Why Heartstopper's asexual representation means everything to me
The beloved Netflix drama's treatment of asexuality is another feather in its cap.
Now, following the arrival of the second instalment of the beloved Netflix hit, those plans have been realised, and they mean everything to young people like me who identify as asexual – that is, someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction to others.
Those who have raced through all eight episodes will know that shy bookworm Isaac (Tobie Donovan) felt a little left out during a school trip to Paris with mates who are all in loving relationships.
As his fellow teens are making out all around him, he's trying to get back to his latest page-turner. While they're all playing party games for Tara's birthday, he's in the hallway, book in hands once again.
I could already see parts of myself in Isaac's character before the word 'asexuality' was introduced. As an autistic person, logic puzzles on my phone or a good book offer up some much-needed respite when my social battery is running low and the environment I'm in becomes overwhelming – and that's before the conversations around me turn to kissing and sex.
Far too many birthday parties while at school ended with me walking away with a sense of shame and unease at being one of the few individuals who wasn't cosying up to someone or interested in public displays of affection.
These feelings are on full display in Isaac's character arc, and the importance of a high-profile show like Heartstopper not only representing these feelings, but validating them - with Isaac discovering aromanticism (little to no romantic attraction) and asexuality - cannot be overstated.
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It's all the more brilliant given Oseman identifies as such. The value of having marginalised voices writing about their own marginalised identities is something emphasised across the board (be it race, sexuality, disability etc), and when it comes to asexuality, it means we are actually portrayed as people, not as 'broken', 'frigid' or 'weird' individuals who have 'something wrong' with them.
Well, that's if we ever see ace representation on our TV or cinema screens. It was only last month that No Hard Feelings starring Jennifer Lawrence saw her character goad a younger boy into having sex with her in an effort to bring him "out of his shell".
A lack of sexual attraction is still something somehow deserving of ridicule, rather than a completely valid sexual orientation.
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Look no further than James's response when Isaac shares his feelings after kissing him. The well-read individual confides in him about being unsure about how he feels about relationships, only for James to offer up the – likely well-meaning, but nonetheless unhelpful – remark that Isaac "maybe just hasn't found the right person yet".
Granted, Isaac has yet to formally identify or come out as asexual (his season arc ends with him diving into a copy of Ace by asexual journalist Angela Chan), but this eyeroll-inducing phrase is all too familiar to us ace folk. I've had it said to me during a family dinner.
It's so frustrating and invalidating because it continues to centre the idea that the perfect partner will descend from the heavens one day, and suddenly you'll want to have sex - when, in fact, it's more about the lack of attraction rather than the qualities of said imaginary partner.
Even if you don't feel sexually attracted to anyone right now, but think you might after a strong romantic bond is formed, then that's demisexuality, which still sits under 'the ace umbrella'.
This realisation – and the rejection of the aforementioned remark – is part of what led to me accepting my asexuality and coming out as ace in a Five Guys at London Pride 2019.
Thankfully, Isaac has the support of Charlie, Tao and the rest of the Heartstopper crew, who make sure he's included in the group photos at prom.
We'll have to wait and see what he makes of Chan's book in season 3, and while he is yet to know whether he identifies as aromantic and/or asexual, we all know he'll find it yet another enthralling read, at least.
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