Interview with Author Julie Sondra Decker

Julie Sondra Decker is an author from Tampa, Florida. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories for adults and children, and is known as a prominent voice for the asexual community. Her nonfiction title The Invisible Orientation (Skyhorse/Carrel), a Lambda Award finalist, was published in September 2014. In the past she contributed blogs for Psychology Today and Good Vibrations, has published multiple articles on the topic, and has been interviewed in the mainstream media as an asexuality spokesperson on multiple occasions. Julie’s non-writing interests include baking, drawing, singing, cartoon fandom, drinking coffee, and engaging through social media. She has run a weekly fantasy webcomic, Negative One, since 2005, and a monthly joke comic for writers, So You Write, since 2012. Her work can be found online at her author site, personal blog, or complete list of published works.

I had the opportunity to interview Julie, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Julie Sondra Decker and I’m an author, educator, and activist from Florida. I’m aromantic, non-partner-seeking, and asexual. I’ve always loved writing—most of my fiction is fantasy, speculative fiction, or science fiction, but whenever I’m passionate about something I love to write about that too, so I’m always writing articles, essays, rants, and sometimes even longer works. I’m a hobbyist musician and artist who also loves cartoons, baking, karaoke, reading, and spending quality time with friends. I do support work at an engineering firm as my main day job, and my side work has involved my writing and sometimes freelance editing. I live by myself in a big house with no kids and no pets, and though I socialize frequently, I really value my solitude. I’m always working on some new project.

As a person who identifies on the aromantic-asexual spectrum, how did you find yourself discovering this part of your identity?

I was a teenager in the 1990s before internet communities existed, so my access to similar people was limited when I was growing up. Dating other people was never my idea, and when I was propositioned, relationships I consented to never came with any spark of interest, neither romantic nor sexual. I didn’t realize those two attractions might even be separate because I wasn’t interested in either romance or sex, and since everyone else seemed to want both, I thought it was a single experience that just didn’t happen to me. I only understood them as distinct attractions once I met people who experienced one and not the other. 

As I was first realizing this was pretty different from others’ experience in my school, I began to refer to myself as “nonsexual” and didn’t worry too much about it. I assumed that eventually I would like someone that way, but wasn’t in any hurry for it to happen, and none of the romantic or physical interaction I experimented with was inspired by intrinsic desires from me, nor was any of it satisfying or interesting. On a good day it was just boring, but most of the time it was actively unpleasant. Eventually I decided if I was going to have another relationship, it was going to be my idea, and I would wait for some indication from MY body or mind that I wanted this before I tried anything else. But I never did feel any kind of sexual or romantic attraction to anyone else, so I felt comfortable using my “nonsexual” term until the broader community grew up under “asexual” and gave me more widely used language for it.

How did you find yourself getting into this type of advocacy? Did anything in particular inspire you?

Since I always turn to writing as a means of expression, working out my annoyances in text seemed like a natural step. I had a rudimentary website in the late 1990s and one of its sections contained a page of rants. Most were on topics like “my roommate is annoying” or “I hate running out of toilet paper,” but one of the rants was essentially a top-ten list about responses I hated hearing when people found out I was not interested in sex. I listed the most common knee-jerk reactions, from “you just got out of a bad relationship” to “you’ll change your mind when you’re more mature”; from “you’re secretly gay” to “you’re too ugly to get a man”; from “you’re just trying to be special” to “you just haven’t tried ME yet.” (And of course, everyone’s favorite Bingo Free Space: “Have you gotten your hormones checked?”) 

That essay got far more attention than the other complaints on the page, and suddenly I was hearing from other people who felt the same way I did. And what really struck me was how many of those emails were so desperate, sad, and grateful to find out they weren’t alone. I hadn’t ever been particularly concerned about my asexuality even though I was frequently irritated by ignorant comments, so hearing how lost these people had felt for so long was as eye-opening as it was heartbreaking. From that point on I worked to make content for various media and made myself available to be interviewed when there was interest, and when I realized many “gatekeepers” against asexuality cited a lack of published material on the subject as evidence that asexuality wasn’t a legitimate orientation, I decided a book needed to exist and that I was well placed to write it.

Your book, The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, is considered one of the first non-fiction books on the subject. What inspired you to write this book and did the fact that it was one of the first published texts on the subject put any particular pressures on you? 

Other books did exist but they were either textbooks (written by a non-asexual person) or self-published books (great but less mainstream reach). In an ideal world, I think people who want to learn about a subject should be willing to consider less traditional media coming straight from underrepresented voices with lived experience, but in the real world we have many people with traditional understandings of legitimacy, and unfortunately those people might be controlling our lives. Having a book out there to find makes it easier to order it to a library, cite it for a school report, bring it to your therapist, or lend it to a parent or partner to ease your coming out. And getting the message out there is easier with a mainstream publisher with its ability to reach markets that are less accessible to self-published authors or niche publishers.

I do say in the introduction to the book that it is not meant to be a comprehensive look at the topic, nor should it be upheld as some kind of ultimate word on everything asexual. But I knew that it would probably be The Asexual Book for quite some time and that made me hyper aware that a) I didn’t want to get anything wrong and b) I didn’t want to leave anyone/anything out. So I requested volunteer readers from dozens of specific demographics—I put out a call for test readers on my social media and got over one hundred responses (with more than half of them actually coming through with feedback). Every section in the book that represents an experience or identity has been read by someone who matches it and gave thoughts and feedback. (That’s why the acknowledgments section is so long!) In some cases I was simply told that I had already covered everything they could want, while in other cases I received enthusiastic suggestions for more points and topics to include, or occasionally critique and concerns. Non-asexual volunteers also read the parts for non-asexual people. And multiple bloggers whose work was significant in the asexual online world agreed to let me include quotes from them so we could at least have some distinct, diverse voices breaking up the general narration. 

Despite the work I put in, there are obviously some things I would change today, and I have seen some parts of it get misunderstood or taken out of context for disappointing reasons. I’ve also seen legitimate criticism, and after discussing that early commentary with its authors, in two cases I was able to incorporate revisions that addressed the issues in the next edition of the book.

How have you seen the field of asexual media/literature change since the publication of your book?

There are more mainstream-published books on the topic, first of all. It’s nice to have other books out there that cover different ground and provide a different look at the experience of asexuality. I’ve also seen a veritable explosion of asexual characters entering fictional landscapes—in sitcoms, in cartoons, in comics, in literature—and more media personalities identifying publicly as asexual. We’re moving away from the simple need for awareness and more toward advocacy; the world knows we’re here, so what do we do about it?

As a writer who has been in the Aro-Ace (or Aspec) community for over twenty years, how have you seen the community evolve since your entry into it? How have you seen the world’s perception of aspec identities change (or not change) since then? What would you like to see change?

Within the communities, there was a question of core identity and microculture signifiers—what did WE count as asexual or aromantic, what language did WE want to use for ourselves, do we want to “reclaim” insulting commentary or reject it, what do we want our flag to look like? Are we queer? How do we fit in, and how do we not? Is it appropriate to name the majority, the non-asexual population, and is it possible to tease out what disadvantages being asexual or aromantic has as a marginalized identity? We talked about all these things, and sometimes argued about them, and sometimes invented new language to help describe more specific experiences within ace or aro identity, and sometimes dealt with waves of gatekeeping or harassment or bad media examples that set us up as targets. We’ve seen this movement evolve from internet communities just looking for someone to see us and hear us to a collection of organizations, individuals, and concepts that has political importance, allyship, pride, visibility, and resources. We’ve lobbied to have our orientation recognized in Federal non-discrimination legislation. We’ve successfully communicated to have definitions revised in major mental health resources to reflect the legitimacy of asexuality. And many of us have been able to support each other through forming or leaving relationships and talking to our loved ones about who we are.

I’ve definitely seen a shift in recognition of the orientations over the years—it used to be almost inevitable that coming out as asexual would then lead to a twenty-minute Q&A with someone who still walked away thinking “eh, it’s a phase, they’ll grow out of it.” Conversely, now almost everyone I talk to about asexuality has heard of it before their conversation with me. I’d like to see authentic understanding of asexuality and aromanticism grow in the future, and other developments I’d love to see would be a) more asexual and aromantic characters in popular stories; b) a revision of the DSM-5’s definition of asexuality and treatment of sex aversion since it’s currently still pretty problematic, as well as more information for and resources for mental and physical health providers; and c) the establishment and growth of physical organizations dedicated to asexuality and aromanticism.

For someone who is new to the ace community, what resources would you recommend checking out? 

I generally tell new aces to figure out their preferred way of absorbing information and jump right in. If they want a written resource, I’m partial to recommending my own but also like to recommend ACE by Angela Chen, reading blogs and articles from my resource list, and reading through scientific research and/or posts on AVEN. If they like podcasts or interactive interviews, I have some of those in my resources list too. If they get something out of interacting, I recommend they start a blog and interact with other ace content, or post on and read/comment on posts in AVEN or ace/aro Facebook groups. If they want to go to ace meetups, I have resources for those (though they can be sparse). And if they want to watch visual media, there are a few news stories and a documentary to recommend, plus YouTube is full of vlogging aces who make everything from educational videos to fun debunks of popular misconceptions. 

What are some things you wish you had known when you first came out as aspec?

I regret very little and can’t think of anything I’d change about how it all went down. But I think at the very beginning since I developed my identity in isolation, I was predisposed to believe MY experiences and definitions could be generalized, and I think it would have been good to know that some of them were not. I didn’t realize, for instance, that detractors who assigned me traumatic sexual experiences in my past to “explain” my orientation shouldn’t be countered with statements like “no, aces aren’t traumatized” since, well, some aces do have experiences like that and denying that it’s true for ME could accidentally throw them under the bus depending on how it’s phrased. But for so long I thought I was mostly just talking about myself and couldn’t see the harm that could do.

Aside from your writing and advocacy work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I can serve as a good example of an asexual, aromantic, unpartnered person who legitimately wants to be this way and isn’t sad or lonely. I generally don’t have trouble convincing other ace or aro people that this is true, but some of them have trouble seeing how they can be happy in their own lives when they’re surrounded by negative messages about their futures and lack positive examples of fulfilled aro and ace people. I’d love people to understand that asexuality and aromanticism has never been experienced as a hole or a missing piece for me and I formed whole without that part, and if someone out there feels broken or incomplete because everyone ELSE keeps telling them this piece is supposed to be there and is vital to a satisfying adult life, they don’t have to internalize that or live that way. We just don’t have omnipresent examples in our lives of how fulfilled ace/aro/unpartnered life might look, so we have to do more work to invent it and step into it ourselves. If we do that, I assure you we will be much happier.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

I’ve seen other aces sometimes ask this question but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked it: “If you could take a pill to change you so you could experience sexual attraction, would you take it?” Or maybe, “Do you wish you were not asexual/aromantic?”

For me, it’s a very confident no. I’ve never had the envy some people talk about with regard to wishing I fit in more in this regard, nor do I have a particular curiosity about what it would be like to be like someone else. I’ve heard some people say that sounds impossible because why wouldn’t someone be curious, why wouldn’t we want to get involved with something that everyone talks about like it’s the best thing ever, but interestingly most of those people have at least one aspect of their identity that they’d never consider changing even if it were possible (e.g., a straight person who thinks it’s reasonable to insist aces must be awfully curious about what it would be like to be straight, but has never wondered what it might be like to be ace, and also wouldn’t take THAT pill). 

But on top of that, I honestly get pretty fed up with hypotheticals like this. I haven’t been asked this specific question but I was once asked whether I would have sex “if I had to to save the world,” and what gender I would choose to have sex with if my sex acts could somehow save humanity. When I said I’d probably choose another woman, the person laughed and concluded I was a “hypothetical lesbian,” and brought it up several more times in other contexts insisting he had “proved” I was a lesbian. When people ask these questions they are often expressing that they don’t actually accept your REAL answer and want you to pick a box to sort you into that they find more comfortable, so they can then invalidate you and treat you like a hypothetical answer offered under duress reveals more about you than the answer that has applied in your non-hypothetical, real life all this time.

Sexual orientation isn’t a switch to flip, nor can it be controlled by a drug we can take, so entertaining the hypotheticals is not very practical. If something fundamental could be replaced with a different reality at the touch of a button, I’m essentially being asked what I might want if I were a different person. They want to hear that aces desperately want to be like them, or they want to hear that if we would choose to stay as we are then we’re accepting that our orientation “is a choice.” But everyone who asks leading questions to trap someone into admitting that REALLY their orientation constitutes close-mindedness or fear is projecting their own values onto someone who isn’t them. It’s peculiar, but it’s unfortunately pretty common. 

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

Not that it’s necessarily anything to get excited about because I have no guarantee that these projects will see the light of day, but I do have two YA novels in progress that have asexual characters—one protagonist in a realistic YA and one supporting character in a science fiction YA. If I am able to prioritize finishing one of them, get it through editing and into my agent’s hands, maybe it will get more exciting, but as such it barely counts as news. I’ve also written a science fiction short story with asexual protagonists (well, one asexual aromantic character and one graysexual demiromantic gender fluid character), but my submission attempts haven’t landed it a home yet.

I also continue to produce my Letters to an Asexual series on YouTube once a month. 

What asexual or general LGBTQIA+ media (i.e. books/ television/etc.) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Asexuality-nonfiction-wise, I did really like Angela Chen’s book ACE, and a book I recently read with a positive representation of an asexual and aromantic supporting character was The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (a Welcome to Night Vale novel). Some of the more well-known representations of asexuality in visual media like Bojack Horseman I still haven’t seen, but I did really enjoy the supporting asexual characters in Shortland Street and Huge. In broader LGBTQIA+ media, I’m really enjoying The Owl House right now (a cartoon with canonically bisexual, lesbian, and nonbinary characters). And I think everyone already knows how much of a raging Steven Universe fan I am, so recommending that is always a given—one of the characters was identified as asexual by one of the storyboard artists, even! 

Interview with the Gentle Giant Ace

Marshall Blount aka the Gentle Giant Ace is a Black Asexual Activist from Erie,Pennsylvania. He’s a board member for Asexual Outreach (a non-profit organization) and on the Pennsylvania commission on LGBTQ Affairs. His mission is to spread awareness of Asexuality from his perspective. I had the pleasure of talking with Marshall, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Aww thank you, my name is Marshall Blount, aka the Gentle Giant Ace, I am 28 years old, I am Asexual, Aromantic, and Greyromantic. I’m an Asexual Activist, board member of Asexual Outreach, and I’m on the Pennsylvania commission on LGBTQ affairs. I’m pretty much busy doing incredible things for the Ace community.

As a person on the aromantic-asexual spectrum, how did you find yourself discovering this part of your identity?

I’ve spent a good deal of my early life not exploring my sexuality, I do know that this Heteronormative society impacted my view of what sexuality was. It made me unaware of how HUGE the spectrum of sexuality is. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I REALLY started to question my sexuality, I broke my silence to my sister in law (Deja) who was (still is) awesome in helping me learn the complexities of sexuality. I googled Asexuality and was like “YEP, THAT’S ME”. And even after that, there was a lot to explore and still is.

How did you find yourself getting into asexual advocacy? Did anything or anyone in particular inspire you?

I got into Activism after some very negative experiences I’ve encountered while being open with my Asexuality. It was me not wanting those who are coming out to not have to experience the hatred I’ve experienced and sometimes still do. I want the world to know that being Asexual is NOT being broken, cold, alone and loveless. It’s a beautiful part of who we are.

As a Black asexual man, you represent a few demographics that are still underrepresented within the ace community, both in terms of your gender and your racial background. What are your thoughts on intersectionality within the ace community?

Intersectionality is KEY to the future of the Ace community and our activism. Asexuality is stereotyped as a “White thing” which as a result, Black and Brown Ace voices (activist or not) are often ignored and overlooked…Things are changing within the community however, non-BIPOC Ace folk need to listen to the voices and experiences of BIPOC Ace folk if we want to move forward as a community and break that stereotype.

How as a community can we work to do better for aces of color?

Share our work (with permission of the activist/artist and give credit to them), donate to our causes, tip us (BIPOC Ace Activist/advocates) so we can continue our work without instability.

As a representative on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, could you tell us about your involvement with the organization? Also, on that note, how would you describe the ace community where you’re from?

My involvement with the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ affairs is to make sure that Ace folk in the commonwealth are represented and to also check in with the well-being of the community and what we (our commission works as a team) can do to improve on the quality of life for LGBTQIA+ Pennsylvanians in general. The Ace community of Erie is small. It’s rare (not too rare) that I bump into another Ace person here. I do wear an Asexual pride pin on my shirt or hat so I can be spotted by another Ace in public. I do think eventually we will have hangouts especially post pandemic but it’s the matter of who will be the first of us to host it here lol .There will be cake though.

Besides your work online, what do you like to do in your free time?

Outside of my work online, I love to dive into photography. There is just something about capturing a moment in time and sharing it with the world that is joyful to me. You can’t really beat it. I also love to explore the varieties of coffee and teas from different cafes lol.

What are some basic things about asexuality you would want people to take away from this interview?

I want people to know that Black and Brown Asexual people exist…That our voices, our experiences, and humanity should never go unheard or overlooked. I also want the world to know that Asexual people are not broken and that we are not going anywhere. Our sexual orientation is valid and we deserve to be recognized.

For someone new to the ace community, what resources would you recommend checking out?

I highly recommend Asexual Outreach (AsexualOutreach.org). It’s a wonderful organization that can help you get connected to the community and provides resources so you can get educated about the Ace community. You can even search for Ace groups in your area or nearby . I am biased lol but Asexual Outreach is a wonderful team to be a part of and I’m so, so proud of the work we create so we can help our community.

What are some ways you would recommend for someone hoping to celebrate or advocate for their own ace-ness?

For starters, get you some cake lol, that is a huge tradition in our community and a must. If you want to get involved with community advocacy, I have to again recommend reaching out to Asexual Outreach, we have the steps to help you with that. Head on over to the website (Asexualoutreach.org) for more information.

Who are some ace activists you would recommend others to know about?

The Asexual Goddess

Yasmin Benoit

Queer As Cat

Ahsante The Artist

What LGBTQIA+ media (i.e. books/ television/etc.) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

1.The one and only Yasmin Benoit’s YouTube channel, their content is just amazing and badass. And you get a lot of behind the scenes of the work they do.

2.The Asexual Goddess’ YouTube channel, their work is also badass and they breakdown the various subjects in our community and they never fail to deliver great commentary

3. Bojack Horsemen on Netflix, I can watch that entire series a million times and never get tired of it lol. It’s a very real show because you can relate to the various characters on it. My favorite being Todd Chavez for obvious reasons (I won’t spoil it for those who did not watch). Check it out.

Interview with Sounds Fake But Okay

Sounds Fake But Okay is a casual, occasionally chaotic podcast by best friends Sarah and Kayla. Each week, this aromantic/asexual girl and demisexual girl discuss relationships, sexuality, queer issues, and society from an asexual and aromantic lens. Started in 2017, Sounds Fake But Okay releases new episodes every Sunday. I had the opportunity to interview Sarah and Kayla, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you come to know each other and what do you think of the chances of both of you discovering you were on the asexual spectrum and creating a podcast revolving around that topic?

We were randomly placed as roommates at the University of Michigan and hit it off incredibly fast — during our first few weeks of college people would constantly ask if we had been friends in high school because we seemed to know each other so well. It’s kind of scary to think about how many little things had to go right in order for us to end up where we are. If I (Kayla) had never met Sarah, I’m not sure that I would have ever discovered my sexuality, and we obviously would have never made the podcast. It makes you want to believe in fate a bit when you think about how low the chances of all of this are.

How did you come up with the title Sounds Fake But Okay?

Once I (Sarah) came out, I found myself asking Kayla a lot of questions about romance, dating, and sex — the sorts of things that people were just expected to intuitively know, but as an aro ace person, I didn’t. When Kayla attempted to give me answers to questions like “what’s the appeal of dick pics?” and “how long is sex supposed to last?”, her responses often sounded fake to me, like they were just things that society was making up and people pretended to understand. Hence, Sounds Fake But Okay was born. 

You two have featured a number of asexual writers and activists on your show before, including Yasmin Benoit, Angela Chen, Gentle Giant Ace, and more. In a way, I feel this helps to illustrate the diversity of the ace community, showing that asexual comes in many shapes and sizes? Was this your intention?

We definitely try to make the show and our guests as diverse as possible. We always say that our experiences are only our own and that they don’t necessarily map onto the community as a whole or speak to every asexual or aromantic person’s experience — we are two cis white women, and it would be harmful to pretend that we understand or represent the experience of all aspecs. Having guests of different sexualities, genders, races, ages, professions, etc. helps us get a broader look at the community.

As an asexual person myself, it often feels like the A is pretty silent in LGBTQIA+. What are your thoughts on the erasure/ gatekeeping of asexual people within the queer community? How do you think the overall queer community can do better?

As aspecs, we’re unfortunately used to getting a lot of criticism or “hate” because of our identities. A lot of the time it comes from straight people or internet trolls. While of course it hurts to see comments from people in those groups, it’s even harder to get hate from fellow queer folks. The queer community is supposed to be about coming together to fight against the norm — it shouldn’t be a contest about who’s the most oppressed or struggles the most. 

We need people of other identities and people who are more “accepted” by the queer community to stand up for us. If we have to keep battling for our place in the community alone, it will take a lot longer.

Both of you occupy different identities within the ace spectrum, with you (Sarah) as a person who identifies as asexual and aromantic and you (Kayla) as a self-described demisexual straight girl. How do you feel your own respective identities play off each other when talking about asexuality?

When we first started the podcast it was supposed to be a straight girl explaining love and sex to an aro ace girl. After I (Kayla) discovered I was demi, the dynamic of the show changed a bit. While I do still explain what dating is like or talk from the perspective of someone who’s had sex, been in love, etc, I also talk from the perspective of an aspec person. I’m in kind of a weird situation where I have one foot in the allo or straight work and one in the aspec or queer world. Since Sarah happens to be an aro ace person who doesn’t date and have sex, I’m kind of able to provide the information she is missing and she is able to do the same for many aro and ace issues.

What are some basic truths for someone who is still new to asexuality you would want people to take away from this interview?

It’s okay if you’re not that happy with your identity or if you’re feeling a bit freaked out. We grow up being told it’s normal to have sex, that everyone does it, everyone wants it, etc. When you eventually find out that this isn’t true or that you just don’t feel the same attraction that others do, it can be a bit of a shock. Take your time and don’t feel bad if you don’t love being ace for a while.

What advice would you have to give for people who are interested in creating and promoting their own podcast?

Don’t start a podcast if you’re just in it to get famous or make money, because the vast majority of podcasts don’t reach that level. Pick a topic that you’re passionate about, that you could see yourself recording hundreds of episodes about. 

We also always tell people to find their niche. Honestly, one of the main reasons our podcast has become successful is because there were no other shows consistently talking about our topic. This won’t be the case for every topic, so you really have to work to make sure you’re talking about a subject in a new or personal way.

And finally, listeners come for your content but they stay for you. How much of yourself you share on any given podcast is your decision (as it should be!), but once you’ve gained your listeners’ trust, they’ll probably be a bit more accepting if you want to go off topic sometimes or experiment with new things.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet or wish you were asked more?

I (Kayla) wish we were asked about the joys of asexuality and aromanticism more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly important to focus on the struggles we face and to help each other through that, but there are some amazing things that come with being aspec as well. As aspec people, we have good experiences and bad experiences and I wish they were shown more equally.

For me (Sarah), it isn’t even a question but just a topic: I wish people talked about aromanticism more. As a person who is both aro and ace, I often feel as though my aromanticism impacts my life more than my aceness does — people don’t necessarily know if you’re not having sex, but they will ask questions if you’re not dating and have no intention to be. However, so much of the focus both inside aspec spaces and out is on asexuality specifically. Part of this is because the vast majority of the population doesn’t have a grasp on the split model of attraction (the idea that romantic attraction, sexual attraction, etc. are not necessarily the same thing), but it’s also just because there seem to be fewer aros than aces. That said, I think more discussion of aromanticism and how the aro lens can help you reframe and prioritize relationships of all types can benefit everyone, and I wish it were more prevalent. 

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ media (i.e books/ comics/ podcasts/etc.) you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

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 Yasmin Benoit

An alternative fashion model of Caribbean descent (Trinidadian, Jamaican, and Barbadian descent) Yasmin Benoit is a proud Black Aro-Ace model/activist from the UK. Creator of #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike Benoit revels in breaking stereotypes about what asexuals/aromantics are perceived and look like. I had the pleasure of interviewing her, which you can read below.

How did you get into modeling? What made you decide to stay on this path and how did you come to incorporate your identity as an asexual aromantic person with it?

I just started reaching out to local photographers, building a portfolio, and then I started getting the attention of brands who wanted models with my look. I try to use my work to increase representation for alternative people of colour, that was why I was motivated to do it in the first place, and break down the misconceptions about how black people in particular are supposed to dress. I stay on that path because I’m pretty good at it, I get to be creative, work with cool people, get free clothes and use it to amplify the other messages I want to put out there – like raising awareness for asexuality and aromanticism. That’s how I incorporate it. Now that I’m out, my modelling work inevitably connects to my modelling too and helps to dispel misconceptions about being aspec.

Because of your identity, you stand at both the fronts of hypersexualization as a model of color and desexualization as an asexual person. Do you ever experience these contrasting forces, and if so, how do you resolve that tension?

They can be amusingly contrasting sometimes, like completely contradicting. It’s fine for me, I’m just doing my thing and expressing myself how I want to, but it’s pretty funny when I’ve got some people calling me a “slut” and a “whore” and others calling me a “virgin loser” at the same time. It’s other people who can’t decide which stereotype they want to go for and both can’t exist at once.

David Jay, American Asexual activist and creator of AVEN, is often held up as the “Model Asexual” for his visibility and non-threatening position as a white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical man? Why do you think that is and how can we change this to broaden people’s understanding of what it means to be asexual?

Within the community, I think he’s mainly known for having founded one of our biggest asexuality organisations and most popular forums. I don’t know how many relate to his experiences as a white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical man but he’s palatable and inoffensive, which is always helpful. I think that for those outside of the community, his ‘normality’ was part of the appeal. They made the point of being like, “Look at this guy, can you believe he’s asexual?” but that was a different time. There’s a lot more activists out there now so we aren’t only represented by David Jay. Sure, most of the activists are white, our representation is predominantly white and the community does tend to find them easier to process, but I’ve had a lot of support and I’m pretty much the opposite of David Jay in terms of our demographic.

There are those who might say that Aro-Aces do not belong in the LGBTQ+ community. What would you say to this?

I’d say that I don’t really care because we’re already there and it isn’t a point of debate. It doesn’t make a difference if Jane from Nebraska thinks we aren’t part of the community, that shouldn’t impact what we can and can’t do. A large amount of my work is within the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve never encountered real-life exclusion from anyone in the community and I’ve felt like part of the community since I saw my first asexual flag at a pride festival when I was fourteen. That’s the first place where I met other asexual people and I felt embraced by the queer community quickly. It’s a shame that assholes on the internet make aro-ace people feel like they can’t have that experience, because we really can. We are queer.

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

There’s quite a few books out there with aro-ace characters or covering that topic. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, Loveless by Alice Oseman, I’ve heard that Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria, Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, Last 8 by Laura Pohl and Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim have characters on that spectrum somewhere. Also, Ace by Angela Chen is a non-fiction example that I actually wrote a piece for. As a writer, I come out with new articles on asexuality and aromanticism quite regularly. I have the #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike series that I write for Qwear Fashion and I hope to realise a book someday. There’s also Todd from Bojack Horseman, he’s ace.

What changes do you personally want to see within the mainstream visibility of the LGBTQ+ community?

I’d like to see a more diverse representation, not just in terms of casting, but in terms of the kind of stories that are focused on. I’d like to see more asexual and aromantic representation, more intersex representation, just more than just the usual stuff and the same old narratives and love stories. We’ve got enough LGBTQ+ representation that we’re starting to have cliches. The media needs to be more adventurous and represent what the world actually needs to see.

Lastly, what advice would you give to other asexual/aromantics out there?

Just do you. As far as we know, you’ve only got one life, so don’t waste it trying to be someone you’re not or trying to impress people who don’t deserve it.