Another in the slate of ace-focused books released recently by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, who through NetGalley provided me with an eARC that I am finally getting around to reviewing! Ace Notes: Tips and Tricks on Existing in an Allo World by Michele Kirichanskaya is a kind of how-to guide for being asexual in a world that privileges sexual attraction and desire. It’s not prescriptive (as Kirichanskaya notes, there is no one right way to be ace!) but it is very thoughtful. There are two stand-out features of this book: in-depth interviews with other ace-spec people and a very holistic consideration of how asexuality extends beyond the world of sex.
All of the ace books I have read recently have, in one way or another, dispensed advice to their audience. This book takes it one step further in that it is meant to be an advice book. The chapter titles, such as “How to Identify an Asexual” or “Explaining the Different Types of Attraction,” reflect this. And whereas the other titles could, in theory, be useful for an allosexual reader, this book’s audience is definitely ace-spec people. This is a book for us, and it’s great.
A great deal of what Kirichanskaya covers doesn’t apply to me personally, mostly because I have been out basically since I knew to use the words ace and asexual. That isn’t to discount the value in this book for baby aces but instead meant to highlight what I want to say next, which is that I still found, as an older person who is comfortable talking about her asexuality, a great deal of new perspectives on these pages.
In particular, Kirichanskaya has a whole part of the book devoted to “Religion and Identity”—including chapters discussing asexuality and Judaism. As someone who is not Jewish, this is honestly not something that I had ever thought about! So much of the conversation around religion and asexuality in the West revolves around Christianity, and specifically the ideas of purity culture that have come out of Christianity. A lot of ace talk is about how to distinguish asexuality from celibacy, how to push back against purity culture, how to push back against the idea that we should want or have sex to be fruitful and multiply, etc. Reading chapters about asexuality and another one of the world’s major religious and ethnic identities was so cool and refreshing. It makes me think about how I need to seek out some perspectives from Muslim aces as well.
Speaking of perspective, Kirichanskaya also interviews many prominent ace personalities. I hadn’t heard all of these names before but suspect many will be recognizable to people who pick up this book. The interviews are dispersed throughout the book based on where they best fit within the book’s larger organization. This is a really nice strategy that breaks up the flow of Kirichanskaya’s writing. Each interview allows Kirichanskaya to elucidate understandings of asexuality that she might not have been able to discuss as eloquently or authentically herself.
One of the interviews was with Maia Kobabe, whose book Gender Queer sounds so good I might actually read it one day despite my deep aversion to graphic novels at the moment. Eir interview resonated with me because e and Kiranskaya talk about how transitioning can sometimes affect the labels one uses for one’s sexuality. People have asked me if coming out as trans means I’m not ace any more, something I addressed in a blog post a few years ago. I really like how Kobabe and Kirichanskaya discuss this idea (spoiler: the answer is not one-size-fits-all!).
This book is well worth picking up if you are ace or thinking you might fall somewhere on the ace spectrum and want a volume that, rather than explaining asexuality to you, helps you think about what that will look like in your life. It asks you to consider what you want out of this label, what it means for how you relate to yourself and others, and what you want to do going forward. This focus on action rather than introspection is not for everyone, but it is a great complement to the other books this publisher has put out recently. I recommend.