As I’ve noted in other reviews, perhaps most recently Refusing Compulsory Sexuality, being ace (asexual) in our society is no picnic. While I won’t deny there are benefits to opting out of the compulsory sexuality of our society, the fact that we must, indeed, opt out is problematic. In particular, I think that many a-spec people have a hard time figuring out their labels—partly because asexuality encompasses a lot of overlapping identities, but also because, as a phenomenon, it remains either erased/ignored or misrepresented/misunderstood. With Ace Voices: What it Means to Be Asexual, Aromantic, Demi or Grey-Ace, Eris Young seeks to change that. Thank you to Jessica Kingsley Publishers and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for a review!
Young examines their understanding of their own asexuality (and how it intersects with other aspects of their identity, such as being transgender). Along the way, they cover some basic definitions (ever wondered what the difference is between being demisexual versus grey-asexual?) and include excerpts from interviews and surveys, both ones they conducted personally and others conducted through organizations like AVEN. The result is a book that is at times personal but overall attempts to affirm that there is no one right way to be asexual.
This in and of itself is crucial, for one of our major struggles within and outside of queer spaces is being misunderstood. Sometimes it’s a conflation of asexuality with celibacy or prudery. Sometimes we do it ourselves in a rush to explain that “don’t worry, ace people still have sex/‘normal’ romantic feelings!” to make aces seem less Other. Whatever the case, asexuality is as vulnerable to gatekeeping and misunderstanding as any other umbrella identity within the larger queer tent.
Let’s get the critiques out of the way first. Young’s writing style, and perhaps more importantly, their organizational style, doesn’t entirely work for me. The book kind of jumps around from topic to topic without a clear through line. This might just be a personal hang-up when it comes to non-fiction, but I actually like a narrative. I like chapters with framing stories and inciting incidents. This book is more of a collection of essays and ideas, and while that isn’t bad, it also hasn’t done more for me than inform me.
That being said, I appreciate how this book tries to cover a lot of ground. Young’s voice is passionate, knowledgeable, but also humble. They make it clear that they are not trying to be the authority—or even an authority—on asexuality. This humility makes the book more approachable and accessible.
Indeed, I think there are two good audiences for this book. First, young ace or a-spec-questioning people who want to learn more about asexuality without diving too far an academic rabbit hole. Ace Voices definitely checks that “overview/introductory text” box. The second audience, in contrast, would be allosexual/alloromantic people.
See, even as publishing opens up its doors to more diverse books, I think we still face a problem of siloing. This is true for fiction—Black authors, for example, are regularly told their books don’t have “crossover appeal,” whereas apparently white authors’ books just appeal to everyone naturally? It’s true for non-fiction too. Memoirs and other books that foreground queer experiences become marketed to queer people—especially young queer people, as inspiration fodder. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, I want to challenge non-queer people to seek out books about queerness. I want to challenge allosexual or alloromantic people to learn more about asexuality and aromanticism—and this book would be a good place for you to start.
I’m reminded of a similar book about trans people that I read in 2017. The author was cis, and you can imagine how bad it was at covering the subject as a result and accurately representing trans people’s voices (I am not even going to link to it in this review, it was so bad). Young’s authenticity in this space, the way they share their experience while also making room for experiences that are different, is so important. Overall, Ace Voices didn’t jump out at me as something spectacular. But it’s very solid, and it’s exciting to see books like this published, finally.