I’ve been invited to submit a chapter about representing asexuality and I’m wondering if I should try and write something about the treatment of asexuality on House* (series 8 episode 9). I mean ‘treatment’ in two senses here, as the story about asexuality revolved around treating asexuality. I’ve not actually watched the full episode yet but this clip seems to give the gist of it:
There are other potential topics for me to engage with in this chapter. But I’m a bit hesitant about making the leap from blogging about TV and film to actually trying to write a book chapter about them. Many of the other characters invoked as asexual are either unfamiliar to me and/or rather ambiguous from my point of view. I considered trying to write something about Franky from Skins but I never watched the show closely enough to be entirely confident about her representation:
As far as I can remember, this was portrayed as romantic asexual attraction. But I feel on much more solid ground writing about House given that the episode was explicitly about asexuality. The extent to which it is explicitly about explaining away asexuality offers a useful frame through which to flesh out my notion of the sexual assumption: the assumed universality and uniformity of sexual attraction, such that apparently exceptional case must be a function of one or more pathological factors. When reading back through past writing, I’ve sometimes found my arguments to this end to be a rather worrying mix of certainty and vagueness. In part this is because my conviction about the existence of the sexual assumption stems more from the endless instances of it I’ve witnessed in my own life in the last five years (“you study asexuality? but that’s not a real thing” etc) than it does from the empirical data which initially led me to formulate the concept.
Writing about House also allows me to consider the politics of representation in terms of the sexual assumption. There are a few questions I can think of here:
- What explains the investment of many in the portrayal of asexual characters on TV?
- What insights does the House narrative offer into broader cultural tendencies concerning asexuality?
- How did the asexual community respond to this portrayal on House? For instance see the petition here.
- How did the media in turn respond to this response? For instance see this Slate article.
None of these questions raise issues which are novel within the literature. But I think the episode offers a really helpful frame within which I can draw together a whole series of strands that fascinate me but that I’ve tended to marginalise in my past writing for a variety of reasons.
Depending on how much this attempt at cultural studies provokes impostor syndrome in me, I might also consider the past portrayal of House as a character. This description on the Wikipedia page really stood out at me: “House becomes obsessed with proving her lack of interest in sex has an organic cause”. Given he is, as memory serves, portrayed as a (largely) aromantic sexual it would be interesting to consider the roots of this ‘obsession’ in terms of his own characterisation.
*Which is a TV show I loved when I first watched it. But it became immensely boring after a couple of series. I’m amazed it’s still going.