Pride Voices: Why 2022 is the year asexual people should get the recognition they deserve
Award-winning asexual activist Yasmin Benoit says it’s time to put an end to asexuality’s mainstream misrepresentation
Tuesday 21 June 2022 By Yasmin Benoit
In celebration of this year’s Pride, we're showcasing a special series – Pride Voices – to explore the many sides of LGBTQIA+ life and queer culture today, as told by people from the community
I was around eight years old when asexuality had its first mainstream breakthrough. In 2004, New Scientist dedicated an issue to asexuality and it sparked a wave of media interest across the United States, with documentaries covering the community, and talk shows dedicating segments to quizzing asexual people about whether asexuality is just the consequence of sexual repression and whether or not asexual people can masturbate. The intrigue in the community was akin to that of a newly discovered species of exotic frog from the depths of the rainforest. There was a necessity to work out what we were, why we were, and how we fit into society... as if we hadn’t always been there.
As a Black British girl in Berkshire, asexuality’s brief moment in the mainstream missed me almost completely, although I lived within its legacy. I realised that I didn’t experience sexual attraction towards anyone, regardless of their gender, long before I discovered that there was a word for it. Fortunately, the wave of interest in the early 2000s led to the growth of an online asexual community. A teenager during the peak Tumblr era, there were kids in my school who were more familiar with lesser-known sexual identities than they might have been otherwise. I was 15 when someone first suggested that I might be asexual, as opposed to being a ‘straight girl that doesn’t like guys but also isn’t gay’.
This came after years of people trying to work out what was ‘wrong’ with me, because I didn’t experience sexual attraction in the way that was expected – especially for a Black girl. I’d be told that I must be physically or mentally ill, stunted, perverse, or prude. It wasn’t difficult for me to find information online about asexuality, from faceless blogposts to countless YouTube videos by white British and American teenagers. However, finding the ‘asexual’ label proved to be quite useless for me interpersonally, because I quickly realised that no one believed me. For the same reason I struggled to identify with the asexual faces I was seeing online, no one identified me with the term I tried to use to describe myself – Black people were meant to be the opposite of asexual.
Years later, these experiences would inspire me to become an asexual activist, and quickly find myself as an unlikely figure at the forefront of the latest ‘asexual movement’ for our visibility. I wanted to combat the lack of representation for people like myself, whose depictions in the media – fictional or otherwise – are overwhelmingly white and generally lacking. We still haven’t managed to get beyond the asexuality 101 stage. In essence, we’ve been caught in a Groundhog Day since 2004. However, the lack of representation in the media is far from the most troubling issue impacting the asexual community today.
Asexuality, like other queer orientations before it, is still pathologised in the ICD as hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Consequently, the National LGBT Survey 2018 found that asexual people are 10% more likely to be offered or to undergo conversion therapy. We have the lowest life satisfaction rate compared to other orientations and are less likely to be open about our sexuality across all social groups, including with our own family. It’s also been found that we are more likely to experience negative reactions compared to other orientations. We are not recognised as asexual orientation in the UK, and aren’t protected by the UK Equality Act 2010.
But the tides are turning. This year, I launched the UK’s first asexual rights initiative in partnership with Stonewall to combat these issues. The asexual community has been fighting for recognition and respect for decades, but as our conversations about sexuality continue to expand, it’s time for asexuality to be included.