Asexuality on House: You’re Doing it Wrong

This is what an asexual looks like.

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.

This article has 6 Comments

  1. I’ve known that i was asexual since i was 13 years of age, had an early sexual debute and before i was 11 i had tried both girls and boys (no abuse whatsoever). With that said I’ve never felt sexual attraction to a body or to a person since i was a child (how strange that might sound, neither do i have any strange sexual attractions). I can sexually get myself aroused by basically putting myself in another persons emotional situation, using empathy to trigger my own body – even so i never feel drawn to sex by my mind.

    As i watched the episode of House i did aswell get disappointed by the obvious route it took, in the earlier seasons maybe this would have made for an excellent point of a couple of episodes between House and Wilson (the empath and the nihilist).

    So what has House given me by putting out a physical fault disclaimer on people whom are asexual?
    I now want to get myself checked, not because i think i have a tumor, but because i know itll eat on my unconcious mind enough if i dont. And as im not proclaimed asexual, my family no doubt believes me to be slow of mind or homosexual (as i look good), that once i announce it i want to be 100% sure that i got no physical condition effecting my mind. So that is what house has given me, the urge and the unnecessary cost to get a MRI.

    A last note: I do not like the categorisation people tend to make in context to asexuality with “-romantic”, fine that you might be drawn to the mind of someone, but it is likely to be enough of a struggle to get the general person to aknowledge that there is a top category (sexual and asexual) before people start propagating the subcatgories of the new field as equally imporant (missunderstand me right, you need the first to get the second – with subcategories that can be hard to seperate clearly a from normal low sexual drive you basically ask for people to missinterpret your situation).
    Im not sorry for pushing this propaganda in here, but if you want it gone feel free to ad it out.

  2. Actually I can think of three asexual characters (explicitly so, as in, they call it that, using that word) who have been on mainstream television:

    Poppy: aromantic female asexual, canceled TV show Huge, USA
    Gerald: biromantic male asexual, ongoing TV show Shortland Street, New Zealand
    Martin: heteroromantic male asexual, canceled TV show Godiva’s, Canada


    But the fact remains that not all of them do it right and this is a blow for visibility.

    1. Yeah, I was thinking more about primetime American television. Awareness in America is really the worst, due, I believe, to our highly sexualized society. Asexuality is right up there with atheism in the U.S. You can feel it, just don’t say it out loud.

      1. Huge at least was primetime in the USA. It was on ABC Family for one season. Premiered on June 28, 2010 with 2.53 million viewers, but canceled in October. The character explicitly said “I basically identify as asexual” and described her experience of not having romance or attraction. But it was just once and no one made a big deal out of it or tried to debunk her, which was nice.

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