From the 24th to the 30th of October, Ace Week is celebrated, “an international campaign dedicated to raising awareness and expanding education of asexuality”. This year, the theme is “Beyond Awareness”, and in 2020, the name of the event was changed from “Asexual Awareness Week” as a reminder that there is a lot more work to do, since “awareness does not always lead to acceptance” and people simply knowing about asexuality doesn’t solve everything.
Another reason behind the name change was the meaning of the terms ‘asexual’ and ‘ace’. Before, the first word was used as “an umbrella term”, but the way these words are used have changed throughout the years, and now ‘asexual’ “is often seen as a specific identity”, while ‘ace’ has become the broader term.
Speaking of terminology, ‘asexuality’ is a sexual orientation where a person experiences little to no sexual attraction, and ‘ace’ can be used to refer to a person who identifies with the asexual umbrella. It exists on a spectrum and can encompass other experiences that don’t fit in the strict meaning of the word ‘asexual’, but can relate to ‘asexuality’, such as ‘gray-asexual’ – experiences sexual atrattion rarely, under specific situations, or fluctuates between periods of experiencing and not experiencing – or ‘demisexual’ – only experiences sexual attraction after they form a strong emotional connection with someone.
And while aces aren’t drawn to sex as a way to express intimacy, this doesn’t mean everyone that identifies as ace doesn’t have sex. They can desire and be in emotional relationships, experience other types of attraction, or want to have sex for other reasons that are not sexual attraction, again, it’s all part of a spectrum.
Anthony Padilla is an OG YouTube content creator who you may remember from SMOSH, or recognize from his channel where he has conversations with members of different groups that are, frequently, underrepresented and marginalized by the media and society. In one of the videos he published, “I spent a day with ASEXUALS”, he talks with Lauren, Andrew, and Shelby, a gaming content creator on YouTube and Twitch, “to learn the truth about this often overlooked sexual orientation”. This is a great source of information on the subject, coming from people in the community, in a safe and judgement-free space where they can have their voices heard.
One of the many reasons why this video is important and necessary, is that, even now, when it comes to representation in the media, it’s unfortunately quite rare to see asexual characters, and when it does happen, more often than not, it’s not great. In an industry that treats sex as the norm and the default – think of any character that felt pressured for not having kissed or had sex at a certain age -, the idea of someone experiencing little to no sexual attraction is seen as “strange”.
This means, in the rare chance they appear, asexuals are, a lot of the times, incorrectly represented as almost broken, somewhat robotic and emotionless people that just need to find the right person to want sex. And, although things have gotten minimally better throughout the years, there’s still a long way to go.
There really aren’t that many confirmed asexual roles in the media, and it’s still quite common for characters to not have their sexual orientation explicitly stated on the show, movie or book they are from. This allows the creators or the actors behind them to, sometimes, confirm the character’s sexuality in interviews or their social media, without actually adding it to the script. An example is actress-singer Dove Cameron, who confirmed that Ruby Hale, her character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is asexual on Twitter. Something else that can happen, and is a massive indication of the lack of representation, is fans will headcanon/see some of these characters as asexuals because they are the only ones they can relate to in this way.
People need and deserve to see themselves on screen, in a book etc. Representation is not only important, but also unbelievably necessary. Asexuality is valid, just like every other sexual orientation or gender identity, and it’s crucial that the media shows this. Representing aces in a positive and respectful light helps people that identify with this umbrella understand, accept and be comfortable with themselves, while also showing others that asexuality exists, that it’s real and it’s not a problem that needs to be fixed.
If you watch “Sex Education”, and even If you don’t you might have seen this somewhere, you may remember the fourth episode of season 2. In it, Florence (Mirren Mack), a drama student, comes to terms with her asexuality with the help of sex therapist Jean, who explains the term and assures her that “sex doesn’t make us whole, so how could you possibly be broken?”. But, despite it accurately presenting asexuality as valid and ‘not a problem’, there’s still an issue, they could’ve explored more of Florence’s story, and not just focused on her sexuality and have her “disappear” afterwards – the character only appears in three episodes.
Now, even though it’s not a lot, there are some examples of characters well-represented as asexual in the media. One of them being Todd Chavez (voiced by Aaron Paul) from “Bojack Horseman”, as the animated series follows his self-discovery and acceptance journey throughout multiple seasons. Raphael Santiago, a character played by David Castro in “Shadowhunters”, doesn’t have his sexuality mentioned in the book series that inspired the show, “The Mortal Instruments”, but the author, Cassandra Clare, has made it clear that he identifies as asexual, and this information is made canon in the supernatural drama series when Raphael tells Isabelle Lightwood (Emeraude Toubia) that he’s never been interested in sex.
The Freeform comedy, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay“, also succeeds with Drea, played by Lillian Carrier, an autistic character that identifies as homoromantic asexual and is in a romantic relationship with Matilda (Kayla Cromer). In an interview with Nerds and Beyond, Carrier was asked what this representation meant to her, and she answered: “My twin sister is asexual. It means a lot to her, so it means a lot to me. She has talked about how there is no representation of asexuality anywhere which made it so hard to figure out her sexuality. She is excited for an asexual autistic character to be on screen for maybe the first time.”
This is even more proof of the lack of representation and the importance of having it. Rowan Ellis creates video essays on YouTube about LGBTQ+ issues and pop culture and, in her most recent video, she talks all about asexual representation on screen, and it’s incredibly well-made, so if you can spare 40 minutes, I really recommend you watch it.
In the literary world, Alice Oseman, author of the graphic novel series “Heartstopper”, can be mentioned with two of her books: “Radio Silence” focuses on the friendship formed between bisexual Frances and demisexual Aled through a podcast, while “Loveless” follows Georgia on her journey of understanding herself as asexual/aromantic and discovering that true love isn’t always related to romance. Another book that has as the protagonist a character that identifies as asexual is “Let’s Talk About Love” by Claire Kann, where Alice, an asexual woman, meets Takumi and has to decide whether it’s worth risking the friendship they created during the summer “for a love that might not be reciprocated – or understood”.
Cass Lennox also wrote two books with asexual characters, and based both on her own experiences, and conversations she had with ace friends. “Blank Spaces” tells the story of Vaughn and Jonah – one doesn’t find sex enjoyable, but craves intimate connection, and the other only wants sex and no romance or emotions involved – as they navigate their feelings for each other. And “Finding Your Feet” is about dedicated dancer Tyler, a biracial trans man, and begginner Evie, an asexual woman, when they meet through a dance competition that she has to practice for.
Overall, the lack of asexuality representation is quite apparent, and considering the strides made by the LGBTQIAP+ community to bring members to light in a positive and respectful way, it’s truly a shame that aces still have such a small place in the media. Hopefully, more changes will be made, and people that identify within this spectrum can, sooner rather than later, see themselves in complex and real characters without having to imagine it.