Recently, I’ve been thinking about asexual representation in the media and my own personal attitude towards it. Generally, when we talk about aceness in the media, we’re talking about either explicit representation of canonically ace characters, or audience headcanons for characters we choose to view as ace. But there’s another kind of ace viewing that, until recently, I didn’t have a word for. Coyote’s recent post about Jessie in Toy Story 2 introduced me to the term “asexual resonances”. An asexual resonance could be described as a moment that “resonates” with asexuals, or that represents an aspect of asexual experience, regardless of whether the characters involved are viewed as asexual.
Ace representation is important, both as a way to make aces feel seen and validated, and as a way to promote understanding and acceptance of asexuality. But, while I can appreciate this importance on an intellectual level, I don’t necessarily feel a strong emotional attachment to ace characters. Discovering a character is ace might give my brain a little ping! of “Hey, they’re like me!”, similar to the one I get when I come across a character who’s Canadian or left-handed. But, like being Canadian or left-handed, being asexual doesn’t automatically mean a character is going to resonate with me or even share my experiences.
For example, one of the only canonically asexual characters I’m personally familiar with is Gerald from Shortland Street. I used to follow the clips of his story on YouTube, which mostly dealt with the ups and downs of his relationship with his girlfriend, Morgan. aceadmiral recently posted a detailed summary of Gerald’s storyline, in which they argue that Gerald provided a nuanced and important piece of asexual representation. I agree, but recognising Gerald’s importance doesn’t mean that I feel personally attached to him. Though we’re both on the ace spectrum, Gerald was much more into romance than I am, and his story revolved around his dating relationship with Morgan. I found the various twists and turns of their relationship silly and tiresome. And, of course, all this took place on a soap opera, a genre I generally dislike. All-in-all, there was little in Gerald’s story I found appealing or that represented my experiences as an ace person.
The same can be true even for characters I headcanon as ace. Like a lot of people, I interpret the title character of Sherlock as asexual. He doesn’t show an interest in dating, he’s described as a “virgin”, and he seems to get all his need for companionship met in platonic relationships. Depending on how you interpret the opening paragraph of “A Scandal in Bohemia”, you could even argue that he’s based on a canonically asexual literary figure. But even if Sherlock is asexual, that doesn’t mean I like the way asexuality is represented through his character. Far from being validated, Sherlock’s lack of interest in sex is treated as the butt of a joke. Characters are constantly deriding him for it and suggesting that there must be something wrong with him. Moreover, Sherlock himself is a real jerk. He’s rude, insensitive, and arrogant. As for the show, I find it obnoxious, pretentious, and lazy. Even if there are some ace-positive moments in it, the fact remains that I don’t actually like Sherlock or Sherlock.
But thinking in terms of “resonances” means I’m not limited to canonically ace characters or even characters I can headcanon as asexual. Because, if we focus only on the questions, “Is that character ace?” or “Could that character be ace?”, then we risk ignoring the ways their story may resonate with aces and reflect their experiences regardless of the character’s actual sexual orientation. And so, of late, I’ve been thinking less in terms of, “Which characters are canonically asexual?” or even, “Which characters do I headcanon as asexual?”, and more in terms of, “Who are my asexual icons?”
Consider Luke Skywalker. If you’ve been following this blog (especially recently) you probably know that I have some very strong feelings about Star Wars. You may even have picked up on the fact that one of the big reasons is that I see a lot of asexual resonances in Luke. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Luke Skywalker was probably my first ever asexual icon. But what does that mean? Does it mean I headcanon Luke as asexual? Sort of, but the headcanon isn’t really the important part. Does it mean I want Luke to be declared canonically asexual, or to get a “coming out” moment? Honestly, I kind of hate that idea. What I mean by calling Luke my “ace icon” is that there are aspects of his character and story that speak to me as an ace person.
The definitive argument for viewing Luke as asexual can be found here. I can’t tell you how much I love that post; it’s at least 50% of the reason I love Star Wars in one succinct little package. But here’s the thing: what I love about it is not that it argues for Luke being asexual. It’s the argument itself.
Er, lemme explain.
anghraine lists several reasons for viewing Luke as asexual, including the following:
“(7) He’s not doomed to be ~tragically alone~ because he’s not paired up. … [E]ach relationship (Han and Luke as BFFs, Luke and Leia as twins, and Leia and Han as a romantic couple) seems about as intense and committed and loving as any other one.
“(8) … Luke’s relationships are in no way seen as less important than other people’s romantic or sexual ones. …
“(10) The end of Luke’s arc.
“Does he ‘get the girl?’ No. Does he end up romantically involved with anyone? No. Is he remotely bothered by this?
It’s these factors, in and of themselves, that make Luke a compelling figure for me. Luke seems perfectly content with being single and happily builds his life around close platonic relationships, just like many asexual people. It makes no difference whether Luke, himself, is actually asexual; the point is that he’s a representation of asexual experience. Moreover, Luke is also kind, brave, and talented, and he’s the hero of one of the most popular film series ever. He didn’t just make asexual experiences visible or acceptable; he made them cool!
Now, Luke isn’t the only character in the Star Wars universe with asexual resonances. Both young Obi-Wan from the prequel trilogy and Rey from the sequel trilogy can easily be interpreted as ace. However, neither of them is my icon. Why? Once again, subjective factors come into play. Young Obi-Wan is a character in the prequel trilogy, which, like many people who grew up with the original trilogy, I have negative feelings about. I like the sequel trilogy better, but I also find that Rey’s story doesn’t place as much emphasis on close friendship as Luke’s does. Luke’s relationship with Han and Leia is a constant source of motivation for him throughout the original trilogy; in the sequel trilogy, Rey’s relationship with Finn ends up taking a back seat to her weird sort-of-romance with Kylo Ren. The final image of the original trilogy is Luke with his friends; the final image of the sequel trilogy is Rey alone. That doesn’t make either Obi-Wan or Rey bad representation, and both characters may be ace icons to someone. But they’re not in line with my personal preferences, and so they’re not my icons. The character from the movies I like wins out over the one from the movies I don’t, and the character who ends up in the kind of relationship I want wins out over the one who ends up by herself.
For two more examples of my asexual icons, we could turn to The X-Files. If you’ve been following my other blog, you know that I headcanon Dana Scully as ace-spectrum. I’ve talked a lot about that, particularly in this blog post. But what about Fox Mulder? He’s a much harder character for me to read as ace. Between the ex-girlfriends, the porn collection, and that one one-night stand, he reads to me as pretty decidedly allosexual. However, that doesn’t prevent him from being an asexual icon. Even if he experiences sexual desires and sexual attraction, he’s still a character who prioritises looking for aliens over dating, who engages almost exclusively in solo sexual activity, and whose primary relationship is with a woman he loves deeply but (at least in the first five seasons) platonically. That gives him a lot in common with many asexuals. He’s also a reasonably entertaining character on a show I love. To me, that’s enough to qualify for ace icon status.
Ace representation is important, but I think ace icons may be equally important. Having canonically asexual characters is good for awareness-raising and education outside of the asexual community. But, for those of us who already identify as ace, those “canon aces” aren’t necessarily going to be the ones we most relate to or who best represent our desires or experiences. Fortunately, we don’t have to limit ourselves to “canon aces”; we can find asexual icons in all sorts of characters, whether they’re explicitly ace, ambiguously ace, or even definitively non-ace. Luke, Mulder, and Scully are three of my asexual icons – and have been, since long before I knew what asexuality was.
Who are yours?