Demisexual Representation: Never Been Kissed
Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky has one of the best metaphors for oriented (gay, demi) asexuality that we've ever read. As a New Adult novel, it takes the conversations of sexual orientation a little further than YA books we've read with a demisexual character- which we appreciate very much!
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Courtney: Hello everyone, and welcome back to the podcast. My name is Courtney. I’m here with Royce. We are a married asexual couple of over eight years and we are coming at you with yet another episode where we dive into some asexual representation in the media. Today, I am excited to say that this is specifically demisexual representation, because that is also quite rare. We’ve got a lovely novel that we’re going to discuss called Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky.
Courtney: Now, right off the bat, I’m trying to think of all of these specific representations of demisexuality in fiction that I have consumed and there just is not a lot. I read a book by Alice Oseman a couple years ago, called Radio Silence, where the main character, Aled, in that is demisexual. And that came as a surprise to me. I didn’t know that going into the book, so that was kind of a lovely little surprise. That was certainly my first bit of media talking about demisexual representation.
Courtney: For all of you Heartstopper fans – I know there are a lot of you out there, many of you are our listeners – we talked about this a bit during our episode on Heartstopper, but it’s my understanding having not read the original Heartstopper comics, that Aled was actually originally a character in Heartstopper and then sort of got his own spin-off novel. But for the sake of the TV show, they replaced Aled with a new character, who is reportedly aroace, but that was not explored in the first season. We have been promised by Alice Oseman on Twitter that that will be explored in a second season. So we very much hope that that will be the case and will be excited to see it.
Courtney: But aside from that character, Aled, in the book I read and the source material for Heartstopper, I don’t know if I can think of any other explicitly demisexuals characters, can you?
Royce: No, I didn’t have any come to mind.
Courtney: Yeah, I don’t know if I’m just missing something but that, that’s the big one.
Royce: Particularly I don’t know that I’ve actually heard the words demisexual or demiromantic actually spoken in like a movie or TV show. Nor do I think I’ve read them in a book, but that being said, I don’t read a lot of books.
Courtney: Yeah, you don’t read as many books as I do. I can’t think of it being mentioned in any TV or movies. Which– Speaking of movies…
Royce: I guess, wasn’t there and incredibly easy to miss sign in an episode of Sex Education?
Courtney: Oh my gosh! Yes!
Royce: Like, like you had to rewind it and– and like pause it to see it?
Courtney: That’s right, that’s right! We talked about that in– Oh my gosh…
Royce: Episode 2?
Courtney: A year ago during episode 2 of our podcast, when we talked about Sex Education. Because the– the main character everyone talks about there is Florence because she had her [emphasizing] literal five minutes of fame. Literally just five minutes. We were not impressed. We were very much not impressed with the asexual representation in that show. But that character just, like, disappeared and vanished, wasn’t explored any further, was just gone. And then everything went back to being blatantly hypersexual again. But apparently what – we saw it so not apparently, it is there – one of the characters, was his name Steve? It’s been a long time since we’ve watched that show.
Royce: That sounds right, it might be wrong. I’m not taking the time to look this up right now.
Courtney: [laughs] There was a character who was just holding a sign that said, like, “I think I might be demisexual,” or something like that. That was just on a cardboard sign for a frame. And– and was never spoken aloud, so… Oh man. I– I have heard that they’re going to have another season of that show. They better actually explore that on camera if they’re gonna be teasing that, because otherwise that’s just pathetic.
Courtney: But yeah, in terms of spoken aloud, having the word, like, said, or what the life of a demisexual person looks like being explored in nuance… very, very rare. And to mention the point about movies, this book Never Been Kissed, I am not someone who is a big movie person. There are a select few movies that I absolutely love, but I am by no means a movie buff. I have not seen a lot of classic movies that everyone assumes everyone else has seen. There were even lots of movies mentioned in this that’s like, I haven’t seen that so I don’t know if there’s a reference I’m missing.
Courtney: But in reading this book, I don’t think I have ever wanted a movie adaptation of a book for any book more than I have this one. The way this book reads, it feels like it could be a movie. I can picture what this movie looks like. It has sort of, I mean, it is a rom-com, it is a rom-com movie and it’s very picturesque and almost– almost reads like a screenplay. Which is very, very interesting because I’m reading this and I’m like, “Dang, I kind of want this to be a movie!” And as someone who definitively likes books more than movies, this was very unique. So, that just lends itself to the talent of the author to get me, a noted movie disliker, to think that way.
Courtney: But I also don’t always love rom-coms. But I’ll tell you why this one worked for me once we get there. But it opens with explaining the elements of the perfect first kiss and that just got me thinking in the realm of, like, everyone wants to have, like, [emphasizing] their first time to be special. Whe–n when people are sort of in the early stages of exploring their sexuality, they’re like, “Oh, I want my first time to be special.” And there is an element of that with kissing as well, not necessarily as often in culture, but sort of like yeah, everyone wants that sort of perfect moment. And the three elements listed here is: “The right place, the senior prom, the look out of a fairytale castle, the bed of a pickup truck on a beautifully starry night.” So, romantic setting. Number two, “The right moment: just as the Fourth of July fireworks build to a crescendo, during a moonlit slow dance, right after the first emotional ‘I love you’.” So you got the right place, got the right time, and then the right person: “a young Leonardo DiCaprio, no exceptions.” So, that’s how we open the book.
Courtney: So that’s, that’s the vibes we’re getting here. And to compare it even to– we talked about this a bit with the autistic representation in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay – I got it. It came to me. – We loved that show and there were several autistic characters in there, one of whom was asexual. But Matilda, the non-asexual character who ended up marrying the asexual character by the end of the series, very much took her social cues from media, and movies, and TV, and sort of decided, like, “Well this is how it has to be. This is what I’ve seen people do in movies, so this is how it has to be.” And I can relate to that a little bit. If you listen to our aromantic episode, you know that my elementary school childhood years were very much like, “I’m going to behave the way I’ve seen people behave in TV shows and movies because this is what you’re supposed to do. This is how you do crushes.” So that– that was a bit relatable to me and there is definitely some element of that in this book as well.
Courtney: And this book– I should say because I mentioned a couple of times that I’ve read more YA novels in like the last year or two just for the sake of the asexual representation, then I had when I was actually of the YA demographic. Because I don’t love the genre, usually. And this is not a YA novel, they classify it as a New Adult novel. And I wish I could tell you exactly what the difference is between a YA book and a New Adult book, but I don’t totally know. From what I can tell this has some elements of YA, but it is very much set with older adult characters with slightly more adult themes. So like the flirty romance aspect of this could be high schoolers, but they’re also like going to the bar and getting drunk and things of that nature.
Royce: So the difference appears to be a year or two.
Courtney: Well… yeah.
Royce: Like instead of being fifteen, sixteen, seventeen we’re talking about– Well, I guess– Bar, you’re saying early 20s not late teens.
Courtney: Yeah, which actually this– this was something I found really, really refreshing. Just from the very first two pages. Because one thing I personally have noticed about a lot of, like, gay young adult rom-coms, right, is that they are very sweet, they can be very flirty, they can be very romantic… And the first time or two that I actually saw that depicted on TV or in a movie it was very, very groundbreaking because it was, like, well this is the first time we’ve seen this with a gay couple so that was something to celebrate alone. But now to see that repeated over and over and over again, the pattern I’ve started to see is that a lot of it just resembles a straight rom-com. And it could just be a straight rom-com, but you just substituted the opposite sex couple for a same-sex couple.
Courtney: And that’s started to strike me as weird because nearly all of my friends are queer, I have friends from all across the queer spectrum, and like we all know each other, we all commiserate over our queer experiences. And so to have all of these stories that are still– still like, “Whoa… I’m the only gay boy in my group of friends and I found the one other gay boy in our entire town. And it is only the two of us who are gay and we found each other and had her happy ending.” I’m like, “Where are all the queer people? Where’s the queer community?”
Royce: Do you think there will be a point – before too long since Hollywood seems to be recycling a lot of ideas – that there will be a period of time of taking a bunch of rom-coms from like the 80s and 90s, and just gender swapping one character and redoing the movie as is?
Courtney: [laughs] I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me at this point.
Royce: Like Pretty Woman but with a gay man who was a prostitute.
Courtney: Oh, Oh my goodness. Well actually, I haven’t watched it and I don’t think it’s taking the literal story beat for beat by Pretty Woman, but recently there was a movie that came out about an older woman who hires a male sex worker pretty regularly and they start to bond with each other. And it’s like, there’s almost like– reading the synopsis of it, it was reminiscent of Pretty Woman to me. Which is very interesting, because like, I watched a lot of Pretty Woman, that was one of the only movies that I actually watched at a period of time in my life when I was actively seeking movies. So I know that movie better than most movies.
Courtney: And I will say too, to go back to Heartstopper for half a second, that was one thing that I did really give it credit for. Because we talked about how it was, it was sweet and it was good, we were also just not necessarily the target demographic for it and had it been like several years ago something like this came out, it would have hit me a lot differently than it did now. But I did really give it props for having a cast of queer characters and not just the one or two, because they found that community there and that felt a little more like a queer experience to me. But in this book, in Never Been Kissed, after they present the elements of the first kiss, it says like, “Well, you know, if you’re lucky you get all three of these. But if you’re me you get a hole in the wall gay club, practically vibrating to Let’s Hear It for the Boy and a prima, donna, drag queen named Goldie Prawn.” And right then I was like, “All right, that sounds about correct!” [laughs] It’s like, we’re at a gay bar, Let’s Hear It for the Boy. We got a drag queen. I was like, “Yep.” Talking about her perfectly beat face, I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, I’ve been to that gay bar.” I know exactly what that looks like and feels like and sounds like. And it explains that our protagonist here, his name is Wren, he says, “I’m a scared, freshly 22 year old boy standing on stage in front of a bunch of strangers on his birthday, horrified at the thought of having a flippant first kiss.”
Courtney: So, this is also very interesting. And I don’t know if we’re going to tell this story right now because I think this is its own podcast episode, which we’ve been talking about doing for months. We want to do an episode called My First Drag Show because I have a story. You also have a story but I have a capital-S story. And there is this really odd conflict in my head sometimes about the way some drag shows are run. Because I love drag, and I love drag bars, I’ve performed in drag bars, I frequented drag bars. So I love them and I love the local queer community. But there is also… sometimes elements of it that I feel like definitely breaks consent. Because you have this power dynamic of a performer who is on stage with a microphone who likes to, like, mess with and tease people in the audience, and some people really, really like that and that can be a really good fun time for some people. But I was just looking at this poor 22 year old boy who cares so much about having the right first kiss, and clearly at a bar – either his friends told the host that it was his birthday or the bartender saw the date on his ID when they carded him – but at a bar like this they absolutely call out who has birthday. Sometimes you get a free shot, but probably at a drag bar that the drag Queen is probably going to, you know, have some fun with you. And that might be good for some people but it’s also very hard to, like, say no to things if you don’t really want the attention brought on you, because again there’s a stage and a performer, and a microphone and you can kind of just be put on the spot sometimes. So, I have – especially as an asexual person – when sometimes the situation can get very sexual… I don’t know, it’s– It’s complicated. That’s a complicated one.
Courtney: But it goes on to explain that the crowd is chanting “Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.” And this is just a bit of a flavor of the writing, “The horde chants as if kisses were nothing more than free samples given out at Costco. But kisses, to me at least, are sacred. They have weight, they mean something.” And then it just talks about this poor boy being peer pressured to kiss a drag queen when he’s never kissed anyone in his life and he wants the perfect first kiss. And I’m like, poor thing. But also, this is very realistic. I can see this happening in real life. So, I thought that was just a beautiful set up to this story. But he’s also there with other queer friends, so he has a queer friend group. And you start to get these elements of– he’s kind of uncomfortable with some of these things, because we have a, I don’t know, some kind of Lyft or Uber driver who’s driving them home from the bar who asks, “Are you getting lucky tonight?” And our protagonist here says, “I know this question is directed at me, the birthday boy, who should be bouncing up and down for birthday sex. But there’s a big wad of spit sitting in the back of my throat, stopping my answer, which is good because I never know how to answer that question, anyway.” And that’s when I was like – ’cause I got this book knowing that there was a demisexual character – and as soon as I’m reading all this I’m like, “He’s the demisexual character.” It is just radiating off of him.
Courtney: And his friends are kind of answering for him, kind of teasing him a bit saying like, “He’s an old soul, he takes things very slowly.” And they end up telling this driver that he’s never been kissed and the driver’s like, “Well, if you really want to kiss, I’ve got some lips.” And I marked this line just because I thought it was fascinating: “As far as I know, Rashawn is a solid zero on the Kinsey scale and frankly he could use some of our tip money to invest in a collection of chapstick. So I will politely pass.” And I just thought that mention of the Kinsey scale was very interesting in a book with demisexuality, because the Kinsey scale is, like, straight to gay with bi being in the middle, and asexuality is like not even on that scale. Kinsey put like a X for non-sexual people, like off to the side, off of the scale. So the Kinsey scale is weird, and to be an asexual and to conceptualize things by the Kinsey scale is weird, because it’s like, we’re not even on the scale. But so many people, especially bi and pan people that I know, have really found benefit from thinking in terms of the Kinsey scale. But even though this, “Where I sit on the Kinsey scale,” or, “Where other people sit on it,” doesn’t necessarily become the theme later on, it really got me thinking about the further nuances of asexuality and how, how that scale just really truly falls short. Because if asexuality is just lumped together into one thing but way off to the side not touching anything else then it’s like, where does demisexuality stand? And where does grey-asexuality stand? And where does, you know, where’s the romance plot line in this, when people do have romantic orientations as well? So, very inadequate scale by aspec standards.
Courtney: So, another very cute thing that comes up in this book, a couple of times, really reminds me of– At first I couldn’t pinpoint it, I could visualize it in my head like it was being filmed but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it reminded me of. But then after thinking on it for a while it kind of came to me. Wren has a couple of these moments where he, sort of like, retreats into his head and the world around him kind of disappears. And in his head he is experiencing seeing things in this very over-the-top theatrical light. And after pondering it for a while, the first thing that I came to was the show Scrubs, which I remember very, very little of. I watched it but I watched it, like, several years after it was done airing on TV. So I was very late to the party and I sort of watched it all in one shot, so I don’t remember much of it. But I do remember that the main character in that show would have these moments where he just sort of– eyes go blank, and then you’d see what’s happening in his head, and it’s all very melodramatic and clearly not what’s actually happening in real life.
Courtney: And while going down that train of thought, I also thought of Lizzie McGuire. Because Lizzie McGuire had her, like, cartoon self that it would occasionally just cut to. And, for example, here, it says, “If I squint the flecks of birthday candle flames before me look like bulbs on a fancy movie theater marquee. One that reads – and then you actually get a change in font and a break in the paragraph, so it’s very stylistically different from the other writing on the page – Wren’s super queer kiss before the credits quest. Starring Wren Roland, directed by Wren Roland, written by Wren Roland, produced by Wren Roland. Now, presented in cinemascope.” And I’m just picturing this as if it literally were a movie and you have a shot of this boy looking at his cake, and then it goes into his mind and there’s literally a movie theater marquee that says this. ’Cause I can just picture it so perfectly. And so, yeah, he’s kind of on this quest. This quest that he even sort of mentions as a coming-of-age checklist, which is super interesting because we talk about that a lot in the aspec community. How society sort of has this standard for you like, “You do this, then you do this, then you do this.” Especially when it comes to relationships and when we talk about things like compulsory sexuality, amatonormativity, that is with the attempt to show people that we do not all have the same roadmap. It does not have to be one thing to the next, to the next. You can pick and choose the parts of life that appeal to you and there is nothing wrong with that.
Courtney: So then we have also, one of his friend’s name is Mateo, and we hear quite a bit from him. And you have this sort of continuing theme of friends saying something sexual, or being put in a situation that’s sexual and Wren kind of just not having it, not being super comfortable with it. Because Mateo brings out some cannolis for everyone to eat and they’re like, “Oh, what did you wish for?” And Mateo jokes, “More phallic desserts, I bet.” But then Wren’s like, “Can’t I just enjoy a baked good without the Freudian psychoanalysis?” And I think we’ve all kind of been there, done that. And here’s where we start to get set up for the first main conflict of the book. We get a little bit of back story about Mateo, where Wren actually had a bit of a crush on him, but this was before Wren had come out as gay. So, as of now, Wren has not identifying as any sort of asexual, he just thinks he’s a gay man. And he’s had crushes on boys before, he’s hoping for his first kiss with a boy, at one point he wanted that to be Mateo. But now they became very good friends, they became roommates. But we get this little nugget: “I still have an email drafted to him in a special folder on my Google account. It’s my pre-coming out almost-kisses folder. Covertly titled, ‘Do not look here, it’s tentacle porn’.” So that was interesting [laughs]
Courtney: Because I have to imagine that nobody who has tentacle porn in their Google folder would ever actually title it as, like, “This is tentacle porn.” Like I would read that on anyone’s computer and be like, “Well, they’re clearly hiding something.”
Royce: Even if you read that and thought, “Yeah, I bet they do have a secret cache of tentacle porn.” I don’t think it would actually divert very many people from clicking on it. Because it’s just such an odd thing. Because there’s the question of like, is this a secret folder that they’re hiding something? What’s the name of those…? I don’t really want to say a challenge or something, but it’s something that we’ve seen on Reddit where it’s like, “Click this link, 50/50 chance is going to be good or bad.”
Courtney: Oh yeah, yeah, I know what you’re talking about. [laughs] Yeah, it’s a bit of a gamble, like, oh, what am I gonna find? Because I’d have to imagine – and this is just my assumption, I guess, I don’t know all the ins and outs of the folder keeping habits of people who download tentacle porn – but if you have tentacle porn, I feel like you try to hide it by naming it something really boring and mundane, like tax documents or something. But I feel like if you have, like, personal diary entries, you disguise that with a porn name.
Royce: Also, using the words ‘tentacle porn’…
Royce: …feels to me like someone who’s only heard that this exists. Because…
Courtney: So, only someone who has never consumed tentacle porn would use the term ‘tentacle porn’.
Royce: Probably, because someone else who has, probably just has, like, a blanket hentai folder.
Courtney: Okay, sure! I’ll take your word for it. But yeah, that it does kind of read as someone who probably is not very tuned into that world.
Royce: They’re trying way too hard.
Courtney: [laughs] So we learned that Mateo is not the only one who has a love letter from before Wren came out. There are in fact four total messages sitting in the “Do not look here. Tentacle porn” folder. And as he’s thinking about this, and as he’s thinking about who he wants to be his first kiss, then we have more of this sort of picturesque retreating into your mind, sort of, cut scenes that we experience. “Where two names from yesteryear flashed through my mind on that marquee.” And another one of his friends here, Avery, she shouts out like, “Oh, what about Derick?” And– and then you get this, “Derick Haverford, his senior picture in his purple and black cap and gown appears on a fake pinup movie poster below the marquee.” So you’re getting these little snippets and I think it’s pretty charming.
Courtney: So you have these– these letters, this dear– dear Mateo, dear Cole, dear Alphy. All in the tentacle porn folder. And so here are the notes that I wrote after reading this chapter, and we’ll see if I can figure out what I was talking about. I wrote, “I do not know what a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is.” Do you know what a ‘Sophie’s choice’ is?
Royce: Do you remember the context?
Courtney: I’m pretty sure it’s a movie that I have– I have heard Sophie’s Choice many times, never once have I had any frame of reference for what that is. I told you I’m bad at movies. I’ve not seen many.
Royce: Well, it’s a movie starring Meryl Streep, that involved a person that experienced, like, being captured in Nazi Germany.
Royce: So I don’t exactly know what a Sophie’s Choice would be–
Royce: –without a lot more context.
Courtney: All right, well, let’s put that on the list for movies that I should probably see so I can finally understand the reference when people say that. Yeah, I wrote “I do not know what a Sophie’s choice is.” I wrote, “Reads like a movie where the main character fantasizes.” So I think we covered that. And then I wrote, “To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved, but gay.” [laughs].
Royce: Oh, I searched better, a Sophie’s Choice is just an extremely difficult decision that needs to be made.
Courtney: Ah, I see. But then I also wrote– It’s very interesting that you brought up Pretty Woman, Royce, because I equated this obsession with the first kiss to Princess Diaries, when she wants her first kiss to pop. And she’s talking about how, like, “Oh, the main character in a movie, when she finally gets her kiss, her foot just sort of pops.” And then in parentheses I wrote “Pretty Woman”. And that is because, like, I don’t know, a year and a half ago or something I just decided I wanted to watch a bunch of movies from my past that may or may not be good, and may or may not hold up. But the first thing I want to watch is Pretty Woman, because it had been a while, and I used to watch it all the time. And then something told me that, like, I just want to watch Princess Diaries. And I watched Princess Diaries immediately after watching Pretty Woman, and I was like, “This is the same movie.” This is the same movie, except one is about a prostitute, and the other is about a princess. But otherwise it is exactly the same movie. And I was like, “Does anyone else know this?” Why have I never made the connection that this is basically the same movie, and I looked it up and it is, like, by the same director. And they intentionally made the movies similar. That– that was an intentional choice and I was astonished. They even had an actor who is basically playing exactly his same character in the two movies, and I was like, “Wow, I had no idea.” That these two movies are basically the same thing.
Courtney: So the movie theme is actually very intentional, because Wren here is a bit of a movie buff. A bit of a– almost like a classic movie snob. Like, he talks about all his old timey VHS tapes. He’s very, very into movies, in a way that I am not. And he even works at a drive-in movie theater. So, he wakes up from his drunken birthday night after talking about, and thinking about this folder of all of these emails, and he ended up sending them in his drunken stupor. And he wakes up the next morning to an email from Derick Haverford that says, “Hey stranger, long time no talk. Wow, I did not expect to wake up to this.” And in the main character’s head, you just have, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.” It’s like yeah, that sounds about right. So Derick’s email is very nice. He’s like, “I didn’t expect this and I suspect you sent this to me on accident, but that’s totally cool, like, no worries.” And he talks about how at that time, back in high school, he didn’t really think of anyone romantically or sexually because he didn’t really let himself, and he hadn’t really understood himself yet. But he– it’s a very kind email, but ends with, “See you soon.” And this is someone he hasn’t seen since high school, so he’s like, “What the heck does that mean?” Turns out Derick here is also going to be working at the drive-in movie theater this summer. So, now we have our rom-com plot.
Courtney: So we get a little more insight into Wren’s queer identity long before the term demisexual pops up. So there is a bit of a slow drip and an element of self-discovery there. But I thought this passage was very interesting because I think it will be very familiar to a lot of ace people. It says, “I came out as gay to my family approximately five months ago and something about it still doesn’t feel quite right. The word queer feels better in my body, more encompassing of me, but I’m not sure I’m ready to say that out loud or what it means. I can’t just come out all over again.” So, I do think that’s something that a lot of people have an anxiety about, if they learn more about their identity, they don’t know how they can just come out again. Because coming out is almost something in the queer community that is glamorized almost on the level of having a first kiss. Like, you come out and it is this big event. It is a big step that you make sort of all at once. But very rarely, is that actually how it works. Most of the queer people, I know came out incrementaly or only to very specific people for a period of time. And very rarely, is it like, you wake up one day and it’s like, “Okay, entire world, I am coming out.” And sure some people do that and that’s totally fine. Everyone’s journey is their own. But I think the idea of coming out being a one-time, big event does kind of put a lot of pressure on people to do it right. If that makes sense.
Royce: Or to make 100% sure that they’re correct.
Courtney: Yes. To put really high emphasis on making sure you have the right label, for sure. So, Wren at this time is at a bit of a crossroads in his life. He actually studied film in college. He loves movies. But he also just really loves his job at the drive-in theater, but it’s really only a summer job and it kind of seems like if he could just work this job his entire life, he would enjoy doing that. But he also has other film aspirations, but doesn’t quite know what to do with his education, or how to direct his passions going forward into this new chapter of his life. And I don’t know, I just kind of– I liked the drive-in movie theme. I grew up not too far from a drive-in and would go there in the summers. And I’ve really fond memories of my uncle before he died taking me and my cousin’s to go to the drive-in. It was a very nostalgic kind of event for us. Have you ever really been to any drive-throughs or drive-ins? Did you have any near where you grew up?
Royce: I’ve been to one once or twice. I don’t actually remember where it was located, but I didn’t really care for it.
Royce: It seemed like a worse way to watch movies… [laughs]
Royce: And I can’t remember, it may have been a case of the weather or not being absolutely perfect for it.
Royce: But just kind of the– the process of viewing a screen from really far away, with crappy speakers that you had to like tow all the way to your car…
Royce: Like both the theater and the house were better in my opinion.
Courtney: No, I think– I– I really liked the drive-in. I think I liked the drive-in better than the regular theater, but I also very rarely went to either. So, going to either was like an event for me. So there’s definitely like a workplace flirtation, second chance at love with an old high-school crush that never went anywhere at the time. So it’s got those very rom-com-y elements to it. And like I said, I normally don’t love rom-coms just for the sake of the romance plot. To me if I’m going to enjoy rom-coms there needs to be something else. And I’ll tell you why this book worked for me. That something else is Alice Kelly. She is probably the best character in this book. I adore her, I would read an entire book just about her. But we’ve kind of joked, you and I, I don’t watch rom-coms, I watch mom-traums. Or I read mom-traums. [laughs] That was your phrase, you created it because I got on a kick of reading novels about…
Royce: Generational trauma?
Courtney: Generational trauma! like mothers who have a deep secret that they have kept from their children And their children exploring and learning about this trauma from their mother’s past, and coming to a deeper place of understanding and– and love. And so, when I was explaining, like, this is the kind of thing that I like better than rom-coms, you just one day said, “Oh, so you don’t like rom-coms, you like mom-traums.” And Alice Kelly is kind of like the mom-traums element of this book. She’s not a mom but she is an older female figure and kind of ends up being a bit of a mentor in this book, and she is just magnificent. So at first, she’s this very, like, mysterious character. But Wren, who’s this big movie buff, who’s a very big, like, movie nerd, is kind of talking about this, like, piece of lost media. In his undergraduate research, he was studying this retired director and she was supposed to have a film premiere back in 1978 for an indie zombie movie that she made on a very small budget and something fell through. They don’t really know why or what happened, why this didn’t go according to plan. But he was like, “This is my Pie in the Sky dream. I want to give this movie its premiere, I want this movie to see the light of day because I admire this director.”
Courtney: She was a female director at a time when it was very difficult for women to work in movies, and she was local and he works at a drive-in, or a drive-thru– through. I don’t know why I keep wanting to say drive-through, that’s restaurants. Drive-in is for movies. He works at a drive-in and he’s like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool? This– I want to see this movie.” But it turns out Alice Kelly at the time had a husband who was also a director and it was sort of – at least some historians believe – that she actually played like a much bigger role in some of her husband’s movies than she was necessarily given credit for. Kind of a speculation. And it was, kind of, also speculated that her husband might have played a role in killing this movie, and he might have been the reason why this movie never saw the light of day. So there’s a bit of a mystery element, like, what happened to this movie? And it’s stated fairly early on, before we really get a chance to meet and get to know Alice Kelly, that there were rumors at the time that she was bisexual, and that for that reason she could have been blacklisted by Hollywood. And in the late 70s that absolutely is believable.
Courtney: So here’s– here’s another note I wrote down while reading this– I’m sure there’s probably other books that have done this before, but none that I have read. This was the first book that I’ve seen that has, like, Instagram posts in a book laid out as if it were social media posts. And you can see the comments and you can see the accounts that are commenting on it, and like in the email he got from Derick, you see the email addresses and the subject line as if you are literally reading an email. And I just thought that was a very interesting way to tell a modern story because that makes sense.
Courtney: So, we also get insight to the fact that Wren talks about this movie a lot, it seems like it’s a bit of an obsession of his. Which I can also relate to, although my obsessions are not necessarily movie based. But Mateo, his friend is like, “Oh yeah, we started a drinking game. Take a sip every time Wren says the name Alice Kelly, take two sips every time he brings up Chompin At The Bit – which was the movie, the zombie movie – and shotgun the damn thing if he says ‘second-wave feminism’ or ‘the Hollywood glass ceiling’.” So Wren’s professor, at one point, sort of gets him in contact with this podcast host, this very well-known podcast host. This podcast host that is, like, miles ahead of us in prestige. Like, we’re just a married couple talking into a microphone at our dining room table, but this is like the podcast host, who, like, has his own podcast studio and, like, flies people in to be guests. So like the professional ritzy podcaster about film history.
Courtney: And Wren kind of mentions Alice Kelly and Chomping At The Bit, and sort of explains his dream of making this premiere happen, find the movie, contact the director, let it happen. And this podcast host is like, “That would be awesome. Make that happen and you can be on my podcast.” And this is like, they’re making this podcast out to be such a big thing that it’s like if you are a guest on this podcast, like, you will go places. You will have a credit to your name that you are on this podcast and you’ll be able to get connected with more film industry professionals and such. So he’s like, “Well, now I have to make this happen.” Because in his mind this is going to be like a win-win-win, like Alice Kelly will get the premiere she always deserved, he’ll get to see the movie and he’ll get to be on this podcast. But also he’s thinking this is his hope to save the drive-in, because drive-ins are struggling in this day and age and the one he works at is no exception. So he’s like, “Well, this will be nothing but good things, all of this.” And turns out Alice Kelly lives, like, right around the corner. She’s local.
Courtney: Oh, you know, I’m glad I mentioned my thoughts on coming out earlier because I forgot that this quote was here later in the book, but it’s very much in line with what we were saying. It says, “Everyone makes it seem like coming out is crossing the finish line and now you just get to parade around while wearing your medal. For me it feels more like I’m still winded mid-marathon.” So he knows there’s more aspects to his sexuality, because I mean, look at his friend Mateo, who’s taking him to the drag bars and is making sexual innuendo all the time. Like, “He’s a gay man, but he’s not a gay man in the same way I am.” So he doesn’t really know how to let himself explore that further yet.
Courtney: So we sort of get Wren’s impression of what this Chomping At The Bit movie was, it’s supposedly, quote, “Swoony and campy and melodramatic, and more than a little bit queer.” But there is a wrench in Wren’s plans. Because when he actually tries to get in contact with Alice Kelly, she’s very standoffish. She’s very ‘tell it like it is’ kind of– kind of thorny. She’s not sociable at all. And when he originally goes to see her, she thinks he is a realtor who she called because she wants to sell her house and leave. And just in order to, like, talk to her more, he kind of like lies and says like, “Oh yep, that’s me.” Just in an attempt to get closer to her. But it turns out that she wants to sell her house, but no realtor wants to touch it because it needs a lot of work. She’s been there a lot of years, she hasn’t maintained it particularly well.
Courtney: So once she realizes what Wren’s deal actually is, at first has absolutely no interest of digging that movie back out. And we kind of learned that she’s, like, sworn off movies. She just watches, like, reruns of old TV shows and she’s like, “I don’t even watch movies anymore. I don’t want to think about that time in my life.” So there’s some level of trauma there. So that’s where I was like, “I need to know more about Alice Kelly.” That was like, she’s not a mom but she is now the almost certainly queer, like, elder mentor character, who’s rough on the outside, but I bet she’s soft on the inside. And I bet she has years of trauma that we have to unpack. And I was gripped. I love Alice Kelly.
Courtney: So she was– she was honestly, probably my favorite part of this book. And I don’t want to give away too many spoilers because I do think that if the demisexual representation, if this plotline, if any of this appeals to you in any way, I strongly recommend ordering yourself a copy. Because I did actually have a good time reading this. At the very end of the book I even cried, just– just a little, tiny bit. And that doesn’t normally happen in– in rom-coms for me. It does happen in mom–traums for me, which this one had like minor elements of. Because now, in an attempt to learn about what happened to this movie, you’re also learning more about Alice Kelly’s hidden secret past. And it’s just magnificent. That’s my favorite part. And you also kind of get this, like– As the older queer woman, who we don’t totally know exactly what her deal is at first, she at one point sees Wren and Derick together and you just sort of get the impression, like, she knows exactly that there is a flirtation and a romance going on here. Almost before they themselves even, like, say it aloud.
Courtney: Oh, here’s an odd little point. Actually, I should have mentioned this back when I was saying that there were, like, Instagram posts every couple of chapters to progress the story in an interesting way. I loved that they actually had image descriptions. They did not have the picture printed, which makes sense, because it is expensive to print pictures in books, so publishers don’t normally do that. But you have the caption and then you have an image description written out as if this were, you know, like, Alt Text on a picture. And then you have all of the comments and hashtags. And I thought that was really, really cool because not even everyone these days uses an image description or an Alt Text, so to make the conscious decision to portray that in a book, I thought was neat. I like it.
Courtney: So this book does talk a lot about gen Z, and I am older than that. There were some lines that really hit me because I was like, “Yep, that sounds about right.” Where they’re talking about like, “Oh, the Gen Z ennui.” And I was like, “Yep, that I– I believe that’s a thing. That makes sense to me.” But there is a line in here that was just like a tidbit that someone brings up. And I was like, “Do Gen Z gays not know this? Is this actually a fun tidbit?” Because to me it’s just like common knowledge. But they say, “Did you know that back in the day asking someone if they were a friend of Dorothy was a euphemism for being LGBTQ?” And I was like, “Yeah, obviously, obviously I know that.” So I– I don’t know if that was an educational moment for younger generation who may not necessarily know that. Or if this is just a particular quirk of this character that really likes that and thinks that’s interesting. But I was like, “Yeah, that’s–” If you are Gen Z and listening to this, tweet at us @The_Ace_Couple and tell me if you knew that. Because it could just be that I am– I am actually beginning to get of a generation where I accept my common knowledge as common knowledge for everyone, even though younger people don’t know. If that’s the case, I’d like to know about that early, before I get too set in my ways.
Courtney: But yeah, I thought that was interesting. And I also started thinking– well, this character is very much being set up to be on the ace spectrum. So I was like, “Well, if he’s a friend of Dorothy because he’s gay–” I was like, “What would the ace equivalent be of ‘Are you a friend of Dorothy?’” And what I wrote down here is, “Are you a friend of Cakery?” [laughs] I don’t know if that’s the right one. I don’t know if that’s perfect, but I’d say it’s pretty good. So yeah. All in all it’s got a lot of really, really great elements. If the actual rom-com tropes are something you enjoy, there are a lot of them in here. So, you have that gay romance, you have the discovering of an added layer of an asexual identity, which is very rare. And then you have the tension of, “are we actually going to save the drive-in? Are we going to save the movie theater?”
Courtney: But to me, like, Alice Kelly is the reason. I was like, I need to know about her past. I need to know what happened to this movie. Why did it get pulled? Is she actually bisexual? Is she a lesbian? What is this movie about? And what were the queer elements of this movie from the late 70s. And just sort of the– I don’t know, these younger gay boys getting a sort of older queer mentor figure, who’s a bit curmudgeonly, was just my favorite part. I like that even more than I like their romance and their romance actually was very sweet. There were some elements of it that I liked better than the average rom-com. So, I don’t want to spoil. So I won’t tell you how the– the kiss crusade went, but that is a recurring theme of “I want the perfect first kiss.” So I won’t– I won’t tell you if he did in fact get his first kiss in the way he wanted it. But I was very impressed with the way that– that element and that idea was explored.
Courtney: And I did want to find– just because we talked about demisexuality not being a very commonly explored theme in media, I wanted to go back just to compare it a bit to Radio Silence. Which I do think is solidly YA, so I think this Never Been Kissed is marketed to a slightly older demographic. And in terms of the level to which the sexuality is explored, Never Been Kissed really does take it an extra step. And at the time I read Radio Silence, not knowing that there is demisexual rep, I was really, like, caught off guard and excited and impressed in the moment. But I pulled up that page – and you can tell this character is also a little awkward talking about these terms because there’s a lot of ’dot dot dot’s, a lot of ’uhrm’s – But he says, “Asexuality means, uhrm, someone who doesn’t feel, like, sexually attracted to anyone and some people just feel like they’re, like, partly asexual. So they only feel sexually attracted to people who they know really, really well. People they have like an emotional connection with. Some people call that demisexual, but uhrm, it doesn’t really matter what the word is… and–” So that– that was the demisexual revelation of that book.
Courtney: Now compare it to this one, which I thought was so beautiful. I’m certainly not going to read the entire page, the entire passage. But this metaphor for what demisexuality can be for someone who has already come out as gay, I thought was just incredibly clever. So Wren still has this hang up of like, “I came out as gay. I can’t just walk it back.” And this conversation that he’s having is with someone who understands the asexuality spectrum. So he is learning as he’s having this conversation. And he said to him, “Who says you can’t be both? You can be both.” Which is, of course, something we know very well in the Ace community. But this is what I loved, “Think of it as a bonus. That third camera lens on your iPhone, an added feature that helps you view your experiences more clearly.” Oh, I loved that! I loved that. I thought that was my favorite metaphor for being gay and ace, for being gay and demi. Because yes, it is both, but having more than one label for some people helps focus. It helps bring that clarity and might be that sort of missing element to getting that perfect picture. And– Oh! I just thought that was brilliant.
Courtney: So, and I have been an out asexual for over a decade now, and I don’t think I have ever seen someone else create a new metaphor that I haven’t seen before that I like this much. I was really pretty blown away by that. So well done, Timothy. Thank you for a lovely book. Which– and I would be curious, if we ever get an opportunity to speak to this author. I don’t know if the demisexual homo-romantic element of it is at all autobiographical, but there is a moment where after this character does adopt demisexuality, at least in concept, he says, “Yes, this does sound like me, this makes sense, this fits.” But he explains at one point– this explanation can be a lot to go into, it can turn into this whole conversation. But he sort of decides, “When people ask how I identify, if I feel comfortable, I’ll say queer. An encompassing word that encapsulates my demisexuality and my homo-romantic nature without needing to feel like a dissection frog in an anatomy class.” Which I also kind of like, because I don’t think I have seen that feeling portrayed in media, but I definitely know aspec people who don’t like the hard divide of the different layers of the labels that we have.
Courtney: Most commonly, I think it is some aroaces that I know who don’t necessarily like the split attraction model for themselves. Some aroaces do. They’ll say, “Yes, I am aromantic asexual, and I am both of those things. And they are two different things.” But to some, their aromanticism and their asexuality, is kind of all one and the same. And they don’t necessarily feel the need to split it out in the split attraction model. And a lot of folks in that camp will say, you know, “I don’t like just pulling apart the different components of me that make up my sexuality, because to me, it all ties into one another, it’s all related. And I don’t want to have to pull it apart for the sake of other people.” Especially when it’s in a bid to be more palatable to others or to be more of an educational opportunity for allosexual and alloromantic people to understand this better. They’re like, “Why should I have to, if it’s all the same thing to me?” In this characters case, he likes the word queer.
Courtney: He thinks queer counts for both of his sort of titles if you will. And pretty much every exploration of asexuality that I’ve seen in media is like, “I found the word and that word has all of the power in the world. And now I’m going to live and die by this word and this label.” So that was also kind of a– an interesting refreshing deviation from that. Because there are absolutely real people like this. And from what I could tell – because I was curious when I first heard that there is going to be demisexual representation in this book – I was like, “Well, was it written by someone who is demisexual?” And so I just googled, like, the author’s bios. And from everything that I saw at the time I was looking this up – this was months ago at this point, when I first heard about this book – all of his bios say queer. So, I don’t know if that element of it is at all reminiscent of his own experience. But it certainly feels very real. Either way, it definitely feels like a real queer experience which I love. I love when the characters can feel real and not just like a PSA.
Courtney: And then, I kid you not, and I thought this was so sweet– I always like to read the acknowledgements in the back of a book, I know not everybody does that but I really like to. And the acknowledgements were listed as like the end credits of a movie. I thought that was perfect for a book that read just like a movie. So, the author does actually have a second book coming out pretty soon. I don’t know necessarily if there’s any level of ace representation or not, but I can definitely vouch that this author knows how to write a charming book. So that, for those of you curious, is going to be entitled “You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince” and it looks very Christmas-themed. If you’re looking for a nice Christmas romance novel that is going to be coming out on October 4th. If you would like to preorder that now. Here is the fun part, we happen to have an extra copy of Never Been Kissed. So if you enjoyed this episode and you are curious to get into this book yourself, for some… really good, demisexual representation, we are going to be doing a little giveaway for our extra copy!
Courtney: So here is what you need to do. On our Twitter post announcing this new podcast episode– we’ll go ahead and put a link to that post as well as all relevant links in the description of our episode as usual. If you would like to enter this book giveaway, all you need to do is like and retweet that tweet, make sure you are following us @The_Ace_Couple, and I’m going to need you to follow the author. And definitely send him some love at T. I. M. O. T. H. Y. J. A. N. O. V. S. K. Y. We are going to be running this for one week exactly. From the day our episode releases to the following Wednesday, when we get a new episode out. So you will have that time to retweet, like, follow us, follow the author. Do all those things and you just might be getting a brand new copy of Never Been Kissed in the mail. So on that note I do so hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Please make sure to check out and support the author, Timothy. Order his books and enter our giveaway! We will be selecting someone at random but you must be following the author in order to qualify. Good luck to all who enter, and we will see you all same time next week for another episode of The Ace Couple podcast.