Gerald Tippett is considered the first asexual character on mainstream TV. He was part of New Zealand’s long-running soap opera, Shortland Street.
Shortland Street took an important step in ace representation: they actually labeled it. Many ace characters do not even know or label themselves asexual. This one scene does.
Even after finding a label, Gerald still experiences discomfort with his asexuality. He goes to break up with his girlfriend, saddened that he cannot fulfill her sexual needs. However, Morgan follows him and says, “There are more to relationships than sex.”
By confirming that there is such a thing as intimacy other than sexual, Shortland Street also represents the complexities of a relationship between an asexual and allosexual person.
One fan remarked about Morgan’s decision staying with him. They said, “That’s really sweet. I wish asexual-sexual relationships were this easy to work out” (CopyFox7).
Another said, “I’m asexual. I’ve never seen/heard of this show before but the ending left me in tears” (Juen).
As evidenced by these remarks, representation of such a relationship is important. As Stuart Hall argues about representation, “that absence means something and signifies as much as presence,” we see that having presence in what is usually absent, makes a huge, meaningful difference (23).
Conversely put, the fact that this show was the first to really show the complexities of asexual relationships, create an entirely new meaning: that we, as asexual people, matter and can have functioning romantic relationships.
But like all queer characters, Tippet deals with the aftermath of actually coming out. When his friends and him attend dinner with his parents, they remark, “[Gerald’s] always been a bit prudish.” The parents also believed Gerald to be gay, because of his disinterest in sex. As shown here, we see that Gerald’s parents judge him for his aversion to sex.
This is even more evident as Gerald’s mother says, “Having sex is a way of living.”
He sits awkwardly at a dinner table with his parents, who are shocked and resentful of his identity. Yet as the scene unfolds, so does our understanding of his asexuality.
Gerald finally stands up for himself.
“I’m not the only one [asexual person], there are hordes of us! Go, google it or something! I like who I am and I’m not going to change.”Gerald Tippett
Shortland Street also ensures that Gerald’s asexuality is not a byproduct of sexual abuse and trauma. Morgan, still struggling with his ace identity, believes that his parents are to blame.
Gerald reveals that his parents taught him about sex when he was six, and Morgan pushes him into thinking he might have “repressed” memories of being sexually abused. Angrily, Gerald says that there is “no reason or cure” for his asexuality, and that it is perfectly normal.
He accepts who he is, regardless of what people say, and ultimately is able to move onto a new character arc. His asexuality does not define him, but it is a part of him.
Ultimately, the show is one of the few and wonderful representations for asexuality. Yet, even so, it reveals a deeper cultural difference between the US and New Zealand. While New Zealand is becoming more comfortable with asexuality, the US is still very much attached to this “sexusociety,” as termed by Ela Przybylo.
She writes, “The ‘sexual world’ is for asexuals very much akin to what patriarchy is for feminists” (446). In this case, it is so imperative that our media begins to dismantle these hegemonic institutions. Shortland Street has done so. When will US media begin to embrace these unique and wonderful identities?
Hall, Stuart. “Representation and the Media.” University of Massachusetts.
Przybylo, Ela. “Crisis and Safety: The Asexual in Sexusociety.” Sexualities, vol. 14, no. 4, SAGE Publications Ltd, Aug. 2011, pp. 444–61. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/1363460711406461.