The first time I found out about asexuality, there was no big revelation (Wow, that’s who I am!). I simply thought, “That’s cool,” and shut my computer. I thought nothing of it, until my friends started talking about the hottest boy, or even their own sexual fantasies. Like a lot of asexual people, I didn’t understand the hype.
I thought of people I liked – boys who I found nice and good-looking – and realized, I didn’t want to kiss or have sex with them, I just wanted to be their friend. I was not remotely attracted them.
Sex wasn’t even really part of my vocabulary. As I did more research, I found myself identifying more and more with asexuality. The three crushes I had in my life (which I now know were squishes) were simply platonic and aesthetic attraction. I had to research and scour over all the Tumblr blogs, just to figure what asexuality was.
There were no ace characters on TV, or even in the books, I had read. I knew what gay, lesbian, trans meant, because they had their own media. Perhaps for a few identities, not a lot of representation, but people knew of it. Asexuality, at that time, was unheard of.
I was essentially invisible. To the media, my family and friends, and sadly, even myself. In sophomore year of high school, I wrote a paper arguing that Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye was demisexual. No one in my class, including the teachers, didn’t have any idea what demisexual, or what asexual meant. Apparently, neither did my research. There was nothing in any database, and only AVEN (a source dubbed not credible by my school) was any help.
Asexuality was and still is something more and more people need to learn about. Not only from an educational standpoint, but an emotional one as well.
Writer Lena Dean, in her article, “Queerness Shines in ‘She-Ra’ and Other Animated Shows,” writes, “It’s a relief to know that young, queer people have more role models.” She mostly refers to the increase of queer representation in animated kids shows, which in itself, is significant progress.
This is shown in Insider’s Database of LGBT animated kids show characters, which boasts about 259 queer characters. Only one (Peridot from Steven Universe) though, is asexual.
Besides that point, representation truly makes a huge difference. Asexuals are symbolically annihilated in media. Though this media concept is mostly applied to women in the 1950s, it brings certain depth to this analysis. Scholar Gaye Tuchman writes, “[It] is the absence of representation,” and involves the “condemnation, trivialization” of rare images (43).
Asexuality obviously fits this idea. There is little to no representation, and what scarcity there is, dehumanizes and trivializes it. One of the first “representations” (I put in quotations because I feel that it shouldn’t even count as representation), is on the TV show, House M.D.
Ace Schwarz, in his own critique of the show, best summarizes this nightmare:
“To give a quick summary of what happened: Dr. House finds out his co-worker, Wilson, has a female patient who identifies as asexual and is married to an asexual man. House bets Wilson $100 that he can find a medical reason why the husband doesn’t want to have sex. Because according to House, “[Sex] is a fundamental drive of our species, sex is healthy. Lots of people don’t have sex. The only people who don’t want it are either sick, dead, or lying.”
The resulting diagnosis is a pituitary issue that killed the man’s sex drive, and it turns out, his wife was just pretending to be asexual to please him.”
The message is clear here: asexuality is wrong, a disease meant to be treated by allosexual people. Or to make it even more colorful, asexual people are either “sick, dead, or lying” about their sexuality.
This was probably one of the first and worse impressions asexuality had for mainstream audiences. I myself, when learning about this in my research, was taken aback by how blatantly bad this representation was.
Sheldon Cooper’s asexuality, as discussed before, is treated as a joke. Sherlock Holmes’s asexuality is refused by the other characters, for he must be human, and he must have “impulses.” Other ace-coded characters, like Data from Star Trek is, to put it simply, a robot.
Or we can look at the one, singular movie that focuses on an asexual character, titled, The Olivia Experiment.
While there are multiple aspects to commend, her asexuality is still shown as either stunted intimacy issues, or a disease to be treated.
The representation we do have (with the exceptions of Bojack Horseman and Shortland Street) is not entirely positive. In applying symbolic annihilation to female portrayals in media, Tuchman argues, “Those few working women included in television plots are symbolically disintegrated by being portrayed as incompetent or as inferior to male workers” (45).
Asexual people are essentially put through the same thing. The representation we do have, we are either mocked, dehumanized, or worse. To have media that is actually positive, society’s perceptions of asexuality might change.
It would not only bring awareness about asexuality, but more importantly, bring validation to asexual people themselves. For the most part, the media gives us demeaning messages about our sexuality. If I knew about Todd Chavez or Gerald Tippett when I was a kid, perhaps I wouldn’t have to scramble to prove not that I am asexual, but that asexuality exists.
Gaye Tuchman’s Symbolic Annihilation
When “House” Let Down the Asexual Community | The Mary Sue. https://www.themarysue.com/house-md-episode-let-down-the-asexual-community/. Accessed 13 July 2021.