TW – problematic asexual rep, erasure of bisexuality (with direct quotes from the book)
Oh damn. That was messy. As romance novels go, Sarina Bowen’s books sometimes please me enough (don’t make me rage too much) because of the lack of slut-shaming and her sweet and kind male-leads. Yet it’s the second time now (the first being with Fifteen Minutes) that I have to write a one-star review because some parts are so fucking offensive that they let me absolutely disgusted.
1) Problematic rep of asexuality : look, I’m a cis/straight woman, so I may be wrong. But I’m genuinely worried for asexual readers who could be hurt by reading this novel.
To sum-up : Rafe, the male-lead, is a virgin. In a relationship with Alison for 6 months, they both have been waiting for having sex – and they finally decide to take the plunge on their Birthday. But when he arrives at Alison’s dorm, Rafe has the bad surprise to find another guy with his girlfriend, and learns that she cheated on him – and had sex – while abroad some weeks before. They break up. He hooks up with Bella, the MC, and stays – understandingly – pretty pissed at Alison for her betrayal. And then, hundreds of pages later, he finally learns that Alison cheated because she “is asexual and wanted to try with another guy before having sex with him”. I just… No. The way her asexuality was introduced and handled… Just, no.
Here are the direct quotes from the book :
“Rafe, I’m…” She swallowed. “I’m asexual.”
I replayed those words in my mind and came up blank. “You’re… what?”
“Asexual. I can’t… I don’t experience sexual desire. Ever. Not for anyone.”
That was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. And I’d already spent a couple of months choking on the message that she didn’t want me like that. Why make a weird excuse? “Then why did you sleep with Mr. Rolex? And don’t try to tell me you didn’t. Something happened with him.”
She took a deep breath in through her perfect nose. “I slept with him because I wanted to know if I could do it. It was an experiment. If I could live through it with him, then I thought I could handle sex with you.”
At that moment, you could have pushed me over with a feather. “Dios. I always hoped you could tolerate sex with me. Do you even hear yourself?”
Her face got red. “I know, okay? It’s taken me a bunch of counseling sessions to even admit that it was a stupid idea But I loved you, and I just wanted what so many other people have. A normal relationship.”
Again, the fact that she was getting upset checked my anger. “But I just don’t understand. Not at all. Because everybody wants someone.”
I managed to crack a smile, even as I realized that she wasn’t joking. “Maybe you like girls?”
She shook her head. “If I did, that would be easier. I’d never heard the term ‘asexual’ until a year ago. I started Googling right away, but reading about it only depressed me. Because I suspected that was me. (…)
“So…” I cleared my throat. “It’s not just you. This is a… thing.”
Alison gave me a tiny eye roll. “Yes, it’s a thing. There are support groups and the whole nine yards.”
Some pages after
“If she was right about not wanting sex with anyone, that meant most relationships were off the table. She’d told me once that she wanted kids, too. So that wouldn’t be easy.
It was pretty damned depressing, really.”
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, and if I’m wrong, I’m sorry. I’ll let asexual readers judge, but it seems to me that the way it’s introduced is inaccurate and offensive. Look, I’m not saying that Sarina Bowen is acephobic. But Alison’s asexuality is just used as a plot-device, and not handled respectfully in my opinion.
2) Bisexual erasure : the roommate of the male-lead is gay and was in the military. During the story, his boyfriend breaks up with him to start a relationship with a woman. Both characters talking about it – Rafe, the MC, and Mat, his roommate – make it sound as if bisexuality didn’t exist :
“I’ll bet it won’t last, though,’ I said, my words muffed by cashmere and down feathers.
“Why do you say that?”
“I dunno. Being a gay dude in the military sounds like a whole lot of trouble, no? Why do that if you’re not sure?” I was talking out of my ass. “But what the hell do I know?”
Mat heaved a sigh. “Good point. Twenty-four hours ago, I would have agreed with you. But he said he wants kids and all that shit. The picket fence. The dog.”
… Or, maybe he’s bisexual? What the HELL is this shit? This is not the first time I notice this kind of comments in one of her books, along with the damaging stereotype that bisexual people are more likely to cheat. Nope.
3) I’m out of my lane so maybe I’m wrong, but to me Rafe, who is Dominican (non ownvoices) was portrayed inaccurately and… I don’t know, very much like a Latin lover stereotype with merengue moves? I got the feeling that his culture was “exoticized” (sic) and I’m pretty sure some sentences in Spanish don’t make sense.
The Shameless Hour was written to denounce slut-shaming and double standards. That’s a shame diversity was handled so poorly, and honestly? I’m not sure slut-shaming was really handled correctly either, but rather quite… messily, and Rafe was… too pushy for me. Not recommended.