Asexual Representation: Sex Education Was Bad, Actually
Season 2 of Netflix's Sex Education introduces the character Florence and teaches about asexuality in a heartfelt scene that resonated with many in the ace community, but is this actually good asexual media representation? We argue, no.
Courtney: Hello everyone, and welcome back to the pod! I’m Courtney. I am here with Royce. Together, we are the Ace Couple. This week, we are going to be...[jokingly] continuing our trend of thriving off of controversy. Today, we would like to make the case that the asexual representation in Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ is...bad, actually. Let’s get to it.
Courtney: In order to explain why this is such a potentially controversial subject within the asexual community. Is, in part, the same reason why we decided to watch this show in the first place – because a lot of aces absolutely love it. The show itself had no interest to us at first. In fact, we did not watch any of it until after the second season had aired. However, online...everywhere. Popping up on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit...all these little pockets within the ace community. I was seeing people absolutely raving about how good. The ace representation was. In ‘Sex Education.’ Naturally, we were really quite curious about this, very interested to see what this was. Because, Netflix is actually responsible for what is our personal favorite representation of asexuality. Which is, the show ‘Bojack Horseman.’ In my mind, seeing all of these overwhelmingly positive reviews, I was fully hoping that we would have another ‘Bojack Horseman’ kind of situation on our hands. I was very, very encouraged. Very excited to watch.
Courtney: I tried to go in blind– as blind as possible– even though I was seeing all these people say, ‘It’s so good!’ ‘It’s so great!’ I stopped myself from actually reading WHAT they liked. Or about the character. I wanted to experience it for myself. So, we started at episode one. Of season one. And went all the way through. And...at first...I’ll be perfectly honest. I thought the main character– a teenager named Otis– was going to be the asexual character.
Royce: They definitely leaned heavy on that, at first. Otis is the son of a sex therapist. And he was originally shown...at least having an aversion to sex? Or, it may specifically have been– not really a relationship in general, because he wasn’t in a relationship at that point in time– but it was an aversion to masturbating. One of the plot points in season one is Otis figuring himself out. Figuring out what is going on with himself, and why that is or is not a problem. Otis is sort of contrasted by...being in a very sexual household. Having a very sexual best friend. And goes on to start giving advice to many of these students, in a very sexual high school. That’s set up to be an interesting...
Courtney: An interesting dynamic. Quite honestly, my mind was blown when I was watching this through the lens of ‘there’s gonna be a good ace character, and the main character is showing signs of potentially being ace.’ I just thought, “How cool is this going to be? The child of a very open. Very sex-positive sex therapist. Is asexual, actually!” I thought that was a cool dynamic. Like you said, Royce. Otis goes on to start this...sex clinic. Where he’s giving advice. To all of these very sexually charged teenagers. From a variety of sexualities, as well. There are gay couples. There’re lesbian couples. Straight couples. You’re seeing a wide variety of sexualities represented in this high school.
Royce: They even get into...some aspects of kink that are generally not talked about. There’s a girl who writes...interspecies alien erotica.
Courtney: Yeah. Exactly!
Courtney: Kink of THAT nature doesn’t get discussed very openly, either. So the show, as a whole. Very sex-positive. Very diverse, in many ways. And, the comedy genius– we were thinking– that comes from the asexual character. In a hyper-sexual world. But it’s actually the ace boy...who doesn’t even masturbate, has never had sex...is the one who’s giving sexual advice to everybody! I thought that could be just absolutely golden. Absolutely brilliant. I was on board.
Royce: But nope. Turns out it was childhood trauma that’s resolved by the end of season one.
Courtney: It’s always. Childhood. Trauma! Isn’t it?
Courtney: That was quite disappointing. I believe it was the very last episode of season one. That was the big ending. That was the finale. That was the...the CLIMAX, if you will– oh, I hate myself for saying that...
Courtney: [jokingly]...Forgive me!– was, he masturbated. Or, I guess they’re British. So I guess they say “wanking,” don’t they? So, that was the overarching... That was the character development of season one. The boy who can’t masturbate. Sets up a sex clinic. Gives a bunch of sex advice. Realizes he has this sexual hang-up, because he saw his...father cheating on his mother, as a child? Was that what’s going on?
Royce: I think so.
Courtney: He gets over that, and he learns of the [dramatically] miracle of masturbation! They do make a very big deal out of that first [crosstalk][06:26] masturbation–
Royce: They did, yes.
Royce: Also, there’s always a [sic] extremely...sexual scene at the beginning of every episode. Almost every episode, I think.
Courtney: [exasperated] Yeah.
Royce: And season two opens with him masturbating so much that it’s a joke later on.
Courtney: It is a montage. [crosstalk][06:44] It is a masturbation montage.
Courtney: They almost take it to the point, if not over the edge, of...a full-on addiction to masturbating. He begins to do so in wildly inappropriate places.
Royce: Yeah. Like he’s trying to catch up on lost time or something.
Courtney: [sarcastically] He’s gotta catch up! Now that he knows exactly how good masturbating is. All these years he could have been doing it!
Courtney: So, that was a letdown. But I thought, pfft, okay. They do have some very good, diverse sexuality representations. That was all of season one, and I did not see any ace representation whatsoever, but...let’s proceed on to season two. Let’s see where this representation is.
Courtney: As it turns out, there is...only one episode that covers asexuality. We’ll call it “The Ace Episode,” because it truly is only one. It is not a main character. It is not an ongoing plot line. And...therein lies the reason I think it is bad representation, actually. Before I even explain the plot of this episode. I want to reiterate exactly how little this ace representation mattered, in the grand scheme of things. If you were to Google– and the episode is season two, episode four– when I Google season two episode four, and you get the long plot overview versus the short plot overview. There is nary a mention of asexuality. On Netflix it says, “Otis wants to go all the way, but Otis is on edge. Maeve and Gene need their space. Jackson has performance worries, and star-crossed lovers reconnect.”
Royce: That would mean that Florence. Coming to understand her asexuality is...probably an E or F plot?
Courtney: It is absolutely an E or F plot. There are a lot of characters. Florence is the asexual character. She is a very minor side character. There are MULTIPLE main characters that have regular plot lines. And even if you go to the Wikipedia breakdown of all of the episodes. You don’t even hear Florence’s name. She is. So. Irrelevant. To the actual. Plot. And...therein lies the issue.
Courtney: Florence, as a character, is introduced because she is an actress in the school play. The school is doing Romeo and Juliet, and she gets the role of Juliet. The role of Romeo is played by a character who was already pre-established. That was sort of how they tied in this new character of Florence, who is not at all a character in the first season. So, they go to play practice. And, actually, it was the girl you already mentioned, Royce. The girl who writes the alien erotica? Has a directing role in this play. So, Romeo and Juliet are practicing, having their scene. And Lily– Lily is “the alien girl”– she cuts them off and says, ‘Hey. This whole play is about horny teenagers. Who want to have sex. And I just don’t believe that you want to have sex with him!’
Courtney: Very sexually charged character, that.
Courtney: As they’re leaving play practice, some of Florence’s friends are saying, ‘Yeah, you should just. HAVE sex. With...why not the guy playing Romeo?’ And she says, ‘Oh, he’s not my type.’ Since we’ve never encountered this character before, and know nothing about her backstory, they need to work really hard to try to fill in the gaps. They do that in...a bit of forced dialogue. One of the friends– who is also, as far as I remember, nameless. Also doesn’t have their own plot– just says ‘Oh, Florence. Nobody’s ever your type!’ That’s the setup for the asexuality arc.
Courtney: In feeling like she’s a bit of an outsider, kind of the odd one out here. Florence enlists the help of Otis, at his little underground sex clinic. Goes to him and says, ‘I don’t want to have sex. And I’m in this play, Romeo and Juliet. I thought this play was supposed to be about love. But apparently it’s supposed to be about sex!’ She mentions, ‘Sometimes I feel like I should just...have sex? Just so I’m not the weird one? So I can experience it.’ Otis’s advice is... Again, this is the child of a sex therapist, so a lot of his information is very second-hand. He is a teenager. He is young. He is naive. He does not have a lot of sexual experience himself – he JUST learned how to masturbate...
Courtney: ...and he is now addicted to masturbation. So, definitely not the one who should be giving out sex advice. He clearly doesn’t pick up on what she’s getting at, because he takes this as, ‘Oh. Well, yeah. It’s okay to not wanna have sex. You’ll want to have sex when you meet the right person.’ Which is...definitely a thing that real life asexual people hear. Over and over again. I do think that was the right thing to say, if they’re going to do this juxtaposition of “here’s the bad way to handle asexuality,” only to present the good later. I have no issue with that, in and of itself. She leaves, kinda like ‘yeah, okay, thanks.’ Not very jazzed about the conversation that just happened.
Courtney: That’s the second time Florence is on screen. I think...is it four times, total? In the whole episode?
Royce: In that episode, I think so.
Courtney: In that episode, she’s on screen four times total. Those are the first two. The third time is very, very brief. It is sitting in the library with her other play friends. They’re again saying, ‘Yeah, go have sex with that guy. He has sex with a lot of people.’ It goes right from that scene on to the next one, so maybe it’s only three times total she’s on screen.
Courtney: Feeling like she hasn’t been heard, she goes to see Jean, who is the actual sex therapist – Otis’s mom, who has recently started actually counseling kids at the school. She just busts in the door. You really get this feeling that she is at her wit’s end. She doesn’t know what to do, or where to turn. That, also, is sort of making you try to fill in gaps in your brain. Because you see this only once or twice, that people are saying, ‘Yeah, you should just have sex.’ So her reaction is very, very aggressive. She sort of says, ‘Everybody is talking about sex all the time.’ Which, as an ace person, I can relate to. We do live in a very, very sexualized society. Sometimes I do feel like certain social circles. Certain shows. Focus sex a little too much. It can get frustrating, at times, when you don’t relate to that. But they don’t show her really...experiencing this PATTERN over and over. So again, they have to force it in with the dialogue. She just busts in and says, ‘I don’t wanna have sex!’
Courtney: Very cool, calm, collected Jean says okay. Starts to go down, maybe, the same path that Otis did. Saying, ‘That’s a valid decision to make...’ She cuts her off and says, ‘No, it’s not a decision. I don’t want it. Ever. Not only just now, but. Ever.’ And thus begins...[dramatically] the ace scene. The Ace Scene, T.M., of “The Ace Episode.” Because this is what it is all about. This two minutes of screen time. Is what all this is about.
Courtney: I’m not even going to criticize the content of the scene very much. I do want to explain why I think it resonated with so many asexual people. Jean-the-sex-therapist goes on to say, ‘Well. How do you FEEL when you think about sex?’ Florence explains, ‘Well. I don’t have any attachment to it. I just don’t care. I feel like I’m at this feast, with all of the food I could ever want, but...I’m not. Hungry.’ Which, I think, is a very valid way... I think a lot of ace people can identify with that way of thinking. The sex therapist says, ‘Do you know what asexuality is?’ and she goes on to define it. I think, what she specifically says– correct me if I’m misremembering– I think she says asexuality is “not experiencing sexual attraction to any sex or gender.” I think, was the textbook definition that she presented here. During the course of this conversation, Florence says, “I feel like I’m broken.” That right there is the word. That is what you hear, over and over again, in the ace experience. You will have people say, ‘I feel broken.’ Or, ‘Until I knew what asexuality was, I felt broken. Because I couldn’t identify with these sexual feelings that, seemingly, everyone else in the world has.’ So, I think that word was very, very key to getting this to resonate with the ace community. That’s when, in my opinion, the best line of this entire episode hits. It’s incredibly validating for ace people, but it’s also just a true statement that I think even allosexual people should really take to heart. Where the sex therapist says, “Sex does not make you whole, so how could you ever be broken?” And that is very, very powerful. And that is very, very good. But, in a show like Sex Education, it was very. Very. Brief.
Royce: Yeah. The issue here was that this character’s entire story took up about five minutes in a fifty-some minute episode. Which, I believe, is less time on screen than we have spent talking about this particular episode, right here.
Courtney: It is literally five minutes. In the whole episode. That is the play practice scene, that is the library scene, that is talking with Otis, that is talking to his mom. All, just under five minutes long. That is how little screen time asexuality got.
Royce: This show has, throughout its run, given characters entire episodes to tell their backstories and work through their problems. A lot of those characters, even after their episodes, still are a part of the main cast. Or they have...other things...that become a main plot of a season, or a part of a season. Season three introduces a new character who is nonbinary. Their struggle with a very strict, conservative leader of the school who is appointed, is a through plot for the entire season. Versus...five minutes...in this episode. With a well-articulated monologue, that is spoken more to the camera than to the person in the story.
Courtney: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. Speaking of season three– because we watched it...
Courtney: ...it dropped recently– Florence does not exist in season three. There are so many episodes in season three where the entire school is in an auditorium, at an assembly...and she’s not even an extra in the background. She’s very recognizable. She has this beret. She’s normally...dressed in a bright kind of yellow color. You know, [jokingly] she’s the artsy girl! So you’d see her SOMEWHERE, you would think. But no, she’s just... She’s gone. She has absolutely disappeared.
Courtney: When, like Royce said, they introduce a new nonbinary character– who is not a part of the cast for the first two seasons– they take this character, and they present a variety of nuance to the enby experience. You see the social and political struggles of...being at a school with a very binary mindset. With school uniform issues. With the bathroom, the changing room dilemmas. After the school had...started to implement something more akin to abstinence-only sex education. They did the whole [mocking tone] ‘boys over here, girls over here.’ So you have this enby now, who you see how this affects them. You see them enter into a relationship that seems very good, and very healthy at first. You see how they set boundaries within the relationship. There’s even a second nonbinary character, and they have a discussion about healthy chest binding practices. So, you get a much fuller, richer experience with all other sexualities and gender representations in this show. Whereas, asexuality. Gets five minutes. Literally.
Courtney: I just can’t help but think...how cool it would have been, if they did actually have Otis be the asexual character. I am thinking of so much humor that was missed. Even some interpersonal relationship issues that were missed. Could you imagine– say, just for the sake of argument– they made Otis asexual from the get-go. The first season, he’s really struggling with that. HE’S the one who feels like something is weird, and wrong, and broken with him. And he lives in a very sexually open household, with a lot of open discussion. So his mom is consistently like, ‘Should we talk about this? You can talk to me about sex, and we can have these conversations.’ Imagine being asexual, and THAT’S the reason why he’s afraid to talk to his mom. For the opposite reason that the other teenagers don’t want to talk to their mom. That could be so interesting! That could be a really neat plot point. Not only for aces, but for anyone else watching. That could just be. Really creative script writing. That could have been a moment for his mom to still have this very teachable moment. But it could have, theoretically, been with her son. That could have strengthened their mother-son bond. ’Cause, you know. He’s a teenager. He has some rebelliousness in him. He butts heads with his mother all the time, as many teenagers are wont to do. I feel like there’s just so much more that could’ve been done. That would’ve been really, really interesting.
Royce: If we take that in mind, and look at what actually DID happen with Otis throughout the season. Otis being...written asexual...would have given us a lot of insight into navigating an ace-allo relationship– or relationships– as well.
Courtney: That’s another thing. With the ace relationships... Obviously, you and I are an ace couple. We are both asexual. We’ve been married over seven years. As far as representation, we’re quite a rarity. There are not a lot of visible ace couples. In media, or...in real life, online. There’re just not a lot of us that you can find and learn from. But, SOME asexual people do have relationships with allos. Depending on where people fall in the ace spectrum. Depending on individual libidos, there are a lot of potential issues that can arise from an ace relationship. Whether it be with another ace. Whether it be with an allo. The ace experience, in real life, is so rich. And diverse. That they could have had. MANY different angles they could take it.
Courtney: Even with Florence, there was still a missed opportunity there. Even if. They did everything exactly the same for this episode. Florence, during that conversation with the sex therapist, says ‘I still want to fall in love.’ And, of course, Jean says, ‘Well, yeah. That’s okay. Some people just don’t like the sex bit, but still want a relationship.’ She does sort of cram in as many little one-note details about the ace spectrum as possible. Which, I do want to touch on that a little more, here in a moment. But she’s like, ‘Yeah. Some people want relationships. Some people don’t want relationships! Some people don’t want the sex bit.’ She’s kind of, very very briefly, trying to touch on all of the little corners of the ace spectrum. Without, of course, getting into much detail, and without really covering all of it. It’s just sort of the very basics.
Courtney: Since Florence did say, ‘I still want to fall in love.’ Show us that! Show us what that means for her, in this really hypersexual school! Does she...actually start dating one? And does the fact that she doesn’t want sex...cause any emotional concern? I’d rather they didn’t. Because I don’t like the narrative of...anything that could be construed as “the asexuality is the problem in the relationship.” Because the asexuality is NEVER the issue in the relationship. It’s...communication. It’s boundaries. It’s setting expectations. And so, you could even take it the other way. Give her a partner who might be allo, but maybe they’re absolutely cool with not having sex, because they just love her as a person. Show us how they navigate that. Show us anything! Show us the fact that she is turning down everyone who is sexually attracted to her, ’cause she’s not comfortable with them. Show us the fact that she’s frustrated that she can’t find any other aces, ’cause she wants to date someone who’s ace. There are...ENDLESS possibilities that they could take with that.
Courtney: But they don’t. They really just end on the note of, Florence bumps into Otis in the hallway, and Otis says, ‘Hey! How are you doing?’ And she’s like, ‘I am fantastic!’ She is clearly on cloud nine. She just came out from talking to Otis’s mom. She said, ‘Yeah, Otis. I’m great! Not because of you– your advice was crap– but your mom is great. And, by the way, I want a refund.’
Then she just walks away, happily, and...fades into obscurity!
Courtney: The end of that season, you actually see this play happen. This Romeo and Juliet play, which actually turns more into...an alien sexual fantasy, than anything? Because Lily’s helping direct it. So, that’s what ends up happening there. There’s one scene I recall, where Florence vouches for Jean, the sex therapist. Says, ‘Yeah. She really helped me. She is an asset [crosstalk][28:07] to this school.’
Courtney: But she doesn’t get any deeper than that. We don’t get to see how she navigates her newfound asexuality. At all.
Courtney: None of this is to say that the entire show is horrible. It’s not. It has some good moments. It’s still definitely not my favorite, because there are...a lot of sex scenes. There is a lot of...just, bad relationshipping?
Courtney: That’s another aspect of it. They talk SO much about sex. But, not even the sex therapist knows how to communicate well, or have a particularly healthy relationship from the emotional side of things.
Royce: And to the egregious amounts of sex in the show. It’s more that...there are a lot of scenes that seem to be there, not for any character development. Not for any plot purpose. Not even for decent comedy. It’s just simple fan service, and we just happen to not be the fans they were writing for.
[Both speak teasingly, Courtney giggles throughout the following]
Courtney: The EGREGIOUS amount of sex! This is an outrage! There is too much sex in the sex show! It is–
Royce: It’s also an education show. It’s in the title!
Courtney: It is an education show! The sex is egregious. The education...is sometimes good. But they also need to do better! Just do better, about the asexuality.
Courtney: It really all comes back to me. For how differently this character, and this sexuality, was treated, as opposed to all of the other experiences. When you see it, in the grand scheme of the full show, it’s really a bit tokenizing. It’s like, ‘We have gay men, we have lesbian women, we have someone who came out as pansexual... We have bi characters... We’re navigating teenage relationships, middle age relationships. We’re getting all of these diverse experiences. Who are we missing? Who do we still need to just...shoehorn in there a little bit?’
Courtney: I love to see it. I’m glad they made a BIT of an effort. But I want them to...give us a character with some depth. Any, ANY depth! What do we know about Florence? We know she’s asexual. We know she is Juliet in the school play.
Royce: She believes that she is the Scottish Meryl Streep.
Courtney: She did say that, didn’t she?! [quotes with a light Scottish accent] “I’m like Meryl Streep, only younger. And Scottish!”
Courtney: So, we know she fancies herself a young, Scottish Meryl Streep, and...that’s it? That’s the extent of that character. That is a two-dimensional character, if I’ve ever seen one. So many of the other characters are just so...lush and fleshed out. You get to see such a wide variety of their experience.
Courtney: Season three, you see one of the main characters start to navigate a relationship with a boy who is a quadriplegic. In a wheelchair. That was something I WAS very, very glad to see. There is not a lot of representation, or education about, the sex lives of disabled people. So, I thought that scene was great. But that was done much better than the ace character, also. That character was introduced in season two, I think. So he’s been around for a while. You see where this character’s introduced. You see him start to develop a relationship with a character. You see the good sides and the bad sides of him– he’s a little bit of a jerk at one point– so, you see him as a whole person. Before they even enter into a relationship, and have this sex scene, and have this conversation about...
Courtney: It’s not just for disabled people. It should be for everybody. How...do we have sex? What do you like? What do you not like? What do you feel? That should just be... Not “Oh, look at the person in the wheelchair.” And say, “Oh, can you have sex?” is, kind of, the trope. Everyone wants to know, “Can you have sex if you’re in a wheelchair?” Yes, of course you can. If you want to!
They show some good communication in that moment. And that’s good representation, but that’s a real character, that we see multiple sides to.
Courtney: I know that, as the “invisible orientation”– as asexuality is often called– there are a lot of people out there who do not know what it means. I can fully sympathize with the fact that any writer entering into...a story, with asexuality...has to find a way to define it, for the audience. Narratively speaking, in dialogue. You have to define it, still, at that point. ’Cause that’s where we are, as a society. But, in the age of fighting for good proper representation. This really shows how woefully behind the times we are for for asexuality rep.
Courtney: Can you imagine. In the year 2020. There’s a show about sex education, and sexually-active teenagers. And, every single couple is straight. Every straight couple is having sex, they’re navigating these new sexual relationships... But then there’s one episode. Where, for a total of five minutes– one tenth of the run time of that singular episode, in season two– there is ONE gay boy? He feels like he doesn’t belong in this world. He doesn’t know anyone else like him. He feels like there might be something wrong with him, and he sees a sex therapist who says, “Some people are gay. And that is okay!” [exasperated] Everyone in the LGBT community would collectively flip their lids!
Courtney: Are you kidding me?!
Courtney: We are SO far past that...for queer representation in general. Obviously, this show does better about gay representation. Otis’s best friend is gay. Right from the get-go, there are gay characters who are figuring themselves out. There are characters that, we are introduced as, “You are out and proud.” You sort of see both sides of that in this show, which is good. They should show that, absolutely. But, try flipping out–
Courtney: This is what I always like to...explain to allos, who maybe don’t necessarily...know much about asexuality. They might not know how to talk about it. They might not know the right questions to ask. I always say – general rule of thumb? Whatever you’re about to say, or think, or wonder about. Just insert ANY other sexuality. If it feels wrong– when you substitute asexual for...homosexual, for example– if it feels a little wrong, and weird, and off? It probably is a little weird, and wrong, and off. That’s the whole point, is that asexuality is an orientation.
Courtney: I will never begrudge any...ANY asexual person who saw that scene and felt validated. The scene was pretty well done, in isolation. They put on this really emotional music in the background, as the sex therapist was talking, so I’m sure that tugged at a few subconscious heartstrings. Goodness knows– Royce knows better than anyone– I. Am a crybaby. I cry a LOT. During shows, movies…emotional video games. I am a crier.
Courtney: I am an out and proud crier! I did not cry during this scene, personally. But I heard that music, and I was like, “Oh, that’s the cry music! They’re trying to elicit an emotional response with this!” And to have the word “broken.” “I feel broken.” And to have the sex therapist say, “You could never be broken” for not wanting sex. That is, I think, the validation that every...young, or newly-found, asexual wants. To hear. So, we see that scene, and most people in our community are going to feel so heard. So nice. So warm and fuzzy. Of course we’re going to latch on, and say, ‘This is great. Because it made me feel really good!’
Courtney: But the sad fact-of-the-matter is...the allos didn’t feel that good. I would be surprised if any allo person watching that…
Courtney: ...came close to feeling that. I know that if it’s not your experience, you’re not going to feel the same level of empathy. But the allos paid so little attention to that storyline, that it is not even MENTIONED in any of the episode descriptions or recaps. It is so far removed from the plot, that... I don’t think something like this is going to have a massive social impact. The way I think some other shows might. Or the way it could, if they did it better. We see it, and we feel good, but it was not a character that...is going to be widely beloved. It’s not a character that...anyone outside of our community is going to be real [sic] able to relate to.
Courtney: It’s almost a little fanservice-y. It’s almost as if the writers of the show...felt guilty for not making Otis asexual?
Courtney: And they thought, [mocking] ‘Hmm. That’s a bit of a missed opportunity, I bet! We could have done some good representation, if we did that. But we didn’t! Here is a peace offering.’
Courtney: ‘I give you five minutes of a side character who is asexual. Sorry about not doing that with the main character!’
[laughs, then groans]
Courtney: I’m just being silly here. I highly doubt any writers actually said that.
Courtney: But that’s just kind of how it feels. It’s like a peace offering. It’s a token. It’s a gesture. But it’s not real work. They didn’t actually put in the time, and the dialogue, to make this a long-term, meaningful thing. That’s my main issue with it.
Courtney: When I tried searching for other people’s responses to this, I’d search “Sex Education, asexuality episode.” You start to see some articles that say this is “groundbreaking.” I see that word over and over – [dramatically] this is “groundbreaking representation!” I don’t think five minutes out of a single show...CAN be groundbreaking. Because, that’s not what representation is. Representation is an active, ongoing process. It is not as if the actor playing Florence was an asexual actress, either. I did try looking that up, ’cause I think that’s important. We are at a point in society where, if a straight man plays a gay man, we say “Hey, wait a minute. Why didn’t you just hire...a gay man?” I, truth be told, could not find very much about the actress playing Florence. I did see some quotes taken out of a radio interview that she did. She said something along the lines of ‘Playing this character really opened my eyes to the wide spectrum of sexuality.’ It almost sounded like she was hinting at the fact that maybe she didn’t know about asexuality before taking this role? Or maybe she didn’t know the things that were said in Jean’s monologue– about ‘some people want romance, some people don’t. Some people don’t want sex’– and there’s just something about that. If they were really, really trying. To do good representation. They could have found an asexual actress to do that part. They absolutely could’ve. I think that just goes to show how...starved...our community is for good representation. We really do not have very much. It is so little. It’s few and it’s far between. And there’s a lot of BAD representation for asexuality out there, also! So, when we see something like this. We do chalk it up as a huge win, for the entire community. Maybe I’m just too cynical? I think we need more.
Courtney: I think we, aces, are the only ones who cared. I don’t think the message registered the way it needed to. To outsiders to the community. They need more. They need to actually connect with the character on a different level, in order to care.
Courtney: Plus, there’s a lot of relatability that they could have leaned into a little more. Which would not only resonate with aces, but...could also just be really good, comedic moments. Florence says, ‘I thought Romeo and Juliet was about love, but turns out, it’s about sex? What?! This is news to me!’ They could have had so many more moments like that. If you’re an ace person living in an allo world. Sometimes it seems like...the allos can make anything about sex. They can make ANYTHING about sex! And sex is everywhere, and it’s all around you!
Courtney: Sometimes you just say, “Wait, that’s a sex thing too? That seems absurd!” It could have been very good.
Courtney: It could have been very relatable, in that sense, too.
Courtney: The show did end up getting really absurd, too. I feel like they’re getting low on actual, meaningful relationship ideas, at this point? Because, third season was–
Royce: Third season had a couple of...good things going on. The main ones that I remember were the introduction of nonbinary characters. Eric– who is a prominent character from the very beginning– also has a plot line where he goes to his...extended family’s home in Nigeria. And has to reason with going from being an out and proud gay man, to being in an environment where that is criminalized. Both of those things, I thought, were interesting additions. But aside from that, they stepped away from having most of the conflict in the series being within social relationships. And, pulling in a prominent singular antagonist, who was the villain of the season. Because of that, I think they toned down a lot of the important plot points, and stepped back into more...simple situations.
Courtney: Yeah, and even the villain of the third season gets more depth than the ace character ever had. She’s horrible, and she’s doing detrimental things to the school. She’s the one who enacts a gendered dress code. She’s the one who’s implementing abstinence-only sex education. And so, she is definitively the villain. But, you also see her trying to get pregnant through IVF. It’s like...where was that depth–
Courtney: – when it came to the asexual character? Missed opportunities, absolutely. But it does go really over the top with some of the sex stuff. This school gets a reputation for being “the sex school.” And all of the students are like, ‘Yeah, we ARE the sex school! We have a wall of penises in the back of the school, and...we’re gonna protest that being painted over!’ They really make big, grand, elaborate shows of being, like, ‘Yes, we are the sex school! We all have sex! We have–’
Courtney: ‘We have vagina cupcakes!’ And–
Royce: Didn’t they also make a wall of vulvas, in addition to the wall of penises?
[Courtney stammers in frustration]
Courtney: I’m sure they [crosstalk][45:34] probably did.
Royce: It’s probably telling, that the most recent episode that we watched is the one that we have the fewest memories of.
Courtney: Yes! Truthfully. So, the “villain” of the third season does this very public-shaming moment with a few of the kids, where she makes them wear signs on their chest all day. It’s very...Instagram, dog shaming.
Courtney: Like when people put the “I chewed up the sofa”–
Courtney: – shaming signs. But she’s doing it for human teenagers. Not a good look!
Courtney: The students all rebel, by ALL of them putting on a sign. Near the end. They’re all in an auditorium. They’re all wearing these signs for things that they’re embarrassed of. Or ashamed of, or secrets. And, there is ONE moment. One moment...which, of course, the aces caught. If you are an allo out there, and you caught this? Please, tell me. Please prove me wrong!
Courtney: Please prove me wrong, that this is getting out to anyone other than the ace community. ’Cause I would love a reason to be a little less cynical today. A character named Steve– who isn’t a main character, but he’s been present...probably since the first season. I think he’s kind of always been there, even though sometimes it’s a little bit in the background– Steve is wearing a cardboard sign on his chest that says, “I think I’m demisexual.”
Courtney: Of course, he doesn’t SAY that to anybody. There’s no conversation about that. There’s no defining of what demisexuality is. So, I sincerely hope that, if they have another season of this show, that Steve gets to be front and center. Reconciling his demisexuality. He also recently went through a breakup, so I want to know about that. Did you know– or did you suspect, since he said “I think,”– did you suspect you were demisexual DURING this relationship? Or, was this breakup part of what had you reflecting on what you really want out of a relationship? How did he start to think about this? And– now that he at least suspects it enough to put it on a sign and wear it on his chest– how is he going to navigate relationships going forward? Is he GOING to have any relationships going forward? Please. Please! Give me the depth! It would be fantastic if they could cast a new character who is also on the asexual spectrum, and they can get with Steve. I want to see all of the ins and outs about how they navigate that relationship. To me, that is the only way that they can make it up to us. That is the only forgivable thing that they can do, in my eyes, right now.
Courtney: Since we talked about this quite a bit in our first episode… If you are new to this community, you may need to bust out the “pocket dictionaries–”
Courtney: – ’cause there are a lot of terms that we in the ace community use all the time. We’re familiar with. “Demisexuality,” I think, is one of those. Of course, we’re getting a LITTLE more education out there about demisexuality. But, there’s still a lot of people who don’t know what that means. There could be allos who did see that sign, but just went right over their heads. That’s very possible. They didn’t have a defining moment. And demisexuality is a part of the ace umbrella. It is part of the asexual spectrum. But it just means that your sexual attraction to someone is conditional. Most demisexual people will say, ‘I need to develop a strong emotional connection with someone, before I can experience sexual attraction.’ So they aren’t traversing the world saying ‘I am sexually attracted to one gender.’ Or two genders. Or multiple genders. They’re saying, ‘If I connect with a person, I might be able to be sexually attracted to that person specifically.’ Some of them are oriented, some of them are not. I would love for them to define and explore everything that that side of the spectrum has to offer. Until they do, I’m gonna be really cynical about it.
Courtney: This is my challenge to the writers of Sex Education. Who are obviously listening to this right now.
Courtney: Here’s my challenge to you. If you make a season four, I want you. To. Make. Me. Cry. I cry quite easily. And I did not cry during The Ace Episode! [jokingly] I am horribly disappointed! Your new...challenge...is to make Courtney cry. You have your assignment. You know what you need to do. Go forth. Hire an ace actor to be in a relationship with Steve, who fully comes out as demi. Please. Thank you.
Courtney: [hurriedly] I am available, I have a little bit of acting experience, it doesn’t have to be me, it can be anyone on the ace spectrum, just, SOMEONE! Please!
Courtney: What do you think, Royce? Do you want to throw your hat in the ring for that job?
[Courtney laughs, then there is extended silence]
For those of you who couldn’t see that– because we’re a podcast, not a video– Royce is...pretty emphatically...shakin’ the head “no.”
Courtney: On that note. I think we’re going to go ahead and wrap it up for today. This is, of course, one example of representation that I didn’t think was too great. If you disagreed with anything we said? If you agreed with us? Feel free to tweet at us, [jokingly] we have a tweeter now! @The_Ace_Couple on Twitter. If you have any questions you’d like to hear addressed on an upcoming episode. If you have any topic suggestions. Feel free to let us know over there. If you’re listening to us on Apple, please give a fantastic rating. If you’re listening to us on YouTube, please subscribe to the channel. Otherwise. We will talk at you all next time.