I’ve been avoiding reading reviews/commentary on Ace by Angela Chen so that I could write this post with minimal influence by others.
First of all, as someone who has been reading ace blogs for more than ten years (wow, has it been that long?), none of the broad themes in this book are new to me. I did not know most of the specific stories profiled in this book, and it has some angles/nuances which are new to me, but no brand new high-level concepts.
I think, at this point in time, it would be difficult to publish a book about asexuality for a general audience without including a lot of asexuality 101. I appreciate that this book managed to include any asexuality 201, but only the most familiar (to ace bloggers) 201 material. For example, the book references the classic ace blog post “Hermeneutical Injustice in Consent and Asexuality”. That is Asexuality 201, but it’s 201 that is so thoroughly established in the ace blogging canon that it’s not news to anyone who has been around ace blogging for a while.
It was fun to see which ace bloggers got mentioned in the book (no, this blog did not get mentioned, but that’s okay, a lot of ace blogs which I highly respect were also not mentioned in the book, such as none of the blogs from this linkspam).
What I liked most about this book were the personal stories. I especially liked how Angela Chen wove her own story into the overall narrative of the book. I also liked Anna’s story near the end, a personal story that illustrated many of the ideas the book had covered. The book became much more interesting as it progressed, partially because it became less asexuality 101 and more asexuality 201.
Do I think it accurately represents popular (i.e. non-academic) ace thought? I would say ‘yes’. There are some points that I would push back against, but that would be because of my own individual thinking, not because the book is outside of the bounds of general ace thought.
The fact that this book exists at all is a testament to how much has changed in the past ten years. I can’t even imagine having a book like this ten years ago. And if it had existed, I would have been all over it. I was binge-reading ace blogs back then, can you imagine how I would have reacted to a whole book? That said, I don’t know what people new to the ace community today, who have not read many ace blogs, are making of this book. I would have to read their reviews/comments on the book to find out.
I found The Invisible Orientation most useful for handing to my mother so it could explain asexuality to her. I never read it all the way through myself. I did read Ace front to back. I am also not recommending it to my mother. I think my mother got most of her questions about asexuality answered by The Invisible Orientation and I don’t think she’s interested in reading a second book about asexuality. At a deeper level, I think The Invisible Orientation was simply a more appropriate book for her. She was not interested in seeing human sexuality and relationships through a new lens, she just wanted to understand her ace daughter.
I also remember, back in 2015, the local library did not put The Invisible Orientation on order until I put in the request, and when it appeared in the catalog, my hold was the only one. Now, in 2020, the library put Ace on order without me saying anything (though maybe other patrons requested it), and there are currently 8 holds on the print copy, and a whopping 32 holds on the ebook copies (back in 2015, the local library did not have ebook copies of The Invisible Orientation though I see that has changed). I think this represents just how much more interest there is in ace books now than even five years ago.
The book says that it is “partially an attempt to explain asexuality to allos” and I think that left me with a bit of a weird feeling. For years (heck, maybe even since the start of this blog), most of my writing about asexuality has been aimed at an ace audience. Allo people, you’re welcome to read it, but you’re not my target audience. Throughout the book, I got the sense that I am not the target audience, and I think it’s because I am not.
I have doubts about whether it will reach the target allo audience. I suspect that even though it’s targeted at allos the majority of the people who read this book will actually be ace, but I might be wrong about all that. That’s the weirdness – it’s aimed at an audience which is less likely to read it, not the audience which is more likely to read it, and thereby seems to be more concerned about what allos think than what aces think. I would say that this book would be better if it were straight-up written for aces, except I also sense that this book is aimed at aces who don’t know that they are ace – an audience that, by its nature, is tricky to reach. I don’t know how to aim something at ‘aces who don’t know they are ace’. I don’t fault Angela Chen for trying this strategy. I hope it works. (Also, there is the marketability angle: there are way more allo book buyers than ace book buyers).
So, should you read the book? Since this has never been an asexuality 101 blog, you’re either a) someone who wandered onto this blog because of my non-ace writing, and I have no idea whether you care enough about ace issues to read a whole book or b) you are reading this blog because of my asexuality 201-and-up writing, in which case this book probably is not going to break much new territory for you. But you might read it anyway like I did so that you know what’s in the book.
Same impression here with the “I’ve seen this before, but I deeply appreciate the life stories that come with it.” Also, I’m not sure how many people of the target audience will actually read it.
Your thought of the actual target audience being “people who could identify as ace if the only knew about it” didn’t occur to me yet. It does have some merit, though, I think.
“I suspect that even though it’s targeted at allos the majority of the people who read this book will actually be ace”
Yeah, that seems to be a conundrum of ace media generally. What’s needed is more resources that will give allosexuals a better understanding of asexuality and introduce them to ace 201 issues – but how do you get allosexuals to read them? Do you have any thoughts on how the book could have been made to appeal more to non-ace readers?
Honestly, I think the best strategy for reaching non-ace readers is to…put a chapter about asexuality in a book which is primarily about something else (for example, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator). I know Angela Chen has been writing articles about asexuality in mainstream outlets, which hopefully are promoting the book to a wider audience, but it might be mostly the aces within the mainstream audience who are continuing to the book. I think most of the non-aces who are going to pick up a book like this are those who have a compelling reason to learn more about asexuality (for example, my mother read The Invisible Orientation because her daughter is ace).
I suspect, but can’t prove, that targeting an ace audience might actually make it more interesting to allo audiences too. But my perception is biased because all the ace material I write is for ace audiences, so the allos who come and read it are the ones who are interested in by-aces-for-aces writing.
This might change if some sensational story involving asexuality hits the media and rouses public interest, but I’d rather not have that happen since it would probably be something like a serial killer who targets ace victims, or worse.
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I’m here because I was looking for notes on the book, and this post was the top google result, probably in part because of notes in the URL. I want to read the book as an outsider seeking understanding, so I guess I’m Chen’s target audience but not yours.
Did you look it up in response to the SFPL event? I had registered, but then I realized I had to honor a commitment which is at the same time (also for the SFPL, ironically) so I had to cancel my registration. In any case, if you read the book or attend the event, I hope you find it useful. (meanwhile I have to go off an honor my commitment now).