Jones and the emotionless aroace

This post contains spoilers for Gunnerkrigg Court up to Chapter 48 or so.

Gunnerkrigg Court is a critically acclaimed webcomic that has been running since 2005. I’ve been reading it almost as long, since before I realized I was queer. So it’s been an experience coming into my own as a queer adult, while simultaneously coming to the slow realization of just how queer Gunnerkrigg Court is. I think of GKC as a webcomic of mainstream popularity, so I’m honestly shocked at how many queer themes it contains, and disappointed by how underacknowledged this is.

GKC has a way of hiding things in plain sight, through ambiguity and fantastical situations. A few examples:

  • Zimmy and Gamma could be initially interpreted as friends, but it soon defies the normative bounds of friendship, and could be read as romantic. Zimmy is a bearer of a reality-distorting curse, and Gamma has the power to give relief from the curse. Annie describes them as an “item”, but another character says “that doesn’t even begin to describe those two!” Ambiguous relationships like these are sort of a pattern in GKC.
  • Shadow and Robot are another same-sex couple… but as the names suggest, they are literally a shadow person, and a robot. And like, what even is gender, to the robots? They’re gendered male by the humans, but readers are left to speculate what they think about gender, if they think about it at all.
  • There is a common theme of transformation, such as humans transforming into animals, or vice versa. These sometimes also involve gender transformations, not necessarily desired, but assigned by the (unsympathetic) Court. While not a trans narrative exactly, there’s some clear trans adjacency.

This brings me to my main focus, Jones, a mysterious member of the Gunnerkrigg staff. She cannot be hurt in any way, and can crush stone with her bare hands. She also has a very flat affect, shows no facial expressions, and displays no reaction to romantic advances. For a long time the main characters don’t know what’s up with her, and there’s a running gag that she is definitely not a robot.

Jones’ nature is finally revealed in Chapter 40: The Stone. The chapter shows scenes from Jones’ life backwards through time, weeks, years, decades, millenia, eons, all the way back to the formation of the Earth. And then she says this:

GKC #1114

“For the longest time I merely existed and travelled the earth, assuming I was utterly unique and alone on this planet. Recently, during this tiny fraction of the Earth’s history, I watched human beings rise to become the dominant species of this world. I thought I had finally found creatures like myself. However, as I lived amongst them, I realized that humans are not like me at all. Through their art, their writing, their music, I became aware of the inner struggles present in all humans. A flood of emotions that welled in every one of them.”
Credit: Gunnerkrigg Court

In short, Jones takes a human form, but isn’t human, and has been around long before humans. She realized that she was different from humans, because she doesn’t experience the same emotions. One can project loneliness and anguish onto her discovery of her own uniqueness, but on the other hand, she already knew that she was unique for a long time, and she clearly owns it.  She describes herself as a stone (*waggles eyebrows*), but she doesn’t really know what she is, nor does anyone else.

Jones is aromantic and asexual, in the literal sense of having no interest in sex or romance, and not feeling the feelings that generally lead people to sex or romance. But in some ways she doesn’t really fit what aro/ace readers want to see in aro/ace characters. She is non-human and lacks emotion, both associations that aro/ace readers are keen to avoid. And Jones’ first appearance was in 2007, predating popular ace awareness, so we might guess that the author didn’t deliberately “make” her ace.

But I think it’s important for us to look past the literal humanity or non-humanity of aro/ace characters to think about what the characters do for us, whether we find them relatable or unrelatable. The truth is, Jones is very compelling to me, partly for personal reasons, and partly for reasons that I think would resonate with others as well.

Although Jones doesn’t have any romantic entanglements, she is depicted making lifelong companions. She initially appears in their life as a caregiver or mentor, and stays with them their entire life. She says that her role is to observe, and that living with a person as their companion is simply the best way to do that. But it’s also clear that she offers plenty of mentorship and advice, and at least attempts emotional support… There’s a scene where she (unconvincingly) reassures her companion as he’s suffering from a breakup.

This raises a question. Does the desire for companionship, human connection, and long-term commitment necessarily come from a place of emotion? Or is the interpretation of Jones as emotionless imperfect? At the very least, it shows that it does not come from a desire (or capacity) for romance.

The other more personal side is… I have low emotions myself. I’m not like Jones, I am not emotionless, nor could I plausibly interpret myself as such. But I’ve often observed that I just don’t feel as much as is socially appropriate. I feel that I sometimes have to pretend, or I’m not sure if I’m pretending, and what I really feel inside is different emotion, that of deep alienation.

I find this difficult to talk about, because I understand that many aro/ace people are grated by the stereotype that they are emotionless. In fact, I feel bothered by more or less the same thing. When I say I have less emotion than other people, people don’t really know how much “less” is, so they jump to extremes, and eventually they may believe that they’ve “disproven” my self-image when I show that I do in fact feel emotions. I know I do, that was already part of my self-image! It’s just really hard to communicate.

Suffice it to say, while other aros/aces may see aro/aceness as being disconnected from a lack of emotion, I tend to see them as connected. To me, sexual attraction is just another emotion that I don’t entirely understand. I don’t just desire for people to understand asexuality, I have a broader desire that people understand that not everyone experiences the same emotions to the same degree. Some people may feel a disconnect with certain emotional categories, and that doesn’t necessarily imply that they lack all emotions, nor does it imply that they can’t lead fulfilling lives.

In any case, as Chapter 40 closes, Annie points out Jones’ habit of making lifetime companions, and suggests that Jones loves them in her own way. I like this moment, which shows how even a character who is on the extreme end of low emotion still experiences this conflict of “what emotions do I have, and what even is emotion, and how do I communicate this to other people?” But I also hate it, because it feels like Annie is giving Jones a “gotcha”, as if Jones hasn’t already heard it and thought about it before. In my headcanon, Jones has heard many people say the same thing to her, and has learned to just give the response people want to hear: “Thank you.”

That I’m headcanoning facts that aren’t directly supported by the text suggests that I might have a slightly different vision of this character than the author. And likewise I expect other readers may have still different visions. Some readers, I’m sure, see her as just another emotionless non-human archetype, and that’s fair. But for me, that bit of extra depth makes her more than an archetype, into a character I care deeply about.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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3 Responses to Jones and the emotionless aroace

  1. DasTenna says:

    “In any case […], Annie points out Jones’ habit of making lifetime companions, and suggests that Jones loves them in her own way. […] But I also hate [this moment], because it feels like Annie is giving Jones a “gotcha”, as if Jones hasn’t already heard it and thought about it before. In my headcanon, Jones has heard many people say the same thing to her, and has learned to just give the response people want to hear: […]”

    I don’t know the comic (yet) so I don’t know whether or not people suggested the same thing to Jones already. The way you describe the situation implies that Annie was the first person Jones shared these thoughts and memories with.
    Or maybe other people Jones talked to about this didn’t understand it or did but didn’t have the words to articulate any suggestions to Jones.

    • Siggy says:

      In context, it’s obvious that Jones has explained her story to the scientists at Gunnerkrigg Court, as well as to her companions (who would certainly notice that she never ages).

  2. Pingback: Ace Media Analysis & Meta-commentary | The Ace Theist

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