A Small Piece of Asexual History: The Heart of Aces, Unfortunately

Do you remember The Heart of Aces? It’s an anthology of asexual romance stories. Those stories may be very good, or not, I have no idea. See, I never bought a copy of The Heart of Aces, even though I probably could have afforded it then. (Actually I think I was pretty broke then, but I would have done without some ramen for it; it was only a few dollars, and I’m very passionate about getting more books about asexuality and with asexual characters).

The reason I didn’t buy it was a kerfluffle over the cover, and the way the publishing company handled it. The cover had two very pale, thin, attractive white women on the cover, in lingerie and nighties, staring ahead with dead-eyes. The cover’s stock photo had been used on a variety of porn and erotica sites. See, when you self-publish or have a book published by a small company, the amount of money that can be spent on cover design is usually quite low (there are exceptions; some people want to “do it right” and will invest quite a bit in a good cover). One way to keep costs low is to go with a stock photo; a photo that is available for free use or for a small cost.

It is a problem with small publishing, that the stock photos will often be used many times, and that your steamy romance will have the same bodice-ripped heroine as 40 other steamy romances.

In this case, the main use of the stock photo (as erotic content) is a good indicator that it’s sexualized (if the image itself didn’t make that quite clear. Nextstepcake detailed some of the instances of the stock photo’s use here.

Some asexuals offered criticism of the cover over the sexualized nature of the photo, and for the lack of diversity. The models were the stereotypical face of beauty everywhere. They were white, they were thin, not visibly disabled, wearing traditional modern markers of femininity such as make-up and lingerie.

Some asexuals were not pleased to have one of the first anthologies for asexuals, and one of the first books of asexual fiction period, graced with a cover that depicted sexualized white women.

The person who represented the anthology on tumblr was Christy Leigh Stewart. Her role in the publishing was unclear/muddied; she stated that her postings were simply to help a friend who was behind the company that published the anthology; yet she claimed to know intimate details of the effort such as the amount of money that the effort was costing, as well as knowledge of the publishing contracts).

While her exact role was unclear, she was the one who answered the criticism of the cover, and did so by lashing out at the asexuals who had offered criticism, outright insulting those aces, such as calling them “pathetic”.

She’s on the record with such gems as:

“And, seriously, to all you bitching…make your own book!  God, you good for nothing social justice types are such a fucking pain in the ass when someone tries to do something good.”

It was all the more disturbing because critique and advice from asexuals for the anthology’s title had been received very well by the representative on AVEN. The point of this blog post though, is not to slam the rather unprofessional behavior of one person involved in The Heart of Aces effort. Rather, it is to chronicle a small piece of Asexual History, while the matter still exists fairly intact in my memory, and before the relevant blog posts all disappear. (Some of the commentators have already since deleted their tumblrs, erasing their contribution to this event for all time.)

It also serves to remind me of how good the asexual community can be. Yes, there is infighting, and some ace issues get prioritized and focused on over others. But every group has that issue to some extent.

And I think The Heart of Aces debacle showed our good side, how strong we can be. We were not content to let a cover go out there that potentially sexualized women and asexuals. We were not content to just accept two thin attractive white women as the face of asexuality, as it has been the face of so many genres and stories. We remained civil (as far as I can see) and we did not remain passive and content to allow an outsider to twist the face of asexuality into something that we did not want, something that poorly represented us.

So when I read back through posts on The Heart of Aces I was really inspired, and reminded of how much this community has helped me, and how much love I feel for it. (Platonic love, I swear :P)

Other details about The Heart of Aces:

The call for submissions was in April 2012, and it was published in July 2012. The payment offered was rather low, a flat payment of $30.

. For some comparison, the pro-rates the SWFA lists are 5 cents a word. According to Duotrope’s classificions, unless the stories in The Heart of Aces had a very, very low wordcount, it doesn’t even amount to semi-pro classification. It is, in other words, what people in the business call a “token payment”.

Did you take part in any of the controversies around The Heart of Aces? Did you witness them? If you have any thoughts or reflections on the issue, please feel free to share them!