When I started writing this, I was going to write about how, in the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to find people like me in the books I read, thanks in part to the help of some bookseller friends. I was going to write a few mini reviews for my favorites and send you along your merry way. And I’ll get to that (keep scrolling if you just want to skip right to it), but it’s also more than possible that you’ve already come across my book list in the many times I’ve shared it on social media, and read some of those stories already.
Sometimes, the fiction isn’t quite enough. Sometimes, we need to know that there are others out here who’ve gone through it, are still going through it, and are ready to lend an ear, shoulder, or what have you. I’ve been having more and more of these conversations online as I figure things out. Spoiler alert: I have very little figured out and that’s okay. So if you’re listening, if you need it, here’s my story…
I remember my first ‘crush.’ It was kindergarten. He was nice to me. Then it was a church musical in first grade. He was nice to me. I stopped liking him pretty quickly when I tried to be friends and he was mean. Then again in fourth grade. We worked a shift together in the school cafeteria and he was nice to me. Are you seeing a trend here?
I’m a songwriter. I wrote love songs very early on, or at least songs that masqueraded as such. When I started performing, the kids in school asked who those songs were about. I wanted so badly to be normal, for them to be about someone real, vs an idea from the TV screen. It didn’t help that I’d always been the odd one out, and probably trusted too easily, so I never suspected anything nefarious. So I chose the name of the most recent person who had been kind to me. It backfired. Big time. They got those boys to ask me out and pretend to be my friend for a while. I only found out about it later, and stopped sharing much of anything real.
When High School rolled around, people changed tact and started asking about celebrity crushes, or heaven forbid, which of them I might want to take to bed. I definitely went through a Twilight phase; looking back I just really wanted to be best friends with Alice. As for the crushes I would list, it was generally Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, Tom Hiddleston, & Chris Pine. But really, I just like the characters they played. How they looked, who they actually were, had no import. To say nothing of the expectation that I would answer the question with men. At the time, I didn’t investigate the matter further because I just figured most people would answer with what they perceived as the ‘social norm’ – that is was an entertaining game to spur on small talk (another thing I don’t understand). After all, how could you be attracted to someone you didn’t know?
My freshman year of college, I was assigned to a wing of the dorm that was very sorority-oriented. I wasn’t. But for the first few weeks I tried to be, just to fit in. I went to the frat parties. I even considered rushing (and thankfully didn’t). But I did get myself in trouble trying to make myself available like everyone else seemed to be, like I thought I was supposed to be, and getting taken advantage of. Or in some cases, I simply didn’t fully understand the rules of engagement. Flirting went (and still goes) right over my head. For me, Tinder was a place to find people to go hiking with when my friends didn’t want to get outside. Sometimes that turned out well. Once, it really really didn’t, and a lot of days, that still feels like my fault.
I first learned about demisexuality on tumblr my sophomore year of college. Nineteen years I’d gone without any sort of word for what I might be feeling! Even still, I didn’t really think much of it at the time, as if I wasn’t allowed to be anything ‘other.’ And ultimately, it wasn’t quite the right word for me. Turns out, demi(or grey)-romantic is probably more apt; I’m a full-blown ace. I’ve heard many learn about asexuality before demisexuality. This wasn’t the case for me. I was told A was for Ally as early as hearing about the LGBTA group in High School. Aspec erasure is a very real thing, even still. I think many of us, young and old alike, go a long time before realizing we’re not broken. That we’re valid. And it’s because we’re so often told we don’t exist, even among other LGBTQ+ people.
I walked into a Queer-friendly bookstore nearly 3 years ago. I wasn’t really out except to a few friends and some of my family. I didn’t know how to be out when my identity didn’t feel real. But I asked a bookseller, very quietly, if they knew of any books with ace people in them, and they gave me these three:
- The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee (which can technically be read on its own, but is best when read after Gent’s Guide)
- Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
- Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
I went back a few days later and quietly told them I’d asked because I thought I was ace. They’d already known that’s why I was asking. I felt like I’d accidentally outed myself, but felt very much supported all the same. That was the real beginning of coming into myself, and coming out.
All this to say, it’s been a long road. I still don’t have the answers. I don’t know that I ever will. I still struggle to answer the same questions about my sexuality and how that impacts my relationships from the same people over and over again. It’s as if they refuse to believe me the first time and therefore forget everything I’ve ever told them. I’ve had people tell me there’s no way I could possibly be ace because I’m so passionate. I’ve had people tell me I’ll stop being ace once I heal from sexual trauma. I’ve had people assume I could only ever have a partner who was also ace. But like most things in my life, I’ve found a way forward through stories. So whether you’ve made it this far, or just scrolled past all this text for the recommendations, here they are:
Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor: Queer and fabulous and steampunky science-fantasy that will have you swooning one moment and on the edge of your seat the next. It’s the kind of book that speaks to your soul and helps you discover yourself in its characters. Plus it deals with identity and healthcare systems and all sorts of political fun in a very approachable way.
Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand: I’m not usually a horror fan but Sawkill Girls had me in fits of hysterical laughter as often, if not more so, than it had me on the edge of my seat. I fell in love with Zoey from the beginning, finding a whole lot of myself in her. Legrand gets at the heart of what it is to be a girl – the expectations placed upon us by ourselves as often as others, the necessity we feel to hold up the world, and how powerful (and terrifying) it can be to be powerless. Never have I read a greater call to feminism than Sawkill Girls. Never has horror been so utterly enticing.
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann: A sweet, fun story that shows love and romance can exist without attraction. At times corny, but overall incredibly heartwarming.
-further reading: If It Makes You Happy: This is not the follow-up I expected after Let’s Talk About Love. It’s better. Inside its pages you’ll find… queer-platonic partnerships, polyamory normativity, body positivity, found family, learning to let go of relationships that don’t serve you, and ALL the swoons. Plus a healthy dose of Winnie kicking ass and taking names, which, if you’re like me, will have you jumping around the room screaming YASSSS! If you need a feel-good read, this one’s for you.
Thaw by Elyse Springer: This short, sweet romance was nearly impossible to put down once I’d picked it up. But even in its brevity, Thaw packs a whole lot of reality and heart. And I feel SOOO seen in its pages, from Abby’s struggles with coming out as ace in her relationships to Gabrielle’s fear of being used because those are the only dynamics she’s ever experienced. And a bibliophile as the main character? You can always count me in! Springer makes good use of her chosen title and melts a few hearts (mine included) with many a moment that you can’t help but smile at. All told, a perfect book to take to your blanket fort and hide away from the world a while.
The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz: An utterly heartwarming novella. This is like sipping the most cozy tea – thoughtful and quiet comfort – but make it steampunk-ish. I adored the f/f relationship that flourished between Clara, a nomadic technician, and Sal, a reclusive A/I robot, as they got to know each other and themselves. I cried at their gentleness in moments of hurt. But most of all, I felt incredible hope. If you’ve never been one for sci-fi before, start here. You won’t regret it.
Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland: I picked this one up because of the ace rep in fantasy, but the mythology and the characters Strickland created were what held me in Eopia. It’s magical – a truly dark gem of a fantasy. It had me swooning and cursing and biting my nails in the same sentence. Kamai comes into her own so beautifully, with a little help from her friends and an incredibly artful explanation of (a)sexuality as phases of the moon. Beyond the Black Door is the kind of book that says, ‘no more hiding,’
How to Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual by Rebecca Burgess: A beautifully-illustrated graphic novel that depicts Rebecca’s aroace’s experience of discovering themself, interspersed with educational panels. I devoured it in an evening and felt very very seen.
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee: Felicity Montague is every bit the woman I aspire to be. Smart and courageous, she knows who she is, what she wants, and persists in the face of unsurmountable adversity. Lady’s Guide proves that nothing and no one are what they seem. Full of humorous quips and witty retorts, Felicity will take you to the end of the earth and back. Plus, how could you say no to sea monsters?
Looking for more? Check out my Bookshop list here.