‘Asexuality’: finally saying the word 

Photo courtesy of Alysha Wang

If popular movies and television media dictated identity, asexuality probably wouldn’t exist. Excluding “Bojack Horseman,” the word “asexual” is occasionally alluded to but seldom uttered in the mainstream media. A group of USC students is hoping to change that. 

An exploration of asexuality and a critique of religious purity culture, “Welcome to Celibacy Club” is a coming-of-age comedic short film that follows the journey of an asexual teenager feeling lost in her identity, searching for community. Eventually, she lands on joining her high school’s celibacy club. 

Screenwriter Nina Lu, who identifies as demisexual, first learned about asexuality in high school. However, she did not accept her identity after her classmates said that asexuality was “not a real sexuality.” It was only once she arrived at college that she was able to embrace her identity. 

“I wish that these people just had better representation at all,” said Lu, a sophomore majoring in screenwriting. “Because yeah, I guess if I could have known about [asexuality] earlier as a valid thing … it could have just made things make a lot more sense for me earlier.”

After Lu approached Murleve Roberts, co-screenwriter, proposing they write a script together, Roberts, who identifies as demisexual, “instantly” knew they should write a story about asexual identity. 

“I remember throwing out this idea of nuns. I feel like if I were in the olden times, I would become a nun,” said Roberts, a sophomore majoring in screenwriting. “Because I would just I naturally be like ‘who wants to have sex anyway?’ and just like nun.” 

The film serves as a “diary entry” for Lu, with protagonist Emmy speaking what Lu has long yearned to say. Growing up Christian, Lu feels all too familiar with the sometimes problematic messaging spread by the church on purity. Still involved with Christianity, the script is complicated for Lu.  

“Even though it was funny to write out, it was hard for me to critique my friends and people I know for what they said and what they’ve done … because I didn’t want to offend them. I didn’t want to get them in trouble,” they said. “I see it now as like, ‘this is exactly what you said, and kind of exactly what you did.’ I’m just holding up the mirror to you, and I’m just showing you your reflection, and if you don’t like it, then you don’t like it, and maybe that says something.” 

Still, Lu is apprehensive about her friends’ thoughts on the project. She is stuck in the dilemma of wanting to share her work and “hoping they actually don’t know this is about them somehow.” Their fear is largely overshadowed by her desire to create the representation she so needed only a few years ago. 

The seeds of the film were planted a year ago after producer Amanda Chen created Yu Productions, a company focused on sharing stories from women, people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. Chen is not a part of the ace community, but “Welcome to Celibacy Club” served as a learning experience for her, especially considering the writers and director are on the ace spectrum. 

students filming
Photo courtesy of Marissa Ding

“I think it’ll definitely make the world a safer place for asexual people, and queer people in general,” said Chen, a sophomore majoring in cinema and media studies. “I’m not expecting our film to make it big or anything like that, but it is a little push forward, I would hope.” 

The film has received resounding support from the ace community, especially on TikTok. Lu employed her knowledge of TikTok to reach the ace community — specifically tagging each video with #AceTok. Quickly, the film’s content blew up as the ace community began to “flock” to their page, expressing their excitement and gratefulness to finally see themselves represented. 

“That’s the biggest thing that kept me going. When it would get a little hard or I would doubt myself, or I’m like, ‘Is this even gonna be good? Or worth it?,’” said director Campbell Moore, a senior majoring in communication. “Just looking at all the people who are excited to see that representation, it just reminded me, ‘oh, yeah, that’s why I’m doing this.’”

The TikTok account, which has garnered over 8.6 thousand followers and almost 200 thousand likes, remains flooded with supportive messages. The commenters often echo the same sentiment of impatience for the film’s release, woeful resentment about the ace community’s lack of representation and, of course, quite a few references to “Bunk’d.”

The short is currently towards the end of post-production, and the crew are working on submitting the project to film festivals. While there is no exact timeline for the film’s release, the team sees “Welcome to Celibacy Club” as a start to a new era of representation.   

“I hope future people will be also inspired to make their own things. The biggest thing with representation is being able to see yourself on the screen and know that it’s possible,” Moore, who is on the ace spectrum, said. “I just hope for other asexual people to see that it is possible, and that people are trying to make it happen.”