Why Are Asexual Characters Always White?

· Updated on December 14, 2020

The concept of asexuality is nothing new at all, but it has only recently entered the mainstream lexicon and consciousness. Part of the confusion is the misunderstanding of what asexuality encompasses. The definition of asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction, yet it is sometimes mistaken for abstinence and celibacy.

With this in mind, the majority of people see asexuality as voluntary abstinence or even a psychological defect. This means that it is often seen as a choice instead of being a valid orientation. GLAAD recently reported the number of ace characters on television as of this year in the “Where We Are On TV” annual analysis, and the trend for cable and streaming services reported only 1 percent of asexual representation. Broadcast television did not have a statistic for representation.

Generally, it’s assumed that asexuality makes up a tiny percentage of the LGBTQ community. Now imagine that small percentage of people, who do not get enough visibility as it is, and replace every possible person with a non-POC. Taking this into perspective, what the media sees is just the tip of the iceberg, and that iceberg is overwhelmingly white. In addition to the severe lack of diversity regarding race and ethnicity, what is shown is a very general idea of asexuality, which often does not even take into account that asexuality itself is a spectrum.

The Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman features an asexual character, but is just as clueless about asexuality as most of its audience. Todd is considered a main character, and his plotlines largely make up the nonsensical b-plots of the series. He has held various jobs which include successful theme park owner, governor of California and President of Ad Sales for Streamable Content for a website. He has somehow accomplished all of this while maintaining his slacker personality.

In Season 3, Todd’s best friend asks how he identifies. His reply is “Not gay, but not straight, either.” He explicitly states that he feels like “nothing.” This answer implies that he identifies under the ace spectrum. The revelation was significant as it was the first instance in which Todd’s lack of relationships, and subsequently his sexuality, was discussed in length. It was the first time Todd — and the audience — acknowledged this information. Over the course of the following season, we witness Todd accepting and embracing his new identity.

In Season 4, the character becomes one half of a relationship with an anthropomorphic asexual axolotl named Yolanda. The relationship works until it becomes clear that the only thing they have in common is their asexuality. After they break up, Todd considers using a dating app meant to connect fellow asexuals.

Todd has an ambiguous heritage, and it’s a victory that this is even hinted at. However, besides a number of hints, including his surname, it’s not blatantly apparent that the character is Latinx, as pointed out in a recent article in Vulture. “We’ve played him as Schrödinger’s Latino, in that he’s not been explicitly not Latino, but we have not told stories about his Latino-ness either,” said BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

In a show where diversity is so outlandish and given a chance to shine through the use of human characters of different ethnicities as well as a variety of animals, the issue could have easily been helped by having Todd’s love interest be written as an Afro-Latina. Though the character of Yolanda is voiced by queer Cuban actress Natalie Morales, her heritage does not add much to the character. Yolanda also suffers the same problem as Todd, in that their culture has yet to be touched on in the series.   

In television, asexuality is generally reserved for characters like Jughead Jones (Riverdale) or Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory). Many more characters exist, though they have not been canonically confirmed and are only assumed to be ace, as is the case with iconic characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Rose from The Golden Girls. Only recently has media begun to openly identify ace characters. In the short-lived ABC Family (now Freeform) series Huge, Poppy identified as asexual, which was significant in that it did not change how she was characterized. Todd is also unique in that he was strange prior to his coming out, not as a result of it.  

As asexuality becomes more common in our everyday language, it’s no surprise that the most visible among this group are non-POCs. Asexuality is broad and can come in all forms, and seeing it represented in the few instances on television by a non-POC is frustrating. A non-POC experience may not necessarily be the same experience an asexual panromantic Black woman may have. There aren’t many spaces in the queer community meant for people like me who at the same time look like me.

Asexual visibility is severely behind when compared to other sexual orientations on the queer spectrum. The little visibility allotted should be given equally among those that identify. This means diversifying the ace people that we do see because they do exist. The goal of media, especially when it begins to take the steps to incorporate all walks of life and sexualities, should be to consider shaking up the ethnicity of characters we consider for television or even creating spaces that foster change. Some of this change is reflected in the additions of characters like Todd and Yolanda as well as, confirmed asexual, Raphael Santiago of Freeform’s Shadowhunters. However, there is a long way to go in terms of ace diversity.

The creation of these spaces and the fight for ethnic diversity can become a moral dilemma as it begs the question: how does one say ace visibility is behind when queer visibility is just getting a chance to be seen in the mainstream? Do you wait for your turn politely? Do you take space to make your own? What actions can be taken when media sheds light on one ethnic group but has yet to branch out into other minorities, as is the case for black ace characters? This is difficult to say since it wasn’t that long ago asexual people had to fight to be included in the queer community. However, the goal is very much the same: to be able to see ourselves represented in the media in the various forms and ethnicities we exist in.   

**Edited to reflect GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV” analysis

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