At last! Yesterday we finally celebrated what so many have been planning for months, mouths watering at the delectable delicacies that await: Happy Ace Day, everyone (…oh, and that other holiday, I guess)! As a very out and proud member of the asexual community I’ve decided to have a little post-celebration here at Black Nerd Problems by sharing an argument for one of my personal favorite ace headcanons, asexual Batman. But before I get too far into what asexuality is and why I think it fits Batman as an orientation, let’s clear up why it’s so necessary for big name comic book characters to be confirmed for so-called “invisible” orientations in general.
In the wake of the announcement of Deadpool’s pansexuality earlier this month (which is a bit like announcing “Ice is cold, everybody!”) nerd meninists everywhere lost it over how comics shouldn’t be used as political opportunities at the expense of the character. To some extent, I get it. Choosing to have a less than elementary understanding of how people and orientations can be diversely depicted despite access to abundant resources via a simple Google search must be frustrating, especially when it follows so closely on the heels of Andrew Garfield daring to suggest that Spider-Man could be pansexual as well. But even though LBGTQIA+ representation has begun flourishing in earnest in the comics industry (as I wrote a little about here), there are still some identities that are just much harder to articulate in print.
Asexuality, a complex umbrella of an orientation mainly described by a lack of sexual attraction to other people, is definitely one of these. Not only does the cultural discourse on this identity remain minimal at best, but any caped crusaders who fall into this category either tend to struggle with human empathy or just aren’t very well known (shout out to the incredible Gail Simone for holding it down with Tremor!). I could go on for days on this subject, but let’s just say it’s high time we take the cue from our LGBTQIA+ siblings and start (re)claiming a few famous comic book characters of our own.
Now Batman has come to stand for a lot of things through the years: being filthy rich, possessing incredible intellect and strategizing ability, and brooding obsessively for hours at the cost of sleep, just to name a few. Yet there’s something about his status as a sex icon that seems… inconsistent. Like Frank Miller’s understanding of how human beings actually function in the world kind of inconsistent.
I know what you might be thinking: doesn’t Batman have sex all the time? And the answer is: it doesn’t matter. One of the dominant narratives among those of us in the asexual umbrella (although obviously there are valid exceptions) regards struggling in romantic and/or sexual relationships because our orientation deviates from a heteronormative society’s expected script, so we often pretend to blend in because we either don’t have the resources and support or are afraid of being misunderstood, rejected, and worse. Living in a culture founded upon misogyny and the male ego also means it’s much easier to argue “Nah, he’s such a sex symbol the women just come to him” because…I don’t know, it’s really impressive when someone offers you something you want and you tell them “no.” But if anything we’ve seen in universe this logic doesn’t apply. For instance, when it comes to one of the most notorious playboys in the cape community, Dick Grayson, there is never a doubt about his motivations in his interactions with other people. In fact, it seems his charm and flirtation tend to make him more attractive, not less.
Remember also that we know canonically Bruce Wayne is quite the actor, whether because of his multiple successful disguises (including his ability to fool 99.9% of the population into thinking he’s just a lazy playboy millionaire) or the fact that his butler was literally a trained actor who no doubt taught him tricks of the trade. It’s not hard at all to see why Bruce would follow a social script and either pretend to sleep with or actually sleep with as many women as would make him appear as normative as possible. In other words, behavior is not the same thing as attraction and shouldn’t be used as a barometer for sexuality.
Perhaps the strongest arguments against this reading are Batman’s relationships with Catwoman and Talia, the latter of which actually managed to conceive a child by Bruce. First, asexual people raise biological children all the time. Secondly, Talia has always been portrayed as aggressive and extremely coercive to the point of constantly grabbing and kissing Bruce without his consent, and then basically manipulating him into either feeling sorry for her because of her father or seeking revenge on him as retribution. Take away Bruce’s reputation as the unshakable Batman and it’s hard not to look at this relationship as just plain abusive with moments that can easily be read as assault if not outright rape.
As for Catwoman, there’s no arguing how upset the entire comics community was when the rooftop scene became public. Again, I’d like to note that behavior is not the same thing as attraction. In addition, Selina and Bruce have a very strong bond formed from years of trust and vulnerability that could very honestly be described as romantic love. Plenty of asexual people are demonstrative (even sexually) with people they romantically love because that’s an attraction different from sexual attraction. Even wanting to touch another person non-sexually is its own attraction (sensual attraction, to be exact). Really, humans are so complex in our interactions with one another and there’s no reason our characters can’t be as well.
In the book Inside the World of Comic Books by Jeffery Klaehn, Steve Englehart claims in an interview he doesn’t see writing Batman as asexual because he “prefer(s) him as a fully-formed human being who has contorted himself in pursuit of his vow.” This kind of dehumanizing and acephobic thinking is exactly why an asexual Batman would be a victory for not only aces but the whole community of orientations that fall outside of heteronormativity. Sometimes being a hero isn’t just about saving people, but teaching us more about what connects us as human beings in a world of differences.
What famous comic book characters do you think should be portrayed as an orientation other than straight? Let us know in the comments or on social media! And don’t forget to wish an asexual happy belated Ace Day!