I’m not surprised. I’m hurt, frustrated, embarrassed, angry, and sad, but not surprised. After all, the reason I stopped watching House in the first place was that it was so predictable, it made me feel clairvoyant. Sure enough, the ‘asexual couple’ episode was exactly what I expected it to be.
What I didn’t expect was how much the reality of it – not just the idea of it, but the episode’s actual existence – upset me. Like, tears-in-my-eyes-right-now upset. I’m not the only one, and I think that’s why it’s so hard. Yes, it’s a dumb TV show. Yes, I saw it coming. But I hoped. Despite knowing better, I hoped that for once there would be someone, something I could point to, to show others, some clear, concise portrayal of how I feel that wouldn’t be debunked like a Southwestern cryptid.
After it aired, the writer of the episode spoke with some members of the community via Twitter, and expressed some regret for how asexuality was portrayed. It seemed as though she was interested in showing the real struggle for acceptance that we face, but kept getting notes about the show being a ‘medical mystery’ – and that House couldn’t be wrong.
Which is pretty much exactly what I figured, but introducing a subject to an unfamiliar audience, and then calling that subject’s legitimacy into question without proper explanation probably means it’s the wrong subject for your show. And as many other members of AVEN mentioned, there were two asexual characters – only one of them had to be sick to fit the formula. It bothers me that this piece of primetime may be most people’s only exposure to the orientation, an orientation they now will equate with a tumor.
An agent I queried about my asexual memoir proposal a couple months ago told me she didn’t think it was ready because she ‘didn’t understand the conflict.’ To her, I just came off as ‘someone who didn’t date.’ It took me awhile to understand what she meant. She didn’t mean there wasn’t conflict in my story, that there wasn’t conflict in being asexual. It just wasn’t in the pages of that proposal.
It is incredibly hard to go through life without seeing yourself reflected in the world. Growing up and thinking you’re defective, that you’re broken, that something is wrong with you because you’re not interested in sex. We don’t all have the same experience, but those of us who lack sexual attraction don’t really understand what seems to drive the rest of the world. All we know when we’re young is that we’re different.
So? Everyone’s different. But when other people struggle with being different, there are icons out there for them to identify with. There are gay characters, and characters of color, and disabled characters, and characters with fetishes. There are characters of every nationality you can think of, characters with diseases, characters with mental illness.
Where are the asexual characters?
I cobbled together a list for Asexual Awareness Week, but the one thing they all have in common? None of them are ‘out.’ None of them are official. Some of them have since been ‘reclaimed.’ So I’d love to say that an episode like “Better Half” doesn’t matter. That it’s just an hour of mindless entertainment. But people learn from television. And that hour of mindless television has taught some people that asexuality is caused by brain tumors. That all asexuals are secret heteros. What show can I direct those people to to prove them wrong?
What would sixteen-year-old me have thought, watching that episode. I did wonder, once, if there was a medical explanation for my lack of interest in sex. The thought terrified me. But I was equally terrified by the idea of a cure. I had no frame of reference – I couldn’t wrap my head around what it would feel like to suddenly want sex because I’ve never had the slightest inclination.
The conflict is that if there was a cure, I think I’d take it. I want the kind of relationship that seems to be conditional on sex. At the same time, I can’t imagine myself as a sexual being. It’s an entirely repugnant idea. Does not compute.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter. There is no tumor. There is no cure. There’s just me.