Books! Though some these days seem to think that books are anachronistic items from the past to be feared and destroyed (I’m looking at you, Florida), there are fortunately still places where they are revered and celebrated. Of course your friendly neighborhood library is always a good start, Barnes & Noble just re-opened its center city location, and our community staple, Giovanni’s Room, has always been a haven for queer readers. In addition to having a marvelous collection of books of interest to those of us in the LGBTQAAI+ community, Giovanni’s Room also hosts a monthly book club and author events, the most recent being: I AM ACE: a conversation with author Cody Daigle-Orians and digital creator Zoe Stoller.
Daigle-Orians (they/he) is a writer and asexuality educator living in Columbus, Ohio. They are the creator of “Ace Dad Advice,” a social media based asexuality education project designed to support people exploring asexuality or questioning their sexual orientation, and they have been nominated for a 2023 British LGBTQ Award for Online Influencer. Their book, “I Am Ace: Advice on Living Your Best Ace Life” tackles everything from what asexuality is, the asexual spectrum, tips on coming out, and issues including intimacy, relationships, acephobia and finding joy. The guide is designed “to help you better understand your asexual identity alongside deeply relatable anecdotes drawn from Cody’s personal experience.” Cody also leads trainings and workshops focused on ace and aro inclusion, as well as sex and relationships through an ace and aro lens.
Zoe Stoller (they/she/he) is a queer, genderfluid, and asexual creator, educator, and social worker, with a passion for spreading LGBTQ+ knowledge, mental health visibility, and overall authenticity through the power of social media. They work to break the stigmas surrounding these topics, to create online resources with free and accessible education, and to empower his community to be their fullest, most authentic selves.
Where are you originally from, Cody?
Cody: I’m originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. I’m a Cajun boy who ended up on the east coast for a while, including a couple of years in Philadelphia. Currently I live in the Midwest.
An ex of mine was from Crowley, Louisiana. The Rice capital of the US!
Cody: Yes! I know it. I’ve been to the rice festival; it’s a lot of fun.
Talk a little bit about growing up there.
Cody: I come from a family of auto mechanics. [Laughing] I don’t know what happened with me! But I grew up basically on a farm. We lived in a house behind my grandparent’s house, and we raised pigs and cows and chickens and had a vegetable garden. So I had a very rural, small town, quiet upbringing. I have a younger brother and he’s also queer. We’re two artists who sort of erupted out of this quiet little farm in Lafayette, Louisiana.
That is surprising. Tell me about the folks.
Cody: Well, as I mentioned, my dad was a mechanic for his whole life; he’s retired now. He and my grandfather had a shop of their own for a long time. It was a family business, so my mom worked there, but she stepped aside to be a stay-at-home mom. Now they’re both retired and traveling around the world.
So do you have any mechanical skills? Could you change my spark plugs in a pinch?
Cody: No, no, no. Neither my brother or I are mechanically inclined. And a lot of that was my dad’s doing. He was sort of insistent that we pursued other things aside from being mechanics. He wanted us to feel like we could have bigger dreams. So we did. My brother was a dancer for a really long time. I was in theater for a long time, and now I do this.
As a kid in small town Louisiana, did you and your brother get teased for your pursuits? It sounds like you were the Niles and Frasier Crane’s of the country world.
Cody: Ha! True! It was very much like that, certainly. And I was also a nerdy fat kid, which is something that just invites being teased. I’m also a very shy person by nature, so as a fat, introverted kid, I didn’t have many friends and was picked on a lot. But I was fortunate to have a lot of educators who nurtured me, like my 5th grade teacher. She was the person who encouraged me to put pen to paper, to write stories and share them in class. I had other teachers who were also very encouraging about my creative endeavors. So yeah, it could be tough around kids, but I also had a lot of great adult figures who nurtured the things that I did.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Cody: I knew that that’s what I wanted to do from the time I was in first grade where I would write poems and short stories. At six I wrote a horror story about all the zombies in a mausoleum coming to life and roaming around town.
Zoe: Wow! Dark for a six year old!
Cody: [Laughing] Yeah, I was a weird kid. But I always wanted to be a writer, and my 5th grade teacher Miss James was the first person who said, “You can be a writer as a profession, it’s a real thing” and that’s what I’ve always done.
What was the first thing you had published?
Cody: It’s a little different for me because I originally focused my writing on the theater. That’s what I studied after I finished high school, so my first play was produced when I was a sophomore in college. I won a Kennedy Center Award for it, so I’d say that was the first place my work was acknowledged. I’ve had a few plays published in anthologies over the years that I’ve been a playwright, but not too many get published. This is the first book that I’ve written.
When did you go from, “I’m just a creative person in a small town” to “I might be queer.”
Cody: I always knew that I wasn’t like other kids in many ways, but I guess in high school is when I started to understand more. It’s when I realized that I liked the way guys looked and wanted to be close to them in a different way. I didn’t want to have sex, that was not part of the plan, but I didn’t have the language of asexuality to know what was going on, so I figured then it’s got to be gay, that’s what’s happening.
So I guess there is a second awakening when you realize, hmmm, there’s something else afoot.
Cody: Yeah, I first came out as gay at 18 but didn’t come out as asexual until I was 42. That was only because I read posts about it on Tumblr and recognized my experience in it. Until then, I just thought I was a broken gay, or a bad gay. Like, okay, I’m gay, but apparently I just don’t do it right. Then I discovered that it was just the wrong lens for my experience, that I was asexual and liked having romantic relationships with men.
Zoe, what was your experience?
Zoe: It’s funny, Cody and I have a lot of similarities in our experiences except for location. I’m from NY originally, a very big, busy, progressive city with lots of opportunity and access to information, so you think that would have helped, yet I didn’t come to recognize my own queerness until I was in college. And it took a few more years after that to figure out that I was asexual, to claim that identity and to understand myself. I live here in Philadelphia now; I’m a social worker and content creator. I’ve engaged with Cody a lot online, we’re both in the LGBT community asexual education spaces, so it’s lovely to be able to do an in-person event together.
That’s great. I was looking at one of your videos about pronouns, tell me how you like to be addressed.
I like to use pronouns interchangeably so that means sometimes I’m addressed with she/her pronouns, sometimes with he/him and sometimes people will default to they/them, and I love when people use all or any of them in the same sentence. Not everyone who is gender fluid uses multiple sets of pronouns or uses them the same way, so I always tell people when in doubt just ask someone, “How can I use your pronouns in a way that is most affirming to you?”
Cool. I read a lot of different terms associated with asexuality: ace, demi, gray. Give me the 101 on understanding.
Zoe: So asexuality is a big, big spectrum of identities that describes anybody who has little to no sexual attraction or only experiences it in certain circumstances. A lot of people think that it’s just one thing, being completely sex repulsed, no experiencing of attraction, etc. and for some that is their experience, but there’s much more fluidity. There are many ace people who enjoy sex in some capacities. And there are many sub-labels, some of which you listed, that highlight those nuances.
So back to you, what were you like as a kid?
Zoe: I too was a very creative but shy kid who was also bullied. It’s interesting to hear so many similarities with Cody. I also felt distanced from people my own age. I felt like I didn’t fit in, that I was different but also felt very seen by my educators and the adults in my life. I too had teachers who empowered me to share my voice through writing and various spaces when I felt held back by the people around me. As an adult I’ve been able to tap into that child self that was dampened to find that creative, youthful spirit again, that bubbly self, and [I’ve been] able to be that kid who never had a chance to shine.
Do you remember some of the things that you wrote? What’s a memorable piece for you?
Zoe: I liked to write poetry. That was my genre. A lot of the writing that I did was about how I felt so different and how that made me feel alone and ostracized. I took it to mean there was something wrong with me and that feeling funneled into a lot of the poetry as well. And now it’s the opposite, most of my poetry is about showing all the different ways of being human and having an identity that’s different from the norm and all the potential out there.
And what was your journey through the LGBTQAAI alphabet?
Zoe: I grew up thinking I was the straightest cis woman there ever was. I took in all of the messages that society puts out about the norms and expectations and once again I felt there was something wrong with me for not feeling that was the right path for me. Once I got to college I was able to expand my viewpoints and see more perspectives. I realized I was queer at 20, and then a few years later that I’m non-binary and gender fluid, which means that my gender shifts and changes. I realized it because of social media, and that’s what inspired me to become a content creator. Again, from online, I then realized that I was asexual. It’s an ongoing process of self discovery. There are constantly new nuances that I’m discovering about myself. It’s one of the great things about being human. Though I do wish I had discovered my queerness a lot earlier; it would have saved me a lot of time and trouble!
What would you want people to know?
Zoe: For me, being asexual has given me a chance to expand my understanding of intimacy and what it means to connect with a person. I wish that more people outside of the asexual community would do that for themselves. I think that intimacy and sex are often conflated when there’s so much more to relationships. I’ve had people shut me down right away without realizing that there can be ways to be intimate or engage on a much deeper level that everyone could benefit from.
I’d tried to make contact with a few ACE organizations in the past, but had trouble finding people who wanted to talk about it. Is there still a stigma associated?
Cody: Yeah, having spent most of my adult life in the gay male community where sex is often a tool for connection and community, no-judgment here, but it is very challenging to move through that space as an asexual person. I’ve experienced a lot of rejection from gay men, I’m also polyamorous, so I’m married and I have a couple of partners, dating is still a thing, yet I still encounter people who immediately believe that there’s nothing possible once they find out that I’m ace. Or I’ve had gay men say to me, “I feel sorry for your husband” and I’m like, [snaps] “My husband’s lucky!” So yeah, I think a lot of it just has to do with misunderstanding, and there’s a long way to go before we get there.
It’s interesting, as we mentioned, asexuality is part of our alphabet, the LGBTQIA+ community, do you think it’s mostly associated with the queer community, even though I would imagine there’s a community of hetero ace people too?
Cody: Actually, I think that the common assumption is that asexuality means no sex, so how can that be queer? When for me the real understanding of queerness is having an experience outside of cis heteronormative experiences, and that includes asexuality.
Zoe: Yeah, and as you said there are plenty of asexual people who don’t identify as queer, they identify as straight asexual and hetero-romantic, and that’s perfectly valid as well. Even though asexuality is considered part of the LGBTQIA community, fyi, the A is for asexual, though some people think it’s for Ally, it’s really for asexual, a-romantic, a-gender, all the big ‘A’ identities!, it’s a very large umbrella with room for a lot different subcultures.
If you had a billboard, what would you want to communicate to people?
Cody: I think the most important thing is that asexuality is not about an absence of something or a lack of something. Asexuality is a full, whole human experience like any other sexual orientation. It’s just another way to be in the world.