Some rambling thoughts on representation

I was kind of looking forward to the new Riverdale show. It looks completely bonkers, but it seemed fun. But the main reason I found it interesting was that there was (at least, I expected) a canonical asexual character.

Yeah, guess not.

I didn’t grow up with the Archie comics, but I’ve caught some of the newer graphic novels and really enjoyed them, and a big part of that is seeing asexuality written in an open and thoughtful way.

It’s just one stupid show, so what’s the big deal? Well, it’s not just one show. It’s everywhere.

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek for the first time lately, and, without fail, every character that I think is obviously ace ends up having some sort of heteronormative romantic arc. Voyager’s Doctor chases and makes out with a holographic Viking lady (I quit Voyager soon after that for other reasons, so I don’t know what else they put him through). Odo, a mass of sentient shapeshifting goo, is apparently in love with Kira (I’ve only started season 4, but spoil away.) Data…I’m not even going to talk about Data. Of course, Star Trek is not particularly good at any sort of queer inclusion, or in talking about gender identity (fuck you, “The Outcast”). But it makes me sad that a series so ostensibly about the full range of human experience cannot possibly think of what to do with characters other than “male-coded + female-coded = sexytimes.” And then it makes me angry.

I don’t particularly like labels, nor do I really use them for myself. I find them limiting and pigeonholing. But I also don’t use them because, when I was a teenager and I needed them, we didn’t have the labels, or at least, I didn’t know them. I didn’t have the words. I’d never heard them.

I never saw anyone remotely like me, in any media, anywhere. The only characters who were ever coded asexual were the crazy cat-lady maiden aunts or swishy gay-male best friends who could act ~sassy~ but never actually express sexual desire, or god-forbid have sex. There was never anyone, ever, who just didn’t want to have sex, for whatever reason.

I spent so much time when I was younger worrying about what was wrong with me, trying to figure out how exactly I was so awful and undesirable that no-one ever wanted me, that it took years for me to realize that, maybe, just maybe, it was that I didn’t desire, not that I was completely undesirable. Because I never saw myself reflected anywhere. Not once.

I saw the crazy cat-ladies as my warning from the future (“if you don’t subscribe to these cultural norms, look what you risk becoming!”) I saw characters thinking about sex, and talking about sex, and having sex, all the damn time. I saw characters who were never, ever single for a second, and those that were desperately looking for the next link on the chain. I saw only a reflection of things I wasn’t, and I thought that I was broken. For a really, really long time. Sometimes still.

So I jump at every crumb of representation, every “possible, maybe, are they?”

I remember that I once read a novel where I was certain that a side-character was asexual, and it actually gave me chills. The next book in the series came with the reveal….that she was a closet lesbian. Oh. And I mean, lesbians are great. Queer rep, yay! But there it was again, this feeling that something so obvious to me was apparently completely invisible. Again.

I didn’t expect Riverdale to “solve” representation in any way. I didn’t even expect Jughead’s experiences to be like mine. (People are not all asexual in the same way, just as people are not all sexual in the same way). But it would have been really nice to have a character who doesn’t have romantic or sexual relationships, and doesn’t want or need to, and isn’t broken or desperate or mocked. It would have been really nice to have one character, somewhere, who wasn’t shoved into the heteronormative mold (different rant for a different day, but I actually think most queer relationships on TV are forced to “pass” by fitting into heteronormative standards too).

I’m tired of having to read between the lines to find characters who feel (or don’t feel, as the case may be) like me. I’m tired of jumping at every crumb. I’m tired of sex being the center of every motivation, every character development. I’m tired of being forced to try to see myself in the robots and holograms and alien puddles of goo, and then even those robots and holograms and alien puddles of goo letting me down. I’m tired of it.

And I’m pissed.

And I’m skipping Riverdale.

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