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Representation

Age of Discovery

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Age of Discovery

“…the pieces all fall into place and you can’t imagine ever not knowing what now seems like the most obvious thing in the world: you’re asexual.”

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Words

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Words

“I’m so much more complicated than our neat, simple and tidy words can describe, and maybe we all are.“

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Asexuality and Me

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Asexuality and Me

"On the internet, many of the asexuals I’ve come across have been white. And while I appreciate that they are out there, it’s hard to relate to them. A white asexual person will never understand my struggle as a black asexual person."

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Interrogating the Whiteness of the Asexual Community

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Interrogating the Whiteness of the Asexual Community

As reported in a 2014 survey by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) of over 10,000 ace people, 77.3% of the community identified as white and “NonHispanic,” 5.2% as white and “Hispanic,” 3.9% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 2.5% as Black or African American, 0.5% as American Indian or Alaskan Native, 6.8% as Mixed Race, and 3.8% as “other” or simply did not respond to the question. Despite the problematic categorizations utilized in this community report (which referenced the United States census), it concludes that the ace community is highly white racially and “NonHispanic” or Latinx ethnically. Although ace visibility is changing, whiteness still dominates the community. This may be partially attributed to the fact that “asexuality,” as a contemporary identity category, originated within selective and highly white online spaces, such as email lists and blogs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at the inception of the internet’s ascension into widespread usage. As a term, “asexuality” has remained relatively elusive and esoteric, yet to be adopted within public education or by mainstream media outlets on a widespread scale.

There is therefore an intrinsic level of privilege required to even be able to self-identify as “asexual” or “ace.” Those who do not possess access or awareness of these online spaces, or an internet connection in general, are far less likely to access asexuality, may largely be unable to self-identify as asexual, and will subsequently not be understood as asexual or ace in the community as a result. Exposure to these terms of “asexual” and “ace” offline can be difficult due to their relative absence in mainstream or public discourse. As such, the asexual identity may continue to be predominately afforded to white people, both due to their privilege regarding accessibility as well as the fact that, once gaining access, or possessing preexisting access (in reference to the white creators of these online spaces where asexuality as a contemporary identity originated), they may be more likely to disseminate knowledge of the identity and term within bubbles that are dominated by others like themselves.

In this sense, whiteness can become self-containing. Those who identify as asexual today may continue to perceive, whether consciously or not, asexuality as an identity predominately for white people tomorrow. This cyclical perception may continue to loop as new ace people gain access to the identity of asexuality. A looping effect may hold the consequence of ensuring that white aces, who are newly realizing their ace identity, feel more accepted in ace spaces in comparison to people of color. On the other hand, ace people of color may automatically feel excluded or invisibilized within the community and may be less likely to engage and participate in activities that concern the ace community as a result, such as the very AVEN survey that frames this article. While the results of the ace community census may appear to support the conclusion that less ace people of color exist, this fundamentally is not the case. Rather, they are less likely to self-identify as ace due to accessibility as well as the whiteness of the ace community and its relational issue of self-containment.

At the same time, visibility is also important. Representation can be powerful and often makes people feel validated in their own existence or identity. This is especially true for those of us who are only acknowledged in a very limited capacity or within selective spaces, such as ace people of color. However, existing asexuality representation, as important as it is, largely perpetuates the whiteness of the ace community. While asexuality representation within mainstream outlets has only just begun to ascend, ace people of color are largely absent from this growing trend, thus embedding within general audiences who are exposed to these representations, whether consciously or not, that whiteness and asexuality are largely entwined. Simultaneously, ace people of color, who may already not feel included within the ace community, are not seeing themselves being represented in the limited amount of asexuality representation present, and thus may also internalize ideas of asexuality as a primarily white identity.

On the most apparent of levels, it is evident that whiteness in ace spaces should be examined and dismantled so that the ace identity and community may become more accessible and inclusive to ace people of color. There are multiple solutions that can address this problem, of which the most useful is simply centering and amplifying the voices of ace people of color more actively and prominently. This can operate as a mechanism to deconstruct the perception of the ace community as predominately white and allow for ace people of color to feel more included within ace spaces. Other solutions include continued awareness of the asexual identity, particularly within offline spaces (media representation is important), so that the identity begins to enter the lexicon and consciousness of the public rather than solely remaining a predominately online self-identity within mostly white spaces, of which it originated nearly two decades ago.

Updated: 1/31/2018 in congruence with updated version published in Vol. 1, Issue 4 of The Asexual.

Original version can be viewed here: Article cross-posted on Medium


Michael Paramo is an asexual Latinx demiguy located in southern California. They are currently a graduate student who has been selected to present their research at national conferences, such as by the International Association for the Study of Popular Music's U.S. branch, the Popular Culture Association, as well as the National Women's Studies Association. They are the founder of The Asexual and the Editor-in-Chief of The Asexual journal. Twitter: @Michael_Paramo

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BoJack Horseman Season 4 features an Asexual "Coming Out" Moment

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BoJack Horseman Season 4 features an Asexual "Coming Out" Moment

On the latest season of BoJack Horseman, released via Netflix on September 8th, 2017, one of the main characters of the show, Todd Chavez explicitly reveals he is asexual, breaking new ground for asexual/ace representation in mainstream media. Although the show has previously hinted at Todd potentially being asexual in Season 3, in which the character stated "I think I might be nothing," causing viewers to essentially assume his asexuality, this important moment in Season 4 takes a far more direct approach. The scene features a discussion between BoJack, central character of the series, and Todd, who has a complicated friendship with BoJack, yet is someone who BoJack ultimately does deeply care about. Their discussion eventually provides a moment for Todd to openly vocalize his asexuality openly to BoJack, stating "I think I'm... asexual" in a rather nervous manner. And although this initially causes some slight confusion in BoJack, Todd quickly corrects BoJack, and is subsequently and quickly affirmed. Even after providing an opportunity for his own invalidation, stating "I'm sure you think that's weird" after revealing his asexuality, BoJack immediately replies in an affirming manner, stating "Are you kidding? That's amazing." And although BoJack does throw in a few playful jokes in light of the situation, sensitive lines are never really crossed in an outright and harmfully invalidating manner. 

 Screencap of Todd vocalizing his asexuality in this scene from BoJack Horseman Season 4. ( Source )

Screencap of Todd vocalizing his asexuality in this scene from BoJack Horseman Season 4. (Source)

In fact, Todd is given a moment to affirm his asexuality vocally in the presence of others and experience resulting feelings of empowerment in his own identity, exemplified in his statement that "it actually feels nice to finally say it out loud. I am an asexual person. I am asexual." These repetitive lines function as liberating expressions for Todd, and Bojack's presence operates as a source of quick affirmation and support for Todd in this critical "coming out" moment, stating "That's great" in response. When BoJack does make a potentially insensitive joke to Todd about his asexuality near the end of their quick encounter, Todd states that "I'm not really at a place where I want to joke about it" and BoJack quickly replies "Got it, got it totally," respecting Todd's feelings regarding his asexuality. Todd replies by confirming that "But it feels good to talk about it," again revealing his empowerment in vocalizing his asexual identity. Following this important discussion with BoJack, a follow-up scene shows Todd being welcomed into an "Asexual Meet-Up," which he vaguely hinted at attending throughout the episode. As shown in the title image, even more critical in this scene is the prominent placement of a sign centering the words "All Aces Welcome!" as well as featuring the colors of the asexual flag. The scene warmly closes with Todd smiling as he is accepted into the group.    

This moment is an undeniably critical one for asexual/ace representation in media, and one that I would label as resoundingly successful. As any confusion surrounding Todd's asexuality is quickly quelled, non-ace viewers are able to gain a new perspective of asexuality and identity formation that is never displayed in mainstream media, particularly regarding the importance in vocalizing one's own asexuality in the presence of others, which is particularly relevant for asexuality as an emerging identity in the contemporary context that has yet to reach mainstream awareness in a positive manner. This scene in BoJack Horseman handles Todd's asexual "coming out" moment exceedingly well, allowing Todd to express how beneficial the process of openly self-affirming his identity as an asexual person is to him multiple times and receiving immediate continued affirmation and support from BoJack in response. Additionally, the follow-up scene displaying the asexual meet-up is absolutely beautiful and was initially shocking to me as an asexual person to see unfold before my eyes. It felt unreal to see such open and validating representation of asexuality. The usage of the word "aces" in this scene is also critical in regards to understanding and relaying the existence of the ace umbrella to viewers, allowing them to perceive asexuality as not just a single experience, but rather, comprising a multitude of diverse experiences under a shared umbrella term. Overall, even the simple fact that the word "asexual" was repeatedly used and shown in such a positive and affirming manner is massive and essentially breaking new ground for asexual/ace representation in media. It's truly a remarkable and special moment and I strongly urge everyone to watch it.

Image Source: Screencap from BoJack Horseman Season 4


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Michael Paramo is an asexual Latinx demiguy located in southern California. They are currently a graduate student who has been selected to present their research at national conferences, such as by the International Association for the Study of Popular Music's U.S. branch, the Popular Culture Association, as well as the National Women's Studies Association. They are the founder of The Asexual and the Editor-in-Chief of The Asexual journal. Twitter: @Michael_Paramo

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