Recovering with Holly Whitaker
#45 On asexuality, sobriety, and compulsory culture

#45 On asexuality, sobriety, and compulsory culture

An audio conversation with the author Angela Chen on asexuality, compulsory sexuality, and the questions many of us don't know to even ask.

One of the best books I read in the past few years (as noted in my list of 50 of the best books I read in the after times) was Angela Chen’s book, ACE: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. It was the #1 book on that list. I read it because I was interested in what I thought of as a foreign topic, and ended up finding more of my experience reflected back to me within those pages than I could have ever imagined. It changed my life noticeably, immediately, sustainably.

What I said about it in that review:

I found this book through Ann Helen Peterson, and because I had no clue what asexuality was aside from the last letter in LGBTQIA, I wanted to know. I thought I’d be reading about…something that had nothing to do with me but would expand my understanding in a necessary way, and while I did find that, I also found my own story within that experience. I was educated by this book, but I was also liberated by this book. It changed the way I think about my own sexuality, sexual and romantic experiences, and culture in general.

It’s hard to really express how much Angela’s work impacted me because there were so many personal applications of her work and insights that liberated me and changed how I operate, and to list all the ways this book and her work changed my world view and personal practices and own identity would be longer than the book itself.

But there was one theme that stood out for me the most, and that was the parallel I drew between alcohol culture/compulsory alcohol consumption, and how Angela frames compulsory sexuality.

If you’re here reading this newsletter, you most likely understand how the experience of those impacted the most by alcohol culture (those with AUD, in recovery, etc.) provide valuable insights that can help liberate or awaken the rest of society; see sober curiosity and Dry January and any number of the effects of a previously anonymized group of people speaking up and out about how terrible alcohol really is and the ripple effects of that on larger society. Same thing here: Looking at compulsory sexuality through the lens of the asexual experience shows the rest of society where we’ve all settled or been split from our true desires or wants.

“When there is some kind of oppressive culture, whether that's compulsory sexuality, whether that's alcohol culture, eventually it just makes you not realize what your own desires are.” - Angela Chen

There’s a lot more here to highlight, both in our conversation and in her book, but I’ll leave it at that and hope you listen to this episode and buy Angela’s book. ACE truly is a masterpiece.

I hope you enjoy this conversation, and I hope it serves you in some meaningful way.

Thank you for being here and supporting my work, be it with your attention, your financial contribution, or sharing it.

Free and paid subscribers of Recovering get the same exact content. Paid is for those who’d like to offer financial support, and be patrons of this newsletter and my work.

Ten Things Right Now

Attachment styles, girlfailures, the uber-ization of therapy, take home psychedellics, a pill to stop binge drinking, a study that should horrify us that no one is talking about, what even is Pamela Paul’s opinion, a good app, a good song, a list of essays about running, a list of books made into movies, a discount on astrology, etc.

  1. “The girlboss ancestor is here and she's a massive loser. Thank god.” This article on the girlfailure makes me think of Gabbie Moss’s article from 2021, girlloser, which changed my life

  2. This article about how we don’t really understand attachment styles, and this (gorgeous, perfect, painful) essay from Anna Fusco with a real life example of a potentially flawed classification system

  3. Therapy is the new gig economy

  4. Psychedelic stuff: VR + psychedelic therapy (surprisingly a good idea); capitalizing off mescaline (“It feels unethical to me, you’re developing these medicines for what? You say healing, but underlining that is profit.”); Ketamine is easy to get; self-administered tripping just feels like a bad idea idk

  5. Alcohol and other drug stuff: naltrexone (the pill used to treat AUD) might curb binge drinking, a worst nightmare, gut microbe transplants for AUD, OTC Narcan, a short history of prescription drug commercials, the future of cannabis drinks

  6. I don’t follow any fashion influencers, most of my Google alerts are for journalists I like, or topics such as the war on drugs, addiction, alcohol, mental health, so on, etc., I don’t read fashion magazines, I subscribe to some literary magazines and more traditional newsprint. So it’s a comment in of itself, I suppose, that last week, I heard about the fucking Big Red Boots more than I heard about the CDC study that shows our kids are sick and dying.

  7. Q: Do we still like capitalism? A: Pretty much yes

  8. I have a habit of leaving the last chapter of books unread; this past week I made myself finish every book I had going before I started anything new. Finished: Perfectionist Guide to Losing Control, Stolen Focus, Body Work, The Myth of Normal. All really good books, most I’ve already recommended for different reasons, no huge revelations in the final pages but very satisfying to log them in my Goodreads and put them on the Done shelf

  9. “As thinkers, we are disappointed to see the New York Times follow the lead of far-right hate groups in presenting gender diversity as a new controversy warranting new, punitive legislation.” A day after a letter was sent to the NYT calling out anti-trans bias in reporting highlighting and specific cases where Times stories were used to forward anti-trans legislation, instead of responding in any kind of meaningful way, the editors published an op-ed written by Pamela Paul defending billionaire TERF JK Rowling. (The Cut published this in response, the The
    said this.) You can sign the letter here.

  10. The revolutionary idea of following Instagram accounts that make our insides feel good

  11. Still more detail about my fake parent’s marriage

  12. Essays about running

  13. Books made into movies

  14. I loved Office ‘97 and I’ve been waiting for this for so long

  15. An app that lets you find music by decade and country

  16. A song I listened to on repeat until I ruined it

I mentioned the astrologer Torrence Tremayne last week (I believe I said his horoscopes were “bang on”), then one of you booked a reading with him, then he wrote to me to give us all a discount on natal chart readings and forecasts. Discount is RECOVERY20 (20% discount).

SubscribeDonateAsk me a question

The Mantra Project, a 40-day email course to support quitting drinking, is available for purchase here.

Recovering with Holly Whitaker
A podcast about substances, behaviors, sobriety, addiction, recovery (so, everything).