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Asexuals aren’t villains, or ‘broken’ — we’re just people

An avid book reader reflects on the representation of asexuality within media
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There is little to no representation of asexuality in mainstream media. TAIS YASTREMSKAYA/FLICKR
There is little to no representation of asexuality in mainstream media. TAIS YASTREMSKAYA/FLICKR

Content warning: This article discusses negative stereotypes about asexuality.

The first time I heard about asexuality, I was 13. 

I thought, “Oh, that’s me.”

Then I forgot about it for three years.

Why? Because heteronormativity was extremely prevalent in the media I consumed. At the end of every book series I read, the protagonist always found someone of the opposite gender. Harry Potter married Ginny Weasley; Percy Jackson got together with Annabeth Chase. As an avid book reader, it was absolutely undeniable that what I read at that age subtly — but most definitely — impacted my own worldview. 

Earlier this year, I contributed to an article that spoke about how the lack of Chinese representation in the media directly impacted me as a Chinese-Canadian writer. This lack of Asian representation led me, when I was eight, to believe — despite having grown up in a mostly East Asian community — that my own name was weird and that nobody would want to read my stories unless my protagonist had a ‘normal’ — i.e. white — name. 

A lack of good representation isn’t the only issue when it comes to racial discrimination. But it’s a huge part of the problem.

The lack of LGBTQ+ representation worked — and still works — in the same way. ‘Normal’, according to what the media tells us, means heterosexual. Normal means a girl and a guy getting together and having kids at some point in their lives. Though LGBTQ+ representation has increased slightly throughout the years — take fictional characters such as Nico Di Angelo or Korra, for example — it’s still nowhere near enough. 

Not a single character in the media I consumed was asexual. So, when I was 13, I read about asexuality, thought about it, then discarded it because I was told that it was a fake term made on Tumblr. 

In the media I consumed, there was no indication that asexuality was real. And because there’s so little representation, it’s easy for many people to come up with — and spew out — harmful misconceptions. 

A lot of the time, these misconceptions really are just different versions of homophobia. Below are a few examples.

“You haven’t met the right person yet!” or “It’s just a phase.” Homophobes tend to say these things a lot. 

“You’re just saying this because you can’t get laid.” Many asexuals — such as myself — have previously been, or currently are, in relationships.

“How can you be asexual? You’ve had sex before.” This is like asking a gay man, “How can you be gay? You’ve been with a woman before.” That’s not how it works. Our orientations are for us and us alone to decide. Sexuality can change as time passes and you learn more about yourself.  

Below are some other statements sometimes heard from within the LGBTQ+ community.

“You’re just a straight person looking for attention.” Beyond the fact that the terms ‘heterosexuality’ and ‘asexuality’ have very different meanings, asexuality has been documented and noted since the mid-twentieth century. In a survey done by Alfred Kinsey in the mid-twentieth century, asexual people made up around one per cent of his subjects — all of them being adults who identified as men.

“You don’t belong here.” The ‘A’ in ‘LGBTQIA+’ stands for asexual, so yes, we’re a part of the community.

I’ve seen these circulated online. I’ve heard some of them in person. When I was 17, my high school teacher said to the class that he didn’t believe that asexual people existed. What he didn’t know when he said that was that there were at least two of us in that class.

Among the many problems that exist, the lack of proper representation in the media is a large contributor to misconceptions and discrimination against asexuality. It’s common to find a villain who thinks that the desire to be in a relationship is a weakness they don’t need; similarly, in these stories, the protagonists often end up in a heterosexual relationship. The term ‘asexuality’ is never mentioned, but the implication is there: that only villains aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and that if you don’t feel attracted to someone, there’s just something broken about you.

What a horrible misconception that is.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by the lack of sexual attraction to anyone. This isn’t to be confused with aromanticism, which is characterized by a lack of romantic attraction but does fall under the umbrella term of asexuality. A person can be both aromantic and asexual; similarly, one can be asexual and experience romantic attraction, or aromantic with sexual attraction. 

I’m a heteromantic ace — I’ve had romantic crushes on guys, but quite frankly, I’m just not interested in sex. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. 

Asexual people aren’t necessarily celibate either; celibacy is a choice while asexuality is just a part of who we are. Some asexual people can be sex-repulsed; others don’t particularly mind it and see it as just another activity. 

Asexual people can have kinks or be in relationships. Cake doesn’t have to be your favorite food for you to eat it; similarly, asexual people can engage in sexual activity with someone else even though they aren’t sexually attracted to the person in question. 

At the end of the day, if someone says they’re asexual, they’re asexual. End of story. 

There’s so much more that I haven’t written here. I haven’t written on grey asexuality, nor demisexuality, nor the horrifying impact of aphobia on the asexual community, nor about the many other terms used within the community. There’s so many other topics that I could write about that I can’t in this article, or this piece would be far too long to read. 

What I do want to say is this: we need more positive asexual representation. As of now, asexual people are invisible; we’re rarely noticed, and when we speak up and are seen, we’re dismissed or called weird — or worse, broken

We aren’t villains. We aren’t sick or broken.  

We’re just people.

If you or someone you know, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, is in need of support:

If you are concerned for your safety, you can also request for help from Rainbow Railroad at www.rainbowrailroad.org/request-help

For more resources, visit lgbtout.sa.utoronto.ca/resources-list/.