[Smithsonian Heritage] Pride Month Guest: E.J. Russell

Hi friends! I hope you’re reading along, and enjoying the wonderful diversity of our Pride posts. Today we have E.J. Russell visiting! Yes, another first time guest to ALBTALBS with more food for thought. <3 

Becoming Visible

A little over a year ago, Gay Romance Northwest (which is now Read with Pride Northwest) posted a call for submissions for a charity anthology to benefit their programs. The stories had to feature one of two pairings from the GRNW Meet-up’s “character type love-match” games—either soldier/tattoo artist or mage/cyborg. The sponsors wanted to feature stories from across the QUILTBAG spectrum, so when I started brainstorming my mage/cyborg story, I decided that the mage, Zal, would be asexual and my cyborg, Torian, would be gender-fluid.

Although I had met several people who identified as ace, I hadn’t done a lot of research about asexuality, so in the interests of the story, I started researching.


You’d think, when someone reaches the age of sixty, that they’d be done with major self-discovery. Turns out…not so much. What I’d intended as information-gathering for writing Zal ended up shedding light on my own character instead. The more I learned about the ace spectrum, the more it illuminated my own experience.

In my teens and early twenties, I’d thought my relative antipathy for most guys had more to do with the fact that I’d come of age at the dawn of the modern feminist movement, and wasn’t a big fan of the institutionalized sexism of most straight males my age. Even if I had known what questions to ask—or even that a question existed—resource access in the sixties and seventies wasn’t an easy matter of a Google search or an e-book download. Our options: navigating the card catalog, the Dewey Decimal system, and a possibly disapproving librarian—or worse, an awkward conversation with a parent or other adult authority figure.

Because admitting to your friends that you didn’t have a crush on anybody, not even a celebrity? Certain social death. Far easier to remain silent, passive, and lonely.

The relationships I did have back then were all the result of someone else pursuing me first. I didn’t feel any sexual attraction to them to begin with, but if we dated long enough for a connection to develop, I became attached and not averse to the physical side of the romance. I’ve only ever felt an instant attraction three times in my life, one of them to the man I’ve been married to for thirty-one years.

The asexual spectrum is sometimes called the “invisible orientation”—it’s not as though someone can look at you in the workplace, on the street, in a public restroom, and pick you out as asexual. I mean, how can you be “flamboyantly ace”? That would take some effort—and a far broader understanding of asexuality from society in general. Consequently, overt public abuse or oppression isn’t likely.

Instead, the challenges of an ace person are, I think, domestic: they arise in our intimate relationships, as we try to justify—often to someone we deeply love—that sex is pretty damned low on our list of life priorities. Those conversations are not exactly comfortable, and for some (although not for me), can be overlaid with the fear of repercussions, either psychological or physical.

Yeah, sometimes it’s easier to stay invisible. But as an asexual author who writes primarily gay romance, I want to at least acknowledge that the questions— the ones I didn’t know to ask—do exist, as do happy endings.

After that first ace story—Sun, Moon, and Stars, in the Magic and Mayhem: Fiction and Essays Celebrating LGBTQ Romance anthology—I’ve written two other books with gray asexual characters (For a Good Time, Call, with Anne Tenino, and the forthcoming Bad Boy’s Bard) as well as a flash fiction piece that will be included in this year’s Queer Sci Fi anthology, Renewal.

I’m sure that not all my future books will have ace characters, but some of them will, because I really enjoyed writing stories about people who are like me.

Gray asexual. Grace.

It’s what I’ve always been. The only difference is that now I have a name for it.

E.J. Russell

Bio: E.J. Russell — grace, certified geek, mother of three, recovering actor — lives in rural Oregon with her husband. She enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole. You can email her at [email protected].

Thank you so much for sharing with us, today E.J.! [Ok y’all, I have to admit Clickbait as you see wasn’t one of the books mentioned, but I personally need balance – and it’s a newer one! Why not check it out right? 😉 ] Anyway, so if there’s any issue here – it’s my “fault.”

I’d love to hear from all of you! Did you know about “ace?” Have you learned something about yourself later in life than you thought you would?

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