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.