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On Ace/Aro Lisa and In Golden Armour

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It feels a little weird writing a new work for this, but an author’s note felt restrictive and cursory and I did not want to cause disappointment by posting it as an update.

A few times over the past years, I’ve seen discussion and commentary about In Golden Armour and its portrayal of Tattletale/Lisa as someone who is romantically interested in women. This takes a couple of different routes, but generally speaking manifests as either an expressed discomfort that Lisa’s ‘canon’ sexuality is being erased/overriden, a concern that Lisa’s asexuality/aromantic attraction is something that can be fixed by meeting an appropriate partner, or simply citing word of god or Ward about Lisa’s orientation.

To be clear, I’m not writing this to suggest that anyone’s personal discomfort with the subject matter is invalid, only clear up certain misapprehensions that I have read about IGA. Some of the commentary appears to be founded in misplaced assumptions and honestly, I can’t fault anyone for harbouring concerns, especially if they do not know me. 

Even so, I would like to address some of the points made, as well as share a couple of my own thoughts about Worm and its portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters, particularly in relation to word of god, IGA, and fanfiction. This is as much for me as anyone else who might read it, as the possibility of erasure in IGA is certainly a topic I’ve grappled with and worried about in the past, but I hope that I can ease any doubts or at the least provide some food for thought.

Firstly, and this one is very basic, In Golden Armour came out (pun intended) in September 2018. Ward’s interlude which textually confirms Lisa as asexual and aromantic regardless of her power’s influence was released in November 2018. I have read very little of Ward and IGA is definitively a Worm fanfiction. Separate from that, I do feel there is a meaningful distinction between fanfic derived from a work and fanfic derived from its sequel. Nonetheless, IGA started prior to there being any canon information about Lisa being ace/aro.

Leading from that point is the extant word of god at that time. To quote Wildbow in 2014 on Spacebattles:

Taylor is not a lesbian. Or bi. I would have made more of it if she were, because that sort of thing is an automatic bump in readers, but it's too easy and too cheap. Tattletale is asexual for all intents and purposes. Bitch is straight. Regent is a straight up hedonist. Imp is straight. You're, of course, free to do whatever you want in a fic, but pandering is pandering. Not much more to say here.

Then, in response to the question “Is [Lisa’s sexuality] entirely due to her power's side effects, or is she just asexual independently of it?” by user Brain_Caster:

If you stripped away Lisa's powers, she'd be straight . With them, she's basically like someone in Seinfeld, only she finds out that turn-off quirk in the first 30 seconds to five minutes.

He eats his peas one by one.

That guy likes you because you subconsciously remind him of his mother.

He has a fetish for diapers.

This one has zero confidence beneath the surface, and is going to fold like a house of cards the moment the going gets rough.

Except the stuff keeps piling on, and it comes in fast enough that it cancels out the good.

To be honest, I have long found this particular slice of word of god to be very uncomfortable. From describing Regent’s sexuality as ‘hedonist’ instead of pan or bisexual(1), to suggesting that it is pandering to even include LGBTQ+ characters in a work, to going out of its way to describe everyone as very definitely straight and sure you can portray them otherwise in fanfic but just know that it’s very definitely not canon. Conflating ‘Lisa’s power makes relationships/sex impossible for her’ with her being actually asexual is a further issue, creating the idea that her being asexual is a defect caused by her power, especially with the specification that she would be straight, (y’know, as opposed to asexuality being a normal sexuality that someone can just have).

There is a corollary, which is that Wildbow later did elaborate that he meant he had issues with making the protagonist a lesbian because he felt it was often used amongst webnovels as cheap titillation, though I do feel the counterweight to such a concern is to put appropriate thought and research into your representation, rather than defaulting to having none. In addition, this belief, if sincerely held, did not stop Wildbow from having the most central queer character in Worm (Panacea) fall into the harmful ‘predatory lesbian’ stereotype, nor from including queerbaiting moments such as in 14.10 where Taylor kisses Rachel and then Lisa(2). (traditions, which if excerpts I have seen of Ward are any indication, continued into the sequel).

In any case, I held at the time of starting IGA deep disdain for this word of god (and continue to do so). I found the tone dismissive, and was disappointed Wildbow would rather include no representation at all than put the requisite effort into positive representation, especially with the confused and under-nuanced depiction of characters such as Circus. Word of god is not the text(3), and while there is an essay all of its own about queer interpretations of Worm, I summarise that:

  1. There is a long history in fanfiction of writers creating the queer representation they wish existed in the works they enjoy. This frequently means extrapolating on queer readings of characters and moving away from heterosexuality as an assumed default.
  2. This word of god completely fails to grasp asexuality in the first place, and calls Lisa straight.
  3. Lisa in Worm is not written as ace/aro, nor is she written as straight. It is very easy to interpret her as being in love with Taylor, and I feel this is a valid reading of the text.

I have actually read the scene in Ward which addresses Lisa as ace/aro. I think it is vastly superior to the word of god and much better representation and handling of her asexuality. If this was the only depiction of Lisa present in the series, I would wholeheartedly agree that yes, Lisa is ace/aro, and that writing her otherwise is erasing her identity. However, there also exists the Lisa of Worm, and the Lisa of Worm was not explicitly ace/aro and can be strongly argued to be homoromantic. I am not claiming that Worm coming first means that Ward should be ignored, but considering the subtext held in Worm, I think there is space for both interpretations. 

Finally, tying this back into In Golden Armour itself: the Lisa depicted by IGA is homoromantic. Certainly, this manifests as attraction to one specific woman and indeed the fic prompt phrases it as an attraction to a person that her power cannot fault, but Lisa’s sexuality is not single target, or an ‘exception’ to ordinarily being ace. It is a brief scene, but this is mentioned in the fic (chapter three, which has additional context to the conversation):

"You think you might be ace, maybe?"

Lisa's power thankfully filled in the gap. Ace. Asexual. Kind of? Not really? On an intellectual and occasionally physical level, Lisa felt attraction. It was her power which caused the problem. "Maybe," she forced a grin. "I don't know."

IGA’s Lisa experiences attraction but does in fact get thwarted by her power. She’s not ace, she’s getting power sabotaged, or perhaps is holding up barriers and using the power as an excuse against letting anyone get close to her emotionally. Regardless, it’s not a matter of the romantic interest being so perfect as to ‘fix’ Lisa’s orientation, that’s gross and there is no place for it in fanfiction or anywhere. IGA’s about Lisa—as a girl who likes girls—finding that specific girl who can get past her hang-ups and care enough about her to make her care back.