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  • Asexuality and Its Discontents: Making the ‘Invisible Orientation’ Visible in Comics
ABSTRACT

Drawing on three contemporary comics—The Movement, Jughead, and Sex Criminals—this essay explores the challenges that visual media face when trying to illustrate the “invisible orientation” of asexuality. More specifically, the author examines how sex-normative assumptions pervade contemporary conversations about identity categories and argues that the ubiquity of these assumptions makes it difficult to depict asexuality as anything more than a disorder or a lack. In making this argument, the author raises the critical question of how asexual representation of comics characters might both expand and erase queer representation by introducing new paradigms that challenge sex-normative assumptions. Ultimately, the author acknowledges that, while asexuality can be positioned within existing queer/LGBT narratives, such work may risk displacing other forms of queer identities with a flattened portrait of asexual (or ace) identities.

KEYWORDS

ace identity, asexuality, Chip Zdarsky, comics, Jughead, representation, sexual orientation, Sex Criminals, The Movement

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Amidst the proliferation of film adaptations from comics and the increased recognition of comics studies as an academic field, Jared Gardner posited in 2007 that “the new century looks in every way poised to witness the mainstream cultural recognition of the unique properties, history, and powers of the comic form.”1 One of those unique properties is that comics exist adjacent to, but not tethered to, established disciplinary boundaries in art and literature. The unsettled status of comics “canons” and the wide-ranging nature of comics scholarship demonstrate how the form is well-equipped to challenge hegemonic identity narratives in popular culture. Like other forms, however, comics are also capable of reifying those same narratives. Mainstream creators and publishers have increasingly attempted to diversify the characters and stories told in comics, the “All-New, All-Different” Marvel line serving as one of the most visible of recent efforts. In this essay, I examine the difficult project of broadening representation in comics through another nascent academic field: asexuality studies.2 As contemporary comics begin to grapple with asexual representation, I demonstrate how resulting depictions both challenge and reify a sex-normative worldview, exploring a tension that illuminates larger issues with identity representation in mainstream comics.

Academic interest in asexuality is still a relatively recent development, with the first major scholarly article on the subject appearing in 2004.3 In comics studies, almost no critical work on asexuality has been published beyond Evan Torner’s essay on Alan Moore film adaptations in 2012.4 This is unsurprising, perhaps, as comics have often struggled with representations of gender and sexuality—particularly in the highly visible superhero genre. As Ellen Kirkpatrick notes: “The superhero genre features all manner of material transformations and yet remains obsessed with rigidly and obviously gendered bodies. . . . Throughout all their transformations, such characters remain neatly gendered; even mimics, those characters performing full material, often cross-gender transformations (e.g., Mystique, Martian Manhunter), return to an original gender point: ‘even the shape-shifter ultimately shifts back to a perfected and sexed human form.’”5 Kirkpatrick highlights this rigid return to normative sexualities with the aim of calling attention to gender binaries and resisting narratives that exclude trans and borderlands identities. Yet I argue that this rigidity also extends beyond a “sexed human form” to a sexual human form—a form rooted in the idea that to be human (or, in this case, superhuman) is to be a sexual entity. Sexual normativity pervades even the most transgressive work in comics. In what follows, I explore how sex-normative assumptions undermine our ability to represent asexuality positively in comics.

Defining asexuality, much less representing it well, is a difficult task. CJ DeLuzio Chasin has defined asexual people as “those who experience little or no sexual attraction and/or who self-identify with asexuality,” but has also acknowledged that “[t]here is some ambiguity regarding what exactly is meant by asexuality.”6 Mark Carrigan, Kristina Gupta, and Todd G. Morrison have offered a more comprehensive overview of how asexuality is defined: [End Page 355]

Researchers have offered varying definitions of asexuality. Some individuals have conceptualised asexuality as a discrete, inborn sexual orientation. [Others] have selected their samples based on sexual identity, but have also characterised asexuality as an orientation defined by a lack of sexual attraction toward others. Such a definition encompasses individuals who engage in sexual activity for non-sexual reasons; who feel sexual desire but are not motivated to engage in sexual activity with others; and/or who engage in masturbation (autoerotic activity) for sexual or non-sexual reasons. Some researchers embrace a social constructionist view of asexuality. These scholars have called attention to the diversity within the asexual community and have emphasised the importance of allowing the definition of asexuality to remain fluid. . . . Others have emphasised the importance of distinguishing asexuality as an identity and asexuality as an orientation. [Others] also have called for more open definitions of asexuality.7

Despite this ambiguity, asexual discourse has already challenged the social norms that undergird many identity categories, especially in terms of sexual identities and orientations. Sociologist Randi Gressgård notes that asexuality reifies social norms as it seeks legitimacy and “has the potential to revitalise queer critique of naturalised gender and sexuality norms in so far as it destabilises the sexual regime that privileges sexual relationships.”8 In other words, asexuality invites us to confront the idea that sexual desire is foundational to human identity. Yet this decentering of sexual normativity also raises other questions. First, to what extent might asexual representation of comics characters both expand and erase queer representation by introducing new paradigms that challenge sex-normative assumptions? Second, how might creators responsibly represent asexuality when it has historically been understood as either a disorder or a lack?9 To answer these questions, I examine three characters featured in mainstream comics publications who are explicitly and canonically asexual: Roshanna Chatterji (Tremor) from The Movement, Jughead Jones from the Archie comics, and Alix from Sex Criminals.10

By analyzing these characters, I argue that asexual representation in comics both interrogates sexual normativity and destabilizes hegemonic identity narratives. However, I also demonstrate how the resulting proliferation of identity categories potentially affirms certain social norms and hierarchies; depictions of asexuality often remain tethered to sex-normative tropes or damaging stereotypes. My approach in making this argument is threefold. First, I demonstrate how sexual normativity undergirds critical narratives about “diversity” in contemporary comics, with a particularly emphasis on its centrality to LGBT representation. Second, I acknowledge that challenges to sexual normativity are not without risk by looking at how asexual representation can function as a form of queer erasure when characters previously read as LGBT are written as non-queer asexual persons. Finally, I argue that, while asexuality can sometimes be positioned within existing narratives of queerness, merely situating it within a narrow, sex-positive LGBT identity structure also risks displacing other forms of queerness with a flattened portrait of asexuality, which serves nobody. Even attentive representations of asexual characters—Sex Criminals being [End Page 356] a prime example—risk depicting asexuality as an absence, stigmatizing it as a disorder, or reducing it to stereotypes.

THE UBIQUITY OF SEX-NORMATIVE DISCOURSE

In a 2016 interview, Greg Rucka, creator of the “DC Rebirth” Wonder Woman series, explicitly claimed that Wonder Woman is queer, or bisexual, stating that, “by our standards . . . Themyscira is a queer culture. I’m not hedging that.”11 While this announcement was widely celebrated, his interview also demonstrates how such claims often assume a sex-normative worldview. He went on to explain: “[Themyscira is] supposed to be paradise. You’re supposed to be able to live happily. You’re supposed to be able—in a context where one can live happily, and part of what an individual needs for that happiness is to have a partner—to have a fulfilling, romantic and sexual relationship.”12 By imagining Wonder Woman’s happiness through the lenses of sex and romance, the rhetoric of Rucka’s confirmation might be seen as unintentionally marginalizing asexual (ace) and aromantic (aro) lives; it assumes that sexual and romantic desires are normative parts of human life. Such comments might indirectly reinforce a perception of asexuality as abnormal and recall the fraught history of conflating asexuality with hypoactive sexual desire disorder. This stigma often precludes asexual persons from participating in larger conversations about representation in comics. Highlighting this stigma is not, of course, an attempt to vilify Rucka for making affirming statements about LGBT representation, nor do I believe that Rucka is intentionally alienating asexual identities; I merely aim to highlight the prevalence of sexual normativity in comics discourse.

The ubiquity of sex-normative worldviews is also apparent in some of the earliest representations of explicitly asexual characters in mainstream comics, including that of Roshanna Chatterji. Although Chatterji initially appears in a 2010 issue of Secret Six, she is perhaps better known for her involvement with “Channel M,” a group of teenagers with superpowers featured in The Movement.13 In The Movement #10 (2014), Chatterji reveals herself as asexual after being asked out by Jayden Revell (Mouse). What is most notable about this revelation, however, is the question Revell asks immediately after Chatterji declares herself asexual (see Figure 1). In an attempt to explain why she cannot reciprocate Revell’s interest, Chatterji unequivocally states: “Mouse, I’m asexual.”14 Revell, who spends that scene looking away from Chatterji and apparently distracted by his rats, turns his head up in the next frame and asks simply: “A sexual what?”15 This play on words, coming from a character who does not understand normative courtship practices, also implies that sexual normativity pervades even Revell’s limited worldview. By distancing the “a” from the “sexual” and tacking on the word “what” to his question, Revell implies that “sexual” would be a natural complement to any descriptor Chatterji might give. Here, Simone is clearly offering a critique of Revell and his ignorance, and does not intend for readers to sympathize with his confusion. As a character who shows more affinity toward rats than humans, Revell seems unconcerned by the idea of what Chatterji is, yet he still [End Page 357]

Figure 1. Gail Simone and Freddie E. Williams II, The Movement #10 (March 2014).
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Figure 1.

Gail Simone and Freddie E. Williams II, The Movement #10 (March 2014).

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assumes that she can (and that she should) be described as a sexual being. Simone is demonstrating how the sexual becomes the normative.

Revell, of course, is explicitly portrayed as somebody who was shunned by his family at an early age, rejects shampoo and the practice of washing his hair, names and speaks to his rats, and prefers not to wear shoes. Yet immediately following his interaction with Chatterji, two other characters—observing from a distance—also make sex-normative comments. The first, Drew Fisher (Vengeance Moth), looks at a forlorn Revell and says: “Poor Mouse. I thought being around kids with powers would be all hook-ups and booty calls.”16 Fisher presents asexuality as unnatural (and even a buzzkill for hormonal teenagers like Revell), demonstrating her limited vision for a youthful sex positivism. Christopher (Burden) responds by saying: “I don’t understand anything anyone says anymore.”17 What begins as a disruption of sexual normativity for Fisher quickly escalates into a disruption of all meaning for Christopher, who states that nothing makes sense to him after witnessing Chatterji’s declaration of asexuality. The interplay of these two comments implies that all human meaning is contingent upon sex and sexuality. Within one panel of sexual normativity being challenged by Chatterji, we are left with a teenage character questioning all meaning. That Christopher turns out to be gay is also significant; it highlights how LGBT identities are also deeply tied to sexual normativity. Ultimately, these panels make visible that which broader society normalizes: how deeply embedded the normalization of sexuality is in both LGBT and heteronormative cultures.

CANONICAL A/SEXUALITIES AND FEARS OF LGBT ERASURE

The tension between the fields of queer studies and asexuality studies—often centered on who is allowed access to the term “queer”—is readily apparent in the canonization of Jughead Jones as asexual. In 2016, with the re-launch of Archie comics, creator Chip Zdarsky explicitly wrote Jughead as an asexual character in Jughead #4. At the 2015 New York Comic Con, Zdarsky explained this decision: “My view of Jughead is, over the 75 years [of his existence] there have been sporadic moments where he has dabbled in the ladies, but historically he has been portrayed as asexual,” adding, “[t]hey just didn’t have a label for it, so they just called him a woman-hater. But he’s not a misogynist—he just watches his cohorts lose their minds with hormones. . . . I think something like asexuality is underrepresented, and since we have a character who was asexual before people had the word for it, I’m continuing to write him that way.”18 Initial reactions to Zdarsky’s announcement were positive, and he is certainly not the first person to see Jughead in this light. Comics scholar Bart Beaty, for example, notes that, “[i]n the hormonal Archie universe, Jughead is unique for his asexuality,” and claims that “Jughead’s relationship to Archie is one of the strongest presentations of the asexual male pairing in popular culture, rivaling that of Sherlock Holmes and Watson.”19 Yet canonizing Jughead as asexual also reveals that increased representation is not the same thing as meaningful representation. Instead, representation in comics must move beyond merely incorporating more identity markers; creators must examine how various identities intersect within a larger representational ecosystem. In the [End Page 359] case of Jughead, we must consider how his orientation(s) have been imagined in the past and how theories for understanding asexuality might challenge other critical frameworks for understanding gender, sexuality, romance, and desire.

To understand the complexities of this decision, we must acknowledge that Jughead has a history of being read as a gay character. In 2008, for example, Mark Lipton published an essay in Queer Youth Cultures that declared: “After some consideration, I realized that to me, Jughead—Forsythe ‘Jughead’ P. Jones—is gay.”20 Lipton’s statement aligns with other scholarly writings and decades of fan speculation about Jughead’s sexuality. A few years prior, Jeffrey P. Dennis published an essay on queer spaces in Archie comics that traced depictions of Jughead’s sexuality over time, noting that amidst fears of AIDS in the 1980s, the brand attempted to distance itself from fans who might see Jughead as gay, a move that implicitly acknowledged the existence of queer readings of the character.21 Despite this effort, arguments about Jughead being gay continued to proliferate, including in a well-known scene from the film Chasing Amy (1997), in which Hooper X, a gay black character, refers to Jughead as the “king of Queen Archie’s world.”22 Beaty has similarly noted that “often [Jughead’s] disdain for women is read as a suggestion of queerness,” although he rejects the idea that there is textual evidence for such a reading—at least in the 1960s.23 Still, the possibility of a queer Jughead provided readers like Lipton with a representation of internalized homophobia that spoke to his own experiences with the closet. As he notes, “[n]egotiating my readings of Archie comics gave me a sense of identity and pleasure, taught me to deny this identity through silence, and exploited my closeted identity in ways that reinforced homophobic discourse.”24 Although Jughead was never a canonically queer figure, his character has long been imagined as such, even as this queerness—for readers like Lipton—was often bound up in narratives of internalized homophobia and misogyny.

With that in mind, I want to turn to the moment in Jughead #4 when Jughead is explicitly identified as asexual. In a conversation with the first openly gay character in Archie comics, Kevin Keller, Jughead is referred to publicly as asexual, a designation he readily accepts (see Figure 2). That an openly gay man identifies Jughead as asexual matters because Kevin’s language also implicitly excludes Jughead from assuming an LGBT identity. This is evident as Kevin explains how Jughead could not empathize with his dilemma because Jughead is asexual; he emphasizes that Jughead could not understand his need for romantic options. At this moment, Kevin implicitly identifies Jughead not only as asexual but also aromantic—at least if we adhere to the split-attraction models often central to asexual discourse. Although models for understanding asexuality vary widely, the consensus is that romantic attraction and sexual attraction are not necessarily the same thing for all people, and that not all asexual persons identify as aromantic.25 The proliferation of identities that result from these models offer a more fluid set of identity categories. In this instance, such distinctions matter because they demonstrate how Keller views identity categories through a lens in which sexual and romantic attractions are understood as the [End Page 360] same thing; even romantic desires are subsumed under sex-normative understandings of relationships and identities.

Jughead casually accepts Kevin’s assertions about his identity with his response, but then explicitly rejects the idea of asexuality as a lack or impairment; instead, he refers to hormonal impulses as “hobbling” to others, such as Archie (and, implicitly, Kevin).26 If we look more closely, Jughead is drawn with his eyes closed—as they so often are—even as his head is positioned so that his gaze would have been directed toward a half-dressed man in a locker room, perhaps a symbolic rejection of desire for or attraction to the male body. In the following panel, he calls out Archie for being impaired by his hormones, as Archie is shown on his back struggling with the elementary task of tying his shoes for gym (the implication being that his mind is on girls).27 Jughead positions his perspective outside a sex-normative worldview, and implicitly claims that his asexuality makes him more capable than those who experience sexual attraction. This comes on the heels of Kevin stating openly that he doesn’t “get it,” a clear double entendre: he both doesn’t get it (sex) and also doesn’t get it (sexual knowledge) because he, too, is hampered by hormones. Jughead places himself outside that realm by pointing (or redirecting our gaze) toward his head while his eyes remain closed. Part of this distinction is reliant upon the difference between knowing and being that is emphasized in this panel through the bolding of the words “think” and “is.”28 Unlike his peers who are subject to bodily desires, Jughead is a thinker (or knower); he is focused and capable. This visual image of Jughead as upright and ambulatory contrasts sharply with the image of Archie, who is depicted on his back and unable to put on his shoes to walk. As I highlight later, such positioning is common and problematic; asexual advocates often privilege mind over body, making asexual characters more capable of rational thought and objective judgment. Such depictions may disrupt the dominance of a sex-normative worldview, but they also risk alienating sexual persons (sometimes referred to as allosexuals in asexual discourse) and deepening the rift between sexuality and asexuality studies.

While these panels represent only one exchange, they matter beyond merely canonizing Jughead as asexual; they also subtly highlight the tension that exists between asexuality and the LGBT umbrella. Kevin does not articulate solidarity with Jughead but, rather, sees him existing apart from the small gay community at Riverdale High. In fact, in this particular instance where Jughead is faced with expulsion from school, Kevin sees him as expendable. It is worth noting that Kevin’s introduction to the series also came at Jughead’s expense: he beat Jughead in a burger-eating contest.29 Considering how fans and scholars have viewed Jughead’s passion for burgers as a desire that defines him in the absence of a sexual identity, it becomes difficult not to see the relationship between Kevin and Jughead as one of implied conflict. That being said, an alternative reading might not be one of conflict but of confirmation. If we look at the long history of reading Jughead as gay, perhaps the insertion of Kevin Keller as an openly gay character serves as an implicit confirmation of Jughead’s asexuality, since his heterosexuality has always been questioned. Such a reading is still not one of solidarity or inclusion, but it does make the implied [End Page 361]

Figure 2. Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson, Jughead #4 (April 2016).
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Figure 2.

Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson, Jughead #4 (April 2016).

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relationship less adversarial. Still, these concerns are part of ongoing debates about the relationship between asexuality studies and queer studies. As Mark Carrigan notes, “fault lines periodically emerge within asexual discourse, including conflicts between queer and non-queer identified asexual people. These reflect longer-standing discussions within asexual communities about the degree to which asexuality should be included under the LGBT umbrella.”30 These discussions lead to one of the core questions undergirding this essay: When placed alongside a long history of reading Jughead as gay, does canonizing Jughead as asexual function as a form of LGBT erasure? This is not a question I pose lightly, and I have no desire to pit identity categories against each other in a reductive or dualistic moral debate. However, I do think it is important to reflect on some of the issues that must be addressed when considering asexual representation in a long-running series with established characters like Archie comics.

With that in mind, let me outline three potential concerns that must be considered when canonizing a character like Jughead as asexual. First, some LGBT activists argue that tying asexual discourse to LGBT identities opens up queer spaces to persons who might make those spaces unsafe. In particular, these activists would ask us to consider the implications of giving a heteroromantic (or aromantic) cisgender white man access to queer identities. Jughead, then, epitomizes one element of that fear as a cisgender white male. Second, asexuality advocates often critique the assumption that being asexual also means being aromantic. The comments by Kevin in these panels imply that Jughead could not understand his dating and romantic needs, thereby failing to acknowledge the possibility that Jughead is not aromantic just because he is asexual. That these remarks come from a gay character demonstrates how false assumptions about asexual and aromantic identities might be prevalent, even among members of LGBT communities. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we must consider the long history of Jughead being read not only as gay but also as grappling with internalized homophobia. There are concerns among LGBT activists that asexual discourse, particularly various models of primary and secondary attraction, may mask—or even enable—forms of internalized homophobia. This is a major point of contention between some advocates in the LGBT and asexual communities and one that must be carefully considered when thinking about asexual representation. If we find Lipton’s analysis compelling, for example, what he reads as a representation of Jughead’s internalized homophobia has been erased and recoded as asexuality.

Raising those concerns, however, does not necessarily mean that representing Jughead as asexual is inherently flawed. Arguments about asexual discourse enabling internalized homophobia often ignore the possibility of internalized stigmas attached to asexuality. Similarly, to constantly ask queer-identifying asexuals to consider the possibility of internalization and repression risks policing a/sexual identities in ways that lead to queer assimilation and homonormativity. Instead, we must be more intentional about how asexuality can be positively depicted and read in comics; we cannot merely applaud its presence or lament its absence. Responsible representation must consider this possibility of erasure, as seen above, but also must grapple with how to visually portray an identity that, [End Page 363] itself, has been too often erased or defined as an absence. As Carrigan notes, “It is easy to fall into a view of asexuality that defines it as a negation or absence of sexuality. But doing so obscures the variation within the asexual community and frames the lived experience of the people within this community in terms of what they are assumed to lack.” In the next section, I turn to the character of Alix in Sex Criminals to explore just how asexuality might be represented in comics, this time through a new character who does not carry the weight of previous critical readings.

“DO YOU HAVE HYPOACTIVE SKYDIVING DISORDER?”31

I devote the remainder of this essay to examining Sex Criminals #13, titled “BACE,” an issue that challenges the idea of asexuality as a lack and allows an asexual character to exist alongside sex-positive messages. Before tackling this issue, however, let me offer an introduction to the series. Sex Criminals follows the story of Suzie Dickson, who—along with her partner, Jon Johnson—can stop time when they orgasm. These characters meet each other after we are introduced to Suzie through her sexual coming-of-age story. As a teen, Suzie discovers masturbation, and finds that when she orgasms, time stops. Everything glows in rainbow colors, and the world becomes serene and peaceful. She refers to this space as “The Quiet.” Unfortunately, when Suzie tries to figure out if time-stopping orgasms are normal, no useful information is forthcoming. Suzie’s doctor is unhelpful, her mother shames her for asking, and one of the “Dirty Girls” at school (later her best friend, Rachelle) is only able to provide her with a bathroom stall chart of sexual positions, each more absurd than the last. In this way, Sex Criminals opens with a commentary on how difficult it is for women to find information about their own sexuality. When Suzie meets Jon, they hook up and she learns that his pleasure, too, stops time. Eventually, they decide to raise money by robbing banks during their post-orgasm “Quiet” time. Yet the narrative is only nominally invested in them as sex criminals; instead, their stories focus on the different roles sex can play in the lives of ordinary people. Suzie and Jon provide a sex-positive story that de-stigmatizes intercourse, masturbation, kink, pornography, sex toys, and role-playing.32 Sex Criminals celebrates sex positivism in a world bent on regulating sexual behavior; the creators, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, even imagine a group of “Sex Police” who dictate sexual practices among those with access to The Quiet.

Over the course of the first twelve issues, readers are introduced not only to Suzie and Jon, but to several others who can enter The Quiet via orgasm: Myrtle Spurge (Kegelface), leader of the Sex Police; Kuber Badal and the Bus Driver, her two sidekicks; Dr. Ana Kincaid (Jazmine St. Cocaine), former porn star and now professor of horology; and the mundane yet sexually imaginative Douglas D. Douglas. In Sex Criminals #13, we meet Alix.33 Alix is an asexual character who is able to access The Quiet through other means, thereby occupying a space initially defined by sexual desire and broadening the possibilities of who can inhabit it. Indeed, this issue converts The Quiet into a more inclusive space by making it available to an asexual character. With an entire issue dedicated to Alix, the creators make an explicit case against stigmatizing asexuality as a disorder, with Alix [End Page 364] repeatedly affirming that she is okay the way she is—even as her narrative of self-discovery comes with all the discomforts one would expect from an asexual character trying to understand a sex-normative world.34

When readers meet Alix, she is depicted as a short-haired Asian American woman dressed in a business suit and speaking aggressively on the phone to somebody named Jim.35 As she speaks, the colleagues in her office look on with either trepidation or curiosity—looks that mark a distance between them. Although she is ambiguously gendered in early frames, the yonic phone piece featured in her ear and later panels from her childhood suggest that she identifies as a woman. We only see brief glimpses of her face, coupled with speech bubbles that emphasize her combative persona. When she abruptly cuts off this call, she makes her way to the rooftop of her building—a large skyscraper—and takes off the business suit, revealing a white jumpsuit with red trim. Without explanation, she steps off the ledge of the building alongside the words: “Don’t judge me.”36 Quickly transitioning to the story of Alix as a young girl, readers are left to ponder this moment. Although we later learn that stepping off the building allows her to access The Quiet, this scene raises important questions about asexual representation in Sex Criminals. In order to access a space that has been marked by sexual normativity, Alix must take a step that could be potentially fatal. The implication here should not be ignored: for Alix to access all of the spaces available to sexual persons in a sex-normative world literally requires her to risk her life. On the one hand, this illustrates the real dangers asexual persons face in terms of discrimination and sexual violence (a violence too often as invisible as the identity itself); on the other hand, initially portraying an asexual character through suicidal imagery risks further stigmatizing asexuality as a disorder that needs to be fixed or otherwise treated.

The image of Alix leaping from the building immediately transitions into a flashback of Alix as a young girl, leaping from a swing set and reflecting on the belief that she might be from outer space. We are introduced to her feelings of alienation through a series of panels where young Alix is parked in front of the television watching Cosmos as Carl Sagan lectures on the Big Bang with considerable sexual innuendo: he describes it as a cosmic, violent orgasm, whose forces are “ejaculated” across the “skin-fabric” of “virgin spacetime.”37 Alix is bombarded by hyper-sexualized language that demonstrates the ubiquity of sex-normative rhetoric. Sex (or, in this case, sex-as-metaphor) is not only explained as a normative aspect of being human; it is literally used to explain the creation of the universe. Choosing Sagan as the backdrop for Alix and her alienation is fascinating; Sagan was known both for his sensuous prose and for his resistance to grand dichotomies in science.38 Thus, amidst the sex-normative rhetoric depicted here, Sagan also represents the potential for non-binary thinking and alternative modes of being. In addition, Sagan represents scientific credibility and the popular dissemination of knowledge. His public explanations for the creation of the universe exist in sharp contrast to the less credible and less public sexual knowledge that Suzie sought earlier in the series.

The comic moves from Sagan explaining the universe to a classroom scene where teenage Alix is stuck watching a sex education film while all of her peers make out. The [End Page 365] film posits the false idea that women have no need for masturbation but men must masturbate in order to avoid sexual violence, thus keeping with the creators’ push to normalize masturbation and to expose the misinformation presented in sex education classrooms. Alix, like Suzie, has limited access to information about her body. All she sees are the inscrutable sexual desires of her peers. Unable to understand an adolescent world that has “exploded with hormones,” Alix applies the scientific method to herself by dating and “faking it” for a while.39 Still, her sense of alienation remains. Taking an ethnographic view of herself, she states: “I infiltrated the humans and studied them,” but without success.40 That Alix sees herself as not human demonstrates how deeply she has internalized the sex-normative narrative that to be human is to experience sexual desire.

At this point, Fraction and Zdarsky begin weaving together the narratives of young Alix, teenage Alix, and adult Alix, who are linked together by shared experiences of loneliness and fear. We see young Alix scared to jump off a bridge into a river with her friends; she is called “chicken” and an “embarrassment to the scene.”41 Teenage Alix sits atop the same bridge years later, contemplating how boyfriends who wanted to have sex with her also referred to her as scared. These images remind readers of adult Alix, who was left leaping from a building in the opening scene. Like Suzie, who spent much of the first issue trying to learn the mysteries of her own sexuality, Alix is frightened by what she does not know. Unlike Suzie, however, her mysteries are different. For Alix, “sex wasn’t the mystery”: the mystery was why everyone but her was so crazy about it.42 As teenage Alix walks the halls of her school, it feels as if time has stopped and she is alone, invisible, and unable to understand anything that happens around her. All she knows is that she does not belong in this sex-normative world.

Her confusion is made explicit as the narrative shifts back to young Alix watching Cosmos and wondering, “What is wrong with me?”43 This time, however, Sagan emerges like a spirit from the television, wrapped in the shimmering colors of The Quiet, and introduces Alix to a newfound truth: there is nothing wrong with her. Sagan then disrobes in front of Alix—completely naked except for the yonic image of a pink, partial turtleneck—and reveals that he has no visible genitalia. This castrated Sagan hugs Alix, an action which appears to make her feel safe, and then curls up with her on the floor. While Sagan is likely intended to represent a benevolently asexual figure, this moment is visually problematic. First, Fraction and Zdarsky produce an image that presents asexuality as a lack (in this case, a physical lack of genitalia), and thereby promote a disordered view of asexuality. Second, Sagan’s lack of genitalia is concerning as it is only revealed as he unbuckles his pants in a position above Alix that suggests he might be soliciting oral sex—an image that is later recalled when teenage Alix is faced with a similar demand from her boyfriend, Jason. The image of Sagan unbuckling his pants calls attention to the potentially negative connotations of fellatio: that it is often considered compulsory for women, that it creates unequal power dynamics, and that one participant does not take pleasure in the act. Even though this scene does not end in fellatio (it is instead depicted as a comforting moment), readers must grapple with the uncertainty of Alix’s relationship to Sagan; she is simultaneously [End Page 366] asserting that nothing is wrong with her even as this image raises questions about her perceived humanity. The scene ends with her body almost completely subsumed in Sagan’s as they spoon on the floor, enshrouded in a Quiet-like atmosphere. That Sagan shifts from being a hyper-sexual figure to an asexual guardian angel foreshadows a shift in Alix, who eventually moves past the threateningly sexual spaces of her youth and instead enters into more comfortable spaces where her asexuality is both accepted and embraced.

In the following panels, we find Alix in a similar position on the floor—this time with her boyfriend Jason at a party where he is pushing her to have sex. Here, Alix is hesitantly defiant for the first time. She tells Jason: “I think I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this.”44 Jason responds with the same language Alix has heard for years: that she is just scared. He then asks her why she even wanted to come over, a moment of sexual normativity where the centrality of sex to teenage life is foregrounded. We learn quickly that she did not want to come; Alix does not understand the appeal of “stupid guys and stupid girls touching each others’ stupid junk,” and only showed up because it was expected.45 After refusing to have sex, Jason pressures Alix to perform oral sex, promoting a “blue balls” narrative that echoes the masturbation myth she heard in sex education. Alix almost consents, telling herself that she wants to be normal and that everyone else sees this as normal—while also acknowledging, “I don’t want this.” Readers then get twenty panels of Alix confronted by Jason’s penis; she stares at it, but clearly does not desire it. While these images may seem off-message for a series invested in destigmatizing sexual behavior, they function as a reminder that there is nothing wrong with Alix and that no amount of exposure will make sexual desire happen. She does not need to “try it out” or “be fixed” in any way. Ultimately, she picks up her monologue again and repeats, “I don’t want this” and “there is nothing wrong with me.”46 This represents the first moment in which a younger Alix affirms her asexuality, even as her refusal upsets Jason and leads other characters to tease her for being a virgin. Alix explicitly calls out this moment of virgin-shaming: “They hang that word around your neck and beat the hell out of you with it.” The scene ends with Alix saying “fuck you” to the host of the party, one of those who mocked her for not wanting sex.47

The narrative then returns to the scene of teenage Alix on the bridge. Now she can assert that she is no longer afraid, and we see her leaping from the bridge declaring, “There is nothing wrong with me.”48 This pivotal moment is depicted in four vertical panels, two of teenage Alix plunging from the bridge toward the water, and two of present-day Alix plunging from the building we saw in earlier panels (see Figure 3). The older frames are cast in the darkness of night, whereas the present-day panels are lit by the sun reflecting off the building. The uncertainty of teenage Alix is seen in the shadows covering her face, which emerges in the present day panels as confident and smiling as she falls—symbolizing an increasing confidence in herself and her asexuality. As she plunges downward, she notes simply: “I don’t need sex. I just need this.”49 When we see teenage Alix on the next page, she lands gently in the water surrounded by the shimmery lights of The Quiet, with a slightly different color palette than we saw earlier with Suzie and Jon (see [End Page 367]

Figure 3. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals #13 (October 2015).
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Figure 3.

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals #13 (October 2015).

[End Page 368]

Figure 4. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals #13 (October 2015).
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Figure 4.

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals #13 (October 2015).

Figure 4). Lying atop the water, she declares: “I’m going to need this forever and always. I’m going to be this forever and always.”50 Just as she did on the previous page, Alix relies on the pronoun “this” to describe both what she needs and what she is. Her inability to clearly articulate what “this” is, however, is part of the challenge that creators like Zdarsky and Fraction face when attempting to depict asexuality—a challenge I will address momentarily. Her repetition of the words “always and forever” is also important: Alix affirms her asexuality as something that is neither temporary nor a phase. Her plunge into The Quiet is represented by a series of brightly colored, concentric Os, perhaps representing this jump itself as an orgasm-like experience. By representing her access orgasmically, the creators emphasize that asexual persons are both capable of orgasms and pleasure; only their relationships to sexual desire and attraction are different.

Sex Criminals #13 closes by returning to the opening timeline, with Alix preparing to leap from her office building. Now, however, Alix explicitly tells us that she is BASE jumping, without the need for a rig, parachute, sail, or wing-suit.51 As she prepares to enter [End Page 369] The Quiet, she tells us that she doesn’t need those things (implicitly comparing sex to safety gear), instead affirming, “I am everything I need.”52 She then offers her most explicit commentary on being asexual, telling us that she kept exploring, with men and women, and that she tried sex. She even compares sex with veganism, referring to it as something you try with somebody because you care about somebody who cares about it. With this comparison, she explicitly claims that, while sex is not essential to human life, it is part of our life choices. With a bit more disdain, Alix then refers to sex more condescendingly as nothing more than “sweaty wrestling” and reminds us that there are still real consequences to being asexual in a sex-normative world: relationships end because some people really like sweaty wrestling, and she does not.53 Here we see echoes of the concerns I discussed when analyzing Jughead: crafting asexual characters who look upon sexuality with disdain or a sense of moral superiority risks creating an adversarial relationship where sex positivism, queer or otherwise, and asexuality struggle to co-exist. In the final panel before Alix joins other characters in Sex Criminals, she states: “I’m not antisocial. I’m not anti-love. I’m asexual. A lot of people don’t know how to deal with that” (see Figure 5).54 These final lines emphasize the difficulty in being asexual in a sex-normative society, while also implicitly placing the responsibility for learning to “deal with it” on those around her. To some extent, this claim serves as a call to action and a call to visibility by her creators.

Figure 5. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals #13 (October 2015).
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Figure 5.

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals #13 (October 2015).

I want to conclude, briefly, by returning to the decision by Fraction and Zdarsky to make BASE jumping Alix’s mode for entering The Quiet. The activity is remarkably similar to skydiving, one of the analogies employed by Anthony F. Bogaert in his argument that asexuality not be viewed as a disorder.55 In Understanding Asexuality, Bogaert argues: “[Who] am I to say—and who are you to say—what passion is right for a given individual? Have you ever skydived before? Of course, most people haven’t and have no interest in it. I have, and for me, it was a thrill. But do those who have not had, and do not want to have, this experience have a disorder? So, if you don’t want this experience, should we [End Page 370] diagnose you with, say, hypoactive skydiving disorder because you eschew this thrilling life activity?”56 The reference here is to hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a diagnosis often criticized by asexual advocates. While Bogaert’s analogy risks being reductive, I want to consider what makes it appealing for creators like Fraction and Zdarsky, who are invested in depicting asexuality as more than a lack. It certainly gives them a way to visually provide an asexual character access to a larger narrative framed in terms of sexuality and passion. Yet what are the implications of reducing sex to a passion, as Bogaert does in his claim? Do such efforts undermine sexual identities as more than behaviors? Do they render asexual persons passionless? These questions highlight difficulty creators face when depicting asexuality. In attempting to depict asexuality as something other than a disorder, many creators find themselves anchoring asexual characters with oversized passions that appear to compensate for their lack of sexual desire—thus implicitly defining asexuality through negation. Alix turns to the adrenaline rush of BASE jumping. Jughead might be said, in the language of Bogaert’s argument, to have a hyperactive burger-eating disorder. Even Chatterji, whose passions are less obvious, has a superpower that literally makes her a human vibrator.

This does not mean, of course, that such depictions are inherently flawed. We might instead tackle these creative decisions through other approaches, such as Ela Przybylo’s claim that we should define asexuality not as a lack, but as “alternative and plural engagements.”57 Under this definition, the passions we see in Alix, Jughead, and Tremor are less invested in reinscribing sexual normativity by needing to “stand in” for sexual attraction, but would instead allow for representations of asexuality that open up possibilities for self-pleasure and are less invested in anchoring sexuality in its current states. Read in this way, these representations avoid risky stereotypes of asexual persons as passionless, a stereotype that often plays out by coding asexual characters as Asians or children, types that are already often viewed as desexualized. That asexual characters are given access to visible passions and pleasures helps push back against pathologized narratives of asexuality as a disorder, and opens up liberatory possibilities for what asexual lives and asexual experiences might look like in popular culture.

By introducing an asexual character in Sex Criminals, Fraction and Zdarsky still promote sex positivism as a liberatory feminist ideology—just not the only liberatory ideology. While the series acknowledges the central role of sexuality—its expressions, its behaviors, and its policing by society—it also allows for asexuality to co-exist with sex positivism, perhaps less at the margins than before. In doing this, Fraction and Zdarsky are part of a larger effort to represent asexuality in popular culture. In addition to the comics explored here, television continues to do important work with asexual characters. Ranging from ABC’s Huge and USA’s Sirens to current television shows like The Big Bang Theory and BoJack Horseman, conversations about asexual representation in popular culture are both timely and necessary. Present in all of these conversations is the concern that asexuality will be represented simply through negation. As Carrigan notes, “It is easy to fall into a view of asexuality that defines it as a negation or absence of sexuality. But doing so obscures the [End Page 371] variation within the asexual community and frames the lived experience of the people within this community in terms of what they are assumed to lack.”58 In television, just as in comics, these representations too often leave open the possibility that characters need to be “cured” in some way, a concern asexual persons often share with those who engage in disability studies. Sheldon, for example, is partially “cured” when he and Amy kiss in an episode of The Big Bang Theory—after innumerable jokes at his expense. Jughead has similarly had numerous issues devoted to “curing” his various a/sexual identities. In one such narrative, he experiences a heterosexual “rebirth” after a mysterious beam radiating from his television alters his trademark beanie, filling him with the desire to talk to and touch women.59

While a larger conversation about popular culture falls outside the scope of this essay, what television representations of asexuality share with comics is the deep sense of alienation felt by the asexual community. The ways in which Alix is mocked by her peers in Sex Criminals maps easily onto the kinds of shaming that Sheldon experiences in The Big Bang Theory for not desiring sex. Similarly, the confirmation of Todd’s asexuality in BoJack Horseman mirrors the language used in Alix’s narrative. As Todd says: “I’m not gay. I mean, I don’t think I am, but . . . I don’t think I’m straight, either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.”60 That Todd cannot locate his identity along the axes of homosexuality or heterosexuality is not dwelt upon in this episode but echoes the inability of Christopher to make meaning out of Chatterji’s asexuality in The Movement and Alix’s sense of alienation in Sex Criminals. His remarks similarly highlight the potential tensions between LGBT identities and asexual identities mentioned in my earlier analysis of Jughead from the Archie comics. These concerns ring true for many asexuals who struggle in similar scenarios: who do not catch cues, who underestimate sexual desire as a motive, or who sleep with people to avoid saying no or to seem normal. With that in mind, Todd’s rhetoric of being “nothing” and the imagery of Alix leaping from bridges serve as potent reminders that asexual representation matters and must be tackled carefully.

As comics creators, fans, and scholars continue to engage with issues of representation more broadly, a deeper knowledge of asexuality is necessary to ensure that asexual representation is handled responsibly. As seen in this essay, there are a several issues that already need to be considered. First and foremost, asexuality must be understood as a complex, evolving, and not-monolithic set of identity categories. In addition, we must pay closer attention to who is represented as asexual to avoid erasing other identities and to resist stigmatizing stereotypes. Even with the small sample of characters explored in this essay, for example, two of them are Asian American women, which risks feeding into stereotypes of Asian women as lacking sexual desire. Similar concerns arise as we begin to represent asexuality in comics aimed at younger audiences. Children are often desexualized in popular culture; sexuality tends to be described as something that one grows into with time. Yet this, itself, is a sex-normative narrative. What are the potential implications for asexuality if it is always to be an identity deferred? What challenges does that present to those who seek to represent asexuality in comics aimed at younger audiences? And how [End Page 372] do we fairly and carefully depict asexuality in ways that do not function to erase other identities, particularly within the LGBT community? As we continue to think about asexual representation, we must be aware of how theorizing asexuality presents challenges to other identity categories, particularly sexual identities. Finally, we must continue to think about what a mostly visual medium—like comics—can do to affirm and responsibly render this “invisible orientation” visible, without stigmatizing it as a lack or a disorder.61

Nicholas E. Miller

Nicholas E. Miller is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Hollins University, where he teaches multicultural American literature, gender and a/sexuality studies, and comics studies. He is author of “‘In Utter Fearlessness of the Reigning Disease:’ Imagined Immunities and the Outbreak Narratives of Charles Brockden Brown,” published in Literature and Medicine (2017), and a chapter on Charles Brockden Brown’s Ormond in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Charles Brockden Brown.

NOTES

I want to thank the scholars at the 2016 CXC Academic Symposium who offered encouragement and feedback as this essay developed. I am especially grateful to my former students, Natalie Martinez and Katarina Schultz, who first motivated me to think carefully about sex-normative discourse and asexual identities. Annie Berke and Julie Pfeiffer were kind enough to respond to an early draft, and I greatly appreciate their insight and suggestions.

1. Jared Gardner, “From the Editors’ Chair: Periodical Comics,” American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism 17.2 (2007): 139.

2. Comics studies emerged as a collaborative effort between fans, creators, and scholars; asexuality studies similarly emerged as an informal collaboration between an online advocacy community—the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN)—and researchers in the fields of psychology and sexuality studies. Both comics studies and asexuality studies have relatively short critical histories, which make them fruitful spaces of inquiry; the languages and canons used to describe them are still forming and reforming.

3. Anthony F. Bogaert, “Asexuality: Prevalence and Associated Factors in a National Probability Sample,” Journal of Sex Research 41.3 (2004): 279–87.

4. Evan Torner, “The Poles of Wantonness: Male Asexuality in Alan Moore’s Film Adaptations,” in Sexual Ideology in the Works of Alan Moore, eds. Todd A. Comer and Joseph Michael Sommers (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012), 111–23.

5. Ellen Kirkpatrick, “TransFormers: ‘Identity’ Compromised,” Cinema Journal 55.1 (2015),:126. Here, Kirkpatrick also cites the work of Edward Avery-Natale in “An Analysis of Embodiment among Six Superheroes in DC Comics,” Social Thought and Research 32 (2013), 99.

6. CJ DeLuzio Chasin, “Theoretical Issues in the Study of Asexuality,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 40 (2011): 713.

7. Mark Carrigan, Kristina Gupta, and Todd G. Morrison, “Introduction,” in Asexuality and Sexual Normativity, eds. Mark Carrigan, Kristina Gupta, and Todd G. Morrison (New York: Routledge, 2014), 3–4.

8. Randi Gressgård, “Asexuality: From Pathology to Identity and Beyond,” in Asexuality and Sexual Normativity, 69.

9. As Jacinthe Flore has noted, the medicalization of asexuality—or view of asexuality as a disorder—is based on the idea that all humans have sexual desires and orientations. In contrast, she argues, “‘Asexuality’ suggests that we are not all sexual entities, and . . . asexuals do not necessarily want to have their levels of desire increased.” Yet this stigma of asexual lack continues. Flore goes on to note that “asexuals, because of the perceived failure to be sexual, are understood by psychiatry as failed or unfinished beings, disordered.” Jacinthe Flore, “HSDD and Asexuality: A Question of Instruments,” in Asexuality and Sexual Normativity, 51.

10. This sampling of asexual-aligned comics characters is by no means exhaustive. There are numerous asexual characters featured in web comics, zines, and cartoons that have not been included in this essay, but certainly belong in a larger project on asexual representation.

11. Matt Santori-Griffith and Greg Rucka, “Exclusive Interview: Greg Rucka on Queer Narrative and WONDER WOMAN,” Comicocity, September 28, 2016. http://www.comicosity.com/exclusive-interview-greg-rucka-on-queer-narrative-and-wonder-woman/ [End Page 373]

12. Santori-Griffith and Rucka, “Exclusive Interview.” Italics added.

13. Gail Simone (w), Jim Calafiore (a), Jason Wright (c), and Travis Lanham (l), “The Reptile Brain, Part One of Four: Blood Calls to Blood,” Secret Six, Vol. 3, #25 (DC Comics: November 2010).

14. Gail Simone (w), Freddie E. Williams II (a), Chris Sotomayor (c), and Carlos M. Mangual (l), The Movement #10 (DC Comics: May, 2014), 12.

15. The Movement #10, 12.

16. The Movement #10, 12.

17. The Movement #10, 12.

18. Chip Zdarsky, speaking at the 2015 New York Comic Con, as quoted in “NYCC: Zdarsky & Henderson Expound on ‘Jughead’ at Archie Panel,” CBR.com, October 14, 2015. http://www.cbr.com/nycc-zdarsky-henderson-expound-on-jughead-at-archie-panel/. I should note that Zdarsky’s claim that Jughead is not a misogynist is inaccurate, as it overlooks Jughead’s long history of misogynist rhetoric and actions in Archie comics.

19. Bart Beaty, Twelve-Cent Archie (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 64–65. Beaty makes one of the most explicit claims for Jughead’s asexuality in comics scholarship. Although he does not engage with asexuality in great detail, he does highlight the difference between asexuality (as a sexual subject position) and presexuality—an important distinction.

20. Mark Lipton, “Queer Readings of Popular Culture: Searching [to] Out the Subtext,” in Queer Youth Cultures, ed. Susan Driver (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2008), 164.

21. Jeffery P. Dennis, “‘Veronica and Betty are Going Steady!’: Queer Spaces in Archie Comics,” in torquere: Journal of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Studies Association, Vol. 4–5 (2002): 125–42.

22. Kevin Smith, Chasing Amy, dir. Kevin Smith. (Santa Monica, California: Miramax, 1997).

23. Beaty, Twelve-Cent Archie, 64.

24. Lipton, “Queer Readings,” 166.

25. For a detailed look at the models discussed here, as well as the terminology used to discuss asexuality in many asexual communities, please see the AVENwiki at http://wiki.asexuality.org

26. Chip Zdarsky (w), Erica Henderson (a), and Jack Morelli (l), Jughead #4 (Archie Comics, April, 2016), 5.

27. A few issues later, Archie is again overcome by his hormones and only accompanies Jughead on a cottage trip in order to be close to a summer camp that is supposedly full of teenage girls. Jughead is angry, but eventually tells himself: “It’s a disease. I have to start thinking of it as a disease so I can help him instead of getting angry with him.” This narrative of Archie as diseased inverts a sex-normative worldview that sees asexuality as a disease or disorder. Chip Zdarsky (w), Derek Charm (a), and Jack Morelli (l), Jughead #8 (Archie Comics: September, 2016), 17.

28. Jughead #4, 5.

29. Dan Parent (w/a), Rich Koslowski (i), and Jack Morelli (l), Veronica #202 (Archie Comics: November, 2010), 3–4.

30. Mark Carrigan, “Asexuality,” in The Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender, eds. Christina Richards and Meg John Barker (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 19. Earlier, Carrigan notes that, “while many asexual people do identify with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) community, this is far from universally accepted” (16). Tensions between LGBT and asexual communities were evident, for example, in the 2011 documentary, (A)sexual, where prominent LGBT activist Dan Savage implied that asexuality is a preference and that asexuals had no place at Pride events. “[The asexual community] didn’t need to march for that right. Just stay home and do nothing,” he said, adding that he found the whole thing “hilarious.” (A)sexual, dir. Angela Tucker (New York: Arts Engine, 2011).

31. This section title is drawn from Chapter 9 of Understanding Asexuality, where it also serves as the chapter title. Anthony F. Bogaert, Understanding Asexuality (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 105. [End Page 374]

32. While Sex Criminals has been rightfully lauded for its sex positivism, its engagement with feminism also warrants criticism—particularly for its fraught treatment of race, its misogynist humor, the ways in which it devalues sex work, its slut-shaming, and its implicit homophobia. Like many attempts to tackle important issues with humor, Sex Criminals often struggles with its use of stereotypes; while those stereotypes frequently assist in producing powerful social critiques, they just as often end up reifying problematic narratives.

33. Alix is an interesting name choice, one that clearly centers the A of asexuality and unsettles the potential gender assumptions invoked by the consonant name Alex (as in Alexander or Alexandra), or even as a derivative of the name Alice. More subversively, perhaps, the name could be thought of as taking the “he” out of helix (DNA) and replacing it with the asexual A.

34. Although Fraction and Zdarsky repeatedly and positively affirm Alix as an asexual character, this issue also includes a series of panels in which readers meet Alix’s brother, who is concerned about a sexually abusive uncle. I would be remiss to ignore how that exchange too easily opens up a narrative that views asexuality as a symptom of abuse or dysfunction. Such narratives are all too common in conversations about LGBT identities as well.

35. Although Alix is never explicitly identified as Asian American, it seems likely from the darker palette used for her skin and her narrower eyes that she should be read as such. Later in the series, she is also coded as Asian American by her ability to speak to Kimiko—a manga-styled fairy created by Douglas D. Douglas when he enters The Quiet. Kimiko is the subject of numerous Sailor Moon references and is not understood by any character except “Alix-san.”

36. Matt Fraction (w) and Chip Zdarsky (a), Sex Criminals #13 (Image Comics: October, 2016), 4.

37. Sex Criminals #13, 6.

38. Keay Davidson, Carl Sagan: A Life (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2000), 1, 72.

39. Sex Criminals #13, 8.

40. Sex Criminals #13, 9.

41. Sex Criminals #13, 9.

42. Sex Criminals #13, 10.

43. Sex Criminals #13, 11.

44. Sex Criminals #13, 13.

45. Sex Criminals #13, 13.

46. Sex Criminals #13, 16.

47. Sex Criminals #13, 16.

48. Sex Criminals #13, 17.

49. Sex Criminals #13, 19.

50. Sex Criminals #13, 20.

51. BASE here is an acronym (buildings, antennae, span, and Earth) for the kind of jumping described in this sentence: a form of parachuting or wingsuit diving from a fixed structure. The title of this issue of Sex Criminals, however, is “BACE.” Here, Fraction and Zdarsky are playing with that acronym in a way that acknowledges the asexual character, or “ace,” featured within.

52. Sex Criminals #13, 21.

53. Sex Criminals #13, 22.

54. Sex Criminals #13, 22.

55. While Bogaert’s research is invaluable, I also want to acknowledge some of the issues inherent in how he frames his study of asexuality through a sex-normative lens. In his introduction to Understanding Asexuality, Bogaert claims that studying asexuality is important because it helps us understand sexuality, thus positioning [End Page 375] asexuality as a second-tier category, and one whose value is based on the perspective it might give readers about sexuality (i.e., the “norm”).

56. Bogaert, Understanding Asexuality, 113.

57. Ela Przybylo, “Crisis and Safety: The Asexual in Sexusociety,” Sexualities 14.4 (2011): 457.

58. Carrigan, “Asexuality,” 16.

59. Frank Doyle (w), Samm Schwartz (a/l), and Barry Grossman (c), “Genesis . . . the Beginning,” in Jughead #283 (Archie Comics: December, 1978).

60. BoJack Horseman, “That Went Well,” Season 3, episode 12, dir. Amy Winfrey (Scotts Valley, California: Netflix, 2016).

61. The phrase “invisible orientation” is drawn from Julie Sondra Decker’s well-known text, The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality (New York: Skyhorse, 2014). [End Page 376]

Additional Information

ISSN
2473-5205
Print ISSN
2473-5191
Pages
354-376
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-13
Open Access
No
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