If it is possible to get burnt out on reading nonfiction about asexual and aromantic identities, that might be happening to me thanks to all of the great books Jessica Kingsley Publishers has put out this year. Ace and Aro Journeys: A Guide to Embracing Your Asexual or Aromantic Identity is yet another, though the Ace and Aro Advocacy Project has done a good job of making sure it is providing a valuable and different perspective. My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the eARC.
I think the book itself sums it up nicely when it says it aims to be both ace/aro 101 and 201. It covers the basics that so many books already cover about what asexuality and aromanticism are—and then it goes beyond those basics. Like several of the other books I’ve read from JKP this year, this one includes quotations from ace and aro people. However, the authorial voice of Ace and Aro Journeys remains casual yet organizational, a departure from the much more personal voices of individuals who wrote the other books.
Another contrast to the other books I read was that they were all mostly aimed at a-spec audiences, especially a-spec people who are just finding or coming to terms with their identities. While allo people could enjoy those books and learn a lot from them, they weren’t the primary audience. Ace and Aro Journeys, on the other hand, aims much wider. It in fact includes a lot of guidance and advice for allies who want to support their a-spec friends and family. So if you are searching for a book to get the allo person in your life to help them understand you, this one might be it.
Beyond that, I’m going to be honest: the burnout I’m feeling makes it difficult for me to be as enthusiastic about this book if I had just read it on its own. I’m trying to be clear about this because I don’t want to damn the book with faint praise—I think this book is good, and I’m really happy it exists and that I got to read it, but I’ve had too much of a good thing these past few months, and it is showing! What a time to live in when I can complain about reading too much nonfiction about ace and aro experiences, eh?
There are a few other highlights I can mention that make it easy to endorse this book. First, it is very focused on practical steps. It talks about finding support networks and specifically traces the origins of a-spec havens online. From an anthropological perspective, anyone researching or trying to learn more about the earlier days of asexuality on the web could do worse than starting here. As someone who hasn’t ever engaged in specific a-spec communities (I only really found my people on Twitter, and nowadays many have left), this part of the book made me feel a kind of … I don’t know, yearning? So many of the queer spaces where I hang out online are inclusive of ace people but are not necessarily ace-focused. I’m not sure I am going to rush out and join an online space dedicated to a-spec experiences, but this book really got me reflecting on it and what kinds of ace connections I might want in my life.
The sheer number of testimonials from different people is also very powerful. My experiences as an ace person don’t always match up with many of the most visible ace voices out there (and the same is true for my experiences as an aro person). This is the case for a lot of marginalized communities; I am sure my experience of this is not unique! But in this book, I definitely heard stories that felt closer to mine. I hope other a-spec readers find that too.
On that note, I’ll close my review with one other wish that I’ve said previously: these books do a good job of acknowledging the limitations of their positionality, but we need to go further. It’s great to say, “hey, this is primarily from a white and Western point of view.” Nevertheless, it would be even better if publishers like JKP could invest the time in finding non-white, non-Western voices to explore ace and aro identities from those perspectives as well. I hope in the years to come, I can complain about being burned out by the number of those books too.