Interview: What Does Asexual Look Like?
© Yasmin Benoit - Photography by Jack Lloyd
Meet Yasmin Benoit, a British model and asexual and aromantic activist taking to Instagram to challenge the stigma surrounding her identity.
Taking a look at Yasmin’s Instagram you can see a lot of lingerie photoshoots. Her photos prove a very valid point: that asexual people can present themselves however they want.
Asexual refers to those who do not experience sexual attraction and aromantic refers to those who do not experience romantic attraction. They are both umbrella terms and there is not one way to be asexual or aromantic.
Asexuality is often less talked about than other LGBTQ+ identities and often comes with a lot of misconceptions, but Yasmin’s work is hoping to change this and plunge asexuality into the public eye.
What drew you towards modelling as a career and how did you create and grow your platform through social media?
At first, I was just drawn to it out of boredom. I'd already done pretty much every other hobby (literally everything). So when a child modelling agency expressed interest in me, I went for it, but I was already sixteen and rapidly ageing out of that genre and I quickly realised that I wasn't that interested in the more commercial side of things. So I started focusing my attention on alternative modelling.
I made an Instagram account because it's pretty essential for modelling. That was the only reason why I did it. I was just interested in growing my platform in the beginning to increase my modelling opportunities and to bring more Blackness into the alternative fashion scene.
In terms of social media you’re very open about your sexuality. Has it always been important to you to be open with your audience?
Not in that sense, no. I actively avoided doing it for years, just like I did offline. I didn't think anyone would care about what I wasn't doing or wasn't feeling, neither did I think that they should. I don't think that anyone's sexuality should necessarily be anyone else's business unless they want it to be.
I only started mentioning being asexual because I was encountering more of the asexual community at that time through social media and I thought it was overwhelmingly being represented by the same types of people. But I couldn't complain about not seeing enough Black asexual people if I was Black and asexual and doing nothing about it. So I said it a few times starting in 2017 and was pretty surprised by the positive reception. When I started to see the impact my words were having, I kept doing it.
Would you be able to tell me a little about when and how you discovered your sexuality? Did this come with any challenges from yourself or your peers?
Early puberty, which I think is when most people discover their sexuality, no matter their orientation. It biologically kicks in. Or in my case, some things kicked in and other things - like actually feeling sexual attraction - did not. A lot of milestones at that age are centred around sexual experiences. Since I wasn't having any and had no interest in having any, it was assumed that I must be stunted somehow.
The main challenge was people thinking that there was either something physically or mentally wrong with me, and then me wondering if they were right.
Often on your social media, you demonstrate how there’s no one way to ‘look asexual’. Do you find that there is often a lot of misconception about how asexual people should look?
When it comes to clothing, there's still a belief that people dress to sexually appeal to others, not for themselves. So people think that if you're not sexually attracted to anyone, you should make yourself sexually unattractive and put no effort into your appearance whatsoever. Consequently, there's this idea that asexual people must depict themselves in plain, frumpy, homely ways.
On the other hand, it goes deeper than aesthetics. Asexuality has been largely whitewashed, like many queer orientations, but also as a result of racism and the hypersexualisation of Black people. When I said that there isn't an 'asexual look,' I'm also talking about racial diversity, as well as age, gender, and everything else.
© Yasmin Benoit - Photography by Jack LLoyd
What do you believe are the biggest misconceptions about asexual people?
That asexuality means that there is physically or mentally wrong with you - like it's a hormonal issue, a physical condition, a mental disorder, or that it must be the side effect of something. It's just a different way to experience sexuality.
There's also the misconception that it's some sort of personality flaw, for example, that you're repressed, anti-sex or too prude, or that you're so repellent that no one would want you, so you're calling yourself asexual to distract from that. Or, of course, that it's just something made up on the internet that you've adopted to feel special and unique.
Do you believe that being asexual, black and a woman means that you experience more discrimination than other people that identify as asexual?
Definitely. Being Black and a woman doesn't give you a wealth of privileges by default. Throw asexuality into the mix and that really doesn't help.
I know that my experiences as an asexual person would have been different if I was any other race because Black people are probably the most hypersexualised race in the West. It would have been a lot easier for people to believe I was asexual if I wasn't Black. I know I'd receive less abuse, racism, bullying and would receive more empathy if I was white.
My Blackness means that I'm perceived differently as an asexual person by the general public and also within the ace community. There's something about being a Black asexual woman that is a lot more provocative.
© Yasmin Benoit - Photography by Rachel Sherlock
Do you find that your modelling and activism often interlink? Are you able to express your identity and your activism through your modelling work?
Yes and no. In some ways, my modelling can logistically be completely separate from my activism, but I'm rarely booking modelling jobs for being an activist.
However, once those images are out there in the world, they aren't detached from me. A lot of people know they're seeing a photo of someone who is asexual and an activist, so it becomes connected to my activism and inherently part of it. It ends up adding to the representation, challenging misconceptions and creating a reaction whether I intended for the image to do that or not.
What do you believe is the most important issue in terms of asexuality that needs to be addressed in the future? What are you hoping to work on this year?
Asexuality is still medicalised in the ISD as hypoactive sexual desire disorder, we're at a higher risk of conversion therapy, we aren't recognised by the UK Equality Act 2010, nor are we protected by hate crime laws or included in sex education in schools. In regards to what I'm hoping to work on this year, it's all of those things.
Why is it important for asexual people to be more widely recognised and acknowledged in the media?
It would definitely help asexuality to truly break into the zeitgeist, instead of sitting on the outskirts like it has been for decades or longer. It would help to normalise asexuality, it would help the community to feel seen and it could hopefully have a snowball effect in other areas.
However, I don't think it's the be-all and end-all, nor do I think it will end all of the community's problems. There are a lot of other places where we also need to be represented and representation is only part of the journey.