Sep 16

“Ace”: Angela Chen’s New Book On Asexuality

In Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex science journalist Angela Chen writes not only of her own asexuality but also that of many other self-identified “aces.” From the publisher:

Vulnerable and honest, these stories include a woman who had blood tests done because she was convinced that ‘not wanting sex’ was a sign of serious illness, and a man who grew up in a religious household and did everything ‘right,’ only to realize after marriage that his experience of sexuality had never been the same as that of others. Disabled aces, aces of color, gender-nonconforming aces, and aces who both do and don’t want romantic relationships all share their experiences navigating a society in which a lack of sexual attraction is considered abnormal.

Additional info from Publishers Weekly regarding the varied levels of asexual experience represented in Ace:

According to Chen, asexuality exists on a spectrum from ‘sex-repulsed’ to ‘sex-indifferent’ to ‘sex-favorable,’ but what links ‘aces’ is their lack of the experience of sexual attraction, which she defines as ‘the desire to have sex with a specific person for physical reasons.’ In Chen’s own case, she began to identify as an ace in her mid-20s, after realizing that she only ever wanted partnered sex for emotional—not physical—reasons. She notes that Alfred Kinsey deliberately left asexuality off his scale of sexual orientation in the 1940s, and sketches the origins of the ace movement in early 21st-century internet message boards.

Asexuality “can also be thought of as just a way of living that doesn’t center sex,” states Chen. In other words, it’s not always adopted as an identity.

As Julie Sondra Decker, author of The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, tells me, “We’re whole people who just lack that ‘driving force’ and it’s understandable in the same way that it’s understandable that someone doesn’t have ‘crafts’ as their driving force.” (Or in the way that people don’t have “not wearing sock-monkey hats” as their driving force.) “I’m not a ‘non-crafter’; I’m only asexual because there’s a word for it and because people have an objection to me not wanting to have sex. If they didn’t, my life would not have involved very much of talking about it,” she says.”

Julie Sondra-Decker is the author, by the way, of the groundbreaking The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality (2014), featured in a previous posts here

Selected Quotes from Ace

Straight people are rarely treated like they’re close-minded for knowing their sexual orientation, but aces are assumed to be unsure and always on the brink of finding the person who will change everything.

Difference can be a gift. Being ace can mean less interpersonal drama and more freedom from social norms around relationships. It is an opportunity to focus more on other passions, to be less distracted by sexuality, to break the scripts, to choose your own adventure and your own values.

The label of asexual should be value neutral. It should indicate little more than sexual orientation. Instead, asexual implies a slew of other, negative associations: passionless, uptight, boring, robotic, cold, prude, frigid, lacking, broken. These, especially broken, are the words aces use again and again to describe how we are perceived and made to feel.