Today we’re joined by Jenn Basel. Jenn is a phenomenal asexual writer and performer who writes both original work and fanfiction. They write mostly gunpowder fantasy, which is similar to steampunk. For fanfiction, they write a number of stories set in the Elder Scrolls universe. They also blog about writing and publishing. When they’re not writing, Jenn is a performance artist who works with a theater trope that primarily does living chess shows at Renaissance Faires. Jenn’s a stunt fighter trained both with a sword and in unarmed combat. It’s very clear they’re incredibly passionate about what they do, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to them for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I’m a writer. I do a bit of blogging and I’ve got a pet Skyrim fanfic I update every couple of weeks, but the bulk of my work is original fantasy. I tend to write for adult audiences, and some of my favorite projects to work on are political stories filled with court intrigue and subterfuge. I primarily write gunpowder fantasy, which is sometimes called steampunk’s younger cousin–basically, gunpowder fantasy is fantasy set in fictional worlds with a level of technology equivalent to the real-world 17th to 19th centuries.
It’s very important to me to write about the characters I needed when I was younger, so my work tends to be very focused on the stories of queer and disabled people.
I’m also a performer. I have some experience acting in more traditional stage shows, but my real passion lies in improv theatre and performing as a living chess piece at my city’s annual Renaissance faire. Our shows are based around choreographed fights with a variety of weapons. I’m currently trained in unarmed combat and swordfighting.
What inspires you?
At the end of the day, I think what really keeps me going is the knowledge that I can be the person I needed when I was younger. I can write and perform queer, disabled characters being awesome. It makes me feel good to know that there are people out there who have told me how happy my work has made them, and how good it felt to see something of themselves.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I started telling stories when I was pretty young. I was an only child for twelve years and we lived out in the country, so I spent a lot of time by myself. I liked playing dress-up and acting out stories based on books and movies I loved. It wasn’t much of a leap to inventing stories of my own, and it didn’t take me long after that to start writing them down.
I don’t think it occurred to me that I could write down my stories to share with other people until a little later, but once that idea got lodged in my head, I took to it with gusto. My first attempts at novels were in middle school. I still have a lot of fondness for those stories.
The acting came pretty naturally out of my games as a kid, too. I wanted to be a stage actor for a long time after taking drama classes in middle school, but only recently did I finally get the opportunity. I’m very glad to have stumbled across my current acting troupe.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
I’m not sure if I’ve developed a signature in my writing yet, but in my acting and stage combat I’ve really gravitated toward sarcastic, sardonic characters and quick, witty performances. I like campy humor and characters with a sharp tongue. My fighting style is settling into a fast-paced whirlwind interspersed with one-liners, which I hope is just as fun to watch as it is to perform.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Make goals and stick to them as best you can, but also know your limits. I’ve hurt myself in the past by pushing myself too hard when what I really needed was to take a step back, rest, and take some time for other interests. It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “oh, if I don’t create something every day, I’m not a Real Artist,” but that’s not true at all. Follow your passion and your goals, but take care of yourself while you do it! It’s not a race, and you’re not in competition with your fellow creators. You can take your time, pace yourself, and take breaks when you need them.
This goes double if your art is in any way physical, like performing!
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I identified as demisexual for a while before learning about grey-asexuality. There are times I feel what I think is sexual attraction, but I have to have a very strong emotional connection first, and even then it’s pretty unpredictable and fairly rare.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
I’m fortunate to be in very supportive communities surrounding my fields, so fortunately I haven’t really encountered it there. But I have experienced prejudice and ignorance in other areas of my life, and it can be hard. In online spaces, where I’ve experienced the most backlash, I make liberal use of the block button, and I make it very clear when I’m done talking about a subject. When I find myself getting particularly overwhelmed, I get off the computer and go hang out with friends or play my go-to comfort game, the Sims.
Fortunately I haven’t experienced a lot of ignorance offline. The few times I’ve had to deal with ignorance, it’s been from people who were willing to listen to and carefully consider what I had to say.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
The most common misconception is probably that sexuality is all-or-nothing, and asexuals can only ever be “nothing.” In addition to identifying as grey-ace, I’m also grey-romantic, bi, and polyamorous. Sometimes I feel sexual and romantic attraction, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I experience one but not the other.
There are times I have sex with my partners, but that doesn’t make me any less asexual. And even if I never felt sexual attraction at all, attraction and action are different things. Plenty of asexuals enjoy sexual activity. Plenty don’t. But you can’t tell that just from somebody’s orientation.
The other misconception I think I run into the most is that if you’re ace, you’re automatically also aro. I happen to be both, but not everyone is. Asexuality and aromanticism are their own distinct identities, and even if they sometimes overlap, it’s inappropriate to lump them together as one.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
I felt deeply broken for a long time. There was a point I heavily considered going to the doctor, because I thought I was sick. It took me a good while to accept that there wasn’t anything wrong with me.
What I think helped me the most was finding a community. That is admittedly easier said than done, but I think it’s really important. I started following as many discourse-free positivity blogs as I could find, and I relied (and still rely) on the support of my partners when things are really rough. I found people who validated me and had similar lived experience, so I stopped feeling so alone. Again, it really is easier said than done, but it’s so much easier to push through the bad days if you can find people who have done it before and are doing it alongside you.
I highly recommend fuckyeahasexual on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. They share a lot of great content from a lot of great people, and they’ve done a lot to help me feel a little more connected. Another thing that’s helped is finding positive representation of asexuals in fiction
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
As for my writing, I can be found on Tumblr as at jennbasel. That Tumblr has links to my other social media, including Twitter. My main blog can be found at jennbasel.blogspot.com. I post fanfiction on AO3 as JennBasel, and my original fiction can be found on Medium at https://medium.com/@JennBasel. I also have a Patreon at patreon.com/jennbasel.
My theatre troupe, the Thieves Guilde, can be found at thievesguilde.org. We perform at events throughout Florida, most notably the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.
Thank you, Jenn, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.