Asexual Erasure in Television and Film Adaptations

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Amanda Shepard

Writer. Coffee addict. Cat lover. Passionate about all things YA and Marvel.

Since the 1990s, there has been a general increase in the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in media, especially in the portrayal of same-gender couples. Though media has become more varied, it is not representative of the full diversity that exists within the LGBTQ+ community; many individuals are not able to see themselves represented in the media they consume on a daily basis. This is especially true for the asexual community, who are often not accepted by either heterosexuals (depending on their romantic orientation) or the LGBTQ+ community.

Asexuality refers to the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest or desire in sexual activity. It exists on a spectrum, much like other sexualities. asexualThough asexuality itself has been around a long time, it’s just starting to be researched in scientific communities. Because this research is recent, many people misunderstand the asexual community, and believe they do not face the same kinds of discrimination as others in the LGBTQ+ community. While the discrimination might not be as public or as widespread, many asexual people still face discrimination, especially when it comes to corrective rape. Corrective rape is when someone is sexually assaulted because their assaulter thinks they can be “fixed,” which happens to many others in the LGBTQ+ community as well. Similar to the way gay people “might not have met the right person yet,” some people believe that asexual people are broken and just need to be shown the pleasures of sex.

Much of the confusion surrounding asexuality stems from the fact that it is virtually absent from the media. Asexual characters are starting to grow more prominent in books and comics, but these characters are often not included within television and film adaptations. Because their identities are misunderstood, they are erased. A prime example of asexual erasure is the CW show Riverdale, based on the popular Archie comics. Fans are upset at the change in the character Jughead, who is canonically asexual in the comics. Though some may argue the show changed Jughead’s sexuality because Riverdale is only inspired by the original comics as opposed to a faithful reproduction, the erasure of Jughead’s sexuality is part of a broader pattern of asexual erasure. This erasure, in turn, exacerbates the cultural confusion surrounding asexuality.

Problematic Asexual Representation

Often times, when an asexual character is included they are portrayed as robotic or disconnected from other people. Other people often view them as a challenge, that they just need to be showed the pleasures of sex. Because of society’s obsession with romance and sex, asexuals are often viewed in a negative light. Their sexuality is constantly questioned “because of the widespread expectation that sex is an integral part of the human experience.” Thus, when asexual characters are included, they often reflect these sentiments, or the idea that it stems from a traumatic experience with sex.

asexualOne show that features an openly asexual character, Sirens, reflects the way that asexuality is often presented in the media. Sirens follows the story of three Chicago EMTs and the unusual situations they find themselves in when people need their assistance. The asexual character in this show, Voodoo, is constantly presented as a challenge to her relationship interest, Brian. Voodoo’s asexuality, in this case, is shown as something that Brian needs to overcome to have a meaningful relationship with her. The narrative shown in Sirens comes with a “fix-it” attitude–that there is something inherently wrong with asexual people because they do not feel the sexual drive that everyone is supposed to feel. Many people forget that sexual attraction is a spectrum, just like any other aspect of sexuality, gender identity, or romantic attraction.

Erased Identities

The portrayal of asexuality as a problem that needs to be fixed dehumanizes asexuals, enforcing the confusion and frustration that many people feel when asexuality is mentioned. This means that when asexual characters are taken from books and comics, their asexuality is erased. People do not understand asexuality; therefore, many movie makers and television show writers eliminate this aspect of the character’s identity completely.

asexualThe character of Jughead Jones from Riverdale is the most recent example of this phenomenon. Riverdale is currently in its second season, but at the end of the first season, fans were upset at the turn that writers took with Jughead, namely his sexualized relationship with Betty Cooper. In the Archie comics, Jughead is canonically asexual, and fans were excited that this identity would translate to the show. Cole Sprouse, who plays Jughead, is one of the biggest advocates to maintain Jughead’s asexuality. So far, however, it appears that this is not the direction that show writers want to take. I have hope that this might change as Riverdale continues to evolve in later seasons.

Jughead isn’t the only asexual character to be changed in the screen adaptation. Katnissasexual Everdeen is often considered an aromantic-asexual in the Hunger Games books, but her relationships with Peeta and Gale are played up in the movie adaptations. In the books, Katniss is shown using romance and her relationships in her love triangle as a tool for her own survival. Her descriptions of kissing often lack romance and desire, as seen in Catching Fire: “I tried to decide how I felt about the kiss, if I had liked it or resented it, but all I really remembered was the pressure of Gale’s lips and the scent of the oranges that still lingered on his skin.” Katniss’s descriptions of romance and desire often follow these lines in the books, and this is why many people view her as asexual.

In the movie versions of The Hunger Games, though we see less into Katniss’s head than we do in the books, the love triangle between her, Gale, and Peeta is over-emphasized. Katniss is shown romantically, and possibly sexually, desiring both Gale and Peeta, and the lack of her interior monologue forecloses the possibility of viewing her as aromantic or asexual.

Jughead and Katniss are only two examples of the broader trend of asexual erasure in television and film adaptations. Other examples include Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Weasley from Harry Potter. Though portrayals of asexuality in literature are growing, this has not translated to television and film.

Confusion and Frustration

The erasure of asexual identities in television and film adaptations further promotes the confusion people often feel around asexual identity. Because of this, many asexual people find it difficult to fit in anywhere. Including accurate portrayals will help asexual people feel that they are not alone. Being able to see themselves in media, and have their identities acknowledged as valid, is an important step toward creating a world where asexuality is seen as a legitimate orientation.

2 comments

  1. Hi Amanda

    This is a great post, you make a lot of interesting points that have made me want to go away and read more about this.

    I’m interested in your points about The Hunger Games. It’s been years since I read the books so I don’t remember them well enough but how does this interpretation of Katniss Everdeen’s asexuality fit with her marrying and having kids with Peeta? I don’t mean that as a loaded question to say you’re wrong, it just made me wonder. Is it to do with the distinction between romantic and sexual desire, could she hold romantic feelings for Peeta but still be asexual?

    A thought provoking piece, will definitely read more!

    Martha

    1. Hi Martha,

      Sorry for my delay in responding! In terms of Katniss’s marriage to Peeta, I didn’t necessarily view it as romantic when I read the books. At one point in Mockingjay, either Gale or Peeta makes the point that Katniss will choose whoever she can’t survive without. By the end of the series, she realizes that it’s Peeta; Peeta is the only one who truly understands everything she went through. She loves Peeta, yes, but I don’t necessarily think it’s romantic love. There are people who might not agree, but that’s just the way I see it.

      One of the points of them having children is that Panem is safe enough for that. In The Hunger Games, Katniss mentions that she’ll never have kids because she doesn’t want to subject them to the Games, or to the unjust system that is Panem. Her having children with Peeta shows that Panem is safe, once again.

      I hope that helps! This is just something I’ve always thought about since I read the books the first time.

      Amanda

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