people to know that it’s okay to take a break and wait until inspiration strikes again; you don’t have to force yourself to be creative if you’re just not feeling it.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
No, not yet anyway; I’ve been looking for queer-friendly magazines and publishers to submit to so that I can hopefully avoid any negative reactions to my asexuality and my ace (and other queer) characters.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
Probably just that it doesn’t exist. In the fairly conservative Christian environment I grew up in, there was no recognition that someone might not want to get married and have kids when they grew up. And on TV/in movies, every character always seemed to end up in a romantic/sexual relationship. Because I never saw any acknowledgment that some people might lack sexual attraction or interest, I never even thought to try to find out if there were other people like me. I had even heard the word “asexual” applied to a person before, but I didn’t really know what it meant, and didn’t find out that it was an orientation or something that could apply to me until I was 20. Even now, I rarely see asexuality mentioned or acknowledged outside of certain online communities. If the word ever is used on TV, it’s often as an insult (as if “sexless” is the worst thing you could say about someone), with no recognition that it’s an actual orientation, and we still have hardly any ace characters on TV or in film—even characters who at first seem like they could be ace usually end up in normative sexual relationships.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
Not exactly advice, but I would just say, it’s okay to be this way. We get messages all our lives from all different sources that sex is super important, that we should desire other people (and be desirable), that romantic relationships require sex. But none of that is true; there is nothing wrong with not having sex or with not being attracted to other people. It doesn’t make you lesser or broken or unworthy of love.
Reading blogs written by other aces who critique sex-normativity and talk about their experiences and about navigating life as an ace has been really affirming and formative for me, so if you’re struggling, I would definitely recommend that. The Asexual Agenda is a great place to start.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
Thank you, Tabitha, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.