Asexual Representation: Graphic Novel A-Okay
A-Okay by Jarad Greene is a beautiful, semi-autobiographical graphic novel which centers asexuality right alongside other widely relatable coming of age issues such as acne and growing apart from friends. Here's Courtney's recap and review (spoilers, obviously)!
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Courtney: Hello everyone and welcome back to the podcast. We’ve got another exciting episode where The Ace Couple – Hi that’s me, Courtney, and my spouse Royce – talks about Asexual representation in media. The Asexual community, or Ace for short, famously has very little representation compared to other minority sexualities, and historically some of that representation hasn’t been very good. So that is why we’ve started this little mini series within our broader podcast to talk about all of the Ace media that we found and our opinions on it. Is it good Ace representation, or not?
Courtney: And I am thrilled to say that we have a very, very good one today. This one is a book actually, a graphic novel comic style and you may or may not be familiar with this. It is a fairly recent book, was just published in 2021, a few short months ago. And I personally have not seen a lot of discussion around it in the broader online Ace community yet. And I’m going to tell you right off the bat but that is a damn shame because this book is so precious, I was smiling all the way through it. So let’s get into it. Why don’t we?
Courtney: In today’s edition of a Asexual representation we are going to be discussing a book called ‘Hang On, Everything Is Going to Be… A-Okay’, by Jarad Greene. Now when it comes to books, Royce, you and I do read together on occasion. However, you did not read this book with me. I just got it in the mail a couple days ago and I was very excited, since it is a graphic novel, it is 200-some pages, but very few words per page, because of the artwork and the comic panels being very prominent in books like this. So it was a very quick zippy read for me and I just got excited and wanted to plow through it. So I’m going to tell you about this book and we can discuss it.
Courtney: First of all, the premise is Middle School. [sarcastic] Everybody’s favorite time of their life. So for those of you who maybe have not read this book yet. I want you to mentally take yourself back to the eighth grade because that is the grade of our protagonist. So, immediately, the book opens up with our main character, Jay, and he is looking at his reflection first in a pool, and then in a mirror. And the artwork does this really clever thing where you can see little red dots all over his face and you know that on an 8th grader that is acne. But when he looks at his reflection in the first half of the book, the red dots are so much bigger than they actually are on his face.
Courtney: So it’s kind of demonstrating this Middle School anxiety around appearance, which I’m sure anybody who has had acne can relate to. And he’s really, really having an issue with this. So, right off the bat, reason number one why I think this is very, very good Ace rep is that the character is very multifaceted and has a variety of interests and personality traits, and concerns and anxieties, and just general problems and hurdles in his life.
Royce: So you mean that unlike in some other media that we’ve reviewed before, they’re actually a character, instead of a token placement for Asexuality.
Courtney: He is the main character, yes, and being Asexual is not his only personality trait. This is a fully fleshed-out completely, utterly relatable 8th grader.
Royce: This is a brand new world.
Courtney: It’s a brand new world! And I like that he’s young. I like that he’s an eighth grader. There no doubt are some people who do find their Asexuality at a younger age, like in middle school, but most of the representation we see, most of the real life people discussing in forums online, don’t come into their Asexuality until a bit later. You’ll get some teenagers here and there, especially the, you know, Tumblr generation. Tumblr famously had a lot of Asexual content that led to many people discovering themselves.
Royce: Well, I feel like, as a younger person trying to figure out your orientation, if you were to go to an adult, you’re probably just going to hear, “Oh, you’re just a late bloomer. You’re still in an earlier phase of your life.”
Courtney: Yeah. You– [mockingly] “When you find the right person, you’ll know.” Like that is absolutely what younger people get. And many, many Asexual people don’t even discovered the word for what they are until adulthood. Sometimes even mid to later adulthood. In fact, for me personally, since I started talking about Asexuality online I’ve had probably half a dozen people in their 60s or older, who have sent me beautiful emails explaining that they’ve been a little different their entire life, but they didn’t have the language for this because there wasn’t a commonly known word back when they were younger, and thanking me for spreading this.
Courtney: So, Asexuality is by no means new, it has been around, but in terms of access to this information and access to the community, the internet has really helped that to blossom and grow. But now that we’re entering a new era where more people do know about Asexuality we’ve still, of course, got a long way to go, but I think it’s high time that we start showing this representation for younger audiences. Because clearly, I am not the target demographic for this book, but because I didn’t have a book like this when I would have been the target demographic, it still resonated with me and still was an utter joy to read.
Courtney: So the first day of school for the new school year comes for Jay and you’re introduced to his best friend on the bus. They’re talking about their summer vacations, he got a guitar, he’s taking lessons, he really wants to join and start a band. So, you have a little bit of banter like that, you can tell this is an already established relationship. And once they get to school, the first thing Jay does is go to the office at school and try to fix his schedule. He’s very clearly an overachiever. He is in, like honors courses, but he’s also an artist and he wants to take an art class and they’re having trouble working it into his schedule. Because, they say, most people who take art classes aren’t also in these, you know, higher more advanced classes, which I can kind of relate to, because this woman actually tries to encourage him, being like, “Oh, are you sure it’s art class you want? What about ,what if you take band class or you could take Orchestra, those would be easier to fit into your schedule.”
Courtney: Here’s a fun little personal anecdote from my Middle School experience. I have, never once in my life, had a study hall. I know, study hall is a thing that a lot of people have. But the way my middle school worked, we’d have our core classes everyday, like Math, Social Studies, Reading, Writing, those kinds of things, but we’d have sort of alternating days to have a study hall or one sort of Arts, Performing Arts, kind of elective. But the very musically inclined student could forgo a study hall to take for example Band one day, Orchestra the next day instead of Band one day study hall the next day. Courtney went to the school counselors, and I said, “I want to be in Band and Orchestra and Chorus. How do we make that happen?” And they absolutely had to, like, work my schedule around and do, like, funky different things that, to my knowledge, no other student – maybe one or two other students – but this was not a normal thing that they did.
Royce: Did they hand you a Time Turner?
Courtney: No, they did not hand me a Time Turner. [laughs] What a horrible plot device, but I basically, instead of just having, like A-B days, like, do one then the other and flip flop. I basically had the ability to just make and write my own schedule for that period. And I would move it around based on, you know, “Oh, I’ll take an extra Band class this week if our band concert is coming up.” Or sort of like, shuffle it around that way. So, I also definitely did take more complicated courses for some of my core classes in 8th grade in particular, when I could have taken a fun elective, like art, I actually took a high school level language class, that counted for high school credit, which there were not a lot of high school credit classes in my middle school, but I was way too ambitious for my own good. [laughs]
Courtney: In hindsight, I really, really killed myself trying to do it all. So even though, I mean– I had a little bit of acne, I didn’t have quite an issue on the level of this character. So I didn’t relate to him in that sense very much, but there are so many sides to this character that I think, almost anybody who has been a middle schooler can probably find something about him that is very relatable. And for me it was, you know, trying to get that last elective in there, even though you’re– you got to do weird schedule workarounds to make it happen. And boy, was I so proud of being an overachiever when I was in Middle School. But now, as an adult and knowing, like, you and how you didn’t just completely kill yourself over– over exerting and trying too hard and trying to do it all. I’m like, “Yeah, maybe I– maybe I shouldn’t have worked myself to death at such a young age for so many years.”
Courtney: But the reason why that is plot important is because he now has sort of a goofy unconventional schedule and he is in no classes with any of his pre-established friend group. They have a different lunch hour than he does. He doesn’t share any of the same classes with them. So as a middle schooler, that’s– that is pretty upsetting. I remember as soon as we would get our schedules, I would call up all my friends and compare, you know, “What classes are you in?”
Royce: That’s interesting for me, it was… sixth grade that this happened and it was because my town had five or six different elementary schools, and one middle school and one high school. So all of a sudden from fifth to sixth grade, the people, the– you know, twenty-some people that I had been in class with for all of my school life up to that point, were now in a class that was five or six times larger and we were all split up amongst different courses and teachers.
Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. And that can be really tough socially on a kid. So it shows him going through his first day. He’s really upset when he doesn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. When he can’t walk to his courses with his friends in the hallway, because they’re going to different places, all of that. But the way they were able to find this workaround, was to let him basically be a teacher’s assistant like a… like a peer tutor, kind of a situation, one period so that he could go to art class the next period. And he ends up being like a doubled up teacher assistant with a new kid named Mark.
Courtney: And I guess I said new, he’s not new, new. It’s implied that they, you know, have known each other by nature of being in the same school, but they clearly weren’t like close friends talking all the time. So, this is their first real shot to really get to know each other now that they’re teaching assistants together, and Mark is also an art kid, and is also in the same art class. And in between days of this school, it shows this poor kid, Jay just really struggling with his acne issues. It shows him trying different, you know, face washes, different, topical ointments, and then there are some instances of kids actually bullying him at school. So you’re seeing these instances of people making fun of the fact that he was wearing a product that doubled as a concealer… and so now Jay’s wearing makeup, you know that– that kind of just, mean teasing. So then you also have the bullying relatability because so many kids, unfortunately, are bullied for any number of reasons, and someone who has been bullied can relate to another bullied kid, even if they’re bullied for different reasons.
Courtney: So it’s just– it is very Middle School. It is incredibly Middle School, cover to cover. And I love it. It shows instances even of our main character Jay sort of succumbing to peer
pressure a little bit. He– he begins to kind of lightly start associating with a mean crowd, because they’re the only ones who are kind of talking to him right now, and even though they also tease him, they’re teasing everybody else. And it shows him sort of in those bad friendships through, like, sheer social anxiety piling onto someone else, when they’re teasing someone else. So, you’ve got the peer pressure relatability. You’ve got the, like, toxic friends, which when your friend groups are in flux, and you’re young, that’s something that just happens to so many people.
Courtney: And throughout all of this, you’re also seeing little snips of Jay growing farther, and farther apart from his former best friend, because they aren’t in any classes anymore. His friend is getting new interests with the band, and meeting new people, and starting to hang out with different people. So you really start to see a wedge being formed in that friendship. All while this poor kid is still struggling with his acne. Although here’s the part of his acne journey that I cannot relate to in the slightest, he seems to come from an exceptionally middle class household, and his parents have insurance and money to take him to a dermatologist, which… I know dermatologists exist, but it has never once in my life seemed practical or worth it to go to a dermatologist. Because they’re specialists, they’re probably out of network. You’re going to have to pay a lot out of pocket for that.
Courtney: And especially when I was in Middle School, we didn’t have money for that. I had a single mother and she had a lot of health issues of her own at the time. So we… we didn’t go to doctors when we didn’t absolutely have to. So by the time I had, like, a little bit of an issue with acne, that was just not even on our radar, nor would it have been. Closest thing we ever got was my grandmother buying… What was that brand that was everywhere…? P, it starts with the p…. Proactive? Does that sound correct? Yeah. I think she bought some like Proactive products either… either from an 800 number like infomercial or maybe it was a kiosk in the mall. I don’t know. One of those two increasingly more antiquated means of purchasing things.
Courtney: And it was miserable, because it actually made my face worse. I used it like twice and broke out worse than I had ever in my life. And so then I had this stop using it, but my grandmother was such that, like, I couldn’t tell her that it didn’t work and that I wasn’t going to use it anymore, because I knew that she’d take it personally and kind of you know, hold over your head a little bit, like, “I bought this for you.” So…
Royce: But at the same time you also needed her to not continue buying it.
Courtney: Well, it was… it was more of a just, I obviously stopped using it and the… The, like, additional worse breakout that came as a result of it, like, eventually subsided, but the baseline was still there… And, I mean, I love my grandmother to death, but she’d rib your appearance a little bit. She is very, very critical in that sentence. Like, she would comment on your hair or your skin or your clothes if something wasn’t quite right. So there was definitely a moment where she was like, like “Your skin doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Have you been using that proactive I bought you?” And I just had this moment of, like, “Oh no, what do I say?”
Courtney: So, the fact that this kid in this book, he goes to not one but two dermatologists… That’s right, when the first one wasn’t working for him, he’s like, “Mom, Dad. Let’s go see a different dermatologist who uses other methods.” I was like, “Well.” And yeah, he begins very intensive treatments. Very intensive. There are topical things there are face washes, there’s like regular blood draws that are necessary because this medication– like pills also… and I didn’t even know there were acne treatments this aggressive if I’m being perfectly honest, but yeah, he’s getting like monthly blood draws to make sure that his, like, triglyceride levels aren’t too high because this medication can cause that. Boy, that’s pretty intense.
Courtney: So, yeah, I don’t know how many middle schoolers actually are in families that not only have the means to take you to, like, real serious dermatologists over acne, but also the desire to. But that was the only part of this book where I’m like, “I can’t relate to that on any level.” But, you know, good for him. So, yeah, I don’t know, let me check in with you Royce, because I feel like I’ve been saying a lot of these things are very relatable to a lot of people but maybe it’s just me. The acne not as much, maybe a touch, but the things like bullying, drifting away from friend groups, being an overachiever in Middle School when it’s really not necessary. All of those things. Do you actually have any thing to relate to in any of those?
Royce: Definitely not at the same level that you have…? I think some things are close enough to a generalized experience, but overall, I think this book has you pegged a lot more than it does me.
Courtney: Ah, I see. Yeah. And I mean like these people are calling him, like, porcelain doll, trying to get perfect skin. At one point someone calls him Rudolph I’m sure alluding to a big red pimple on his nose. So like, I never really got bullied on that level like appearance-wise in Middle School. Actually, for a lot of my middle school career I was kind of like, untouchably weird. I was kind of un-bully-able because I was just so like, brazenly strange. And how do you make some like– make fun of someone who just owns their weirdness? So I can’t say that I had a lot of bullying but actually this is kind of Interesting in hindsight.
Courtney: The one really serious case of bullying I got in middle school was actually a bunch of like, the football playing boys, like making fun of me for being a lesbian. Which is odd because I have no idea what they were picking up on me that gave them that impression whatsoever. I famously dated a boy throughout most of my middle school career and, like, went to school dances with him. So, people knew that and yet it was eighth grade specifically that these boys would, like, walk a little too close for comfort behind me and a friend of mine, they were kind of making fun of both of us. I don’t think we were giving off couple vibes, but we were both women and they do this like, “Oh, Les be honest over here… Les be honest, ladies.” And like.. Like that, that was the level of bullying that I received in eighth grade. Which now, I’m so curious, if I could find those boys and interview them, like, why did you think I was a lesbian in eighth grade? What about me gave you that impression?
Royce: Well, we’ve spoken in private a bit recently about how some people who aren’t very clued into the larger LGBTQ umbrella, if they just sense something that seems non-heteronormative their first assumption is homosexual, because that’s the only ‘other’ that they know.
Courtney: Yeah, like you don’t seem straight, so you must be gay without any evidence. So, yeah, that was kind of interesting. But other than that I was, I was just like, shamelessly odd. So I think people just left me alone for the other more conventional things that I would have been bullied for in Middle School. Yeah, actually this was how much of an oddball overachiever I was; we read a book in 8th grade about a girl who every time someone had a birthday would bring her ukulele to school and would play and sing Happy Birthday on the ukulele in the lunchroom to that person and she wore like really weird dresses. They described it as like pioneer clothes. And while we were reading that book, a friend of mine was having a birthday that was coming up… And so I was like, “Well, I’m doing this.” I got a dress that my great-grandmother made for my mom when she was a kid, and I found it, and I wore it to school, and I brought my ukulele, and I will be damned if I did not stand in the middle of the cafeteria singing Happy Birthday to my friend on that day. And then I used that to ask for extra credit in that class and I got it. Haha.
Courtney: Good times. Good. Weird times. Not that great. Those times were not that great. I say good times, they weren’t the worst times, but they weren’t good times either. But yeah, so… So Jay starts to get to know Mark a little better through their TA-ing. At first they don’t sit together in art class and Jay’s actually little upset about that because he’s thinking, “Oh, this is a new friend I’m actually starting to make and I don’t know anyone else in this class.” But he does sit next to a girl who is named Amy, and all the while his skin issues aren’t getting resolved. So it shows.
Courtney: And this is what I really like about media in the internet age, is showing realistic uses of the internet because it has panels of this kid at home, like, searching for alternative acne treatments, and doing his own research, so that he can actually ask for a treatment by name the next time he goes to a dermatologist after his current treatment isn’t working. And he’s also reading all these reviews on this blog of other people who have done this, so he’s reading all of these, like, “It’ll get worse before it gets better.” And so he’s kind of like mentally preparing himself that way, and that is very realistic. I am actually very much in favor of doing your own research when it comes to medical situations, even though most doctors tell you don’t, but I wouldn’t have half of the diagnosis or treatments that I do if I didn’t do the research first and then put it in front of my doctor, his face to confirm.
Courtney: And throughout the first portion of this book, Jay always wears a hoodie, that’s like his signature style, he wears a hoodie pretty much everyday. But one of the acne treatments that he gets put on makes him, like, really hot and feel just, like, sweaty and gross. So he starts taking off the hoodie wearing t-shirts and his new friends start to take notice this; Amy notices, Mark notices, and they draw attention to the fact that, “Oh, you usually wear a hoodie, like all of the time.” He has some serious mood swings, gets a little snippy with his parents at some time which they chalked up to irritability with the medication, but that’s also just kind of being an 8th grader… But, you know, his family, overall, seems very supportive.
Courtney: He begins to see incremental progress in his acne treatments, but never enough that he’s satisfied. He’s at a bookstore with his family at one point, and pulls down a magazine that’s just like a style guide for men and it’s very much one of those… Well, I guess when I was in Middle School, I had little teen fashion magazines and stuff like this, I don’t know how common they are anymore, but it was like “how to dress your best and how to look attractive no matter who you are, what your body looks like.” And it just– it just has these tips like “wear clothes that fit you, don’t wear oversized things.” Like it doesn’t give you the entire rundown, but he sees this at the bookstore and just feels completely inspired because he is not feeling okay with the way he looks right now, and he hasn’t ever since he started getting this acne, so he starts thinking, “Maybe I should try this. Maybe if I’m a snappy enough dresser, that’ll, I know, pull some attention away from my face.”
Courtney: So he asks his mom and his older sister if he can go shopping with them and he gets all these new clothes. He’s basically like, “Damn. I look good!” And he’s like, “I didn’t know you could feel so good just by changing your clothes up.” There was one moment that I had to giggle at, a little bit, because he gets jeans, like pants that fits, beforehand it’s just showing him in baggy shorts. And he turns around and says, “Hmm? Do I have a cute butt ?” And the cute butt is just a thing I have heard my entire life and just never understood.
Courtney: I think I mentioned on a previous episode that my grandmother would always, like, point out cute butts to me and I’d be like, “What makes a but cute? I don’t understand.” I try to, like, take mental note of the butts she’s calling out to me and try to compare them to all the other butts of the world to try to analyze what makes some butt cute. [chuckles] Yeah, he starts feeling a little good. He says, “Oh, maybe we– maybe we change up the hair next. Let’s– let’s get some hair gel and get a– get a new ’do.”
Courtney: So at this point, I am– I am very happy for this young man. He’s coming into school all confident. He’s getting compliments on his cute new shirts and he’s like, “Mwahaha. My plan is working.” He at one point gets– Oh, and throughout this, like, when he’s like, “Oh, I want to get new clothes, I want to get a new style.” Of course, his mom does the whole, like, “Is there anyone special you’re dressing up for?” Which is a thing parents due to their children, but I just feel like there’s… there’s no good outcome to that question. Because in this case, he genuinely did not have anyone he was dressing up or he’s like, “No. I’m just doing this for me!” But I feel like in any Middle School, like, eighth grade, 13-14 year old situation, if you want your parent to know that you have a crush on someone, I think they will know that you have a crush on someone. And I think if they ask and pry, there are very few young tweens and teens who are just going to be like, “Oh, yeah! Well, actually, let me tell you all about it.”
Courtney: But I thought that little line is snuck in about… like, “Is this for someone special?” Very, very clever because at this point we don’t have any indication about his asexuality at all. So once you get to that point that line hits a little different. It hits a little harder. It has a different implication altogether. But yeah, his new friend, Amy from art class calls him up and invites him to a movie, and of course his mom also does the like, “There’s a girl on the phone for you.” Which… I’m reading a book, but I can hear the tone of– the inflection. It’s like it’s [emphasizes] ‘a girl’.
Courtney: You know that if this was animated she’d also be doing the eyebrows. Yeah, they end up going to the movies. They seem to have a good time. There’s a panel while they’re in the movie, where the girl’s kind of giving him the eyes… And it’s like, “I think that girl has a crush on him. Hmm.” But of course, they’re in Middle School, so, no one actually prefaces this as this is a date, or I like you. Like no, no conversation. No communication is happening. This is all just heavily implied by the artwork and the knowledge of what it’s like to be an eighth grader honestly.
Courtney: There’s also this– this is unrelated to the plot, but I liked it. There’s… there’s a well, I assume it’s a fictional book series called Misfortunes Orphans that two of the characters are reading and enjoying, and I just really hope that’s like a parody of A Series of Unfortunate Events because I agree, 10/10 great book series. But then there is another precursor to the Asexuality drop, which I love and is, again, very relatable – where this group of girls come up to him at school and they’re like, quizzing him, asking him a bunch of questions, that at first is like, “Oh, which teacher do you like best?” This one or that one, but then they’re like, “Who do you like better? Kate Winslet or Kate Beckinsale?” And he’s like, “Oh, I don’t know. Neither… both, do I have to choose?” And they’re like, “Yes, you have to choose.” And he’s like, “Uh… this one, I guess.” And you can see he’s just, like, really uncomfortable in the artwork and doesn’t really know how to respond, but then they drop it with like, “Who do you like?” because if there’s someone in school that you think is cute, which as someone who… who used to be a young girl, I can only imagine that what happened behind the scenes was a girl, probably Amy, went to all her other girlfriends and was like, “I like Jay but I can’t just ask him if he likes me. You guys ask him for me.” This is– that’s definitely a thing that young girls do. These are… these are wing ladies, for sure, who in their very poorly communicated way, were trying to pump him for information.
Courtney: But yeah, it’s after that, and after this kind of not really movie date where you see him just sitting alone, and he’s trying to draw, he’s tapping his pencil, he’s thinking, he’s ruminating, and he’s like, “What am I missing here? I don’t understand. Aren’t I supposed to like someone? I just, I never feel that way about anybody.” And then it’s like, “Oh… Here it comes… The Asexual plotline is upon us.
Courtney: And he’s clearly struggling. He doesn’t really understand this about himself, and so his first means of trying to figure this out is to actually reach out to his former best friend, who he hasn’t spoken to very much over the last several months, but he tries calling him. He’s not home, he tries calling him again, he tries talking to him at school, the conversation kind of get sidelined… And he just really can’t catch a break. He’s trying to connect with his brand and ask a serious question, but his friend is just off on another planet.
Courtney: And he finally, finally, like, gets this friend to agree to hang out and he goes over to his house. At first, they’re just kind of reminiscing, like, “Oh, I remember this bean bag chair.” And, “Oh, remember when we used to do this all the time.” And starting to do the things that reconnecting friends do, and then they had this moment lying on the floor and on this kid’s bed where they say, “Oh remember when we put on this movie and watched it on repeat until we fell asleep. We were so weird. But yeah, that movie was hypnotizing.”
Courtney: And even that feels like it’s pulled directly out of my middle school experience, because with my best friend at the time, the same one, who everyone thought we were lesbians, for some reason, for us that was The Beatles Yellow Submarine. That movie was trippy as hell, but we were obsessed with the Beatles. We’d listen to all of The Beatles CDs that we had between the two of us. We would seek out Beatles music videos and and we would watch The Beatles Yellow Submarine for hours on end when we had sleepovers, it would just like, always be on. So, yeah, I don’t– Is that a particular quirk of middle schoolers that they can just watch the same movie over and over with their friend? Because I think that’s the only period in my life where I ever did that.
Royce: I did not have a period of doing that.
Courtney: So that’s– that’s just a Courtney thing. Courtney,and Jay, noted. But yeah, then– then his friend is a little rude and invites over the whole band and a few other friends without asking him, and he thought they were just going to be the two of them so he could ask this very important question of like, “Am I supposed to like someone? What does it mean if I don’t?” But that conversation does not take place, his friend kind of blows him off for these other people. So he’s feeling very, very down. He’s also really starting to realize how close his old friend has gotten with all of these other people and how he hasn’t been invited to any of the things that they’ve been doing together, and just feels really, really lonely in that moment.
Courtney: Yeah. He has a birthday. His old friend doesn’t even come to his birthday. The new friend, Amy from Math class, gets him a hoodie, because she observed that he always wears a hoodie, and he was very happy about that present. He thought it was great. But he also couldn’t wear it because this new medication was making him just, like, really hot all the time. So he was excited but just didn’t wear it. Amy took that a little bit personally. It’s heavily hinted at this point that Amy has a crush on him and, wow you’re kind of, you know, expecting Amy to ask him out again, since they already went to the movies.
Courtney: Actually someone else beats Amy to it and Mark, from teaching assistant and art class, actually asks him out first. So we also have that good, good gay representation in 8th grade. And he does that whole, like, very awkward ‘we’re still in eighth grade’ like, “Would you want to go out sometime, dot-dot-dot with me?” And there’s that moment of like, “Oh do you mean on a date?” And he’s like, “Yeah..” “Oh, well…” And that’s when they have this conversation where Jay says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t really feel that way about you.” And Mark’s like, “Oh, no, that’s okay. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know.” But that’s when Jay, who has been trying to reach out to his old friend this whole time, finally confesses this to someone else. He said, “See, you know, if I’m being honest, I don’t really feel that way about anyone. I think there might be some piece of me that’s missing.” And that’s what Mark said, “No, that doesn’t sound right.” He’s like, “I don’t think that sounds true.” And kind of has this reassuring moment with him that says, “You don’t have to like anyone.” So it’s this very, very sweet moment. They don’t drop the word Asexual yet, but Mark definitely seems to get it.
Courtney: But yeah, and it’s also around this time that Jay starts talking to one of the more popular kids, one of the more like, broy-re boys. Who he doesn’t like all that much at first, but through school reasons, they’re talking more. And that boy definitely has a moment of like, “Man, that girl that’s tutoring us, she’s a babe.” And so this boy who is now not exactly out as an Ace, but has confided to one of his friends that he doesn’t feel that way about anyone, he’s like “You think she’s a babe, but I thought you liked this other girl.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I like that other girl too.” And then he makes a comment about a third girl, and he’s like, “They’re all babes. Yes, I– I love all of them.” And he’s like, “Yeah, they’re hot.” And this– this poor Ace boy, just like, is so confused, so utterly confused… while these other guys, just like, daydreaming about all of these babes. Also, very relatable.
Courtney: Yeah, and, you know, now that I’m thinking back to it also, just the like, here are two conventionally attractive celebrities, like pick one, which do you like better? That’s definitely a game that kids play. And that is definitely a game that even in– even younger than Middle School I didn’t really get. I didn’t realize exactly that people genuinely were attracted to these celebrities, but I saw everyone like picking their favorite. So I just also picked one. I mean, there– there was… definitely the most clear cut example of this was back during the era of boy bands. Everyone was picking their favorite member of the Backstreet Boys, or their favorite member of NSYNC, and I just remember people egging me on, like, “Who’s your favorite boy band member?” And I was like, “I don’t have one.” They’re like, “No, tell us who! You have to like one. Who do you think is the cutest?” Like, “Who’s the hottest? Who do you want to marry?” And all these like ludicrous questions, and I remember finally just saying, “Well, I guess I need to pick one. This is the game. This is how people social– you just pick your favorite one and stick to it.”
Courtney: So I just like semi-arbitrarily picked Lance from NSYNC. I was like, “Lance is my favorite, that’s my boy band crush.” And that was met with like, “Lance can’t be your crush because Lance is gay.” And I was kind of like, “Yeah, that’s the point.” [laughs] I have just never had any interest in anyone that I thought would even remotely have, like, heterosexual feelings about me, but I was like, “No, you made me pick my favorite. I picked. There, you have it. It’s Lance.” So that’s– that’s another just like baby Ace thing.
Courtney: Which, like, in hindsight at the time, I didn’t have the language to explain what I was, I didn’t have a book like this telling me that some people just don’t feel that way, and that’s fine. So I just yeah, I just– I just played the game because everyone was asking me to.
Courtney: But then, my favorite moment, my favorite couple of moments, is, you know, Mark and Jay are still friends and Jay mentions that, “You know, Amy gave me a hoodie for my birthday, but I haven’t been able to wear it because I’m too hot.” And he’s like, “She gave you a what? She gave you a hoodie?”
Courtney: And I don’t really understand the implications of this too much, I’ll admit, but he’s like, “it is– It’s so obvious that she likes you. She got you a hoodie. Like, what else could that mean? She has a crush on you, dude.” And he’s like, “But no, no really?” And he’s like, “Yeah, clearly she has a crush on you. She got you a hoodie.” And he’s like, “But that’s– that’s such a nice gift and it clearly means that she likes you, but I haven’t seen you wear it.” He’s like, “Yeah, I haven’t because I’m too hot.” And then Mark says, and this is a direct quote, I’m reading it from the book because I liked it so much. He says, “Well. There’s your answer. I guess you really don’t think about people romantically, a real Ace.” And it just has Jay in the background with a question mark over his head and he’s going “Ace?”.
Courtney: And so our protagonist has been called an Ace. Time to google that. So I love that they already showed him googling something before, because now that it is an identity thing that he’s figuring out, it’s very subtle, but you see a panel of him clicking ‘private window’ before going to search this, which he did not do in his previous search. And that says a lot without saying a lot. I like it. But he’s like, “What is the definition of Ace?” And I love the list of results because it’s so true. I actually cackled out loud as I read this panel of his search because in order, it’s the highest playing card in a suit, find local hardware stores in your area [laughs] and a person who excels. And then later it’s “May refer to Asexual.” And from there he clicks on Asexual and gets the definition of, you know, a lack of sexual desire or attraction and it doesn’t spoon feed you every single thing, which I actually do like, but it gives you sort of the key words that would be memorable when you’re going down this first rabbit hole and in sort of this bulleted format it gives you the invisible identity, a spectrum, romantic, aromantic, GreyAce, some do some don’t, not broken. And it shows him looking through all of these.
Courtney: There’s even, if you pay attention to the artwork, you see a moment of like realization kind of pop up in his face. And so I really, really like it. Because then his mom bursts into the room like, “Hey, what you doing?” And he instantly closes that tab and has a game of Solitaire up on the desktop and he’s like, “I’m just playing Solitaire.” Which is– it’s just such a nice touch. Because you see so many people online who don’t really get a sexuality, and don’t really think of it as a valid Queer orientation, who will say like, “Oh, if you’re Ace you’re basically straight. You don’t really face discriminations. You haven’t had to grapple with your identity the same way, you know, Gay people have or Bi people have.” And so you hear that kind of thing a lot, but showing this little scene, I think, is so relatable on so many levels. And like I said before, it says a lot without saying a lot. It’s really, really well done.
Courtney: And after he, like, leaves the room in a panic because his mother almost saw what he was searching, he just gets alone in his bedroom and cracks a little smile, and it’s very lovely. It– This is such a cute book and it makes me very, very happy. I really love it. We’re just about done with all of the cliff notes, but I want to just really re-emphasize how special it is to have a book for this demographic, and to have a middle schooler go through these very relatable steps. Because not only if younger people who are Asexual themselves or this– this book could even, you know, work pretty well for any Aromantic people because it doesn’t really specify either way if he does or does not have a romantic orientation. It doesn’t really delve into that. It could be very relatable for people who are both or either, and it’s important for those young people to be exposed to this language young, ’cause it would spare a lot of people an identity crisis for one.
Courtney: But it’s also important for people who are not Asexual to learn about Asexuality younger. Because one of the biggest issues that we face in our community, is that people don’t know about us and they don’t get us and they don’t understand the struggles that we face as a community. And so there would just be more empathy in the public eye. If more people learned about this at a younger age and reading is such a good way to gain empathy for experiences that aren’t your own. It really is, especially when it’s at a young age.
Courtney: And I think this book is full of enough Middle School relatability that even if you aren’t Asexual yourself, and even if you aren’t Aromantic yourself, whether you’re Queer or not, I think there are a lot of people who are going to relate to this character one way, or another.
And that’s really, really vital to just fostering more education and more care. So really we do need more things that are focused around this age group, both in terms of characters and in demographic. We need more Ace content that is geared for younger people. Absolutely.
Courtney: So yeah, Jay continues to not wear his hoodie because he’s still on this medication and he’s still very hot all the time. The girl, Amy, who gave him the hoodie is taking note of the fact that it’s been a long time and you have never once worn that hoodie that I gave you. So, like I said before, she starts to take it personally and she actually lashes out at him at one point and said something really mean and that made me very sad. I’m sure girls and women also do this, I’m absolutely sure, but that is such a thing I have noticed from guys, is that as soon as they don’t see you as like a viable person to date and or have sex with, they’ll just, like, stop being friendly. Like they will only be friendly to you as long as they think they might get something out of it.
Courtney: And friendship isn’t enough for people like that. So that’s also a little relatable. They do talk it out, he lets her know what the deal actually is. He kind of keeps his acne treatment so secret for the most part, so he finally shares that secret and she gets it. So it’s fine and they’re friends again, which I’m happy about. I’d be really upset if they just weren’t friends after she was like, “He doesn’t like me that way, so we’re just not going to talk.” But at the same time it would have been fairly realistic if that’s how it did go. But no, this has a much happier ending.
Courtney: They do have a fairly realistic resolution to his acne troubles because it clears up a lot. It gets a lot better. He still has a few red marks on his face, when it’s all said and done. And he’s like, this isn’t what my skin looked like before all this happened. So, at first, he’s a little disappointed, but then he compares photos from before the treatment and the clever thing with the artwork is that he starts to see himself in the mirror as he actually is and he doesn’t see the, like, gross over exaggerations that he saw at the beginning of the book.
Courtney: He starts to feel a lot more comfortable with himself, even though he recognizes he still has a long way to go on this journey. He’s a lot more content and I think that’s really good. Because I don’t think it would have been realistic if they were like great you have perfect flawless skin now. After six months or so. So I thought that was very cleverly done as well. But once he does get off his medication, he’s not super hot anymore so he can wear that hoodie. And Royce, do you want to guess what color that hoodie is?
Royce: Is it purple?
Courtney: It is purple! So he has discovered himself, he knows he is Asexual. He’s also, kind of as a parallel, gone through this acne journey just– self-discovery and self-acceptance, all at the same time in different areas of his life, and he comes out on the other end and he’s wearing the purple hoodie! Which is just so perfect for the Asexual plotline. I really hope that was intentional. I can’t see how it wouldn’t, because purple is just so iconic in the Ace community and it’s the prominent color on our flag and a lot of our iconography. So…
Courtney: So that was a nice touch that probably anyone who isn’t Ace wouldn’t notice that, but I noticed that and I loved it. And he never totally, totally tells the girl, Amy, that he’s not interested in her romantically, she’s still kind of dropping hints, they’re still friends, they’re still hanging out. But just like the last beautiful moment of, just like, Queer camaraderie is when Mark, the gay boy who previously asked him out and was the first one to bring up the word Ace, kind of just says like, “Have you told her yet? Like, what your deal is…” And he’s like, “No, I haven’t yet.” And he said, “You know, you could just tell her that you’re Ace.” And Jay says, “I still don’t know how to talk about that with other people.” And– and Mark just says, “Oh, don’t worry. I totally understand but you’ll figure it out eventually.” And it’s like– it’s– that’s so cute. They get it, they get each other. And yeah, there are a lot of other little, you know, tinier nuances throughout the book, different school things, other side characters… but that’s the main plot line.
Courtney: And I loved every minute of it. If you are an adult and you’re a quick reader… like I think I read this in an hour, two tops, it is pretty breezy since it is a comic. I think it would be really, really great for young people to read. If you have any, you know, younger siblings, younger cousins, if you have kids, if your friends have kids, I think this would be a great gift. If you’re a teacher, I think this is a great addition to your classroom library.
Courtney: I just, all around, I love it. And I want more people to read it. Even if you’re an adult and you’re also listening to this just thinking, “Hey, you know, I didn’t have a book like this when I was a young baby Ace, when I didn’t have this language.” It can be a bit of a cathartic read, it really… it felt nice, it gave me the warm fuzzies. So, definitely recommend. I love it. I hope we see more. I want more things about and for kids. I really, really do.
Courtney: Because that is how we change culture for the better, truthfully. Kids have minds and opinions that are still being formed, and they have so much empathy. And honestly, I’ve worked with kids a lot in my life and career in varying places. I worked with kids for 15 years. I love kids personally, and sometimes I wonder why do I even bother making content for adults? Adults can be so fickle and stuck in their ways. Adults can be so mean, and kids are better. I don’t have any kids of my own, we don’t have kids, chances are we probably won’t ever have our own kids, but I will love everybody else’s kids unconditionally.
Courtney: And I want to give all of those kids more Ace content, end of story. So yeah. Once again, this book is ‘A-Okay’ full title: ‘Hang on, everything is going to be A-Okay’, by Jarad Greene. I personally purchased it off of Bookshop. You can google it and purchase it yourself, and I highly recommend that you do. And we’ll make sure to share some links, will put links in the description and we’ll be tweeting them out on our account @The_Ace_Couple. Underscores between each of those words. And if you have any recommendations for other Asexual content that you would like us to review in this year. Please don’t hesitate to tweet at us and let us know. We love books, TV shows, movies, games, anything with Ace rep, we are willing to investigate, and we might do a future episode on it. But until then, go buy this book and we will talk at you all next time.