The Lack Of Asexual Representation In Mainstream Media
Being an asexual person in a society that predominantly conforms to an overwhelming culture of compulsory sexuality-heterosexual or queer- dismally results in asexual individuals navigating through an alienating existence. While the asexual community already wrestles to seek adequate representation within the LGBTQIA+ community itself; seeing positive portrayal of diverse experiences, including palpable and real asexual experiences in mainstream media representation can still be called a distant dream. It would be rather uncanny to even expect popular Indian Media obsessed with hyper sexualization of characters to be sensitive towards asexual representation. But even with Globalization enabling easier accessibility and greater consumption of Western pop culture, the dearth of positive asexual representation in it- with the likes of ‘Todd Chavez’ from BoJack Horseman or 'Florence' from Sex Education being mere exceptional portrayals rather than the norm- only goes to show the extent of marginalization of asexual people in society, at large.
For the benefit of clarity, it is important to understand what asexuality really stands for. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN)- a pioneering online network for asexual individuals established in 2001- defines an asexual person as someone “who does not experience sexual attraction”. However, ‘Asexual’ is an umbrella term for a heterogenous community of people who ascribe to a spectrum of identities ranging from asexual, demi-sexual, aromantic, greysexual, demiromantic, sex-positive asexual, sex-repulsed asexual and many more; which cater to an asexual individual’s degree of sexual and romantic orientation. The asexual or ‘ace’ community accounts for about 1% of the entire world population, according to a survey conducted by AVEN.
The media plays an important role in re-producing and reinforcing existing cultural norms and understanding of gender and sexuality; but it also holds the power to de-construct and challenge discriminatory social structures- be it patriarchy or cis-heterosexuality. Representation does matter, especially so for people belonging to marginalized communities. While movies like Moonlight and Love, Simón or shows like Supergirl have aided in paving the way for validating and authentic portrayals of gay, lesbian and transgender lives in mainstream Hollywood productions, asexuality still remains on the periphery of the discourse with ambiguously portrayed asexual characters being the extent of representation.
A study conducted by Kristina Gupta (2016) found that the privileging of sexuality and taboo on non-sexuality impacted asexually identified people’s lives by forcing them into isolation, unwanted sex, relationship conflict and pathologization of asexuality. The lack of asexual representation in mainstream media- or worse, negative or stereotypical portrayal- only reinforces the abnormalization of an identity which is already highly misunderstood. Canon asexual characters- like Todd Chavez or Jughead Jones- are most often depicted as childish, immature or lacking worldly experience with an inability to fully integrate into society. Taking it a step further, some shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who or City of Bones characterize asexuality as a quality essential to create a sense of ‘otherness’ to differentiate non-human beings-like aliens- from humans; such is the extent of naturalization of sexual attraction as a universal motivating force of human romantic relationships.
An article published by TheMarySue says, “We barely see characters admit to not desiring sex, or an asexual person navigating their sexual orientation in an empathetic and thoughtful manner as a gay character coming out would.”
India still remains a country where the topic of sex remains a taboo- but asexuality posits a larger impossibility as the Indian society finds it essential for a man and woman to reproduce. In current times, where we see an initiative for greater inclusivity of diverse experiences in Bollywood- with movies like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan, Margarita with a Straw, Aligarh or Kapoor and sons to name a few- asexual people’s stories and lives remain ghastly invisible within Indian Media and Entertainment brands. More popular representations of ‘love’ in Indian soap serials account for patriarchal norms on post-marital sex.
Further, my partner who identifies as demi-sexual shares that “the lack of representation can be so confusing, especially for young adults for whom chastity or repression of sexual desires is encouraged in our society since sex itself is an opprobrium. Consider being sexually stifled for all school years and then, being thrown into an environment where there is so much belligerence around sex positivity. Asexual spaces within the Queer Community are also monopolized since their issues are seen as minutiae compared to that of other queers. All of this results in a conflicting struggle for ace individuals- causing inner conflicts, leading to alienation and invalidation of their own struggles. The social stigma around sex coupled with absence of asexual representation often delays and hinders an asexual person’s realization of their identity and coming to terms with it.”
Asexual representation in mainstream media has been a slow learning curve. It is necessary now for popular media and entertainment brands to consult and involve more asexual content creators, actors, producers, scriptwriters or community resources to respectfully portray the dynamics of the vast spectrum of asexuality. It is important to identify and break away from the dominant culture of allonormativity by normalizing the creation of asexual and aromantic healthy relationships in the plotlines of the movies we watch or advertisements we’re exposed to. Quality representation will help in destigmatizing asexuality and provide the community with an accessible vocabulary to express their identities in manner which will be intelligible to the masses. Asexual individuals deserve a greater space and better representation both within the Queer Community and the wider society, for sexual attraction as we know it, is not ‘The Default’.