I have discovered this book through their reviews and I was very excited to read it. I read Loveless, which was centered around an ace protagonist, and I knew I needed more information about this. So I roped a bunch of people into reading it with me. 🙂
This was the book for my book club in April, and I got it in audio format, and listened to it everyday in my commute with my friend in the car, so my reading experience ended up being 5 people’s reading experience. I ended up with somewhat mixed feelings regarding this book, but I am still glad I made everyone (especially myself) read it.
So on the pro side:
1. I think this book is extremely important. I don’t think I really really understood how deep and entrenched compulsory sexuality was in my life and my views until I heard Angela Chen breaking it down into extremely detailed examples. The fact that it’s toxic, not only for aces but really to everyone and no one even notices it is really alarming.
2. It was extremely interesting to dive into how diverse the ace spectrum really is. And that is exactly what it is: a spectrum where everyone should be able to place themselves in how they relate to others. I know she gives some examples of scales and spectrums that replace the Kinsey Scale, but as I said I consumed it on audio and can’t remember the correct names, so I created my own personal model in my head. In my mind now we can all place ourselves in a 3-axis cartesian coordinate system like you can see here, only like this:
a. on the x axis you have the sexuality spectrum, from sexual aversion to sexual addiction (I don’t mean addiction, but I can’t find the right word – just people who are really really sexually attracted to everyone and everything – and/or maybe just like to have lots of sex. Don’t quote me, I’m not a scholar and and not trying to propose a theory or anything, just trying to make things in my mind clear.)
Actually, I am back from the future (about 5 paragraphs ahead) to change my mind about this. Axis x goes from people who feel sexually attracted to no one to those who are attracted and consider having sex with everyone they meet. How much sex you actually have is irrelevant here – if you have sex or not, if you masturbate or not, does not matter in the grand scheme of things. My model is about who you are, not what you do. Everything is fluid and can be negotiated anyway.
b. on the y axis is your sexual orientation, similar to the Kinsey scale, only it goes from one side where you care about the person being the same gender as you to the other side where you care about the person being the opposite gender than you. If you’re not interested in any gender, you’d be right in the middle with bi/pan people who are interested in all genders, in that you both don’t give a fuck about gender, but you’ll be differentiated by where you fall within the x axis. If you’re non-binary with a attraction preference to one gender you cannot define if it’s the same or opposite yours, and therefore have a hard time picking a side of the axis, you can choose as preferred, or make your identity a half belt that hugs the graph from one side to the other 🙂
c. and finally on the z axis I would put your romanticism scale, where on one side you have aromantic folks who don’t want to be in a relationship with anyone but themselves, passing through monogamous folks who want relationships with a single person, and ending up on the other extreme where polyamorous folks can crave relationships with multiple people together. Or something like that, as I said I am in no way an expert to any of this.
So that’s how things work in my mind, and anywhere you fall within this very complex graph is perfectly alright, and you can move over time and all that matters is that it’s your feelings that matter. No position in this spectrum is better or more desired than any other. And no one owes anyone an explanation to anyone else about why they see themselves wherever they do. And I hope I haven’t forgotten anything, and am not unwittingly offending anyone with my makeshift analysis. It was just fun for me to organize my thoughts.
3. I also think the book touched on quite a few non-ace specific topics that were wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the discussion on how to contextualize consent in a framework that doesn’t include compulsory sexuality. And also how intersectionality plays a part in everything, and how lack of representation impacts all kinds of populations. We can’t easily find ourselves to be something we don’t know exist, so suffering in silence is unhealthy to all involved.
Now for the cons:
This book was dense. Reading it was not easy – even in audiobook format. It might have been worse in audiobook format to be honest. Angela Chen has written a book that reads more like an academic work. It’s full of citations and really tough to really understand when you’re not following where the quotation marks start and end. At times it got a little repetitive and it didn’t really grip the reader.
I was the only person in my book club who actually finished the book. But we discussed what they had read anyway. Of the other 4, one couldn’t get it from the library and didn’t read it, and after our discussion said she was uninterested in doing so. She said she’s happy to know asexuality exists, but she’s in a happy monogamous heterosexual relationship and the book therefore didn’t apply to her. Another one got to 25%, and just kept saying he thought the author had contradicted herself and I tried to explain the way understood things, but he still appeared somewhat unconvinced (I think he used to be a psychologist of some kind and seeing asexuality not as a disorder is not easy for someone how trained and practiced as such for years). The other 2 gave me hope though. They also didn’t managed to finish it, because it is dense, but both said they would continue reading it and that they found it very interesting. I was especially happy about it as they are both doctors working in the NHS and I think these things need to spread through the medical professional.
And this is now a way too long review, so I think I’ll leave it at that. If this subject interests you, you should read this book, but be prepared for an academic work more that a beach read. 🙂