Not all representation is good: Mr. Clean

Of all the things I thought I’d be doing today, writing a post about my feelings on Mr. Clean was not one of them. However, since the “Mr. Clean is asexual because he’s just so clean!” thing floating around Twitter won’t go away, here we go.

If you Google “Is Mr. Clean gay” Google helpfully tells you that “Mr. Clean is neither gay, straight nor bi, he is asexual because sex of any kind is just too dirty for him. His first love has always been cleaning. He can’t even bear to be seen in anything but clean, perfectly white clothes. So it has been his whole life.” Things have gotten silly enough that it is now taking this text (at least for me) from a Gizmodo article talking about that being the text that Google pulls up when you search for this.

The internet seems to love this, if the number of times this has appeared in my Twitter feed is any indication. Which has given me plenty of opportunities to develop my rage at the entire concept.

The first part is that this is a damaging misrepresentation of what asexuality is. Asexual people do not (or only rarely) experience sexual attraction to other people. That is it. That is the entirety of the definition. It does not talk about their behaviour (if they choose to have sex or not) or their attitudes about sex. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, not a value system.

These misrepresentations have real world consequences. Acephobic people use them to claim that the asexual community and the language we use is sexualizing everyone else when we try to talk about our own experiences. This is the logic used to demonize the world allosexual, or the concept of the split attraction model. When asexuality is misrepresented as behaviour and a value system, then by trying to describe people who are not asexual, we are seen to be forcing the opposite of those behaviours and values on everyone else.

I also need to talk about sex-repulsion, which can be experienced by allosexual people as well as asexual people. I am a sex-positive sex-repulsed person. I’m sex-positive in the sense that my value system is that I’m fine with anyone who engages in consensual sex. I’m sex-repulsed in that the idea of me being involved with sex in any way is deeply upsetting. For me this has nothing to do with cleanliness, and while it is related to how I engage with my sexual and romantic orientations, it is not an inherent part of being asexual.

Finally, there is also the aspect of asexuals being “cleaner” than other orientations. There is one discussion to be had about how this is horribly judgemental for people who do have sex, but I’m going to leave that to others who are better qualified to talk about it. I want to talk about the idea that not having sex makes you somehow cleaner.

The idea that I am cleaner than someone else because I lack the ability to be sexually attracted to people effectively imposes a morality judgement on me because of my sexual orientation. It falls in with stereotypes that infantilize aces, and assume we’re more innocent, naive, pure, etc. This is harmful, because it makes us seem like we are not fully human. That we are lacking in some degree of “adultness” that lets proper adults have their sex lives. These assumptions are baked right into our language, where “clean” is used to indicate (among other things) a lack of sexually explicit material, while adult entertainment is synonymous with sexually explicit.

When representation and understanding of asexuality is so rare, things like this matter. It may seem like a silly joke, but it’s severely misrepresenting asexuality to the detriment of asexual people and our community. Representation is important, but poor representation can be more damaging than no representation at all.

I am a person, and you’re unlikely to find me wearing white, because I would spill something on it (probably tea) within about 5 seconds of putting it on. I am not a walking cleaner ad, and that should not be used to represent me. This is a example of people taking harmful “representation” and running with it, just because it seems funny. I would hope on this week, Asexual Awareness Week, we could expect better than this.

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14 thoughts on “Not all representation is good: Mr. Clean

  1. although we seem to have some difference of opinion, glad to see someone else felt negatively about this whole Mr. Clean thing. haven’t seen anyone else mention anything of it…

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  2. FYI, I was the one that wrote that answer on Quora which to my own surprise became the source of a new meme. It was not meant to be in any way a value judgement but was more a wordsmithy means to describe how I imagine Mr. Clean identifies. I do lots of hypotheticals from ‘How close are we to making an Iron Man Suit’ to ‘Is it possible to make a Lightsaber’.

    I suppose I could have avoided some of these issues you raise by saying he is “Nonsexual” but Asexual was more punchy to get the point across.

    The concept was that Mr. Clean would not want to engage in sex with either (any) gender(s) because the very thought of messy fluid transfers would be alien to him. I just in my headspace see Mr. Clean as being appalled at the thought of such things. Thus he avoids such sexual attachments. He has no desire to have sex.

    As an FYI: I am a Transgender MtF bi leaning lesbian. (I prefer women 10 to 1 over men). I also support gender and sexual minorities and their rights as an activist and writer. I support and will gladly fight for your rights.

    Can you suggest a better way that I might have expressed the sentiment that I explain above?


    Mod edited to remove unnecessary detail about how sex is messy. This is a space that is welcoming to sex-repulsed individuals, and details make it difficult to engage in the conversation.

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    1. I’m not the author of this blog post but as a lurker I would like to reply and day nonsexual wouldn’t be much better. “Mr. Clean’s orientation is irrelevant because he’s celibate” might be a little better in terms of not being inaccurate and mischaracterizing to asexual people, but considering sex to be unclean has all sorts of deeper unfortunate implications so really it’s not just how you said it. It’s the content of what you wanted to say too.

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    2. Thank you for responding, I’m glad you’re willing to engage on this topic. I’ve broken down your response to address it piece by piece. There’s a lot to address, and I think this is the clearest way to explain.

      FYI, I was the one that wrote that answer on Quora which to my own surprise became the source of a new meme. It was not meant to be in any way a value judgement but was more a wordsmithy means to describe how I imagine Mr. Clean identifies. I do lots of hypotheticals from ‘How close are we to making an Iron Man Suit’ to ‘Is it possible to make a Lightsaber’.

      I understand that you answer lots of hypothetical questions, but there is a difference between speculating on science and using real people’s identities. Especially when using terms that belong to an often erased group, you can’t just claim them and redefine them to suit your purposes.

      I suppose I could have avoided some of these issues you raise by saying he is “Nonsexual” but Asexual was more punchy to get the point across.

      Nonsexual isn’t any better, since it still implies an orientation. And dismissing an orientation as a “punchy” way of getting your point across is insensitive at best.

      The concept was that Mr. Clean would not want to engage in sex with either (any) gender(s) because the very thought of messy fluid transfers would be alien to him. I just in my headspace see Mr. Clean as being appalled at the thought of such things. Thus he avoids such sexual attachments. He has no desire to have sex.

      First, I removed your details about exactly how messy sex can be. As I stated in the post above, I am sex-repulsed. Including that detail was unnecessary and upsetting to myself and possibly other readers of this blog.

      A person’s asexuality says nothing about how they feel about sex or relationships. It merely defines if and how they experience sexual attraction to other people. An allosexual person can choose to be celibate for a variety of reasons. An asexual person can choose to have (and enjoy) sexual activity.

      Furthermore, associating alienness anywhere near asexuality is deeply problematic. Asexual people are frequently dehumanized, as some people consider sexual attraction a necessary part of human existence. Using alien as a term to describe asexuality can be deeply hurtful.

      As an FYI: I am a Transgender MtF bi leaning lesbian. (I prefer women 10 to 1 over men). I also support gender and sexual minorities and their rights as an activist and writer. I support and will gladly fight for your rights.

      I’m glad to hear that you’re willing to try to be an ally to the asexual community. I trust that based on your own experiences, you can understand why it is important to not misrepresent people’s identities, or to imply that they are pathological in nature.

      Can you suggest a better way that I might have expressed the sentiment that I explain above?

      I’m not sure that there is one to fit what you’re looking for. Sex-repulsed comes close, but misrepresenting it to suggest that sex-repulsed people are simply people who don’t like a mess is damaging. When the people who identify with these words are barely visible in society, using those words in relation to a mascot can cause much more harm than good.

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    3. “Mod edited to remove unnecessary detail about how sex is messy. This is a space that is welcoming to sex-repulsed individuals, and details make it difficult to engage in the conversation.”

      But it exactly is a necessary detail and that is why. The above is exactly an example of my thinking on Mr. Clean. He would be one such “sex-repulsed” individual. You “cleaned” my comment of factual details on how sex is in fact a messy biological process and why it might be thought of such by Mr. Clean.

      Oh and I wanted to add that your article speaks of Asexual awareness week, you should keep in mind the text was written years ago (Sep 2014) and only recently became the meme that it now is. The timing and google’s decision to make it the definitive answer had nothing to do with that particular week. The internet latches onto things at its own pace. The algorithms Google uses to make this the instant answer may have made it such long before this was widely know. It could have been such months or even a year before. I don’t know when it started.

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      1. So you now claim to understand what sex repulsion is, Mikayla mentions that she is sex repulsed, and you think that triggering that repulsion is necessary to getting your point across? That’s cruel.

        Right now you are in defensive mode, I suggest turning that off, and listening, You took a pathological desire for cleanliness and attributed it to an orientation. That is harmful. You were told why. Read it again if it didn’t sink it.

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      2. “triggering that repulsion is necessary to getting your point across? That’s cruel.” I think you attribute things to my words I did not say. I made a point of how this would be similar to how I imagine he would feel.

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      3. It was unnecessary because “sex is messy” gets your point across without upsetting people in a space where I have openly discussed being sex-repulsed.

        I commented on it being AAW, not in relation to your original post, but because of the meme. However, asexuality has been discussed online long before 2014, and your post is still problematic regardless of timing.

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  3. “triggering that repulsion is necessary to getting your point across? That’s cruel.” I think you attribute things to my words I did not say. I made a point of how this would be similar to how I imagine he would feel.

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    1. Did you intend to trigger Mikayla’s repulsion in explaining your thought process of a fictional character? Probably not. Bit impact is more important than intent. You were told that the detail was unnecessary, and it is. She politely removed it to avoid triggering others. Sex repulsion is a reaction to knowing those details, they aren’t needed when describing sex repulsion.

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    2. Regardless of intent, I will not be hosting sexual content here which makes me uncomfortable. Explicitly stating things that you assume that a sex-repulsed individual would find upsetting when I have stated that I am sex-repulsed is insensitive at best and deliberately trying to upset me at worst.

      I highly recommend you educate yourself about asexuality. There are plenty of online resources available.

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