There has been some outrage in the asexual community over comments made by Doctor Who and Sherlock producer, Steven Moffat, once considered an ace champion. I take you back to this comment made on the Sherlock “Study in Pink” S1 DVD commentary:
“[That is] actually something we never discussed at all, which is Sherlock’s sexuality. Because although people talk about it being ambiguous or mysterious, the truth is, the books are completely clear: he’s not interested at all. He is interested in what his brain is doing, not in the other end of his body. […] People say ‘He shows no interest in women, therefore he must be gay’ – he shows no interest in men either. That’s just not what he does.”
For this, we praised him. Unfortunately, with the new series of Sherlock out in England, and a plethora of interviews in its wake, Mr. Moffat has raised the dander of an easily prickled community, with comments like this in an article for The Guardian (spoilers in the article for Series 2):
“It’s the choice of a monk, not the choice of an asexual. If he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that – it’s someone who abstains who’s interesting. There’s no guarantee that he’ll stay that way in the end – maybe he marries Mrs Hudson. I don’t know!”
To begin with – because this cannot be stressed enough – asexuality is NOT a choice. Moreover, having someone with a large audience declare there’s no tension in being asexual is precisely the reason the asexual community needs to get vocal. While I sincerely hope Mr. Moffat’s comments were taken out of context, too many people believe that it must be easy to be asexual – after all, doesn’t removing sex from the equation simplify things?
You have no idea how wrong that is. In a highly sexualized society, lacking sexual attraction can be a curse. Which is why having characters like Sherlock, avatars for real people, to educate and spread the word, are so important. The ignorance out there really hurts, and any writer worth his salt should be able to see the tension in asexuality. There’s inherent ‘tension’ in belonging to a group outside the norm. In the struggle of gaining acceptance. In wanting something that you can’t have – or not wanting it, but facing people everyday who think they know better than you.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this clip from an upcoming episode of that other modern Sherlock Holmes show, House, where an asexual couple comes to Princeton Plainsborough. I assumed when I heard about it that it would end in disaster, but now I’m not so sure. Asexuality is used by name in that clip, and discussed calmly and firmly, with Wilson getting flustered rather than the patient. All positive portrayals of asexuality – for that 30 seconds.
Then there was this clip.
House is not known for its gentle handling of difficult topics. It’s not hard to imagine that House will be an ass about this couple’s orientation. What I hope I don’t see, however, is House turning out to be right.
It’s pretty damn predictable, isn’t it? That’s the formula, after all. House will find, in at least one partner, some medical excuse for a low libido. Probably wreck the marriage too, once he ‘cures’ the infected partner and reacquaints him or her with a sex life. Or, the sick partner will probably end up having a sexually transmitted disease. I can see it coming so clearly that I want to scream.
It’s not that there aren’t people with low libidos due to illness or hormone levels or something – but that’s not the same thing as asexuality. And there are not enough positive portrayals on television that the entire orientation can afford to have a medical show imply otherwise. The show would never suggest that someone was only gay because of a parasite.
The episode hasn’t aired yet, so I can’t say for sure that it ends that way. Trouble is, House is formulaic, and ‘everybody lies.’
Listen up, Television Writers and Executives: you don’t have to ‘fix’ everybody. It’s not a crime to be asexual. It’s certainly not a choice. And it’s definitely not easy. So when you’ve got a character who might be asexual, leave that character be. Don’t force him, her, or the gender pronoun of choice into a box. Let us have someone to look to, a clip we can pull up on YouTube to show confused parents, an icon to celebrate on web sites.
Eventually you’re going to have to accept it – some people are just not interested in sex. And when you figure that out, you know where I’ll be.