The Eleventh Doctor as Asexual

A little bit of Doctor Who, today.

 

Eleven is my doctor. Of course, I loved Nine and Ten as well, for different reasons – Nine was the oncoming storm, born out of the rage and sorrow of war. Eccleston’s performance was very raw, and yet at the same time very whacky. I loved series two and three with Ten and his angst and his craziness, wanting to be human so badly, but I feel that the writers overdid his melodrama and ego towards the end of series four.

But Eleven – he is everything that I would want in the doctor. Rather than being the angsty teenager Ten was, Eleven revels in his alienness. He’s the teacher, mentor and crazy professor figure, wanting to show others all of time and space, which for him has become only a backyard. He’s older and wiser, but there’s also a darker edge to him. He’s manipulative and is capable of rage (something all the doctors are capable of, really). Eleven’s is a quiet kind of rage, which simmers and bubbles before exploding. Look at the end of The Beast Below: “Nobody human has anything to say to me today,” and that small sentence in The Impossible Astronaut where he tells his friends “don’t play games with me. Don’t ever think you’re capable of that.” We know that Eleven is not scared of changing the way things are, which he only recognises, I think, when it’s reflected back at him through River. It’s an understated darkness, which I think is all the more powerful for it.

And he’s capable of genuine warmth and comfort. Ironically, he’s most human in his complete alienness. And of course, he’s hilariously funny and geeky; his comedic range and laugh-out-loud, witty lines are incredible.

But what I really want to talk about in this post is Eleven as asexual – something we see quite clearly in some scenes and episodes, such as Amy’s attempted seduction (which I maintain wasn’t really meant for anything serious), the “get a girlfriend, Jeff” type comments, the obvious (and endearing) awkwardness of that kiss at the end of Day of the Moon.

And there we get to River Song.

I love River Song to bits. I have a couple of issues with her characterisation (backstory mainly, you know), but most of them I can look over simply because we don’t know the whole story yet, and probably never will. There’s so much more to her than we can see at the moment. But the question is – does the Doctor’s relationship give him a sexual identity rather than an asexual one?

It would depend on how you characterise their relationship. The most obvious reading to me is that Eleven does actually fall in love with her as he gets to know her better – what’s not to fall in love with? Post-Wedding of River Song, they’re two individuals on pretty much even footing. They both have made mistakes, they both have complicated lives and complicated pasts, they both rely on each other in different ways but still have independent lives. I think Eleven feels a great deal of responsibility towards River as well. But I think he does fall in love with her, before TWORS, with the adult River. And how could he not love her completely from then on?

 

The Fez and the Hair: non-sexual relationship?

 

But I would still argue that Eleven is asexual. Or at least, demisexual.

For anyone not clued-up on shades of asexuality: asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction (but not necessarily romantic or emotional attraction – asexuality distinguishes between different types of attraction). Demisexuality is when someone gradually becomes sexually attracted to someone, but only after having been in an emotional/romantic relationship for some time. It’s not uncommon for asexual or demisexual people to have relationships with sexual people, either.

We know that Eleven and River have a relationship of some sort. We don’t know if it has a sexual component – for all we know, the line might be drawn at kissing. River has been coded as sexual pretty clearly, but there’s nothing saying that a relationship between them would necessarily be sexual. Eleven to me shows clear signs of emotional/intellectual/possibly even romantic attraction to River from The Time of Angels onwards, and we can see he’s getting a little bolder every time he meets her, enjoying her flirting and even flirting back. (Back-to-back, gun-holding flirting? Best flirting ever, and I can’t stand flirting in real life.) But to me, he’s still at least demisexual, if not completely asexual. And even if we’re shown evidence of a sexual relationship in the future? I’ll still think so. Plenty of asexuals have sex. It’s just the sexual attraction that’s not there. It doesn’t mean Eleven’s not capable of love, because I believe love does not have to include sex.

Eleven’s asexuality is part of why I love his incarnation so much. It’s a bit of a pity that even though there are quite a few asexual characters in television, they’re never explicitly stated to be such – but even just as it is, it’s a little bit of visibility for anyone giving it a bit of thought. And visibility is what asexuality continuously needs.

 

A note on comment moderation: this blog is a safe place for all sexualities, especially asexuals and all its shades of grey. If you want to disagree with my interpretation of Eleven as asexual, I welcome it – but I will not put up with intolerance towards asexuality as a sexual orientation.

19 thoughts on “The Eleventh Doctor as Asexual

  1. The only thing I would contest is calling asexual people “asexuals”. As asexuality is only one piece of who someone is, using that term is defining them by only that one aspect. I think it’s damaging to use that phrasing, just as it would be for any other category of people, such as those who are transgendered. They’re not “transgenders”, they’re transgendered people. I think what I’m trying to say is that type of phrasing erases their humanity and reduces them to only their sexuality.

    • Hi Cate,

      Your post takes me aback a little, even though I can see where you are coming from – in certain situations (disability for example) what you say is true. But I don’t know what your own identity is, but as an asexual person, I know that I am quite happy to call myself an asexual, and I know that it’s pretty common going in the asexual community for people to refer to themselves collectively as asexuals, or sometimes aces, the abbreviated version. While I agree that being asexual is only a part of who I am, it’s a big part of that, because it’s something that identifies me in contrast to the dominant cultural discourse. In this way, seeing myself as part of a group called asexuals, or grey As, or demisexuals, is empowering to me. Just like you would refer to a community of same-sex attracted women lesbians. (I don’t think anyone would call lesbians “lesbian people” or “people who are lesbian”.) I could go through the post changing every mention of “asexuals” to “asexual people,” but to me it does not make an ideological difference the way that, say “disabled people” and “people with disability” vary in their meanings. When I use the term “asexuals” I use it inclusively, as a collective term for anyone who identifies as something other than “sexual.”

      I could point out in a similar way to you that your use of the pronoun “them” has a connotation of them and us that can erase the humanity of groups other to the social norm. But it’s clear to me that you don’t mean anything by it, so it puzzles me slightly that you find the use of “asexuals” problematic.

      • Hello,

        My comment was only pointing out my initial reactions to the use of that expression, though even as I was writing I could see it both ways. I’m not asexual; I belong to a different minority group. There are ways we talk about ourselves and our experiences and how we define it all together, in our community, that we wouldn’t want outsiders to see or use as the meaning changes. And in general the outsider use of it isn’t benign and indeed contributes to the continuation of problems.

        I used the pronoun ‘them’ because I was talking about a group of people, and I’m not a part of that group… is there another way I could have said it?

        I hope you don’t think I’m trying to language police you. I just wanted to open a dialogue. :)

      • You raise a very pertinent point about the way that groups talk to/about/with eachother internally and how others talk to people of that group – yes, there is a difference, especially when it comes to cases where people aren’t happy to simply identify as gay/straight/lesbian. (Transgendered people, asexual people, gender-queer people, etc).

        Personally I think that when it comes to asexuality, visibility is still such an issue, moreso than the gay/lesbian community. Even people very familiar in the GLBT community often haven’t heard of asexuality – I know I hadn’t heard of it before six months ago. So in a way, anyone being able to name someone an asexual (at least half-accurately) is good, because it means that they actually know what asexuality is, and thus our visibility is minutely increased. But yes, you are right that some people also use the term incorrectly, or with stereotyped views. It’s really quite difficult to think about, and I thank you for opening that question. Labels will always walk the line between liberating and confining.

        As for “them” – no, there’s no other pronoun you could have used – which was kinda my point. So much of our identity is defined by opposition – transgendered people to cis people, gay people to straight people, asexuals/asexual people to sexual people. I guess asexuality is particularly frustrating in respect to that sometimes because it’s an identity comprised solely of something that isn’t there. (Which is why you can get so much shit about “not having tried it” as an asexual.)

        Either way, thanks for commenting – this is exactly the reason why I blog, to see comments like this!

  2. I agree with most or almost all of what you say here (though 10 is my Doctor). However, I have come to love 11 very much, for all the reasons you stated above. I’m just not sure about the asexuality.

    I say this mainly because in season 6, 11 is obviously drawn to River, and there is that incredible flirting/shooting scene; I can’t help but wonder if he does, in all the nights they have together, doesn’t learn a bit more about sexuality. An active sexuality, if you will.

    It’s obvious that at the beginning of season 5 he doesn’t have much of a clue about this whole thing. He admits to Amy, when she tries to seduce him, that it has not been a long time for him (I think he’s channeling 10 here) but falls back on the “you human, me Time Lord” reasoning. Before that, however, when he is sitting beside her and she’s vamping up a storm and he just does not get it–it’s quite clear that this new Doctor may understand what sex and relationships are, but he does not find either (except friendship) attractive. Now 10, 10 would have known exactly what was going on.

    I love River–hell, I cosplay River. Alex Kingston and I are about the same age, and I have crazy curly blondish hair, so I had to be her for a bit, you know? Sorry, OT a bit. The one thing I wonder about, when I think of the two of them, sneaking out night after night, is whether River would be OK with an asexual–or demisexual–relationship. I think she loves the Doctor passionately, and trusts him absolutely, but–OK, that one awkward kiss? The way she said, “Is that it? Aren’t you forgetting something?” may mean that kissing is just something they do when 11 takes River back to Stormcage, but her passion, the way she says the line–almost imploringly–implies (at least to me) that sometimes, at least, there is more than kissing going on. But I do see your point as well, and if there is a sexual relationship between 11 and River–likely we will not ever know, unless The Moff decides otherwise.

    I’m reminded of Torchwood: Children of Earth here. You know the scene when Ianto goes to visit his sisiter and tries to explain why he is with Jack? He says something like (badly paraphrased) “It’s not men, it’s him.” And I think that could be what’s going on here with River and 11. It’s not women–it’s her. Or so I like to think.

    I am going to Gallifrey One in February (4 weeks!) and am on a panel that basically looks at the entirety of season 6. Your comments here are VERY helpful. If I use any of your ideas–you never know what question will pop up–I will credit you. Thanks you writing this. If you have any other insights into the 6th season, I’d love to hear them.

    Peace,
    Shelley Hunt

    • Thanks for your comments, I’m glad I’ve contributed to your thinking about series 6! I’d be very interested in where Gallifrey One’s discussion leads.

      As for the flirting and the “what she does at night” comments – I think it’s a matter of balance here. Remember, these comments are also coming from the character who doesn’t understand what Amy and Rory (a married couple) could possibly not like about a bunk bed. And innuendo alone does not create a sexual relationship. But I much agree with your comment on it not being “women” but just “River” – to me a very much demisexual thought. It’s quite possible that they explore sexuality other than kissing together – but also possible that the night are just adventures and closeness based on intellectual/emotional attraction, but no direct sexual attraction. (I guess what we have is the most we’ll see in a family show though!)

      Also, a brief comment on knowing/understanding love/relationships/sexual attraction/etc – I could easily hold my own in a conversation about sex if I were pretending to be sexual (or even without) – but that doesn’t mean I understand sexual attraction! :)

  3. I really enjoyed reading this! You articulated your point very clearly and I think, looking at the evidence of River and 11’s relationship so far (and his deferment of Amy’s advances) that it is quite plausible for the Doctor to be asexual. He does have that sense of being his own entity, and we haven’t seen him (nor will we probably see, given the nature of the show) an instance of him being completely sexual. I don’t really agree with him being asexual – but that’s probably just the River/Eleven shipper in me wanting them to get it on ;)

    The idea of demisexual struck me, though, because a lot of people who would identify themselves as sexual would first have a romantic relationship with a partner before any sexual desires occured. In any case, it is certainly an interesting topic!
    Good luck with this, Jo.
    xx Emma

  4. Hi Jo!
    It’s Ellie from Latin summer school. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but now it looks like I don’t have to. I’ll just bug you on this amazing blog. That being said, you’re totally wrong, David Tennant is the best and always will be.

  5. YES YES OMG YES. Nine might have been sexual, Ten most certainly was, but Eleven? TOTALLY ACE. I get the feeling it’s almost too human for him – “It’s not like they put up a balloon or anything!” etc. Dunno how far you’ve gotten in Season 7, but it’s pretty clear that he adopts sort-of sexual things (kissing, at least) in a non-sexual way… though in Angels Take Manhattan he’s definitely sexual towards River, I like the thought of it developing out of love/romance, in a demisexual way. I might write a blog myself about it. (Or a fanfiction, hah.)

    Totally bookmarking you, btw. :)

    • Haha, yes! Eleven is really interesting in his relationship with River, I think there is a LOT of stuff that happens outside of the show – not in terms of them sneaking off to make out, but a lot of traveling and talking and getting really really comfortable with each other. Not sure about him being sexual towards River himself in TATM, but I see it as a romantic asexual relationship, with Eleven being able to accommodate River, and River being able to accommodate Eleven.

      And thanks for the bookmark! You can subscribe via email to this blog on the sidebar as well! *winks*

  6. Wow amazing blog! Can’t believe I’m just stumbling across it now! Keep up the great work! I will be checking back here more often XD

  7. Very interesting article. It got me thinking: Do you think ten (or nine) and Rose ever had a sexual relationship? It always seemed to me that they never admitted their feelings until the end, but there was a lot of off screen traveling in those first two seasons. Just something I’m wondering about.

    • Well, the way I see Rose’s relationship with the Doctor is that they were getting very close towards the end of Nine’s run, and then everything had to get reset a bit when he regenerated, and that then they developed into having what people would generally see as a romantic friendship or relationship. I think they loved each other. That said, I don’t know about whether their relationship was sexual, simply because my brain doesn’t automatically see people who are intimate and assume they are having sex. On the other hand, to other people it probably seemed like a given that they were having sex off screen. Ten’s character (for me) was all about wanting to be human. Whether that means having sexual relationships… Well, I just don’t know. It seems kind of irrelevant to me, I guess. What do you think?

  8. I really like your take on the Doctor and his marriage. One of the things I love about Eleven and River is that despite the inherent disconnect between them (i.e. the fact that in most episodes she’s already his wife but he’s not yet her husband), they’re still able to like and respect each other, and to meet each other where they are. The Doctor being asexual and River not would just be a variation on the same theme: he never seems to be judging her for her libidinousness, and she never pressures him to be more sexual than he is. They accept one another for who they are, and negotiate the relationship that works best for both of them.

    I didn’t think their interactions in “The Angels Take Manhattan” came off as particularly sexual. On the contrary, they felt oddly platonic for a married couple. The Doctor clearly demonstrated affection for River, but not necessarily sexual attraction. And when River got to the bit about how frustrating it is being in love with “an ageless god who insists on wearing the face of a twelve-year-old”, I couldn’t help wondering if that was code for a different kind of “frustration”.

    Basically, the Doctor and River could both be sexual, but I actually think imagining them as a mixed couple makes them more interesting. It means River has needs that the Doctor will never fully be able to understand or satisfy, yet he still does what he can to let her know he cares, and she accepts his affection for what it is without expecting him to change.

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