Let’s Talk About Love (and a few of my feelings about ace rep)

Posted: May 12, 2018 in asexuality, books

(Content warning for discussion of sex and ace stereotypes)

 

I’ve been sitting on my thoughts for about a week now but yeah, this is still on my mind so here we go, writing a blog post about it.

These thoughts were spurred by reading the book Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann but they’re not just about that book and its portrayal of asexuality. Part of it stems from the things I’ve witnessed elsewhere when asexuality comes up.

First off: I’m so, so happy for everyone who saw themselves in the book or who took comfort in its story. Unfortunately I’m not one of them. It kind of pains me to admit that.

Everything I had heard going into the book was that the first chapter was potentially triggering but that overall the story was fun and sweet. Fluffy. So far I haven’t really connected with most ace rep for a variety of reasons but I was hopeful about this one with its exploration of the main character’s aceness.

So with that info I was prepared to read.

For those that don’t know, Let’s Talk About Love is about Alice, an asexual college student, and her unexpected (physical) attraction and eventual romance with a new coworker named Takumi.

The book opens with Alice’s girlfriend Margot breaking up with her because she wants a more sexual relationship. I had already heard plenty about this part so I don’t know if I would have found the scene upsetting without those warnings. It certainly covers all the standard hurtful ace stereotypes so it’s possible I would have. I don’t want to diminish the harm in how Margot breaks up with Alice, especially in our current sex-centric culture. But, while the way Margot broke up with Alice would be hurtful to a lot of people, she is allowed to want a relationship built on compatible sexual desire and communication of individual needs and to break off relationships that don’t deliver that.

Alice absolutely does not have to have sex to be in a relationship if that’s what she wants. Her partners (whether allosexual or asexual) are allowed the same consideration. If sex is important to them they are justified in seeking a relationship that includes it (consensually). It’s up to each individual person to decide what they’re comfortable with in a relationship.

If it had only been this first chapter, I feel I would really have enjoyed Let’s Talk About Love. Unfortunately the attitude (both Alice’s attitude and the overall book’s attitude) about asexuality and sexual desire continued.

At one point while Alice is talking about her lack of interest in sex, her friend, in an attempt to be helpful, suggests that she try dating someone who is also ace. Inwardly I winced. On the surface, it’s not a bad suggestion but there’s also no acknowledgment of the possibility that a potential partner’s aceness doesn’t predict whether they’ll be interested in sex. This is again cementing the idea that a lack of sexual attraction also means a lack of interest in having sex, that sexuality is the same as behavior. I get the intention. I do. But there are aces that want sex, just as there are allosexuals who don’t want it. It isn’t such a clear cut issue as allo = wanting sex and ace = no sex.

Then Alice meets Takumi and is thrown by how physically attractive she finds him. Which… is fair. I myself have been so instantly attracted to another person that it felt like a kind of panic. It took me by surprise because it was so rare. So I could relate. I even understood how Alice might go on to wonder if she was still ace. It’s a new thing. It was a shock.

Yet after dozens of pages of Alice questioning whether it’s possible for her to be asexual while being (possibly) sexually attracted to someone and continually reacting negatively to the idea I felt… deflated. Grey asexuality is even mentioned but I felt like Alice was very dismissive of even that idea, quickly brushing it aside. It wasn’t a good feeling. Especially when coupled with how upset she still was about Margot breaking up with her because she wanted a more fulfilling sex life. Again: her ex-girlfriend should have handled the conversation much differently than she did. She was wrong to treat Alice that way. That still doesn’t make her wrong for wanting a sexual relationship (with someone who consented to it) but the book never treats it as two separate matters. Her ex breaking up with her in an awful way and her ex breaking up with her because she wanted different and/or more sex end up folded together in Alice’s mind, in the narrative, and ultimately read as a low-key demonization of sex to me.

Between all these aspects, it felt like the narrative was drawing a hard line between aces and the possibility of sexual relationships. Again and again and again.

In the end, I don’t know if this attitude ever changed. I had to put Let’s Talk About Love down unfinished. It hurt too much to read something that felt like it was negating even the possibility of someone like me at every turn. I get it. Alice doesn’t desire sex (or seemingly have much of a libido, another aspect which is never really investigated in the book from what I read). And yes, she’s young and new to this. I understand all of these things. It still hurt, especially coming from a book that was repeatedly spoken about as cute and fluffy and funny (once you got past the first chapter). For me, the first chapter was nothing compared to the constant invalidation that followed, most of it from Alice herself.

I went into the book hoping to read about Alice growing into a better understanding and confidence in her asexuality. Instead I was reminded repeatedly that even in the ace community, my aceness is up for debate because I might be interested in having sex.

I have had this exact discussion with multiple people, within the queer community and without, well-meaning and not.

Even from other aces, I’ve seen posts that also equate asexuality with “never having sex.” Without exception. Without room for different experiences.

I’ve been asked how someone can be asexual and have sex. Or how aces can even consent to sex if we don’t experience sexual attraction.

A person’s asexuality does not predict their behavior. Yes, it’s simpler to bundle asexuality up with “no sex” but by doing so you’re shutting people out. People like me.

So I’m truly very happy for anyone who read Let’s Talk About Love and felt comforted and welcomed by it, but as a grey ace who occasionally enjoys sex I felt the opposite.

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Comments
  1. KaelenRhy says:

    Thank you. I’ve been wondering about that one. I almost never think about or want sex, unless and until I do. I was recently *very* invalidated by someone questioning repeteatedly whether demis were ace at all to me. It hurt a lot.

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