A teenage girl on the autism spectrum tells her girlfriend, who is also on the autism spectrum, that she realized she actually isn’t sexually attracted to women. Although this might end the relationship for many couples, the particular couple ends up continuing on — and even getting engaged — because the other half comes out as asexual and is comfortable with her partner having sex with men outside of their relationship.
To be more specific, that second young woman in question identifies as a homo-romantic asexual. She is Drea (Lillian Carrier) on Freeform’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” and she is the only regular, live-action character on television right now representing the “A” in the LGBTQIA+ community, according to GLAAD’s 2020 “Where We Are On TV” report. (When that reported was published the character and the show details were not named since the storyline had not yet aired.)
“Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” creator, showrunner and star Josh Thomas tells Variety he was inspired to include asexuality in his show, in part because “if you’re telling a show about autism, asexuality is really common with autistic people.” Additionally, he wanted to break down the stereotypical and often unrealistic expectations put on relationships of storytelling’s past.
“The view of what we expect from our partner is so often not based in reality,” he says. “Expecting these lifetime, monogamous relationships where, if somebody sleeps with somebody else, that’s the ultimate betrayal, has failed so many times. I just think creating relationships that work more specifically for the individual than what the Bible said is really cool, and the fact that they have these labels helps explain. These two would have just given up on each other and actually they’ve got some really special things to offer each other. And that’s really beautiful.”
Thomas did his own research on asexuality before embarking on crafting the story, to see what he wanted to say about it and how, and then he drafted his script and sent it to writer Mary Kate McAlpine, who served as a consultant to the show, connected through GLAAD’s Nick Adams.
McAlpine notes that the “main thing” they wanted to make sure “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” didn’t do was imply that all autistic people are asexual and vice versa. But, they say, it turned out they didn’t have to worry about that because, by virtue of how the show works, Drea’s girlfriend “Matilda is sitting right next to Drea most of the time, and she is autistic and clearly not asexual.”
McAlpine gave notes on the script, which featured a scene in which Drea explains what asexuality is to Thomas’ character Nicholas. Although Thomas admits he doesn’t usually like to have to explain things to his audience, “it’s [rarely] been done on TV people, we actually needed to spend a few minutes explaining what this is so that people can go further with the journey.” But, he adds, it’s a short explanation because, “the more I read [in my research], the more I was like, ‘Well there is nothing really to say, there’s just some people who aren’t interested in sex and that’s that.’ It’s so straightforward.”
Although “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” is the only current series to feature an asexual character, if you expand the landscape view to include Netflix’s “Sex Education” and the animated landscape, a couple more characters come into view. Recently, asexual characters were also featured in such series as “Shadowhunters, “BoJack Horseman” and “Steven Universe” but those have concluded their runs.
“So many stories rely on ‘sex sells’: the main character has to have a love interest, there’s got to be a love triangle, so when they’re given an asexual character, they’re not really sure what to do with that character,” McAlpine says.
But, McAlpine continues, so many other dramatic tensions can come into relationships when one or both parties is asexual — and, even if a character is asexual, that does not mean sex has to be entirely off the table. “I think that’s another thing that a lot of people don’t understand. Asexual people have sex for lots of different reasons: there can be practical ones like, ‘I want to have a baby and this is the cheapest way to do it,’ or they’re in love with their partner and they want to show it in that particular way,” they explain.
Being able to count the number of asexual characters on television on one hand is not a strong showing of representation in a time when the importance of seeing one’s self reflected on-screen, and having one’s voice heard behind-the-scenes, has become such an important topic of conversation. But, it is still an improvement from the recent past when asexuality was depicted irresponsibly (McAlpine points to the 2012 episode of “House” entitled “Better Half” as one deemed problematic within the community), or just not self-identifying (some viewers of CBS’ long-running sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” have speculated that the lead character of Sheldon Cooper was both autistic and asexual).
“It’s getting better more quickly than I could have imagined back in 2016 when I came out to myself, but it’s still somewhat slow going,” McAlpine says. “Something that I am very passionate about is, ‘Just say the words — just say asexual, say autistic. Just say the words out loud.’ Because that keeps it from being just a headcanon that can be dismissed or just something that’s implied. If they don’t call it out, it’s easy for them to not take responsibility for making a positive representation. But, once you name it, then you can talk about it.”