GLAAD Report: Asexual Characters on TV 2023-2024

Last year we spotted some errors in the GLAAD Where We Are on TV report, so we thought we'd dig in this year's report to see if the numbers seem more accurate and analyze what it means for Asexual representation as whole.

Featured MarketplACE vendor of the week: Soleildiddle

Transcript

Courtney: Hello everyone and welcome back. My name is Courtney. I am here with my spouse, Royce, and together we are The Ace Couple. And some of you may recall that last year we did a deep dive into the asexual representation claims of GLAAD’s media report entitled When We Are On TV, because there were a lot of strange discrepancies in that. For example, one press release said there were eight asexual characters, another press release said there were only six asexual characters, and yet in the report only four characters were actually named and stated as being asexual. And yet, two of them were absolutely not even asexual and we have no idea how they got that claim. And we had to take so many little bits and pieces from other areas of the report to try to figure out who they were considering asexual. And what number did we ultimately land on as we thought actually qualified as asexual characters on TV? Was it five?

Royce: I think it was three.

Courtney: Oh, even worse.

Royce: I think the eight was erroneous. The report itself actually said six. The sort of press release around the report said eight.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: But then when we looked into it, it was: Cash, from season one of Heartbreak High;

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: Abbi Singh, from The Imperfects; and Elijah, from Big Mouth.

Courtney: Correct, that’s right. That’s right. Because they for some reason counted Glen and Glenda from SyFy’s Chucky, Which– when we read the report, we had never watched Chucky, so we scrambled immediately to watch that, and they were only in season two of that series.

Royce: And their orientation was never a factor.

Courtney: No. They were openly…

Royce: Non-binary.

Courtney: Non-binary. I don’t think they used a word more specific like agender or anything, but they both used they/them pronouns. That was something that was very heavily established. Conversations about respecting people’s pronouns happened in and around their vicinity. And it was a shockingly good TV show. Like, I’m not mad that we ended up watching it. But there was never an established orientation, nor was there really anything especially hinted at with them. I didn’t even get like notable ace vibes. They weren’t really put in a situation where they would be out, like, outright refusing sexual advances or anything like that. And we kind of made the claim that just an omission of sexuality in a character’s plotline should not be assumptive asexuality. There needs to be some kind of confirmation there, and there wasn’t in that show.

Royce: Yeah, I think the closest they got, because their parents, particularly their mother, I think, was overtly allosexual in a few– in a few cases. And there may have been a conversation or two about how, like, like, “I’m not interested in family stuff,” like, “I don’t want to hear about whatever’s going on with your life,” sort of a thing. But even that, it was vague.

Courtney: No. And oddly enough, the allosexual mother was the one who had a really comedic moment where several people were simultaneously, like, coming on to her sexually when she had other things to do. So she was trying to, like, you know, crawl between their legs and get out of it and leave the room only to find someone else coming on to her. And that’s a really comedic thing that, with sensitive writing, I would not at all mind seeing an asexual character put in a situation like that. But it wasn’t even an ace character this time. This was just an allo who had another business that day.

Royce: Yeah, the other potentially– The other aspect of that where we were being critical was this family spends most of their time in the bodies of dolls. With Chucky himself being a human murderer who put his soul into a doll to avoid the police, to start this entire franchise.

Courtney: Might I just add, just as an aside, since we’re very critical of teenage sex shows because it has become a trope where casts involving adults play teenagers, and the teenagers are incredibly hypersexual, and then they throw in just, like, one token ace character and it can sometimes be a very difficult show for certain aces on the spectrum to watch. So it’s not necessarily enjoyable representation for all of us. Can I just say that Chucky does a really good job of doing queer teenagers on TV? Why? Why– why Chucky of all things? Why is it so good? We have teenagers who actually look like teenagers–

Royce: Because they are actually teenagers.

Courtney: Because they are actually teenagers. We have a gay teenage couple who we see their evolving relationship, we see how adults around them treat them. There’s a moment where they have a very supportive adult in their life who’s like trying to have the talk with them, and so you get the, you know, embarrassing teenager, the talk plotline with them. And then you kind of have, like, an actual moment of their first time, but they don’t show so much that I’m uncomfortable watching teenagers do this. I think it’s done really, really well. And then nobody can criticize it for saying, like, “Oh, they have a gay couple who aren’t having sex.” Because I know people have those criticisms, I’ve heard that criticism against Heartstopper even, of all things, written by, you know, famously an aroace person. And they’ve even hinted at in the most recent series that their relationship is heading in that direction. So I just think it’s incredibly well done.

Courtney: And the thing is, like, yeah, they are in a relationship. There are– there are queer people in this show, there were non-binary people in this show, gay people in this show, and you can see their relationships and you can see their dynamics with other people. But there’s also more interesting things happening. Like, there’s, you know, the killer doll. There’s kids going missing. There’s all of these sort of horror tropes. And I just really like that. Because I feel like a lot of shows these days rely on relationships themselves being the plot, and I know some people like that, but I really I want something else right alongside the relationship that is just as, if not more, interesting. So kudos to Chucky for that! I guess a soft thank you to GLAAD for making us watch that, [laughs] but for all the wrong reasons.

Royce: Yeah, the criticism I was getting into was: did they just label an entity who was born non-human, born as a doll, asexual by virtue of that?

Courtney: Yeah, which would be strange. And trying to google that character/those characters and the word asexual, I was wondering, is this like a really big fan theory thing? Was this confirmed off screen at some point? And it– it did not seem to be the case when we searched this last year. So that was strange.

Courtney: And then the final character which we criticized was Fei Hargreeves, from the Umbrella Academy, who was the character with the bird powers in the alternate timeline. And literally the only thing we could see was the actor playing Fei on an Instagram story – you know, the little slideshows that are only up for 24 hours tops – just saying “Def played Fei as an ace. Wasn’t written in the character description, but it felt right.” And that’s... That doesn’t count. It doesn’t count! It doesn’t count. That’s not a thing. It should have never counted. I don’t know how it got into the report. So our assertion was there were three ace characters on TV. GLAAD said there were six or eight. For some reason.

Courtney: This year’s looks better. Doing a quick skim before we hopped on microphone. I didn’t take umbrage with any of the characters that they were overtly saying are ace. So we’re going to break it down and give credit where it’s due. And in case any of you want to see the report for yourself, of course we will put a link in the show notes. But just a brief rundown of the methodology they are setting out to quantitatively assess the regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on first run and original scripted series. And that includes: cable television, primetime scripted original series, etc. But they also count streaming services, which as of now include: Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, MAX, Paramount+ and Peacock. And it also says, which I think is really interesting and more to our point from last year’s: [reading] “Characters’ sexual orientations are determined based on the specific label a character uses on screen.” And if that’s the case, then Cash shouldn’t have counted last year, because they did not actually say asexual for Cash.

Royce: During season one.

Courtney: During season one.

Royce: That’s right.

Courtney: And I think they gave enough context that I’m not super mad about it. I think it was pretty obvious what they were hinting at without saying the word. But they did drop the word in the second season, albeit in kind of a bigoted situation, coming not from Cash himself but from someone accusing Cash of not being a good partner. But that’s a whole other thing that we’re also going to talk about very soon. But for as much as we watched the first season and said, “Yeah, Cash clearly is asexual.” I’m comfortable labeling him asexual, even though he didn’t say the word.

Courtney: That isn’t always enough for the average viewer, because a surprisingly high percentage of people who come to our website, that we can just see from our google search console results, are people asking if Cash is asexual. Like, they’ll go to Google and say: “Is Cash from Heartbreak High asexual?” And find our script from that episode, and end up coming to our website that way. So there are lots of people who are google searching to see if that’s the case, because the word was not used. So that really should tell, like, what the power is in actually using the word. But if that’s their methodology, then last year should have only been two asexual characters. So, based on their 2023 to ’24 season report: 91.4% of characters are non-LGBTQ, 8.6% are. According to their sexual orientation breakdown of total LGBTQ characters only 1%, or 4 characters total, are asexual. That is the lowest percentage.

Royce: So is that 1% of all characters in TV, or 1% of queer characters in TV?

Courtney: Of queer characters, because that’s a breakdown of the queer characters.

Royce: Okay. So whereas we’re seeing in the population as a whole, 1% of people in general being asexual is kind of the old number. We’ve seen a more recent study that has said 1.7. But in media we’re seeing 1% of 8.6%, of all characters in media.

Courtney: And it is interesting when they take all of the queer characters and do charts based on them alone. Because not only can we see that asexual is the lowest percentage, lower even than “Queer yet sexual orientation undetermined,” because that’s sitting at 2%.

Courtney: We can also see, like, racial breakdown of total LGBTQ characters, where 46% are white. We can also see that of the gender breakdown, 48% are men, 47% are women, and only 5% non-binary.

Courtney: So on the summary of their findings, we see there are once again zero asexual characters on scripted primetime broadcast this year. Yep, sounds about right. There were also zero asexual characters counted on cable. Under their summary of cable findings. However, this is the one discrepancy. It’s not a discrepancy from this year, but they’re carrying on incorrect data from the previous year. They say there are now zero asexual characters counted after two in the previous study, which that’s– That’s Glen and Glenda who, as of the recent season, are not in the show anymore, but just go by GiGi. There’s– It’s a very weird show, there– That/those characters are a lot, but I kind of love them.

Royce: And they didn’t appear at all in season three, I believe. Is that correct? I think they were mentioned by name once off screen.

Courtney: Yeah, just mentioned by name, but only in that one season. So then this is also interesting too, because in in their broadcast findings, where they say there are zero asexual characters on scripted primetime, they have their little chart, they don’t even put asexual in this chart, they just say: gay 38%, lesbian 31%, bisexual+ 19%, queer 8%, straight 2%, and sexual orientation undetermined 3%. Whereas on summary of cable findings they do put asexual on the chart and just say 0%.

Courtney: That’s so depressing. But then we go to streaming and good old Netflix. My goodness, if they didn’t count Netflix as TV, there would just– there would never be asexual characters ever. But their report states: [reading] “Four characters (one percent) counted are asexual, a steady number and percentage as last year. As was true last year, all four are on Netflix.” So let’s just try to see off the top of our head if we know who those are. So…

Royce: Well, the number is the same, but the characters themselves have shifted in and out from the last report, and one of them from the last report was erroneous.

Courtney: Yes, so we would have from this year, we’d have the new character, O from Sex Education. That would be a new one.

Royce: You have Cash returning.

Courtney: Yeah, and he– he would count because he was in the second season.

Royce: Included in this is Isaac from Heartstopper.

Courtney: Yep, Isaac from Heartstopper.

Royce: And the other one is also a continuation from the last report, Elijah from Big Mouth.

Courtney: Okay, so Elijah did count. I wasn’t sure when the cutoff was for seasons or when what aired.

Royce: Well, I guess– So, here’s the thing: in the one section that mentions asexual characters explicitly, O from Sex Education is mentioned by name. An asexual character is mentioned in Heartbreak High. They don’t list Cash by name, but that’s the character.

Courtney: That’s Cash.

Royce: They mention Isaac by name, and that’s it. So I did some searching and saw that Big Mouth was included in this report and that’s the only other named asexual character on Netflix that I was aware of. That they have previously counted. So unless there’s someone else…

Courtney: Well, Elijah was still in. There was a new season that came out around like October or something, because that was when we watched Big Mouth, and the new season had just dropped.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: And I think Elijah was in that season, so that would be him.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: That would count for this season, yes. So that’s it right there.

Royce: That’s the thing, it is not mentioned in the report that Big Mouth had an asexual character, nor is Elijah mentioned by name.

Courtney: So, yeah, we have already talked about all of those characters.

Royce: Interestingly enough, the next highest streaming service with queer characters is mentioned as Amazon Prime, and they do list Hazbin Hotel in their report, but not as asexual representation.

Courtney: I’m glad about that! I am. I would have the same issue if they counted Alastor as an ace character as I did with Fei Hargreeves being counted as an ace character in Umbrella Academy. Because you cannot, especially with their methodology, like, what was used on screen. Although, strangely enough, the ‘ace in the hole’ line, which I still think was more of an Easter egg for the hardcore fans who are in the know than on screen confirmation and representation for people new to this information. I think that would have been a little more to go off of than what they did go off of for Fei or GiGi, Glen and Glenda, so…

Royce: I agree. I agree with that. It is– It is more than basically nothing. [Courtney laughs] I mean, Glen and Glenda from Chucky had absolutely no indication, and, like you said, a post that was live from an actor for 24 hours that explicitly mentioned this wasn’t written into the character, but I felt it.

Courtney: And as an actor who is assum–, like, presumably not asexual, I still want to know what that means. What does it mean? “I played this character as an asexual.” I kind of want to know the answer, but I also kind of don’t. And I am still fully expecting that Elijah is never going to come back to Big Mouth again, and I’m going to be disappointed if that comes to be.

Royce: There’s one final season of Big Mouth coming, right?

Courtney: There’s one more season, yes, as far as I’ve heard. And if he just vanishes off of the show because he’s no longer in a relationship with the allosexual girl, I’m gonna be upset.

Royce: Well, predictions for next year: Sex Education is over, so that’s one character dropping off the list. [Courtney agrees] Presumably both Heartstopper and Heartbreak High will continue.

Courtney: I think so, and I would think those characters would stay around.

Royce: Yeah, they’re part of the main cast. And then I assume Elijah is not going to be in the last season. But we’ll see.

Courtney: I assume he’s gone. I assume he’s gone. Because Abbi Singh from The Imperfects was in the last year’s report, and that show got canceled after its first season, which is really upsetting, so. Because, yeah. Here’s an interesting one. They do talk about canceled series in their reports. And sexual orientation of LGBTQ characters on canceled series is still 1%.

Courtney: But this also kind of highlights another thing, because they count characters that are yet to be confirmed as a queer identity or shows that have yet to air but will air before the end of the 2024 season. And they just have, like, a press embargo on the information so they won’t name the character. And that’s why we were really digging into their report last year wondering, like, is the number eight or is the number six coming from a character that we don’t know about yet? Because it hasn’t released. Although that didn’t seem to be the case. But since they haven’t now inflated the number of asexual characters on this, I think that tells us there isn’t going to be another new ace character coming this season. At least not one that has been in contact with GLAAD. So that’s kind of a bummer.

Courtney: So, based on GLAAD’s numbers, there are fewer asexual characters than last year, but based on our numbers, there’s more…?

Royce: There’s actually one more, yes.

Courtney: One more! Not a lot more, but one more. And then other, just, demographic breakdown of our now four asexual characters: we have Sarah O, from Sex Education, who is a woman and Chinese, but then the other three are all men. They’re all boys. Which– that, right there, I need everyone to think about those numbers. Three fourths of the ace characters on TV are guys. And I want everyone to keep that number in mind every now and then when I do complain about people who are like, “Oh, thank goodness. Finally, we have an ace man on TV. Because that never happens.” It’s always the very first ace man on TV. So I know these numbers are super small. But we have Elijah, who is a Black ace teenage boy. But then we have two white ace teenage boys. And they’re all teenagers. All four of them are in high school.

Royce: Yep.

Courtney: I guess Elijah was kind of in middle school, just getting into high school. So on the young end of high school. And we have Cash, who is on the old end of high school. But four characters on TV, three of them are guys, half of them are white, and they’re all teenagers. Please, I beg, give us asexual adults. Please. And have we–? We haven’t even seen a non-binary ace on TV yet, have we? Which is strange, because in our demographic, in our community of asexual people, we have a higher percentage of folks identifying as non-binary than the overall population. I guess, if you count GiGi, but I don’t.

Royce: Yeah, I think that’s the case. I was just flipping through our past asexual representation episodes and I think, if we’re only looking at more mainstream pieces of media, that– that’s the case.

Courtney: Yeah, that is the case. So those are– Those are some gaps. Those are gaps to keep in mind. Those are things to hope for for the future and to look for.

Courtney: GLAAD also isolates representation in Spanish language programming, where once again: zero asexual characters in Spanish language programming. And they also talk representation in kids and family programming, which I think is interesting and important. Because so often we have been told of these shows whose core demographic are kids have an ace character. Like we got that with Owl House, and we’ve talked about our thoughts on that. We’ve heard that from other shows that we haven’t seen yet. Like, I don’t want to say wrong, is Steven Universe one of them also where the internet tells me there’s an ace character but once we watch it there probably isn’t going to be confirmed on screen?

Royce: I believe so, but I don’t think either of us have sat down to look at that for long enough.

Courtney: Right. But they do count Heartstopper as kids and family programming. So Isaac counts as an asexual character within this niche. I do wonder if or when they’re ever going to start counting aromantic characters. And, if they do, how that would change their methodology. Because as of now, even queer characters, they seem to be measuring specifically by sexual orientation, at least in their charts. Because we have– we have straight, for example. So I suppose that that could be like a trans character who’s straight. But they also have sexual orientation undetermined. So that could be a character who has, you know, some level of gender fluidity or non-binary identity, or trans, but their sexual orientation isn’t specified. But that seems to be sort of their baseline for these charts as they start to break it all out.

Courtney: But that could also then be theoretically an aromantic character who is portrayed as aromantic on screen, whose sexual orientation isn’t determined. But being as though we don’t have any characters like that on TV yet, we do not know how they would theoretically count a character like that. Since sexual orientation seems to be the baseline.

Courtney: In fact, the only mention of aromantic in the entire report is just in the glossary of terms under asexual, where their definition here, I think, leaves a lot to be desired. Now, I’m not going into that too much now, but it says: [reading] “An adjective used to describe people who do not experience sexual attraction (e.g., asexual person). A person can also be aromantic, meaning they do not experience romantic attraction. (For more information, visit asexuality.org.)”

Courtney: Which is interesting. Because that’s the only identity that they specifically say is an adjective. Because under bisexual they say it’s “a person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic and or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or those of another gender.” And bisexual umbrella or bisexual+ is “an encompassing term for people.” So is that weird? Is that weird that asexual is an adjective but a bisexual is a person? Oh, I guess I scrolled down further to the next page after that. And they do use queer as an adjective or transgender as an adjective, but–

Royce: Their glossary of terms is not written with a consistent prose.

Courtney: Yeah, that’s– that’s odd.

Royce: So I– I don’t think you can dig into that too much. There are just a few that are– the first sentence, and the way that it’s phrased, is written differently. It’s like some of them were written by different people or something.

Courtney: Which I suppose would make sense. They have several people who work on reports like this. But is it also weird that they don’t define gay?

Royce: Oh, I didn’t catch that. That’s– that’s interesting.

Courtney: Their glossary of terms include: asexual, bisexual, bisexual umbrella or bisexual+, gender expression, gender identity, latine, non-binary, queer, and transgender.

Royce: I feel like they probably should have done it just for completion’s sake.

Courtney: For completion and also for the future. Because, let’s consider aromantic identity, for example, what if we have a character who is gay and aromantic? Are they going to consider that character gay for a romantic orientation, or are they using what seems to be a baseline of sexual orientation for these labels?

Royce: Yeah, and then does that character end up being counted in both segments of the report? They end up getting counted as one or the other. But yeah, they– Given how this report is trying to tally things up, they should have defined both of the terms, gay and lesbian, because they’re used frequently throughout this report and that would give you an indication of how they are categorizing.

Courtney: Yeah, so that– that’s. That is interesting. That’s interesting to me.

Royce: Also, they listed bisexual and bisexual umbrella or bisexua+, but they do not have separate entries for asexual and asexual umbrella.

Courtney: Nope. Oh, did they–? Okay, actually, that’s a great question about being ace and gay. Do they count Cash as gay?

Royce: I don’t think I see Cash mentioned by name in this report.

Courtney: Hmm, I think in the future, if they continue doing this report, they are going to have to find a more nuanced way of quantifying things. Because let’s also consider straight. They have straight as an option here for queer characters, for their sexual orientation, but Elijah, for example, in Big Mouth, specifically said, “No, I like girls.” So he is asexual. But he also could be seen as straight. Some straight aces will say, “I am both straight and ace.” Some aces will just say, “I am just asexual and that’s it. I don’t identify as straight.” So that’s going to be on an individual basis. But I think both asexual and hopefully future aromantic representation on screen are both going to call into question their methodologies here. And they may need to figure that out by their next report. Because I assume, in a future season of Heartstopper, they’re going to actually mention and explore Isaac being aromantic. Only because Alice Oseman has said, like, “aroace vibes.” And I’m not mad about this report not saying that Isaac is aromantic, because he wasn’t in the most recent season, but I assume he’s going to be in the next.

Courtney: Worth noting as well is that GLAAD also released a Studio Responsibility Index 2023, which tracks the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ characters in theatrical film slates for major studios. Which they also claim: “Over the last decade, the percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive films grew by 50%, in large part due to GLAAD’s annual study, alongside work with studio leadership and creatives.”

Courtney: And the word asexual doesn’t come up even once in the report. They do kind of a similar thing: gay men, lesbians, bisexual+ characters, trans characters, queer characters, gender breakdown. And they kind of rate each individual studio, which I think is just a little fun to look at if you want to see this chart.

Courtney: And I don’t know. I mean– I suppose it’s mildly disheartening to see that they have all this data from movies, and they have an entire section of observations and recommendations for the film studios, and some of those recommendations are like: trans representation is still low, but it’s the highest it’s ever been; or bisexual representation is up, but it’s still far below the actual population. So they have all these recommendations like, “Hey, put more characters like this.” And never once do they say there are no asexual characters in film at a major studio. How about we get us one of those maybe?

Courtney: I really, really hope that’s going to get better soon as well. I know there are at least two feature-length films that are doing the film festival circuit right now. We’ve got Dear Luke, Love Me, which we have seen as backers. We’ve got Slow, which we have not yet seen but we hope to very soon. So there are at least independent filmmakers who are trying to bring some amount of asexual representation to the big screen, but it’s not happening at these major studios. And despite GLAAD’s assertion that they are a large part of the reason why these studios are including more queer characters, GLAAD does not seem to have told the studios to include ace characters, let alone aro characters. But for how modest, and meager, and breadcrumby table scrappy it might feel, I think it is at least a positive thing to keep in mind that if you are reading the GLAAD report and taking its word for it, it’s saying ace representation is down from last year by all these metrics, I think it’s technically up a little bit. I think we’re technically going up.

Royce: Yeah, it seems like if last year’s GLAAD report had followed their own methodology to the letter, it would have been three last year, four this year. [Courtney agrees] I think we agree with the four that they listed.

Courtney: Yes, I agree. So that’s good. I’m happy about that. I’m happy that their count makes sense to us this year. And I’m also happy that, even though you wouldn’t know this reading the report, we are getting– just very slowly and very incrementally, we are getting more ace rep in these places. Whether that will continue, though…? Unless we’ve got a couple of ace characters who are going to come out like at the beginning quarter of 2025 that we can’t even foresee at this point, it does kind of seem like that might go down next year. And that will be a bummer. And if that happens, we will be here to report on it.

Courtney: So, on that note, I am so pleased to feature this week’s marketplace vendor for Aro and Ace small businesses. We have a member of our community who is asexual aromantic named Pia. And Pia’s shop is called Soleildiddle, which is very fun to say. Pia is a Black and Filipino animator and storyboard artist, who is making cartoons. And you can check out her shop where she creates cute, fun, fan oriented merch as well as original content. Who very recently released a pilot episode on YouTube for a new show called Mugshot and Pollen. “Mugshot and Pollen are two 20-somethings on the run from– Wait, that’s not important. Look at their outfits! Oh my gosh, is that baseball?” If you want to know what that means, you’ll just have to go watch the show. We’ll put a link in the show notes, as always.

Courtney: But in Soleildiddle’s shop you can get some Mugshot and Pollen merch. You can even get the pilot art book. Or even just throw her a few dollars on Ko-fi, because independent animation is expensive, takes a lot of time. So please go give Soleildiddle some love.

Courtney: And let’s all hope, and pray, and put out into the universe, manifest, ask your local gnomes for more on-screen ace representation. I don’t know what else to say. We want more in volume. We want more in diversity. We want more in media type. And with that we will talk at y’all again next week. Goodbye.