As I was scrolling through my tumblr dashboard early this month, a link to an article on asexuality in the media caught my eye. For those who don’t know, an asexual person is, according to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network Wiki, “someone who does not experience sexual attraction.” Even knowing that it is exceedingly rare for mass media to acknowledge the existence of asexuality, much less to portray it accurately, I nevertheless was excited and hopeful that maybe this time would be different. I was to be sorely disappointed.
I learned that the FOX T.V. show, House M. D., had aired an episode on January 23rd featuring asexuality (Asexual News). Already I knew this was not a good sign. My father had been a fan of the show for a while, so I was familiar with it. The main character of House is a misanthropic doctor, Gregory House, who loves nothing more than solving difficult diagnostic cases and insulting his patients, the hospital staff, and the population at large while proving they are all liars and hypocrites. One of House’s favorite phrases, and an apparent theme of the show, is “Everybody lies.”
This episode was no different. House encouraged viewers to distrust asexual people as well. In one scene, House and his friend, Wilson, discuss the asexual patent and quickly run through all of the common disbelieving comments about asexuality. House asks if the patient is a “giant pool of algae,” confusing the asexual orientation with the process of asexual reproduction (AT&T Uverse Online). Dr. Wilson informs him asexuality is “a valid sexual orientation,” according to an article he read, although his tone implies he has doubts as to whether it is true (AT&T Uverse Online). Next, House tries to explain the fact that the patient “doesn’t want to have sex,” by guessing that either she is ugly, or her husband “loves penis enough for both of them” (AT&T Uverse Online). When Wilson tells him that both she and her husband are asexual, House makes a bet that he can find a medical reason for their apparent lack of interest in sex (AT&T Uverse Online). By the end of the episode, he determines that one of them was lying, and the other one did have a medical condition, meaning the character could be “cured” of asexuality (Asexual News).
As an asexual person, myself, I think this misrepresentation is very hurtful. My orientation is not determined by my desirability to others. It is about what I feel, not what others feel about me. My orientation has nothing to do with asexual reproduction, or anything you may have learned in high school biology. I am not asexual because I “[don’t ] want to have sex,” (Who is to say I don’t?) but because I am not sexually attracted to anyone. I am not asexual because I am broken or need to be “cured.” There is nothing wrong with not being attracted to anyone. It does not prevent me from having relationships, having sex, experiencing sexual arousal or pleasure, or even desiring to have sex. Behavior, arousal, and orientation are not the same thing. However, even if I did not have sex, feel arousal, or want to have sex, that would also be all right.
Although I am glad that people from the Asexual Visibility and Education Network and the Asexual Awareness Week Committee are pushing for accurate portrayals of asexual people in the future, I am disappointed in the way House handled this topic in the first place (Asexual News). With its large viewer base, House had a chance to inform people about asexuality and dispel the common myths, fears, and misconceptions. Instead, it only reinforced them. I wonder what unfortunate impact this may have had on an asexual person still trying to figure out hir orientation. I can already guess what negative impact this probably had on people like my father, who know nothing about asexuality, and after having seen this show, may never believe me that it is real.