Writing From Factor X

August 21, 2011

Starved For Recognition

Filed under: Asexual Community,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 10:46 pm
Tags: , ,

This post was originally written for the Carnival of Aces. This month’s prompt is “media.”

Last week, as I was checking my Tumblr feeds, this showed up in the asexuality tag. I was very excited at first–not even because I expected a story about an asexual character, but because of the way the creator described the project he was working on.

I was excited, you see, because the way this interview framed asexuality as an actual sexual orientation. I don’t get to see that very often. And so you’ll forgive me if I was fairly upset to note, after checking the source and doing a little bit of Googling, that the entire thing was a hoax. (I do not have enough fuck you in the world for the original poster.)

Most asexual characters seem to have been created by accident. The creators were looking for that extra special touch of inhumanity, or playing up stereotypes of the socially awkward genius or sociopathic serial killer. And when the asexual community, which is starved for representation and for acknowledgement, makes itself known–well. Their reactions tend to not be very pleasant. Even when, in my experience, all asexual people are doing is expressing slavish gratefulness for the crumbs they throw us.

Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock, responded to an asexual fan thanking him for the work he’s done for the asexual community by saying “How? He doesn’t get out much.” Cumberbatch has also suggested that Sherlock’s sexuality is the result of being “burned by a woman.”

Steven Moffat, who writes both Sherlock and Doctor Who, both of which contain asexual icons, has said

“On the subject of the Time Lord’s perceived asexuality, Moffat has this to say: “I think that his asexual nature was perhaps read into the series by its more asexual fans. If you look at the old show, it’s not true. At some stage the Doctor had a wife and a family, because he’s got a grand- daughter. He likes everything: he drinks, he eats, why wouldn’t he date?”

Chuck Lorre, who works on The Big Bang Theory and is the creator of Sheldon Cooper, had this to say:

Lorre says it’s unlikely questions surrounding Sheldon’s sexuality will ever be answered. “Why would we have to [brand him ever] if the character is so thoroughly focused on his work?” he argues. “If touching other human beings of any gender is irrelevant to him, why label the thing? Why can’t there be a third gender — male, female and Sheldon?”

Awesome. So we have “no they’re not asexual” over and over again, we have conflations of asexuality with being burned on relationships, and we have the conflation of asexuality with gender and workaholism.

I thought–for a second when I saw that Tumblr post, I thought we had a writer who realized that asexual people exist. I thought a writer realized that we are people, and that he was kind enough to stand up and say “yes, this character is.”

I was so excited to see a creator commenting on an asexual character while acknowledging that asexuality is a sexual orientation. Seriously, that tiny thing alone had such an impact on me. It’s so, so rare to see asexuality treated like a sexual orientation anyone can have in non-asexual spaces. If it is mentioned, it’s always in the context of an individual character’s individual quirks, something that can be explained away as part of the weirdness of that character. (And the characters are always framed as weird.)

You see this in-story, but if anything it’s more pronounced when creators are asked about the asexuality of the characters they work on. Often, creators react with contempt and derision when made aware of fans who have asexual identities. It is so often clear that I am not included in the audience.

It saddens me to realize the things that so excited me about the original post are the same things that should have clued me in that it was a hoax.

Can’t we have creators who acknowledge asexual fans, too?


  1. I have to wonder why the rumor about Tim Drake was started in the first place. Why pick asexuality as the hoaxed orientation? Because it seemed like a plausible evasion of gay/bi Tim from the comic creators? *sigh* sadly, that’s what made it seem believable to me.

    Of all those above, only Sheldon’s doesn’t piss me off. Not everyone identifies with a orientation/sexuality, and that’s something we also don’t see enough of in media. Even “questioning” gives the idea that there will inevitably be an answer, when there’s not always, for everyone. The pressure to have an identity is apparent when we see the relief so many asexuals have in coming upon the concrete identity that fits them.

    Comment by Lasciel — August 21, 2011 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

    • I agree…Lorre’s quote doesn’t bother me as much, either. While I’m not a part of the Sherlock fandom, it’s the fandom that needs to be praised for advancing asexual visibility, not Benedict Cumberbatch or Steven Moffat. I’m pretty sure people are finding out about asexuality through the Sherlock fandom rather than the show itself. Same with Doctor Who.

      And, uhh, according to Moffat, asexuals don’t eat and drink?

      Comment by Ily — August 22, 2011 @ 12:07 am | Reply

    • I wonder, too. Mind, I’m confused on a basic level about the entire hoax–I have no idea what the person who did it thought they were doing, or why they did it. Did they just want to fuck with people? Were they trying to be hurtful? Did they want to make some sort of point? Either way, ouch.

      The thing about Sheldon’s that pissed me off is mostly the last sentence, where sexual orientation is conflated with gender. I have a pretty sore spot there because I’ve had a lot of people conflate those two with respect to me and erase my gender identity. It’s also, honestly, a good example for my larger point: yes, it’s nice to have characters who choose not to be labeled, but on the other hand essentially all asexual characters fall into this category, and it would be even nicer to have someone choose to own the label.

      (I’m also not convinced that Sheldon’s “not identifying with an orientation” in verse, since he’s never discussed it or himself given an opinion on his orientation–everything we know about him comes from his friends speculating about him to each other. In general, Sheldon tends to be very Othered on the show and the show as a whole very rarely frames events in a way that encourages the audience to identify with him, so with all that in mind I have a hard time believing the show is allowing Sheldon to actively claim his sexuality in any way.)

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 22, 2011 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

  2. I hadn’t seen the Lorre comment before. As a person, and particularly someone of a “third” gender, that’s … really depressing. But maybe it’s because I have no faith that he would actually put thought into writing someone outside of the gender binary and not just “someone obsessed with work.” Also I don’t understand why his gender determines his interest in touching other people. If Lorre had cut the comment off before that sentence I don’t think it would have bothered me quite as much.

    There are what, two semi-famous characters made asexual on purpose? The camp counselor from Huge, which got cancelled, and the kid from Guardian of the Dead. *sigh* It’d be really nice if we could get an asexual character in a fandom where the creators seem to like playing along with the fans. Or were willing to let fans read things how they wanted. I mean, unless you have a specific future event planned that directly refutes a reading, why take the effort of shooting it down? (Even then I, as a creator, probably wouldn’t — but I think that’s possible the influence of being involved with fandom as a fan talking.)

    Comment by ace eccentric — August 22, 2011 @ 12:51 am | Reply

    • Yeah, I would not have been so annoyed myself if it wasn’t for the final sentence–I have had enough of people who assume my gender identity is the same as my sexual orientation, you know? Although I do note that again, the Lorre quote frames asexuality as an individual idiosyncrasy, which I find frustrating. I have a sexual orientation, not a personal quirk.

      I’m glad you brought up the Huge and Guardian of the Dead characters, because the thing is–I haven’t seen those creators talk about their asexual characters at all, either. (Well, Karen Healey has acknowledged criticism of her character. I think she’s actually referring to Charles’ blog there, although I’m not quite sure, as I’ve never seen the criticism linked to and his is the only critical reading of the novel from an ace perspective I’m aware of.) And that’s largely because both of those characters are very minor characters. Kevin, the kid in Guardian of the Dead, starts out as a promising supporting character but essentially disappears from the story very quickly. Poppy, from Huge, is framed more or less as an annoying authority figure to the kids who are the main stars of the show. If Huge hadn’t been cancelled so quickly, that might have changed, but as it is her coming-out is actually the only thing we really know about her besides the surface coating of peppiness.

      It feels to me that we almost have a choice between creators getting things right about asexuality and creators who make their asexual characters major characters. The one exception to that is Gerald Tippet from Shortland Street, and–well, honestly, I don’t talk about him all that much because when I watched the first few episodes of his arc my primary, automatic reaction was to want to box his ears. Not because he doesn’t read to me as a realistic asexual character, but because I found his actual personality so off-putting.

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 22, 2011 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

      • Well, Karen Healey has acknowledged criticism of her character. I think she’s actually referring to Charles’ blog there, although I’m not quite sure, as I’ve never seen the criticism linked to and his is the only critical reading of the novel from an ace perspective I’m aware of.

        I just hopped a few links from there and she said that she didn’t link to the criticism specifically because she doesn’t want her fans dogpiling the critics. Which is… actually a very, very, very good idea. I think it’s safe to assume that she means Charles? especially because she suggests finding the criticism if you want to see it by Googling around and Charles’ entry is on the first page of Google results for “Guardian of the Dead asexual”.

        Comment by Kaz — August 23, 2011 @ 3:48 am | Reply

  3. Uhh. I try to get behind the reasoning for the first two comments, becaus Lorre is in another category altogether. Still being insensitive, but in a different way.

    I think that asexuality must be, to a non-asexual, very much out there, and that most simply can’t comprehend us in a context that doesn’t have a ‘defective’ somewhere in the definition. So they protest against the characters being seen as defective, or feel threatened in their masculinity or whatnot. It’s obvious in Moffat’s comment that he sees sex on a level with eating and drinking in terms of needs — hoping for representation from that corner is depressingly futile.

    This is very sad, but wtf. They can’t stop the slashers, and I wager they won’t stop the acers, either.

    Fandom does what it will.

    Here’s to hoping for more intended ace cannon, though. And creators who have done their research.

    Comment by Carmilla DeWinter — August 22, 2011 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, but the thing is–fandom is all well and good, but I’d like to have text to go along with my subtext, you know? Especially when I consider that fandom isn’t always a safe space (oh hai there, Big Bang Theory fandom), and that if the canon is still going I essentially end up waiting for the canon to go “hahahahaha, they weren’t ace after all, sucker!” I would like to be able to say “yes, X character is asexual” without thinking in the back of my head “at least until the creators prove me wrong.”

      And yeah, I get where they’re coming from, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, you know?

      Comment by Sciatrix — August 22, 2011 @ 8:39 pm | Reply

  4. Ah… apparently, some of my disgruntlement did get lost in translation. Also, most BS and general idiocy don’t surprise me much anymore – call me jaded if you like.

    I don’t particularly like their stance on this, either. I haven’t yet had the luck to have created canon myself, but I find the ‘asexual until further notice’ somewhat… indecisive and maybe a bit cowardly?

    Both from the ace and the creating standpoint. You simply can’t keep all your options open when writing.

    As I said: fandom does what it will — which means that an out ace character won’t deter the figurative estrogen brigades much.

    So the creators really don’t have any good excuses. Really, they don’t, and I very much dislike their responses to perceived otherness.

    Who’s afraid of the big, bad Ace?


    Comment by Carmilla DeWinter — August 23, 2011 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

  5. […] laments how the creators of characters perceived as asexual react badly to others talking about the character […]

    Pingback by Carnival of Aces 5: Round-Up Post « an asexual space — September 1, 2011 @ 7:29 pm | Reply

  6. *applauds*

    this article sums up what i have been trying to say for so long
    i get so defensive of asexual characters, and i love it when TPTB ‘confirm’ their asexuality.
    but all so often they will say one thing and then the next day (or even in the next sentence) will say something that completely contradicts it. And it makes me so sad. Part of the problem is that there simply isn’t enough mainstream knowledge of asexuality (and this becomes a bit of a catch22, as mainstream knowledge often stems from mainstream media representation) for TPTB to know what it means when they say a character is ‘asexual’ or ‘not interested’, or indeed when fans say they’re grateful that a character is asexual.

    Comment by Marion — November 12, 2011 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: