cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Asexuality and Derek Hale

Over on Tumblr, I was asked to explain why I think one reading of Derek is that he's asexual. This was my response.

Let me start with a bit of context. While I often do read Derek as on the asexuality spectrum, I don’t think it’s that black and white. There are several other equally valid ways to interpret canon, and I can see those readings too.

That said, why do I think Derek being on the asexuality spectrum is a reasonable reading?

Oh, let me count the ways.

First of all, asexuality doesn’t mean the person has no libido, or that they are impotent, or that they are also aromantic. (Asexual people can be those things, or not. It depends on each individual). I think Derek is romantic, and I think he has a libido when it’s not suppressed by PTSD. The question arises, for me, about whether he’s sexually attracted to anyone, and if so, who?

His previous history with partners, so far as we know it, really doesn’t tell us much about his preferences or what he’d choose for himself (or if he’s even developed a self-awareness of his own sexual preferences).

Derek was genuinely interested in Paige, according to Peter’s dubious flashback (which for the purposes of this discussion I’ll take at face value, although I’m really not sure we can). He liked her, was romantically interested in her, wanted to touch her, but I’m not entirely convinced he felt strong sexual desire for her — that just didn’t come through in what we saw. There was a physical aspect to it, and it was sensual, but not necessarily hugely sexual. Think about the other teenage relationships we’ve seen (eg. Scott/Allison, Danny/Ethan, Lydia/Aiden). The way sexuality has been expressed in those relationships was different — more passionate, more physical.

There’s lots of ways to read this — tentative first love; no time for it to go further; we just didn’t see them acting on their attraction but they did outside of the flashback scenes. Things like that. But it could also mean that for Derek, sex wasn’t a priority. There’s enough ambiguity in what we’re shown that I can easily read this as someone trying out a relationship, trying to connect romantically with someone, but not knowing what he really wants from the relationship yet in terms of sexual intimacy.

Like gay/lesbian/bi and trans* coming out stories, people on the asexuality spectrum sometimes try out normative relationships before realising they don’t quite fit, especially if the person is romantic as well as asexual or grey/demisexual. I can read that narrative into Derek and Paige’s relationship easily enough. Derek feels affection and/or love for Paige, and knows he can jerk off just fine, and so thinks he should feel desire, but doesn’t feel it (or perhaps not yet if he’s grey/demi). He gives it a shot because he thinks that how things work.

Obviously, there are other ways to read this relationship, and I think we’re meant to read it as tender young romantic heterosexual love. I do see the possibility for romantic love, just… not much sexual chemistry.

Moving on, we know Kate seduced Derek under false pretenses. While we didn’t see that play out, there are a few fairly clear implications offered up by canon. Derek thought it was a romance. He’s depicted as feeling deeply ashamed when Kate confronts him, which implies he felt some pretty strong feelings for her; my reading is that he was genuinely fooled by her, and felt honest affection and trust right up until he realised what she’d done. All of that supports that he’s romantic, but tells us nothing about his sexuality. Meanwhile, Kate grossly objectifies him, and probably did to some extent back then too, which he likely mistook for affection. He’s clearly disgusted and frightened at the thought of her touching him in canon. Fair enough, too; that doesn’t need further explanation than his feelings of shame, fear and betrayal.

However, even if we accept that obvious reading, there are additional ways it could be read which complement it. For example: he’s worried he’ll react to her sexually and feel betrayed by his own body (ie. he’s not asexual); or, he doesn’t actually like sexual touching much, and while he he enjoyed some aspects of sex in the context of affection and love (grey or demisexuality, perhaps), it’s something he hates now (asexuality spectrum combined with avoidance due to trauma).
It’s not a stretch for me to think of Kate having seduced Derek while he was still trying to figure out his sexuality, especially after the emotional upheaval or Paige’s death. I think it’s unlikely he even understood his own sexuality at that point — most people don’t at that age. Even if we are sure of our orientation as teenagers, as we grow older experience and living usually add nuance and deeper understanding to our sexual identities. With regards to young Derek, the implication is that Kate was his first sex partner, and given it was under false pretenses, it couldn’t be consensual on Derek’s part. That means there wasn’t really scope within the relationship for him to explore what he liked or didn’t like — it was all about Kate and her power trip. I think it’s likely she coerced him in order to deepen his feelings for her, probably with a more subtle variation on the “If you loved me you would,” or “I’ll love you more if you would,” arguments.

My point is, Kate is not really evidence in the column for confirmed (hetero)sexuality. Derek was coerced and couldn’t give meaningful consent; it may even have been statutory rape in all the ways that the law is designed to stop. I doubt Derek sees it that way, but to me this relationship tells us very little about Derek’s actual preferences or choices.

Then there’s Jennifer. Again, she seduced him under false pretenses. The implication is that she whammied him with magic somehow. She definitely made the first move in terms of sex, so none of that aspect of the relationship tells us anything about Derek’s own preferences or choices, for all the same kind of reasons as Kate.

While it was after he was whammied by Jennifer, and therefore is suspect, we did get one scene in which Derek clearly initiated intimate touching. He hugged Jennifer in the underpass at the school. In that scene he was happy to see her, wanted to touch her, enjoyed it. The hug was definitely affectionate and intimate, but it was not particularly sexual on his part. (I think you could make an argument it was on her part.) Assuming her whammy allowed him any free will, what we see is Derek expressing his desire for touch as non-sexual physical affection.

There are a few other instances of Derek expressing sexuality in the show. He knowingly uses his own sexual appeal to seduce people — Erica when offering the bite; distracting the cop so Stiles can sneak into the station. Both of these moments are clearly signalled as being fake — he doesn’t mean these seductions as genuine offers of sex. He explicitly rejects Erica when she kisses him, and looks uncomfortable as he does so. His smile for the cop is the fakest fake thing we’ve ever seen; what’s more, it was right after a scene in which he made Stiles stop touching him. That’s still fresh in our minds as he smiles his fake smile.

Derek hated Stiles pimping his body out to Danny. So much so, he whacked Stiles and told him off for it afterwards. This is not something Derek commonly does, and I think it’s pretty telling that Stiles is the person he feels okay with saying “No” to and setting boundaries with. (I’m not getting into the problems with him hitting Stiles in this post, but it would be interesting to do a meta on all the times Derek has touched people, and what kinds of touches they are.)

Again there are different ways this scene could be read. Here are several possibilities (some of them could even work together). Derek is so traumatised by sexual contact he hates having his sexual agency taken away, even in this relatively benign context (I think this is the most likely reading). Derek could either be bisexual or gay, which he’s not had opportunity to explore or express because of his traumatic past, and so felt uncomfortable suddenly being made aware of it when Danny was looking at him. Derek could be homophobic, and didn’t like being pimped out to a man. Derek could be on the asexuality spectrum, and dislikes being sexualised. Derek could already be in love with Stiles, and disliked having his nose rubbed in Stiles’ lack of feelings for him (I think this one is unlikely, but it’s there to be read in, should one wish to do so).
Because I read Derek as having PTSD, it muddies my reading of his sexuality. I can totally see him not liking being touched because of his trauma. That could explain it all, and he might actually be both romantic and sexual if he had no trauma, and might be again if he has time and therapy and heals. On the other hand, I can read him as lacking self-awareness of his own sexuality, because the rapes, assaults, and his PTSD mean he hasn’t explored it in the way most young people do; in other words, he’s still about 16 sexually speaking. In this scenario, he could be straight, gay, bi or asexual (and/or trans*) — there’s just no way to know.

But the thing that really sells me on the likelihood he’s a) sexually traumatised, and b) romantic, and c) on the asexuality spectrum is that we’ve seen no evidence of him seeking comfort in casual sex (one fairly common outcome of sexual abuse), and very little evidence of him seeking other forms of physical contact (which could include cuddling, but more likely picking fights so he can punch and tussle with people). Instead he’s physically withdrawn. He barely touches people at all — a hand on the shoulder of those he considers allies, which is about as non-sexual as a touch can possibly be; training or helping his betas when absolutely necessary; fighting if he’s attacked or protecting someone.

In other words, a lot of my “evidence” is actually the surprising lack of evidence. It’s unusual for a character like Derek to have so little physical contact with people, and to so rarely initiate the contact he does have. If/when more evidence is given to us in canon, I’ll revise my thinking. But for now, reading Derek as on the asexuality spectrum works pretty well.
Given the arc of 3b, I do think Derek’s got strong feelings for Stiles. I’d even go so far as to say I think Derek feels the beginnings of romantic love for Stiles, and that the feeling is hooked into his PTSD as part of his coping mechanisms. I don’t think it’s sexual. It could just be non-sexual right now because trauma has killed his libido. It could be that he’s asexual and will never feel sexual desire for anyone. It could be that he’s on the asexuality spectrum, likely grey- or demisexual, and his feelings could turn sexual once he’s less traumatised and knows Stiles better.

The last option is the one I prefer.

I doubt we’ll get a sexual relationship between Derek and Stiles in canon. I’m actually really okay with that, if we get a romantic asexual relationship in canon. I would really, really love that. OMG, so much. Like, I’d do Gollum impressions over it: I wants it, Precciiiooouuuusssss!

(I think a fully realised asexual romance is even more unlikely than a sexual relationship, to be honest, but I do love the possibility of it.)

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Tags: derek hale, meta, teen wolf
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