Conversations on Asexuality and Eating Disorders

This month’s Carnival of Aces has sparked a lot of conversations already. One topic that has long been under-discussed is asexuality and eating disorders, and this submission about Binge Eating Disorder has gotten that discussion going. [Obvious warnings for EDs, food, body image issues, etc. for this and all other links. Some also have references to sexual assault.]

Did you know that in Understanding Asexuality, Bogaert actually speculated that there would be no aces with bulimia? (Why bulimia specifically? It is a mystery!)

“In the first example [of ways sexuality and food intersect], if dieting and related body-image issues are often driven by mating concerns, might asexual people never or rarely have dieting problems?  Perhaps even a bolder prediction could be made: there may be no asexual bulimics (or at least no asexual people who have become bulimic).  This is not to say that asexual women may not be concerned about their body image for reasons other than sex/mating (i.e., finding a romantic partner if romantically inclined) but I expect their body-image issues and control of food consumption to differ from those of sexual women.”

Quoted from Queenie’s review.

Even if it had been the case that Bogaert sought out asexual people for comment and found no one willing to talk (I doubt it), he still misunderstands eating disorders as being about sexual attraction—they aren’t, they’re about control. So yeah, I’d say this kind of discussion really needs both to happen and become visible to professionals, so that they will stop baselessly speculating about how such problems must not exist for ace people.

So now, flying in the face of that stunning display of erasure, there is a new blog focused on asexuality and eating disorders!

There is an open call for submissions. If you want to contribute something on that topic for the carnival but don’t have a blog yourself (or feel uncomfortable posting it to your own blog), you might consider asking to have it posted there.

I would also like to point people interested in this topic to Olivia’s blog, which has quite a lot of good articles on eating disorders, other mental health issues, and asexuality. Previous discussion of the intersection of asexuality and eating disorders here: Sexuality as Selfhood and Body Hatred, I’m Afraid of Identifying as Asexual. And Beautiful Asexuality about body image.

If anyone has seen this topic discussed elsewhere, feel free to link things.

June 2015 Carnival of Aces Call for Submissions

Update: This carnival is over! You can view the submissions here. I will still be collecting posts on this topic at Resources for Ace Survivors, so feel free to keep sending me links.


 

Hello, everyone! It’s time for a new Carnival of Aces! In case you’re new to this, the carnival is a monthly event for collecting blog posts (or vlogs, podcasts, comics, or other mediums if you prefer) on a single topic. At the end of the month, I will post a summary linking to everything submitted.

Last month’s carnival was held at Becoming a Person, and the topic was “Identity, Labels, and Models.

This month, our topic is Mental Health.

I was surprised that this topic has never been chosen before—it seems that someone had wanted to do it in 2014, but didn’t end up hosting a carnival after all. I think it’s a really important topic, especially since our community struggles with fighting pathologization so much. There is of course already a lot of writing on this topic! But for the most part, not so much a specific, organized push for it.

One of the major reasons I chose this topic—and chose to do it now—is that Resources for Ace Survivors has a project called the Ace-Competent Therapists Project (ACT Project), wherein we plan to create and provide educational resources to mental health providers about asexuality, and create a database of ace-friendly providers and organizations to refer the people who come to us seeking help. We’d like to serve the entire ace community with this project, not just survivors—although an approach that actively supports ace survivors is mandatory. We can use volunteers to help with this project—especially if you are involved with any other organizations that provide similar services which we might be able to affiliate with and learn from, or you are trained in a related field.

So what I’m going to do with this carnival is slightly different, this time. As usual, I will still be collecting blog/vlog/etc. posts created from June 1st through June 30th, and these posts will be part of this carnival. But I will also be linking these at Resources for Ace Survivors, and will continue to collect posts on this topic after the month is over. These will not be part of the carnival itself, but they will be posted at RFAS in an appropriate category so that therapists and researchers can learn from our experiences. You can also (please do!) send in links to posts on this topic that you’ve already written or any kind of educational resources, and I will include them on the site. Continue reading

More thoughts on #AceDay with some suggestions for next year

First of all… since my initial post on this subject apparently read very harshly and negatively to some people, and appeared to be siding with people who think that aces just shouldn’t have any days outside of AAW, let me clarify that that is NOT the case! I’m fully supportive of the event, just confused by it. As I said, that kind of criticism of the event is part of why I was confused. Why make such a big deal out of it? There’s nothing wrong with having a day like that, even if it’s not necessarily appealing to my personal tastes, and even if I’m confused about what’s going on. I held back my criticisms on May 8th and just made jokes specifically because I didn’t want to bring people down—and hoped that at least some people would enjoy the humor.

There’s also, as I said before, nothing inherently wrong with seeing an opportunity and being inspired by other successful activism campaigns, although I think there was some issue with the event seeming not distinct enough from, in particular, TDOV—the initial name for it was Ace Day of Visibility, which seemed to be a direct rip-off rather than just something that was inspired by TDOV and that, understandably I think, felt disrespectful to many trans folks.

However… I think what the main issue was with the event was that… there wasn’t really a clear goal communicated to everyone. It was sort of made up as it went along, and changed quite a bit due to the controversy surrounding it. Once that drama had actually started happening, everything got even more confusing as things had to be changed, so some of that was unavoidable. Tumblr makes everything confusing by default, because of its horrendously bad design. All conversations hosted there are confusing to me, because I have to keep scrolling up and carefully measuring how the comments are nested in order to even figure out who said what. Besides that, posts tend to get buried and otherwise lost. So with all of that going on, I didn’t even know what day it was going to be until I checked Twitter on that day.

When all the information about the event is contained in Tumblr posts, it’s also harder to find, so it’s worth considering having the official information about the event hosted on a page somewhere (else?), and updated as necessary. Link to wherever the official, up-to-date information is going to be hosted on every post that promotes the event, so that people can easily find out what has changed if they happen to see an older post.

Here are some questions that I think should be asked, answered, and communicated before the next #AceDay campaign:

What is the goal of this event?

Try to be as specific as possible, and if there’s more than one goal, list each one. Also try to present some reasons for why these particular goals are chosen. Please be more specific than just saying “solidarity” or “visibility” because those are very abstract concepts that can be interpreted in many different ways. The more clear your goals are, the less confused people will be.

Who is the target participation group, and why?

One person suggested that this was meant to be a Tumblr-only event for “getting to know your local community” but if that was the case, why involve Twitter? If it’s multi-platform, try to specify which platforms should be involved, and which are not the main focus. If the event is limited to only certain platforms, let us know why. If your personal ability to advertise on certain platforms is limited, you might consider finding a few other people to co-organize the event with you. They may be able to focus their efforts in places you normally wouldn’t be able to, or reach a wider audience than you could.

Where are the most effective places to advertise?

Even if only Tumblr was the goal, there was still a failure to let people know what was going on. I would argue that even if the goal is only Tumblr users, it may still be useful to advertise at least on The Asexual Agenda’s weekly linkspam (we need a little bit of advanced notice), since there is a large tumblr following there. They can help spread the word, if you get their attention.

If you also want Twitter (or Facebook?) users to get involved (and why not?), I’d argue that AVEN is still a good place to advertise since many users there also have Twitter accounts—and if you’re uncomfortable posting on the forums yourself, you have only to ask a member there to do it for you. If you can get it onto AVEN’s home page at least a week before the event, a lot of people will see it and spread the word for you. If you email the AVEN team and let them know what’s going on, they’ll be perfectly happy to advertise for you—as they already did on their own. Giving them a little more guidance and advanced warning can only help. AVEN also tends to be the main focus for media requests, so they can potentially put you in contact with journalists, if that’s something that you care about pursuing—and having journalists generate wikipedia-credible articles would help if the goal is to eventually get it on there.

Ask around by email to see if people would be interested in advertising for you, because some may agree, or even be interested in organizing a part of the campaign on a social media platform you don’t normally use. (But please only ask each person once and don’t bug them or take offense if they don’t respond.) And, as I said above, strongly consider keeping an up-to-date official page for the event somewhere, so that if things change, people can easily find out what those changes are.

How has this campaign broadened in scope from the original intent?

Obviously, there was significant activity on Twitter and possibly other social networks. What about Facebook? Instagram? Beyond thinking about just targeted social media sites, what else might have broadened in scope? Will there be additional goals for next year? A way to accommodate those who are uncomfortable categorizing their romantic orientation? What about adding some nods to ace cards from Tarot or other non-traditional playing card decks? Is there a way to expand beyond the card motif?

Why was this date chosen, and could other dates be more effective?

In my neck of the “woods” May 8th is a day that many college students tend to be busy taking finals, moving out of their dorms, or graduating. They may not even have internet access while they’re on the move. That might be okay in the age of smart phones, though. I personally find the 8th to be a confusing choice, because all ace cards are the first in their suite, and A is the first letter of the alphabet. I think the reason for going with a particular date, especially if it’s counter-intuitive like that, should be communicated well. By the way, May 8th also sometimes falls on Mother’s Day, and it will next year! That makes it a particularly bad choice, I think. There is no possible way that Ace Day could not get drowned out by another holiday next year, if the same date is kept.

Is the writing in the official announcement(s) clear?

It may be worth running it through a round or two of beta readers who can help you revise before posting. Both The Asexual Agenda and Resources for Ace Survivors does this, and I think those posts/pages that go through this sort of revision process benefit greatly from it. Asking others to read and give feedback helps us catch where our blind spots might be. If you give me enough advanced notice, I can do this kind of thing for you—email me if you want!

All of these questions above are applicable to any other kind of activist event or social media campaign. I hope other people considering starting one will also consider them.

On a personal note, to Sara… I realize that a lot of the drama and confusion surrounding this event is not something you are personally responsible for, and that this is your first large-scale campaign, and that it’s surely been somewhat under pressure because of Asexual Outreach deadlines. All of this combined with the inevitable trolls is quite a lot to handle at once. Take care of yourself as best you can. And know that I truly do wish you the best in all of your projects, and hope they succeed!

And again, I don’t follow things going on at Tumblr very carefully, and the way I use Twitter is generally to go post something, maybe glance at things, and then close the page—or link something from an app without even looking at Twitter itself. I also reply to comments here from mobile pretty frequently, so I can’t always check things out right away, but I will try when I am able. So I’m sure I’ve missed things! If there’s something else relevant to this conversation that anyone would like to link me to, please feel free.

#AceDay and credibility

I’ve very loosely followed this Ace Day drama from a distance. I don’t get it. So many things about the event—how it was planned, how it was criticized, how it was promoted, why it is even on the 8th instead of the first of some month, and why it apparently had to happen RIGHT NOW instead of say, in three weeks, if there had been so little preparation for it that had been promoted to neither AVEN (as in, on the forums) nor The Asexual Agenda.

(That’s a lie, actually. I can figure it out. I think it had to happen sooner because it had to do with promoting the Asexual Outreach Indie Go-Go campaign. They need the money for the conference in June, so waiting wouldn’t have been ideal. Please donate to it if you can, though, honestly. It’s a good cause.)

Why did the ace cards have to represent romantic orientation? Nobody ever sat down and thought about how having to categorize like that would leave a lot of aces out? I wouldn’t have known which suite to pick.

When the day rolled around, I made a joke out of all my confusion:

It’s even funnier if you know me personally.

Moreover, why are we only considering ace cards from the traditional deck of cards? Ace cards in other kinds of decks are beautiful and well worth photographing, too. We don’t need to hold so strictly to tradition, and the incessant focus on categorizing is not helpful.

The most significant effect that I noted (from my limited corner of the community, and no, I was not following closely) as a result of Ace Day was that search engine traffic was very high, and many googled “alloromantic” on May 8th. They mostly seemed to flock to Queenie’s article criticizing the divide between alloromantic and aromantic. Knowing that may at least assuage some of the frustration those who felt pressured to categorize their romantic orientation felt, I hope.

Jokes aside though… there are some serious credibility issues with this campaign. And theasexualityblog has seemed… totally oblivious about them, and somewhat belligerent and unconcerned when those issues have been pointed out. (I’m not saying that’s actually the case, btw—I’m saying that’s how people have been reading theasexualityblog’s responses, and with good reason.)

To begin with, I think that while a lot of incorrect and very hurtful things were said about Blackout and TDoV… I think people are correctly perceiving an opportunistic attitude on the part of theasexualityblog. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with opportunism—or being inspired by other successful activist campaigns—by itself. And Ace Day did accomplish something. A day of pride and love for asexual people is not a bad thing. This type of campaign is not something that appeals to me, but if other people like it? Hey, why not?

But the way that it was handled was not ideal. I think a lot more care has to go into planning for next year—and the idea has to be expanded to be inclusive of all aces, not just those who are easy to categorize (and, perhaps, more palatable to the mainstream?).

But the very worst credibility-killer is that they seem to think that they actually have enough credibility to get wikipedia to acknowledge them… and have fundamentally misunderstood the way that wikipedia works. (Discussion of wiki spamming here.)

What on earth is getting a page on wikipedia going to accomplish anyway? The event is over. Do it again next year, and the year after that, and build your credibility before demanding to be acknowledged. If you’re expecting wikipedia to somehow give you credibility, then… LOL. Wikipedia is actually being considered less and less credible anyway.

The thing is… if you start spamming people with things without first building credibility? They stop listening. The filter learns your name, and you get automatically deleted. Spamming doesn’t work for emails, and it doesn’t work for wikipedia either.

And I’m sorry to say it, but doing this sort of thing really makes you come across as unprofessional, and will have an impact on others’ willingness to submit to or invest in your future projects. Building credibility is slow. It takes hard work and a lot of time. If people see you as unwilling to invest that time, if they see you trying to brute force acknowledgement and take credibility… how can we be confident that you won’t try to take those shortcuts in anything else you do?

Learn from these mistakes—and acknowledge it so that people know you’re listening. Learn the rules first, and don’t try to make others change their well-established guidelines for you. Next Step Cake has made a guide to getting on wikipedia for you. Ace activists, please take it to heart.

I know I will.


 

Addendum: There was a gap of time between me writing this post and seeing new things that had been posted about this (my posts are frequently scheduled to go up when I won’t be at the computer). I think this one is relevant, and shows a considerably better response. A clarification: The wikipedia article was not planned by theasexualityblog, and was written by someone else. I should have made that more clear in the original post, so I apologize for that.

More further reading: I posted some more thoughts on #AceDay with some specific things to consider for next year. Theasexualityblog responded to criticisms that were raised here. I think it’s a good response and addresses how people had been feeling pretty well… although I will note for clarification that Sara seems to have interpreted “opportunistic” as I used it here to mean something far more negative than I meant. “Opportunism” in my view does not necessarily imply exploitation or being motivated by personal gain; it means seeing an opportunity as it arises and going for it. Other critics may have assumed that Ace Day was exploitative of trans people in some way, but I don’t agree. I will also note that tumblr’s absurdly bad format in itself is probably responsible for a lot of the confusion, misinformation, and critics not being well-informed—things will always have to be addressed multiple times if your responses get lost on tumblr, which I think is some degree of inevitable. It’s my hope that linking Sara’s response here will help keep it from being lost to the ages—since WordPress is far more conducive to creating posts with longevity than tumblr.

Announcement: Resources for Ace Survivors website

So I’ve been working with Queenie for the past few months to expand Resources for Ace Survivors to a stand-alone website. Please check it out!

Special thanks to Stormy, who has also been working on this with us! We really wouldn’t have made this happen so quickly if we hadn’t had so much help!

Here are some features of the site that I’m quite excited about:

  • We’ll be launching a multi-author WordPress blog sometime in the next month or so. We’re currently looking for contributors—both to blog with us regularly and to submit guest posts.
  • We have a private forum which we’re currently testing, and using to organize all of our projects. If you’re interested in working with us but not quite able to devote a lot of time to it yet, you can still help us out by joining the forum, helping us test it, and giving us your opinion on how you’d like to see it run. And we will really need some moderators!
  • We will be able to offer an alternative method of communication between survivors who need someone to talk to and people on The List. This will be really helpful for survivors (like me) who are too triggered or vulnerable to their abusers to use tumblr!
  • We will be launching a very big project to educate therapists, health professionals, advocates, grassroots organizations, and so on to competently treat ace survivors. This includes providing educational resources, and also collecting a list of recommended providers/organizations to refer survivors to, along with contacting existing organizations and working with them to create asexuality tags for the therapists/etc. in their systems—and better educate their volunteers.

Please check out our full list of projects. There’s a lot to do, so please consider joining us if you can!

Thanks to everyone who consulted with us to help get this going! I am really behind on emails right now because I’ve been focusing so much on getting all of this ready in time for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so I’m sorry I haven’t been back in touch with some of you. Please know that your help has been very much appreciated!

Writing About Asexuality in a Classroom Setting

Cross-posted to the The Asexual Agenda.

Earlier this month, I wrote about some of the trouble I encountered in creative writing classes here [tw: verbal abuse by teachers, domestic violence mentions]. Consider this post a sort of follow-up to that one. It is also my official submission for the March Carnival of Aces, although I think most of what I wrote about this month is on-topic enough to include even though it wasn’t specifically for the carnival.

Last time, my focus was on trouble with teachers, and how as a survivor (and secondarily, as an ace) sometimes creative writing classes are especially difficult. This time, I want to focus on reception of different types of work about asexuality specifically, and mostly from peers rather than teachers.

Essays

I first started writing about asexuality in essays, for your basic English 101 class—the slightly advanced version, I guess. This was in 2005, which was well before our movement had gained most of the momentum we now have. It was a basic 101 class, and a basic 101 essay. Continue reading

Tentative Revisions

[TW: corrective rape implications, compulsory sexuality, mentions of violent search terms & comments]

A few of you may have noticed that I revised the introduction to How to Have Sex with an Asexual Person. I haven’t touched the rest of it yet, although I do plan to once I get more time to focus on it properly.

Before we continue, some context about that post for people who may not know, just in case this gets picked up on tumblr:

  • The title is the exact wording of a SEARCH TERM that led someone to this blog. I didn’t just make it up.
  • I know the title is triggering—it was for me too when I first read it. I was directly addressing the creepy people who got here by searching that. I’m sorry that I had to use the search term as the title, but otherwise, I wouldn’t reach those people.
  • I am a survivor too, but back then I wasn’t open about it. Please don’t forget that.
  • We are in a pretty different place in ace discourse now than we were three years ago.
  • This is a strategy of harm reduction. In a better world, I wouldn’t have to say this.
  • The intended audience of the post is limited, although the script being offered can be applied in many other contexts—and it is being applied in a much wider context than originally intended.
  • I tried to reach those people who are already determined enough to try to get an asexual person to have sex with them that they’re researching how to do that. Saying “don’t try to have sex with asexuals” is not going to work with them, so my goal was to at least provide an alternative model they could use to be better (as in, more decent towards aces, not better at being horrible).
  • If that search space wasn’t taken up by me, something much worse would fill it instead.
  • This article attracts perpetrators (as intended), and I regularly get people trying to tell me how awful and “self-centered” I am to dare suggest that they not rape whatever asexual person they are trying to “have sex with.” This is a bare minimum, yet they can’t stand it. I do not publish those comments. Some of these people will never listen, and will do everything in their power to twist my words to support their own compulsory sexuality.
  • At the same time, there are a lot of people who DO change their approach after reading! And it’s not perfect or 100% pressure-free, but at least it’s less bad. (I tried to encourage people to aim higher than not bad, but there is not much space for it—still, that’s about the 3rd most clicked outside link on this blog.)
  • Originally, I had planned to write a series of additional articles to reduce pressure. More needs to be written; it just doesn’t all fit in this one article.
  • But the response to that article was so overwhelming that my blog became an unsafe place for me. That is the biggest reason this re-examination of that post has been so long delayed.

That said, let’s move on. Continue reading

Thoughtfully Advocating for Inclusion

This post is for the Carnival of Aces. This month’s theme: Cross Community Connections.


Whenever an asexual person reaches out to engage with another community and advocate for an approach inclusive of asexuality, it’s always risky.

Reactions can range from eager acceptance, to confused tolerance, to a civil refusal to engage because it would constitute “mission creep,” to indignant outrage that anyone would dare suggest that even a small fraction of the community’s time could be spent on asexuality, to even—sometimes—outright abuse.

I’ve seen all of these and more over the past ten years. Lately, I’ve seen more success than failure.

Frequently, communities have no unified front. Different members have different reactions, and whether or not you make any headway largely depends on which people are in charge. If you get a bad response, it can sometimes be worth it to try again after the leadership changes. People do learn from their experiences, and although you can’t count on it, it’s possible that once a leader has seen membership drop due to intersectional frictions that were never addressed, they may become more willing to consider dealing with such issues.

Tenacity is important for making progress, but must be tempered with sensitivity. If leaders see you as someone who busts in like the Kool-Aid Man or pesters like a Sea Lion—someone with a pet issue trying to force the rest of the community to accept you as a member without regard for others’ boundaries—they may get defensive and become less likely to consider your points.

Sometimes their perceptions are unfair. Sometimes they want to exclude. Sometimes there are good reasons for them to do so. We should respect that decision even if we don’t understand or agree.

A thoughtful approach can make all the difference. To determine the best approach, I ask myself these five questions:

1. What are the community’s stated goals?

This can take the form of a mission statement, but some communities don’t have anything that clearly defined. Sometimes community leaders have inherited a mission statement, but want to take a different direction. Sometimes leaders have no clear goals, or don’t agree with each other. If you’re not sure about what a leader’s vision for their community is, ask them to tell you more about it. Try to find out whether their focus is broad or narrow—for example, is it just for lesbians, or is it meant to be for any “queer” person? Consider whether they are more interested in political change, providing support, or whether they just want to make friends. A support group may need to be very narrow in order for the members to feel safe enough to talk about their issues—try to find out what kind of support they provide, and what might be unwelcome. A political group may be focused on only one or two issues, and unwilling to address other issues for fear of narrowing their base.

2. Is the community inclusive?

What does the membership look like? Is it mostly white men, or is the group mixed along racial and gender lines? Does it reflect the demographic distribution of your area? This can tell you a lot about the group’s focus and outreach efforts.

Read the rest of this post at The Asexual Agenda.

And consider this my official announcement that I am now a contributor there! This should allow me to have a bit more room to separate my more personal posts from activism posts, so expect the scope of this blog to expand a bit.

Fun fact: This particular post was dreamed up like four years ago as a follow-up to my post linked above, but I never actually got around to posting it. I have a backlog of around 40 drafts of random things that I never finished and posted, so it’s often really hard for me to remember what I’ve said before and what I ultimately decided not to post.

Review: The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker

Asexual Bingo card

Asexual Bingo card created by the author. Click for a flier with information about her book!

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time.

Years before it was written, I remember reading a conversation on LJ in which the author, Julie Sondra Decker (also known as swankivy), talked about potentially writing a book like this. Then, when it finally came out, my copy got lost in the mail! It took months for me to get the situation sorted out and actually receive a copy, although part of that was that I was out of town and without internet access for a significant part of last fall.

But it’s finally here, and now that I’ve read it twice, I can say with complete confidence: it’s excellent!

Before we continue, please note: Although I’ve been part of the ace community for a long time, and spent a bit of that time talking to the author several years ago, I was not in any way involved with the creation of this book. I didn’t provide any quotes, nor did I do any beta-reading. Because I took a long hiatus from the community starting in 2012, I didn’t even know that it was finally being written until after a release date had been announced!

So when I read this, I came into it with, perhaps, fewer expectations for exactly what was going to make it into the book than those who contributed to it… and also more criticisms, because one can generally expect most of the contributors’ criticisms to have been addressed before release.

What/Who is this book for?

As stated in the introduction, the book “should function as a starting point for people interested in asexuality.” It’s “for the layperson, written in everyday language” because “everyone will benefit from knowing that asexuality exists, that it isn’t a disorder, and that asexual people can be trusted to describe their own feelings.”

Fair enough! So I’m judging this based on those stated goals. This isn’t supposed to be the be-all and end-all of any writing on asexuality—it’s just a beginning.

And does it succeed at being a good beginning? Yes!

This is the Asexuality 101 book. It’s for laypersons, but I think it should also be required reading for professionals looking to better serve their asexual clients. It’s a starting point for real understanding, and one that outsiders looking in just can’t provide.

Books are prone to becoming quickly outdated as societal understanding deepens, and even less than a year after its release, there are already some passages beginning to show their age. But that’s more about how fast our high-level community discourse moves! On that level, it makes sense to forgive the subtle nuances rooted in older discussions. Here, we find the community’s foundation, preserved by someone who has been part of it much longer than most of us.

On such solid ground, we can now take steps toward further progress.

What Works

First, let’s talk about the best parts.

  • The writing is clear, concise, and casual. It’s easy to follow for a layperson, so it definitely achieves the right level of accessibility for its intended audience—and, crucially, it does so without feeling like it’s talking down to anyone.
  • It has a great hook for anyone starting the book right from the beginning. The author’s personal experiences and history of involvement with the community (pre-dating the establishment of AVEN) contextualize the book, and quickly dispel any notions that asexuality is “what the kids on Tumblr are making up these days” without having to directly address that charge. I particularly appreciate the acknowledgment that she’s been fairly lucky in terms of having “supportive family, unshakable confidence, no serious problems or issues in [her] life, and a thick skin,” because it’s important for readers to know that others haven’t been so lucky.
  • The structure of the book is very well thought out. It is divided into five parts: 1) Asexuality 101, 2) Asexual Experiences, 3) The Many Myths of Asexuality, 4) If You’re Asexual (Or Think You Might Be), and 5) If Someone You Know is Asexual (Or Might Be). This allows a person searching for specific information to pick up the book and flip to the most relevant section. The author also makes very good use of headers, sub-headers, lists, and bold text so that skimming readers will still pick up on the most important points.
  • I love the quotes from other community members highlighted in gray boxes throughout the book. They tie in others’ experiences, clarify concepts, provide illustrations of things described in the main text, visually break things up so that the reader will tend to feel less overwhelmed by walls of text, and serve as extra hooks to draw readers (back) in.
  • My personal favorite highlighted quote is at the top of page 38: It’s an anonymous person’s illustration of their experience with grayness through the metaphor of soda vs. water vs. water-with-a-bit-of-soda-in-it. I think that’s a brilliant analogy to explain experiences of graysexuality not defined by rarity, and I think it will be clarifying for a lot of people. It resists the most common way of explaining grayness, and I think that’s exactly the sort of thing that’s needed in visibility efforts to allow others to really understand these concepts.
  • Many points are supported by footnotes leading to more information, with a great bibliography in the back so that readers can look up the relevant studies for themselves. There is also a large list of other resources in the back—although books can’t keep up with the constant change of the internet, so a few of them have already disappeared.

If you’re a writer, all of the above are great lessons.

Cover of The Invisible Orientation

Cover of The Invisible Orientation

I also appreciate the minimalist cover, because it really mirrors how minimized and, indeed, invisible asexuality tends to be. Technically, that’s not part of the writing, and probably not something the author could control. Many people will tell you “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I think that people also tend to greatly underestimate how important packaging really is in whether or not a book will sell. And considering that this is supposed to intrigue people enough to introduce them to asexuality for the first time and legitimize the orientation in their minds, in this case a professional look is especially important.

What Doesn’t Work

Now, I was all set to rate this five stars… but upon rereading the first half of the book and counting up the places where there are serious issues, I have to take it down to four. These are issues that (mostly) seemed very minor to me… until I really started thinking about the implications of them. I summarized these in my Goodreads review, but here I will fully explain them.

If these points seem to take up too much space, that’s only because they are such subtle points that I have to use a lot more space to explain! I’m citing specific examples with page numbers so that everyone can see what I’m talking about for themselves and come to their own conclusions. I think we can apply the lessons we learn from these examples to other visibility efforts. Continue reading