Asexual Representation in Fiction

Sex and sexuality is one of the most ubiquitous topics in media. It’s used to titillate, intrigue, get people’s attention, and sell. Almost every movie needs a love interest, no matter how little sense it makes in the narrative.

tom and alice
We may have had two conversations on screen, but since we are both hot,  we are totally in love forever! From Seventh Son.

But what about people who aren’t all that interested in sex? What if the male/female gaze does nothing for them? Well, it all looks kinda strange.

Asexuality is an orientation where someone has little to no interest in sex. However, not every asexual is repulsed by sex, so you can still have a libido and not feel sexual attraction. It’s a wide spectrum, including homo/hetero/bi/pan romantic aces* (asexuals that are interested in relationships, but not really interested in sex), aromantic aces (asexuals not interested in sex or relationships), grey aces (asexuals who experience sexual attraction infrequently or not strongly enough for them to be sure that it is attraction), and are closely related to demisexuals (people who only feel sexual attraction when they have a close emotional bond with someone).  Since asexuality is defined by the absence of something, it’s pretty diverse, so one would think we would have a lot of asexual characters to match the spectrum’s diversity.

It’s not, and for a few reasons. One, acceptance of asexuality as an orientation is relatively recent and still disputed in the field of scientific research. Two, many people just don’t know that they exist, and if they have heard of it they think it can be cured. If you are one, be ready for a lot of people saying, “You just haven’t met the right guy or girl yet.” Three, asexuality is often associated with mental disorders. While it can be a symptom of one, many people are just born asexual, the same way they’re born heterosexual or homosexual. Four, there is very little representation in media, and it’s mostly written by non-asexuals, meaning that it’s very inaccurate to the experience of being an ace.

And here's Sherlock Holmes, solving the Case of the Missing Aces
And here’s Sherlock Holmes, solving the Case of the Missing Aces From the Granger Collection

While there are famous aces in fiction, their asexuality is rarely depicted in any meaningful way. In The Essence of An Asexual Character, the writer points out while The Doctor and Sherlock Holmes are iconic characters, their asexuality is used to enhance their otherness. The Doctor is an alien, and Holmes is a workaholic. Sheldon and Amy from the Big Bang Theory fare a little better, but their relationship seems to fall under the Cure You Aces category of of storytelling. That seems to be changing now, as this article points out, but before that step in their relationship, it was treated as comic fodder. Amy and Sheldon progressing into a more sexual relationship can be interpreted as a maturing  of the characters. From the perspective of the other characters, Sheldon and Amy are becoming more “normal”. That said, it does depict the negotiations that aces and non-aces in relationships go through when it comes to sex.

Owned By Fox
Owned By Fox

In the comics world, asexuals are like unicorns. The DC wikia only names two asexual characters in their canon, Rorschach and Tremor. TV Tropes only names six ace comic characters. Let’s break them down. We have Devi, from a comic with the same name, a celestial warrior goddess with a non-ace split personality. There’s Max from Sam and Max Freelance Police, and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. According to the wikia the former thinks that sex distracts from his love of violence and Johnny has urges, but repressed them because he thinks they’re distracting. There’s Daken, who, even though he has a reputation as a sociopathic bisexual is this, according to the writers. We have Tremor again, and I’ll get to her later because she is very important. Finally, there is the Joker, who is often depicted as uninterested in sex unless used as a sick joke. There are, of course, ambiguously asexual characters, but these are the only coded aces/confirmed that are generally accepted as such. And while it’s pretty diverse, it troubles me that the vast majority are sociopaths and murderers. In one study, the heterosexual people interviewed were found very likely to dehumanize aces,  considering them more animalistic and machine-like than heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Now, let’s talk about Tremor, aka Roshanna Chatterji, from Secret Six and  the ever awesome Gail Simone’s underrated comic The Movement.  She is the only character I can think of that is portrayed as a relatively normal person who happens to be asexual. She isn’t the oddball of the group or treated like she was weird for being ace, but her asexuality is still addressed. In an issue of The Movement, a major character, Mouse, has a crush on her. He tries and fails to flirt with her. When she realizes that he has a thing for her, she gently shuts him down, explaining that she isn’t into him because she just doesn’t feel any attraction to anybody. His crush was played for laughs, but not at her expense. The gags were more focused on how socially inept Mouse is, not her. Unlike Sheldon and Amy, we’re meant to sympathize with Roshanna for being the subject of unwanted attention.

created by Gail Simone
created by Gail Simone

It’s rare for an asexual to be down to earth (no pun intended) but she is. I don’t relate to Sheldon, Sherlock, or Spongebob. I can like them, admire them, root for them,  find them interesting, laugh with or at them, and enjoy every moment they’re on screen, but they aren’t relatable. They’re aren’t really meant to be. They’re odd, quirky characters played for laughs or in the case of Spongebob, the’re aces because the writer doesn’t feel the need to give them a love interest.  I can relate to Roshanna. She was born different and has always been aware of it. She’s made terrible mistakes and works to overcome them. Her arc isn’t about becoming more normal, it’s about redemption.

In The Essence of an Asexual Character, the writer talks about how asexual characters tend to lack self awareness. It’s other people that identify them as aces. In real life, it’s the opposite. They realize that they’re different and learn it pretty early. As teens they don’t get crushes or think in terms of that guy/girl is cute. It’s pretty isolating. While everyone is chasing the love interest of their choice, or talking about sex, the ace starts to wonder if there’s something wrong with them, especially if they don’t even know what an asexual is. This is why we need more characters like Roshanna. I love the Joker, Sheldon, and Sherlock Holmes, but if every ace is depicted as as a quirky weirdo or a depraved villain,  it sends a terrible message to people already feeling isolated. It says that you are a freak, an other. Because you aren’t interested in sex, there is something wrong with you, and if you aren’t some sort of monster, you are at least socially inept. That, of course, is not true. The vast majority of aces are well adjusted members of society. They’re so well adjusted, in fact, that they’re practically invisible.

*Ace is just the nickname for asexual.

For more information on asexuality, check out these links:

Cracked.com: 6 Weird Ways the World Looks Different When You’re Asexual

The Asexual Agenda: A blog that discusses asexuality

Asexuality.org: a website dedicated to raising awareness for asexuality

14 thoughts on “Asexual Representation in Fiction”

  1. I’ve heard that the author of Peter Pan was asexual (which if you know the actual story in the book, makes some sense).

    I love (platonically) asexual characters. With 99% of stories being about sex, having sex, not having sex, etc its refreshing seeing characters that don’t give it a second thought. Which really, some of my heterosexual friends of various ages even feel that way.

    So asexuality shouldn’t be such an unimaginable concept.

    1. Yeah, it really shouldn’t be. There are asexual characters, and coded aces, but it’s very rare for these characters to be done well. I would love to have more stories with aces. I sometimes find it annoying that there aren’t very many, or movies just put in love interests for the sake of having love interests. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine because the love interests are rarely interesting. They’re usually just there to look hot. If the main character is asexual, then we won’t have that problem.

  2. I actually saw seventh son in a theater; yes, I’m a moron. Damn you Jeff Bridges!
    Most of the movie was cringe worthy but that non relationship, relationship was probably the most cringe worthy thing about it.

    1. Yeah, it’s especially terrible if you’d read the books, like me and my sister. Tom and Alice (the two “lovebirds” pictured) were 12! We knew going in that it was going to be bad, but it was awful, especially their relationship. I do recommend the books, though. They’re a nice dark fantasy that’s a bit like Supernatural meets Ranger’s Apprentice (another awesome book series if you haven’t read it).

      1. Ya, I really like Jeff Bridges and I saw it because he praised the books so much. Apparently his children loved the books so he wanted to do it for them. Obviously, casting and directing where not right. Now that I think of it though, I remember the CGI being surprisingly good. Supernatural is great. I’ll put those books on my list, thanks.

        1. They also took extreme liberties with the plot. It’s basically an adaptation in name only. It’s been a while since I’ve read The Last Apprentice/ Spook’s Apprentice (it’s got a different name in America because of the racial connotations of the word spook) but they were a ton of fun and atmospheric with lots of dark fantasy elements. I highly recommend it.

  3. Also Bruce Wayne seems asexual to me. On the other hand Daryl from walking dead TV just seems to me.. to be stuck in a zombie apocalypse. I don’t think that stinking of BO and running for your life makes people very romantic. Wayne just doesn’t care about sex though for more reasons than staying focused.

    1. Yeah, while Wayne is definitely coded as ace (depending on the writer), Daryl is asexual, according to the creators. The whole thing can be pretty difficult to decipher, when it comes to characters. Often it’s hard to tell whether they’re just focused on the mission or genuinely not interested in sex. I would like to see a storyline where it’s addressed and Bruce is outed as asexual. It would be huge.

    2. I can see where you’re coming but Bruce has had a ton of love interests over the years (Selina Kyle and Talia al Ghul being only the most prominent/the ones he actually had children with) so I don’t think the writers agree with you there

      1. Asexuals can have partners, be sexually active and even occasionally be attracted to people. It’s sort of a spectrum thing and I definitely see Bruce being in the grey ace area on that spectrum. I don’t know if it will ever become canon, but there’s plenty of subtext

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