Interview with Author Michele Kirichanskaya

Michele Kirichanskaya is a first-generation Ukrainian Jewish American writer and journalist born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of the New School MFA Program and Hunter College, they have written content for platforms such as Geeks OUT, Catapult, Bitch Media, Electric Lit, The Mary Sue, and more. When they are not writing, they are reading, watching an absurd amount of cartoons, and generally trying to live their life despite its many interruptions.
Twitter: @MicheleKiricha1
Instagram: michelekiricha1

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure. My name is Michele Kirichanskaya, and I am an asexual writer and journalist, as well as the first-time published author of Ace Notes: Tips and Tricks on Existing in an Allo World. Beyond what’s covered in my bio, I can tell you that I am a huge geek (as partially evidenced by my book at GeeksOUT, ha ha ha) and am constantly consuming in terms of books, comics, and animation. 

I also recently started work as a sensitivity reader. On my website it reads:

As a queer first-generation Ukrainian Jewish American reader, for a fee, they can read your book, comic, or script with queer/Jewish/Slavic representation and help identify any biases, stereotypes, harmful tropes, or inaccuracies in mind, as well as provide useful tips on creating more accurate, authentic representation.

Below are the following areas they can consult on:

  • Jewish Identity/ Culture/ Antisemitism (Especially North American diaspora)
  • Ukrainian/Russian/Slavic Culture
  • LGBTQIA+ Identity (Especially Asexual/Aromantic)

I’ve also organized and moderated a number of panels over the years at conventions like NYCC, Flame Con, Anime NYC, MoCCA, and am currently available to do more.

Congratulations on your recent release, Ace Notes: Tips and Tricks on Existing in an Allo World! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

Prior to this book, I had the idea floating in my head of writing down some of the lessons and “notes” I’ve learned existing as an asexual person in an allonormative world. Growing up, ace visibility was only just starting (and still is growing) so there wasn’t a lot of media, fiction or otherwise, on the subject, and I had to do a lot of work to learn what I know today, and figured other ace readers shouldn’t have to work as hard as I had to for information and representation. So when I heard JKP was looking for book proposals from ace writers, I jumped at the chance. 

Who do you feel this book is written for? And who do you think would benefit from reading it (if that is a different group)?

In a way this book was written for the younger version of me who didn’t have a book like this when they were first coming out as ace. I wrote this book primarily for those in the ace community, those who might feel a little lost or confused or just looking for information on the subject, but I would love it if non-aces read the book as well.

The book seems to be part “intro to a community”, part “voices and history of the community” and part “how to deal with society outside of this community”. Was that the goal when you started to plan for writing it? Or did it evolve as you worked on it?

I think it might be best to say it evolved as I was writing. Beyond the basic premise of Ace Notes as a field guide or starter guide to asexuality, I basically just started jotting down every concept I could think of related to asexuality, from pop culture/literary representation to consent and relationships. Until the deadline for the book, I simply spent my days writing as much as I could, reflecting on my past experiences and wondering what topics seemed relevant to the discussion on asexuality. 

There are a lot of great interviews in this book. Was getting those people lined up a challenge? Was that always going to be a part of this book, or were the interviews something that were added later?

I think it was always my intention to include voices other than my own for this book. I didn’t want anyone coming into the book to think there was only one perspective on asexuality, and that in fact the asexual community is diverse and multifaceted with lots of different intersectional voices, including BIPOC, disabled, etc. As for the people chosen, a lot of the aces interviewed for the book have been those I interviewed before through my work as a journalist, and so I just had the luck of them being open and available to sit down and talk with me for the book, which I’m forever grateful for.

Do you see a follow up book in the future? Are there other topics you wish had been covered? Or for now have you said all you want to on this topic?

Not unless Jessica Kingsley Publishers decides they’re interested in more, lol. For all seriousness though, I would have been game to cover more on asexual representation in pop culture, i.e. talking about the lack of it, as well as the few shows and movies that have done it (mostly) right, like BoJack Horseman, as well as continuing the discussion on intersectionality within the ace community. Who knows, there might be other books in the future on this topic.

There is a lot of discussion and reference to an asexual and aromantic spectrum in the book. While I identify as a gay male, I did connect with a few aspects of that spectrum, which I felt was really enlightening. Do you think many people that don’t consider themselves on either spectrum will read your book?

I can’t predict how many people who are not asexual or aromantic will read this book, but I certainly hope non-aces and non-aros will get a chance to read it, if only to read more about these orientations and become better allies, quite possibly for their own loved ones who might be ace or aro or both.

Were there any books that touched you or inspired you growing up? 

  • Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
  • Fairy Realm Series by Emily Rodda
  • The Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler
  • Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume
  • xxxHolic by Clamp
  • Hana-Kimi: For You in Full Blossom by Hisaya Nakajo
  • Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
  • Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Unfortunately not a lot of it was explicitly queer growing up, but I am glad to see more and more queer books for younger readers all the time.

Where did you get your start in writing?

Mostly writing notes in notebooks, thoughts I had on the world, snippets of story ideas, etc. In high school, I started out as a writer for a website called, TeenINK, which gave me a platform to display my work and start my ground as an online writer. 

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your writing journey? 

Take care of your mental health. The times when your brain is not producing anything isn’t because you’re being “lazy.” You’re not a golem, you can’t always make yourself work on command. If you’re burnt out and tired, you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of anything else.

Are there any future projects you are currently working on and are at liberty to speak about?

I am currently working on a few projects, but not at liberty to say anything yet. Fingers crossed soon though. 

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

When I’m not working, I definitely enjoy geeking out in my free time. I would call myself a full-spectrum geek, watching cartoons, researching anything from superheroes to fairytales, going to the library, spending time with my dog, Foxie, just in general feeding my brain creatively. 

To borrow a question you had in the interviews featured in your book, what are some things you would want someone to take away from this book about asexuality?

Some of the things I would want people to take away from this book is that ace people aren’t “broken” or “immature” simply by being asexual. There’s nothing “wrong” with our orientation. It’s just another way of existing in the world that deserves to be respected and validated, and not dehumanized or pathologized. The ace community features some of the most loving, creative, and thoughtful people I know, and we have many lessons to give to the world, to both people who are ace and non-ace. 

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors/creators would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

Believe me there are many I would love to recommend, including many I interviewed myself:

Featured Artwork by Ashley Masog

Interview With Maia Kobabe

Maia Kobabe is a nonbinary, queer author and illustrator from the Bay Area, California. Eir first full length book, GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR, was published in May 2019. Maia’s short comics have been published by The Nib and in many anthologies including THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS, FASTER THAN LIGHT Y’ALL, GOTHIC TALES OF HAUNTED LOVE, SHOUT OUT, ADVANCED DEATH SAVES and BE GAY, DO COMICS. Before setting out to work freelance full-time, e worked for over ten years in libraries.

When did you first realize you could tell stories through words and images? What drew you to the graphic novel art form?

I think I internalized the combination of words and images at a very young age, from children’s picture books, which remain one of my favorite forms of media. I started reading graphic novels (specifically, Japanese manga) when I was in junior high, when they started to trickle onto my local library’s shelves. I love both writing and drawing, so graphics novels seemed like the perfect merger of my two loves. 

Your book, Genderqueer, features one of the first discussions of asexuality I’ve seen in comics. If you feel comfortable, can you expand on your relationship to your asexual identity and what the process was like in depicting it?

Asexuality can be very hard to define or explain to people who haven’t spent time thinking about it, since it’s the lack of something, rather than the presence of something. I’m actually aromantic as well, which I think is maybe an even more important factor in how my life has developed. I received so much passive messaging from basically every single book and movie that eventually I would both fall in love with someone and also want to have sex with them. Though I did get crushes as a teen, I never had any desire to act on them. I think I kind of just kept waiting, thinking, well, is this romantic urge going to just hit me out of the blue at some point like I’ve been taught to expect? But it never did. By age 30 I felt confident saying “okay, enough time has passed that I think I can firmly say that romantic partnership is just something I don’t care about at all, and sex is interesting only at the level of curiosity.” I tried to depict this partly through trial and error experiences that helped me fumble towards greater clarity. 

Within the course of your graphic novel, you discuss how your identity has changed and evolved over the years, showcasing the beautiful and often frustrating reality of gender/sexuality identity exploration. Can you expand on that?

I spent a lot of time not knowing what I was, not having a label for how I felt. I can’t tell you how many countless pages of journal entries I wrote asking, “Am I gay, am I bi, am I a lesbian, am I a boy, am I a girl, am I neither, am I half and half” etc. This questioning took up a huge amount of my mental space, and I definitely wanted to hold the readers in that period of uncertainty, in that undefined grey area. 

In Genderqueer, pop culture plays a very big role, whether being mentioned within the form of comics/manga, figure skating, fantasy literature, etc. How as queer individuals do we respond and relate to the pop culture around us in terms of conceiving and understanding our own identities?

As a young queer person who only knew two or three out queer adults, and was uninterested in dating and sex, consuming queer media was my main form of exploration and discovery of queer identities. I think lots of young queer feel this need to research who we are, especially if we don’t see any role modes in our family or community. Many of the queer books I read as a teen remain my very favorites to this day because of how intensely intimate and emotional it felt to read them.

What’s a question no one has asked you yet or that you wish was asked more?

I wish more people asked me, “Should I write my own memoir?” so I could tell them yes!

What are some of your favorite elements of comics/graphic novel medium? What craft elements/techniques stand out to you the most?

One element I love is called a non-adjacent sequence. It’s a series of panels or even pages which are repeated, with a new twist, two or more times in a book. The idea is that the reader will either consciously notice this call back and flip back in the book to find the first example, or else be unconsciously influenced by the repetition and better understand that the two scenes are linked. In “Gender Queer” I used the same panel layout for pages 125 and 219. I also repeated the same plant motif on pages 66, 67 and 191.

Aside from Melanie Gilman, the queer/ non-binary mentor stated within your book, who are some of your other creative/artistic influences?

I am influenced by a lot of other cartoonists, especially ones who draw from their own lives: Mari Naomi, Lucy Knisley, Lucy Bellwood, Erika Moen, Raina Telgemeier, Alison Bechdel, Dylan Edwards, Ajuan Mance, Thi Bui, Sarah Mirk and Shing Yin Khor immediately come to mind. The comics journalism website The Nib has also impacted me a lot- I am both a reader of and a contributor to their site, and their latest anthology “Be Gay, Do Comics.” Many of my very first nonfiction comics were published by The Nib and I benefited greatly from working with their all-star editorial team. 

As a creative person, what advice would you give to other aspiring artists/writers?

Go forth! Be recklessly honest, be gentle, be bold, be strong, be soft. If you tell your own darkest secrets with a spirit of compassion towards your younger self, you will help readers heal their own wounds.

What are some things you wish to say to your trans/non-binary readers?

I love you, and we are family. 

Are there any projects you are working on at the moment and are at liberty to speak about?

I illustrated a YA prose novel called “We Are The Ashes, We Are The Fire” by Joy McCullough which is due out from Penguin Random House in Feb 2021. It’s got some very heavy themes, but also a renaissance-fair obsessed nonbinary teen character who I love very much. I am also developing my next full length graphic novel in collaboration with the nonbinary cartoonist Lucky Srikumar.

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ comics or books you would recommend to the readers of Geeks Out?

Buckle your seatbelt, I have a lot of recommendations. I post 100 book reviews per year on Goodreads, so feel free to follow me on there if you want even more! But here are some comics with trans and nonbinary characters which I really loved: Grease Bats by Archie Bongiovanni (a slice of life comic – nonbinary main character) (author is also nonbinary)  

Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy edited by Joamette Gil (anthology of short comics, all with nonbinary authors)

The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin and Noah Hayes (an ongoing comic series, one nonbinary character, one trans character)

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell  (a slice of life comic – a nonbinary secondary character)

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (fantasy YA comic – a nonbinary main character)

Snapdragon by Kay Leyh (a trans secondary character)

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (trans character, nonbinary author)

As The Crow Flies  by Melanie Gillman (trans character, nonbinary author)

The Deep and Dark Blue by Niki Smith (trans main character)

O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti (trans secondary, nonbinary author)

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura (a manga series, multiple trans characters)

Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa  (a manga series, one  trans character)

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (sci-fi comic – a nonbinary secondary character)

Happy reading 🙂

You can follow Maia Kobabe @redgoldsparks on instagram and tumblr

Interview With Author Angela Chen

Angela Chen is a journalist and the author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. Her reporting and essays have also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Paris Review, and more. I had the opportunity to interview Angela, which you can read below.

Where did the impetus for Ace come from? Has this project been something you’ve been ruminating on for a while?

The short answer is that I wanted to write about asexuality because I am ace and didn’t realize it until I was 24. More specifically, it was frustrating to me that the existence of asexuality and the ace lens felt so hidden—like something that I had to go searching for in order to find, instead of a perspective integrated into the way that we already think about sexuality and relationships. There were other books about asexuality out there, like The Invisible Orientation, but not many. I really wanted to write a reported book that included detailed narratives from people’s lives and, because I am a professional journalist, thought that I’d be able to do that. 

In previous interviews, such as the one with the podcasters of Sounds Fake But Okay, you noted a difference between talking to ace interviewers versus non-ace interviewers. Could you elaborate on this?

Absolutely. When talking to non-ace interviewers, or for publications that primarily have a non-ace audience, I receive a lot of questions asking me to define asexuality or to debunk misconceptions. It’s very ace 101. I really appreciate all the interest from non-aces and think it’s so important that we show that the ace lens can be valuable for everyone, but the questions necessarily are more basic.

When talking to ace interviewers, we can skip all the questions about what asexuality is and isn’t, and talk more about what it means and explore more nuances instead of focusing on definition. I also feel like I can be more critical of the ace community when speaking with ace interviewers. The community isn’t perfect—no community is—but when speaking to allos, I feel more pressure to emphasize the best parts of the community and that people are ace and happy. 

When talking to ace interviewers or an ace audience, I feel more okay talking about what I think the ace community could be doing better, or saying that sometimes I don’t feel great about being ace, and that should be okay too. 

In the book you provide a parallel between the term “Gold Star Lesbian” with the inspired term “Gold Star Asexual,” and the ways in which the asexual identity is being gatekept by this unattainable ideal. Could you expand on these qualifications and how in your words the “Gold Star Asexual” is a “fantasy and a false promise” (p.99)?

There’s still so much questioning about whether asexuality is valid. Doubters really want to explain asexuality away by saying that someone isn’t asexual, they’re just shy, or haven’t found the right person, or maybe it’s because of childhood trauma, or repression, or whatnot. Basically every ace person that I know has questioned whether they’re “really” ace, which can be exhausting and drain energy that could be better used elsewhere. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s good to ask questions and explore and of course there’s nothing wrong with deciding that you’re not ace. But it’s telling that people really want aces to question until they discover they’re allo, whereas allos are not really encouraged to question whether they’re ace. It’s a double standard, because it’s okay to be allo but many people think it’s not okay to be ace. Instead of exploration being a valuable and good thing that you do to understand yourself, aces feel like we have to keep questioning ourselves because we might be deluded. 

Allos aren’t the only people who gatekeep either. Because aces are doubted by others, which is painful, it can be tempting to become gatekeepers ourselves. Especially in the early years of the community, there was talk about how people couldn’t be truly ace if they were disabled or if they were victims of sexual trauma, because that would “delegitimize” asexuality.

To my mind, that view is wrong. Very few people are gold-star aces, and we shouldn’t focus on that anyway. The purpose of the ace community is to be accepting and inclusive and help people find each other and share resources. Playing into ace respectability politics will make us turn on each other and exclude those who must be included and it doesn’t help us help each other and organize to change society. The way I see it, you can be ace for whatever reason and that’s fine, and it’s also fine if later you decide you’re not ace. (In general, I think it’s good to think of sexualities as fluid.) I think it’s important that aces fight compulsory sexuality and make it clear that you can have a happy life if you’re asexual, no matter why you’re asexual or for how long—and none of that relies on someone being a gold-star ace. 

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex is one the first asexual non-fiction books to be published by a “mainstream” publisher. Was there a lot of pressure riding on this book? What challenges did you experience in trying to publish it?

I think a lot of publishers thought that the book would be too niche—essentially, that because the ace population isn’t huge, there wouldn’t be a big audience for the book and it wouldn’t sell. Others thought that maybe it’d be too academic. I disagree with both assumptions. The book is a bit academic, but it’s also reported and has a lot of stories of people’s lives. And even if the ace population isn’t huge, it’s still valuable to have this book exist. Not to mention that, as I keep saying, the ace lens is valuable for allos too. 

I did feel like there was a lot of pressure riding on it, though I felt that from myself, rather than from my publisher. There’s such a void of ace representation and discussion in mainstream nonfiction books, which means that any new book on the topic is going to be expected to do so much and capture every sub-experience, even though that’s never possible for any book. I tried hard to make the book diverse in a lot of ways and cover topics like race, disability, and gender, as well as different types of ace and aro experience. But of course no book could cover all of ace experience. I said that right at the beginning, in the authors’ note. I tried to say what my limitations were, because I think that’s far more honest than not showing the limitations and pretending one book is representative. It’s not. There is so much more to say. There needs to be a rich ace canon. 

Considering one book can’t cover everything about asexuality, are their subjects you wish you to expand upon? Would you be open to writing a follow-up to Ace?

At least right now, I don’t think I’ll be writing a follow-up to Ace. I’m primarily a science and technology journalist and think my work in the immediate future will go back to focusing on that. But there are so many other subjects that I wish other aces would write books about. There should be books just about sex-repulsed aces, and books focusing only on aros, books about aroallos (who often get overlooked), more books about demisexuality and queerplatonic relationships. I feel like every chapter of my book could have been its own book! Plus, there definitely need to be books about aces outside of the Western world—there’s so much to say about the aspec experience and many who are more qualified than I to write about these experiences. 

While much of the book discusses the challenges and prejudices facing the asexual community, you also highlight some of the positive elements about this identity. Could you talk about that here?

Absolutely. Being ace can give you such a rich and valuable perspective on the world. Sometimes, it can feel like a superpower, like it makes you see things that other people don’t, like it makes you more perceptive. It can make you question so much about relationships (of all kinds) and sexuality that people take for granted. I think that, often, it can help you have richer and closer and more intimate relationships. Ace are some of the most emotionally and socially intelligent people I know. Like many other experiences that deviate from the norm, it makes you see the norm for what it is—and then it can bring more freedom by having you question it. 

What asexual resources/pop culture references would you recommend for the readers of Geeks OUT?

In terms of general ace resources, I would recommend Julie Sondra Decker’s book The Invisible Orientation, as well as The Asexual Agenda, which is a wonderful group blog. 

To be honest, I have never been the best at pop culture references—there’s a reason I’m primarily a science and tech journalist! (And writing the pop culture parts of the book was difficult for me.) There’s a lot of wonderful ace YA out there, which I think is super important. Alice Oseman’s Loveless comes to mind, for example, as does Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love. This Goodreads list might be useful too

And finally, are there any projects you are currently working on or project ideas you are currently developing and are at liberty to speak about?

Not right now! Still trying to recover from 2020.

You can follow Angela Chen on Twitter @chengla