Ah, Riverdale. A show where those Archie comics I only ever read out of extreme boredom are adapted into a highschool mystery thriller thing (I think?). I’m not interested in the show, but I have been paying attention to the Jughead issue, in which a character who is canon asexual, basically canon aromantic, and whose characterizations are basically consistent with touch-averseness, was turned demisexual, maybe. Or maybe not.
So this is a thing and there’s a lot of information there (especially in threads written by actual aroace people like @numbathyl, @mikaylamic, and @TheShrinkette, and I find @AnaMardoll very helpful as always despite her not-aroaceness) but I can try to summarize it. Jughead is one of the very, very few mainstream representations of aromantic asexuality. He matters, because he’s a good friend and fits into his group in his own way, and this flies in the face of the common assumption that, valued as they are by culture at large, sexual and romantic attraction are universal and essential parts of the human experience. To not feel one, the other, or both is to be less human, is how that thinking goes.
These common assumptions lead a-spec people to wonder if there’s something wrong with us. They also lead people close to us to wonder if there’s something wrong with us. I was once asked by a close family member, “What happened to you? Someone must have hurt you really badly.” So first of all, I resented the implication that if someone had hurt me really badly I’d of course spill it all to her in the middle of this conversation about how she thought there was something seriously wrong with me because I was 22 and apparently not doing all of the things I was supposed to do to eventually end up pregnant (married first, obviously, but me being pregnant in the foreseeable future was super important to her, weirdly. I was 22, and also, at whatever age, that’s weird). Also, I didn’t know it at the time but I was just asexual. I said something about being really picky, not knowing how else to describe that I’d never felt any overwhelming pull towards anyone (despite romantically liking my fair share of people. It’s just that I never liked them enough to do anything about it – it’s a magical combination of asexuality and introversion, I think, that leaves me pretty much unavailable most of the time – or all of the time. I’m not sure). I’m not broken or wounded or ruined like she had assumed.
She also asked if I was a lesbian, and I wish I’d said, “Wouldn’t I be dating women, then?” But I didn’t, and what she followed up with was, “That would be OK, I mean, we would still love you, it would just be harder.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII JUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUST OK. Let’s move on.
Aromantic asexual fictional characters are usually the villain, or they’re literally a robot. Sometimes the robots aren’t even aromantic (curse you, Wall-E) (OK one day I’ll get over my issues with that movie but for now, those issues have nothing to do with alloromantic robots, that’s fine, I don’t care about that). If they aren’t the villain or a robot, they often act like a villain or a robot. They tend to be haughty, above it all, impeccable, invulnerable, etc. Probably that’s how allosexual, alloromantic people would see it. Romantic and sexual attraction are vulnerabilities, after all. Potentially very worthwhile vulnerabilities for those of us who feel them, but vulnerabilities nonetheless. Someone who doesn’t feel those things must breeze through life. Or they must be completely unrelatable. I understand why there are a lot of unhelpful representations – I’m not excusing it, though – and I also understand why the showrunners would erase his aroaceness. I’m REALLY not excusing that. I just understand why they did it.
Don’t people read Archie for the stupid, stupid, STUPID, STUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPID love triangle and ensuing angst? Why would anyone interested in the teen/angst/mystery/thriller version of Archie want to watch an aromantic asexual guy tag along eating burgers, wearing a crown, and not worrying about any of that stuff ever?
Well, some of those anyones are aroace people, and more broadly, a-spec people in general. I saw a new estimate on twitter that about 4% of young people currently identify as ace, which is more than gay- and lesbian-identifying youth. And as I’ve already said, most of the rep out there is not great. It doesn’t help us figure out who we are. I had to learn by reflecting on why I was so sure that I didn’t ever want to see Magic Mike XXL. Shouldn’t I? I thought. It’s sex-positive, which is a very nice change and something I fully support. It celebrates female sexuality, which is always good. It’s fun and funny. People I trust reviewed it glowingly. Also, isn’t it kind of designed to be provocative eye candy for people like me? But nope. Not even the slightest interest. OK so I really am asexual aren’t I well suddenly everything makes sense.
Though I never liked Archie comics (I did like Jughead, though, because who wouldn’t), I did have mainstream representation that I immediately clung to as soon as I figured it out. I personally like to read Katniss as an alloromantic asexual because she is awesome, and that’s what I am (I think). But honestly, the first and most important characters I thought of were Charlie Weasley and Sirius Black.
There was a documentary about JK Rowling just after the series ended in which she was asked if Charlie was gay, since the Weasley family tree she drew showed that he never married. And she said, “He’s more interested in dragons than women.” And I remember reading about it later, and seeing a fair number of horrified comments along the lines of: “There’s no such thing as that.” Yes there is, horrified commenters. It’s called an aromantic asexual person. Who finds nonstop meaning in his dragon… herding… job. Is dragon herding what Charlie does?
I loved Charlie immediately because he was Ron’s brother and he was an animal lover. But when I watched this interview and Rowling just matter-of-factly stated, “Nope, he just wasn’t interested,” that meant something to me, and I logged it away for later use, which turned out to be right after I thought a lot about Magic Mike. And I was like, “Ohhhhh, I’m Charlie Weasley! That’s perfect. If I were a witch I would be a dragon… conservationist… seriously what is the job that he does.”
But I don’t stop there. I know everyone wants Sirius to be gay but I really get the sense that he’s aroace. And considering that he’s in the books a lot more than Charlie, it would be nice to have a fully fleshed out, flawed, and human a-spec character in the HP universe. I’m not going to fight anyone over this (although if we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that at least a chunk of the “Sirius is gay” camp are straight women who think he and Lupin together is hot, and it’s their OTP, which is fine, get yours, etc, but, that’s not exactly a pertinent representation request as far as I’m concerned, so, meh), because the moments that stick out for me can definitely be read as either a-spec or gay, so, let’s call it a tie? A bonus for calling it a tie is that if Rowling never definitively answers it isn’t just her being uncontroversial, it’s her stepping back and letting us have our own say. Which I think is the right thing for her to do, especially considering she never explicitly states anything about anyone’s sexuality in the books and the act of doing so after they’ve been published gets accused of revisionism for attention – rightly or wrongly (and I suspect it’s a bit of both) (the world is complicated).
Aroace Sirius is something I’ll probably write about some other time. All I’ll say about it now was that it was absurdly comforting to think about how, quite possibly, Sirius was asexual, and so maybe that made it a lot easier for me to be too. Because Sirius, before getting veiled, is complicated and empathetic, wise and also immature, and he values his friends very much. He’s human and he’s accepted by those who matter to him. The people who don’t accept him decidedly don’t matter. That made me feel stronger. Jughead could have done that for someone, but CW didn’t really want to do the hard work of writing a fully human character without romantic or sexual inclinations, because, ew, am I right?
Whatevs. If you can’t have aroace Jughead then at least have a cat photo depicting telltale squinting which means he feels aromantic asexual affection for you.
That, or he didn’t like the flash.