Ace Notes: Tips and Tricks on Existing in an Allo World ft. Michele Kirichanskaya
Remember "The Article" that sparked so much harassment that Courtney almost quit the Ace community? Well, today we talk to the writer of said article Michele Kirichanskaya. We discuss their forthcoming book, Ace Notes, their experience as a Jewish Ace, and SO much more!
- Preorder Ace Notes: Tips and Tricks on Existing in an Allo World (Use code 'TAC20' for 20% off!)
- Michele Kirichanskaya's Website
- Ashley Masog's Website
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Courtney: Hello Everyone, I’m just popping in real quick to preempt today’s interview with some wonderful news. Our guest today is the author of the forthcoming book Ace Notes: Tips and Tricks on Existing in an Allo World and I am thrilled to announce that The Ace Couple Podcast has teamed up with Jessica Kingsley Publishers to offer our U.S. listeners a 20% discount if you pre-order directly through the publisher before March 21st, 2023. You can find the link to order in the show notes and all you need to do is use code TAC20 that’s TAC-as in The Ace Couple-20 at checkout. Now onto the show!
Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Ace Couple podcast. My name is Courtney. As per the usual, I am here with my spouse, Royce. And today, we are joined by a third very special guest. My friends, listeners, we have been so excited to talk to this guest. For nearly a year, this has been in the works. So this is going to be a phenomenal conversation. You’re not going to want to miss it. I just can’t wait! So let’s get into it. Please introduce yourself to our listeners.
Michele: Wow, what an amazing introduction! Hello, listeners. My name is Michele Kirichanskaya. I am an Asexual writer and journalist and the author of an upcoming book called Ace Notes: Tips and Tricks on Existing in an Allo World.
Courtney: This book. I can’t even tell you how excited I am for this book. First off, let’s start with the fact that this book is not your first foray into writing about Asexuality. What has sort of been your career trajectory? How did you get started writing about Ace issues, and how did it all accumulate into this forthcoming book?
Michele: That’s an interesting question, so thanks for asking that. I don’t know, it’s just – I think I started my freelance journalism in college, when I was interning for a few websites like ComicsVerse and, later on, Lambda Literary, so writing about queer issues was something I often did off the bat. And then I started going to more specifics of, like, what it meant to be an Ace person, and, like, writing an article for The Mary Sue on pop culture’s lack of mainstream representation of Asexuality. Later on, writing for other websites such as Hey Alma and Bitch Media, which you might have said a note or two about in your podcast.
Courtney: Ah, yes, the article. So listeners, for those of you who have been with us for a while, you may be aware of the infamous [laughing] article that, unfortunately, led to a bit of harassment against Courtney. And I’ve said a time or two that that was almost my signal that I was going to leave the Ace community. I didn’t want to talk about Ace issues anymore. Michele here – they actually wrote that article! So we’re talking to the author of that article. Which, by the way, if it wasn’t clear, I stand 100% by the article. I thought it was great. Any qualms I have, anything I’ve talked about it up to this point, have clearly been about the response to the article, which was a little bit surprising. Michele, were you also surprised by that response?
Michele: Well, first of all, I have to say I was heartbroken by the experience that you received out of this. I did not expect the amount of trolls to go after you, and I am so, so sorry that that ever happened. It was not my intention for you to experience that kind of negativity. The article was primarily to promote awareness of this issue of the medical biases against the people in our community, to talk about my experiences, and to talk about experiences of people, like you, who have gone through the harassment and biases that Asexual people – especially Asexual disabled people — have gone through. And the article was meant to be a beacon of community and positivity and not negativity like so many people have done. And I’m so sorry, again, that happened to you.
Courtney: It was so fascinating because when… First of all, I was ecstatic from the moment you reached out to me, because I had been quoted in some other miscellaneous articles here and there over the years about Asexuality and my experience. And sometimes the article was okay; sometimes it was really not great. I think up until the point where you reached out to me, I had only been interviewed by allosexual writers, and although some of them were very well-meaning, there were some slip-ups here and there. But then there were also – I remember one instance, someone specifically contacted me and said, “I want to talk to a married Asexual.” And I was like, “Well, great, that’s me. Let’s talk.” And we talked for such a long time, going into all of these nuances about what Asexuality means, what it’s like to be married as an Asexual. And I ended up being used in just a couple of throwaway lines in an article about virgins that was written for Tinder.
Courtney: And I was like, “What is going on?”
Courtney: So from that point on, I definitely ended up kind of almost interviewing people who contact me, being like, “What is the focus of this article? What are your intentions with it? What’s the scope of it?” Just to sort of feel the ground and say, “Okay, are you actually well-intentioned here?” But you are the first person to reach out to me and say, “I’m also Ace, and I am writing about this specific issue,” and just your added desire to make sure that, in writing about medical bias, that you added a disabled perspective as well, just to me signaled you had so much thought and care going into this. So, I was so excited.
Courtney: And when the article released, I thought it was great! I thought that was the best article that I had been quoted in on Asexuality. So, when it first got published, I was feeling so good and so happy. But then to see the response was so odd, so very, very odd. Because I don’t know in how much detail I’ve spoken about this before, but I was getting direct messages – mostly on Facebook, a couple on Twitter as well — but I had dozens of messages from people who are Ace, in the Ace community, saying, “How dare you?” [laughs] And saying, you know, “You shouldn’t be speaking for Aces, and you shouldn’t have talked to that journalist.” And I… I was quite baffled. So I can only imagine — I mean, you’ve written multiple articles. Has there ever been a contention like that with anything else you’ve written before?
Michele: I have a few things to say on that, which you might find very interesting and very ironic, is that a few months before the article came out, I noticed a Tweet online that you had written about needing to pay extra expenses for a pregnancy test every time that you need to get an appointment. And it was because of that Tweet and my own experiences that inspired the article in the first place.
Courtney: I didn’t even realize that.
Michele: Yeah. So, to all the trolls out there who said that I shouldn’t have talked to Courtney in the first place –
Michele: You can… She was part — a major point of inspiration for the damn piece.
Courtney: Oh, that’s fascinating! I didn’t even realize that! Well, I still — Because like I said, I was thrilled with the way the article came out. And the way it was nitpicked, I think, says a lot about the state of discourse in our community. Because the types of attacks and criticisms that were being made went in a couple of different directions, but the main one that started it all — which perhaps this could also be a conversation about “If you have a really large audience, be very careful with your audience and how you communicate with them.” Because I don’t think I would have gotten nearly as much heat as I did if a massive Asexual Facebook group didn’t share the article. And by “massive,” I mean over 100,000 followers. Very, very big. Sort of shared the article, but with the added commentary of starting with, “Ugh. I wish Aces didn’t say that Aces can’t have sex. I wish Aces didn’t contribute to the lie that Aces can’t get pregnant.” And so from that point on, anybody going into the article to read it from that point has already gotten this negative impression in their head. So I think that’s why a lot of people really hyperfocused on what I had to say in that article. [laughs]
Courtney: Which was wild, because some of the issues I talked about was, you know, “I have to pay a lot of money for pregnancy tests when I need things like an x-ray or I need things like a test.” And in the US, where we don’t have universal health care, that gets really, really expensive if you’re doing that many, many times a year over the span of many years. So, that is actually a financially impactful issue. And I had said, you know, “I’ve been sitting in an office unable to breathe, needing a lung x-ray to check for pneumonia, and saying ‘No, there’s no way I could be pregnant,’ but then a doctor, you know, forcing me to wait for that test to come back.”
Courtney: And some of the criticisms got so much more detailed than the article actually was. And I’ve written articles as well, so I know firsthand that you can’t possibly fit everything in an article. You do need to be concise. You do need to figure out your scope. And a lot of things also get cut before the final posting as well, ’cause there just isn’t room for it all. So that’s always a balancing act that any writer’s faced with. But the odd speculation. I saw people at some point being like, “Well, is she even disabled? What even is her disability? And it’s probably her fault for not communicating with her doctor.” And people taking this theoretical or fictitious doctor’s side. Like, “The doctor was right, because the doctor should know that Asexuality doesn’t mean you don’t have sex. So the doctor was right and she was wrong.” And that was also just a bit insulting because it’s like, I don’t think those people realize how many doctors I have to speak to and how many years of medical bias I’ve been up against. Like, I know how to advocate for myself in the medical space as much as is possible.
Courtney: And I found that quite fascinating, too, because there was only one comment I think I saw that was saying, like, “Well, maybe, maybe it was the writer’s fault for not asking this question.” But I jumped in and I was like, “No, I was the Ace in question here.” And they’re like, “Okay, so yeah, that was your fault, then. You should have talked to your doctors better.”
Courtney: And I don’t know, it’s so baffling, because when I was telling that story to you as well and sharing that experience, I was also taking, like, an amalgamation of all of the experiences I have and the trends and patterns I’ve noticed. So, for people to think that me just saying “I’m Asexual” to my doctor and that being the end-all-be-all was, I think, a very ungenerous reading as well.
Michele: Yeah. Oh my God. That’s the amount… The reaction was just ridiculous. As an Asexual writer, I often do have to go into the 101 when I start out an article, because I go off the assumption that when I talk about Asexuality, the majority of people don’t even know what it is. My editor had said to clarify a few things because she assumed that readers would not know what I was talking about. So the fact that the article is so lengthy in itself was because I was paying attention to the minutial details because I didn’t want anyone to take any point of the article and twist it into an inaccuracy. And the fact that people took one sentence and created that tidal wave of trollish anger and negativity is just so… It just goes to show that no matter how hard you try to be careful, someone will still say that you’re stepping on their foot.
Courtney: Yeah. Absolutely. Because you even said specifically in the article that Asexuality is not the same as celibacy. Like, you clarified all of these things, so I thought that was very well done. There was a point as well – because I didn’t, during our conversation, mention what my actual diagnoses were. And it wasn’t because I was trying to hide it. I think if asked I would have specified, but I also just don’t think that should be necessary. I think if someone says, you know, “I am disabled, and here’s my experience in the medical system,” I think that should be believed. But because the article didn’t say what my diagnoses were, I all of a sudden had so many strangers online being like, “Well, why didn’t she disclose what her disability is? Maybe she’s not even disabled. And can we take her word for it?” [laughs] So many odd stories that people are making up in their minds, when they also — they found me. They searched my name and sent me DMs, so they could have asked me if they were genuinely curious. But they were more interested in attacks than conversations.
Michele: On that point, this is just like — I feel it might be necessary to point out that I barely got any comments registered towards me at the time. And at the time, I have now a very minimal social media presence, so that could be part of the reason for it. But there’s a contrast to our platforms, in which you are an openly Asexual disabled racially ambiguous woman, and I am not physically disabled at the current moment, I’m Caucasian — that probably has played some factors into the reactions between us. And I just want to take that into note. But yeah, but the thing is, I didn’t disclose any of my own personal medical conditions, you know? Like people… I had chondromalacia a few years ago that made me stop martial arts because I was afraid of having to get an operation for my knee. I have a medical condition that affects my thyroid that I take a pill for daily. But I didn’t feel that was necessary for the conversation, and I don’t feel that people should attack me for not disclosing that kind of information, nor should people talk to you for not disclosing your information either.
Courtney: Oh, absolutely. And that sort of parallels, as well — When you’re talking about, you know, personal details of medical history, disability, et cetera, that also just sort of parallels the discourse of people who feel forced to come out if they are making a project that involves queer representation. There have been authors within the last couple of years who have been forced to come out because people say, “How dare you write about this as a straight person,” and they get enough heat for that that they have to say, “Okay, well, I wasn’t ready to come out yet, but I’m not straight.” And that’s really unfortunate. But it feels very much the same.
Michele: As someone who has been a part of the publishing conversation through my own journalism work and through my interactions with grad school and other published authors, I do know what you’re talking about with authors who have felt they had to come out before they were ready to make the trolls back off. And it’s so weird, because the Own Voices movement, #OwnVoices movement, was originally started from a place of good intentions. It was originally created by a disabled author who wanted authors of marginalized backgrounds to be able to talk about their experiences in a clear and honest way. And then the media weaponized it. They commercialized it in a way that you can’t sell unless you present your most vulnerable, tender self to an audience of vultures. And that’s just so problematic.
Courtney: It really, really is. Because, for that matter, I mean, I have a variety of symptoms, I have so many different doctors and specialists, and I’ve had a really complicated medical history for my entire life. So the bits I shared with you for that article, as well, were some of the ones that were more recent, more fresh in my head, that I was still, you know, processing and working through and actively dealing with. But those were by no means every medical bias I’ve personally ever experienced. But those were the ones I was most ready to share in that moment. So there’s always, always more depth behind what is presented. Absolutely.
Michele: Yeah. I believe you. And on that note, I’ve been nervous about disclosing the thyroid condition a few times, because they’ll say, “Oh, that’s the reason why you’re Asexual.” And I just kind of want to say to the trolls, “I actually was diagnosed with it in grad school, and I’ve identified as Asexual since I was 15.” But then I feel it wouldn’t be fair to people who do identify as Asexual because of medical conditions too. And that’s, like, a whole other conversation that could spiral off.
Courtney: It’s really, really complicated. It just adds all of these layers of complication to the coming out process, to when and how you talk about your own personal experience. So yeah, that’s really fascinating. Do you think, for you… Is it a little more comfortable for you to interview others and talk about a variety of experiences than it is to talk about your own?
Michele: See, that’s the thing. Because I’ve been a journalist, I’ve been interviewing authors and other media representatives for such a long time that it’s interesting to have the reverse happening now. And it’s just, like… It’s certainly an interesting case of power dynamics, I guess. Because, like, I’ve always been aware that, when I’m interviewing a person, I have to be mindful of the questions that I ask them: that I’m not being too invasive, that I’m not asking them anything that they would not be comfortable disclosing. I give my interviewees the option of rejecting a question if they do not feel comfortable answering it, and I never publish anything without their consent. So that’s me understanding the ethics of my profession. And so, it’s interesting now, like, having someone like yourself interviewing me now. And you’re doing a pretty great job so far.
Courtney: Well, I guess the same thing, but from the opposite side. I have been interviewed on a number of occasions — for both Ace things and also my profession, since I have such a unique sort of self-employed business that I’ve created. So, I’ve been interviewed in a lot of different contexts, and so I’ve sort of been able to see what I like the best, who I’m the most comfortable speaking to, and just also ultimately what makes the best product, what makes the best article at the end of the day and the best podcast at the end of the day. And I can really say firsthand that your communication with the people that you interview is just, I would say, so much better than anyone else I have ever spoken to, period. Because I also spoke to you for your upcoming book, Ace Notes, and the communication there has just been, you know, phenomenal. And I have never once not felt comfortable speaking to you or that you will misrepresent anything I’m saying. So, I can really, really thank you for that.
Courtney: But I do want to talk a little more about Ace Notes while we’re on that topic. Because you’ve interviewed me; there are other interviews that are going to come up in that book. Tell us, what is the scope of this book? Anyone who is pre-ordering it, what can they expect to see?
Michele: So, apparently, my publishers have been trying to label the book as kind of like a field guide to Asexuality, kind of like what happens when you first identify as it, when you come out as it, navigating, like, ins and outs, like I said, of navigating an allonormative world — which is interesting, to say the least, that I would be taken as a kind of representative or expert on the subject. But for me, it’s just simply imparting the information and the lessons I’ve gathered — a lot of it through hard work — and then making sure that someone else doesn’t have to do all the digging that I had to for information.
Courtney: That’s interesting that you say “field guide.” Royce, remind me — earlier today, I was actually just talking about how I’d describe that book. Was that a word that I used?
Courtney: It might have been one of the words I used.
Royce: If not, it was something very similar.
Courtney: Because to me, so far, from what I’ve seen of the book — and I have not read all of it —
Royce: You might have said “survival guide.”
Courtney: “Survival guide.” [laughs]
Michele: Oh my goodness.
Royce: Like the book you have on you preparing for some sort of incoming disaster.
Courtney: No, not a disaster! [laughs]
Royce: Well, I mean some people would describe the transition from youth into adolescence into adulthood in those terms. Maybe you would need a survival guide to progress through all of that.
Courtney: There is a lot of survival that does need to happen.
Courtney: But yes, it seems like such an eclectic book.
Courtney: There are a lot of different elements that cover a lot of ground. And I’m sort of curious about the ins and outs, since you have been writing articles on Asexuality. How have all of the pieces come together to become this beautiful field guide?
Michele: [laughs] Well, first of all, to explain a little ins and outs of my own personal process… So, originally, when I heard that Jessica Kingsley Publishers was actively looking for work from Ace writers, I pitched a book proposal to the editor — who was the editor at the time, I think he’s since left the company — and a very loose outline of what I wanted to cover in the book as a brief summary. And he said he was interested. So basically, I was writing the book along as I went. So it was interesting for me because there are things that I had not expected to write that actually ended up being in the book, versus, like, things that were accumulated from my own experiences as a journalist already. There are essays that I published in other sources that I’ve included in the book because I felt it might be useful.
Courtney: What are some examples of things that sort of became more than what you originally expected once you dove deeper and really started putting pen to paper?
Michele: Well, there are about, I believe, five sections of the book. One section is covering sex and sexuality — like, how do you discuss consent as an Asexual person, which I believe is a very necessary conversation that we need to be having right now.
Michele: Conversations on mental health and disability, which you beautifully aided in the book, as well as a conversation with a neurodivergent Asexual, who I interviewed for the book. As well as, surprisingly, an entire section on religion and Aceness, which I had not expected originally.
Courtney: Which is very interesting as well. Because of course, now that the book is nearing its publishing date — which I don’t think we’ve said yet! What is the pub date?
Michele: It’s March 2023.
Courtney: March 2023. Put it in your calendars, or better yet, go pre-order right now so that you can forget about it until March.
Courtney: You will get a beautiful book in the mail, and it’ll be just like, “Hey, surprise, new book gift!” [laughs] That’s what I like about pre-ordering books.
Michele: Yes. And I also want to add that the book also features 20 beautiful illustrations by an Asexual artist, actually.
Courtney: That’s right! And that excited me as well, when you were talking about the illustrations, because it’s like, so many Aces contributed to create this beautiful project. So, I love the collaboration involved in that.
Michele: I know. And the artist is just like — I have to shout her out — Ashley was just so lovely. She actually had a medical condition that limited the amount of hours she could work, and yet, the things that she produced out of the time limitations and the medical limitations to just like — and my notes into consideration, because this is my first time commissioning an artist for a professional project — was just like, she knocked it out of the park.
Courtney: Oh, amazing. And yes, I can also attest, they are beautiful, the ones I have seen so far. But yeah, to go back to… Let’s talk about the religion aspect of it, because I very much want to talk about your own experience as a Jewish Ace. But I think that just the general concept of the intersection of religion and Asexuality has been definitely a growing conversation in our community over the last several months for sure, from what I’ve noticed.
Michele: Yeah, I noticed your last podcast episode on invading Denmark, which brought up a few very potent conversation topics, and that as a Jewish person who has been noticing the increasing antisemitism happening in certain circles, that I appreciate the conversation, and that I am very ready and able to add my own talking points to it.
Courtney: Yes, please. I had hoped that we did that podcast episode justice for the topic. It’s definitley gotten to the point where — I mean, I am obviously not Jewish, Royce is obviously not Jewish. We have Jewish friends who are very near and dear to our heart, so we’ve definitely, sort of, as adults who grew up in a very, very genteel society, even though we weren’t specifically –
Michele: [laughs] I believe the word is actually “gentile.”
Courtney: Gentile, is it?
Courtney: Thank you for correcting me on that. That’s actually… The only word I’ve heard spoken aloud is “goyish.”
Michele: That’s a more pejorative way of saying non-Jewish person. So —
Courtney: Is it?
Michele: — a more polite way would be to say “gentile.”
Courtney: That’s fascinating, because I’ve heard “goyish” spoken aloud, and I have seen “gentile” written, and I’ve had text conversations where that word came out, so I didn’t know how that sounded. So thank you for correcting me.
Michele: Of course. I feel like every culture has their own term for quote-unquote “outsiders,” or people who are not part of the inner circle. So oftentimes, it’s not said with any acid, it’s more just like a little bit of a playful bite to it.
Courtney: Sure. [laughing] I mean, I get that. I certainly do. So we’ve definitely, as adults and throughout our life, had to sort of home our instincts for being able to recognize antisemitism and how to use our voice to speak out against it. So, I’m very eager to have this conversation with you and anything you’d like to add.
Michele: Thank you. I appreciate that. And… okay, it’s — this is going to be a very complicated conversation. I’m just going to say that off the bat. My relationship to Judaism and Jewish identity is very complicated and nuanced. And it’s not going to reflect — it’s just, like, it’s going to be my own, so I don’t want anyone to take that and just contextualize every Jewish person with my experiences. There’s this amazing quote: “Ask two Jews for an opinion, you get three.”
Michele: Because that’s just the amount of diversity of thought within a very diverse and very multifaceted community.
Courtney: Well, any community, for that matter. I mean, for as often as everybody says, “This community is not a monolith” —
Courtney: — that’s true of all communities.
Courtney: So, from your perspective, specifically, I’d love to hear what your experience has been.
Michele: So, I guess the best way to describe it is to start with my background. So I am, I believe, first generation, since I was born in America but my parents were born in what was then Kiev, Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union during when they were born, and then they immigrated here to America. And so I am Ukrainian Jewish American, which is a vastly different experience from a WASP background, [laughing] to say the least. And I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, so I have not exactly lived in a state that was not filled with a Jewish population. But, at the same time, like, I did not what people would say grow up religiously Jewish — I did not practice Shabbat, I did not keep Kosher, I did not grow up going to Temple — which at times has made me think, “Oh, am I really Jewish?” Or, like, “Am I a bad Jew?” And, like, this is a conversation that many Jews will probably relate to, [laughing] just right off the bat, and which could spiral into another conversation entirely. But at the same time, I recognized that being Jewish was a part of my identity in that, for the positive reasons of just, like, certain foods… Okay, challah French toast is, like, the best thing ever. I will fight anyone who says any other type of bread makes a good French toast.
Courtney: I don’t think I’ve ever had challah French toast!
Michele: It is delicious.
Courtney: I love challah. I believe — I can picture in my head what that’s like.
Michele: For me, my mom just, like, dipped slices of challah in egg and fried it on a pan. And is just, like, one of my favorite breakfast foods ever.
Courtney: Mmm, it does sound good.
Michele: As well as, like, certain Jewish media. Like, I love The Nanny, which is an amazing sitcom that everyone has to watch, and movies like Fiddler on the Roof. [laughs] I’m one of those Jews. [laughs] But at the same time, what you were saying earlier about recognizing antisemitism, that is definitely something I automatically had to grow up learning. I credited my school education with, like, teaching us about the Holocaust early on, not blanketing it over like so many states want to do to their young students, which is honestly, a travesty, by ignoring this thing that has happened to so many people, to so many families, and affected so many people in Jewish community — including my own. So learning to recognize the historical travesties that not only happened during that time period, but all the centuries before it, because antisemitism, unlike the majority of the population’s idea, did not begin in the Holocaust. It has been a multi-generational saga. And recognizing the instances of antisemitism that happened within my own lifetime, like riding in the back of the taxi and having the driver joke about cheap Jews.
Courtney: [groaning] Oh, oh.
Michele: Or seeing someone portray a character as ugly and using a long pointed nose. And it just… it hurts. That’s what I’m going to say. Because when people dismiss antisemitism… Here’s the thing. When people dismiss antisemitism, saying, “Oh, it’s not a real thing anymore. Oh, you’re just, like, exaggerating it,” you are dismissing something that I have personally lived through, that my family has personally lived through, and it’s not fair.
Courtney: No, it is not fair. Because for yourself, for all Jewish people, you need to recognize the nuances and the subtle microaggressions that are also antisemitic, because for you, it’s a survival tactic. For someone like me, it also takes a lot of practice, but it comes from a place of allyship and wanting to be able to call it out. And if you haven’t experienced something firsthand, it can be really difficult to identify… You mentioned the nose, for example. If you could, I think, I’d love you to dig into that a little bit, because I’ve been surprised at how many people I’ve had conversations with recently who don’t understand the antisemitic origins of that trope, for example.
Michele: Okay, this goes back a little ways, but ever seen, like, an old classic children’s book full of fairy tales, and the witches are always portrayed with, like, long scraggly, curly hair and pointed noses?
Courtney: Almost all of them.
Michele: Yeah, those were often based off antisemitic portrayals of Ashkenazi Jewish women. So, witches have had a long coding of Jewish history, which I can provide an article for you in the footnotes, if you’re interested.
Courtney: Sure. Yes. Any article or extra resources we’re talking about, as per the usual, we’ll put them in the show notes so you can all dig a little bit deeper. But that’s just one of those more subtle things where if you personally haven’t had that, you know, stereotype used against you or anyone in your community, you might not even know what the origins of that are. And yet, it’s so pervasive in culture.
Michele: If you look back on Nazi propaganda, like, when you see these villainized portrayals of Jews, it was always, like, rat-like noses or beak-like noses. And just, like, to portray someone as the other you demonize their natural features. White supremacy has often made it a point to make non-western, non-white features look ugly and make people who have those features feel ugly. Take people with darker brown skin. Take people with non-straight hair. Take people with hooded eyes — I have hooded eyelids, by the way. Take people with non-straight, non-small noses. When you demonize a feature casually, without even thinking about it, you are also saying to a person who has that feature, “You do not deserve respect. You do not deserve to be called ‘beautiful.’”
Courtney: It’s awful. And that’s something that’s so pervasive. You see it everywhere growing up. It’s a bit of… I mean, it is like a mental warfare. It’s, everything is telling you that there is something about this that is wrong, and it’s just despicable. So I think that’s why it’s so important to learn to identify these things, first of all, so that you can then use your voice to speak out against them.
Michele: It’s also been an interesting learning journey. Because, like I said, I grew up a little bit of it, but it’s also taken me some time to understand the language to describe my own experiences. In college, I had quite an education with — one of my classes was actually on the history of antisemitism, and discovering how it evolved through the centuries. So, for the way that I describe it to other people, it often evolved from being an external thing — people could point at a Jewish person and identify them by the way they dress, the hats they wore, the language that they spoke. And throughout the centuries, as more Jewish people learned how to assimilate into society, how to draw less attention to themselves externally, Nazis went internal. They pointed at their blood being dirty. They pointed as it being a biological defect. And it just goes to show, it doesn’t matter how much you try to assimilate. It doesn’t matter how much you try to blend in and be like the majority. Because if you exist as part of a community that’s been called a minority, you are still going to be a target.
Courtney: And it’s… antisemitism, especially, has really, from my perspective, been on the rise. And that’s so… it’s awful. It’s frightening. I don’t really have words to describe what that is. I…
Michele: I think the best way I could describe it is that being Jewish is constantly holding your breath. It is that physical and mental feeling of just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I have two experiences that I kind of want to highlight to that. So one’s a little bit more negative, or at least outwardly negative, than the other. On the concept of the intersectionality of Aceness and Jewishness, I remember one of the first Ace meetup groups I went to — it was during a holiday where it was very much — I believe this was during Passover, so I was — I can’t eat bread during Passover. I’m Ashkenazi, so, like, eating grain is, like, one of the things that we are advised not to eat during Passover. And so, during the meetup, like, everyone suggested fish and chips, but, like, I couldn’t eat that. But the whole group, like — I think there are a few other Jewish people in the group — but the whole group, like, waited for Passover to be over in order for us to, like, go get the fish and chips, which is, like, really sweet and like super supportive and nice. And then when I was walking home, I turned on my phone to find news of another antisemitic attack happening. And so, like, that’s one of the instances where you just, like, you don’t want to talk about this every day. You don’t want it to be a discussion. But the thing is, like, even if you just take a break, you just can’t escape it, because it’s there. It sneaks up on you and it punches you in the gut.
Courtney: Yeah. It’s a constant barrage. Even in moments where you are feeling happy or proud or supported, something awful’s just right around the corner again.
Michele: Yeah. And the second experience. So while back, I think this is in high school, me and my sister and a friend of ours decided to go visit Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which… now, learning more about the history of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, I kind of regret going for that.
Courtney: I have opinions on Ripley’s. [laughs]
Michele: Yes. I’ve definitely studied more on the history of that, so I have complicated feelings myself. But the thing is, like, afterward, when we were standing outside the building, someone approaches — I’m not sure if this was a person who worked at Ripley’s or not — but he casually asked me and our group, like, “Are you guys Jewish?” And I didn’t realize why, but I just remember feeling so on edge when he asked this. And then realizing later, he clocked us, I guess. I guess that would be the word for it. It’s like a word that trans people use when people think that they might be trans or something like that. And the thing is, like, this person just went up to three kids — like, we were literally teenagers — and asked us if we were Jewish, for no other reason than just, like, that weird curiosity. And the thing is, like, I don’t mind being asked if I’m Jewish by other people who are Jewish. Like, if you see, like, the men in big hats, like, passing out — like, Hasidic men, like, passing out papers for the holidays, like, “Oh, are you Jewish?” Like, that comes from a source of, like, someone asking, “Are you part of our community?” Versus someone like that being like, “Are you Jewish?” like it’s a weird thing, like it’s a strange thing. And just feeling so nervous afterward in a way I couldn’t articulate until now.
Courtney: Oh, absolutely. Because by nature of just needing to ask, there’s no innocent way to ask that as a non-Jewish person. Because to me, that seems like they’re trying to decide how to treat you or how to think about you, and it’s just disturbing. I can relate in my own different way to sort of taking that question differently from people who are a part of the community, because I’ve started owning the term “racially ambiguous.” [laughs] I felt weird about it for the longest period of time, but I understand now that that is how most people perceive me, and that that in itself is kind of its own experience that is distinctly different from if I were Black or if I were Indigenous and, you know, enrolled and grew up on a reservation, things of that nature. My experience is different. But I very often had people say, “What are you?” And I can always tell when there’s something sinister behind that, because it’s like, “Well, based on my answer, are you going to treat me differently? Why do you need to know?” But when other people of color ask me what I am, it just seems kinder, because it seems to me like, “Oh, do we have some sort of shared heritage? Do we have some sort of shared experience that we can then relate over?” But someone who’s completely white says “What are you?” It’s like, [grimacing] mmm.
Michele: Yeah. It’s definitely an interesting question, because, for the most part, I guess someone would call me white. Like, I am very Eastern European. I do not have — I do not identify as a BIPOC person. But the thing is, like, until the moment when the stranger asked me that question, like, I guess I had been going about things as a white girl, and then someone asked me and I became an other. And so that’s also a very complex question because there are definitely Black Jews who do not pass as white who have had to deal with both racism and antisemitism. And it just goes into what I was saying earlier about how nuanced the conversation is about Jewish identity.
Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. And occasionally, I’ll see articles being written — I think especially around the time Trump was elected, there were definitely a lot of articles coming out like, “Are Jewish people white?”
Courtney: And that was a big question that people were trying to answer.
Michele: It’s definitely a very politicized debate that has a long history to it that I cannot go into that right now. But I think that one of the key points I want people to take away from this conversation is that being Jewish is a minority, that being in a minority doesn’t excuse you from being an asshole to other minorities, and that we need to take steps to be socially conscious of our own marginalization and other people’s marginalization and be united and not attacking each other, but attacking the thing that’s attacking us, which is white supremacy and homophobia and all the other isms that are making our life miserable.
Courtney: I agree 100%. And you know, some of the resources that we have shared on this podcast before — we have shared the Aspects Committed to Anti-Racism Discord. We do have some Jewish Aces in that group who have been very kind and willing to share some of their personal experiences as well and try to help others in the group sort of identify antisemitism as well, so that could potentially be one avenue for anyone out there looking to learn how to be a better ally and how to learn about these things more if you’d like to do so in an also Ace and Aro community setting.
Michele: Yeah. That’s great!
Courtney: Yeah! Do you have any, I guess, any resources that you would recommend for anything along those topics?
Michele: Well, interestingly enough, I actually started doing more work at the sensitivity reader on Jewish and Ace and Aro topics. I was asked to look over a graphic novel that said, “Is this antisemitic?” in a portrayal of a lizard person.
Michele: So, that was an interesting experience. And I would love to be paid to be consulted on this stuff.
Courtney: Mhm. As well you should be.
Michele: I would offer myself as a resource, hopefully. But there is a great website called Hey Alma, which I mentioned earlier, which is a feminist Jewish website that has a lot of articles discussing nuances of Jewish identity — and not only just, like, my perspective, but they also feature Jews of color, they also feature multiracial Jews, they feature patrilineal Jews, people from Sephardic and Mizrahi backgrounds, which I believe is very important, and so that is definitely a great resource that I would recommend following.
Courtney: Awesome. We’ll put that in the show notes, and I’ll make sure that gets posted in the ACAR server as well. Have there been any, I suppose… because a lot of the conversation lately — we’ve done some podcasts on sort of the Christian lens of Asexuality, or at least the right-wing Christian lens, because, of course, there’s no homogeneous lens for anything. But are there any sort of specific nuances about the Jewish Asexual experience that maybe the average person might not be privy to?
Michele: That is an interesting question, which I do go in-depth in the book — just to, like, bring it back to the book.
Courtney: Oh, good!
Michele: People, please do pre-order. I would love more people to read it. But it’s interesting, because queerness and Asexuality is something you wouldn’t normally associate with religion, because the queer community has a very complicated relationship with religion, to say the least. But on the one hand, there’s often a lot of amanormativity within Jewish communities. There’s this idea of building a family as, like, a very Jewish concept, of preserving Jewish legacy, of ritualizing certain traditions. And as someone who’s just, like, has a very complicated idea of, like… I don’t know what my future will look like, if it will involve having children or a husband, because being part of the AroAce community makes that certainly complicated in a few ways. [laughs] It can be a little conflicting.
Michele: But other times, like, I find things within Judaism and Jewishness that I find very affirming. So there’s a great holiday called Purim, which is basically a day of masquerades and parties basically surrounding the story of this one woman in Queen Esther, who was married to a man who had a very antisemitic advisor who wanted to persecute the Jewish people. And at the time, Queen Esther wasn’t out to her husband as a Jewish person. And so she had this dilemma of should she disclose her identity and risk losing her own life or risk staying private and then endangering her entire community? So it’s the story honoring her decision to be out and proud as a Jewish person and to honor her bravery in trying to protect her community. And so in that case, like, it’s a coming out narrative, literally! It’s about honoring one’s truth. It’s about standing one’s ground in a society that encourages us to stay quiet, to just, like, be little and small, and just like about celebrating living in a world that doesn’t want us to. That I find a very potent queer metaphor and that I heavily identify with as an Asexual queer person.
Courtney: That’s so fascinating! I knew the basics of the story of Queen Esther, but it had never occurred to me to think of that through a queer lens. But it does have parallels to a coming out story, so I can absolutely see how that would be very affirming to someone who is both Jewish and queer.
Michele: Yeah. And I wouldn’t be the first one either. There are definitely other articles about this. And there have definitely probably been quite a few drag parties —
Michele: — for Purim.
Michele: So, definitely, the queer Jewish community knows how to have fun.
Courtney: I mean, I love a good drag show, so. [laughs] I’ve said that many a time. So I am there. Absolutely.
Michele: Yes. I actually got into a conversation with another Ace of faith — that’s a term for people who identify as Ace and religious tend to use — Ellen Huang, who is identifies as an Ace Christian person. And we were talking about, like, the way that religious fundamentalism has impacted the way we grew up. And just the way that we both talked about faith — that when people say, “Faith is a bad thing, we should get rid of faith altogether,” I tend to hesitate, because I don’t want my Jewishness erased. I don’t want my heritage erased. I want us to come to it from a place where we can find affirmation in religion and not hatred, to a place where we can find comfort and relief, but not use it as a way to attack other people.
Michele: Because to me, that’s what Jewish — being Jewish has never been about hate or about attacking other people. It has always been about honoring oneself, honoring one’s family, honoring one’s past, and celebrating honesty and bravery. And when I think about antisemitism today, about how people say that Jews are greedy, Jews are controlling everything, that is the complete antithesis to what being Jewish is about. Because to me, it has always been about survival despite the odds and about seeking the beautiful, about community and music and literature. And I just want people to remember that when it comes to honoring our experiences as Jewish people, as Jewish Aces, and remembering that… I’m getting lost here, but just remembering that we are complicated people and that we deserve to be protected. We deserve for our stories to be heard too.
Courtney: Absolutely. And faith can be such an integral part of who you are. And I find — because, yeah, there definitely are the people who say, like, “The world would be better without any religion whatsoever.” For my experience, nine times out of ten, people saying “We should just abolish religion” are really just talking about right-wing Christianity.
Michele: Yeah. Like I said, religious fundamentalism is often the negative force. I have met people who are religious and have been the most gentle, kind-hearted, and mindful people in the world. And that religion isn’t necessarily the enemy; it’s people who have weaponized religion to hurt other people that is the problem.
Courtney: Definitely. Absolutely.
Michele: And so, yeah, that’s at least one section of the book. It’s not always — it’s not about, like, Judaism entirely. That being Jewish isn’t the only facet of my identity, as a reminder. But it is something I talk about in addition to all the other things I mentioned before. I wanted to talk about sexual health. I wanted to talk about what it means to navigate sexual relationships as an Ace person, if you chose to have sex. I actually even talk to an Asexual sex educator as one of the many Aces that I talked to. I at least talked to six Aces, including you, for the book.
Courtney: I love that. Oh, why can’t I think… Was that Ev’Yan that you spoke to?
Michele: Yes, Ev’Yan Whitney, who is a wonderful Black Asexual podcaster and sex educator.
Courtney: Yes. I actually first learned about Ev’Yan’s work from Sherronda J. Brown’s book, Refusing Compulsory Sexuality, which I also love and recommend. I think we just need more Ace books.
Michele: Yes. More Ace books by people of color, by disabled Aces… just, like, include more than just… I don’t want there to just be two books, for which there was, which was Julie Sondra Decker’s book, The Invisible Orientation, and then Angela Chen’s book, which was, I can’t remember the full title, unfortunately.
Michele: Ace. Yes. And — as well as a subtitle. But again, while their books are amazing, I don’t want only two thick books on Asexuality. I want there to be a whole library.
Courtney: Yeah. For as wonderful as those books are, it’s kind of wild that, like, for such a long time, it was just the one book, and then just the two books. Because we’re such a huge community, and there are so many of us. We seem very fragmented at times, and we seem very invisible, but we’re really all over the place.
Michele: Yes. And again, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, I think, is doing a great thing, because I’m not the only Asexual title coming out next year. They are also publishing a book by Ace Dad, who is a wonderful queer Asexual educator. They are publishing a book by the creators of Sounds Fake, But Okay. So I’m not going to be the token Asexual writer!
Courtney: [laughs] We’ve got all kinds of Ace writers!
Michele: I was going to say, if you had any more questions about the book, I would love to talk about it, honestly.
Courtney: I want to hear whatever it is you can share at this point, because I’m very excited about it and I want our listeners to be excited about it as well. The bits and pieces I have seen of it so far I’m very excited about.
Michele: I’m excited too. Well, I definitely, like I said earlier, I got to at least interview six Aces for the book, though I included Aces from other literature and books and articles and such. But I included an Asexual disabled person, such as yourself. I included Ev’Yan Whitney, who is a Black Asexual educator. I’m not just doing a point list, by the way. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t only consult one type of voice for the story. I wanted to include people from multiple communities. So I included nonbinary Aces, Aces of faith, Aces of color, because I feel like every one of those Aces had something unique to say about gender, had something unique to say about mental health, had something unique to say about how to have fun as an Ace person! Because so many times we talk about the crappy stuff that comes with being Asexual and living in an allo world. But again, they just, like — hopefully by exploring this book, people will get to understand that being Asexual can also mean being part of a fun community. It can mean deconstructing all the harmful messaging about sex and relationships that you grew up with and then learning to find what works for you and what makes you feel comfortable. It means the utter joy you have in buying an Asexual book that just reflects your experiences and lets you know that you are not alone.
Courtney: Absolutely. Ace joy is so important. I mean, we need to talk about the issues. We need to talk about the discriminations, the oppressions, absolutely. And we need to fight against those. But we also need to celebrate moments of Ace pride and just living a fulfilled life as an Ace person. That is equally as important. So, I’m glad there are elements of that too.
Michele: And I also provide a full list of Ace reading recommendations, if people wanted to go out and find other titles that featured Asexual representation, because I didn’t have a list like that growing up, so I figure, why not save someone else the time, you know?
Courtney: Yes, absolutely! And you mentioned sort of the overwhelmingly positive experience of finding a bit of Ace, like, representation and resonating with it. Do you have any elements you want to talk to about, like, fiction or other sort of media that you’ve really resonated with?
Michele: So this is probably going to be a very strange recommendation, but there was this webcomic I resonated with when I first started coming out as Ace called Shades Of A by Tab Kimpton. Have you ever heard of it?
Courtney: I don’t think I have!
Michele: If the title doesn’t clue you off, it is a parody of Shades of Grey but featuring an Asexual protagonist who’s looking for love.
Courtney: I love it. I’m gonna have to look that up [laughing] ‘cause that sounds fun.
Michele: [laughing] It is fun! Because, like, this character is Asexual, but he’s also, like, a nervous wreck, and he’s a hopeless romantic, and he talks about how shitty it can be to be Asexual, finding romance, and, and like, navigating bigots. And he’s still allowed to have a loving friendship, he’s allowed to have a loving partner. And, like, to have that kind of independent media show me that that was possible as an Asexual person, to have someone, like, show me someone else was screaming into the void [laughs] of, like, what it means to be a person — and then, like, seeing that back — that was like great relief, honestly.
Courtney: That sounds fun, yeah! I have not even heard about that one. I do like the Fifty Shades of Grey parody, though.
Courtney: Because my only real experience with that — is it a franchise at this point? It was a book but it’s also movies, so —
Michele: Yeah, you can call it a franchise.
Courtney: The franchise. I tried joining a book club when I first moved to Kansas City, and the only one I knew here was Royce. And I was just trying to find some community and other people, and I joined a book club and I was, like, at least 30 years younger than the second-youngest person in the group, and they were all so excited to read Fifty Shades of Grey.
Michele: Oh wow.
Courtney: They were like, “Oh, this is going to be our next book. It’s going to be great!” And I was like, “Maybe this isn’t the book club for me.” [laughs]
Michele: Oh my God. The only thing I have to say to that is, if you want erotica, there is very well-written erotica out there that doesn’t go into the inaccuracies of the kink community as Shades of Grey has. [laughs]
Courtney: I believe it. I mean, I am at the side of the spectrum where I get absolutely nothing out of consuming erotic media.
Courtney: So the whole thing, for me personally, is just like, “Eh, maybe not.” [laughs]
Michele: You might find this hilarious. I actually included an essay on the merits of erotic fan fiction in the book.
Courtney: Well, I like it because you can still engage with narratives like that even if you yourself don’t want to participate in them. And of course, there are Aces who do want to participate in them. because we’re all over the place. We’re a whole heckin’ spectrum. [laughs] But I just find it so interesting. I’m, like, tangentially interested in aspects of kink, but often kink and other areas of eroticism that don’t appeal to me go hand-in-hand too much. So — I know recently, someone gave us a recommendation for a movie that explored kink that was maybe a little more divorced from sex than the average kink in media, which I’m kind of curious to check out. Royce, do you remember what that’s called? I’m terrible with names.
Michele: [laughs] I should probably make a small note that as an Asexual person with a relatively low libido, that as a writer, I find sex interesting in the way that people describe sex scenes. Okay, so basically, there’s this writer that said that she includes sex scenes the way that a musical includes song numbers, that she uses it as a method of pushing the story along. And so, that’s what I find interesting about erotic fan fiction [laughs] — in that, it’s a way to explore a character’s dynamics with each other. It’s a way to portray tenderness, to portray communication. Oftentimes, people do use it as a source of, like, pleasure, but at other times, it’s just, like, interesting to see the way that people explore sexuality as a way of exploring other facets of human identity, from romantic attraction to just plain tenderness through sexuality.
Royce: Courtney, the movie that was mentioned to us was a South Korean romantic comedy film that came out this year called Love and Leashes.
Michele: Oh my God, I know that one! [laughs]
Courtney: Do you?
Michele: Yes, and it and I would say it probably would be great for Ace people who want to explore kink without a sexual lens to it.
Courtney: Cool. I’m interested in looking that one up. I think it’s on our ever-growing list of things to watch and read and consume.
Michele: Listen, if you’re looking for reading recommendations, I do that for a living with my journalism. I would be happy to recommend tons of titles.
Courtney: Yeah, and actually, I mean, we will absolutely get more recommendations from you, because I am very curious. But real quick, I did want to touch on, you know, sex and sexuality being an important part of a narrative in a story. That’s something I can definitely get behind. If there is a purpose that I can identify and it does make a situation or a story more interesting, then I’m definitely all for it. But unfortunately, with the current state of just, like, what Ace representation in television has been over the last few years, a lot of them are on what we’ve started calling, like, “teen sex shows” —
Courtney: — where there is just a lot of sex scenes, and not all of them have a clear purpose, and some of them go on a little too long, and the making out is a little too loud.
Royce: We’ve made the mistake of investing a lot of hours in TV shows because we heard, like, a whisper of Asexuality somewhere, to find out that it was, like, one line 75% through the media franchise.
Michele: You’re talking about Sex Education, right? Yeah, I’m familiar with that show.
Courtney: That’s one. Um…
Royce: We’re talking about more than one, more than one series, but that was the first one.
Courtney: Euphoria was another one. I just — all over the place. So one of the shows that I absolutely could not do, despite everyone thinking I was going to love it, was Game of Thrones.
Michele: Oh my God. No, I did not touch that. I’m —
Courtney: I don’t like it.
Michele: Here’s the thing: I’m a twin.
Michele: So twincest is automatically, like, off the table for me.
Courtney: I didn’t even know that about you! Interesting. Yeah. That show — because I don’t mind sex if it suits the narrative really well. I don’t mind gore and violence if it suits the narrative very well. But with a show like Game of Thrones…
Michele: It’s gratuitous.
Courtney: It’s, like, just for the sake of adding more. Like, more sex, more shocking sex, more violence, more gore. And it’s just like, at a certain point. I just care way too much about the story, and I can condense the amount of story that happened in this hour into maybe 15 minutes, and there’s just too much fluff and filler for me.
Michele: See, that’s the thing. People think Aces are always prudes. And, like, some of us are very sexually repulsed to the point of not liking any sexual media at all. But other times, it’s just, like, it’s not the sex that we have a problem with, it’s the way you portray it — which is very heteronormative, which is very lacking bodies that are diverse, lacking any people of color, lacking any disabled bodies. And, like, show us a scene where people have fun, where people communicate clearly, where people, like, enjoy it instead of being something that you use as a way to demonstrate that this person is an adult. Because we often use that as a point in media, especially for young adults. Like, “You have sex. You’re an adult.”
Courtney: Yeah, sex as a means of a coming-of-age narrative. I think that’s what I’m going to start saying: “I’m not a prude. I have high narrative standards.” [laughs]
Michele: Please do so. That would be great.
Royce: How I have described some of my reactions to some of those series is that I recognize that what is on screen right now is fan service, and I’m not the intended audience for that. So it’s just —
Royce: — I’m waiting for the scene to end to get back to the good parts of the show.
Courtney: [laughs] Yeah.
Michele: See, there’s a difference there. There’s good service and there’s bad fan service, and it just — like, people need to learn the difference.
Courtney: I agree, I agree. We have seen too many needless sex scenes on shows [laughs] that did absolutely nothing for us or the story that I agree.
Michele: You might be interested to hear there’s actually an amazing teen drama called Heartbreak High, which is —
Courtney: We did watch that, yeah!
Michele: And it has a canonically Asexual character in it!
Courtney: We are probably gonna do an episode on this in the near future, because we did watch the entire season that released… a couple months ago, at this point. There were aspects of it that we really liked. We also really liked — as an Australian show, for example, the Aboriginal representation, there were some things that we really liked the way that was done. And there were some good things —
Michele: But again, this is a conversation for probably another episode.
Courtney: Yeah, that was another one where it’s like, “Why is this kissing so loud? It sounds like they’re kissing inside my brain. Why is it so loud?”
Michele: [laughs] Okay, definitely can talk about that another time.
Michele: But moving back to the point of conversation. Are there any other questions you have about the book or about my writing career?
Courtney: Oh, yeah, I’m sure.
Michele: We just covered a very large expanse of topics here. Literally, from Jewish identity to [laughs] erotica.
Courtney: [laughs] My goodness. This is why it’s fun to have guests on, because guests have so much to say, and it’s like, we want to cover all of it, but how do we do it in one episode? Because there’s so much here! [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, we talk to each other all the time, and then more on microphone, and hopefully don’t repeat ourselves too frequently.
Courtney: I repeat myself all the time.
Michele: My brain just, like, is a type where I can be on one tangent and in a split second, I can be in another.
Courtney: Yes, me too. I am all over the place. I think because we were talking — you mentioned the comic that was the parody, which kind of got us down that train of thought.
Courtney: I think you were going to share some other…
Michele: Yes, Asexual media that I resonated with.
Michele: Well, you talked about Todd Chavez quite a few times on your podcast.
Courtney: We do like Todd.
Michele: I actually did not watch BoJack Horseman. I don’t think BoJack Horseman was on when I was in high school. So, that was later on. And the only reason I got into that show was because of Todd. [laughs] Which is probably the case for a lot of Asexuals, because we have so much limited media out there. But again, like, we reference young adult narratives earlier. And honestly, like, young adult has been leading the charge in LGBT representation in comparison to other age ranges, especially when it comes to Asexual representation. We have really amazing authors who are both Ace and non-Ace who are portraying Asexuality in loving, multifaceted manners. We have Darcie Little Badger, who is an Indigenous Ace author. We have Claire Kahn. We have Lisa Jenn Bigelow. We have quite a few other people there that are actually getting to talk about it in ways that, “Oh, you’re Asexual, but you also milk goats,” or “You’re Asexual and you also explore piracy,” or something like that, like being an actual pirate, or “You’re Asexual and you go into space.” Like, I’m loving that there’s so many more narratives that are coming out these days in which you could be Ace but you can also have adventures.
Courtney: Ah, Ace adventures, yes. That’s exactly what we want, too. Like, more Ace science fiction, more Ace just genre fiction in general. Ace fantasy. I love that. I think that’s so important.
Michele: Yeah, I like that too. And I definitely want to see more of that, because when people say, “Oh, if we have an Asexual character, it’s going to be boring,” like, [laughing] have you actually talked to Ace people?
Courtney: Aces are awesome. Aces are some of the most interesting, exciting people I have ever met. [laughs]
Michele: Like, look at my own background. I come from a bilingual family that has spanned multiple countries, and there’s a long history there. Or look at Darcie Little Badger, who is an Indigenous author who also studied marine biology and is an award-winning author. She’s also proudly Indigenous. So, like, we can be more than one thing and our stories can be, like, more than just be about having sex.
Courtney: Absolutely. And I do think that is why a lot of representation has fallen flat. Because in the way that, you know, allo relationships on TV or movie, a sex scene or some sort of intimacy in that realm can sort of be the shorthand for developing a further connection, in some cases. Asexuality seems to historically have been used as, like, a lazy shorthand for, “Well, this person is weird. This person doesn’t develop relationships with people.” And that’s just, like, not how to use Asexuality. Asexuality should be used as a way to make a character more colorful and flesh them out more, not a lazy shorthand for something that you perceive them to be lacking.
Michele: Exactly. And I think you might like this — I actually — one of the sections I included in my book was “50 Ways of Exploring Non-Sexual Intimacy.”
Courtney: Yes! I love that! Can you give us a taste? Can you give us just a little…?
Michele: Sure. So this was actually inspired by a tumblr post. I can’t remember where. But someone was listing ways to explore non-sexual intimacy — or ways you can show care to a friend or a partner. And I think, like, this is genius, because it talked about painting nails, or holding someone’s hand, or telling them a secret. And just like, “Here are these ways that you find connection with a person that has nothing to do with your physical body at all.”
Courtney: Oh, I love that.
Michele: And it’s just like, that just, like, seemed so everyday and groundbreaking at the same time. Because those small intimacies make up our lives, and we take it for granted so often. And so in the book, like, I listed that. I listed scratching someone’s back, because if you ever had a bad itch, like, if someone does that for you, they will just, like, look at you like you’re like you’re made of everything.
Michele: Or doing someone’s hair, which is, like, so personal, especially if you’re a woman, especially if you’re a person of color, because hair is so tied to your heritage, it is so tight for your history and your identity. Or let’s say taking photographs together. Like, there are all these ways of showing you care for someone that have nothing to do with sex at all.
Courtney: Oh, I can’t tell you how much I adore that that conversation made it into your book. Because one thing, you know, with Royce and I being married, there are some people who just think that intimacy is synonymous with sex, and they’re like, “Well, if sex isn’t an important part of your relationship, how do you build intimacy?”
Royce: Yeah, the comment of, you know, if you’re Asexual and you are pursuing some sort of relationship, like, “Oh, you’re just friends?” or “You’re just roommates?”
Royce: Like, the disconnect that that is the only difference between being a friend and being in a relationship is something explicitly sexual, and it’s so much more than that.
Courtney: Yeah. Which also implies that friendships can’t be intimate, which is just not my experience at all.
Michele: Yeah, in my experience, my friends have quite literally saved me from going off the deep end.
Michele: So I’m very grateful for the platonic relationships in my life. Also, to that note, I actually provided a metaphor in the book of distinguishing certain types of relations, I call it between drinking champagne versus drinking ginger ale. They both look similar. They just taste differently.
Courtney: I like that. And I like ginger ale. I also like champagne. [laughs]
Michele: Both look similar, but they taste different, and they leave you feeling different things. So it’s up to you to decide which one you prefer.
Courtney: I like that. And I like listing ways that intimacy can transpire between people. Because, I mean, you mentioned scratching backs; Royce does that for me like every single day. Every single day. Or, like, neck rubs. I’ve painted Royce’s nails, which reminds me, it’s been a while since we’ve done that. I think it’s time.
Michele: Yeah, exactly. Or like, if you ever had that moment where you just, like, broke down and started crying and you have no armor whatsoever, and the person with you just sits there and just allows you to break and put yourself back together. That is one of the most intimate things you can do with another person.
Courtney: That’s also very, very true. And some people can’t have that emotional kind of intimacy with people that they might have a sexual relationship with. So it really does vary person to person.
Michele: Yeah. I think part of the theme about the book was just, like, just missing the hopelessness that Asexuals can get, like, of people telling us, “Oh, we can’t have loving relationships in our life. We can’t have a fun life. We are destined to be miserable and pathetic.” Because like, even if you’re Ace or Aro, even if you don’t have sexual relationships, even if you don’t have romantic relationships, or those relationships might be more complicated, you can still have all the joy, all the love in your life. You just need to go about it a little differently than someone allo might have to.
Courtney: That was profound. I just need to sit with that for a moment. I like that.
[Michele and Courtney laugh]
Michele: Oh my goodness. I’m not trying to… I don’t know. I’m not trying to be profound. I’m just, like, trying to make a point.
Courtney: It’s a good point, though. [laughs] My point is that that was a good point.
Michele: [laughs] Thanks.
Courtney: Well, I guess, here’s one question, if you are willing to share, because you mentioned, when we were talking about things like the article, that your social media presence is pretty low, but I know a lot of Aces have found community through social media and through the internet. So what has been sort of your avenue for connecting with community?
Michele: Oh, I have two very interesting stories or anecdotes for that.
Courtney: Ooh, good!
Michele: One of which — Are you familiar with the group Aces NYC?
Courtney: I think so. Not personally, but tangentially.
Michele: Okay. So, so, when I was on YouTube, like, looking at videos on Asexuality, I found this one about an Asexual person who had started an Ace support group in New York City called Aces NYC, and that video led me to discovering the group, where I found the majority of my Ace friends today.
Courtney: That’s awesome!
Courtney: It’s so good! Because yeah, I suppose you did mention going to, you know, actual in-person groups.
Michele: Oh yeah. This was before the pandemic, by the way.
Courtney: Yeah. Pre that pesky pandemic. [laughs] But I do think there are a growing number of in-person Ace groups that are starting to accumulate, which is wonderful, because some people prefer in-person community to online community, and, of course, vice versa.
Michele: It actually does both, both IRL and online meetups, which is very useful.
Courtney: That’s awesome.
Michele: So for any Aces in the NYC area, you know where to go.
Courtney: Aces NYC. I think we follow them on social media. I’m sure I’ve seen some things from them. And you said there were two stories. Was there another one?
Michele: Yes. So, like I said, my social media presence isn’t very large, but has led to interesting connections, and one of them being from the time that I wrote Jewish Asexual article for Hey Alma. Apparently, a lot of Jewish Aces resonated with it, including one person all the way from Uruguay!
Michele: Mhm. And we started talking about, like, what it meant to have that intersectional identity, and apparently, we are still friends to this day.
Courtney: That’s awesome. I love when Aces can connect with each other and start developing friendships. I think that is just so incredibly valuable. And I think social media can be an avenue to finding that. I don’t think social media is the end-all be-all of that. [laughs]
Michele: Oh no, it is very complicated. Not just with what’s happening with Twitter right now. But… [laughs]
Michele: As much trash as there is, there can also be some surprisingly cool moments, like finding a Jewish Asexual person miles away, so.
Courtney: Yeah. Absolutely. Because… well, I mean, since you bring up Twitter with all that going on, that’s the only social media we set up for our podcast account, and it was mostly just to, like, let people know, “Hey we’re here and here’s a new project we’re doing,” but now over a year later, and the history of Twitter is uncertain, everybody’s having conversations like, “Where is the Twitter Ace community gonna go after this?” And we’ve kind of thought about it. We aren’t sure we’ll even go elsewhere if Twitter falls through, because although social media has been invaluable to finding more people and connecting with more people, we’ve started building communities in other areas. We’ve got a group of Ace friends who meet every single week to play games. We’ve got our ACAR Discord server. We’ve got these other means of building community that started from a connection made on Twitter but have developed into something more well-rounded off of it. So it’s like, “Well, I think we’ve already made some connections, so we might just not need that [laughs] if it falls through.”
Michele: I say, find community where you can, honestly.
Courtney: Yes, “Find community where you can” is so, so important. And actually, as a means of finding community, oddly enough, your article on Bitch Media led to a lot of my personal connections as well. Because during the heat of all that happening, I think I just made, like, a flustered Twitter post on my personal Twitter — because we didn’t have The Ace Couple Twitter yet — and I just sort of lamented, you know, the Ace community has an ableism issue, and I wasn’t expecting this thing to happen. But as a result of that, Basil Langevin, who is the executive director of Asexual Outreach, contacted me. They are also a disabled Ace, so ableism was definitely something they could relate to. And they said, you know, “Disappointed, but not surprised,” essentially. And that led to a conversation with them, which led to Disabled Ace Day during Ace Week, which led to so many connections that I’ve made and other disabled Aces have made, and a lot of those have blossomed into real personal ongoing friendships. So for as awful as that backlash was in that moment, long-term, there have been so many beautiful things that ultimately ended up coming as a result of it. So I thank you for that.
Michele: Well, I’m glad you got something positive out of that experience.
Courtney: I did. I did.
Michele: But again, like, the article was just, like, to talk about what I thought was an important issue. And I just hope that we can have future conversations that aren’t filled with such trollishness and that voices like yours can be highlighted to share the important truths that need to be said about this community.
Courtney: Absolutely. And then, did you want to talk any more — and feel free to just say no if you don’t — but you mentioned, with your thyroid diagnosis, there was some sort of anxiety about talking about the thyroid.
Michele: Ah, yes.
Courtney: Because of the Asexuality, so.
Michele: So I have a condition called hypothyroidism, which is basically this — you can’t see it, but I’m pointing to my neck. So the, like, the thyroid in my neck is not producing the right hormone properly, so I have to take a pill. Otherwise, my concentration is shot, along with my mood dropping. So if anyone likes to learn a little bit about the human body, the thyroid is very important. And it is not a truly debilitating condition. I mean, it’s annoying to have to get the blood work every few months read, because you can’t get the prescription without going to the doctor’s, which is more of an inconvenience than anything else. But again, like, people tend to pathologize Asexuality in general. And so I had that thought in my head, like, “Oh, what if I said that and people say, ‘Oh, you have a medical condition. That’s why you’re Ace.’” And like, “Honey, I identified as Ace since I was 15. I’ve only had this since grad school. That is not the reason for it. My libido didn’t change. My concentration, my ability to concentrate did.”
Courtney: Yeah. Especially when you pull in, like, a word like “hormone.” I feel like that’s such a scary word in the Ace community because of how it’s been weaponized against us as, like, “Oh, Asexuality isn’t real, it’s just a hormone issue,” or “Have you gotten your hormones checked?” is something I know a lot of Aces have heard.
Michele: Yes. And I’ve also included a note of this in this book that if Aces did identify as Ace because of medical condition they have, or if they did identify as Ace because of trauma, that is also valid, because that is their own personal experience, and if they feel comfortable identifying this as Ace because of that, then feel free to. If there are Aces who do not have that history and feel comfortable identifying as Ace, feel free to. The point is that I did not want to be dismissive of anyone with complicated backgrounds or conflicting identities. I wanted this book to be a safe space for people who had any journey to discovering they were Ace.
Courtney: And so far, the bits of it I’ve seen so far, have absolutely done that. I can tell there’s been a lot of love and care and nuance added to this. So, I just hope — and I imagine there will be some especially, you know, younger teenage young adult Aces who really, really need a book like this. And I think it will do a lot of good.
Michele: I hope so. I’m actually — I think that’s been an interesting part of my writing journey is just understanding how much writing for younger voices is part of my intention in the first place. I’m not only a nonfiction writer. I’m also an aspiring fiction writer too, so fingers crossed. But in undergrad, when I was first taking writing workshops, I noticed that I often featured voices who were young adult-ish. And in grad school, I discovered a love for middle grade literature.
Michele: And the thing is, like, I feel, when it comes to literature for younger readers, whether it’s YA or middle grade or picture books, that there’s this freshness to it that other mediums or other age ranges don’t have. It’s not less complicated, because I would never say that being a kid is not complicated. But there’s an honesty to it and a lack of cynicism, I think, that other genres don’t get, or other mediums don’t get. Because when you’re a kid, you’re experiencing everything for the first time. You are experiencing heartbreak, whether that’s being iced out of a social group or falling out of love or falling into love. And it’s the first time you experience grief, and the first time you experience all the other things that make you up as a human being.
Michele: And for me, when I’m writing to that voice — mind you, actually, Ace Notes was intended for all readers, but my publishing seems to be geared towards pushing it for younger adults, which I’m okay with and happy about — that I want to honor those voices. Because I want to say, “Even if you’re not a certain age yet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be respected as much. Just because you’re 15 doesn’t mean whatever you’re feeling is invalid or is trivial, because everything you feel at any point in your life matters, and you deserve someone to say that it matters.”
Courtney: Absolutely. And I love kids, and I love teenagers. I was a teacher for many, many years, and I loved working with all ages, from 3 to 18, and they all need their special kind of care and consideration and attention. And, I mean, I think to the pieces of literature that have actually made the biggest impact on me in my life, and they were all from my younger years. I can still, as an adult, read a book that I love, that I resonate with, that I would recommend to others, that I might read again, but nothing quite has the same impact as some of the first few books that you just really, really clicked with.
Michele: Oh my God. Yeah. There was this picture book by an author called Patricia Polacco — I hope I’m not butchering the title — Thank You, Mr. Falker. And it was about a girl of Slavic American background. like my own, and she had a reading disability, and I had actually similar issues reading as a kid. Like, I was in speech therapy until third grade, and I had tutors for the good first part of my life. And it was like, seeing that reflected with tenderness, and it just it made me feel less alone, you know?
Courtney: Anything that can help people feel less alone is so important. And, yeah, I think it’ll be really important for younger readers, but there isn’t anything I’ve seen of the book so far that does say that it needs to be exclusive to that. Because, I mean, you interviewed me, and I — when I’m just speaking about my current experience as an adult who — some have taken to calling me an “Ace Elder” —
Courtney: — despite the fact that I don’t I think I’m old enough to qualify for that yet. But… [laughs]
Michele: Julie Sondra Decker actually said the same thing about…
Michele: I actually interviewed her for the book too and she talked about how weird it was being called an “Elder” when she’s only 60.
Courtney: Yeah, well, it’s being an Ace Elder to me. Like, yes, I am technically older than the average Ace person that I interact with, but when I truly am elderly, I’m going to have a new set of social issues and social factors, and there’s going to be a different way that people interact with me as a result of things like ageism or potentially even further failing health that tends to come from age. So I think “elder” just has more of a social connotation that [laughing] I am not in a place to take on and won’t be for a while.
Courtney: But when I talk about my experience, like, I’m not intentionally trying to talk to a younger audience, but if a younger audience is ready to show up and hear my story as it is, then it can also be very valuable to them. When Royce and I talk, we aren’t trying to talk to teenagers and young adults, but when we look at our analytics from our podcast, a lot of those people are in that age range. And I think part of that is also because if you try too hard to talk to children on their level, sometimes that can be a little bit infantilizing as well. So –
Courtney: Yeah, I don’t know.
Michele: See, the thing I would say to that is that as someone who’s actually studied writing picture books in school, I have — by the way, I have a Master’s in children’s literature.
Courtney: That’s helpful to know!
Michele: I have a Master’s in it. I did a concentration in young adult and children’s literature at The New School, actually. So to anyone who says writing a picture book is easy, I dare you to go out and do it and see if you do it successfully. Otherwise, I’m going to kick you.
Courtney: I think it’s one of those things that is deceptively simple. People are like, “Well, that’s not a lot of words. That’s not a lot of complicated language. So that’s easy-peasy.” But…
Michele: No, it is not.
Courtney: I wouldn’t think so. So [laughs] that that’s really interesting. I, throughout my life, have just occasionally been like — if I’m doing something particularly difficult, like Ace activism, and I’m getting a lot of pushback, or really nuanced niche history that not a lot of people know about, and I run into an issue, I just kind of think, like, “Why am I not writing books for children?” Because I love kids and I love books. So that’s definitely crossed my mind a few times. Which — actually, you said you started watching BoJack Horseman for Todd. What did you think of Diane’s story? I resonated with Diane’s story very heavily near the end. [laughs]
Michele: Okay, just to reaffirm, Diane is the writer in the green jacket, correct?
Courtney: Yes. Yep. She wanted to write a collection of essays that talked about trauma.
Michele: Yes, and she ended up writing a children’s — a middle grade book.
Michele: Yeah. Well, first of all, I love the fact that they did not dismiss her age range. Like, showing the value of what that writing did for her in terms of healing and then connecting to younger readers. I absolutely loved that. Thank you. Do not dismiss young adult writers or middle grade writers. But I’m happy for her that she found healthier relationships in her life than the ones that she used to have in her past and that she found a creative outlet that was a source of healing for her.
Michele: I think, for me, that writing has been a source of healing, or at least a source of mediating certain emotions that I can’t speak about out loud, you know? I come from a somewhat conservative community. I love my family, I love my background, but Ukrainians and Russians aren’t exactly known for being very queer-friendly. So getting to write about my pieces and getting to connect to other readers through my writing, saying like, “I’ve felt this too, thank you for writing about it,” or like, “This is exactly how I felt,” it’s just — it’s so weird but so affirming to know that others have found comfort in my words, and that I hope to continue doing it for a long time.
Courtney: That’s so great. I have to ask now, and I know this is a huge, huge question.
Michele: Go ahead.
Courtney: But we’ve been asked before, even without necessarily having the desire to write a children’s book or a middle grade book, we’ve been asked, like, “If you were to write the perfect Asexual representation, what would be things you’d want to include?” And that’s just, like, such a massive, massive question in general. But —
Michele: Yeah, but you’re asking a writer!
Courtney: Yes. So what, what are some things that to you, you would want to make sure to start from if you were writing a fictional bit of Ace representation. What do you want to see?
Michele: Well, one thing you should probably know about me is that I have ideas all the time, ideas I absolutely love, but I can only work on so many things at one time.
Courtney: Right. [laughs] That’s an issue for a lot of creatives. [laughs]
Michele: And I actually do have a story idea with an Ace lead, but again, that fear of, like, disclosing plotlines that others can steal is a concern sometimes.
Michele: But in reality, where I have the ability to manifest this in a way that I am satisfied with, I would love to write a fantasy story with a Jewish Asexual witch.
Courtney: I will buy it right now. [laughs] Yes.
Michele: And I want to write a story about her having a family that utterly loves and supports her and will fight to the death for anyone who tries to harm her and her being fierce and loving herself.
Courtney: Yes, please. I will pre-order 10. [laughs]
Michele: I actually am working on a few queer stories right now that are in the works. So, fingers crossed that they see the light of day.
Courtney: Oh, I love it. I love it. Please do keep us up-to-date for any future projects that you have coming out. Because of course, Ace Notes is coming out in March. That’s just right around the corner!
Michele: I know! But you would think with all the months of writing it and then editing it that it wouldn’t feel so long. But publishing takes a while.
Courtney: Right. It is a whole big process, but…
Michele: But I will definitely update you.
Courtney: Please do, because we would love to support it and share it and, you know, potentially even have you on again. Let’s talk more about those things!
Michele: Oh my goodness, that would be amazing. I love talking with you guys.
Courtney: Well, we love having you. And I know that what you’re doing is so so important, and it’s had a personal impact on my life. And for all the people who have responded very positively to articles of yours in the past, I’m sure there are hundreds of others who haven’t even spoken up about it, so you know, for every compliment you hear, there are many others feeling the same thing in their heart of hearts.
Courtney: And just with media representation in general, we were kind of surprised when we first started our podcast and first started our Twitter account, we sort of just asked everyone, “Hey, what are some things you want to hear us talking about?” And by far and away, Ace representation in the media was the number one thing that we heard over and over and over again, so. Which is an interest of ours, and there’s the good rep, there’s the bad rep, there’s the rep that’s just okay, but there’s always more work to be done. And I got chills as you were explaining even just the basics of this idea, so if that project ever comes to fruition, I will be your number one cheerleader for that.
Michele: I will keep that in mind, and I will tell publishers that when I pitch the project to them.
Courtney: Oh gosh, I don’t know if I’m a selling point. [laughs]
Michele: I mean to say that it’s nice knowing there’s an audience.
Michele: If it’s gonna happen, there’s, like, times when a writer, like, “Do I have the skill to manifest this the way I want it to manifest?” So it’s up to me understanding, but it is a very nice pipe dream in the future, so we’ll see.
Courtney: Very cool.
Michele: But in the meantime, this book, oh my gosh, I truly hope that readers will find it and that they will find good things in it. I hope that this — for in terms of, like, who will connect to, if you’re coming out at 15 as Asexual, if you’re coming out at 50 as Asexual, I hope this would be a good resource for anyone of any age.
Courtney: Very, very cool. So links to pre-ordering it, that’s going to be our very first link in the show notes, so if we haven’t convinced you yet, I’m going to make one final plea. Go, go click on that and pre-order this book. You know, maybe we can even get some discussions going of it on the ACAR server when it does come out, because the Jewish Ace experience has been something that we have been talking about a lot on there lately. So I think that as well as some of the other folks that you interviewed could have some really valuable insights, so, yeah.
Michele: Yeah. That would be great.
Courtney: I think we can make that happen.
Michele: That would be great. Thank you.
Courtney: So, aside from the book to pre-order, I know you said you don’t do a lot on social media, but where are other places that people can be sure to find you and follow you and maybe get an update for future projects?
Michele: So I am still on Twitter while it still exists. I have a little presence on Instagram, which I’ll probably maybe lean towards in the future. I still have yet to make a writer’s website, which I will do so, hopefully shortly in the future. But you can still go to Jessica Kingsley Publishers, which is the publishing company that is making my book, and follow it for any updates on publishing dates, on any details regarding the book, such as page numbers. They’ll have all the details.
Courtney: Awesome. And then, let’s see. I feel like we covered so much ground, but is there anything at all that you want to make sure to get into before we sign off for the day?
Michele: I would probably say that this book reflects a bit of my mind processes and my individual interests and that I am a very geeky person who is interested in history and pop culture [laughs] and queer issues and that maybe it’s not going to be the most polished work ever, because it’s my first book, so please be kind. But I hope that it’s going to be a long start of a promising future.
Courtney: And I hope that for you as well. And as one geeky Ace to another, I appreciate the geekiness woven into it.
Michele: [laughs] Thank you.
Courtney: So, as we said, all the links in the show note: go click them, go pre-order the book. Do all the things you gotta do: like, comment, subscribe if you’re on YouTube, give us a rating and a review if you’re on Apple. Do all the podcast things. If Twitter still exists, Tweet at us [laughing] and share your thoughts and excitements about this forthcoming book. And until then, we will talk to you all next week. Goodbye.