*Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead*
Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, with 4 seasons and counting, has been critically acclaimed for its discussion of issues like gun control, abortion, celebrity-ism in politics, online journalism, and more. The show definitely knows how to hit it where it counts. It deals with all of the intricacies of life’s tragedy, hardship, and controversy, and poses important questions, often times without answers. This season was jam-packed with controversial issues and existential problems, but one thing the show portrayed, which I thought was incredibly important, was asexuality.
Sexuality is almost always a part of any adult show and our culture in general. The idea that everyone has to be sexually interested in somebody is ingrained within the subtext of our culture. Romance is also deemed especially important in our society, along with the idea that if you aren’t in love or planning on being in love, there must be something wrong with you. This sends the ever persistent message to asexual and aromantic people that they are outside of the norm.
Which brings us, once again, to the conclusion that representation matters.
In its most recent season, Bojack Horseman’s beloved character, Todd Chavez, came out as asexual. It was something the show had been building up to for a while. Starting in season three, when there was a flashback to Todd’s childhood where he was asked who he liked, and when he said, “No one,” he was bullied into pretending he liked a popular girl. The show hints at Todd’s discomfort with the topic of sexuality continuously. His relationship with his childhood friend, Emily, who has had a crush on him since childhood, provides for some very real but very awkward moments.
For much of Season 3, Emily tries to flirt with Todd and hint that she is into him, and Todd responds the best he can to try to be comfortable with it. In Season 3, Episode 5, the tension between Todd and Emily comes to a head (the tension being that Todd is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping with Emily). Emily flirtily asks if Todd is single and points out that she too is not seeing anyone right now. And Bojack not-so-casually slips a hotel key to Todd in front of Emily, suggesting they “should just go see if the bed works.” Todd lets them both know that he totally thinks this is a great idea… but maybe they should have, like, two or three more drinks beforehand.
Todd’s attempts to “loosen up” using alcohol fails. The subtle hints that Todd has been dreading become real when Emily invites him into her hotel, and out front says she wants to “fool around.” Todd makes up excuses, once again, saying he feels sick to avoid the encounter. At the time, many fans may have been left confused- Is he gay? Is he just not interested in Emily? Really, Todd’s reactions and confusion to his own discomfort are completely normal for many asexual people who have not yet realized their identities. Todd is a great guy who clearly cares a lot about Emily, but he just doesn’t want to have sex with her, which is completely okay and normal. However, Todd feels guilty and unsure of why. The show also shows how Todd’s asexuality affects the people around him, as watchers see Emily’s response to Todd’s rejection. It is a realistic portrayal of how one asexual person struggles to figure himself out.
At the end of season 3, Todd and Emily are still friends, and Emily expresses her confusion over their friendship. Does he like her? Does he not? And outright: Is he gay? Todd responds:
“I’m not gay. I mean, I don’t think I am, but… I don’t think I’m straight, either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.”
And Emily responds, “Oh, well, that’s okay.” And this is what makes the interaction so important. Emily treats it like it is a completely normal.
In season 4, Emily proposes the idea that Todd is asexual, and Todd is quick to reject the label, making it clear that he doesn’t like them, which reflects how almost every young person feels, as they try to figure their sexuality out without being boxed in.
The first time Todd openly decides to adopt the label, he says it to Bojack in Season 4, episode 3. Their conversation goes:
Todd: “I think I’m…asexual.”
Bojack: “A sexual what? Dynamo? Deviant? Harassment lawsuit waiting to happen?”
Todd: “No, asexual – not sexual. I’m sure you think that’s weird.”
Bojack: “Are you kidding? That’s amazing. Sometimes I wish I was asexual. Maybe then I wouldn’t have a strain of herpes.”
Todd: “You have multiple strains-“
Bojack: “I know I have multiple strains but the joke only works with the ‘a.'”
Todd: “It actually feels nice to finally say it out loud. I am an asexual person. I am asexual.”
Bojack: “That’s great.”
While Bojack shortly after this conversation attempts to make a joke about asexuality that Todd quickly shoots down, their interaction is, once again, real and normalized. The episode is not meant to be groundbreaking or even all about Todd’s asexuality, and the season still leaves many questions for Todd, as he is unsure of whether he is aromantic too. The season, instead, is about a bunch of people, with a bunch of intersecting lives, and one of those people happens to be asexual.
This brings me to the ultimate reason the show dealt with asexuality so well, which is that Todd is portrayed as a full person- not the asexual character. Todd is loving and goofy and selfless and occasionally self sabotaging with an endless stream of both good and bad ideas. His asexuality is only one facet of his life, and it is portrayed as completely normal.
The show was able to bring asexual issues into the light- not for the sake of drama or ratings, but, instead, because asexual people have stories that deserve to be told.
To read a personal explanation from a someone who is asexual about how the show impacted them, read this article by Niko W, as it gave me a new understanding of asexuality and many people’s experiences.