I recently got the opportunity to interview one of the minds behind FYeahAsexual, the creators of the popular Twitter hashtag, #AroAceJugheadOrBust. For those of you who don’t know the background for this hashtag, the story goes back to Jughead #4 issued in February 2015. In this issue, Jughead, who has had a longstanding bigger love of hamburger than girls, casually came out officially as asexual and aromantic (aro/ace). When the CW teen drama, Riverdale, was announced there was great excitement that his comic book canon sexuality would carry over to the show. Those fans were let down.
For many people, this change in Jughead’s personality is an erasure of their lived experiences. With so few positive representations of queer identities (especially beyond cis gay white men), this erasure is a major blow. Fans have rallied together to try and make their voices be heard on how much asexual and aromantic representation matters.
Can you tell us about the creation of #AroAceJugheadOrBust and why you felt awareness needed to be raised?
I started reading Jughead in 2016, and I adored the casual acceptance of both Kevin and Jughead. It was a breath of fresh air in a weird year. I had assumed the show at very least would leave him alone, but in mid-January questions about the girls being bisexual came up and I believe an actor roughly replied, ‘this isn’t fanfiction.’ That’s when I knew we had a real problem and started to push for the community to say hey, tell them you want this representation, tell them you will show up if it’s given.
Cole Sprouse was previously all for Riverdale’s Jughead to be aro/ace, now he is saying this Jughead is not the comic’s Jughead. How do you think does losing him as a supporter impacts the movement?
I don’t want to prioritize an ally’s importance, but I do think they are helpful. For one, it told the community that they had someone fighting for them on the inside. The writers and producers likely won’t look at Twitter, but if during meetings he said ‘hey he needs to be aro/ace’ that is something we are unable to do. Furthermore, people interviewing Cole were asking about the representation when they reported on the show. It was time and platforms being used to highlight visibility issues that otherwise would not have been.
A lot of people have been complaining that the asexual part of Jughead’s sexuality is getting more attention than the aromantic side. As an asexuality blog that promotes both the asexuality and the aromantic parts, do you have anything you would want to say to them?
I think the complaints are merited. I think the more diverse labels a character has, the more people want to cheer what was given while also mourning or fighting for what wasn’t. I look at every tiny ‘first’ socially or politically we are given, and think the same thing. I think my country on a whole, on many many levels, is learning to cry and smile at the same time. Human’s are full of magnitudes, often times different feelings happen at the same time, each equally valid.
(As more news has broken about the romantic identities of recent high profile aro/aces, I’d like to tilt the focus towards the arophobia of these showrunners. Ren breaks down the issue quite well. The more a character is aligned with heteronormality, the more likely showrunners are willing to include them.)
Some think that Jughead in the comics is sometimes portrayed more as a caricature of aro/ace. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I talked before about how stereotypes within the community differ from stereotypes placed on it. I, in general, think Jughead fits what you described, however, but it’s more of a ‘haha me’ situation than a ‘haha them’ in my opinion.
If Riverdale does move towards Jughead exploring his sexuality, what are some things you hope to see?
Oh, boy. I don’t think they can fix this themselves anymore without adding harm as they do it. There’s an infamous House episode that talks about asexuality only to attack the community. At this point, I see no other safe path besides getting an own voices writer and running it past focus groups of the community being shown.
If there was something you wish you could explain about aro/ace to other people, what would it be?
For me, this always comes back to two points. Stop assuming things about other people, and these aren’t this or that identities.
Do you think the entertainment industry disregards things like sexuality because they don’t understand it/they think the audience won’t understand it?
I think it comes down to profits, while I fully believe the industry doesn’t understand most times, I think the heart of the issue is they know that queer communities show up even if they are shorted. There is no better-documented example for this theory than women having the most buying power but less on screen time.
Do you have any recommendations for aro/ace representation in media?
I don’t think I have the authority to say what is good aro/ace representation, so here’s my general advice. Stay away from visual media as much as you can. They always do as little as possible and generally have so much money pumped in that it’s hard to get them to budge. Focus on books, specifically indie and self-pubbed own voices books as much as you can. Capitalism allows for buying power, as much as I hate it, it is a useful tool. Claudie Arseneault’s database also is helpful here.