What does it mean to feel ‘Loveless’? Daz Skubich finds out in Alice Oseman’s fourth novel.
It seems that YA, (young adult), author and illustrator Alice Oseman’s career can only go in one direction: up. I first became a fan of her work when I discovered her web comic, Heartstopper, about two English grammar school boys who fall in love. At 25, she has published physical copies of her comic, as well as four YA novels. The most recent addition to her portfolio is Loveless.
Loveless is a fact-paced, emotional story about Georgia and her two best friends Pip and Jason going to university and discovering themselves. Georgia has never been in a relationship and fears that she may never be, so with the help of her new roommate Rooney, she decides that university will be where her love story begins. But of course, the real world doesn’t work like that.
Throughout this book, Georgia constantly struggles with her identity. She is obsessed with romantic movies and fan fiction, and she supposedly desires a Hollywood romance. But when she tries to kiss someone, she is immediately filled with fear and disgust. She just can’t do it. Georgia battles with her lack of romantic or sexual feelings towards people, believing that she just needs to try harder and eventually she’ll find ‘the one’. However, when she hears the words ‘aromantic asexual’ for the first time, she begins to consider a different option.
When I heard that Oseman was planning to write a novel starring an aro-ace main character, I was beyond excited. Aromantics and asexuals are hardly ever portrayed in mainstream media, and often when they are, it is done extremely poorly. My hopes for this novel in particular were high. I knew from following her online that Oseman herself is aro-ace, so I was confident that she would be able to deliver.
And she exceeded my expectations.
“Georgia’s process of figuring herself out at university bears a lot of similarities to my own thoughts and feelings at that time,” Oseman told me when I asked about her own coming out experience. “But I wasn’t able to share those thoughts and feelings with anyone, unlike Georgia, who is fortunate enough to have a group of very empathetic queer friends around her! It took much longer for me – many years – to figure out how I felt, to accept those feelings, and to share those feelings with anybody.”
Loveless not only explores the struggle of coming to terms with your sexuality, and discovering that a lack of attraction is indeed a sexuality, but so much more. Georgia overhears a heated discussion between her ‘college father’ and Pride Soc President Sunil, and the previous President Lloyd, about who should and shouldn’t be allowed into the society. Lloyd is a white cis gay man, and his opinions mirror the gatekeeping ‘old queen’ views of a small but loud group within the LGBTQ+ community. He sneers at so-called Internet identities, including asexual and bigender, and claims that they don’t exist. Sunil however, a homoromantic asexual person of colour himself, comes to their defence.
“Aromantics and asexuals are hardly ever portrayed in mainstream media, and often when they are, it is done extremely poorly.”
“Pride Soc is inclusive, and open, and loving, and not run by you any more. […] And I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Lloyd, because I know you don’t recognise any pride flag that isn’t the f*cking rainbow, but I actually happen to be one of those made-up internet identities. And guess what? I’m the president. So get the f*ck out of my formal.”
Thinking about this passage, I asked Alice Oseman how important she thought it was that we discuss the internal discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community. “Very important,” she said. “It’s an undeniable reality that discrimination exists inside the LGBTQ+ community – a space that is supposed to preach acceptance, support and respect – and it’s important to make people aware of this discrimination so that it can be actively combated.”
After essentially being virgin-shamed by her peers at their prom afterparty, Georgia’s eyes are opened to just how much of our society is built around romantic and sexual love. We’re shown and told from an extremely young age that our main goal in life is to find a partner, to get married, and to settle down with them. Georgia sees it in her family, in the couples surrounding her at university, and in the media she consumes. LGBTQ+ representation may be improving, but this same narrative is played out, only with queer couples instead.
“It’s angering, it’s frustrating, it’s disappointing,” says Oseman on the under representation of asexuals and aromantics in the media. “It causes so many issues for aro/ace folks. Under representation leaves many aro/ace people not even aware that they could be aro/ace, which can make people feel like there’s something ‘wrong’ with them, or even leave people stuck in relationships in which they don’t feel comfortable.”
The only person who Georgia can see defying this narrative is her older cousin Ellis, a 34-year old artist and ex-model. She lives alone, has never had a long term partner, and is constantly berated and mocked by her family for it. Georgia and Ellis’ relationship is such a wonderful addition to the story in my opinion. Georgia now has proof, within her own family, that someone can be like her and still live an incredibly successful and fulfilling life. And she is able to tell Ellis that she is not alone. That there are thousands of others out there just like the two of them. It’s a wonderful example of the importance of queer solidarity.
Alice Oseman has never shyed away from difficult topics in her work, with previous stories discussing eating disorders and suicidal ideation. And Loveless is no exception. At first, Georgia’s friendship with Rooney seems unlikely to say the least. Their mutual love of Shakespeare, university course and shared bedroom seem to be the only things they have in common. But the girls’ friendship quickly develops into something deeper. They are able to break down each other’s walls, and in doing this, Georgia discovers why Rooney usually ends up sleeping with someone after a night out – aside from the fact that it’s fun.
“We’re shown and told from an extremely young age that our main goal in life is to find a partner, to get married, and to settle down with them.”
Rooney’s story explores the lasting effect that an abusive relationship can have on someone, especially someone so young. Her three year high school relationship caused her to throw away her entire life in favour of perceived love, which left her alone and miserable when they inevitably broke up. Rooney’s experience shows us that the same attitudes towards romantic and sexual love that harm aro-ace people can also harm allosexual people. Society told her that if she loved her boyfriend, then that was more important than the friendships she had with anyone else, including her friend Beth.
Centring your entire life around your partner is dangerous. It develops dependency, makes you more susceptible to emotional manipulation, and frankly, it’s lonely. Humans are social creatures. We’re designed to interact with others. Our love for our peers and our communities can be just as strong and empowering as our love for our partners.
When I asked her what she would say to her closeted self if she had the chance, Oseman replied, “It’s okay to not have things figured out. You can take as much time as you need – it’s okay to not be okay! I felt a lot of pressure to know exactly who I was, particularly as I was a creator with an audience, and this pressure just made the process of figuring myself out much harder.” But now, she has come to terms with her identity, and has channelled her personal experience into Loveless. Hopefully, other young aro/ace people will look to Alice Oseman as an example of a happy future, just as Georgia looks to Ellis.
The most important message of the book, which is arguably Alice Oseman’s most impressive work to date, is that being aromantic asexual does not make you loveless. Georgia is overflowing with love for her friends, and that is just as important, if not more so, than her lack of attraction.
Click here for more information on how to buy Loveless.
Follow Daz on Twitter (@paleghosty)