Within mainstream media, asexual people are used to feeling invisible.
Most films, books and television shows, regardless of their genre, tend to center romantic stories, which means people on the asexual-aromantic spectrum settle for whatever they can get.
Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” for example, has been noted by some to have asexual representation.
Asexuality is more than just a lack of attraction or romance, however. To be asexual is to feel isolated, to feel like you’re missing out on something that society regards so highly. Like any other marginalized identity, LGBTQ+ or otherwise, the asexual experience includes nuanced experiences outside of its definition.
Many of the nuances of being asexual are accurately captured in season two of “Heartstopper,” which was released on Netflix last week.
Based on a webcomic by Alice Oseman, the binge-worthy Netflix original series follows a queer friend group as they navigate through struggles such as coming out, being trans and eating disorders. The first season revolves around romantic stories, but the second season brings an asexual plot into the spotlight.
In season one, we don’t know much about Isaac, except that he’s a good friend and addicted to reading. It’s hinted that he might be LGBTQ+ based on the books he reads.
In season two, it is slowly revealed that Isaac is asexual.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel when I have a crush… I thought I might feel that way about you, but then we kissed, and I just knew I didn’t. I think there might be something wrong with me,” he says.
Many aromantic and asexual people are all too familiar with this nagging feeling, “Am I broken?”
Romance is so prevalent in every part of our culture that lacking an interest in it can make you feel like something is deeply wrong with you. This scene also captures the consequences of underrepresentation: many asexuals are unable to find the words to describe their identity.
“There’s nothing wrong with you. You probably just haven’t found the right person yet,” Isaac’s crush responds. This is a line that asexuals have likely heard before.
It’s never just, “It’s okay if you’re not attracted to anyone,” it has to be, “you’ll find someone eventually,” the implication being that there is something wrong with you if you’re not attracted to anyone.
“Heartstopper” encapsulates the ways that ace people often feel chipped away at, day after day, when so much of our world puts romance on a pedestal.
Creator Alice Oseman also identifies as aromantic and asexual. The successes of Isaac’s “Heartstopper” plot underline the importance of having people off-screen who have similar backgrounds as the characters on-screen.
After a series of negative experiences, this subplot culminates with Isaac meeting an aromantic asexual artist and being inspired to read a book about asexuality from the school library.
This is just the beginning of Isaac’s arc of self-discovery, and with a third season of “Heartstopper” already confirmed, aromantic and asexual fans can look forward to what’s in store for him next.