(This has been cross-posted to my tumblr, too.)
In April 2015, USA Network’s TV series Sirens was canceled, and with it, the USA lost their only current canonically asexual character on prime time television. Season 1 is still on Netflix for anyone curious enough to watch, and presumably season 2 will be added eventually.
Let’s discuss what exactly the representation was, though, and what it is that we lost when we lost the show.
Sirens is a half-hour comedy TV series, meaning each episode is actually only 22 or so minutes long. It is about a group of EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), aka Paramedics. It involves treating serious medical problems and even death with humor and lightheartedness, at times.
Valentina Dunacci, who prefers to go by the nickname “Voodoo”, is revealed in season 1 episode 6 “The Finger”, to be asexual. But this isn’t the only episode she appears in, or even the only episode where her asexuality is mentioned. No, she is a significant part of the entire series.
In fact, the first three episodes of the show involve some highly sex-based plots and jokes, and in episode 3, when the character Billy walks into a room full of his friends and acquaintances bare naked, and his dick is supposedly the largest dick anyone has ever seen, Voodoo already is more in the background, not really reacting, not someone showing any sign of sexual attraction the way the other women (and the gay man) in the scene are. Even back in 1×03 a reading of her as asexual works well.
The show closely follows 3 men who work together in the same daytime shift, and on the same ambulance, aka “rig” — Johnny is the straight white man with a fear of commitment to his longtime girlfriend, a cop named Theresa, who is also a main character of the show. Hank is the gay black man who enjoys a lot of casual sex and flings with men that don’t last long. Finally, Brian is the nerdy, good Christian, straight white man who still lives with his parents and is new to the job in the pilot (the first episode of the series).
Sometimes, they go back to the station to wait for a new 911 call to come in. Here is where we most often see the other team of 3 paramedics, a team which includes Voodoo, an attractive white woman who is asexual and is sometimes mentioned to be into dark/creepy things. Also on this team with Voodoo are an older straight black man named Cash, who can’t remember Brian’s name so prefers to call him “Kevin” and who at one point starts dating Hank’s mother, and another white woman Claire, who is nicknamed “Stats” and who has pretty extreme OCD, which mainly includes obsessive counting. (I have read relatively positive reactions to Stats’ OCD and how it is represented: http://possiblestalker.tumblr.com/post/113518683515/i-really-like-sirens-on-usa-for-the-right-reasons and & http://www.amberunmasked.com/sirensusa-lgbtqia/ )
Every once in a while, the rigs switch who is driving with whom, but it’s rare. We also sometimes see the co-workers off the clock, hanging out as friends.
When we get to episode 6, this is the first time Brian is seen to show interest in a woman. He has a brief conversation with Voodoo about what name she most prefers to be called by “Val, Voo, etc” and she smiles at him. Then he confides in the two men he works more closely with that he plans to ask Voodoo out to dinner. They inform her she’s like “Darth Vader” dark, and clarify that he shouldn’t ask her out because she’s asexual, meaning she doesn’t have sex with anyone ever. Brian wonders if she just hasn’t met the right person yet and Hank and Johnny assure Brian that she’s even met Johnny Depp but he did nothing for her. The whole time, we flash to Brian and his coworkers looking over at Voodoo who is playing with an oxygen mask in a cute way, with Claire, and to me as a viewer, this is a perhaps purposeful contrast to how “dark” she’s being reported to be by Hank and Johnny. She seems practically innocent in this moment, and surely likable. I think viewers see her as still likable. They say some kind of extreme things, but it’s a comedy, and overall the main message is that this woman is asexual, and this is a real thing some people are, and it means that she never has sex.
This explanation Johnny and Hank gave of what being asexual means may be problematic asexual representation in some aces’ eyes, especially the asexuals who do have sex. I really like this representation though, because it fits with the kind of asexual I am — the kind where I don’t ever want to have sex in the future and being asexual is a good explanation for it.
Brian doesn’t give up, though. He continues to awkwardly flirt with Voodoo about her name, then tells Johnny and Hank he did extensive research last night and that asexuality is a whole emerging “movement” and they have a grey triangle and stuff. This is the kind of thing that might encourage some people to do some research, especially people who are asexual themselves but don’t know the term. I think it was a pretty good thing to include in the episode. Hank and Johnny tell Brian he dodged a bullet because Voodoo’s crazy and even if she was sexual, Brian would probably end up tied up in a dungeon with something stuffed in his mouth.
I like this line because it corrects the “darkness” from earlier in the episode being tied exclusively to her asexuality. Hank and Johnny feel even if she was sexual, these things would still stand.
Brian says he’s not giving up, because he really likes her, whenever he’s around her he gets butterflies. They respond to a 911 call where a man has accidentally severed his finger. This is not the first time he’s done this and it’s not even really a traumatic incident for the man — remember, comedy.
Back at the station, Brian essentially explains that he knows what it’s like to not have sex for long periods of time and is able to focus on other things. The other guys laugh at him but he asks if they just think about sex all the time. They show different perspectives on even male heterosexuality.
Brian finally has a conversation with Voodoo where he explains he did some research and she says, “I’m just asexual Brian, I don’t march in parades or anything”. She explains the difference between celibacy and asexuality. She claims guys don’t hit on her all the time because she gives out a distinct “Don’t hit on me or I will kill you” vibe, and Brian is glad it’s not just him. But she’s smiling the whole time, and is consistently matter-of-fact, non-offended by misconceptions, and also kind of amused by the whole conversation and seems happy to talk to him and like she’s a good person. She explains that it’s not just a phase too. Then, as part of the comedy, she comes up to him in a flirty way and smells him from a very short distance, then whispers, “You smell… so bad.” Then she says she likes that smell though, and explains that she just hates sex, makes a sound a disgust, and that the only thing she hates more than sex is talking about how she doesn’t like it. She explains that she’s cool if Brian wants to be friends, but sex is not gonna happen.
This scene was where she was shown to be sure of herself, secure in her asexual identity, but a very specific kind of asexual — sex-repulsed, and not super-involved in the online community nor the politics. She also seems to imply that a sexless romance is not an option, and that the only choices are a relationship with sex, or a friendship. It is unclear whether she knows what romantic orientations are, if she’s aromantic, or what.
A few scenes later, Brian shows up at Voodoo’s apartment. He says it’s fine with him if they never have sex. He makes a long speech about how he’s not having sex now anyway, and he loves sex from what he remembers, but he gets that she doesn’t and he’s really okay with it. He’s just happy being around her.
I think this scene is important because Brian actually says the word “never” about having sex with her, and it presents the idea that some heterosexual people who enjoy sex might be willing to give up sex for an asexual, sex-repulsed partner.
Then he presents her with the finger the hospital couldn’t reattach to the man from earlier in the episode, something specific to her “Dark” interests, and she loved the comedically “thoughtful gift”.
The episode ends with them sitting on the couch together, bonding (over the dead finger) and it seems Brian’s speech has worked, they are going to pursue a sexless relationship with one another.
Voodoo’s asexuality is not really brought up again in season 1, which is only 4 more episodes long (a 10 episode total season). In the season finale, 1×10 “Shotgun Wedding”, Johnny and Theresa decide to get married, and some time after Johnny presents Theresa with an engagement ring, Voodoo comments to Brian, who she’s still dating, that she doesn’t “see what the hoopla is about a ring. Anybody can go to a mall and walk out with a ring. But it takes a special kind of man to take a severed digit of a real live person, carefully package it up, carry it across the city, and present it as a gift to another real live person, like you did for me.”
On the surface, this is just a silly joke about how “weird” Voodoo is, but it’s also a comment to maybe not caring about marriage, not caring about traditionally romantically coded things, potentially her aromanticsm??
Then, as soon as season 2 starts, in the season 2 premiere, the word “asexual” is used again. Voodoo’s asexuality is brought back up to the surface! 😉 Representation, woo hoo!
Theresa and Johnny are living together since the season 1 finale, but the amount of sex they’re having has… slowed down. As the three main men of the show, Johnny, Brian, and Hank, discuss this, Brian chimes in: “Besides, sex is overrated. I mean, look at me and Voodoo. We’re perfectly happy in our platonic relationship.”
Here note the way the word “platonic” was used. Brian considers his relationship with Voodoo to not be a sexless romance. Or maybe the shorthand on this show for sexless romance, to clarify that, is “platonic relationship”?? I don’t know.
Johnny gets defensive and says to Brian, “Don’t compare me to whatever’s going on with you and Voodoo. You’re dating an asexual. You literally never have sex.”
That’s where the word asexual was used again, which I feel is a win for ongoing representation.
Brian responds, “Okay, no, we don’t have sex, per se. But what we do have is actually far more beautiful. In a way, I don’t even miss the sex. Me and Voodoo, we have this intense soul connection that goes far beyond the physical. We we’re operating on a higher plane and just… gosh, I’m just I’m masturbating all the time. I mean, just just constantly. It’s bad, guys. I mean, I’m not proud of it. I just I really I don’t know what to do.”
This is when we begin to get into the very non-asexual point of view that the show still operates from, one of almost-compulsory sexuality. They still accept Voodoo is asexual… but…
Hank adds in his two cents to the conversation: “See? Just like I said. People can kid themselves, but there is no substitute for sex. And that’s why I’m the happiest guy on the rig, ’cause I’m having sex damn near every night.”
I’m not 100% sure what my reaction to this whole part of the episode is, but mainly, I still think it’s relatively positive representation for asexuality.
The second-to-last episode that really deals with Voodoo’s asexuality is season 2, episode 4 “Transcendual”.
In it, Johnny and Hank are discussing sexy people, and Hank, being gay, doesn’t really want to talk about “under-boob”.
Johnny asks what about asses, and Hank says yeah, he loves those, and they go into a conversation about how everyone loves asses and butts.
Brian, who has been with them the whole time, chimes in that he didn’t notice any butts.
His friends react incredulously and then Brian says, “Whoa.
You guys, I think all this not having sex with Voo might have done something to me.”
Hank replies: “What, you think that dating a asexual made you butt-blind?”
Brian replies, “I don’t know, but something’s definitely different.”
Hank: “You can’t change your sexuality.”
Brian: “How do you know, Hank?”
Johnny tells Hank to “Just let it- just-”
Brian: “I don’t know if it’s that I’ve changed my sexuality, more like transcended it. Yeah, I think that’s it. I am a transcendual.”
Hank: “Okay, what exactly does that mean?”
Brian: “It means that, well, I was born sexual like you guys, and then I just I sort of -” [he makes a hand gesture, like he’s “risen above” his sexuality.]
Brian continues, “And I got to tell you guys, I’m excited. Back when I was sexual, it was hard to even get through a magazine. Our culture is just constantly assaulting us with attractive people.”
Hank: “Thanks, culture.”
In the next scene Brian’s friends “out” him to their cop friends Billy and Theresa as “Transcendual”, clarifying it’s not “transsexual” and stuff.
Then Brian talks to Voodoo about it. This is where the possibly aromantic interpretation gets interesting again.
Brian: “You know how you said we could never really be boyfriend/girlfriend because you’re asexual and I’m not, and it wouldn’t work out in the long term because eventually one or both of us would get hurt?”
Voodoo: “Yeah, I remember having that conversation several hundred times.”
Brian: “Well, I have some pretty big news. I have transcended my sexuality.”
Voodoo: “Okay. So you think that you are never gonna want to have sex again?”
Voodoo: “That it’s not something you’re ever gonna be thinking about?”
So she decides to take Brian to a strip club to test the truth of this claim.
Brian keeps averting his eyes from the strippers, clearly uncomfortable, and also focusing on how ungodly expensive even the water is on the menu. Voodoo asks for a stripper to come over, then says, “My friend here will have one lap dance, please.” When he doesn’t have change for a twenty to put in her underwear she’s dancing in, Voodoo says “New plan, do me,” and proceeds to get a lap dance, hoping to turn on Brian and reveal Brian has not “transcended” his sexuality after all. He freaks out about how it’s now gonna cost $80 though because this is a second lap dance.
We next see Voodoo and Brian in a diner, eating a meal together.
Brian: “I thought you’d be happier. Now that I’ve proven that I’m not sexual anymore, we can officially be boyfriend/girlfriend.”
Voodoo: “Brian, you didn’t prove anything.”
Brian: “I didn’t get turned on at the strip club.”
Voodoo: “‘Cause you’re cheap, not ’cause you’re asexual.”
Brian corrects her, saying, “Transcendual.”
She continues, “This sucks. I like you a lot. And you clearly like me enough to believe that you could actually change something very major about yourself for me.”
Brian counters, “I know that you don’t believe me, but I think I really did change.”
Voodoo makes a decision. She says, “Okay, I didn’t want to do this.
And know that this means absolutely nothing for me, But -” and then Voodoo proceeds to slip off her shoe and sensually slide it up the inside of his leg, under the table.
She asks, “How you feeling over there?”
He clearly is reacting to the touching, but he claims he’s “Feeling pretty transcendual.”
She asks him, “What’s your phone number?”
He can’t remember it, too distracted, at which point she feels she’s proved her point.
Brian asks, “This mean that we’re breaking up?”
She says, “It means we’re not going down the road where we break up eventually.”
Brian is upset. “So we can’t hang out and talk anymore?”
She tells him, “We can still hang out and talk.”
Brian asks, “But we can’t go to movies together anymore?”
Voodoo: “I mean, I still like movies.”
Brian humorously asks, “But we can’t not have sex after the movie anymore?”
She smiles. “We will still not be having sex.”
Brian: “So what, I’m just supposed to be your friend and do all the things that we love to do together? Instead of being celibate with you, I’m just supposed to go off and have sex with other women?” He doesn’t seem pleased with the notion.
Voodoo: “Yeah, that’s the basic summary.”
I think the plot in 2×04 was an… interesting choice in terms of asexual representation. Voodoo took a stance that non-asexual and asexual people can’t date each other, because they’ll always break up eventually. She didn’t believe that Brian was saying he would be fine without sex. She didn’t trust his word. She also wasn’t attached enough to him to not let him go. She wanted him to move on, even though she liked him a lot and still wanted to hang out and see movies, and be his close friend. I relate to a lot of what Voodoo seemed to be thinking and feeling in this episode. It reminds me of when I broke up with my boyfriend. But my boyfriend wasn’t claiming to be happy to never have sex for the rest of his life, either. I feel like there’s something a bit imperfect about the way they chose to take this storyline.
The final episode where the word “Asexual” is explicitly mentioned is 2×06.
The episode starts off immediately with Brian in a bad mood because…
Brian: “Voodoo started seeing someone else.”
Brian: “Some dude named Doug. She met him on one of those asexual message boards.”
Hank: “Asexual message boards? That shit exists?”
Brian: “I mean, I knew logically that we weren’t gonna last, but it just it still hurts. That Voodoo put a spell on me.”
Johnny tries to reassure Brian. “If you think about it, nothing’s really changed. You’re still friends. You’re still not having sex.”
But Brian explains, “Yeah, but I’m not the person she’s not having sex with. She’s out there not having sex with someone else. Not not me, not him.”
Hank replies, not understanding his heartbreak, “Brian, you’ve really got it pretty good here. I mean, the hardest part about a breakup is imagining your ex getting it on with someone else.”
Johnny: “Yes! It’s pretty much the only thing you’re thinking about.”
Hank: “Yeah, but you don’t have to worry about that because you already know the answer. She’s having sex with no one. Nobody! Ever.”
But Brian doesn’t agree with their sentiments. He explains, “Everything’s different now. I called her last night to see if she wanted to see a movie.
She had already seen it with Doug. [Sighs] She knows that Nic Cage dramas are our thing.”
Hank mockingly replies: “You’re right. That is way worse than imagining the love of your life sweatily entangled with another man making wet spots on silk sheets illuminated by sex candles.”
Brian eventually says: “Okay, guys, which would bother you more, if you walked in on your significant other having sex with someone else or saw them walking on the beach, holding hands, clearly and deeply in love?”
Despite his friends answering something along the lines of “Duh, sex”, Brian’s answer was clearly the love part. He really misses being exclusively in a relationship with Voodoo.
In fact, what he’s describing as the painful experience he’s going through is what some bloggers like TheThinkingAsexual and many, many, other bloggers in the ace blogosphere discuss, especially those on the aromantic spectrum sometimes. He wanted that exclusive “platonic” relationship, whether or not they were called boyfriend/girlfriend. He wanted her to be the person he could walk on the beach with, see movies with, he wanted her to be his, and the lack of sex didn’t matter to him at all. It’s a feeling of being left behind.
I also really like that they introduced the idea of “asexual message boards” and places for asexual people to find other aces to potentially “date” existing. That is helpful for any asexual person who happens to come across the show and didn’t know already.
Because she’s dating an asexual guy, after psuedo-dating Brian, I’m thinking she could be heteroromantic, biromantic, panromantic, we don’t know. She also might consider herself aromantic and be more like “starting some kind of friendship” with the new guy or dating despite not feeling romantic attraction, it’s hard to say.
So yeah, there we have it. What the asexual representation on Sirens was. Let me know in the comments your thoughts and reactions. 😉
By the way, if you’re curious, you can see from 6 seconds to 17 seconds (only 11 seconds total) in this video where I edited some clips & voiceovers of Voodoo as asexual representation in this fanvideo collaboration:
(Fun note, while Amy, the other character I vidded alongside Voodoo in that first 20 seconds, my first of two parts in the collab is questioning her sexuality and will likely be revealed to be a lesbian eventually, but possibly bi, I was headcanoning her hard as demisexual after reading this post on mediainclusivity: If Only TV Acknowledged Asexuality: “Faking It” 1×4 – “Know Thy Selfie”)