Looking for more news on health and wellness? Sign up for Yahoo Lifestyle Canada’s newsletter!
As the television industry works on broadening character representation and diversity, particularly in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, their asexual (ace) representation is falling short.
Even GLAAD, which publishes a report on representation in TV every year since the 2005-2006 programming season, didn’t start counting asexual representation until 2017. I don’t blame them, there wasn’t really a point in looking until a few years ago — because the characters simply didn’t exist.
According to GLAAD's most recent report, there was a total of 360 recurring and regular LGBTQIA+ characters across broadcast, cable and streaming media for the 2020-2021 season. Of those characters, two were asexual with one additional asexual character that didn’t fit the scope or timing of the report, according to their media team.
Just counting those two characters, ace representation made up .05 per cent of television media in the past year. The three most recent examples of outwardly ace characters have been Todd from "Bojack Horseman," Drea from "Everything's Gonna Be Okay" and Florence from "Sex Education" — Raphael from "Shadowhunters" was also an ace, but that show ended in 2019.
Asexuality, like sexuality itself, is a spectrum, with one per cent of Canadians and less than 2 per cent of Americans identifying as asexual. It represents the population of people who feel very little or no sexual attraction and demisexuals who are attracted to those they have an emotional bond to or a combination of ace distinctions.
In 2019, a Sky Data survey found that 75 per cent of adults in the U.K either didn't know or understand asexuality as a sexual orientation. Aces aren’t necessarily sex repulsed, anti-social or outwardly different than anyone else, so why is it so hard to write characters that identify that way?
The teen drama "Riverdale" drew backlash when the show decided to go against portraying Jughead, the hamburger obsessed "Archie Comics" character, as asexual. Even actor Cole Sprouse, who plays Jughead on the hit series, spoke out in hopes that the show's network, CW, would change their mind and adhere to the character's portrayal in the comics.
“I hope that huge corporations like the CW recognize that this kind of representation is rare and severely important to people who resonate with it,” Sprouse told Teen Vogue in 2017. “That demands representation. It would be a wonderful thing if that were the case.”
While it is possible for Jughead to be asexual and be in a relationship with Betty, the fact that the show hasn’t addressed his sexuality points to the conclusion that he isn’t ace anymore. While ace characters don’t have to be obsessed with labeling their sexuality, it would help to normalize it with unfamiliar viewers.
As a member of the ace community (I identify as demisexual), there aren't many characters that outwardly identify as asexual for people to look to for representation. Instead, there are a plethora of characters that the ace community have determined to be asexual based on their personalities. Some of these characters include Luffy in "One Piece," Sheldon Cooper from "The Big Bang Theory" and Jess Day from "New Girl."
I can’t explain how much my heart soared seeing Todd from the animated comedy "Bojack Horseman" (voiced by Aaron Paul) go through his journey to discover that he was ace. His character in the show is a huge goofball, but there is a moment when he discovers asexuality that, for the first time in my life, made me feel seen in a show.
I struggled for years to realize my sexuality because I never had anyone to compare it to. Like Todd I thought maybe I was just “nothing.” Seeing his character come to terms with who he was, finding a community and even struggling in a sexualized dating environment made me feel less alone.
As our understanding of asexuality as a spectrum continues to grow, more people are realizing that they fall somewhere on it. Research released by The Trevor Project last year revealed that 10 per cent of LGBTQIA+ teens identify as ace.
Furthermore, when the youth surveyed were given more options to describe their sexuality, 15 per cent of identified as demisexual, 9 per cent as polyamorous, 9 per cent greysexual (a person on the asexual spectrum), 20 per cent as panromantic, 17 per cent biromantic (romantically attracted to people from more than one gender group) and 13 per cent aromantic (little to no romantic attraction to others). So why is there still a lack of ace representation in popular culture?
The fact that asexuality is complicated should mean that characters written to reflect that spectrum are more varied, interesting and valuable parts of any story. And yet, even in the case of someone like Jughead who was written specifically to be asexual, part of his identify was erased. Showrunners and writers should be embracing the variations of human sexuality; not only does it make those communities feel understood, but it helps those outside of the community come to understand them.
Last year, an article I wrote about what it feels like to be demisexual went viral. Its virility was from those who finally felt like they had a place on the sexuality spectrum and those throwing a temper tantrum about “yet another new word to learn." Still, it proved that the sexuality spectrum was a hot topic and one that should continue to be explored.
No, our sexualities are not our entire personalities, but if we have to suffer through gratuitous sex scenes in television, why can’t there be at least a few minutes of a character explaining how they don’t like one night stands? Why can’t we normalize couples like Drea and Matilda from "Everything's Gonna Be Okay" who love each other romantically, but opt to be sexually open?
Heteronormativity makes storylines boring and predictable. Allowing characters to be different changes that. Sometimes asexuality is referred to as The Invisible Orientation because we just don’t talk about it.
As shows make inroads in other areas of representation I hope they consider representing aces, too. Believe me, existing as someone on the ace spectrum in a hyper-sexualized, popular culture focused society is confusing. We’re often ignored, gaslit, mocked and/or made to feel like freaks. Television, film and other pop culture creators have the power to change that.