The first time I saw any semblance of (canon and canonically explored) asexual representation was the character Todd from Bojack Horseman. In the first few seasons of the show, Todd would become awkward or uncomfortable when engaging in relationships, romanticism, or sex. Thus, characters in the show as well as viewers might have initially suspected Todd was gay because of his reluctance to be with a woman sexually. However, in the fourth season, Todd eventually realized and accepted he was, in fact, asexual.
Although Todd’s asexuality could have been explored a bit more in the show, I appreciated the show’s creation and acknowledgement of an asexual person. Todd’s realization that he was asexual helped me discover I too was asexual. I had never realized (or even considered asexuality) because for so long it seemed that having sex was the norm and anything else was non-existent.
Correspondingly, the voice actor of Todd, Aaron Paul, who is also known for his role as Jesse in Breaking Bad, told Buzzfeed in 2019, “So many people [have been approaching] me saying, ‘I didn’t know what I was. You have given me a community that I didn’t even know existed,’ which is just so heartbreaking, but also so beautiful, you know?”
The journey of Todd’s discovery that he’s asexual was slow, and at times frustrating for Todd, but overall a realistic portrayal of what it’s like coming to terms with your sexuality. Viewers learned of Todd’s sexuality as he learned more about himself; in turn, it helped me and so many other fans of the show feel comfortable with our own asexuality and seen without shame of who we are.
Unfortunately, there is very little asexual or aromantic representation in mainstream, western media. People who are aro/ace, especially young people, often won’t know for so long because asexuality tends to get left out of LGBTQ+ representation. To add insult to injury, many movies and TV shows perpetuate the narrative that non-sexual activity is taboo. There are entire movies dedicated to characters losing their virginity because it’s somehow so weird that a person is not having or has never had sex.
Think of movies like Superbad, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, and American Pie, all of which revolve around forcing characters to engage in dating or sexual activity in order to adhere to societal norms.
Asexuality in film is typically illustrated through the comedy medium and treated as a concept that is not by one’s own choosing, needing to be cured by having sex. And though I love all the aforementioned films, these movies treat asexuality or aromanticism as a joke or punchline, as if not engaging in sexual acts is laughable or even pathetic.
In addition, asexuality and asexual people are portrayed as binary monoliths. Superbad says you’re asexual because you’re a nerd; The Forty-Year-Old Virgin says you’re asexual because you severely lack social skills; and American Pie says you’re asexual because you’re awkward and desperate.
The other half of the spectrum regarding asexual and aromantic tropes displays ace people as “uptight, self-serious, and cold-blooded,” says Julie Kliegman in an article for Bustle. Think of characters like Varys or Joffrey from Game of Thrones.
Notably, many of these character’s asexuality is either head-canon or confuses an absent sex and romantic life as asexual or aromantic. As a result, the erasure, disregard, or misrepresentation of asexaulity and aromanticism in mainstream, western media causes people on the ace spectrum to feel like an outlier. Asexual people already have difficulty navigating our personhood within a hyper-sexual, hetero-normative society, making us feel alone and misunderstood by most.
Not to mention, when ace people “come out,” we’re gaslighted and made to feel confused due to lack of understanding surrounding asexuality and aromanticism and how the two exist on a spectrum like most other sexual orientations.
More diverse media representation for LGBT+ and queer identities aids in de-stigmatizing and normalizing all ranges, possibilities, and intersections of identities to create a more safe and inclusive world for all. However flawed Bojack Horseman’s exploration of Todd’s sexuality was at times, it still served to be an important representation for a community that is so often overlooked.
Todd helped so many people, myself included, feel seen and most importantly validated as well as helped people learn about asexuality and aromanticism for the first time, whether they were asexual or not. Therefore, hopefully the future continues to see asexual representation that continues to improve over time, so asexual youth don’t have to wait until they’re adults watching an animated show to finally see themselves properly represented for the first time.
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