Reviews for Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, by Angela Chen
ladyfives's review against another edition
To explain asexuality and what it means to not experience sexual attraction, aces must define and describe the exact phenomena we don't experience. It requires us to use the language of "lack," claiming we are legitimate in spite of being deficient, while struggling to explain exactly what it is we don't get.
Way fascinating, and written in a very personal fashion. It's at once a (thankfully not dense) academic book with small reflections of a memoir. I feel smarter and more sensitive just for having read it.
While it's near impossible to diagnose society and prescribe fixes for all its problems, I found this book a good way to start wondering, start thinking beyond the cultural "scripts" that are so often mentioned in this book. To change how we think about things (like not defining asexuality by its "lack" any longer, or intimacy like it must be sexual). Even for ace folk to think harder about their own community and really understand how it works and feels for those that aren't them, especially when it comes to different races, cultures, abilities, genders.
And while I found it helpful to see familiar experiences reflected in the many, many people that were profiled, I think this is also a robust starter kit for learning about asexuality from an outsider perspective because of just how many nuances it covered and how it was so open in admitting that yes, the nuances make it seem impossible to pin down. Yes, the explanations are confusing. Yes, this isn't tidy, but it is still meaningful, and this is how it operates in the real world.
It is not necessary to prove that sex is inherently good. It is not. For some, it is never good and never wanted, no matter how seemingly ideal the circumstance or how caring the partner.
One thing I wish it went a little further into - and a big reason why I picked up the book - was confronting more of why culturally we are so obsessed with sex and how it manifests. How deeply is it ingrained in ways we don't even notice? What is natural in our fixation and what is taught? And if people's attitudes towards sex and relationships is the cause or the effect of that cultural conditioning, and to what extent. It brushed on this but never quite got deep enough, though it pointing out how many legal benefits romantic partners get as opposed to literally any other kind of relationship was a shock.
On the flip side, I really liked how when talking about that sexual incompatibility especially, it took the very simple but somehow groundbreaking stance that in an incompatible relationship the answer should never, as it is often said, automatically be more sex. It's not on the less sexual person to get it together and please. That, in its own small way, was confronting the ingrained "scripts" in a simple but satisfying way.
"I felt like there was a fairly central part of human existence that I really didn't understand and wouldn't participate in. [...] People feel that sex is so central to them, and it made me think, 'What can I feel similarly abut the way allo people feel about sex? How can I find that feeling actively?'"
Overall, brain grew 3 sizes. Also appreciate its guts in acknowledging that modern feminism and "sexual liberation" has (for the most part) left aces behind. While I'm still a bit confused in my own way, this was really helpful in clarifying definitions, seeing far more ace & allo perspectives, and proving that you can always examine culture and its roots and its values a little more closely.
mirichasha's review against another edition
sofiam97's review against another edition
This book is a fresh of breath air about a lot of things; I still want to exhale and say "oh, I recognize this, thanks" but, for the most part, it's just leading me to think differently on a bunch of stuff that will not be leaving me anytime soon. So, another book on the "oh, this is going to make me even more annoying" list. I recommend you all to get a list like that yourselves; it's great fun.
📚 I came to the realization last year that I am on the asexuality spectrum, and several passages in this book had me in tears because it was describing things I had felt or thought but had never seen anyone else express. This book is all the words I didn't have.
📚 Even if you are not asexual or aromantic, please read this book, for two reasons. One, to gain greater understanding of those who are. And two, because this book pulls apart each strand of what makes up our identities - attraction, drive, romance, etc. - and helps the reader understand how these factors are at play (or not) in their own lives, and how assuming everyone is straight/cisgender/allosexual/etc. while placing behavioral expectations on those identities hurts everyone and holds so many people back from knowing their full selves.
Graphic: Ableism, Acephobia/Arophobia, Bullying, Homophobia, Racism, Rape, Religious bigotry, Sexism, Sexual content, and Transphobia