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

Part I: Putting the ‘Ace’ in Ace Detective

Back in the days when Lucy was still coming up with hare-brained schemes to get into Ricky’s shows, it was considered scandalous to show a married couple sharing the same bed on TV. In modern culture, with thinly-disguised soft-core porn making up a large percentage of HBO and Showtime programming, eyebrows are far more likely to go up at depictions of adults who demonstrate little to no interest in sex, and unfortunately for those who find sex as appealing as licking drywall, popular culture has sent a clear message: “Sex is normal – you are not.”

The media is where humanity looks to see itself reflected, where people are reassured that they are not alone in their beliefs and can also learn about what is unfamiliar to them. While there are some fictional examples for whom intercourse is not the answer, they’re hard to spot against the backdrop of our sex-obsessed society, which makes identifying and claiming them even more important. Who are these alien beings, you may ask? Due to the newness of asexuality as a term in the spectrum of sexual orientation, as well as the global acceptance of sex as normalcy, asexual characters are usually overlooked and have been mislabeled for decades. (Only one of them is actually an alien.) Often, a male character who is uninterested in sleeping with women or a female character uninterested in sleeping with men is considered homosexual, even when that character has shown no evidence of attraction to the same gender. This tends to stem from a modern interpretation of the closeted era he or she is from.

Take Sherlock Holmes, for example. Thanks to our modern culture’s obsession with assigning sexuality to everyone so as to make sense of certain behaviors, many people assume that Sherlock’s life-long bachelorhood, intensely close relationship with Dr. Watson, and lack of interest in women indicate homosexuality. Recent adaptations play with this idea, amping up the possessiveness Holmes feels, painting him as a saboteur of Watson’s relationships.

However, as is common in asexual representations – and detectives in particular – Holmes is cerebral. Solving the puzzle put in front of him is his most pressing concern; it leaves him little time for or interest in physical pursuits with men or women. As Sherlock executive producer Steven Moffat explains in the episode commentary for “A Study in Pink”:

“[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.”

Similarly, both of Agatha Christie’s lead detectives – funny foreigner Hercule Poirot and matronly spinster Jane Marple – are depicted as entirely without libido. Miss Marple was evidently born an old biddy, and though in her day that might have indicated a preference for the company of women, Marple never shows any sign of being attracted to the female sex.

Likewise, Hercule Poirot, with his personal grooming habits and fussy mannerisms, fits more than a few gay stereotypes, but he also at one point becomes smitten with the Countess Vera Rossakoff, a jewel thief. Rather than painting him as bisexual or trying to determine if the countess is a case of single-target sexuality, it’s far more likely that Poirot is merely an aesthete, and – like many clever investigators – intrigued by anyone who is able to outwit him.

For detectives of a certain era, sex just gets in the way of solving crime – and isn’t half as satisfying.


Wednesday: Hogwarts, Gallifrey, and Asexuality in British Fantasy


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