Why Asexual Representation in Media Matters

Raavya Bhattacharyya

Discussing the need for greater inclusion of the asexual experience in film And television

The conversation around understanding sexuality as a spectrum has gained significant mileage in the world we live in today. The LGBTQIA+ community has spearheaded several movements to raise awareness on what it means to be queer, what it means to have a fluid sexual identity and what it means to live in a world that makes painstaking efforts to uphold heteronormativity as an ideology. Heteronormativity is a cultural belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation. Examining the nuances of sexuality, especially in modern mass media, has been fruitful for many, helping people come to terms with who they are and what they identify as. Asexuality, however, is far from the spotlight when conversations revolve around sex and sexuality. 

“Asexual individuals may experience many forms of attraction, that can often be romantic, but they do not always have an intrinsic need to act on that attraction.”

How do we understand asexuality? What makes it so distinct from other sexual orientations? The Asexual Visibility and Education Network offers a comprehensive definition of asexuality – “An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, just like other sexual orientations.” Asexual individuals may experience many forms of attraction, that can often be romantic, but they do not always have an intrinsic need to act on that attraction. Just because asexual people do not desire sex, it does not limit their emotional needs. Asexual individuals also seek partners for an emotional connection, a relationship that doesn’t always have to be romantic. Craving intimacy, closeness and communication are crucial in all kinds of relationships and are not limited to strictly sexual ones. Offering this distinction is key to understanding asexuality and what it means for a person to identify as asexual. 

“People believe that asexuality is not a sexuality, when in fact it is just as significant as being heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual.”

There are several myths surrounding asexuality that seek to diminish the asexual experience. People believe that asexuality is not a sexuality, when in fact it is just as significant as being heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. Other myths include terming asexual people as “anti-sex” or believing that asexuality is an illness. Asexuality visibility is incredibly important for more asexual individuals to make sense of their experience and their sexual identity.


There’s no denying the fact that the media we consume has an indelible impact on how we see ourselves. From the time we’re children, what we watch unfold on screen contributes to our self-image and helps us make sense of who we are in relation to the world around us. This is especially why representation on-screen matters so much – it offers every kind of individual a mirror, a way of understanding themselves through another person’s experience that resembles their own. For decades, members of the LGBTQIA+ community have protested the lack of representation in film and television and how this reflects society’s belief that heteronormativity is a value that must be espoused by everyone. 

“The lack of representation of the asexual community in film and television renders them invisible and unseen.” 

Film and television are not merely forms of entertainment to be consumed and forgotten, their cascading effects have the potential to change lives and inspire a revolution. The lack of representation of the asexual community in film and television renders them invisible and unseen. An article by Psychology Today elucidates the importance of representation and its long-lasting effects on one’s identity. “When people see representations of themselves in the media, this can foster a great sense of affirmation of their identity. Feeling affirmed with one’s sense of self can boost positive feelings of self-worth, which is quite different than feeling as if you are wrong or bad for being who you are. The message that can come from a society in which LGBTQ people are invisible, especially through the lens of the media, is that “you don’t exist and you don’t matter.”

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Shruti, a 25-year-old female, who identifies as asexual, discusses her struggles because of insufficient representation: ‘I didn’t even know there was a possibility of a person being ‘asexual’. It’s only when I started doing research based on my personal feelings and emotions that I even chanced upon the word asexuality…’.” 

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Shruti, a 25-year-old female, who identifies as asexual, discusses her struggles because of insufficient representation: “I didn’t even know there was a possibility of a person being ‘asexual’. It’s only when I started doing research based on my personal feelings and emotions that I even chanced upon the word asexuality. Previously I assumed only amoebas could be asexual and that sex was a crucial part of the human experience. In fact even in school, we learn that it is one of the most important physiological needs, according to Maslow. So yes representation would save us the trouble of having to go through the feeling of being weird, abnormal and not “human” enough.”


The erasure of the asexual experience continues to pose a problem for everyone coming to terms with their sexual identities. The tendency of mass media to project a hyper-sexualised society can make people who don’t desire sex believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with them. In film and television, sex is often seen as the ultimate form of romantic expression. When it’s not associated with romance, it’s coded as a “release” and one of the only means of “letting go” and “having a good time”. Romantic and sexual fulfilment is often the ultimate goal in mainstream visual narratives, a way to finally find your place in the world. Years of this kind of messaging has left individuals feeling inadequate when they don’t have a romantic or sexual partner in their lives. 

“For asexual people, especially, this constant bombardment of narratives that favour ‘finding a partner’ can leave them with a sense of dissonance.” 

For asexual people, especially, this constant bombardment of narratives that favour ‘finding a partner’ can leave them with a sense of dissonance. Shruti adds, “Although the Ace experience is not as difficult as other members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we do have our struggles. And just in the case of any minority group, having good representation helps instil a sense of belonging and relief that you are not the only one feeling a particular way. Sex isn’t the end of the world. Just like it’s okay for people to be gay or bi, it’s okay for some to not want sex. It’s as simple as that.” 

It’s important to note that not all asexual people are averse to sex, they simply do not have an intrinsic need for it. Some asexual people partake in sex, masturbate and are aroused but don’t actively seek a partner for sex. Other asexual people may not feel any arousal at all, both these categories exist and are equally valid experiences. Shruti continues, “I wish there were shows or movies that showed asexual acceptance and that it was possible to have a relationship and that being asexual does not mean you are “broken”. Heteronormativity is detrimental to everyone who doesn’t fall under its umbrella.”

“In recent years, one of the most memorable asexual characters has been Todd Chavez from the animated television show ‘BoJack Horseman.’ Todd’s character arc offers him the means to explore his sexuality and eventually come to terms with the fact that he’s asexual. ‘BoJack Horseman’ is sensitive in its portrayal of Todd’s asexuality and offers him the space to understand it and seek a community within which he feels welcome and represented.” 

Queer characters have a much larger representation on-screen than asexual individuals. Some of the most critically acclaimed films and television shows over the last few decades have had empathetic, authentic portrayals of gay, lesbian and transgender characters. This is not to say that the representation of the LGBTQIA+ is as widespread as it should be, but it is still significantly larger than the representation offered exclusively to asexual characters. In recent years, one of the most memorable asexual characters has been Todd Chavez from the animated television show ‘BoJack Horseman.’ Todd’s character arc offers him the means to explore his sexuality and eventually come to terms with the fact that he’s asexual. ‘BoJack Horseman’ is sensitive in its portrayal of Todd’s asexuality and offers him the space to understand it and seek a community within which he feels welcome and represented. Todd is perhaps one of the only characters in recent memory who has openly come out as ace. Characters like Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock) and Dr. Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds) have sometimes displayed characteristics of being asexual but have never openly discussed sexuality. Often characters that are open about their disinterest in sex are seen as abnormal or strange, this kind of misrepresentation is what continues to be so damaging to asexual people.

“Social media has created an important space for asexual people to form a community and authentically discuss their experiences.”

Social media has created an important space for asexual people to form a community and authentically discuss their experiences. These discussions are paving the way for the normalisation of asexuality and starting conversations on the existence of asexuality and what it means for a person to be asexual. Such normalisation is key to encouraging film, television and other forms of mass media to have a greater representation of asexual characters and craft narratives that value their experiences. Nuanced portrayals of the asexual experience are crucial for audiences to be aware of asexuality and foster empathy towards the asexual experience. Most importantly, wider representation on the screen will greatly help asexual people learn how to be comfortable in their skin and disengage with the false notion that sexual desire is intrinsic to the human experience. 

Raavya is a pop-culture nerd who lives and breathes books and cinema. An unrelenting feminist, she hopes to change regressive mindsets through the written word. This is her second article for Bol Magazine, read her article on contemporary feminism here.

Graphic by Hemashri Dhavala

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A Non-Binary Love Story

Vidhi Maheshwari

Discussing “I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story” by Fox and Owl Fisher 

Over the years, gender commonly considered in two forms – male and female – is often aligned with the physical sex of the person. However, in reality people can identify as both male and female at one time, as different genders at different times, as no gender at all, or could also dispute the idea of gender altogether. They may also use terms such as genderqueer or non-binary to identify themselves.  

“‘I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,’ is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher.”

“I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,” is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher. Through their personal narratives, with their love story as the focus, Fox and Owl voice the struggles of non-binary people who often face rejection from society. In their documentary, they also include the voices of other non-binary folks from across Europe in order to put forward their shared experiences. It explores issues and challenges such as legal recognition, language, health care, and social acceptance.

Non-binary transgender individuals are at a heightened risk of negative mental health outcomes. In the documentary Fox explains: “It’s like always having to prove who we are, always having to prove our identity. We live this day in and day out, and it’s just become this big news about what non-binary is and how threatening it is to society or whatever. What a joke.” This sends out an extremely powerful message and insight into the constant struggles of non-binary people. 

Fox and Owl appeared on a popular morning show Good Morning Britain (GMB) hosted by Piers Morgan. The social media hate and abuse that Fox and Owl were subjected to even before the show reflects how the society views non-binary people. What should have been a few minutes on GMB for questions about Fox and Owl’s story, the conversation about gender turned into race when Piers Morgan asked them if he could choose to identify as a Black woman. What could have been questions to understand them turned into an attack by Piers Morgan. This highlighted how intolerant even “well-educated” people are towards non-binary people and how their rigid mindsets about the binary nature of gender prevent them from seeing beyond it. 

“In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words to call each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours.”

In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words they use to refer to each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours. This once again highlights the intensity of hate that is instilled in the minds and hearts of the society towards non-binary folks. This also demonstrates how non-binary people are constantly policed and are under the scrutiny of society. A comment that particularly stood out was from a transgender person that said, “they give transgender a bad name and we already have it rough with people.” 

This shows how non-binary people also face a lack of acceptance from transgender communities. A study conducted by Harrison et. al. showed how individuals who see their gender as hybrid, fluid, and/or rejecting the male-female binary are subject to significant anti-transgender bias and in some cases are at higher risk of discrimination and violence than their transgender counterparts. In an interview, Fox says that “No one makes room for us and we constantly have to try and make our own space.”

“Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people.”

Two other challenging socio-political issues faced by non-binary people that Fox and Owl discuss are the barriers in language, marriage rights, and healthcare. Marriage is a beautiful bond of love and commitment. It is something that individuals shouldn’t be denied based on their gender identity. Moreover, while transgender individuals in the UK have access to health care, allowing them to be themselves socially, physically and legally, the same does not apply to non-binary individuals. Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people. 

The very definition of the term non-binary means that these individuals fall outside the binary, outside what is culturally deemed appropriate. Since cultures across the world are embedded with the binary boyfriend, girlfriend, husband and wife terminology, non-binary people also have a hard time finding words to describe their partners. Social media too plays a major role in making these problems worse. While on one hand Owl was voted the sexiest “woman” in Iceland, on the other hand, as mentioned above, they received over 7,000 comments of hate for their identity. Thus, by peddling all sorts of misinformation about non-binary individuals, media in the UK facilitates a culture war on trans rights issues, instead of addressing them with evidence-based discussion

Owl and Fox Fisher (MyGenderation)

“Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people.”

While there are a multitude of issues faced by non-binary people, other than their inability to get married, the fact remains that everyone should have the same right. Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people. 

The results of the study conducted by Liu and Wilkinson in 2017 show that married transgender individuals, especially trans-women, experienced lower levels of perceived discrimination in various life domains than their unmarried counterparts. The lack of research on marital status and perceived discrimination for non-binary people makes it harder to conclusively generalize these results for them. However, given the societal attitudes towards them, their absolute inability to marry and even be recognized as gendered beings in the UK, it can be deduced that the levels of discrimination faced by non-binary people will be higher, if not similar than that faced by their transgender counterparts who share legal and social privileges.

“Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more.”

In their interview with Parsons, Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more. However, it is hard to assess how this documentary would be perceived by the transgender and cisgender communities. The film shows a large proportion of cisgender and transgender people speaking against Topshop’s policy to have gender-neutral changing rooms. In multiple other instances, as seen in the film, both these communities also spoke against the non-binary gender identity. While certain cisgender folks, such as Piers Morgan, lashed out and abused non-binary people, calling them all sorts of names, even transgender people posted comments of hate claiming that non-binary individuals ruin the transgender name. 

“Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles.”

Thus, it is not surprising that a portion of these communities responded negatively to a documentary  trying to educate people about what it means to be non-binary. However, I hope that cisgender and transgender people are able to open their eyes to educate themselves and empathize with the struggles and challenges faced by non-binary people. Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles. By hearing the personal accounts of non-binary people, I hope that people are able to get a deeper understanding of the systemic brutality, ignorance and oppression faced by the non-binary community.

My identity as a cisgender female, born and raised in India greatly influenced my desire to learn about the non-binary community. Like many others, I was socialized to consider gender in terms of its binary form – male and female. Even today, discussions with my parents make it evident how this concept is ingrained in their brains like a habit that is hard to change. However, moving to the USA for college, studying in a women’s college followed by wanting to pursue counseling psychology made it increasingly important for me to educate myself about gender. This stems out of a desire to not only be culturally competent but also to be a conscious citizen in the 21st century. This documentary truly made me self-reflect on my privilege as a cisgender woman.

“In Fox’s words: ‘Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it’.”

“I am They- A Non-Binary Love Story”, by Fox and Owl Fisher takes the step to educate people about the various issues faced by non-binary people with the hope to overcome the outrage and fear-mongering. In Fox’s words: “Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it”.

Watch the documentary here

Vidhi obtained her undergraduate degree in Psychology and International Studies from Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia. She is currently pursuing her MA in Mental Health Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.

Design by Simran Mehta 

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