Diversity Aboveground: Pee-wee Asexual?

Apr 16, 2016

Is the character of Pee-wee Herman asexual? Herman appears to be child-like but the majority of his friends are adults and he has a job in his newest film. He lives alone and is able to take cross-country trips on his own without asking anyone’s permission. If he’s a mature adult as these clues suggest, then Herman has many characteristics that suggest his sexual orientation is Asexual.

‘‘I saw it as very Norman Rockwell,’’ Paul Reubens, creator and portrayer of Pee-Wee, says, ‘‘but it was my Norman Rockwell version of the ’50s, which was more all-inclusive.’’ Still, being the 1950s, Herman’s logical partner would be a woman, right? It’s not like Herman ever has a lack of females around, even his armchair, Chairry, is a female. There’s Miss Yvonne, “the most beautiful woman in Puppetland” who flirts with every male in eyesight. Multiple sources describe Pee-wee flirting back but is it really flirting if they’re not after the same goal? On the website, The Asexuality Archive, one writer describes their Asexuality as “You don’t catch it when people are flirting, even when you’re the one doing the flirting.”

Generally, flirting is about getting someone interested in sex and/or a relationship or using the other person’s sexual interest in you to get something from them. For most Asexuals, flirting could seem like a game that they don’t understand all the rules for, just being nice or the way they’re “supposed” to act around the opposite gender.

Herman is super nice to everyone who doesn’t want to waste his time. This is stressed in the Netflix film where he has a compliment and smile for just about everyone he meets. What some reviewers are interpreting as flirting could just be Herman’s general pleasant demeanor.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Puppetland

Instead of Herman dating Miss Yvonne himself, he helps others around him date her, even uses up his one wish that either Captain Carl or Cowboy Curtis will fall in love with her back.

Dottie was another potential love interest. She made her interest in Herman known multiple times but he would rather ride bikes together than stay in a Drive-in situation that traditionally involves physical contact like parking.

In his second movie, Big Top Pee-wee, Herman is hated by the townspeople. Even more like Bizarro world, Herman has a fiancé, Winnie. He’s shown initiating physical contact and excited about touching her hair but when an acrobat named Gina shows up, he literally forgets all about Winnie. It’s not unusual for Asexuals to experiment or even develop deep affection for another person that makes them want to show that physically but not necessarily sex. The over-long kiss scene is reminiscent of Reubens’ later death scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992). Both are played for the ridiculous factor which makes one wonder if that’s what it ultimately is to Herman. Gina isn’t mentioned ever again so both she and Winnie come off like Herman’s experimental phase to work out his sexuality.

In Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, Herman connects with another called Pee-wee. They share one small kiss on the lips but it’s more about how each is the complete opposite of the other. She’s female, provocatively dressed and doesn’t care which rules she breaks while Herman is male, dressed head to toe and believes in rules. They fascinate the other and Pee-wee insists he keeps her knife, perhaps as a reminder of the darker potential inside him.

Mm, chocolate...

Herman’s more important relationship in the film is with Joe Manganiello playing himself. The Hollywood actor shares many of Pee-wee’s same loves, including root beer barrels and making minatures. But before you assume their relationship is more than platonic ..

“It’s a movie about friendship, and ‘bromance’ is a way to take a friendship and put an undertone to it that’s unnecessary,” Reubens told the New York Times.

However, it does fit most definitions of a Passionate Friendship where they care deeply for one another to the point of putting that friendship above all others. Manganiello doesn’t even want his birthday party if Herman won’t be there. Herman breaks rules and steps out of his comfort zone in order to attend the party. Later, they ride on Manganiello’s motorcycle together.

For an Asexual, life can be frustrating. Even culturally recognized life achievements are almost all related to sex: being engaged, getting married, gaining a child. Herman complains in the beginning of the newest film, “I’m going nowhere!” It’s not just his inability to step out of town but also being limited by traditional steps of adulthood. Manganiello is able to make him see that he doesn’t have to limit himself to what the world expects or tradition, like he once had in Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The playhouse was free of expected cultural norms. Herman was supportive of all his friends’ sexual identities as long as he didn’t have to kiss anyone himself. Chairry even asks Miss Yvonne to stand by her when Miss Yvonne explains she’s wearing mistletoe so she would have to kiss anyone standing under her. As with the stage show, sex and its games were seen as ridiculous and a little incomprehensible. When someone points out that, “If you love that fruit salad so much, why don’t you marry it?”, that’s exactly what Herman does.

Does that count as domestic violence if you eat it?


Of course, many of the misunderstandings about social cues and what others actually mean are shared by those with Autism. A person could easily argue that Herman was on the Autism spectrum:

Obsession with certain subjects

Repetitive behaviors including phrases said over and over

Disinterest in travel

Insisting on the same activities at the same time every day

Short attention span

More prone to anxiety and anger problems

You can find out more at:




Those on the Autism spectrum need support and understanding all year, not just April, that they experience life from a different perspective than others considered neurotypical aka “normal”.

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