It all began in a small bookstore in Montpellier.
I was travelling with a theater team to showcase a performance we had been practicing for the past few months. I was new to the whole experience but I adapted rather rapidly if you ask me. I joined the team late February of 2022 and we travelled to Montpellier in July, where we met the French team (they also had their own performance prepared). Despite a slight language barrier and some cultural differences, it turned out we had many things in common. We also followed seminars and workshops together, so we could expand our knowledge and find our niche in the world of theater. Needless to say we had lots of fun as a lot of the activities involved breaking the ice between us.
After a few days we started talking about personal matters such as the matter of the LGBTQIA+ community. The topic came up because we noticed that the French were a lot more open about it. As we explored the city we noticed a lot of flags in quite random spots, something you wouldn’t see in Greece. One of the girls promised to take us to a “lgbtqia+ themed” library nearby, as soon as our tight schedule allowed some free time. Once we got there, me and two of the other girls were on cloud nine. There were lgbtq flags everywhere, as well as lots of books. The book store was British, or so I assumed because a huge union jack hung on the wall, and all the books were in English. The store wasn’t enormous or grande, but it was charming, a bit old fashioned but it radiated a kind of warmth I still can’t quite put into words.
I was examining some books on a top shelf, not looking for anything specific, when the big title “ACE” suddenly grabbed my attention. I had known I was asexual for quite some time. I was always true to my identity and didn’t let peoples’ confusion with the term bring me to question it. However, certain comments and conversations I had with different types of individuals made me wonder if the word asexual was completely representative of me anymore.
I silently read the title: Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. This is it, I thought. I am buying it. I never read a book about asexuality before, as LGBTQIA+ books weren’t easily accessible in my area. You could order them online (though sometimes it’s difficult to get the exact book you’re looking for) or buy them from different bookstores, but there wasn’t any specialized store with such a variety in stock nearby. I thought it would be a great opportunity to broaden my horizons, understand my sexual orientation better and somehow reconnect with it. I wasn’t wrong.
Angela Chen (the author of the book) didn’t just write about her experience, but she interviewed about 100 individuals who fall into the same sexual orientation. One of the characteristics that stands out is how different and unique each individual experience really is. It goes to show that the term “asexuality” isn’t some ”cult” (or whatever you want to call it) with a certain rule-book, but that the term gives people a sense of freedom just like every orientation and gender identity.
There were a lot of things I loved about this book, but what I loved the most was how the book wasn’t just about asexuals, but rather about everyone. It went deeper: the author grabbed societies norms and deconstructed them. While very well including the differences between ace and allos, the main focus remained the similarities between us and everybody else. The pressure, the shaming and the judgement we all face is very similar, no matter what you identify as. We are all part of society after all. All of us grew up thinking we are born with some sort of “default settings”. Over the course of time we adopted certain ideas and incorporated them as “normal”. For the sake of being accepted by society, it is harder to have the courage to stand out from the crowd, whatever that involves.
Last but not least, avoiding further spoilers of the book, I think it is a fantastic book and an easy read. Angela Chen makes you question a lot of things as well as it makes you realise a lot of things. For me, it wasn’t just a distraction to pass the time but a real adventure that compelled me to see the bigger picture of the reality we live in.
7 October, 2022