Review Fix Exclusive: Julie Sondra Decker Talks ‘The Invisible Orientation’

Review Fix chats with “The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality” author Julie Sondra Decker to talk about her book, asexuality and living as an asexual.

Review Fix: What is “The Invisible Orientation” about?

Decker: My book “The Invisible Orientation” is about asexuality as an orientation: what it is, who it affects and how it manifests, and what it’s not. It includes tips for asexual people on understanding their orientation and relating to others, and it also has a section for non-asexual people. A reference section in the back gives readers options to access discussion, academic research, and educational materials on the orientation.

Review Fix: What is asexuality?

Decker: Most people in the asexual community describe asexuality as a lack of sexual attraction, though some who identify as asexual prefer to say they don’t want to have sex, don’t find sex rewarding, or aren’t interested in sex. It’s a sexual orientation like gay, bi, or pan, and it’s thought that approximately 1% of the population is somewhere on the asexual spectrum. It is distinct from abstinence or celibacy in that it isn’t a choice someone makes to not have sex; it’s an experience of not finding people attractive in that way, and whether asexual people have sex is not what defines them as asexual. Some asexual people are romantically but not sexually attracted to others, and some don’t experience romantic attractions either. There are also gray areas–people who experience sexual attraction very rarely, or only in unusual circumstances, for instance–and some of them consider themselves to be on the asexual spectrum.

Review Fix: Would you describe to us the writing process?

Decker: I created a basic outline and started writing the book on April 7, 2012. I finished the first draft on May 21, 2012. It was a quick write because I’d said so much of the content before in various essays, articles, and interviews, not to mention in personal conversation. Because I knew there would be various reasons for people wanting to read the book, I felt that each section should more or less stand on its own–for instance, people might turn directly to the “If Someone You Know is Asexual” section before reading the section with the definitions–so I deliberately allowed some repetition in the sections. I had to do a little bit of research to back up some of the statements in the book, too, and ended up citing a fair number of academic papers and other documents.

I created a proposal for the book and began pitching to agents in the summer of 2012, but since nonfiction books don’t require a completed manuscript, I was still working on finalizing the text. While the book was being considered by agents, I acquired a large volunteer test audience and incorporated their feedback. I went on a little hiatus working on this book because my fiction got signed, but then I was back working on the book early the next year and I got this book signed to an agent in May 2013. While my agent was pitching publishers, I approached some focus groups–people from demographics in the asexual community that I needed more information about–and received more wonderful feedback to expand the text. I also got permission from a dozen or so asexual-spectrum bloggers to augment the text with quote boxes for a more diverse and personal set of perspectives. I got several offers from publishers on the book and sold it in November 2013, and after minimal editing with the publisher, it came out in September 2014.

Review Fix: What kind of reception did your book receive?

Decker: The reviews from people both inside and outside the asexual community have been overwhelmingly positive, and the folks who have offered critical commentary have been very polite about it. I’ve also been fortunate enough to receive lots of mainstream press; I got a Starred Review in Library Journal, an excerpt published in TIME Magazine, an article about me in Salon, and a feature about me and my book in the New York Times. I’ve been interviewed on the BBC and several sexuality-related radio programs, and have done one television interview on a news show since publication. I’m getting a lot of mail from individuals who discovered my book or other materials and wrote to thank me or ask questions, and most of the attention I’ve received has been from people I didn’t already know.

However, as usual, I’ve also been dealing with harassment consistently, and that’s disappointing but unfortunately nothing new. This usually comes in the form of private e-mails from people scolding me to see a therapist because there’s something wrong with me, men addressing me with tweets or blog comments opining that I will change sexual orientations if I accept sexual favors from them, or people starting threads on forums and blogs about how it’s appalling that I’ve published a book on this topic because people who claim to be asexual are just sick, damaged, or looking for attention–so obviously my book is a danger because it will encourage acceptance of the orientation’s legitimacy. (These trolls and critics are all people who have not read the book and have done no research on the topic, but clearly they are experts.)

Review Fix: When you tell people you’re asexual, what is usually their reaction?

Decker: In recent years, I’ve been encountering a refreshing amount of acceptance and tolerance, but it’s still more common for people to either ask what “asexual” means and then laugh while claiming that term is reserved for asexual reproduction, or else they’ll suddenly start asking condescending questions about who hurt me or when I got out of my bad relationship. It’s also pretty common for them to believe I owe them some kind of proof of my orientation; that I don’t deserve respect or trust unless I’ve conducted a massive investigation into whether I could possibly be anything else (and, of course, I’m expected to have actively “tried” every other possibility). There’s also the infuriating trend lately for people to roll their eyes and mockingly make reference to the pointlessness of labels (as if wanting words to discuss our experience is unreasonable) or accusing me of wanting to be a special snowflake. And then, finally, some people who just don’t see why it’s an issue enjoy informing me that this isn’t important enough to warrant discussion–that it isn’t in need of any kind of awareness campaign because we’re just not being hurt enough for it to matter. Apparently if you’re not hated enough to get killed coming out of a bar, there’s no reason to need education and support. Well, we don’t even HAVE bars (or physical organizations or resources or basic acknowledgment in sex ed classes/sexual diversity programs). Erasure and invisibility are problems, especially since the problems we do have are just as invisible as we are if people refuse to look at us long enough to realize what effects marginalization has had on some of us.

Review Fix: When did you first discover you were asexual?

Decker: I was in my mid teens and just started calling myself “nonsexual” when I seemed to be the only person in my high school who wasn’t attracted to anyone. I didn’t consider it to be a big deal. I expected to experience more typical attraction patterns when I got older, but that never happened, so I just kept identifying as nonsexual. “The Asexual Visibility and Education Network” was founded shortly after I graduated from college, and that organization popularized the term “asexual” for what I was describing, so later in life I began using that term too to connect myself to the visibility efforts and community.

Review Fix: You were in the documentary “(A)sexual.” Can you tell us how that was for you?

Decker: It was a positive experience. It was an indie documentary run by some very open-minded and socially conscious people, and the entire process was sensitively executed. I wasn’t pressured to talk about anything I was uncomfortable with, and there was never a feeling that they were trying to expose something about me or portray me in a negative light. The crew was small–an interviewer, a photographer, and a camera operator–and the whole initial interview took place at a leisurely pace in my own home. The interviewer returned at a later date to get some outdoor footage of me. (The footage of me riding my bike was used in the movie, but they didn’t use the shots of me playing tennis.) I had no control over how it was put together in the end, but I was satisfied with the final product.

Review Fix: You do other types of writing, right? Would you tell us about those?

Decker: Yes–I write just about everything except stage plays and screenplays. I primarily focus on novels and short fiction, most of which feature fantastical or speculative subject matter. I have a fairy tale retelling series on submission to major publishers at the time of this writing, and my other completed titles include a New Adult fantastical romance and a science fiction romance. I plan to write a Young Adult contemporary and a Young Adult science fiction in the future. I also write short stories of just about every genre, and a few of my short pieces have sold to magazines. I’ve written some short articles on asexuality-related subjects as well, and have published/sold some of those too.

Review Fix: Is there anything in particular you’d like to add?

Decker: I’d like people to know that asexuality education is important not just for asexual people’s sake and not just because non-asexual people will certainly meet asexual people in their lives, but also because a lot of what we take for granted about sex and relationships is acquired from sex-compulsory narratives in media. Because of some of the defaults and scripts asexual people are forced to question and sometimes reject before we can feel comfortable in our own lives, we’ve come up with some pretty good language for discussing intimacy and destroying problematic narratives. Plenty of non-asexual people can benefit from looking at sexual culture critically, and asexual communities are one place where this conversation is happening. Just educating yourself a little bit about asexuality can provide some eye-opening perspectives and provide context for anyone who might benefit from not taking certain aspects of sex-compulsory culture for granted.

About Rocco Sansone 839 Articles
Rocco Sansone is a “man of many interests.” These include anime/manga, video games, tabletop RPGs, YA literature, 19th century literature, the New York Rangers, and history. Among the things and places he would like to see before he dies are Japan, half of Europe, and the New York Rangers win another Stanley Cup.

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