CW & TW: Discussions of arophobic and acephobic content.
Note #1: Comments are turned off by default on this post for mental health reasons. I’m really sorry to aromantic readers who wanted to comment. If you want to reach out to me via other means, please do!
Note #2: I‘m not aromantic asexual, but alloromantic demisexual. While I’ve done my best to ensure I’m not accidentally perpetuating arophobia, I cannot be 100% sure I’ve succeeded. Anything in this post/article that perpetuates arophobia is my fault. I apologise for it in advance. In the interest of full disclosure: an aroace friend read this over for me as a sensitivity reader, but any and all issues in this article exist because I messed up.
Note #3: OMG! I am the worst! So so so so many thanks to my friend for reading it over for me. <3 Again, any and all issues in this article are 100% on me, not them. If you think I messed up, blame me and only me. ‘s My doing. Also, please tell me so I can try to address it asap?
Jughead is Aromantic and Asexual. The End.
Firstly, let me start with this: I am not here to discuss whether it’s okay for Riverdale to write Jughead as an alloromantic allosexual (or an alloromantic asexual). It isn’t and this is not up for debate. Let me explain why as briefly as I can.
Jughead may be a fictional character, but there are real people who are aromantic and/or asexual who deeply identify with the way Jughead has been written. For some, Jughead is the only fictional representation of their experiences that they’ve ever seen. For some, it’s the only positive representation they’ve seen that doesn’t imply that they’re broken or inhuman.
If you look through the Twitter hashtag #AroAceJugheadOrBust, you’ll see many aromantic and asexual people discussing their experiences an what Jughead means to them. You’ll see people discussing how good it felt to have words for their experiences and to have anything at all that doesn’t imply that they’re not broken, are human, are normal just like everyone else.
Those who were aware of the Archie comics were aware that Jughead was written in a way that very strongly suggests he is a touch-averse aromantic asexual and has been since the comics began a good 73 years ago. In 2016, Chip Zdarsky, then the writer of the Jughead comics series, confirmed that Jughead is asexual by explicitly using the label on the page in the comic. There is no such explicit confirmation on-page that he’s aromantic, though there are panels where he declares “I am not a romantic person” in front of the whole school and, with the exception of cross-overs or comic alternate universes, he has always been written as someone who doesn’t like to be touched, who isn’t interested in dating or kisses and who thinks that burgers are better than sex.
So can you argue that Jughead is not aromantic? Sure. You can also argue that water is dry, mind you. Even though the comics don’t use the words (except 2016’s use of ‘asexual’) because the coinage of these terms and our understanding of asexuality and aromanticism is fairly recent, the Archie comics offer us 70+ years of behaviour that very strongly implies that Jughead, if given words for his experiences, would describe himself as a touch-averse aromantic asexual.
We frequently use far less evidence to theorise that a character is, say, gay. (Some examples from recent pop culture: Sherlock, Smallville, Supernatural, Merlin. Just to name a few. And, uh, not to open a can of worms here, but in a post about aro and ace erasure, I can’t mention Sherlock Holmes without pointing out that his inclusion here is problematic since he’s widely read as an asexual character.)
Back to the point. For 70+ years and especially in recent years, Jughead has been a character that aromantic and asexual readers identified with specifically because of the way that he’s written. Having one of the labels made explicit created much needed positive representation in mainstream narrative, but only for asexuality. I think, bar Jughead, the only mainstream non-book narrative that explicitly acknowledges asexuality as existing and represents it positively is Sirens. Beyond that, the only other explicit mainstream use of ‘asexual’ that I recall was an episode of House M.D. that used asexuality as nothing more that a plot twist and one of the puzzle pieces for House to solve, with one of the characters’ asexuality being a symptom of their illness and the other faking asexuality to preserve their marriage and House ‘fixing’ both patients. If I recall, the episode was filled to the brim with aphobic comments (predominantly from House), it erased the existence of asexuality as an orientation in its own right and it definitely wound up curing the asexuality characters and enabling them to live a ‘normal’ life. It was bad, okay? Just. Do some digging if you want to know more. I can’t rewatch that episode at all.
While there are more shows that feature characters that are heavily aro- and/or ace-coded (meaning the show heavily implies a character is aromantic and/or asexual), the representation invariably implies that aromantic and/or asexual people are in some way not-human or broken. In both cases, but especially the last, the show will also present them as being in need of fixing. So… Zdarsky’s explicit use of the label ‘asexual’ was a big deal to the asexual and aromantic community as well as to touch-averse readers because this was at least partial on-screen confirmation that Jughead was their representation. An equally big deal came later when Zdarsky tweeted that he believed Jughead was aromantic somewhere during this whole erasive mess and while it hasn’t had the same level of attention as the on-screen, use of the word he gave asexuality it’s still explicit confirmation from someone who wrote the character and that confirmation shouldn’t be dismissed or erased the way it has been.
Yes, you can argue that Zdarsky did say that he thought it was fine if the next writer explored the idea that Jughead is, say, bisexual. He did say that there were storylines that explored Jughead as being interested in girls. So did Cole Sprouse, the actor who plays Jughead on the show. I am well-aware of it. No one needs to tell me this. I know. It doesn’t change that, for the vast majority of Jughead’s storylines, he reads like a touch-averse, aromantic asexual. It also doesn’t change that Zdarsky explicitly used ‘asexual’ to label Jughead’s sexuality in the comics and it also doesn’t change that Zdarsky explicitly said that he thought Jughead has always been asexual and a word to label him just wasn’t known or that Zdarsky later said on Twitter that he believes Jughead is also aromantic. And we’ve had this conversation about taking away representation from marginalised people so often that if you still need to be told why this is a bad thing, I… don’t know how to show you. If you get it for other marginalised groups but not aros and aces, it’s the same thing. Same reasons. Same arguments. Same thing. Literally. All that’s different is the group of people being marginalised.
Anyway, even if we leave off the question of what the people involves with creating Jughead did or did not say, though, we’re left with enough implied textual evidence that, again, if it were indicating any other queer identity would cause an uproar and that, in all honesty, academics would be using to argue that yes this character was intended to be read as X identity but didn’t because Reasons Y and Z. That still doesn’t go away. That hasn’t changed.
What also doesn’t go away is that the aros and aces who read the Archie comics related strongly with the way that Jughead was written. CW’s Riverdale, as a show, had a chance to make history by having an explicitly aromantic and asexual Jughead in their adaptation of the comics. Such a decision would have further canonised existing representation in a way that can’t easily be erased, a representation that aros and aces desperately need in mainstream fiction because it does not exist at all. Better still, it would have given them representation in one of the most-used media formats of present times and given aromantic and asexual teenagers positive representation of their experiences and a chance to grow into adults who don’t spend years thinking that something is wrong with them. It would have opened up a ton of new and innovative storyline opportunities for the writers and a chance to showcase drama in a way that shows rarely do. It could have added to the concept that men and women can be friends without that friendship inevitably resulting in a sexual and/or romantic relationship. It could have introduced the concepts of aromanticism and asexuality to more people, giving teens and adults without a vocabulary to describe their experiences with words. It could have presented more people with a character who isn’t interested in dating or sex and yet is still confident and comfortable with who he is. It could have shown two marginalised groups that they are not broken. It could have subtly educated alloromantics and allosexuals about the existence of aromanticism and asexuality and taught them the same thing: that these are not indicative that someone is broken. It would have helped normalise aromanticism and asexuality.
Instead, Riverdale chose to straightwash Jughead. If you’ve not heard the term ‘straightwashing’ before, it means that someone took a canonically queer character and made them straight. (As a note, when I say ‘straight’, I specifically mean someone who is heteroromantic and heterosexual).
Before the show began to air, aromantic and asexual fans of the Archie comics were cautiously optimistic that Riverdale would give them an aromantic asexual Jughead. As more information emerged, they began to worry that the show might erase Jughead’s romantic and sexual orientation (i.e. straightwash him). They asked about it. The writers and showrunners did not respond. They got angry about it and started talking to one another, created the #AroAceJugheadOrBust hashtage on Twitter and, basically, just got together to speak up and out because they wanted reassurances. Fans of the comics were terrified of losing the only representation they have. Aromantic and/or asexual people who’d never heard of the comics before were scared that this representation would be taken away before they’d even had a chance to get it.
At first, Cole Sprouse said in an interview that he was aware of the fact that Jughead is canonically asexual and that, while Jughead wasn’t written as asexual right now, he would do his best to fight for that representation because it mattered. He said nothing about Jughead’s aromanticism, though.
Reactions were… not exactly happy, but they were hopeful. Here was the actor playing the character saying that he was in their corner. That he’d do what he could to fight for representation and that he believe that representation mattered.
To understand the import of that promise, you need to understand that virtually no one but aromantic or asexual people speaks up about bigotry aimed at them (known as arophobia and acephobia respectively and aphobia collectively). This bigotry is so incredibly normalised in society that many alloromantics and allosexuals just cannot wrap their heads around the idea that there may be an issue that needs addressing. Never mind what that issue is and why it’s an issue! Presumably, Cole Sprouse is alloromantic and allosexual, or more succinctly put ‘an allo’. To have an allo stand up and say, explicily, “I am in your corner” causes pretty much every aro and ace I know to sob with happiness and gratitude that someone heard we exist. Just any allo, regardless of who it is causes that powerful a reaction. So to have an allo who is a) a celebrity, b) associated with the show, c) the literal face of the show’s Jughead tell us “I am in your corner”… Well, people who are used to being erased, at best, dared hope.
As time went by, however, Sprouse changed his tune in the interviews he held, culminating, at the time I’m writing this, in an interview where he explicitly says that Riverdale’s Jughead – his Jughead – is straight. As opposed to the Jughead in the comics. Which is a different Jughead and not his interpretation of Jughead. He justifies this by explaining that there are cross-over storylines and alternate realities where Jughead is attracted to girls and therefore it is okay to ignore the vast majority of material that indicates he isn’t.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the people involved with the show have been quiet. The most the writers did was tweet that Jughead is good at awkward romance, which many aromantic and asexual people took as being a passive-aggressive dig at their refusal to stop speaking out about the erasure on the show.
Then, a thinkpiece article appeared in the Vulture. This piece was written by an alloromantic asexual and tried to defend Riverdale’s erasure that had been raging on Twitter and Tumblr for a while. The arguments boiled down to this: It’s early days. Wait and see. Give the show a chance. This may be an attempt to explore Jughead’s sexuality (and be a coming out story).
The whisper of attention the article gave the aromantic community was dismissive, which you’ll discover is a trend with thinkpieces about the queer erasure Riverdale perpetuates. The overall piece was tone-deaf to the pain and the hurt the show cause aromantic, and especially aromantic asexual, fans of Jughead. It was widely interpreted as “It’s okay to throw aromantic people under the bus, so long as alloromantic asexuals get their representation” by the aromantic community and their allies.
The article was linked by a prominent YA writer and saw Book Twitter (a name for the Twitter-based community of, predominantly, YA writers and readers interested in addressing and promoting diversity) speak out en masse. Aromantic and asexual people engaged the writer of the piece, trying to get across their concerns and to ask the writer to address the issues with their piece.
Though the writer promised to make changes and address people’s concerns, as of this writing, the article has not been altered in any way. No apology for the hurt caused. No addendums, no editor’s notes, nothing to indicate that the writer understands why people were upset by her words. (Never mind why it’s a terrible idea to say “I, as member of this community, don’t have an issue with this thing that I know hurt other members really badly”. You don’t want to speak for the community, don’t use phrases that suggest that you actually do.) The writer received several suggestions on how to address the issues with their post – notably a request to ask an aromantic asexual to write a piece about Jughead – but has so far only said they hope to write more about the topic in future themselves.
Days later, a fan of the show wrote a contributor post for the Huffinton Post, arguing… Well, the same thing. The piece contained no understanding of why the communities were hurting. It didn’t include a word about the way the aromantic community had spoken out against the Vulture article. While the writer did directly apologise to several aromantic people who called out the article, it hasn’t been taken down nor has it been edited to address the article’s aphobia. (It did, however, turn into the writer and at least one friend accuse the aromantic people speaking out of bullying her.)
Several weeks later, a podcast interview with one of the writers emerged, discussing that the writers have little to no say over what the showrunners want to do and that all people can do is make a lot of noise and hope that the showrunners listen. Also that the showrunners have no intention of listening and that this erasure of Jughead’s canon sexuality and his romantic orientation were deliberate choices.
Several weeks after that, there was another article interviewing asexual viewers to weight in on the show’s erasure. None of the asexuals involved with the piece were aromantic. No aromantics were asked. Aromanticism was, once again, shoved to the sidelines. When people spoke out, the writer, like those of the mainstream articles before her, asked aromantic people to reach out to her with their thoughts. The writer ignored the fact that it was less than two months ago (if not less than one month) since another writer had done exactly that and then ignored them. She didn’t know. Didn’t know about the Twitter hashtag, despite it being quite prominent if you look up anything related to Jughead.
Listen. By now, you’re probably extremely annoyed that I’m not including links to any of this stuff. That’s not what good journalists/writers do! You want proof of all of this. You want receipts. Well. Google is your friend. Ask Google. Do your own research into this erasure. Let me just point out that the only article I’ve seen that doesn’t erasure aromanticism (tries to centre it, in fact) appeared on Bookriot and focuses on the comics.
I’m deliberately keeping the links out because this makes it much harder for anyone to look up the aroaces involves in this or the writers of the articles. Certainly the aroaces have been harassed over this and I don’t want to add to that if I can help it. Do not harass anyone. In any way. For any reason. Leave them be. The aros and aces who’ve been speaking out about this erasure do not need people to jump onto them to justify hurting them so badly. And if you’re angry about this erasure, there are more constructive ways to help than yelling at people who’ve made it abundantly clear that they don’t care about the pain the erasure and their actions have caused.
But, Lynn, you may argue. Aros and aces still have the Jughead comics to read! So why don’t we all go buy the comics en masse to show our support of a touch-averse, aromantic asexual Jughead instead and show Riverdale that this depiction is where the money lies?
Quite simply this: the new writer of the Jughead comics is aphobic and just the premise of the storyline he’s writing has been enough to harm aromantic readers in particular, describing it as ‘torture’. Want to know what the premise is? Well. It’s a crossover with Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Sabrina casts a spell that goes wrong and now all the woman in Riverdale are romantically and sexually attracted to Jughead, who is not attracted to any of them. The writer described it as ‘comic’ and ‘funny’. Because, clearly, sexual harassment and forcing someone to engage in sexual behaviour is funny.
He blocked aros and aces who spoke out on Twitter, then tried to gaslight them by telling people that he didn’t block anyone. In the past, he’s made acephobic comics linking the cheeto’s sexual harassment to being a closeted asexual and, in general, has shown no willingness to learn why people are upset, insisting that people ‘wait and see’ the story line before judging it.
Just to reiterate this: the Bookriot article about this erasure is the only article I’ve found in the months that we’ve been talking about this that doesn’t erase aromanticism. It focuses on the latest comics, but doesn’t shy away from mentioning the show’s issues as well.
And that, right now, is where we’re at in regards to the erasure of Jughead’s canonical asexuality, his touch-aversion and his aromanticism. And that, also, is why representation, and especially mainstream, high-profile representation like Jughead, matters. Because it means people get to see themselves. Have just one (one!) character in all the ocean of available media that represents them and says “You get to exist too. You are not broken. You are perfect just the way you are. You are real. You are valuable. You are important”.
Meanwhile, because I like to try being comprehensive and I’m passive-aggressive like that, there’s another show currently running with a Word of God canonically aromantic and asexual character: Raphael from Shadowhunters. Word of God, if you don’t know the term, means that the creator(s) have explicitly stated representation exists, regardless of whether that representation is confirmed in the source material in any meaningful way. A well-known and popular example of Word of God representation is J.K. Rowling asserting that Dumblebore is gay years after the final book in the series was released.
Unlike the creators of Riverdale, the creators of Shadowhunters opted to keep Raphael’s asexuality canon on the show. Because it would make a good obstacle for the alloromantic character who is in love with him. The creators have, as far as I know, no intention of keeping Raphael canonically aromantic.
And, because clearly this is not enough, let me remind you all that many many alloromantic asexuals are perfectly happy with the way Shadowhunters erased Raphael’s aromanticism and have vocally told aromantic people speaking out that they’re okay with both Riverdale and Shadowhunters erasing their canon aromantic characters’ aromantic orientation as long as they get their asexual representation.
As I’ve said many times before while talking about this: I’m alloromantic demisexual and this erasure is not okay. Jughead and Raphael are not representation intended for me or any fellow alloromantics on the sexual spectrum. They are representation specifically for aromantic asexuals. This representation is not interchangeable. The erasure of Jughead and Raphael’s aromanticism is harmful and wrong. This is not up for discussion.
What can you to help? There’s a few things. First of all, you an help aromantic people and their allies continue to make noise about the erasure they face by these shows and the articles written about them. We’ve been shouting for months at this point and we rarely get heard and we’re exhausted. We need other people to step in when we need a break. So let the showrunners know you’re not okay with this erasure. Let the writers or articles know that you’re not okay with the way they brush aside the aromantic erasure and the existence of aromanticism. Boost aromantic voices discussing the depictions of Jughead and Raphael and what these mean to them (assuming they’re okay with the boost, that is). Step in when aphobes flood people’s mentions and block/report them. Fill the victim’s mentions with cute and positive things to drown out the hate.
And, because TV isn’t the only media available, support aromantic and asexual creators. Donate to people speaking up about this kind of erasure and who generously donate their free time (and risk their emotional and mental well-being) to educate people about our existence. Buy books by aromantic and/or asexual writers. Write reviews for them and post them to GR and Amazon. Talk to your friends about our works. This often means shopping indie rather than traditional, so your purchase and/or review and signal boosting will help a lot. You can also follow aromantic and asexual people on Twitter or Tumblr or WordPress or Facebook or YouTube (assuming you’re not in restricted mode; thanks for nothing, YouTube) or wherever you find us and listen to the things we discuss.
Just… support us in whichever way makes sense for your situation and yourself. That’s the best way to help us, really.
This post appeared simultaneously on Patreon.