“They Couldn’t Let Us Have Just ONE”: The Asexual and Aromantic Erasure of Jughead in CW’s Riverdale.
As a teenager in a boarding school in Nigeria, one of my favorite comics was “Archie”. I enjoyed the depiction of suburban American life that was far removed from the bubble-like existence that I led in my Wi-Fi free campus, in the middle of a small village on the outskirts of Abuja. More than that, I loved the uniquely relatable existence of Jughead, my favorite character in the comics. Jughead had two great loves in his life, his community and his food. That was it.
To some this may not seem that significant, but for an aromantic and asexual teen who was increasingly realizing that she was not like many of her peers it meant everything. So much of young adult fiction and media in general is consumed with the struggle for romantic and sexual love with the implication that happiness in life is tied to romantic love. From childhood, we are fed the idea that your life isn’t complete or full unless you someday find a “significant other”, or your “other half”. We are taught to feel bad for people without romantic attachments because society perceives them as less than. The pursuit and possession of “The One” is so central to our lives, what happens when you realize that this is not something that you want? What will your life look like then?
These were the questions that plagued me. I began to think there was something wrong with me. I would play at heteronormativity while wondering why I never felt the same way as anyone I dated. I thought I was broken. Then, I met the character of Jughead Jones. Almost immediately, he felt familiar to me. Here, finally, was a teenager like me who, despite being surrounded by friends deeply entrenched in the pursuit of romantic relationships, felt no desire to pursue one for himself. Here, finally, was a fictional character with a full life that did not involve romantic or sexual attraction, and his life did not seem any less for it. He didn’t often date and when queried by his friends about his romantic feelings he would say that he doesn’t feel that way about anyone. Romantic relationships that his friends tried to push him into inevitably failed as Jughead tried to make it clear to everyone that he was an unapologetic aromantic, asexual, and touch-averse teenager. Slowly the thought formed in my mind: if Jughead could have a full life without romance or sex maybe I could too.
As a young adult, it has been awhile since I’ve read the Archie comics, but when I heard that my Juggie was being brought to life in a new show on Netflix called Riverdale (named after the town from the original comics) I freaked out. Recently, the questions from my teen years about my sexuality and how that could affect my future had begun to fill my thoughts. The prospect of seeing a Jughead on TV who normalized me and reminded me of what my life could be, excited me. I also learnt that after decades of alluding to Jughead’s asexuality, a few years ago his sexuality was explicitly written into the comics. When I witnessed Jughead’s portrayal in the show, I was gobsmacked. This cynical character from the wrong side of the tracks was not the Jughead that I remembered. Where was his affinity for burgers and distaste for physical touch? Why was he being portrayed as someone on the extreme margins of their friend group and the community? I was trying to make peace with it, at least until I discovered that the writers of the show had decided that Jughead was not aromantic, asexual or touch-averse and that he would be written as a white heterosexual teenage boy who was “awkward” with romance.
First, I was upset. Now I am livid. How could they erase the one canon asexual and aromantic character that we have? Asexual and aromatic representation is almost non-existent. They did so well with representing people of color. They even included Kevin, a recent addition to the comics and the first openly gay character in the world of Riverdale in this show. Yet they couldn’t give us Jughead? Aphobia is insidious and real.
They didn’t just erase Jughead’s sexuality though. They turned him into someone we can barely recognise. They took away the things that made him special, that made him unique, and turned him into a stock emo character. They drained him of his soul. They essentially created a new character and dubbed him Jughead. What’s worse, the writers of Riverdale know exactly what they’ve done and whom they are hurting. They have been contacted several times about these issues by members of the Asexual and Aromantic community in and outside of threads using the #AroAceJugheadorBust and #AceAroJugheadorBust. Their responses have ranged from ignorance to outright mockery.
What has been most hurtful is the lack of support from the rest of the LGBTQIA community. The silence is deafening. Some have gone so far as to gaslight and abuse us online for speaking up. Aromantic and Asexual folks are tired. There is no allyship for us in the “community”. It took me almost 26 years to find the words to describe my sexuality. It took me until this awful situation to start to find my community. I don’t want this to be anyone else’s story. Erasure kills. Representation matters.