For the amount of books I’ve read with queer protagonists, Tash Hearts Tolstoy was the first one I’ve read that features a main character on the asexual spectrum, with Tash being romantic asexual. Although there was a demisexual character in Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence and an asexual character in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, these people weren’t the lead protagonists. And so when I heard about Tash Hearts Tolstoy, I immediately added it to my list. I need to seek out more YA novels featuring characters who don’t just fall into the first three letters of the LGBTQIA+ acronym, as I’m sure most of us feel the need to do, and so in this post I want to discuss the importance of representing teens of every sexuality in YA fiction.
It’s undeniable that teenagers and young people need to feel represented in what they read or watch and the art they consume, and thus it’s unquestionable that writers have the responsibility to write in a way reflects the diversity of the world we live in. It’s more important now than ever to show that people who aren’t straight but who may not identify as gay or bi or are transgender that they’re still a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and that their identity is valid.
We live in a world where people on the asexual / aromantic spectrum are sorely underrepresented, so much so that many people even believe that the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ stands for ‘ally’, which, whether intentionally or otherwise, erases the people who identify in this manner. Additionally, while I’m a big supporter of the #LoveisLove campaign and the gradual ‘normalisation’ of seeing same-sex couples or couples that are not made up of one cis male and one cis female in the film and TV and the novels we read, it’s important to acknowledge that who you ‘love’ is not the defining factor for being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. And the inclusion of characters within the LGBTQIA+ community in movies or books shouldn’t just be seen as the ‘token diverse character’. We’re people, not brownie points.
While I’ve known that I’m not heterosexual since middle school and I’ve identified as pansexual, most recently choosing to identify as bisexual for a variety of reasons, which you can read more about here, only recently have I started to come to terms with being somewhere on the asexual spectrum. I’ve only had three crushes in my life and two of those lead to being in a relationship for a year, one of those two is ongoing, and throughout high school, I always thought sex was the natural progression of a relationship and everything had to lead to that. Kissing is pretty nice, but sex? I’d rather read a good book, to be honest.
Tash Hearts Tolstoy really resonated with me, and because of that, I’m choosing to identify as biromantic asexual. Now I’ve become even more aware of that we need more promotion for novels that write about protagonists who identify in a way that the mainstream media fails to acknowledge a lot of the time, and writers, #OwnVoices or otherwise, need to represent the often-unrepresented in their work. I’m not suggesting that writers can’t write what they like, but I do think writers have a responsibility to include a diverse range of characters in their work to reflect the reality of our world. Teenagers and young people shouldn’t be made to feel invalid or invisible because they don’t see themselves represented in what they read or watch.
Tash Hearts Tolstoy is a phenomenal book, but not just because of the asexual representation. It’s a gorgeous novel about what it means to be internet famous and it shows the kind of things that creators have to deal with online. But beneath the talk of Twitter and hashtags and gifs is a touching and heart-warming story about friendship, family, and learning to be yourself unashamedly. If you enjoy fun YA contemporaries that have a good serving of witty humour as well as a realistic dose of the hardships and challenges of teenage life, then you should definitely pick up Tash Hearts Tolstoy.
Have you read Tash Hearts Tolstoy yet? Have you read many book with characters on the asexual / aromantic spectrum? What’s your favourite novel featuring a character within the LGBTQIA+ community? I’d love to know!
After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust into the limelight: She’s gone viral.
Her show is a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.
And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.
Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?
Graphics sourced from Winged Graphics on Creative Market.