“Riverdale” react: Let’s talk about Jughead’s sexuality

How do we feel about Jughead and Betty as an item? (CW)

Riverdale Episode 6 | “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” | Aired March 2, 2017

As I wrote before, love was in the air on the latest episode of Riverdale, Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” and maybe it’s just me, but one of my early criticisms of the show thus far is that it is trying wildly hard to impress as the new pulpy, soapy teen show on TV, so much so that it overshoots its mark on several occasions. The first two were involving Chuck and Ms. Grundy, the third being how ridiculously evil the parents of Riverdale are towards their kids (as explained by Black Girl Nerds’ Chelsea A. Hensley). The fourth mark against the show is how Jughead’s sexuality has been treated.

For those of us in the know (which includes a lot more kids and teens than I gave Archie Comics credit for despite being a fan of the comic when I myself was a preteen, which means its rebranding as a fresh new comic book franchise has paid off in dividends), Jughead has been officially canonized as asexual. We don’t have to speculate over his sexuality anymore (although, I have to admit that creating your own headcanon for Jughead was kinda fun–there was one point early in my Archie Comics fandom that I would swear that Jughead and Betty would hook up, then I felt like Jughead and Veronica could make a good opposites attract pairing that clearly wouldn’t last long but would have huge fireworks, then when Kevin came along, I would swear that Jughead and Kevin would be together through their shared love of burgers and competitive eating.)

In any event, Jughead being clearly defined as asexual (and maybe, in an unspoken fashion, also canonized as aromantic seeing how he hates the idea of relationships outside the realm of close friendship) put a lot of Jughead’s behavior and preferences into focus. It all made sense. Why wouldn’t Jughead be asexual? In fact, he’s always been asexual, even though the 1940s didn’t have a name for it yet. What’s even better about the current run of “Jughead” though–aside from the sharp wit and seriously laugh-out-loud moments, is that Jughead is portrayed as a confident, imaginative, semi self-absorbed teenager whose priorities include loafing, playing video games, eating, and hanging out with his best friend Archie. Everything and everyone else can kick rocks, especially Reggie, Jughead’s historic nemesis-now-turned-frenemy. In short, Jughead has become even more Jughead-like, and part of that is due to cementing his sexuality.

Now, though, that positive step towards representation and sexual diversity has been shortchanged by “Riverdale” making Jughead kiss Betty, thereby starting a romantic, sexually-implied relationship. Now, of course, there are various types of asexuality, which does include kissing, but as a character, Jughead has never shown an inkling towards liking kissing, let alone willingly engage in it. This TV characterization of Jughead goes too far—it has begun erasing the core of what made Jughead great.

I wrote a little bit about my feelings about Jughead and Betty’s moment as a Twitter moment:

Of course, as I say in my Twitter thread, I am not asexual so while what I have to say may be well-intentioned, it certainly isn’t the end-all-be-all of opinions. Enter Jordan Crucchiola, who wrote “An Asexual’s Defense of Jughead Kissing Betty on Riverdale” for Vulture. She writes that Jughead is allowed to be a character who is still discovering his own sexuality.

An important thing to consider is that Jughead’s preferences are being reduced to whether or not he is asexual, which takes away from the nuance of the asexual spectrum, which is wide and varied. Some of the better articles discussing Jughead’s orientation point out that he might not necessarily be aromantic, even if he is asexual. I, for example, identify as a pan-romantic gray asexual. That means I’m capable of having nonsexual crushes on anyone, regardless of gender or sex, and that my asexuality isn’t written in stone. There’s that “gray” area where I’m philosophically flexible. I am not motivated by sexual desire, and have never had any sexual partners, but I do experience deep love through my friendships and have experienced many instances of “crushing” on people I take a strong liking to.

I am also a very affectionate person, and many asexual individuals appreciate, enjoy, and seek out physical feedback from others, just like gay, straight, or bi individuals do. The ultimate end game just looks different than we’ve been taught to expect in health class, on TV, and in the movies. It’s about setting the correct boundaries with people in your life who are comfortable sharing such closeness without it leading to a sexual relationship. It takes some searching for the right people, but it can be done.

Again, I’m not asexual and I highly respect Jordan’s view on this subject. With that said, though, let me just say this: Jordan states at the end of her article that she hopes that the writers are going in the direction of eventually making Jughead understand and realize his sexual orientation, and I certainly hope so as well. But the one thing that irks me the most is that while Jughead might be given the “let him find his way” scenario, Kevin, who is also in a similar boat as far as sexual representation goes, is never portrayed in that way. Kevin, on the other hand, gets the straight-up (no pun intended) confident gay teen storyline, a storyline that would have been the “let him find his way” storyline just 10 years ago or less. The fact that Kevin being gay is played as passe while Jughead’s canonical sexuality seems, at least on the surface, is ignored, is a sticking point.

Some of this is addressed in a thread by Twitter user TheShrinkette, who states in her Twitter profile that she identifies as gray aromantic asexual.

Cole Sprouse, who portrays Jughead in the series, gave his his opinion on the controversy, showing his in-depth Jughead knowledge in the process. First, according to Bleeding Cool:

I think, first and foremost, this conversation deserves more time than something that we can quickly do here. There are two forms of representation Jughead has received over time. In [Chip] Zdarsky’s Jughead, he’s asexual. That’s the only Jughead where he is asexual. He’s aromantic in the digests, which is a different thing but deserves attention as well.

But what I found when I was really diving in — because once we started putting Jughead and Betty together, I started doing research to see if that was a narrative that even existed in the digests, and it turns out it is. It’s a narrative that’s existed for a long time. There are a handful of digests in which Jughead would say things like, ‘Oh, Betty, if I did like women, I guarantee you would be the one I would marry outright. You are the best person around.’ He would say these things that are really romantic and cute with an appreciation for Betty and I think it’s become clear to me now that Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] has taken off with that trend.

While I think that representation is needed, this Jughead is not that Jughead. This Jughead is not Zdarsky’s Jughead and this Jughead is not the aromantic Jughead,” he said. “This Jughead is a person who is looking for a kind of deeper companionship with a person like Betty and Betty ends up being this super nurturing, caring, care-taking person that with Jughead’s screwed-up past they end up diving into each other and it ends up being a beautiful thing.

How are people going to respond? Truthfully, they’re probably going to be quite incendiary about it at first. Do I think that’s ill-placed? No. Do I think they should give it a shot? Yeah, I do, because I think now — after filming thirteen episodes — it makes sense to me and, if it makes sense to me as the person who’s dumping so much time and especially so much argumentation into trying to represent Jughead correctly, if it makes sense to me, it will make sense to other people as well.

Also, here’s what he said to Glamour before the show in February:

So, the day I was cast was actually the same day he was announced as canonically asexual. It wasn’t in the digest—it was in Zadarsky’s universe, so it was in one of the newer comics that was written. But Jughead’s always been a romantic in a way that he, in the earlier comics, stayed away from girls and put his attention toward his food fetishism. So he’s always kind of had this narrative, but when I started doing my research into Jughead’s sexuality specifically there’s always been little areas where he got close enough to potentially suggest that he might like either Betty or Ethel, or even some comics where he gets kissed by Veronica. I don’t think it was really cemented in the digest too much what stance Jughead took.

I think, in this show, he’s not a romantic and not asexual. I argued in the beginning, creatively, that he should be both, but in this show, he’s kind of a tortured youth that ends up finding a comfort and a resonance with another person who’s going through a lot of trauma. They end up forming this kind of beautiful, honest union, and I think that, to me, is a narrative that works with this universe of Jughead. But I think that kind of asexual and a-romantic representation is really important. If it ends up finding a place in Riverdale and in future seasons, then hopefully we’ll do it with tact and in a way that respects what it is and how it resonates.

It should also be noted that Sprouse did fight for Jughead to be asexual and, as far as I believe—and from what his quotes suggest—is still fighting for Jughead to be asexual.

With all of this said, what do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!