In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized I was asexual.
Funnily enough, the possibility of this identity began to stir in my mind after watching the Netflix show “BoJack Horseman.”
On the show, a character named Todd began to explore what asexuality could mean for him, which kicked off my thoughts about my identity.
Before the introduction of this character, I’d never heard of the term “asexual” (or ace, for short), but I surprisingly saw a lot of myself in Todd’s journey. I was finally able to put a name to and accept a part of myself I previously couldn’t articulate.
I decided to share my realizations with one of my parents, but the initial conversation was unfavorable.
They seemed confused and disappointed. They attempted to explain away my feelings, saying things like, “I just don’t know myself well enough yet,” assuming my perspective would change when I entered a new relationship.
The conversation left me feeling demoralized and self-conscious about my asexuality, but I persisted in learning what it means to be on the ace spectrum.
This was my identity, and it was mine to claim.
In a way, the isolation of the pandemic helped with my journey toward self-actualization. With minimal outside influence, I had more time to focus solely on my voice instead of others.’
I leaned into reading and research, beginning with books like Angela Chen’s “Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex.“
Books like these helped me understand the term and highlighted many common misconceptions about asexuality:
- It’s not a synonym for celibacy or abstinence.
- It’s not monolithic: It exists on a spectrum, and there are many ways to express (a)sexuality.
- It’s not in conflict with other sexual identities.
I learned that I could be asexual and sex-positive and learn about masturbation. I could still enjoy reading my favorite romance and erotica novels. I could even consider the prospect of dating without feeling like it would make me less asexual.
I’m still exploring where I lie on the ace spectrum, but now I understand myself better. Learning more about what it means to be asexual also gave me a firmer grasp on the implication of sex and sexual politics on a personal and societal level.
Another barrier to acceptance is how ace people are left out of the conversation, especially regarding the LGBTQIA+ communities. Even though the media is getting better at Queer representation, it often doesn’t include asexual people.
The lack of ace representation also reinforces this idea that asexuals are inherently straight or that other queer identities are inherently allosexual, experiencing sexual attraction to others.
Because asexuality is a spectrum, there shouldn’t be any assumptions about who someone is — or isn’t — sexually or romantically interested in.
Shows with large followings and critical acclaim touch on the importance of acceptance and chosen family, but those who fall on the ace spectrum would benefit from seeing themselves in those groups too.
Instead, ace characters are often excluded entirely or have their sexuality left to interpretation.
An example of this is within the show “She-Ra” with the character Castaspella. “She-Ra”is a children’s television series almost exclusively depicting a Queer cast. The series is critically acclaimed and has won a GLAAD award for its positive LGBTQIA+ representation.
“She-Ra” centers Queer love — specifically love between women, something that’s often absent within children’s media. The show portrays a diverse cast of characters along the LGBTQIA+ spectrum but is lacking when it comes to asexual characters.
Castaspella, an aunt to a main character on the show, is the closest we get. Castaspella’s sexuality is ambiguous, and unlike other characters with minor roles, she isn’t shown with any romantic partners or explicit attraction to anyone.
Because she’s presented solely as a motherly figure to the main cast with no real hint regarding her sexuality, fans of the show assume she’s asexual.
“She-Ra” is known for centering Queer identities, but the lack of intentional ace representation could make some feel that ace-identifying people don’t have a real place within the community.
We’re often left out of the conversation, but sometimes we’re shown in popular media.
Netflix’s “Heartstopper” — an adaptation of the hit graphic novel series of the same name by Alice Oseman — depicts a canonically asexual character: Isaac Henderson, played by Tobie Donovon.
Isaac is one-third of a trio of friends with Charlie Spring, played by Joe Locke, and Tao Xu, played by William Gao.
Isaac is introverted, studious, and an avid reader — always seen with his nose in a new book. He does not have many speaking lines. When he does, Isaac mostly speaks encouraging words about Charlie’s romantic troubles surrounding a boy he likes.
Besides supporting Charlie, Isaac rarely speaks on his own behalf. Tao even refers to him as “the token straight friend.”
Though Oseman confirmed the character’s sexuality in a tweet, this representation is far from perfect. Isaac’s sexuality should have been spoken about — ideally by Isaac himself — on-screen in the first season.
Stating his sexuality off-screen after the false presumption of his sexuality is written into the first season is not ideal. And like Castaspella, the only asexual (or asexually-coded) character having a minor role with little dialogue can make the idea of asexuality feel like an afterthought.
“Heartstopper” has a significant queer fan base, and it would’ve benefited the viewer experience to see asexuality more clearly and to show that although the asexual community is small, we are not inconsequential.
The confirmation of Isaac’s sexuality could indicate that representation regarding asexuality is improving, giving hope that it may be more prominent in the future.
Asexuals deserve to feel desired and protected by our community. We might not be clearly or accurately represented in media, but we’re looking for ways to change that.
Proper media representation is essential for normalizing experiences. My journey is just one example.
Asexual people deserve to have media representation that isn’t ambiguous. Clearly defined representation lets us know that asexuality is a valid identity — it isn’t something to be debated.
For those not on the ace spectrum or outside of the LGBTQIA+ community, if someone is sharing about their sexuality, it’s OK to have questions if it’s a new concept to you.
However, reserve any judgment and instead try active listening, extending empathy, and affirming their feelings. That’s what it means to show up for your community.