Purple-Colored Glasses: Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca Provide Asexual and Aromantic Perspectives in “Sounds Fake But Okay”
University of Michigan alums Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca host the podcast “Sounds Fake But Okay” and recently came out with their new nonfiction book, Sounds Fake But Okay: An Asexual and Aromantic Perspective on Love, Relationships, Sex, and Pretty Much Anything Else. The book delves into what it means to be asexual and aromatic. Along the way, they define many terms, both in the glossary at the start of the book and in subsequent chapters. They offer their own personal examples and quotations about identities from other people who responded to a survey.
Like many things, asexuality and aromanticism are on a spectrum, referred to in the book as aspectrum or aspec. Costello and Kaszyca describe their understanding of this range of perspectives and identities as having “purple-colored glasses”:
Once a person first puts on those purple-colored glasses and sees the potential a new mindset unleashes, it’s understandable that they may not want to take them off. It’s understandable that one may choose to embrace the unknown and the uncategorizable in contexts beyond relationships with one another and apply what the aspec lens teaches us to their relationship with themselves.
The authors emphasize the many variations along the aspectrum, given that “the aspectrum is a seemingly infinite trove of words and concepts and love whose combined meaning cannot possibly be fully mastered by a single mortal being.” Aspectrum is not one-size-fits-all but rather a plethora of individualities to which a person may relate.
Another point in the book underscores how people do not have to do anything or be anything out of obligation or criticism. Costello and Kaszyca advise readers and themselves to examine their motivations with the refrain: “don’t should.” They write that, “The evergreen tenet of don’t should remains true regardless of the labels one uses: just as a cis woman need not meet a certain modicum of femininity, a trans person need not be “passing,” nor must a nonbinary person present as androgynous.” Individuals do not have to conform to norms and expectations or fulfill a perception of what other people think their identity is.
Chapter topics include society, yourself, friendship, romance and partnerships, sex, family, gender, and other miscellaneous subjects grouped in the last section. The book is both an explainer of aspectrum identities and an advocate for these preferences. However, Costello and Kaszyca also acknowledge that our world contains many gaps in which these identities are not well supported. Many structures support long-term monogamous heterosexual relationships, like single-family homes and tax breaks, but they don’t benefit, or may even harm, those with identities and lifestyles that do not meet those definitions. The media presents another place where the full range of identities is not represented. For example, Costello and Kaszyca note that, “While wearing your aspec glasses, for example, you may notice that the vast majority of songs are about romantic and/or sexual love.” Through this lens, some media, even well-loved media, may have problematic aspects. The important thing is to think critically about what we consume and support, according to Costello and Kaszyca.
I interviewed Costello and Kaszyca about their book, Sounds Fake But Okay.
Q: For readers unfamiliar with your story, tell us about how you met at the University of Michigan.
KAYLA KASZYCA (KK): Our meeting was a huge work of fate. We both joined the Lloyd Scholars for Writing and the Arts living-learning community as freshmen and were randomly placed as roommates in Alice Lloyd Hall. We got along incredibly fast and everything else just happened from there!
SARAH COSTELLO (SC): I wouldn’t call it “fate” because I’m not as woo-woo-witchy-crystals as Kayla, but her point stands.
Q: Early on in your new book called Sounds Fake But Okay, you note that “… asexuality and its broader umbrella of related identities is a complete brain bender. It takes everything we thought we knew about the world and turns it on its head.” What was the impetus for spinning your exploration of relationships and identities into a podcast?
KK: It honestly wasn’t really our intention to make a podcast that delved deeply into relationships, sexuality, and identity. We started the podcast because Sarah had recently come out as aro ace and we were having a lot of interesting and funny discussions about relationship things that Sarah couldn’t really wrap her head around – how long sex is supposed to last, the appeal of making out for long periods of time, dick pics, etc. At the time, I didn’t even identify as demisexual. As the show evolved and we got more involved in the community the podcast started to evolve, but it wasn’t our initial plan to create something incredibly serious or educational.
Q: You have over 270 episodes of your podcast. Did you need to do any research for your book, and if so, on what?
KK: Even though we’ve spent so much time with the topics of asexuality and aromanticism, we still did a lot of research. We are by no means experts and we both have very specific experiences as cis, aspec white women from middle-class midwestern families, so we knew we needed to get outside perspectives and ideas.
Some of our research came from reading; I read the amazing book Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life by Amy Gahran which influenced so many chapters of the book. Sarah spent a lot of time reading articles and think pieces about modern relationships. The biggest thing we did for research for our book, though, was talking to members of the community. Through the survey we used to collect quotes to feature in our book, we learned so much from a huge variety of aspecs.
Q: How was writing a book different than creating a podcast? What parts were more challenging or easier?
KK: I came into the writing experience with an incredible amount of imposter syndrome. I’ve always considered myself a decent writer, but Sarah is a writer by trade, she went to school to become a writer. So, in the beginning of the process, I often felt like it was Sarah’s book and I was just there to help put it together. It took a long time for me to become confident in my writing.
Speaking about the nuanced topic of sexuality is a lot easier than writing it down in a lot of ways. On the podcast, we can discuss complicated topics at length, we can backtrack and question and contradict ourselves a bit. But once you put ideas into a book they’re there forever. It’s a lot more daunting.
SC: I have a lot of thoughts but I’m not always very good at organizing them or outlining any sort of big picture in advance, whereas Kayla is a lot better at creating a linear plan that actually makes sense. We often joke that Kayla brought the organization to this book, and I brought the first sentence and the vibes. Though I’m the “writer” between the two of us, the organization that Kayla brought to the table was equally crucial to the book making it to print. I had to spend a bit of time convincing Kayla that she was a writer and that this was just as much her book as it was mine.
Q: You write that “In fact, when we were initially approached to write this book, our editor pitched it to us as a book solely about asexual relationships.” How did your book expand during the writing?
KK: When we were approached to write a book about asexual relationships, we were, of course, intrigued. We know that the aspec community is so hungry for content about finding and having healthy relationships as aspec. Ultimately, we just didn’t feel as though we could do the subject justice. Sarah has never had any interest in dating or relationships so honestly I don’t know what she would have written. I have dated a good amount, but I don’t feel like an expert in any way and don’t think I’ve always been successful at dating in a way that’s compatible with my aspec identity.
So, as we thought about asexual relationships and the pitch we tried to expand it more into different types of relationships other than just romantic and that’s how we arrived at the aspec lens.
SC: Going into the writing of this book, we knew objectively that the aspec lens could apply to every aspect of life. But the practice of consistently thinking about it not just for our own personal edification or in the context of the podcast, but for the purpose of writing a book about that aspec lens, essentially fused those glasses on our faces and really just reinforced how true that is. Once you start thinking of the world in this new way, it’s hard to stop – and everything was now tinted with this realization of how incredibly pervasive hetero-, allo-, amato-, and all the other normativities are in this world. That perspective more broadly, and the results of those individual lightbulb moments more specifically, just naturally wove their way into the book. We never stopped learning throughout the writing of it.
Q: You define many terms related to the aspectrum and write, “Though the wider world may not have caught on yet, there is language for these differences, and it can be incredibly freeing to use.” How did you go about generating definitions of identities?
SC: The great thing about the definitions of aspec identities is that there is a lot of great, thoughtful, public discourse about what they truly mean, but the downside is that that discourse does not always lead to a consensus. Though the experiences of aspecs are as old as humanity itself, the community is still young, and as such even those who already come in with a base level of knowledge about aspec identities may not all use the exact same definitions for the same words.
When faced with differing definitions for the same term, for us it was about two main things. One, what is the most common, broadly accepted definition? And two, what is the most inclusive, yet still specific and comprehensive definition? Sometimes that meant combining definitions or making subtle changes in phrasing, but it was always grounded in the really excellent work that so many aspecs have already put into creating this language that reflects their experiences.
Q: The chapter topics are broad, and then the chapters themselves become very specific. Was there anything that you wanted to cover that you couldn’t or that got edited out?
SC: There are certainly things that we didn’t include since every subject on the planet can be considered through the aspec lens and a truly comprehensive book on the subject would be infinite. That said, there’s nothing major that we wanted to hit on that didn’t make it – mostly because the topics which we felt like we had enough authority or expertise on to contribute to the conversation are very finite. It’s very important to both of us that we don’t position ourselves as all-knowing experts or the single representative of all aspec experience, so though there is SO much more to say on the subject, we are very happy to shut up and support more qualified people as they lead those conversations.
Q: Sounds Fake But Okay is supportive of all identities, as “…it is okay to be confused, to not love your identity or yourself right away, or to wish you were different sometimes.” Reading the book feels like talking with a friend. How did you develop this tone?
SC: It just felt like a natural progression for us, because that’s the tone of our podcast. Its construction from the start has always been two friends talking to each other. Although the book is a little more formal than the podcast, we didn’t want to lose that feeling. Speaking for myself, I have a pretty established voice in my writing, and the more casual, irreverent style is what’s most comfortable for me; since it was also so important to us that the book be accessible to folks, sticking with that tone felt like a no-brainer.
Q: What was on your pile to read over the summer?
KK: I’ve been slowly working my way through A Court of Thorns and Roses series (yes, aspecs like reading spicy fairy books too!) over the summer.
SC: I am truly horrible at reading and my TBR pile is 12 stories tall, but I finally got to One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston over the summer. Have I finished it yet? No. But it’s great.
Q: What is on the horizon for you two, your podcast, and/or your writing?
KK: We’re very excited to share that in a few weeks we’ll be recording the audiobook for Sounds Fake But Okay! Our listeners have been asking for an audiobook from the very beginning and it’s something we’ve really wanted to do. We’re really looking forward to reading the book in our own voices and having some fun with the recording.
As for the podcast, no huge changes are on the horizon for us. We’ve just been getting back into enjoying recording the podcast without the stress of an unfinished book looming over our shoulders.
Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.