As an asexual person, there are a lot of things I hear every time my sexuality comes up in conversation. “What’s that?” “How can you be sure if you’ve never tried sex?” “Have you considered lesbianism?”
I don’t mind. They are questions born of an innocent ignorance, and as long as people listen politely I’ll explain quite happily what being an asexual is like. They aren’t asexual – how are they to know how I – and others like me – experience the world?
Asexual people have always been around, but it’s only recently, as sexuality becomes a topic that is more openly discussed, that we have become visible. As our visibility has increased, there is a corresponding increase in people who have heard the word but no more, or worse, who have decided they do not need to bother trying to find out more before speaking on asexuality as though they are an expert. “If you’re not having sex, what’s there to talk about?” said one panel member of television show The View to David Jay, asexual activist and guest on the program.
It’s a view sadly echoed by Steven Moffat, head writer on Doctor Who and Sherlock, two almightily popular programs airing on the BBC. Both the Doctor and Sherlock are characters who have been suspected to be asexual. I’m reluctant to say one way or the other in the case of the Doctor, but Sherlock is a character I’m confident to say is likely aromantic asexual. This is based on quotes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as the opinion of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock in the series. Moffat disagrees. Not for any particular reason, but because, “If he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that – it’s someone who abstains who’s interesting.”
This bothers me greatly, both as a writer and an asexual person. The discovery of my own sexuality was a year long internal debate, with assuredly interesting research done online. When I came out (to the surprise of no one) I began to notice how little the writing world took notice of asexuality. Here was a perfect opportunity for Moffat to make something his own – to pioneer – and he was squandering it! I didn’t know which was more offended – the asexual me, that he had trodden on when he said was boring; or the writer me, that he had nearly made cry with his complete inability to think outside the box.
Moffat is not the only person who has treated asexuality with a casual flippancy. The writers of House did so too when a story featuring a married asexual couple ended with one being sick and the other lying. As any asexual person knows, the two things they hear more than anything else are “Are you sick?” and “Are you lying?” This episode of House managed to be about as offensive as it is possible to be.
Through all this in the mass media, I’ve found fanfiction a lovely repose. Composed largely by wonderful authors willing to do the research, I devoured stories where characters explored their asexuality, and navigated relationships often with understanding sexual partners willing to compromise on their own needs. These stories are largely written by sexual authors, who have put in the effort Moffat won’t, and who invite constructive criticism and apologise for any accidental offense caused in their author’s notes. I loved them. Even when they got things wrong, they appreciated the opportunity to learn.
With this new love discovered, I was incredibly excited when I discovered that the character Enjolras in Les Miserables was also asexual. Leader of the student rebellion, I almost screamed for joy when I found a character had been created who had the personality of a leader, was brave and charismatic while also being not only asexual but very feminine, too. After the virile masculine characters of Aragorn and James Bond, Les Miserables was a breath of fresh air.
However the fanfiction for Les Miserables turned out to be about as ignorant as Moffat. I don’t mind stories in which Enjolras is sexual for the purposes of plot (or, indeed, for the purposes of porn) as long as in that fanfiction, he has always been sexual. What I do mind is stories where, knowing he is about to die, Enjolras becomes very upset that he has never had sex. I’ve read such a story more than once. In one such story, he does have sex the night before dying, then cries in his partner’s arms that he has missed out, that he left it too late and it could only happen once. Not only is it offensive, it’s also out of character.
I have read character essays, too, where academics despair of Enjolras and Grantaire, the man who is canonically in love with Enjolras, that they have a great deal of trouble “making” these characters straight. I don’t wonder. It really is difficult forcing people into boxes they just don’t fit in.
In our current society, virginity is seen as shameful, to the point where readers and writers will read Sherlock Holmes and Les Miserables and mentally remove the passages which speak openly of virginity. I don’t mind this usually. People can think what they want. I have many friends who believe Sherlock and John Watson should be involved romantically on the program, and I don’t mind that. What I do mind is people saying my opinion and my orientation is wrong. I mind people saying I’m sick or lying. I mind people saying I can’t say I don’t want it, because I’ve never had it. I mind people saying my orientation is too boring for television.
Because people keep coming back to stories like Sherlock Holmes and Les Miserables. Perhaps the problem isn’t with the stories, Moffat. Perhaps the problem is with writers who aren’t good enough to make something different. Perhaps the problem is with people who don’t know when to keep their mouth shut. Moffat could have said nothing, and continued with the show as it has been, letting those like me choose to believe Sherlock is aromantic asexual and others believe he and John are involved.
Instead, Moffat insulted my sexuality, and it’s something I think about every time I watch this fantastic show. It’s tainted my enjoyment. It’s the reason I’ll never be a true fan of the series.