Meet Yasmin Benoit, the activist vocal on the visibility of asexuality, aromanticism, and of LGBTQ+ people of colour.
IMAGES Courtesy of Yasmin Benoit
Can you tell us about who you are and what you do?
I’m a model and aromantic-asexuality activist from Reading, England. I entered the fashion industry with the goal of providing more diversity, then I decided to use the platform I had gained from modelling to raise awareness for asexuality and aromanticism. Since finishing my Master’s degree, that’s been my main focus.
You started the #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike which has broadened people’s understanding of asexuality, why was this something you felt inspired to do and how have things changed since you started the campaign?
I was inspired to do it because I felt like more people needed to be doing it. The outcome of the asexual community’s invisibility was staring me in the face my entire life. I was often told that I don’t “look asexual,” because I’m not what people picture when their understanding of asexual people comes from stereotypes. #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLikecame as a direct response to that unfortunately common idea.
I wanted to dispel the misconception that there’s an asexual way to look or dress, that there’s an asexual type or demographic. “Asexual” looks like me, or anyone else in our diverse community. I think the campaign introduced quite a lot of people to my work and played a part in people seeing me as an asexual representative of sorts. Every time I see asexual people using the hashtag and feeling empowered by it, it warms my heart.
A lot of the discussions about sexuality often leave out asexual identities, why do you think this is?
I’ve been trying to work that out for a while. There’s no clear, good or justifiable reason for it at this point in time. It seems like such an obvious thing to include. I’d say that it’s because it isn’t included in mainstream culture in general, but that’s a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation. At present, I think some people don’t want to go there just yet. They think that if they’re talking about anything that involves the L, the G, the B, or the T then they’ve done their part and don’t need to go further than that. They don’t think we need visibility because they haven’t heard about asexual people being discriminated against. That doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, though.
What do you think some of the misconceptions about asexuality are and why do they exist?
I’ve heard a ridiculous amount of misconceptions about asexuality. There’s the belief that we’re just incels, that we’re asexual because no one would want us anyway, that is a mental disorder, a physical disorder, a side-effect of trauma, a cover for another sexuality, or a cover for some kind of hidden perversion. People get it confused with celibacy, not wanting to have sex or not being able to have sex. There’s the misconception that it’s an attitude, like being anti-sex and thinking other people shouldn’t be having sex, or that we just haven’t found the “right person” yet.
I’ve had multiple people tell me that it’s the side effect of veganism, which is particularly bizarre. They come from a lack of education and miseducation. People aren’t taught about asexuality. It isn’t part of mainstream consciousness. Our society places so much emphasis on the importance of sexual attraction and romantic relationships that it breeds the belief that asexual people and aromantic people just need to develop past their “issue.” People need to realise that it isn’t an issue and what we’re taught about sexuality is just a small part of the picture.
How can we foster a sense of community while in isolation?
Keep creating, keep sharing, keep talking, keep reading, keep watching, keep filming. I know it feels like the world is at a standstill, but we need to keep going. I just encourage everyone to keep expressing themselves and supporting each other.
The fact that people still think that the A stands for Allies, and they’re more accepting of that than aspec people (people on the asexual/aromantic spectrum) is frustrating. Almost everyone who falls under the + needs more representation, especially intersex people.
If there is one thing you could say to oppressors of queer people, what would you say?
Oppression isn’t just a hot topic for morning breakfast shows, or isn’t just something to comment on under a Facebook post. It really impacts people’s lives. It affects their sense of self, their relationships, their future prospects, their safety. That isn’t a reflection of who they are, but of the world around them. If you want to leave something positive behind, make the world a better place for everyone.
Who inspires you?
My first choice is my mum, of course, for being a hard worker, a leader, and an amazing parent and friend who raised me single-handedly while having a successful career. I’m inspired by people who take risks and sacrifice something to help others. I’ve always cited Munroe Bergdorf as being my activist inspiration, especially as we work in similar industries. She got an unnecessary amount of slack for drawing attention to racism and transphobia, but it didn’t stop her.
What parts of the queer community do you feel needs more representation?
The asexual and aromantic community for sure. The fact that people still think that the A stands for Allies, and they’re more accepting of that than aspec people (people on the asexual/aromantic spectrum) is frustrating. Almost everyone who falls under the + needs more representation, especially intersex people.
Do you feel it is crucial as visible queer people to set boundaries so you don’t give too much of yourself?
I do, but I’d be lying if I said I’d worked out exactly how to do that. As an introvert in an ironically visible position, I’m still getting the hang of this whole thing. It’s hard to know when you’re off-duty, if you’re ever off duty. Or what to keep private and what to make public when who you are is being used as an example, and your story is being used to help others. It can also be draining having to explain everything to everyone all the time, or people feeling entitled to your life story at every opportunity. Sometimes, I just want to be like, “Google it. I’ve written articles, done interviews, there are whole web pages about it.”
Are you optimistic about the future for queer people?
It’s a hard question because I feel like we’re all on different trajectories at the moment. Trans rights are going backwards in some places, gay rights are going forwards, biphobia is evident even inside the LGBTQIA+ community, asexual and aromantic people have been gaining more visibility and representation, but we’re decades behind everyone else. Intersex issues are only just being bought into the conversation. I’d like to think that things will get better for everyone, though.
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