Science Fiction has had a long and proud history of being a genre that likes to display and feature people of a variety of minority groups and how they’re treated by society at large, whether they be the role and place of ethnic minorities being explored via the inclusion of actual human minorities or represented through the relations between several alien species or more recently the wide range of common sexual or gender-based minorities such as gay or inter-racial relationships or those who would be identified as ‘transgender’, to the point now it’s common to see peoples and relationships that only 20-30 years ago would’ve been forced off the air for being ‘inappropriate’. Well all except one because there is something I have to ask.
Where are all the asexual characters?
(Krem, a transgender character in Dragon Age: Inquisition, was seen by many to be a major step forward in bringing transgender inclusion into the popculture mainstream)
You may suddenly be scratching your head to be trying to think of any, I know I did and came to the conclusion that there simply aren’t any. Not in any popular SF Film, TV, or game series. Even Bioware, who have largely been one of the main drivers of diversity, have been oddly lacking in this category.
If you then expand the scope to also include non-SF entities as well this lack of characters still exists, with at most a few that are tentatively implied to be asexual but are never explicitly referred to as such. Even stranger is the fact that the number of these implied characters has gone down as well recently with 2 of the main ones used as examples, Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and Sherlock from the 2010 TV series, with the former now in a sexual relationship with fellow scientist Amy (but they both just choose not to have it a lot) and the latter being shown to be able to have normal sexual relationships but rather prefers to not have them as they cloud his ability to work.
This lack of representation in the past is perfectly understandable in my opinion. As a minority group asexuality is not only one of the least talked or known about but is also something that is not readily apparent on observation unlike other types of sexuality. In my case (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same in many others) my lack of sexual attraction to the opposite gender in my teenage years was seen to be confirmation of homosexuality by my peers (and even some family members) rather than asexuality.
At worst though are shows that have asexuality as some kind of temporary condition or ‘defect’ that can be treated, an attitude that is completely at odds with reality. An example of this would be the House episode “Better Half” in which an asexual couple are turned into a $100 bet between House and Wilson to prove they aren’t really asexual and in the end it is revealed the husband had a tumour that lowered his sex drive and the wife was simply lying to protect their marriage. Thankfully though this sort of storyline is rare.
This lack of asexual characters though does strike me as odd due to the fact that romantic relationships that have asexual characteristics, the main one being that they are sexless, are on the rise in popular media. A major plot point in Avengers: Age of Ultron was the romantic relationship between Banner and Natalia where they were unable to be sexually intimate with each other due to their troubled histories and Banner’s ‘anger issues’.
In the world of videogames while pointing out their lack of asexual characters, Bioware has a completely sexless relationship in the Mass Effect series in the form of Tali’Zorah’s romantic paths due to the fact she is unable to leave her biosuit limiting any relationship to a romantic one at most, though she herself is still mainly implied to be heterosexual. Along with this you could also see Bungie/343s relationship between John-117 and Cortana as a romantic one, depending on how you interpret their actions through the series, going from people who barely tolerate each other, to good friends, to people who clearly care a great deal about each other (personally at the moment they seem to be an old married couple having a minor quarrel, although this one involves whether the galaxy should be free to live by its own rules or under an imperial overlord. You know, the usual argument).
In conclusion we currently inhabit a bizarre period where asexual-like relationships are being put into Science-Fiction but actual asexual characters aren’t. As a result it seems now more than ever is the time to start including characters that are either asexual or aromantic, without being treated as either some medical oddity or phase people are going through, who have complex character arcs or relationships with people to the same degree as other sexual orientations. If anything it should at least help stop or argue against the increasing trend of seeing sex=romance and the idea non-sexual romantic relationships don’t work.