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For my story, I am trying to write a mystery on the protagonist's sexuality. Throughout the story, there are subtle hints that he is either bisexual or gay, whether either past relationships or flirtation, but is revealed at the end he is actually asexual.

How could I insert some hints of their asexuality throughout the story, as a way to both make the reader think, and to confuse with the other hints that are really red herrings?

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  • isn't it possible to be both Asexual and bi/gay at the same time...?
    – A.bakker
    Nov 14, 2022 at 7:35
  • @A.bakker Yes, especially if one experiences romantic attraction but little sexual attraction. Or, if one experiences little of both sexual and romantic attraction but still not strictly zero, it can be used to describe the gender of people one might be attracted to, even if rarely.
    – Divizna
    Nov 14, 2022 at 10:31
  • I have a supporting character who's sexuality I don't have a good read on, but he has a very long list of past lovers. Since his love life is not relevant to the plot, a running gag is that the common thread between his exes is they all have unisex names and are never seen by the audience and never referred to by gendered pronouns. That way if the character's sexuality is ever necessary to the plot, the establish list of names will work (If straight, all the characters are women, if gay they're all men, and if bi, readers can still define as needed.).
    – hszmv
    Nov 18, 2022 at 14:53

2 Answers 2

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Keep in mind that a person can be asexual and still like guys, girls, nonbinary folks, or all of the above. That's because there's a difference between romantic and sexual attraction. You can be attracted to someone without wanting to have sex with them. You can have crushes, dates, or get married without the thought of having sex.

So if your character is romantically attracted to people but not sexually attracted to people, then from an outside perspective it would be near impossible to tell the difference. He would flirt, go on dates, kiss, hug, etc, and no one would ever know he was asexual.

However, they could also be aromantic, not feeling romantic or sexual attraction. The specifics of this character's romantic preferences are up to you as the writer. (Note: Ace is short for asexual. Aro is short for aromantic. Aroace is a person who is both aro and ace.)

So here are a few possible ways to hint at your character being ace:

  1. Sex or mentions of it make him uncomfortable: Dirty jokes make him cringe. Sex scenes in movies make him bury his head or walk away. Sexual advances make him run away and hide.
  2. He's oblivious to any and all mentions of sex: Dirty jokes fly over his head. Sex scenes in movies bore him because he can't imagine himself in either role. Sexual advances go unnoticed or are politely declined without a second thought.
  3. He's a flirt regardless of being ace: Yes, this is possible too. Ace people can flirt, make dirty jokes, and even have sex. Lots of people don't know they're ace until they've had sex for the first time and realize "Wait, maybe I don't actually enjoy this all that much."

But that's the thing. An ace person might show visible signs of being uncomfortable with sex or mentions of it, but some are active flirts and love teasing people!

My point is, you could run a person's life over with a fine-toothed comb and never know they were ace unless they told you directly. So you can take the story and the character in any direction you want and it wouldn't change the ending.

Personally, I'd love a story about a character who aggressively flirts with every other person in the book, acquiring a swooning fanbase that's desperate to know what his sexuality is so they can date him, only for the author to wait until the very last moment to reveal, "Yeah, I'm ace."

"B-but protagonist! You've dated eighty-two guys, seventy-three women, and thirteen nonbinary people! How could you possibly-"

"I'm ace."

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When writers try to mislead me and then reveal a surprising truth, a mistake I see very often is, well, getting too immersed in the lie. Then the revelation doesn't fit with what has been shown and feels at best like an afterthought - especially if, as is often the case, the character isn't trying to fool anyone by pretending things, only the author gives a description that isn't even ambiguous but only works for the lie, not the truth. And it's then pretty much impossible to keep my suspension of disbelief.

So the biggest advice I have for you is, don't overdo it. Don't forget what the truth about your hero is; every scene you write, write with the truth in mind and never ever let anything happen that isn't consistent with it.

That isn't to say he can't ever act in ways that seem at odds with the truth, but there must be a plausible and uncontrived reason for it that makes sense from his own point of view. If he hasn't figured out his sexuality yet, then he can engage in sexual adventures with an expectation that the experience would be much more satisfying than it turns out. If the society he lives in or his family has strong expectations that he should date and marry, then he may be going along with it rather than be open about not having the desire himself. If the world-saving mission he's on can be advanced by seducing a mighty sorcerer, attraction on the hero's part isn't necessary for him to try. If any such situation arises, be sure to show why your hero is doing what he's doing as a believable possibility. Make his true motivation a constant thing in the background.

All the other times, your friend is ambiguity. Not being attracted to women is true for both a gay guy and an ace one. Not feeling any differently around women than he does around men can describe someone who's either ace or bi. So show your hero's thoughts and feelings, and let us make our own guesses what his orientation is. With evidence that could point either way, it's likely your reader will think "wait, is he gay or what?" before they think "wait, is he bi or what?", and either of the two WAY before it crosses the mind to think "wait, is he ace or what?". Asexuality/aromanticism is kind of overlooked, and that alone will help you fool us. No need for huge swarms of red herrings.

And if you want to give us a hint that he's actually ace, then perhaps the best hint is to have both moments that are perfectly consistent with him being ace or gay, but don't really fit with being bi, and moments that are perfectly consistent with him being ace or bi, but don't really fit with being gay.

(After all, you can't actually show your hero "acting ace".)

Finally, if you want to know if you got the balance right, a true and tested method is to test it on a beta-reader. Have them read the whole draft without telling them what your goal is (so that you don't colour their perception), and after they've finished reading, have them recount what they thought about your hero's orientation throughout. If their reactions match what you intended, you've nailed it. If they don't, now you know which side you stranded to.

(Throughout my answer I've been assuming that your hero is both ace and aro. If he isn't, well, then things just get a little more complex.)

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  • What does "ace" mean?
    – JRE
    Nov 18, 2022 at 12:08
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    @JRE Shorter way to say "asexual", in this context. Similarly, "aro" is a shorter way to say "aromantic". (Sometimes a distinction is made whether we're talking about sexual attraction - desire to have sex - or about romantic attraction - desire for a relationship - since it's possible to experience one but not the other. But often, "asexual"/"ace" is used to mean the person doesn't really have either, similarly to how "straight" or "gay" or "bi" are used to talk about both.)
    – Divizna
    Nov 18, 2022 at 12:25

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