The importance of Representation in media

by Katelyn Burns

I’m very picky about what I read, and often don’t finish a book if it ends up not meeting my criteria. Criteria like having complex, diverse, and relatable characters (preferably, characters who won’t give me second-hand embarrassment). As a caucasian girl with brown hair and brown eyes I’m lucky, there are a lot of characters who look like me. However, I struggle to find characters with similar experiences,  or struggles. For example, characters who are asexual. An asexual main character is what drew me to the novel Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire.

For context, Every Heart A Doorway is about murders at a boarding school for children who’ve returned from magical worlds, like Narnia, and Wonderland. Nancy Whitman, our leading lady, has just returned from the Halls of the Dead. Her parents think she’s delusional, and send her to the boarding school for children like her, children who went to magical worlds and whose parents think they are delusional. So, she meets lots of fascinating characters.

Characters like Sumi, Kade, Jack, Jill, and Christopher. I was enthused that Nancy wasn’t the only character I could relate to. Christopher, who hid information about himself for fear of being excluded, is relatable. Jack and Jill, who were pushed into roles by their parents (“the smart one” and “the pretty one”), are relatable. 

Throughout the novel, Nancy comes out as asexual to each of her friends. First to Sumi, in a scene where Nancy explains what asexual means. I had been questioning my sexuality for a while, but hearing Nancy explain asexuality to Sumi made something click for me. I wondered, “How do you know that you don’t feel sexual attraction if you’ve never felt it?” Hearing Nancy, an asexual, describe how she felt made me realize that was how I felt too. Furthermore, Nancy reveals that she is asexual, but not aromantic. The majority of asexual characters that I’ve found (there aren’t many in total, since confirmed asexual representation is hard to find) have been aromantic asexual. However, I’m not aromantic asexual (I’m still questioning my romantic orientation). So, these aroace characters, who were often depicted as not being interested in relationships at all, were hard to relate to. Nancy helped show me that what I was feeling was valid.

Representation of characters with different experiences is so important in the media. It can help people understand themselves (and others) better, it can validate people’s feelings, and spreads awareness.