Almost one year ago, comic book writer Chip Zdarsky confirmed what many Archie Comics readers had assumed for a long time: Jughead is asexual.
It was a moment that comic readers and members of the asexual community were waiting for, which is why it was all the more confusing when Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa decided not to make Jughead asexual in the show. Even more perplexing was the fact that Aguirre-Sacasa acknowledged the fact that Jughead was canonically asexual in the comics.
“The way we're treating Riverdale, especially season one, is it's an origin story,” Aguirre-Sacasa told MTV News. “So I think all of the kids are discovering themselves, and a big part of that is discovering their sexuality, their sexual selves. Rather than have everything fully formed — for instance, we're not going to start with Archie's band or Jughead's asexuality or any of the things that have become canon — those are all stops on the way to the journey until the show catches up to 75 years of Archie history.”
Understandably, many within the asexual community are upset about the development, tweeting their refusal to watch the show because it doesn’t acknowledge Jughead’s asexuality. Some people have started using the official Riverdale hashtag to bring awareness to the fact that Jughead is asexual in the comics, even though he will supposedly have a heterosexual love interest on the show.
One writer, who identifies as asexual, said the move to make Jughead straight and not acknowledge the effort that went into making the character asexual was just another example of “asexual erasure.” Another fan asked the Riverdale showrunners to keep the character asexual, adding that it would be a good opportunity to have asexuality represented on a mainstream series.
Cole Sprouse, the actor who plays Jughead on the series, said he hopes the network does decide to keep with the comics and let Jughead remain asexual, despite Aguirre-Sacasa treating the first season as a way for Jughead to discover himself.
“I hope that huge corporations like the CW recognize that this kind of representation is rare and severely important to people who resonate with it,” Sprouse told Teen Vogue. “That demands representation. It would be a wonderful thing if that were the case.”
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), about one percent of the world’s population identifies as asexual. In a 2008 survey, AVEN found that almost 18 percent of its members never experience any kind of romantic attraction to someone of the opposite or same sex. Despite asexuality becoming more visible as a sexual minority, the AVEN says it’s still underrepresented in popular culture.
In a 2012 article from Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Studies, graduate fellow Karli Cerankowski wrote about the negative effect having lack of access to asexual characters on television or in other forms of pop culture may have on the community.
“Because kneejerk reactions to asexuals in popular culture tend to cast them as broken subjects, it is necessary to reframe the popular representations of asexuality,” Cerankowski wrote. “Instead, we can look more critically at the representations of asexuality in American culture and refigure asexuality in positive terms that challenge us to reconceive our definitions of sexual normalcy.”
This is essentially the argument that many within the asexual community have been making when reaching out to Riverdale showrunners and executives at the CW. One writer on Twitter, James Campbell, pointed out that historically, people at Archie Comics used to problematically refer to Jughead’s lack of interested in women as being a “woman hater.”
“You couldn’t just like girls, you had to ‘like’ like at least some or there must be something wrong with you, i.e. you must ‘hate’ women,” Campbell wrote. “There have been numerous attempts over the years to either give Jughead a girlfriend, or have a girl pine after him (enter Ethel).
“Those efforts smack of an attempt to hetero-normalise a 'queer' character. Straight-washing. Not a good look, and it never works or sticks.”
When Zdarsky first decided to make Jughead canonically asexual, he told Comic Book that it was a personal decision. He thought Jughead as an asexual person was much more interesting to write than just having a character who wasn’t as sexually developed as his friends. Zdarsky added, however, that was just his interpretation and writers were free to do what they wanted with the character.
“The next writer could make him discover girls or boys or both and that's totally fine,” Zdarsky said. “There have been iterations of Jughead over the decades where he has been interested in girls, so there's room to play around if someone was inclined.”
If Riverdale gets a second season, Jughead could potentially come out as asexual, but Aguirre-Sacasa hasn’t said anything more on the topic.
Riverdale premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.