By Chris Ceary
Asexual Awareness Week is upon us! Asexuality refers to a wide spectrum of people who feel either no sexual attraction, who feel a limited amount of attraction, or who only feel attraction under certain circumstances. People can be acefluid, gray asexual, demisexual, among many other identities. Asexuality is often referred to as the invisible orientation because even in queer spaces, ace people are underrepresented. In reality, ace people make up approximately 1% of the population (and the evidence suggests that is an underestimation). That means there are hundreds of thousands of us out there! Yet, ace characters make up a far smaller percentage of who we see in the pages of our comics, on our screens, or in our books. That said, being underrepresented does not mean being completely absent, so during this Ace Awareness Week, let’s take a moment to celebrate some of the amazing ace characters out there.
Jughead Jones from the Archie Comics universe is often where the conversation on ace representation starts and for a long time was where the conversation stopped too. In a comic populated by romantic woe, Jughead kept his focus on what mattered to him: food, of course. The ace coding existed in his character for a long time, but eventually, it became a canon part of his character. You can see him being his food-loving asexual self in the pages of the amazing Jughead solo comic by Chip Zdarsky. Now, he can be found living a food blogger life in the Webtoon Big Ethel Energy. Unfortunately for me, my first exposure to Jughead was in the show Riverdale, where his asexuality was completely erased. I can only imagine what an impact he would have had on me if he was allowed to be his ace self right there on the CW.
It is hard to find major characters who are confirmed asexual in the mainstay big two comic companies, but there have been a few later revealed to be asexual by their writers. For example, Yelena Belova, a character familiar to fans of Black Widow, was declared likely asexual in an interview with writer Devin Grayson. While considering the MCU’s reluctance toward queer representation overall, it is unlikely we will see this realized on the screen with Florence Pugh’s Yelena, but perhaps we can hold out hope for the first ace character in the MCU.
Webtoons (a major source of webcomics) remains a place to find much more queer representation than in traditional comics media, and that includes asexuality. The widely popular slice-of-life drama Acception features a diverse group of friends, including Bo who gets to explore her asexuality across the story. The romantic hero, Aki, in My Gentle Giant is a demisexual boy who is exploring what it means to fall in love for the first time. Both of these comics are important because they highlight the reality that many ace people want and can find love and romance. These stories are romantic, in all the chest clenching, “aww” inducing ways, while featuring asexual romantic leads.
Moving into the realm of TV, there is Todd Chavez from the Bojack Horseman who remains one of the few main characters on a major TV show to be canonically ace. This character is especially powerful because viewers get to watch his journey from self-discovery, to coming out, and to embracing his full identity over the course of multiple seasons. His asexuality is central to his story and explored with depth and empathy. As a young ace person, newly on my own journey of self-discovery, I remember the exact moment I watched Todd come out. He spread his arms wide and said “I am asexual,” and I cried. I cried because I had never felt seen before that moment. Realizing I was ace took me a long time (well into adulthood) in part because I never saw asexuality around me. In many ways, I had to find my way to my identity on my own. So, when only a few years into embracing my ace self, Todd came out on my screen, it felt like something had fallen into place. No coming out scene has ever hit me as hard and to this day, he remains my favorite depiction of asexuality.
The world of Dungeons and Dragons shows also include their share of ace spectrum characters. The standard for DND shows, Critical Role includes Caduceus Clay who is both asexual and aromantic (meaning unmotivated toward romance as well as sex). Dimension 20 has Riz Gukgak and Liam Wilhelmina. All three of these characters are main player characters in major campaigns. For Liam especially, being asexual is explored in his arc as throughout the campaign he asks (sometimes explicitly) questions about what it means to feel love and attraction.
I cannot talk about asexual representation on TV without including my favorite grumpy vampire, Raphael Santiago, from the Shadowhunters TV show and the Mortal Instruments books. In the book Red Scroll of Magic, Raphael declares his sexuality as “not interested.” In the show, a similar conversation takes place when he is asked if being a vampire made him this way and he answers that he has always been this way. Raphael is not the stereotype of an ace character. He is not naive about sex. In fact, Raphael is in many ways a classically sexy vampire. He is just not interested. He has a vampire world to manage and he would rather be doing that than having sex.
The Mortal Instruments were some of the earliest popular young adult books to include asexuality, but the shelves are getting more full all the time. The Montague Siblings Series includes a main character who is asexual in Victorian times. Tash Hearts Tolstoy is a love story with an ace lead. Sawkill Girls is a YA horror novel with a badass asexual heroine. To see asexuality spanning genres and character types means a great deal. Ace people are diverse and it is good to see our representation becoming diverse too.
This is not an exhaustive list, but a list of characters that have meant a lot to me on my journey of learning to love my ace self. Whether it was feeling fully seen in the character of Todd, embracing that love is possible for those who identify as ace with Aki, or recognizing that sexy vampires can be asexual too; each of these characters are a part of my story. I hope that when Asexual Awareness Week comes around again, more characters will join them. I hope that young ace children will discover themselves in the pages of comics or on the screen. I hope they will be drawn to exploring themselves by creating ace characters in their DND campaigns. I hope that all the ace coded characters can be fully realized in canon, not just in writer interviews after the fact. I hope for them all the things I would have wanted for baby Chris, all those years ago. Every time I talk about asexuality, there is a new character to add to my list, and that is beautiful. While that is happening, I will keep beating the drum that Batman should be canonically asexual, but that is an article for another day.