Ace erasure is still a huge problem in media and society
While browsing the LGBTQ+ side of TikTok, I came across a video that edited the pride flag colors on the word “Pride.” In the clip, the creator went and erased both the rainbow and asexual flag colors to replace them with those of the lesbian and gay men communities.
Later, as requested by multiple commenters, they changed it again to return the rainbow pride flag and make room for the two added ones as well. The creator refused to include the asexual pride colors, stating in the comments that “asexuality was not real to them.”
Based on their profile, the creator seemed young and probably didn’t know any better, but their actions did bring up the subject of ace erasure. Even with the small improvements that have been made over the years, asexual representation in media and society is still lacking.
The general definition of ace erasure is “the denial that asexuality and/or aromanticism is real, and the invisibility and lack of representation of asexuality and aromanticism.”
We live in a sex-obsessed, heteronormative society and though there is nothing wrong with being sex-positive, being an asexual individual in this kind of world can be rather lonely.
“I have quite a few friends who are homosexual and they can meet up with opposite sex heterosexual people and they can still talk about a particular gender,” says Danny Westfall, a 41-year-old asexual man who has identified as ace since he was 12 years old and has been a member of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network since 2018. “I can’t connect with either one of them that way and so that creates some of those peripheral side conversations that we can’t easily participate in and because of that it’s easier to stay hidden or to stay on the side.”
Those who identify as asexual feel little to no sexual attraction and that can oftentimes be rather difficult for allosexuals, people who do feel sexual attraction, to understand. The unfortunate reality is that what cannot be comprehended is oftentimes dismissed or ignored.
“The first time that I tried to come out to my family, I explained it to my father and his reaction was ‘that doesn’t exist,’” said Alondra M. Pérez Ramírez, a 25-year-old asexual woman. “He thought I was doing it wrong. That I don’t know how to masturbate exactly and the man put on a documentary on the female orgasm. He’s a very sexual person, so he loves it and the idea of me not loving it must have meant that there was, you know, maybe I have a brain tumor—like the House episode!”
Due to the misunderstanding of the orientation, representation within the media in the past had been rather disappointing for the community. Asexual characters are either represented as some nun or priest, insinuating that the lack of sexual desire is a choice, or the joke character that is not to be taken seriously and portrayed as childish.
One example that really disappointed a lot of asexuals, with community members expressing their displeasure on AVEN and Reddit, was season eight episode nine of “House, M.D.” also known as “Better Half.”
In the episode, Dr. House discovers his coworker’s patient and his wife are both asexual and so he bets $100 that he can find out what’s wrong with them because, according to him, not wanting or having sex is not normal and something must be wrong medically. The result turned out to be that the man had a pituitary issue and his wife was only pretending to please her husband.
The episode invalidated asexuality and effectively broadcasted the message that asexuality had to be some type of disorder or condition that needed to be fixed. That is not true at all because asexuality is not a choice nor a disorder.
Then there are the films and shows that completely ignore a character’s asexuality and aromanticism, which is when someone does not experience romantic attraction, and change them to suddenly like sex and romance.
One example that comes to mind is Jughead Jones from “Riverdale.” In the “Archie” comics that the character originated from, he was confirmed to be aromantic asexual. Multiple times he was shown to reject romantic advances toward him and in one issue, he even stated he was not “hobbled by these hormonal impulses” that his friends experienced. In the “Riverdale” series from 2017, his asexuality and aromanticism was practically thrown out the window in favor of a more allosexual version of him.
Shows, films and comics or literature, like “House” or the “Archie” comics, may be for entertainment, but they are also still a source of information to viewers. They tell stories about people and experiences that reflect real life and it influences people’s knowledge and perception of the world around them. That’s why it’s important that the information they relay is accurate at the very least.
Brandi Ortiz, a 25-year-old student at Saddleback and WALL staff member, has identified as asexual for a few years now and recalls how she was influenced by the lack of proper representation in media.
“Unfortunately, one thing I have learned is that there are— I don’t want to say small-minded people but that’s also true— is that because of the lack of representation, there— it’s led to a lot of confusion and a bit of heartache,” Ortiz said. “I convinced myself for a long time that I was confused.”
She said that she would watch TV shows as a kid and never really identified with any of the characters, in terms of sexuality. Those that did express asexuality normally did as part of a joke, as some sort of medical condition or celibacy. The representation was not accurate at all and it led to some confusion, especially when she started discovering her identity.
“Do I wish that I had more access to materials and know-how when I was growing up? Of course,” Ortiz said. “I would’ve loved to know more about— just that I had the option or that of this way of thinking or these of— the normalization of these lack of feelings definitely was something I could’ve used growing up because constantly I was told ‘Brandi, you are a late bloomer and that’s okay. You will feel these things. You will want to be close to someone eventually and you just got to give that person a chance.’”
Her family supported her after coming out, but even now there are still some questions they have that Ortiz cannot answer. Whether it’s because she doesn’t know how to explain something or because she’s still very new to a lot of aspects of the asexual community, media representation holds partial blame.
“Sex is always used as a humanizing quality that everyone wants which just ostracizes and demeans asexual people as being subhuman, broken or liars,” said Jasper Torrence-Eztli Jensen, who has identified as asexual for over a year now. “Mostly, I just think if we go away from seeing sex as a humanizing characteristic that would greatly help.”
Jensen observed that media representation has been improving recently and it can certainly be observed with more modern shows and movies. Asexual education is reaching new heights lately and as a result, asexuality is starting to pop up a lot more. For example, some characters that were recently confirmed as ace are Lilith Clawthorne from “The Owl House,” Spongebob from “Spongebob Squarepants,” and Peridot from “Steven Universe.”
Todd Chavez from “BoJack Horseman” especially stands out with how the show handled Chavez’s self-discovery. Ortiz, who had watched his coming out episodes, described it as very authentic.
Like many asexuals, it took time for him to come to terms with his identity and coming to that conclusion was not very easy, especially when the majority of people close to him were allosexual and didn’t understand his struggle.
When Todd first reflected on his feelings, he could not name what he was, instead stating that he was “nothing.” Other key relatable Todd moments, were his experience with Yolanda’s, another asexual character, parents, who kept insisting they partake in sexual activities whether that was with each other or not. Later, when he broke things off with Yolanda, he also tried getting back with his childhood friend, Emily, because it was what society expected.
I’ve watched all these scenes and, as an asexual individual myself, the gratification from seeing ourselves being represented through characters like Todd is almost impossible to describe. There is a feeling of joy, excitement and relief because it reminds us that we are normal, we are human and we are not broken.
“It’s nice to see more of it and I hope there continues to be more improvement and representation out there,” Jensen said.
Updated on May 26 at 2:50 a.m. to address hyperlinks, videos and images
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