Tonight’s Last night’s The latest episode of House was damaging for many, many reasons.
Certainly I’m disappointed that 2 asexual-identifying characters on a major television show ultimately are supposedly “proven” to not be asexual but that is by far not my biggest complaint (though I’ll address it later in this post). My biggest concern is not the terrible publicity this causes for the asexual community because of more misinformation being spread but rather the negative impact it will have on aces seeking (or not seeking) medical attention when there are things that are actually wrong with them.
Problem 1) It reinforces the idea that asexuals can and should be “cured” of their asexuality
Aces already have a hard enough time being able to be out to their Doctor because a reaction like Wilson had to his patient coming out as asexual is nearly “best case scenario” already. Instead we already expect to be put through a battery of tests (or ANOTHER battery of tests if the first tests came out normal… or the first two test… or the tests that the last doctor ran were normal but maybe this doctor will want to run them all again “just to be sure”) so the doctor can figure out what’s “wrong” with us that makes us asexual and try to “cure” us.
For many people that’s a daunting prospect, not only are people constantly trying to convince us there’s something wrong with us but then, what if a doctor does find something? Is it going to change my orientation? Is it going to change everything I feel and everything I believe about myself? We don’t constantly drill this fear in to people of other orientations (or at least reasonable people don’t, certainly there are still plenty of people preaching that homosexuality is caused by psychological or physical problems but they don’t really have the credibility they used to. All this achieves is shaming people of minority orientations who actually do have a psychological or medical problem because if they come out as having a problem in addition to being a sexual minority then they’re contributing to that stereotype so they may try to hide one quality or the other, neither of which is a healthy element to try and ignore).
Imagine for a moment that people were constantly telling you that despite being happy with yourself that your orientation was caused by a psychological or physical problem – rather than making you want to go look in to getting yourself “fixed” it would probably eventually give you a complex, make you afraid that people were right. Telling people who are happy with themselves that if they go to a doctor they will be “fixed” actually makes the idea of seeking help (for any problem) kind of terrifying and may prevent them from seeking help for something else in their life for fear that their care provider will ignore your actual problems in favor of trying to “fix” something that isn’t “wrong” with them. (I’ve heard plenty of accounts of aces and kinky and poly people going to helping professionals to seek help for something that was actually bothering them only to have the helping professional fixate on some aspect of their life that they didn’t approve of or didn’t understand, ignoring the problems the patient actually came to get help for). All this episode does is turn every friend, family member, and dip-shit doctor into a mini-House who will surely find out what’s wrong with us if they are just skeptical enough, if they just look hard enough for the real thing that has us so broken! Because we all needed fewer supportive people in our lives…
Problem 2) It associates hormone imbalances and erectile difficulties with asexuality
The asexual patient in this episode apparently also had erectile difficulties caused by a tumor pressing on the pituitary gland that caused hormone imbalances. I think I should point out that orientation is not about sex drive or sexual functioning. A person is not asexual *because* they have erectile difficulties or because they have a low or non-existent sex drive. Sexual Orientation is about who you’re attracted to, who you’re interested in having sex with. Plenty of people with no erectile difficulties don’t walk around wanting to put their penis in everything just because it gets hard (notice for example the huge number of men who seem to be able to suppress their surely great desire to have sex with other men…) . Now, it’s true that when you have a hormone imbalance or low levels of arousal that this can be interpreted by the person as not being attracted to anyone but they are not the same thing (they exist independently of each other, you can have attraction and no erection difficulties, you can have no attraction and no erection difficulties or you can have no attraction and erection difficulties). There’s a whole market of pills, pumps and creams for people who have erection difficulties and still have attraction and want to have sex! If you have erection difficulties that is what you need to tell your doctor about, that is what you need to look in to correcting. The majority of asexuals have functioning genitals, you shouldn’t be afraid that this is going to change your orientation.
Difficulties with erections – including achieving OR maintaining an erection- can be symptoms of a more serious problem such as high cholesterol, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, hormone imbalances, and more. Orientation is not related to whether or not your genitals work! If your genitals don’t work the way they are supposed to that’s actually a problem (even if you don’t plan to use them for intercourse). If you have a penis and you’re not getting morning/overnight erections, if you’re not occasionally experiencing erections you should mention that to your doctor (there are things that cause this which you don’t have to be super freaked out about, it could be because you smoke, or an expected side effect to a medication you’re taking) but you need to tell your doctor. Having these kinds of problems addressed is not (necessarily) going to change your orientation. And if you feel like you want or need to change your labels after a period of time THAT’S OKAY. There are many things that can happen which cause a person to re-evaluate the labels they feel are best suited to them. I know many people who have changed the labels they have used over time and, really, it’s okay. We shouldn’t be shaming people for trying out new labels or for conceptualizing themselves in a new way. And honestly, I know it’s upsetting to think that you’re falling in to someone’s “I told you so” but for every person who decides to no longer identify as ace for whatever reason I bet 3 more start using the label because it’s right for them at that time. We aren’t shaming them for changing their label from heterosexual or homosexual to asexual, and we shouldn’t be shaming people for changing in the other direction.
I haven’t seen a study on associations between erectile difficulties and men who identify as asexual (and if anyone has seen one please send it my way) but I have seen studies of arousal levels and women who identify as asexual and the women who identified as asexual had the same arousal capacity as women of other orientations (ie they were all over the map just the way you’d expect for other orientations). Similarly I haven’t seen any study showing that aces are more likely to suffer from hormone imbalances. In fact I’d go so far as to say that aces are more likely to have actually had their hormones checked than the general population.
Being asexual is not about not being capable of having intercourse (though of course some aren’t capable, just like some people of other orientations aren’t capable). Asexual as an orientation is about who you’re interested in having sex with (generally even people who are incapable of having traditional intercourse, if they are of another orientation, are still interested in having sex or sexual contact with people they are sexually attracted to, regardless of capacity – there are exceptions). The idea that as soon as this guy is able to keep an erection he’s also going to start experiencing sexual attraction is kind of a stretch, I think. In fact some of his comments make me think he may be categorized as a repulsed asexual, the idea that he’s just going to “get over” those feelings is absurd. Frankly, the only way the writers at House could redeem themselves is if the couple make a cameo in a later episode because her husband is still asexual.
Problem 3) Clearly only “fugly” people who identify as asexual are ACTUALLY asexual. Young good looking people who identify as asexual actually just have medical problems or are apparently chronic liars.
House didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the woman was sick, his first conclusion was actually that she was ugly. It wasn’t until he found out she was attractive and married that he made his bet. I can’t tell you how good that feels, Fox. But moving on… first of all you expect us to believe that this woman has pretended to be asexual for 10 years? And not just asexual but married to a man who sounds like a repulsed asexual and who thinks that being asexual is all about not functioning sexually? So she’s been hiding the fact that she’s probably been getting off for the last ten years? And then, on top of that, the woman LIES to Wilson? What reason would she have for saying that she’s not celibate, she’s asexual when no, really, she’s chosen to be celibate because her husband identifies as asexual and she’s more interested in having a relationship with him than she is in having intercourse? Also, it’s positively CHARMING that you think that we’re so in demand that non-aces are lying about being ace to be in relationships with us… but it’s usually the other way around. Ask enough aces and I’m sure you’ll find a lot of stories of years spent in the closet, pretending to be heterosexual or homosexual to try and make a relationship work. Most of us have figured out by now that relationships built on lies about orientation don’t work so well.
Other great posts on this episode:
Megan Christopher of HollywoodJane’s post “Asexuality on House: You’re Doing It Wrong”
Swank Ivy’s Post “Add ‘Been Checked for a Tumor?’ to the Bingo Card”
From An Asexual Space “Stereotypical”
From Shades of Gray “On ‘Better Half’ — Gregory House is not Infallible“