You’re a beautiful woman, probably: My life as an ace Who fan

Some weeks ago, the Daily Fail wrote a spectacularly condescending article on a new book of social justice Who criticism, Doctor Who and Race. There’s a lot to dislike in the Fail’s piece, but I want to draw your attention to one of its most cynical and effective tricks: an insistence on a binary. In writer Chris Hasting’s view, you’re either with the Doctor or against him. He pits evil killjoy academics determined to suck the fun out of everything against a venerable, beloved British institution. On one side, checking your privilege and learning to acknowledge the problematic. On the other, kneejerk affirmation that Doctor Who rocks. Hastings’ readers knew which part they’d been assigned. Result? A book with important points to make will almost certainly get less exposure than it deserves.

We’ve written about moving beyond fandom binaries before–here’s my own piece. There’s another fandom binary that revolves around whether the Doctor is a sexual being, and the players in this one (as I experience it, anyway) are “prudish anoraks terrified by sex” vs. “sensible adults”.

This puts me in a bit of a bind. I am aromantic asexual, and, yes, it is important to me that the Doctor be asexual. In a world where people like me either don’t exist or need to be cured (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, that one episode of House), I like knowing that there’s one character who’s like me. When, in “City of Death”, the Fourth Doctor tells Countess Scarlioni “You’re a beautiful woman, probably”, it’s a beautiful shock to me because I can relate so completely. When Tegan, in “Enlightenment”, steps out in a beautiful Edwardian ballgown and shows off for the Doctor, clearly expecting his jaw to drop and his eyes to bulge out of their sockets, and he kind of glances her up and down as if to say “Yep, that’s an appropriate dress for a party”, and then turns away and starts down the hall–that, again, is me. Whereas today, we have a married Doctor kissing people (sometimes against their will) and going “Yowza”. Under Davies and, especially, Moffatt, I have less and less room to pretend that the Doctor is ace.[1] That hurts. We have a tiny handful of asexual characters out there–most of whom are never identified as ace–and now we can’t even have those?

Worse, fandom is not exactly a refuge: I’ve sometimes said that Doctor Who fandom is the only place I feel that asexuality and feminism are somehow in conflict. I don’t object to shipping. (Why would I?) What I do object to is what I experience as fandom insisting that shipping represents an advance over the old “prudish anoraks terrified by sex” days–that because, broadly speaking, shipping is associated with female fandom, therefore enthusiasm for shipping is feminist; and its opposite, preferring an asexual Doctor, is somehow anti-feminist. And when fans ritually denounce the sad caricature of the stereotypical fan as mid-thirties and virginal… well, as a mid-thirties virgin fan myself, I’ve had about enough of it. (Should I carry around a sign explaining that I’ve had offers? Maybe have a t-shirt made? Would this make me less pathetic, or more?)

I suppose I’m asking for a bit of room: room to not ship Sherlock/John, room to think UST is really overused in new Who. (Does everyone have to fall for the Doctor? Is romance the only way male and female characters can relate?) Room to imagine a Doctor Who that kinda sorta includes me–because right now, it’s feeling a lot like when I was a kid and suddenly all the other girls wanted to make Barbie and Ken kiss. I didn’t want to make them kiss. I wanted them to go on adventures.

[1] Matt Smith, bless him, is on record as thinking the Doctor (or at least his Doctor) is ace.

15 comments

  1. kit says:

    Thank you for this. I’m another ace who’s spotted the Doctor drift away. It does seem like the annual-kiss-for-the-trailer that rtd specialised in has gone from annoying to downright creepy under moffat. The last time I saw myself in the Doctor was him crashing rRory’s stag party – very bemused by sexuality.

  2. Mik says:

    What I don’t understand is *why* he would be attracted to humans in any sexual way in the first place? I mean, given how advanced he is intellectually, isn’t that a bit like fancying…chimps? Although I suppose if your whole race is dead and all you’ve got is chimps, maybe they start to look attractive.

  3. davidbreslin101 says:

    The way I think of it is, a fan who criticises the use of troubling old tropes in their favourite show is like a citizen who expresses love for their country by trying to make it a better place, rather than by loudly defending its faults.
    I, too, miss the classic asexual Doctor- though I’m not asexual, I find him rather refreshing. An antidote to the likes of sleazy old James Bond, who just makes my skin crawl.

  4. MugaSofer says:

    As a non-ace fan who suddenly finds the idea of an ace Doctor brilliant …

    Could this be something that varies between Regenerations? Basically, Ten was probably Bi, yet Nine and Eleven both seem to fit the bill as asexual (am I forgetting anything here?) … I haven’t seen enough of other Doctors to comment, unfortunately.

    • AmandaonMaui says:

      MugaSofer- How is Eleven asexual? He’s married to River. He kisses, excitedly, Jenny (wife of Vastra). He did reject Amy’s advances, but that’s in part because she was engaged to Rory.

      • Anon says:

        Asexual and aromantic are not mutually inclusive terms. Basically, Eleven does not seem bothered by platonic affection expressed physically. He does, however, seem a little panicked whenever someone moves to go beyond something like a kiss. It’s entirely possible for the Doctor to love River romantically without having sexual interest in her.

  5. AmandaonMaui says:

    That’s part of why I loved the Doctor-Donna relationship. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t sexual. It was just two people off on adventures. I’d like to have more of that in the future, but I did also like the relationship between the Doctor and Rose. It just worked for them, like the Doctor and Donna.

  6. None says:

    The Doctor was not, and never has been, asexual.

    Shoving him into your box doesn’t make him something he’s not, just so you can have someone to relate to.

    • Nightsky says:

      Thank you for your note. How proud your mum and dad must be that you’re writing with joined-up letters and everything!

      Are you wondering how I guessed that a little boy was writing? It’s because you must not have gotten to the part of school where the teachers explain the difference between fact and opinion. “Facts” are externally verifiable. “Opinions” are not. The sex lives of fictional characters, Johnny–may I call you Johnny? You neglected to sign your name! Ask your mum to spell it for you again sometime–are not externally verifiable.

      Thanks again for writing, and stay in school! When you get to kindergarten, you’ll also learn about interesting concepts like “empathy” and “generosity of spirit”.

  7. Sarah B says:

    I’m not asexual and I’m not an anorak, but I’m with you on an asexual Doctor. As you say, why *must* every male-female interaction be sexual? They’re not IRL. I don’t much go for the Doctor-as-parent thing either, rather prefer the companions as mates deal. You don’t have to be in lurve to have awesome adventures together. :)

  8. Galaxiaa7 says:

    I’m tired of this trend of New Who to make the Doctor have UST with all his companions too. Even if I was introduced to Doctor Who with New Who I still always saw him as asexual. I don’t know what it is with people and their obsession that there must be sexual tension for a show to be interesting. And some people don’t understand that asexuality and shipping are not mutually exclusive.

  9. ZiggyCas says:

    Thank you for this. I, too, am an ace fan, and have always seen the Doctor as being asexual. I would say that the Doctor has a romantic relationship with Rose, but not a sexual one. The only times the Doctor seems to be a sexual creature (and please correct me if I’m wrong) are when Steven Moffat is writing him. (Apparently asexuals are boring to him) There really are so few asexual characters, and having both the Doctor and Sherlock denied that identity is really distressing.

  10. Jan says:

    I’ve only just discovered this blog and I love what I’ve read so far working backwards through the archives.

    My background: I’m not asexual, far from it, but I may be aromantic, that’s something I’m still exploring. I love my occasional sexual partners as friends and I think that’s why there’s been fairly few of them, as I find friend-chemistry to be elusive and special. I don’t know how much bearing that has on my feelings on this issue, but I absolutely love deep nonromantic, nonsexual relationships on screen. It’s kind of anti-humanist to say “oh yes we all have our differences but everyone likes a good hump/falls in love sooner or later”. Some people need “Not Everyone Is Exactly The Same” tattooed backwards on their foreheads. Um, may have gone a bit far there. But not being in a romantic relationship just feels right to me, and I don’t see why characters who apparently feel the same have to be changed as if someone has looked at them being like that and said “no, that’s wrong”. To me that feels worse than no asexual characters existing in the first place.

    • Nightsky says:

      > It’s kind of anti-humanist to say “oh yes we all have our differences but everyone likes a good hump/falls in love sooner or later”

      THIS. Dear god, THIS.

      Glad you like the blog! We’re all crazy-busy at the moment, but we do continue to work on it in our Copious Free Time.

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