Hailing from across the pond, Yasmin Benoit is one of the most prominent asexual activists today, with a following of over 60K on Instagram. The fashion and lingerie model uses her platform to highlight issues and topics surrounding asexuality with the goal of breaking stereotypes and misconceptions. Benoit is the creator of the hashtag #Thisiswhatasexuallookslike, which she and fellow aces use to highlight the diversity of the asexual community.
She has been featured in podcasts with the likes of Keke Palmer and Jameela Jamil, and she has graced the covers of magazines like Pride and Attitude. She’s written features for the likes of Vogue UK, has been featured in documentaries and has been interviewed for major news outlets worldwide. She’s also given a TED Talk.
I connected with a person with beautiful rainbow hair, and I wanted to remember the moment.
Benoit is the creator of International Asexuality Day, which takes place every April 6. She is an award-winning activist, and this year, she has been named a grand marshal for the New York City Pride Parade.
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Yasmin is the first asexual person to be named a grand marshal in NYC Pride history. She will be joined by four fellow grand marshals, including activist Hope Giselle and actor Billy Porter.
LGBTQ Nation spoke with Benoit about this honor, as well as about her life as a prominent asexual activist.
LGBTQ NATION: First off, congratulations on being named a grand marshal for NYC Pride. As an asexual person myself, I am so happy to hear that there will be asexual representation this year. How did NYC Pride choose you?
Yasmin Benoit: Well, it turns out that there’s a committee who have a selection of people and then they vote. Apparently, I won by a landslide, according to them.
It was pretty out of nowhere. I’ve never been to New York. I don’t know people in New York. So I was very surprised that people were that interested over there and even more surprised when I learned more about what being a grand marshal means and realized that this kind of thing hasn’t really happened before, so it was very surprising.
LGBTQ NATION: You’re not only asexual, but you are also aro-ace, so you’re aromantic asexual, am I correct?
LGBTQ NATION: Can you explain the difference between aromantic and asexual?
YB: Being aromantic concerns your romantic attraction and asexuality is a type of sexual orientation. So your romantic orientation and your sexual orientation aren’t necessarily the same. Sometimes they do all lump into one, but for a lot of people, there is a distinction there. You can be asexual and not aromantic. You can be aromantic and not asexual. Some people are both, like myself. So as someone who’s asexual and aromantic, I don’t experience sexual attraction, and I don’t experience romantic attraction either.
LGBTQ NATION: I also identify as aro-ace. I wrote an article on how Jessica Rabbit is an asexual icon for QueerAF in London. I remember quite a bit of backlash, with many finding that Jessica Rabbit being asexual is impossible due to how she looks and dresses.
You are the creator of the hashtag #Thisiswhatasexuallookslike, which aims to destroy the misconceptions surrounding asexuality in terms of appearances. That fact alone, along with the fact you are also a lingerie model, tends to spark quite a bit of hate comments towards you online. Why do you think people have such a hard time with someone who’s asexual being a model and dressing in a manner deemed “sexy”?
YB: I think it’s a gender thing. I think it’s a race thing. If I was a guy, I don’t think people would care. It tends to come from a place of like perceiving me as a tease in some way. So I do think that has a lot to do with it. Most of the criticism tends to come from white people. So I think that definitely ties into it. Then also I’m just kind of visible. So, if you kind of want to make a dig at something, I pop up quite quickly. I’m just right there as a pretty easy target.
So I think it’s a combination of things. However, I think it’s funny when we’re talking about things like the hashtag and everything. I think some people literally did just interpret it as me saying, hey, you can be asexual and hot. They kind of reduced the entire purpose down to that. However, it was also about race as well. It wasn’t just about being perceived as sexy. It was about the whitewashing in the depictions of asexuality in general. However, I think some people just kind of took it as, hey, she’s in her underwear. So that’s the controversial part. However, that wasn’t the only look I was talking about.
LGBTQ NATION: Racism is one of the most contentious topics in the asexual community. I remember after you were featured in a BBC Three documentary, you posted a video about your ultimate contempt of that feature, saying that it completely erased everybody that agreed to be part of it.
You also wrote an op-ed for LGBTQ Nation to highlight the challenges, from asexual activists being reluctant to feature aces of color to media representation featuring a rather monolithic group of individuals.
Why is it important to get asexual representation correct? What is your advice to members of the media and the LGBTQ+ community on how to best provide adequate asexual representation?
YB: I feel like a lot of other communities have kind of already been through this process and learned their lesson. Gay representation nowadays is increasingly diverse. I can think of lots of Black gay examples in the media, fiction or nonfiction. People know a lot of Black trans women, and I think things kind of started out in a very whitewashed way. Yet, further down the line it was like, okay, well, that actually isn’t very representative, so let’s work on that.
With asexuality being very much at the beginning of its sort of movement in a sense, I feel like it should have been able to learn from what the other communities have already done and just skip the whitewashing stage and just gone straight to the diverse stage, because we’ve already seen how that goes. Apparently not! We’re still kind of going all the way back through that process, which is kind of annoying. I guess advice would just be just to pay attention to what’s already happened and learn from those mistakes. We know the importance of diversity. We have progress flags. We have TV shows. We have discussions. We have hashtags. We’ve already learned about how that can go wrong when you whitewash things. So I feel like asexuality should be treated the same way.
LGBTQ NATION: Let’s talk about some of your activism in the U.K. I’ve often come across people who say things like, oh, asexual people don’t belong in the LGBTQ+ community because they don’t face enough discrimination.
You worked with Stonewall in the last year discussing the need for the UK to update its conversion therapy bans to include asexual people. You discussed the fact that asexual people are at a 10% greater risk for being sent to or offered conversion therapy. Meanwhile, we still see asexual people facing dismissive comments, even from members of the LGBTQ+ community, who find it difficult to acknowledge discrimination against asexual people.
YB: I think they just find it difficult to acknowledge because they literally just do not know. I don’t even blame them for not knowing. For example, the National LGBT Survey UK – that was the one that found that statistic about asexuality – unless you’re gonna spend hours digging through that, you’re not gonna know that. It kind of is not one of the things that’s in the headline. Realistically, who reads a whole research paper? Most people do not.
I think that at a glance, asexuality does seem really inoffensive, and it is really inoffensive, or it should be. So I kind of get why some people are like, ‘I don’t even possibly see how that could happen.’ They have no foundational knowledge to build upon. Thus, their immediate reaction is just pretty dismissive. However, I think that once there is data and there is research and there’s something specifically focused on that issue, then that will help to combat that, because at the moment there isn’t really much in that area. What is out right now doesn’t often end up being targeted to the community for people to really see it.
So, yeah, I feel like that’s partially where it comes from. It’s just like a lack of education. Sometimes even when I talk about it, I’ll have asexual people be like, ‘I had no idea about the conversion therapy thing! I didn’t know about the medicalization!’, and they’re in the community.
LGBTQ NATION: What would you like to see happen from a legislative perspective to better protect asexual people?
YB: Asexuality is not really recognized as a sexual orientation in a lot of places, the UK included. When there’s nothing kind of official to say that asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation, then there’s absolutely no incentive for people to have policies that would protect the asexual community because it’s not a protected characteristic.
So in the UK, if you did want to use asexuality as grounds for discrimination or grounds for access to something or grounds to escape something, you can’t. Because it doesn’t exist in society’s eyes. Technically, it’s pretty much a disorder over here. If you were to describe it, someone would be quicker to describe it as a disorder than they would to describe it as an actual sexual orientation. Changing that aspect of the Equality Act I think is pretty important in terms of legislation as well, because I feel like that would have a good knock-on effect regarding issues such as medicalization.
LGBTQ NATION: The topic of asexuality and marriage is not often discussed. I wrote an article last year for Ace Week about the fact that there were certain groups on the religious right in the United States that were targeting the Respect for Marriage Act. One of the reasons they advocated against the legislation was because they feared gay marriage would lead to the validation of asexual marriages.
I also wrote about a supreme court case in Sweden where they actually–
YB: Yeah, I think I saw that one.
LGBTQ NATION: They actually ruled in favor of an asexual couple that was in a marriage relationship. One of them died and the other was named beneficiary. The nation of Sweden ruled that their marriage was legitimate even though it was never officially consummated. Obviously, asexual people can have sex. I’m not saying aces don’t ever have sex. But marriage and relationships are so rarely discussed. What are some of the ways that asexual people are discriminated against in terms of things like housing, marriage, and loss?
YB: That very much depends on where you are. I think that just based on the kind of economic structure when it comes to things like housing and social assistance and things like that, a lot of things are just geared towards couples. I think existing in a couple is generally easier because you have twice the income, but then legitimizing existing as a couple is very much based on marriage or at least long-term cohabitation. But marriage is probably the best way to seal the deal.
Over in the UK, we still have consummation laws, so that also comes into play. Asexual marriages are kind of technically void if they are not actually consummated, and that was to be brought up in a legal case. That rule’s existence is one way that is quite discriminatory towards asexual people really.
I think that when it comes to things like marriage benefits, I feel like that’s almost more of an issue for aromantic people because of how much things are geared towards coupling. Even things like health insurance, in some places it’s like you can get it for your spouse, but you can’t just get it for a friend. Everything is very much centered around romantic relationships.
Also here in the UK, there’s physically traveling on trains. If you’re a couple and you travel together, that is cheaper than if you are a single person because you get a discount for being in a couple. It’s weird, there are lots of things kind of like that.
Also regarding asexual people, accessing things like IVF, it’s very difficult. So there are quite a few things.
LGBTQ NATION: Speaking of all that, I want to discuss your personal journey to discovering asexuality and discovering you are ace. I follow your YouTube page where you told your story and you mentioned that you went to an all-girls school, right?
YB: Yeah, in grade school.
LGBTQ NATION: So you went to an all-girls school, and you mentioned that it was rather difficult for you to discover you’re ace because societal norms towards concepts like compulsory sexuality and amatonormativity forced people into strict boxes of being either gay or straight. Can you explain compulsory sexuality and amatonormativity and why they’re both problematic as a whole?
YB: I feel like if I was writing this down, then I could probably say it a lot better than just saying it off the top of my head. Amatonormativity, I feel like you should just copy and paste the actual definition here, but it’s like the way our society prioritizes romantic relationships, and it’s kind of like at the top of the relationship hierarchy, and the kind of expectation that everyone experiences romantic attraction and wants to be in a romantic relationship.
Then compulsory sexuality, similarly, it’s the sort of expectation that everybody experiences sexuality in an allonormative way. Our society is very much geared around that to the point where we medicalize it when people don’t experience that. I guess that is kind of how I would say it off the top of my head.
A great resource to read about compulsory sexuality is the book Refusing Compulsory Sexuality by Sherronda J. Brown.
LGBTQ NATION: You’ve mentioned that people have made some harsh comments towards you, saying things like you’re a robot or a cyborg because you don’t experience sexual and romantic attraction. I’ve heard from many aces that they have heard these exact same things as well. Where did this all come from, and how can we better spread the right messages about asexual people?
YB: Well, I think it just comes from the idea that romantic and sexual feelings towards another person are sort of like the epitome of human connection or a crucial part of humanity. Therefore, if you’re not experiencing that or you can’t experience that, then that must mean that there’s something kind of unnatural and less human about you and that it must translate into other aspects of your character, like your personality or your ability to connect with other people. People just kind of lump all those phenomena together and jump straight to the conclusion that you must be like a robot or a psychopath or something like that.
LGBTQ NATION: One of the things that you often share on social media is the joy of being asexual. Asexuality is depicted in media as something sad, lonely and isolating. In a world where depressing news tends to sell fast, why do you highlight the joy of asexuality?
YB: It’s something I noticed quite early on that people wanted me to be sadder. That was one of the first things that I learned way back when I did the BBC3 thing, which was literally the first thing I did. They literally edited it to make me look sad, to make it look like I was crying because I was just having too much of a good time. They didn’t really want to depict asexual people as just being happy with their situation. I think that those kinds of things have a knock-on effect.
I think you kind of get this message of “Oh, well, you must be lonely. No one’s going to like you. You’re not going to have a fulfilling life.” It causes asexual people to feel like that’s kind of how their life has to go. Yet, I found happiness.
I think it’s kind of powerful under those circumstances to just be like, “Actually, I’m good.”
I know that’s not going to sell as much. I know that’s not what you want to hear. I know you’re looking for some trauma porn right now, but honestly, I have a good life. I’m happy with my situation. I’m happy to be asexual and aromantic. It’s not a problem. Here I am, just living life. I’ve noticed that people who do follow me like to see things like that because you do get so many of those negative messages, not even directly, but just in our culture about what you need to be happy and what you need to have a fulfilling life. So I think people find it quite motivational just to see someone being asexual and really not bothered by it.
LGBTQ NATION: You are one of the most prominent asexual celebrities, but in general, even within the LGBTQ+ community, asexuality is often marginalized and ignored. How can the LGBTQ+ community better accommodate aces, including during Pride Month?
YB: I feel like in terms of what the community can do quickly, I think it’s less discourse, more support. I feel like we’re in such a weird place. I feel like things are really rolling backward in terms of queer rights and stuff. Then, ironically, at the same time, you have so much infighting within the community, which isn’t helpful for anyone.
There’s this weird oppression Olympics competition going on between all the letters. Yet, we’re not all oppressed at the same time by exactly the same thing. I feel like we need more solidarity and more awareness. Uplifting someone is not going to knock you off anything. Giving someone space does not take space away from something else. You can help one without putting someone else at a disadvantage.
I feel like one of the things the LGBTQIA+ community is best at is expanding conversations and pushing the boundaries, doing things that haven’t been done, from a different perspective. I’ve always said that if you’re discussing sexuality and asexuality isn’t included, you’re only getting half the picture. So I think that if the entire community actually wants to progress in its own narrative and in its own understanding of itself, that it does need to expand the conversation a bit more and open it up to different communities, especially the asexual community.
LGBTQ NATION: What is a final message you wish to give to people who may be questioning if they are asexual or are feeling alienated for being asexual?
YB: I feel like my message would just be you’re fine, and it’s not a big deal. This probably sounds a bit ironic coming from me. However, I want to emphasize the whole ‘you’re fine’ thing because of all of those negative messages that we get about people learning that they’re asexual.
A lot of people feel like they can’t live a fulfilling life and that people aren’t going to like them and people aren’t going to accept them. Truthfully, you can live a perfectly fine, happy life while being asexual. It’s not a limitation. It’s just a little variation in the way you experience sexuality. The same way every single person on this planet has a variation in the way they experience sexuality.
No one person in the world experiences sexuality the same way, so it’s really not that weird. That’s kind of leading on to what I said about it’s not a big deal.
I think one benefit that kind of came from me not really being able to come out and not having a kind of asexual community that I identified with was that at an age where you can easily go down these rabbit holes of feeling like you need labels and you need that to be a big part of who you are, I was very much like, okay, it’s cool if I have something to articulate myself with, but if I don’t, I’m going to focus on all these other aspects of my character, which are just as important and make sure that I’m just content with myself in general. Then, whether coming out as asexual goes well or not, it’s not the end all, be all. That was kind of like my approach to it, and I think that’s been quite beneficial for my overall mentality.
So, I think it’s important to discover yourself, but at the same time, realize it’s just one aspect of yourself. Don’t place too much worry on it.