Why/Why Not: “The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality”

It’s been a privilege for me to know Julie Sondra Decker for some time.  In addition to being a fiction writer and artist, she’s a passionate advocate and educator on asexuality (check out her recent excellent article for The Toast here!), and is a lovely person to boot.  I’m beyond delighted to have her join the blog today — the very day her book The Invisible Orientation comes out, a book I’ve been waiting to see hit the shelves for a while.

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Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write?  What parts speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of?

Julie Sondra Decker: There were literally no books out there for general audiences on the topic of asexuality. NONE. One fellow wrote a textbook, but it was both academic and written from a non-asexual point of view. Another fellow released the partial contents of his blog in a self-published book, but most of the promotion he does is through the same blog where you can read its contents online—it’s not marketed in a mainstream way. So basically, asexual people and their loved ones go to the bookstore, look for books about this topic, find a whole lot of nothing, and conclude that they’re alone or asexuality isn’t real. There’s a ton of power in a book being there for those people. I wanted it to exist, so I wrote it.

Part of the reason I decided it should be me to write the book was that I’ve been writing all my life, and people seem to pay attention when I write about this. I’m one of the only asexual people who had developed a really significant platform online, and because I’d already started pursuing publication for my fiction when my fairy tale trilogy got signed to an agent, I had some idea of how mainstream publishing worked. I was in a unique position to both develop the content and get it out there. So I did.

The book has very few personal bits; the introduction is a personal story of how I came to identify as asexual and why I think it’s important, but the rest is general. Despite that, every piece of it reflects my experience living in a world that doesn’t recognize asexuality or wants to erase it, and while it’s the first book of its kind, I hope it helps pave the way for more asexual people becoming secure in their identity, more non-asexual people supporting and nurturing their asexual friends and loved ones, and more asexual narratives in mainstream culture—including fiction.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

I have so much to say about this! First of all, I was afraid the book would feel too much like a single person’s perspective if I spoke in my “I” voice throughout, so for the most part I kept the personal content to the introduction and backed off the personality for the rest of the book. However, I worried that the audience would find it dry and disconnected if I didn’t find another way to make it feel personal, so I decided to incorporate illustrative quotes from asexual bloggers to facilitate reader connection. And it also served to feature diverse asexual narratives throughout—I had contributions from asexual people of color, asexual people with autism, asexual people with disabilities, asexual people of various gender identities, asexual people of many different romantic orientations; it ended up being the perfect solution to the problem of giving the audience a “who” to connect to without stealing it all for myself. Because believe me, I worry that being the author of the first book that’s probably going to be THE asexuality book for at least a while will necessarily make it seem like I’m speaking for my entire community, and I never wanted to do that. So I decided, in the limited ways available to me, to let some of them speak using the microphone I handed them.

As for being terrified, there are several places in the book that I am sure are controversial, and the entire time I was writing them I kept cringing, thinking I just know this is going to get someone angry. I know you can’t please everyone, but I wanted so badly not to get it wrong—especially since it’s so easy to make a mistake and be judged ignorant. The section I’m thinking about specifically was my discussion of asexuality’s intersection with the queer communities. In some circles, suggesting asexual people are queer—or that they experience overlapping or analogous struggles—can get you flamed so hard you will turn into a crunchy piece of ash and crawl under your bed. But then other queer communities absolutely think asexuality is queer and/or marginalized because of heteronormativity, and are dedicated to inclusion. I addressed the reasons asexuality makes sense as a queer identity and also the reasons why certain queer communities may have legitimate, non-xenophobia-related reasons for not wanting to include asexual people, and I follow up with a section on queerness in general. And the section finishes off with a long bulleted list of experiences asexual people have that contributes to their marginalization as an identity, along with some bullets that they share with LGB and T populations. I did as much homework on this section as I possibly could, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. I decided to reach out for help—and in so doing, I also invited help on other sections in the book in which I was discussing parts of asexual experience that did not intersect with my own experience.

I posted a request for people with certain identities—including non-asexual people—to contact me if they’d like to read short sections of the book and react to them with their unique perspective. And I got a surprising amount of support; more than eighty readers of my blog e-mailed me offering up their demographic information and an offer to react to excerpts, and more than two thirds of them actually delivered on their promise. The section about inclusion in queer spaces kicked up very few dust bunnies, happily, but I was pleasantly surprised at the opportunity to expand, refine, and correct other sections in which I’d initially had minimal or misleadingly sparse content—most notably asexual people of color, religious asexual people, asexual men, autistic asexual people, and kinky asexual people.

Ultimately, I could not have served my community anywhere near as effectively with this book if I had not explicitly invited them into it. It was an amazing experience and the outpouring of support was humbling.

You should see my acknowledgments page. (Pages, actually.)

Give us the blurb or an excerpt from The Invisible Orientation.

A short description of the book’s content, along with lovely blurbs and reviews from others, can be read here on the book’s page. My book was also excerpted in TIME Magazine recently, with a short excerpt from the book that they titled “How to Tell If You Are Asexual.”

But here, I will offer a short excerpt that hasn’t appeared elsewhere, from a sub-chapter of the book’s section about misconceptions: “Shouldn’t Asexual People Let an Experienced Sexual Partner Change Their Minds?”

One of the most frustrating misconceptions about asexuality is the widespread belief that asexual people must not have tried sex—or, similarly, must have tried sex with the wrong partner(s)—and that they can be “converted” through a good sexual encounter. Amazingly, a very high percentage of the people who come up with this one believe themselves to be just the one to carry out the experiment! What do asexual people have to lose by “just trying it,” right? Can’t those stubborn people just open their minds and let someone show them a good time?

Some asexual people have tried it. Some asexual people don’t want to for the same reason that many heterosexual people don’t feel obligated (or even able) to have sex with a member of their own gender to find out if they’re really straight. Asexual people don’t have to try sex to make sure they wouldn’t like it; whether they’re attracted to others is the basis of whether they’re asexual, and attraction tends to play a big part in most people’s choices of who to sleep with. People usually want sex long before they get it. It’s not common for a person to suddenly start finding other people attractive because someone gave them good sex.

No, sex with a talented partner is not going to flip a switch for asexual people’s ability to become attracted to others. And no, it’s not close-minded of asexual people to refuse to “try” a self-proclaimed master of the art. If, for instance, there’s a straight guy and his feelings about getting oral sex from a man can’t be described as “indifferent,” he may understand why he can’t expect an asexual person to “just try.” Some asexual people aren’t only expressing that they aren’t excited about or interested in sex; some are actually repulsed by it (as many heterosexual people would be if the only sex available was with their own gender). No one should offer to try it with an asexual person as if it’s a favor to them for the benefit of their self-exploration, and no one should act like their unwillingness to have sex is an attitude problem.

Unfortunately, many asexual people feel pressured to go through with it even if they really, really don’t want to . . . because they’re told over and over again that something worthwhile and fulfilling and beautiful is waiting in coitus, and they’re told they “just can’t know” until they do it. What if they do try it, still don’t experience sexual attraction to others, and realize they were right about themselves in the first place? Do critics nod and finally agree that they did everything reasonable to make sure they were really asexual, and finally start accepting the orientation?

Of course not. Asexual people then hear “If you tried it once and didn’t like it, try again! You did it wrong, or with the wrong person! You didn’t give it a chance!”

“I didn’t enjoy it because I don’t enjoy sex with people I’m not attracted to” does not exist to these folks. That just doesn’t compute.

Some people who say this are assuming asexual people tried and had a bad experience, which led them to conclude once and for all that sex was not worth it. The first problem with this is that sexual attraction is something people usually experience before ever having sex for the first time, and they don’t have to prove that they’re feeling it or get “switched on” to the idea despite having no inkling that it would feel good. They’re compelled by sexual attraction. Asexual people are not. Trying it anyway isn’t going to change whether they’re attracted to others, though it may help them understand what they’re willing to do sexually.

And the second problem with this is that trying “again” still isn’t going to satisfy anyone who says this. If an asexual person tries a second time, a third time, a fourth time to like sex and they fail, they will continue to be bombarded with suggestions that they try a different partner, a different gender, a different position, a different time of the month, whatever—as long as they keep trying until they like it. This is absurd because, again, a negative can’t be proven.

Lots of people enjoy the idea of making an indifferent or even a gay person realize how great heteronormative sex is, after which, of course, the “converted” will thank the “converter” profusely for the eye-opening, transformative experience. People love thinking that they’re so good at sex they could even make an uninterested person crave it. And this, yet again, is a symptom of ego—this “experiment” would not be for the benefit of the asexual person, but for the purpose of fueling the other person’s self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment, as well as confirming their preconceived ideas and narrow perspectives. Again, it’s about them, not about the asexual people.

Asexual people would really rather their experiences be about them.

Finally, give us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself.

I have a very long list of ways in which I am a living contradiction:

  • I love babies but don’t want to have kids.
  • I like buses, trains, and airplanes but I don’t like travel because I don’t like getting there.
  • I hate school and I got a degree in education. (Then proceeded to not be a teacher.)
  • My body thinks it’s left-handed except when I write.
  • I love baking and then I’m meh on eating what I bake.
  • I hate sports but I’m obsessed with inspirational sports movies.
  • I don’t enjoy public speaking but I’m decent at it and not afraid of it so I do it all the time.
  • I’m a vegetarian for anti-cruelty reasons but I’m not an animal lover.
  • I read and write fantasy but have zero interest in role-playing (video games or tabletop).
  • I love eating very bitter or very sour food, but will roll over and die if I eat something even slightly spicy.
  • I grew up hearing you’re supposed to be good at either math & science OR language & history. I excelled at science and language. And failed miserably at math and history.
  • I’m introverted and mildly asocial but I don’t mind crowds and have a lot of friends.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Julie, and best of luck with release day!  The Invisible Orientation is available from the following retailers:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Books-A-Million
IndieBound
And is on Goodreads here.

Julie Sondra Decker is a versatile author from Tampa, Florida. Her fiction is primarily focused on speculative subjects—science fiction, fantasy, magical realism—and she writes for young people as well as for adults. Her nonfiction addresses awareness efforts for underrepresented subjects, most notably asexuality. Julie has been a prominent voice for the asexual community since 1998, spreading asexuality awareness through her popular videos and blog essays. She has been interviewed in many mainstream publications, including Marie Claire, Salon, and The Daily Beast, and she was a prominent interviewee in the documentary (A)sexual by Arts Engine. She is a regular contributor to Good Vibrations. Julie is also a webcomic artist, a singer, and an avid reader. As an aromantic asexual woman, Julie is happily single. In her spare time (on the rare occasion that she has any), she enjoys baking, playing tennis, blogging, and posting wordy rambles on the Internet.

Find Julie Sondra Decker on:
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5 thoughts on “Why/Why Not: “The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality”

  1. Pingback: Julie Sondra Decker | Interview: Why/Why Not, SL Huang

  2. InMyBook

    Excellent interview. I am very excited about a book of such high quality on the subject of asexuality. It is long overdue.

    After reading this interview, I listened to a sample of the book on Amazon Audible and loved it. I bought the audio version because I Iisten to book recordings on my phone almost constantly.
    I appreciate the author’s candor and fascinating treatment of the subject matter.

  3. val

    [Comment deleted. Blog owner’s note: dismissing or attempting to invalidate the experiences of one of my guest posters is not tolerated here. -slh]

  4. Pingback: Linkspam: September 5th, 2014 | The Asexual Agenda

  5. Pingback: Links: 09/05/14 — The Radish.

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