From 221 B Baker St. to 30 Rockefeller Plaza: Asexual Representations in Pop Culture

Part II: Gallifrey, Hogwarts and Asexuality in British Fantasy

Read Part I HERE.

Depictions of asexuality seem to be more common in Great Britain than the United States, possibly reflecting real life demographics. One of the more famous English ace examples in fiction would be the titular character from television’s Doctor Who. The Doctor is a man who has shied away from sexual encounters over the course of his 900-plus years. Granted, he’s a time-traveling alien whose biology has not been fully explored, but he’s also shown to be a brilliant, passionate, deeply feeling individual rather than some emotionless automaton, so in terms of role models, the asexual community could do a lot worse.

The Doctor is considered a romantic asexual, although this can vary depending on the writer of the era and the actor portraying him. He experiences love, enjoys the occasional snog, and has even had a few relationships with historical figures. (These largely seem to be the result of humorous misunderstandings.) He also takes an interest in match-making, though the consequence of one match made seems to take him by surprise – he’s utterly dumbfounded when he discovers that his married traveling companions Rory and Amy conceived their baby aboard the TARDIS, especially since the rooms in the redesigned spaceship only come equipped with bunk beds.

When asked about the conception of this child, the Doctor gets defensive: “Well how would I know? That’s all human and private stuff. It just sort of goes on, they don’t put up a balloon or anything!” (6×07 “A Good Man Goes to War”)

And he’s adamant that there isn’t time for such things as it’s all, “running about, sexy fish vampires, blowing up stuff.”

While sex might not be his cup of tea – or even something he’s comfortable thinking about – he clearly displays signs of romantic attraction for at least one of his companions, Rose, but is shown to be unable to express himself as her needs demand. The extent of his relationship with River Song is still unclear, though there is always flirtatious banter and a few smooches whenever they get together. There’s no evidence, however, that their relationship has crossed into sexual territory, despite River’s overtures, and – in fact –  their wedding ceremony in the sixth series finale seems more to do with necessity than romance.

Another fantastical asexual example would be J.K. Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore. Rowling stated in an interview after the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that the Hogwarts Headmaster was gay and had been in love with his boyhood friend Gellert Grindelwald. As written in the books, however, Dumbledore comes across as asexual – so taking J.K. Rowling’s description of his youthful attraction into account would indicate homoromantic asexuality: romantic and/or physical attraction to the same gender, but lack of interest in sex.

While the creator’s word is Law, two of Dumbledore’s defining characteristics are his great intellect and belief in the power of familial love, nothing to do with his libido. There is nothing remotely sexual about Albus Dumbledore, and not enough evidence on the page to suggest that he is deliberately celibate, or even that he was sexually attracted to Grindelwald in his youth. Rather, Deathly Hallows implies that what most attracted Dumbledore to Grindelwald was his mind.

The importance of these two characters to the asexual community cannot be understated:  they are deeply flawed, but still powerful heroes, each with a brilliant mind. They are emotional, feeling people, not robots, and live rich, full lives. No cardboard cut-outs here. They also have darker sides – these men are not pure. For a group that feels invisible or mis-categorized as solely virtuous, having these dynamic representations – who are already renowned and much beloved – is crucial.

 

Friday: Asexuals and the American Sitcom

 

This article has 6 Comments

  1. If I’m not mistaken, Word of God has basically said that Charlie Weasley’s ace. J. K. has essentially said that he’s more interested in his work than in girls.

  2. Doesn’t Dr. Who mention in the episode with the war and all those fish creatures that he had previously had a wife and child? Not that I know what that entails in terms of time lord biology, but I assumed he meant it in the traditional sense. That may just be my sexual p.o.v. talking.
    Judith

    1. One of his first companions was his granddaughter, so he had a family at one point, but it’s never been stated how Time Lords are made, to my knowledge. Jenny’s “born” in that war episode via cloning, and River Song’s half-Time Lord because she was conceived aboard the TARDIS (and then her DNA was mucked with). Besides, being asexual doesn’t preclude someone from having a spouse or children.

  3. I’ve been catching up on Doctor Who from the 9th Doctor onward and have just recently started Series 6. The more I see, the less I think the Doctor is asexual. Rather, it seems like the catch is that he’s alien and the whole idea of interspecies sexual relationships might be a little off-putting to him. Yes, he makes some comments that would suggest asexuality and naivete, but then he turns around and drops some innuendo that suggest that he actually knows what’s going on, but chooses to abstain because there are no other Time Lords around.

    It was really disappointing to come to this conclusion as the Doctor seemed like the most stable of the asexual characters available to us on TV. Dexter started the series as pretty much asexual, but he was a psychopath and eventually seems to have turned sexual (I haven’t seen past season 2, so I don’t know if that continues). Sherlock Holmes, as written by Conan Doyle and Moffat, is very asexual but also a high-functioning sociopath, in his own words. Sheldon Cooper, as you mention in the next article, is very confident in himself, which is good in a role model, but he is so far to the extreme in his aversion to humanity in general that, for me, his asexuality loses some of its power and appeal.

    I think the media needs a strong, confident asexual character that isn’t a sociopath, doesn’t eventually find the right partner that “turns” them sexual and is as healthy a human being as the rest of the characters while still being able to explore the difficulties of being asexual in an inherently sexual society. I’m not sure how well such a character would play to a mostly sexual audience, though.

  4. I very much enjoyed part one of this series. Your reasoning about the detectives was well-wrought and clear.

    On the subject of Albus Dumbledore, however, I don’t believe that his being particularly enamored of Grindelwald’s mind is necessarily evidence of asexuality. Yes, JKR does focus on Dumbledore’s intellect and belief in the power of familial love, but this doesn’t necessarily preclude sexual attraction. Rather, it might be assumed that most readers would prefer not to hear about Dumbledore’s love life, given the age difference between the target audience and said character. Given that the author did not mention that Dumbledore was gay until after the series was finished, and that she did so outside of the books themselves, this seems to imply that she simply did not believe that anything past subtext was necessary. Yes, there is subtext between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, but that does not mean that the attraction was not sexual. It’s just not very clear.

    If you’re looking for a character in the Harry Potter series that does seem to be canonically asexual, you may want to take a look at Charlie Weasley. In JK Rowling: A Year in the Life, the author stated that Charlie Weasley was not gay, but “more interested in dragons than women.”

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