Asexuality is everywhere, yet because it is classically the absence of something, its presence can be difficult to see. Being Ace: An Anthology of Queer, Trans, Femme, and Disabled Stories of Asexual Love and Connection is an attempt to foreground asexuality within a variety of environments. Madeline Dyer has assembled an ace team (oh, you know the puns are just starting) of authors to contribute stories and even a poem that get you thinking. Cody Daigle-Orians, who wrote I Am Ace, offers a heartfelt introduction to the collection. I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and Page Street.
Some of these authors are familiar to me, either from other books of theirs I have read or simply from following them on social media. Although I’ve pretty much always known I am asexual, it wasn’t until around university that I started to learn more about that label, and it wasn’t until later than that—2012 or thereabouts—that I started to find online community and realize that my sexuality falls under the umbrella of queerness. Following acespec authors and finding acespec stories was very important to me. The same goes for arospec authors and stories (as I am in fact aroace). Indeed, Being Ace serves as a comfortable companion text to Common Bonds: An Aromantic Speculative Fiction Anthology (and the two anthologies share contributors).
The stories take place everywhere and everywhen, from fairytale-inspired fantasy worlds to science-fictional settings on asteroids to vaguely contemporary tales in the here and now. Aces are witches; aces are asteroid miners taking on moon goddesses; aces are patients in eating disorder clinics; aces are monster hunters. The potpourri of settings seems to emphasize the anthology’s message: aces are everywhere, deal with it.
Stand-out stories in this collection for me include “Across the Stars,” by Akemi Dawn Bowman; “Give Up the Ghost,” by Linsey Miller; “Smells Like Teen Virgin,” by S.E. Anderson; and “The Mermaid’s Sister,” by Moniza Hossain. However, I would like to emphasize that this is a remarkably consistent collection, in my opinion, as far as enjoyment of its stories goes. The hit ratio is high with this one.
“Across the Stars” is really just an adorable story about finding friendship while trying to preserve one’s connection to family. I like that it is less about the protagonist needing to navigate coming out or finding acceptance and more simply about them existing as asexual in this universe. (I would also read more set in this universe.)
“Give Up the Ghost” is poignant in a really kind of sad, devastating way, as ghost stories and murder mysteries often are.
“Smells Like Teen Virgin” is a fun send-up of purity culture as well as monster-hunting schlock. The family and sibling dynamics are very compelling.
“The Mermaid’s Sister” is a quaint reimagining of The Little Mermaid told from the perspective of Ariel’s ace sister; I like that the prince was not a dick in this one.
I do think allosexual people should read this anthology and will find a lot in it that helps them better understand ace experiences. That being said, I can only review this book from my perspective as a fellow ace gal … and I didn’t expect this book to make me feel so sad at times. So emotional. I am largely having a very happy life as a single ace person, especially now in my thirties—but compulsory sexuality is a trip, and sometimes our society is not kind to single people or people who live alone. Being Ace certainly offers hope and compassion, but there are moments when it really does hold up a mirror to that toughness. Which is, I suppose, a testament to how powerful its stories are.
I’m not surprised I enjoyed this anthology, and I highly recommend it. But more than that, I hope that it encourages readers to check out other work by authors in this collection. The more ace voices we hear and read, the better we are able to question what we think of as normal or the default when it comes to our experiences of sex, love, desire, companionship, and belonging in our society.