Despite loving podcasts, I have never listened to Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca’s podcast of the same name. Nevertheless, I was drawn to Sounds Fake But Okay: An Asexual and Aromantic Perspective on Love, Relationships, Sex, and Pretty Much Anything Else because, hey, asexual and aromantic over here! It feels very fitting that I’m writing this review at the end of Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week. Thanks to Jessica Kingsley Publishers and NetGalley for the eARC.
This book explores asexuality and aromanticism (which Costello and Kaszyca often refer to under the united umbrella of aspec, not to be confused with the asexual- or aromantic-specific terms ace-spec and aro-spec) by discussing how these identities relate to specific topics in our society. This is a slightly different and perhaps refreshing approach, finding a middle ground between books that take an “Asexuality 101” stance and more academic work like the fantastic Refusing Compulsory Sexuality. It’s definitely accessible, humorous, and empathetic.
The chapters are divided very logically: “Society,” “Yourself,” “Friendship,” etc. Costello and Kaszyca share a lot of their own personal journey with their sexual and romantic identities. Costello is aroace, while Kaszyca is demisexual, so they each bring slightly different perspectives to being aspec, which I think is valuable. As the book progresses, they start to bring in quotations from a survey of other aspec people. This adds other voices as we hear from genderqueer aspec people, alloromantic asexuals, aromantic allosexuals, etc. The goal is very obviously to showcase the incredible diversity of the asexual and aromantic umbrellas within the wider tent that is being queer, and I love that.
On that note: this is a masterclass in how to write in an inclusive, expansive way. Many writers, both queer writers themselves and those who write about us, often lament how “difficult” it is not to “offend” or inadvertently exclude people with their language. They point to artificially constructed examples of tortuous, often circuitous sentences supposedly designed to avoid such offence and exclusion. Kaszyca and Costello bypass such malarkey. They acknowledge that labels can be challenging, that terms change, that the split-attraction model isn’t for everyone, etc. Then they thread the needle to get to the point, which is that aro and ace identities are united by the fact that all of us on those spectra, to one extent or another, experience romantic or sexual attraction in a qualitatively different way from other people. That is the basic truth to which they speak in this book. The additional voices included throughout allow them to refine the message to speak to more specific experiences as needed.
What I loved most about Sounds Fake But Okay is how it simultaneously resonated with so many of my own experiences while also showing me many different ones. I’m an aromantic, asexual woman—but I am also trans, and having transitioned in my thirties, I spent most of my formative youth under the impression I was a man. So while I heavily identify with Costello and the other female aroaces quoted herein, I didn’t quite share some of their experiences of compulsory sexuality and how that is linked to the madonna/whore paradox of our society. Likewise, in their chapter on gender, they discuss how the proportion of aspec people who are trans is higher than aspec people who are cis. Then we hear from a trans person who identified as ace when they responded to the survey but has since settled on the label of bisexual—because her experience of transition has changed how she experiences and understands attraction. Many people have asked me, as I have transitioned, whether I might not identify as ace anymore—so much so that I actually wrote a whole blog post about this for Ace Awareness Week—and while my answer was in the negative, I totally understand how it’s different for some people.
Consequently, Kaszyca and Costello have managed to collate commentary that does a very good job of helping us understand the remarkable diversity of aspec experiences. I love it. I love how sensitively they unpack and critique the amatonormative nature of our society; while a lot of what they discussed in these parts of the book was not new to me, it is an essential part of this wider conversation. Similarly, I was pleasantly surprised to see other topics included, like a section near the end about kink and asexuality. In short, Sounds Fake But Okay is a careful, thoughtful work that seeks to go beyond its authors’ own experiences and ideas of being aspec.
Though this book will be, I think, most fulfilling for aspec readers, I would recommend this to people who are not aspec as well. This book is probably the most concise exploration of the greatest number of topics related to being asexual or aromantic in our society. For any allosexual and alloromantic folx out there, reading this book would be a great way to educate yourself about some of the challenges that we aspec people have navigating a society that privileges romance above other relationships and pressures us to talk about and even engage in sex that we might not want. As its tongue-in-cheek title implies, Sounds Fake But Okay is about challenging our biases so that we can build a society that is more tolerant, affirming, and compassionate, regardless of the extent or ways in which one feels attracted to others.