Asexual Representation: The Dreaded House Episode
A decade ago, Courtney, along with over 8 million other Americans tuned in to watch an episode of House entitled “Better Half”. In the closet and considering how to come out, she was delighted to see an asexual couple make an appearance...until it all went wrong.
- Better Half (House) Season 8, Episode 9
- Asexuals and Conversion Therapy- National LGBT survey :Research Report 2018
- Response from writer Kath Lingenfelter posted to Aven
Courtney: Hello everyone and welcome back. My name is Courtney. I’m here with my spouse Royce, together we are The Ace Couple, and oftentimes on this podcast we like to talk about varying examples of asexual representation in the media. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. And, although in recent years we’ve started seeing some really hopeful glimmers of positive ace representation, it hasn’t always been that way. So today we would like to take you back ten years, one full decade, to the year 2012. The show was House. The season was eight.
Royce: The representation was bad.
Courtney: Bad. I don’t even know if that’s a strong enough word. When I tell you that this episode broke my heart. I just– it was the first time that I had ever seen Asexuality portrayed on television, or in movies for that matter, or to go even further I think it was the only time I’ve seen Asexuality portrayed in any media at all. Period. I at the time already knew I was Asexual, that was already the word that I had for myself, but I had not actually come out to anybody at that point. I was still in the deck, if you will. I was contemplating coming out at this point in time. I was trying to figure out, you know, the right time, the right way to tell certain people in my life. And this episode definitely gave me pause. It definitely gave me a reason to consider not coming out. Luckily I did actually come out. Just, just a few months later. I can see a world where it would have tripped me up even longer.
Courtney: But I really want to talk about what happened in this episode, why it was so bad, how it still has harmful lingering effects to this day. So let’s get into it. If you are a fellow Ace and you saw Better Half premiere on January 23rd, 2012, or if you caught it on a rerun thereafter, it was, you know, network television back when that was still a relevant thing, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If this is news to you, you are not familiar with this show, then I strongly recommend you do something nice for yourself right now, maybe make yourself a nice pot of soothing tea, maybe grab yourself a little slice of cake, because woo boy… it is going to make your blood boil. So as we get into it, Royce, actually refresh my memory because I saw this when it premiered, if I recall you had not really watched House until we sort of did a re-watch together a few years ago.
Royce: We watched it together several years ago. That was the first time I’d seen it.
Courtney: Okay. House as a show, if you’re not familiar, it’s a medical drama, starring. Dr. House portrayed by Hugh Laurie, who is fabulous. It is hard not to like a cynical doctor portrayed by Hugh Laurie
Royce: Somewhat ironically, given the representation we’re about to talk about, House seemed to be a sort of medical Sherlock. He is this genius doctor who can figure out all of these medical mysteries, and it’s rough and abrasive to everyone around him and has a drug addiction.
Courtney: Yes. He is. He’s doctor Sherlock, 100%. And Sherlock is, you know, the most famously sexless character in all of western media. And the reason why Sherlock is such an enduring story is because we are really drawn to these cynical intellectual types. House is very much like problematic fave territory. You love to hate him. You’re still rooting for him. He’s absolutely brilliant and no matter how awful he treats everyone, he’s still someone who maybe you want to work with, maybe want to be treated by him. And I very much fall into that camp too. I mean, House as a show kind of meant something weird and complicated and hopeful to me, because I am a disabled woman and my diagnoses have been quite complicated. And I grew up with this disability that fluctuated and got worse. Although the word disabled never crossed anyone’s lips as I was growing up, which made things really complicated for me. But also just not having a word for what was wrong with me for years and years was really, really difficult.
Courtney: And so I watched House all the time. They called him a diagnostician which is just not a real thing. It’s like, they invented a new medical profession for him because he can solve the exceptionally rare cases. He knows all the rare diseases, he can pick up on the slightest hint of a symptom that will help you solve the case. And so, even though he is a certifiable asshole, there was something in me at that point in time, when I still did not have a real diagnosis, for my lifelong issues that were constantly changing and evolving and getting worse. I wanted a Doctor House in my life. I did not care if he treated me horribly, I just wanted someone who was going to obsess over my case until they had the answer. And as with, you know, a lot of network television shows, it probably did go a little too long, probably did go off the rails one too many times. Like by season 8, sometimes it seemed like they were kind of out of plot ideas. And it’s very formulaic, you know: rare disease, doctor has a simple solution, the treatment makes disease worse actually, that’s a surprise, we didn’t see that coming, what could we be missing?
Royce: Cue the medical malpractice or breaking into patients’ living area illegally to gather evidence.
Courtney: Absolutely, as you do when solving the case and making the proper diagnosis is the most important thing in the entire world. But then genius, loner, drug addict doctor solves the case, patient gets better, rinse-repeat. So House has this friend and colleague, Dr. Wilson. Wilson is an oncologist, and in this particular episode Wilson begins by treating a woman who he suspects to have a bladder infection. He says, “Oh, well, you know, it’s probably something very simple, but we’ll run a pregnancy test.” And the woman goes, “Oh, no, I’m not pregnant.” And Wilson assures her, “Well, you know, any type of birth control has a possibility of failing.” And she’s like, “No, not mine,” and they just kind of stare at each other for a moment and Wilson gets the hint, but he’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you said you were married.” And she’s like, “Yeah, happily.” And he’s like, “Oh, well, it’s okay. I mean, sex can wane in any marriage over time.” And she, “No, we’ve never had sex. Sure, we kiss and cuddle, but neither one of us is interested in sex.” And the look of confusion that crosses Dr. Wilson’s face at that point is kind of gold and he goes, “You’re both celibate.” And she goes. “No, neither of us. Celibacy is a choice. And this is our orientation.” Prolonged confused stare at her before she prompts, “We’re Asexual.”
Courtney: And I actually think this scene is very, very good because it ends by Wilson just kind of, kind of scratching his head looking really confused back and forth at her and then looking down at the chart in his hand, and he just goes, “I’m not– I’m not quite sure what box to check here.” And I love it. That scene alone is very good. The confusion, I love. The fact that this woman is so confident in what she’s saying and she is perfectly explaining it’s not celibacy. “We are Asexual.”
Royce: She’s also kind of messing with him a little bit, because she could have said that sooner. She could have led with “I’m Asexual,” instead of playing, you know, four or five questions to get there.
Courtney: Yeah, that could be, I didn’t take that as a character quirk. I kind of took that as, like maybe clunky lightly forced writing. And because we’ve talked about this before, how if you’re talking about Asexuality in the media, you have to put something in the dialogue that is really addressing the audience and not the people in this scene.
Royce: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s definitely what it was. That was the writers writing to the audience. But as a consequence, if we look at that character based off of the dialog–
Royce: She understood what was happening.
Courtney: Yes. And so, I actually think that scene alone was really endearing. When I saw it, when I saw that scene, my jaw about hit the floor because I was ecstatic. As I said, I had not seen anything like this. And here I am in my head, in the closet Asexual, seeing this on television. I’m about ready to cheer. And just the fact that the doctor doesn’t argue it. He’s just like “I’m confused but I’m going with it,” but then his default is, “Oh the paperwork.” It’s really good. Although I also want to mention that in America, where House is taking place, wildly unrealistic that any woman can for any reason say I’m not sexually active and the doctor’s just like, “All right, we’ll forego the pregnancy test.” Never, never in a hundred years. Maybe one out of a hundred doctors would just take a woman’s word for it, but in our private medical system, they’re gonna want to bill you for that pregnancy test. You don’t have a choice in the matter. You have to take it, but you’re also going to pay for it. And that’s not even touching the fact that most, or at least very many private medical systems in the US, are Christian operated and they care so much about a theoretical unborn child, that you rarely if ever even have the option to sign a liability waiver saying, “I am not pregnant. And if I am, and if this treatment harms the pregnancy, I am not holding the hospital liable.” That is just rarely an option. Usually it’s non-negotiable, you will take the test, you will pay for it, we are not going to treat you until you do it.
Courtney: But I was willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of some Asexual representation, but it only went downhill from there. The next scene in our saga shows House and Wilson in the hospital cafeteria on a break. And Wilson is reading Psychiatric Magazine, and House is also doing his own thing, and Wilson pipes up and says, “Did you know that close to 1% of the population identifies as Asexual?” To which House again cynical, gruff, abrasive response, “We really gotta get you laid.” And Wilson it’s like, “Oh, not me. I have a patient who’s Asexual.” House goes, “Is she a giant pool of algae?” And Wilson’s like, “No, it’s a valid sexual orientation. According to this article I’m reading at least.” Enter House, “Yeah, I think I read that too. What is that Fuglyness Weekly?” and Wilson says, “No, she is perfectly fine looking. Happily married for 10 years.” And what does House say, “To a guy who loves penis enough for both of them.” And Wilson goes, “He’s Asexual too.” And just sort of looks wistful and confused off into the distance, “Ran a complete physical honor, nothing wrong except a common bladder infection.” So let’s, let’s review, just, just for a second, in the span of what? 30 seconds? We got almost everything people hurl at Asexuals who come out. Seriously, almost everyone: giant pool of algae, you know, Asexuality isn’t an orientation. That’s–
Royce: A form of biological reproduction that many non-mammalian creatures do.
Courtney: You just had that in your back pocket, well done. Yes, exactly. You have: oh, you’re not Asexual. You are just you know too ugly to get laid. Fugly. Also is that a very 2010’s word? I don’t think I’ve heard fugly in a long time.
Royce: It’s a very dated term and I would’ve been surprised to have heard it from someone House’s age when this aired.
Courtney: And then we also have not Asexual, just gay, and in the closet. If you don’t think those are three things that almost every out Asexual has heard at one point, then where have you been? So yeah, there. I wouldn’t even mind this because House would be the device for telling a very relatable story, because we actually do get and hear these things. And House’s very abrasive, it is on-brand for him to do this. So, of course I was cringing through this scene, but it wasn’t altogether unbelievable. But then things start to really, really go downhill when House says, “Hundred bucks says I can find a medical reason she doesn’t want to have sex.” So now we’re four for four. Asexuality isn’t an orientation. There is something wrong with you. And Wilson’s always kind of House’s conscience. I say that loosely because he’s kind of a pushover. He tries to be the conscience, but he also enables House quite a bit.
Royce: I haven’t read enough Sherlock. I actually haven’t read any Sherlock. I’ve just seen him portrayed in a few bits and pieces of media here and there. How close to Watson is Wilson?
Courtney: Anything with Sherlock is such a huge conversation because there are so many iterations and adaptations of Sherlock, that I don’t think it’s out of line to say that just loosely speaking Wilson is the Watson to House, but that that’s a big question. If we ever do a Sherlock episode, we are gonna have to do so much preparation ahead of time because there’s a lot of Sherlock media out there that I haven’t even touched yet. But yeah, Wilson doesn’t seem jazzed about the idea. He’s not like, “Yeah, you’re on.” He’s at first, he’s like, “No, you can’t do that. This is unethical.” But he does end up agreeing. The terms are: House gets her medical files and whatever leftover blood samples that Wilson has collected, and House’s not to contact the patient, and they shake on it. Oh we love that medical malpractice.
Courtney: So, House, being this renowned diagnostician, has like a team of doctors under him. He always has a team of several people. And even though this is not his patient, nor is it any of his business, he enlists the help of a couple of the doctors on his team, and it later shows them in a lab. It’s two women who are in the lab with him, I haven’t actually watched enough House anytime recently to remember what their names are. But one of them had a computer, just saying hormone levels are normal, woman seems healthy. And at the same time, just straight-up asks House “What does it even matter? If she says she’s Asexual.” House is like, “Well, because it’s the fundamental drive of our species. And besides, sex is healthy.” And goes on to explain how great orgasms are, how it oxygenates the brain and lights up 30 different areas in the brain, and it’s sexy and–
Royce: sex is sexy?
Courtney: Sex is sexy. I wanted to say healthy, but technically sex– Well, I wouldn’t call sex sexy. Sex is healthy and just the fundamental drive of our species. Mmm, sex isn’t even like, strictly speaking if we are talking medically and scientifically, sex is no longer even necessary for human procreation.
Royce: Yeah, science fixed that one.
Courtney: Yeah, we’ve got Medical Science for this. That– Antiquated argument.
Royce: But even if it was, I feel like there are many common layman misunderstandings about evolution. And in particular anything with a complex enough brain is operating on more than basal biological needs. I mean house cats will do random things just for the fun of it, that are not tied to food, or water, or air, or reproduction.
Courtney: Which is interesting that you bring that up because we’re going to talk about the writer of this episode and sort of their response to all of this. But the writer of the show at one point, after its release, mentioned that in one of the earlier iterations of the script that there was supposed to be a conversation about whether or not as a species humans are past the need for sex. And I don’t have that script. I don’t know what it was supposed to be, but it sounds like they could have taken it in that direction, as another point of dialogue and discussion.
Royce: Right. Either way, I think the discussion is irrelevant because the point I’m trying to make is once a creature is intelligent enough they can make choices.
Courtney: Choices. This whole episode was a choice.
Royce: And to the other comment he made, I believe we spoke about this recently, but the “sex is healthy” argument, healthy in regards to what? Compared to what. There are many, many different ways to affect your body and it’s not like sex does something that nothing else can do.
Courtney: Yeah. I don’t know. Because yeah, is sex exercise? Yeah, or–
Royce: Is it the best form of exercise? No.
Royce: I guess it depends on what you’re doing. Maybe there is a genre of–
Courtney: A genre of sex?
Royce: A type of extremely cardiovascular sex. Maybe there are mixed fornication strength training routines.
Courtney: Yeah, I’ve– from– From what I understand, growing up watching Golden Girls and the time-honored millennial tradition of just typing random things into Urban Dictionary to see what pops up, a shocking number of them were highly acrobatic sex positions. But that is neither here nor there, because nobody challenges House on that. They’re in this lab and they’re just like, “Yeah. Okay.” And they move on to trying to solve the medical mystery of the woman who doesn’t want sex. What is wrong with her? It’s always something wrong, isn’t it? So the other woman who’s in the room has a different theory. She’s like, “Well, if hormones aren’t the problem, what about damage to her spinal cord blocking the signals from her genitals?” Oh, which that– it’s a single write-off line, but that’s also, like way too close to comfort for paraplegics or quadriplegics or people who do have spinal injuries equating that to Asexuality, because not one and the same.
Courtney: But yeah, the first woman says, “No, that can’t be it because sex drive is in the brain.” Are you ready for this? “I suppose it could be psychological intimacy issues caused by childhood abuse.” Woop we are five for five. To which House thinks, “So well, she can’t have intimacy issues because she’s been married to the guy and sharing a toilet with him for 10 years.” And the woman says, “No, it’s not the same because sex releases oxytocin, and that’s the neurochemical basis for bonding.” And House in his very crude manner of speaking to everyone is just like, “Yeah, that’s why men always marry their right hands.” But she’s like, “No, no, no, it’s different for girls.”
Courtney: But at least they had a little #feminist moment, because the other woman in the room is like, “No, it’s not. I’ve tapped over 30 different guys. And I’ve never wanted to see most of them again.” To which everyone just like, guffaws and looks at her like “What?” And she’s like, “What, I live next to a Jewish frat.” Just like, did you really– Did you really have to add that? Was that– Was that really necessary? But yeah, shaking off that comment out of the blue. And someone says, “Well, you know what, this woman’s life is probably better off without sex, because it eliminates most of her insecurities. She’s immune to most advertising. And she can have an honest relationship with men.” Which actually kind of like House’s response because he laughs, he’s like, “Not most of them.” Which is a good and believable response, but let’s break down that line, because “eliminates most of her insecurities.” Where does– where did that come from? Where did that come from?
Royce: I was confused about that one too.
Courtney: Is she talking about like her self– like body image? Like if you’re not sexual, you don’t have body image issues? Because that’s a wild leap to make.
Royce: Yeah, I wrote that off immediately. Maybe that’s what the intent was, but it doesn’t make sense.
Courtney: It’s no sense whatsoever. Immune to advertising is kind of funny though, because that’s kind of a joke in the Ace Community. Like–
Royce: She’s just gonna get the food adverts instead of the sex adverts.
Courtney: Ah, yes. Well, if Facebook is any indication, if she joins any Asexual group, she’s going to start getting advertisements for medication to help her low libido. Okay, we were going to talk about this a little later in the episode, but now–
Royce: Now we’re here.
Courtney: Now we’re here and we’re going in on it. That happened to me and that has happened to many other Aces. I did join some Ace Facebook groups long ago and immediately the next day my Facebook advertisements are swimming with, you know, cures for your low libido. And it’s so gross. It is so gross. And I will still occasionally see people to this day who will say, “Hey, I joined some Ace groups and I’m seeing these advertisements, has that happened to anyone else?” And a few people will chime in and say, “Yeah happened to me too.” So… My God, does Facebook need to do better. That is really, really fucked up. But also, what’s the “can have honest relationships with men,” where does that “honest” come from? Is she implying that all dishonesty is sex-related?
Royce: Or that all sex is dishonest.
Courtney: Sex is dishonest! Yeah. It’s interesting. I mean for as weird as those last few “here are the reasons why it’s good,” it’s still very realistic that after you get past the point of “Oh, it’s weird to be Asexual” or “Asexuality isn’t a thing,” some of the more pseudo-supportive people will sort of default to like, “That’s great. That’s probably better than not being Asexual. If you cut sex out of the equation, that’ll solve so many issues.” Which makes me wonder how many issues like the average allosexual relationship has that is sex-related. Because I hear that a lot and I even got that from my own grandmother when I came out to her. She’s like, “That must be why your relationship is so good. I wish I was Asexual. That would– would have caused– saved me a lot of grief.”
Courtney: So yeah, after they’ve decided that they have run every test, they are tapped out of options, House says, “Well, you know, lots of people don’t have sex, but the only people who don’t want sex are either sick, dead, or lying.” Stings a little bit. Stings a little bit. So, at this point, as I’m watching this show, it’s just a slow-drip descent into horror, after it starting so strong and me being so excited. I just started to see what they’re doing, and the woman even says like, “Well, you know, so maybe she is lying, and do you really think that she’s just had a boyfriend on the side?” And House’s like, “Now don’t– don’t be ridiculous. For 10 years and she’s staying in this marriage? Now that doesn’t make sense.” But then you see the very characteristic lightbulb moment. The moment of realization that crosses House’s face as he stares off in contemplation, and he goes, “But what does?” And he– he stands up and he grabs his cane, and he walks out of the room. And that’s a very House thing to do like when he figures out something, that missing piece, he’ll just have his lightbulb moment and just leave. And everyone else in the room is like, “Well, okay, guess he figured something out. We’ll hear about that later.”
Courtney: And now I want to take just a momentary break away from the Ace plot line and let’s go to the A-plot. We’ll– we’ll call it the A-plot and the Ace plot. So, in the A-plot of this episode House’s actual patient is a man with dementia who is experiencing new symptoms and most of it is irrelevant and not totally worth discussing. But at one point, in a bout of confusion, this man actually ends up leaving the hospital and going wandering around outside. And it is frigid out, there is snow on the ground. He is confused with memory issues, not wearing appropriate winter-wear whatsoever, and ends up collapsing until people come and find him and he very nearly dies. And two doctors on House’s team are treating him hoping he’ll wake up, and one of them is just ruminating saying, “Do you think he kind of knew what he was doing? Do you think he knows how much of a burden he’s been to his wife?” And other doctor’s like, “Oh, and he tried to kill himself? Yeah, that’s– that’s what I’d do.” And she’s like, “That’s not where I was going with that at all. I was gonna say, he just knew he was running away.” And she says, “Wait, you really think you should kill yourself if you become a burden to the people who love you?” To which this doctor replies, “If you really love them back, then yes.”
Courtney: Are you fucking kidding me? That is the most ableist bullshit. And somehow I didn’t even really register that the first time I was watching it, but watching it back again, I was like, “Oh, whoa… that’s… that’s a choice.” A choice that doesn’t even really get challenged either because, you know, it’s a medical drama, so even all the doctors have their own personal demons that they’re fighting and… Yeah, it’s awful. He makes up some, “Oh, yeah. Because my mother was an alcoholic and still ruined her life in a way, and I wish she would have used a gun over a bottle.” And to which everyone’s like, really sympathetic about that. They’re like, “Wow. I didn’t know that about you.” And like, just don’t challenge his whole like, “Yeah, kill yourself if you’re sick and your family needs to take care of you.” Awful. Horrid.
Courtney: So now that that little micro rant on ableism is over. Let us resume our primary rant of the evening, the acephobia. So House had his little epiphany. Well, if there’s nothing medically wrong with this woman, there must be something medically wrong with her husband. So he calls the husband into the clinic under the guise of just getting a flu shot. But when he’s there, he does this whole bait-and-switch. He’s like, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to need to do a battery of tests and do a blood workup and– And your analysis.” And this man was confused. He’s like, “Is that really necessary for a flu shot?” And doesn’t challenge it past that clearly, undergoes all of these unnecessary tests. And Wilson is livid because he finds out and he complains because the deal was to find a medical reason why she doesn’t have sex. And House says, “I admit I was stuck until I realized that the medical issue was not hers. But his. She’s lying to compensate. It’s a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl, girl falls for boy. Boy says “I’m Asexual,” girl says, “Yeah. Me too.”” And Wilson does his little Wilson thing that he often does, you know, blah blah blah. That’s unethical, medical malpractice. You shouldn’t do this. But again, bit of a pushover, doesn’t doesn’t push hard enough and House goes, “What? Don’t you think that this woman deserves to know why her husband won’t bend her over the kitchen counter?” Which I don’t know. Maybe that’s an allo thing, but that sounds cold.
Royce: Yeah, and probably not very comfortable.
Courtney: Not very comfortable. It doesn’t sound like it, no.
Royce: And potentially dirty, depending on the state of your kitchen cleaning.
Courtney: Yeah, that sounds awful. You know, what kitchen counters are for? Storing your cake. Kitchen counters are not for having sex on. At least in this household. But yeah, Wilson gets a bit flustered and says, “You’re not doing this out of kindness. You’re not even doing this out of medical curiosity. You just see two people who are happy and you just want to destroy it. That’s your natural impulse.” And I really, really– this line out of context seems a little innocuous, but I really think this is exceptionally harmful given the context, because House is, “How do you know she’s happy? Did she tell you?” And there’s something so sinister about that. Because if you haven’t picked up on where we’re going yet, House is going to medically disprove the Asexuality. So, throwing in that “how do you know she’s happy?” Only to find out that, yeah, she’s not actually Asexual, really, really sinister. Because yeah, in a world where House’s correct, because House understands human nature, and House is going to be correct about all of these assumptions, the implication here is that not only is Asexuality not a real orientation, but that no couple could possibly be happy in an asexual marriage. It’s exceptionally grim.
Courtney: And this is the point in the show where I see where they’re starting to go. I was holding out hope this whole time. Hope upon hope that House was going to waste all of his time, exhaust all of his options. Wilson is going to be right. I wanted Wilson to disprove everything House was throwing out. I wanted that moment of triumph where House realizes that he screwed up. But things are looking more and more bleak, and then we have it, House bursts into Wilson’s office and he says, “You lose. Blood work shows high levels of prolactin.” And plops these files down on the desk as Wilson starts to flip through them. And he mentions, “Add to that, peripheral red-green confusion.” I’m not a doctor. I’m sure the person who wrote this is also not a doctor, but that kind of sounds a little bit like there’s some kind of situational colorblindness going on, you know, red green color blindness. Royce, as an asexual red-green colorblind person, how does that make you feel?
Royce: It doesn’t really. I don’t know enough about the brain itself and tumors inside of them and how one may or may not be able to cause some form of color blindness. I know that there are forms of color blindness that can result from some sort of brain injury or damage, but I have no idea what peripheral red-green confusion is.
Courtney: I don’t either, but if this is hinting at some level of even situational colorblindness plus Asexuality, according to House, you have a tumor near your pituitary gland.
Courtney: But like, how do you know? How do you– how do you know there’s nothing medically wrong with you? Like, how do you know? Because did you know that not having a sex drive is actually– Can be a medical symptom of like a lot of different things? You should get that checked out.
Royce: I know, we’re making fun of the episode now, but I do have an allosexual brother who also has the same genetic red-green color blindness. Because it’s a factor. It’s a genetic factor on the X chromosome that exhibits itself in the eyes. Not in the brain.
Courtney: Take that House. You just got doctored! Well done, well done. So yeah. House goes on and says, “You know, probably started growing in his early teens.” And Wilson flipping through the file is like, “Yeah. Lowering his libido and causing erectile dysfunction.” House says, “Yep, medicate him for a year, and he’s gonna be a sex-crazed creep just like the rest of us. And by the way, please pay me with a single one hundred-dollar bill, because I’ve always wanted to light a cigar with a hundred-dollar bill.” Priorities. That’s just– A sex-crazed creep.... I don’t, I don’t like that. I don’t even like the implication that all allosexuals are sex-crazed.
Courtney: And of course, House being House is just like, “Yeah, he’s gonna thank us. This is a good thing actually.” And Wilson’s very, very beside himself going, “Well. Hooray. We did it. We disproved Asexuality. And– But we might have ruined this guy’s life, and this could destroy his identity. This would be like if a gay person was being told that they’re really straight.” Which is very interesting that that was the parallel that was drawn, because I kind of use that as an example for allosexual people who don’t really get it. Maybe they will say some suspicious things about Asexuality hinting that they don’t really get it or see it as an orientation. I kind of say one of the– one of the ways you can tell if what you’re saying is acephobic is if you substitute Asexual for any other sexual orientation, and if what you’re saying now all of a sudden seems a little wrong, not quite correct, kind of uncomfortable, maybe discriminatory… it almost certainly is also for Asexuality.
Courtney: So yeah, and that is that. And if they even would have cut that scene right there, then at least we would have still ended off with Wilson being upset about this situation. But he gets angry at House and says, “You always do this. You, you meddle and you put me in these impossible situations with all your meddling.” And House, being very astute, says, “You knew the second you told me about this case that I would get involved because you wanted me to meddle. Because no matter how much you wanted to believe in their chaste romance, you didn’t buy it either.” And Wilson doesn’t say anything to that, but he makes a face. And the face is very much giving me, “Huh, maybe you’re right.” And that’s where they cut that scene off. So it’s like, dammit, even the one who was trying to be supportive wasn’t actually supportive at all. You know what we call that? Performative allyship.
Courtney: So, plot progresses and now Wilson has to tell this new patient of his, “Hey, we found a tumor in your brain.” He lies and makes up a reason about how they found it because clearly it was through suspicious means. But he begins to explain that there are going to be some side effects, at first a little nausea, dizziness, but eventually once the tumor shrinks, you’re gonna have a higher libido and this tumor has been causing some erectile dysfunction. And this asexual-identifying man with a brain tumor is really upset. He seems at a loss for words. He’s– Words he’s stammering a little bit, he says, “You mean the treatment is going to make me want to have sex?” And at this revelation he’s like, “Hmm, no. What if– what if I don’t want the treatment?” He is comfortable in his Asexual identity, but his wife, of course, being there, is like, “You have a brain tumor. You have to get the treatment.” And he says, “Look, I know who I am.”
Courtney: He clearly doesn’t want the treatment. He’s saying I’m not one of them. Them, I’m sure, meaning allos, allosexual people. And in a moment that could almost, almost, in a different situation, be endearing, the wife says, “We’ll adjust. Okay? We will get through this together.” And the husband still baffled like, “You mean like have sex? No, I can’t make you do that.” And she says, “But maybe it won’t be so bad.” And honestly, this is my favorite line of the whole thing because he says, “It’ll be terrible.” I know. I just kind of like that. I think that’s funny. Oh, yeah, we can have sex if you need to have sex. Maybe it won’t be so bad, he’s like, “No, it’ll be awful. There will never be a world where having sex will not be awful.” But then, mmm-hmm House is right, because House’s right. Because House always has to be right. The wife, turns out, was in fact lying the whole time. She gets this sheepish grin on her face and she says, “It’s actually pretty fun from what I remember.” With a look that’s almost guilty. And she admits that she just wanted to spend her life with him. And she knew that that meant making certain sacrifices, and hence my least favorite line of the whole thing.
Courtney: She ends that, which is almost sweet, almost endearing, if these were a totally different set of circumstances, but she ends that with: “But a girl has needs.” I don’t think I can tell you how much I loathe that line. Not only when she says it here, but when anyone says that ever, when anyone says “A girl has needs” or “A guy’s got needs” or “I have needs” and those needs you’re talking about is having sex with a another person? Loathe it. No one needs to have sex with another person. And calling it a need, calling it a need…? Implies that you are owed that thing. That it is a right of yours to have that thing. Because if we’re talking needs, food, water, medical care... [laughs] If only medical care was a need in this country… I think it is a human right to have your actual needs met. And to imply that sex is a need, and I know there are allos who will fight me on this, there are allos who I know and love who will fight me on this, and say it is a need, what can I say? No, it’s not.
Royce: Well, you’re arguing that there’s a hierarchy.
Courtney: Yeah, we’re not getting into Maslow today.
Royce: And that the word need has a different definition based off of different situations or contexts. Because you were just using the word need as in “basic human rights” kind of need, like what you are owed as a living sentient being. And then there’s also I guess a lesser need of what you require to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Courtney: Yeah. It’s– I can’t hear someone say I have needs, or a girl has needs when they’re referring to sex, without immediately taking it as being like an intentional exaggeration. Like, if I see a really cute plushie Axolotl online I’m like, “I need it!” I know that my use of the word need there is a gross exaggeration, but I’m intentionally exaggerating. And I know people who use “I have needs” for sex. I know they are never taking that as any sort of exaggeration. But every time I hear it, that is how my brain takes it, because I cannot relate on any level. But also, girl. What are you talking about? “A girl has needs.” You have been married to this man for 10 years and you have admitted that you have never had sex in those 10 years with your husband. So again that goes back to like, is that implying that House was right, and she’s actually not happy in this marriage? Or is it implying that she’s been cheating on him? Because she’s like “a girl has any needs.”
Royce: I mean, potentially. House himself threw that option out.
Courtney: Yeah. There’s– there’s a lot. Just, there’s a lot going on with this episode. So we’ve got one last little scene here that I’m going to recap before we discuss the real tangible harm that representation like this actually causes. Wilson walks into House’s office and says MRI confirmed macro prolactinoma, he’s doing the treatment. House, not surprised, says, “And the wife?” To which Wilson just takes out his wallet and hands House a hundred dollar bill. Wilson, of course, looks a little bit disappointed. He’s not super happy in the way things played out and House senses this and says, “Oh come on, you saved a man’s life and course-corrected two people’s wildly screwed-up world views.” As he takes out two cigars, and lights the hundred dollar bill on fire.
Courtney: “Wildly screwed-up world views…” that is so despicable to say about a sexual orientation. It is beyond me how this actually made it to television. I– Well, scratch that. I’d like to say that I’m surprised, but a lot of this is very true to life unfortunately. Wilson can’t help himself and says, “You know what? I do think they were happy, even if it was all based on lies.” And House being cynical as ever says, “Yeah. Well, most happiness is based on lies.” But then he says, “Better to have shtupped and lost, than never to have shtupped at all.” And I just can’t with that line. Because the way Wilson said his last line, “I think they were happy.” Really is of an air that they are not going to be happy anymore or there’s a chance they might not be, or that things are at least going to be rocky at this point. And so for this to be House’s response… shtupped means the having sex. So “shtupped and lost.” Is he implying by this, or it’s past implication, he is outright saying, it is better to have sex and lose a happy ten year marriage than it is to have not had sex at all. Right? Like that– That’s not even– that’s not even a subtle implication. He is– He’s just literally saying that. That’s his words. It still baffles me how bad it is, how horrendous it is. And that just ends with them, I mean, House burns the hundred dollar bill, uses it to light these two big cigars, passes the other one to Wilson, and they both just kick their feet up on the table and start smoking these cigars. And even Wilson, who was at least trying to pretend like he was against this the whole time as like, “Yeah. This is disgustingly satisfying.” Gross, gross. Gross. I– 8.76 million people in the US watched that episode air on the night it premiered.
Royce: So that’s not taking into account reruns, DVD sales, streaming later on. All of that.
Courtney: Yeah. Did it make it to Netflix? I’m sure House probably is on some Netflix, Hulu, something. Doesn’t include anything like that.
Royce: Or people in other countries.
Courtney: Other countries. 8.76 million… And the interesting thing was– I wanted to know how many people saw this episode when it aired, and with shows that are this popular on network television, where they were tracking those metrics and all, you can often find just a table on the Wikipedia page. And that’s exactly what I did. And when I compared this episode to all of the other ones that aired this season, this episode had more viewers than the series finale did. Because this was season 8, this was the last season of the show. And they knew it was going to be the last season because that was the end of Hugh Laurie’s contract, and he did not want to renew it. But the series finale of this entire show, only 8.72 million watched, and the several episodes before that are actually dipping down into the low six millions or even five millions. The only episode this season– the only one that had more viewers than this episode was the series premiere. The very first episode of this season had 9.78 million.
Royce: The season premiere.
Courtney: Oh, did I say series? Yeah, the season premiere. Other than that this was the second most viewed episode of this season on its premiere date. And me, who was Asexual, knew that I was, already understood what that term meant, this was my very first time ever seeing Asexuality portrayed in the media. The very first time. So that makes me wonder how many of these nearly 9 million people who watched it on that premiere, was that also their very first exposure to Asexuality as the concept of an orientation. Had to be a good chunk. It’s just so wildly upsetting. Because of how many of those people since this was, you know, network television 10 years ago, how many people still to this day have not seen anything other than this show when it comes to Asexuality? That also has to be a good chunk, because let’s think about the other shows where there are asexual characters, whether it’s good or bad, there are still not a lot. And the two I’m thinking right off the bat are Netflix. Like Sex Education had that one horrible throwaway character. We did an entire episode about how we didn’t care for that representation. But then we have BoJack Horseman, which was actually a really, really, really good asexual character, but both of those are Netflix. Those are a little more recent.
Royce: They cater to a different demographic.
Courtney: Absolutely. And this is very much a situation. Because when I talk about what is good representation, or bad representation, I’m not even talking about my own personal preference. I’m not even talking about, you know, is the character a good character. I’m talking about: does this actually represent the orientation correctly and favorably? And I want to make that very clear because I’ve actually had some people sort of misunderstand what I’ve said in the past. We’re like, “Oh, not every Ace character has to be good. And perfect and wholesome.” That– that’s not what I’m talking about. I am all for the flawed characters. I am for villains who are Asexual. And I often love villains sometimes more than the heroes, because their writing can be a lot more creative in some instances. I’m just talking about: is someone watching this actually going to understand what asexuality is and is not? And does it do a net positive for advancing understanding of the orientation? And this is so far in the wrong direction that I would rather this show didn’t touch Asexuality at all. I would rather no-representation than representation this bad.
Courtney: And the reason why we talk about representation, the reason why it is so important, is because it does have real tangible effects on society and the quality of life for Asexual people. And how easy or difficult it is for us to be openly ourselves in this, often, very hyper-sexualized society that we are living in, in modern day. And we still, to this day, far too frequently, get dismissed as not a real orientation. “Something is wrong with you.” Even some actual medical professionals still do not recognize Asexuality as an orientation, and that can lead to severe harm when Asexuality is treated as a symptom or something to be fixed, in psychiatric medical situations at its worst this can actually lead to many asexual people being offered or undergoing conversion therapy, and I don’t use that word lightly.
Courtney: There are plenty of gay and lesbian people online who will argue that Asexuals are not oppressed because we don’t have to suffer things like murderous hate crimes or conversion therapy. But there are a couple of different forms that conversion therapy can take, and I think most people’s first idea or understand of conversion therapy is the very religious connotation where there are, you know, the nefarious camps that are set up by churches or other religious organizations. Those are, don’t get me wrong, horrendous. But there’s also the lesser discussed medical and psychiatric conversion therapy. Because at its core it is a therapy meant to change someone’s orientation. And to look at a case of, “Oh, here’s an Asexual person, but a doctor is trying to medically treat them.” To say that that is not a type of conversion therapy is to dismiss the fact that Asexuality is an orientation, and we see it far too often.
Courtney: And in fact, according to Stonewall UK, asexual people are ten times more likely to experience or be offered conversion therapy. Ten times. That is really sick. And it’s even worse when nobody believes us. When there are people online who will attack us and say that this is not an issue that we’re facing. When the studies show that it is actually more likely for us to experience this. The closest I can come in memory, thinking, I mean, I haven’t seen the worst of it personally, do not get me wrong, I know other Aces who do and have. But the closest I’ve come are those damn Facebook ads, which is very passive, but it’s still very predatory. I don’t much like it. I haven’t had a medical professional try to treat me in the most sinister sense.
Royce: Or a close friend or family member tried to push you in that direction.
Courtney: Also that, yes, it’s another important factor to consider here, which– there could have been a time where, had I come out to the wrong person at the wrong time, I absolutely believe it could have happened, because I know how messed up the medical and psychological systems are. In fact with my strange amalgamation of maladies, I was sort of under the table diagnosed with OCD when I was much younger, but I outright had my psychiatrist tell me, “You have textbook OCD. I want you to remember that in case you need treatment for this later. But I am not going to put this in your charts, because I know that you are actually dealing with physical illness that has not yet been diagnosed, and that this is a real concern and I do not want your other doctors to see this diagnosis of OCD and use that as an excuse to disregard your physical symptoms.” She outright told me that a psychiatric diagnosis like that could hinder getting answers and treatment for my physical symptoms. And that’s just one example of exactly how messed up the system is and can be.
Courtney: So imagine if at that age I wanted to, or felt comfortable doing, or if I was just talking to my psychologist in therapy about Asexuality, that could have thrown a major wrench in things. Because I already had doctors tiptoeing around certain symptoms before we had our answers. So, it is not too far of a stretch for me to see a world where things could have gone sideways. But yeah, that’s– that’s why this episode broke my heart, because I had such a complicated medical history and I just dreamed of finding my Doctor House, who would be able to figure out what was wrong with me, and treat me. And to really be confronted so directly with the fact that even a genius diagnostician who’s always going to have the right answer will still be disregarding essential parts of myself, it was beyond devastating.
Courtney: And if you are a regular listener of our podcast, then you have no doubt heard us talk about the intersections of Asexuality and Disability, which are often complicated by the fact that people see Asexuality as a medical condition. Because that’s what leads to the whole run around of asexual people trying to distance themselves from people who are sick, people who are Disabled. Because they don’t want anyone to be able to see an in that they can take to discredit the entire orientation. And it’s because of horrible representation like this. So if you have not listened to those episodes of ours, please do listen to those next, because that will just give you a broader understanding of the full scope of these issues.
Courtney: But now I want to talk just a little bit, since we’ve recapped the episode, talked about some of the– some of the harm that’s caused. I want to come back to the writer of this script. Her name is Kath Lingenfelter. And as well you can imagine, there were a lot of asexual people who saw this air and were not quite pleased with it. So there were multiple people who were reaching out to the writer, and some of her responses were also just not quite there. I’m going to read this statement, and I pulled this off of an AVEN Message Board. That’s asexuality.org.
Courtney: This is the statement to a member of the Asexual community directly, and I quote: “I am trying to communicate with several of the people in the Asexual community who were displeased. So forgive me if I repeat myself. I did a lot of research on Asexuality for the episode. My original intent was to introduce it and legitimize it, because I was struck by the response most of you experience, which is similar to the prejudice the Homosexual community has received. People hear you’re Asexual and immediately think “What’s wrong with you? How do I fix you?” I wanted to write against that. Unfortunately, we are a medical mystery show. Time and again, my notes came back that House needed to solve a mystery and not be wrong. So in this case, with these patients, it was a tumor near the pituitary. But I hoped I could, now it seems unsuccessfully, introduce Asexuality to the general public and get them asking questions. All they need to do is one google search and they can see for themselves it’s a real community of great people. Originally part of my dialogue included thoughts about whether as a species we’ve grown past sex. Anytime we tackle a subject, we risk the possibility of not doing it justice. I apologize that you feel I did you a disservice. It was not my intent.”
Royce: So there’s the standard non-apology at the end.
Courtney: Yeah, “I’m sorry, you feel that way.”
Royce: Also anytime you are explaining a subject, you can’t expect your listeners to do extra work. Because most of those nearly 9 million people did not go google Asexuality, I guarantee it.
Courtney: Yeah. No, I mean a lot of these people probably already came with either no knowledge of Asexuality or a bias against it. This could have just reconfirmed people’s preconceived prejudice.
Royce: Plus, why would the average watcher even go look for it anyway? House gave them the answer. He solved the mystery.
Courtney: He solved the mystery. Exactly. So that is just– And yeah, the “unfortunately, we’re a medical mystery show.” All right, so there are two options there. Either you don’t touch Asexuality, because if your higher-ups are saying the only reason we’re going to talk about this is if you cure it, then scrap it! Take it away. Representation this bad is worse than no representation. You are doing harm. Or, okay, let’s see. I haven’t thought about this ahead of time, but I’m going to think about this now. How can we write about Asexuality in a medical mystery, in a way that House gets to solve the answer but Asexuality is well-represented?
Royce: Well, you mentioned before that oftentimes the best way to think about things is to put another community in place, and House could have talked about Homosexuality by just having a patient who was gay. If there were just two women who are married who showed up– Wait. This was 2012. Guess it depends on the state.
Courtney: I think House had– well, oh, yeah. For marriage laws.
Royce: But I mean, that would have been timely.
Courtney: I think there were a lesbian character on House if I recall.
Royce: Right, but that wasn’t the issue that was trying to be cured. There is an actual medical situation.
Courtney: I’ve got it. I’ve got it. Here’s what we do. So, I mean we think about the House formula. It’s usually House’s like, “There is a simple answer and this is clearly it.” And the treatment does something unexpected, and like the victim or the patient crashes. And everyone’s like, “Then your first answer wasn’t the right thing.” Imagine, if this is an Asexual person who’s having a medical emergency and House’s like, “Asexuality is not a real thing. So that is a symptom.” This lack of libido, this erectile dysfunction, what-have-you, this is a symptom. And he uses that as a symptom in his first initial solving of the case and then it all goes wrong. That was not the right diagnosis. Things are escalating and then he has to come to terms with the fact that this is, in fact, just in orientation. The low libido was not a symptom and that put him completely on the wrong track. And once he realizes that he’s able to solve the case.
Royce: And the way that this could escalate could be like the warning paragraph at the end of the Viagra commercials.
Courtney: [laughs] I’m serious. I think we just came up with a much better medical mystery episode, and we are not professional writers, and I did not sit down to think about the script too long. But we are actually Asexual, so we know what needs to happen for good representation. What baffles me–
Royce: And apparently better comedy because allos love erection jokes.
Courtney: They do. They really do. So this is why– because I am not saying that everyone who writes about Asexuality has to be Asexual, because I don’t think that’s true. But does there need to be an Asexual in the room? Does there need to be an Asexual supervising? Yes, you need, like, at least a sensitivity writer. Preferably a few. You need to run this by that demographic of people that you’re trying to represent before this goes live. Because it doesn’t help that this person is saying, “Well, I wanted to do this well, because I actually do respect you, and I was struck by the issues you face, and this surprised me, and I want more people to know about that.” If that’s actually your intent and your superiors are not letting it happen, I can understand bureaucracy, I can understand if your hands are tied and you can’t write the episode exactly what you want, but please just scrap the idea altogether. Wait until you’re writing for a different show or get creative and find a way around it that actually pleases everybody.
Courtney: So that, dear listeners, is the saga of the House episode that broke my heart. Moral of the story is hire asexual writers. Hire asexual actors. Hire asexual sensitivity readers. And if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.