Beyond the Black Door, by A. M. Strickland is a book about souls, and also a book about asexuality. The protagonist, Kamai, is asexual, and she comes to know more about her identity as she battles the forces of evil. Kamai is the first asexual protagonist I have come across, and I latched onto her story gladly. So here, with the help of Beyond the Black Door, are some facts about asexuality, as well as a look at the role identity plays in the book’s world. (A warning that I am not an expert on everything LGBTQ+, but I have used other resources to make sure my information is as accurate as possible. You can get this information elsewhere, of course, but where else will it be accompanied and applied by a book?)
Below are some ways Beyond the Black Door ties in facts about asexuality :
The Trevor Project (an organization that helps prevent suicide in LGBTQ+ youth) states that “asexuality is an umbrella term and exists on a spectrum,” so there really is no one way to be asexual. Kamai experiences no sexual attraction, but Beyond the Black Door makes sure to acknowledge that people can experience any level of attraction. The book discusses gender identity and sexuality with a chart of moons, each its own spectrum, and places asexuality as something that can be held in tandem with other identities, its own category. Personally, I think this is the best way to look at identity, as complex parts that blend together rather than as distinct categories, but categories make it easier to think about, just as the moon diagram is easy to understand and helps Kamai think about her identity.
A few words that the Trevor Project uses to describe this spectrum include Grey-A and Demisexual. Grey A represents the spectrum, where people can experience some level of sexual attraction but are still different from people who are not asexual. The demisexual label represents people who experience sexual attraction conditionally, or once they’ve formed a connection with someone already. There isn’t one way to be asexual, and there aren’t even three ways to be asexual.
To make matters more complicated, the moon diagram also represents romantic love, which is separate from sexual love and, as the book and the Trevor project show, is something asexual people still experience. (them. writes that experiencing a lack of romantic feelings is a different identity, called aromantic. Kamai falls on this spectrum because she only has romantic feelings for one person). When the priestess Lenara shows Kamai the moon chart, she states that “[asexual people] can and do and even want to have sex for various reasons” (Strickland 228). The Trevor Project confirms this, writing that asexual people can choose to engage in sex if they want and still enjoy it. Kamai is not one of those people, but if she was, she would still be asexual.
Kamai’s love interest, Vehyn is awful. She acknowledges this, but I spent a good portion of the book wondering if the whole thing would become a story about toxic relationships with creepy soul monsters. Thankfully, Kamai is able to put aside her feelings for the safety of both herself and the world, but her story is fraught with relationship drama, with dangerous romance that plays as much a part in her story as it would for another non-aromantic protagonist. (I’ve never seen an aromantic protagonist for any book either, I believe, so Kamai is a first for that as well). As the Trevor Project takes care to make clear, “love doesn’t equal sex.”
Beyond the Black Door mentions aesthetic attraction, where Kamai likes how people look but doesn’t feel any desire for sex. The moon chart also acknowledges this when representing the gender of the people the user is attracted to. Kamai states that she finds men and women equally pleasing, though this form of attraction is separate from romantic feelings as well, as only her relationship with Vehyn plays out in this way. There are a lot of different words describing Kamai’s feelings, words to describe everyone’s feelings, ones we shouldn’t necessarily squish together to form the umbrella term of ‘love’.
Besides the asexual representation, what interests me about Beyond the Black Door is that LGBTQ+ identities are built into the society the characters occupy, are an important part of their world’s religion. I find that often stories containing LGBTQ+ characters have the characters hiding in worlds that don’t fully accept them. There is still some of this in Beyond the Black Door before Kamai meets Lenara and learns about identity. The principles of their religion also don’t fully integrate into every facet of society. Their system of government is still built around Kings and Queens, even if the book explicitly informs the reader that the current king is gay. Kamai knows of various sexualities, besides asexuality, at the beginning of the novel and is perfectly comfortable with them. It’s a nice change of pace, something I wish more books did, where society shifts to become more inclusive, where every storyline doesn’t have to be a hunt for acceptance. This is what I want to see, what I hope is coming, what seems to become. Maybe in the future, people can grow up knowing about gender identity, about sexuality, can learn who they are without danger or stigma.
Sure, books have LGBTQ+ representation, but when that representation is just characters suffering, it isn’t the only experience we should be portraying. Kamai’s experience from being worried about who she was to confident in her sexuality is relatable, but we also need representation that doesn’t focus on pain, that just creates worlds where LGBTQ+ characters can exist, where their lives aren’t stigmatized, where they can be themselves in peace. I believe in media’s ability to both reflect what society is, as well as to shape what society will become. Placing LGBTQ+ characters as marginalized individuals only enforces how the world is now. Changing that shows that there is hope things can change.
I think a better world can exist. I think, piece by piece, we’ve begun to build it.