Life Stories: Yasmin Benoit, Asexuality Activist & Model
Given everything happening our world, Yasmin represents the intersection of queerness and Blackness, which is why she is the perfect Life Story for Pride Month. My first proper interaction with Yasmin was over Twitter. It was IDAHOBIT and she’d rightly called out the lack of visibility or support around acephobia. It made me realise that colourfull needed to be more vocal about the ace community’s inclusion and I wanted to move beyond liking a tweet to taking action. And so here we are! Yasmin is the only Black/POC I am aware of who is asexual and has taken a fresh approach to her activism, including the creation of #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike which increased the visibility of this community.
She is also really lovely, witty and has a strong sense of self. Get to know her 👇🏾
24, cisgender woman, she/her, asexual and aromantic, Black British (Afro-Caribbean)
Life Right Now
I’m doing my best to keep the activism alive, life in lockdown is challenging in that respect as I’d set myself some challenging goals. And then lockdown happened – but I’m not letting that stop me, I’m doing little things like interviews, writing essays and getting involved in a podcast. Alongside activism, I am a model and my Mum has become skilled as a photographer for the home shoots I’m having to do. It’s made me develop my skills in terms of photo editing too. The other thing you should know is I’m a gamer so I’m loving SIMS4 – they are most definitely not on lockdown and can even have social gatherings!
Being Asexual and Aromantic
I became aware of my identity around the same time as everyone else when they were figuring out they definitely weren’t asexual which was around puberty and late middle school. I just remember when people spoke about wanting to date, I literally had no interest or desire. It wasn’t something I broadcast, but I didn’t shy away when people asked me questions.
To put it into perspective, even from a young age I didn’t like to conform and I wasn’t the popular kid at school. I guess this was just another element about me that people considered weird at the time, but I didn’t care. I’d specifically gone to an all-girls school in the hope that people wouldn’t be interested in sex and distracted by boys. I was wrong! The conversations began around this time and as I’d always kept to myself and been the weird Black goth girl, by the time I figured out my sexuality, I was prepared – it wasn’t some deep, devastating thing that happened to me.
I’m more open online than I am in real life; in real life I know how to dodge conversations about sexuality so I don’t have to continuously explain it.
My Family & Culture
Having grown up and living in Reading, being Trinidadian wasn’t a common thing. It’s a suburban place, generally kind. I didn’t really know the other Black kids, but I was what you’d call a family friendly goth.
While I didn’t get questions from my extended family, I realised that they would ask my Mum about me. My Mum is Trinidadian and Jamaican, I’ve been with her to Trinidad and feel connected to my race and culture. A lot of my extended family is much older, so my path didn’t cross naturally with them – as we weren’t experiencing the same life stage, they didn’t play a huge role as I was growing up. On my Dad’s side (they are Bajan), I wasn’t really in touch with them.
Growing up, I definitely had comments such as am I really Black from other Black kids. I didn’t really listen to the same music and I was a nerd (loved History). It meant that I didn’t have many Black friends and so I missed having that experience. Now that I come into London more often for work, I’ve been exposed to Black British culture a lot more but its outside of my current knowledge.
As I’ve said before, I’ve always been untraditional and while some of my family may not understand it, it’s not a deep thing for me. I understand it and myself, and that’s what’s important.
My Dad was torn. He didn’t want me to be sexual and to be a good girl/well behaved, so in that respect my asexuality was a plus. But the fact that there was a term for it also made him uncomfortable because it meant that this was a ‘thing’ not some passing fad. I remember him asking me if I was a paedophile or attracted to inanimate objects – it was when we were parting ways after having met up, I just shut that down and was like ‘bye!’
My Mum has known I’ve always been like this; it’s a consistent lifelong thing as she saw me grow up and rather than a moment where I came out as asexual/aromantic, there were a consistent lack of moments along the way that helped her understand who I was. There were all these things that other girls and young women went through in relation to dating and relationships that I never did. Initially, she wasn’t keen on me speaking to people about it but with my activism (and a 3 page spread in the Metro), the word was out and even her friends have become fans.
It was interesting to see that people who I had told before about my sexuality only believed it when they saw it in the Metro. I guess it was like a second coming out for them, but not for me.
It’s an interesting intersection to say the least! My activism has done me a favour in that there are many people who like to tick the diversity boxes and I tick many of them. So, it’s opened doors in that respect. People see asexuality as White and most asexuality activists are White too. I wanted to take a fresh approach as despite the work before, asexuality still wasn’t as visible and it inspired me to start #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike. Since then, I’ve tried different things such as the asexual pop-up bar for Pride and writing for sex positive sites. As a result I get included in different/more conversations.
But I don’t fit everyone’s mould for asexuality. I did a documentary for Sky and was cut out of the main programme (there were only 3 of us as the main contributors), although I’m in the unedited version online. I think there is a hyper-sexualised view of a Black woman and I wasn’t asexual enough. Off the back of that documentary, the comments that I received in comparison to the other contributors who were White was just vile. I received comments such as I deserved to get raped and should be deported.
From a modelling perspective it hasn’t been that helpful. I’m told in different ways that I don’t fit the beauty standard, that certain photographers are not interested in shooting Black people or you’re used by brands to make things look more Urban whereas a White person wearing the same thing makes it look trendy. I think if I was White, I would get more work.
Love & Relationships
The thing I find most annoying is that there is a hierarchy of what relationships are most important. Those with sex and romance are given more prominence and friendships are seen as lesser. However, friendships tend to last longer and are less volatile, so are they not just as equal.
It’s like we’ve been conditioned that there are certain things you can’t do with friends. But why not? I could live with a friend, pool money with a friend and even raise a child with a friend if I wanted to. Isn’t that love just as valid?
We need to reframe the way we perceive platonic love and relationships. If we invested as much time and energy on great platonic relationships, we’d be better off. The amount of times I’ve seen my friends stressed throughout all stages of a relationship from wanting to meet someone, during the relationship itself and then when it ends. We’ve been taught that we’re half a person and that you only become complete when someone is romantically interested in you.
It’s been a weird mix. I’ve been going to Pride since I was 14 and a lot of the work I do is with queer organisations, groups, conferences, charities, etc. In those spaces, I’ve been welcomed. Online is a different matter, I’m questioned as to whether I really belong in the LGBTQ community, as though I am still waiting for some form of approval that I belong. I’ve been working within the community for the past 10 years, not as an ally but as a member.
The majority of criticism I get is from other queer people who believe I have not gone through the required level of hardship to be part of the community. But I’m not heterosexual, I’m not attracted to men – so I’m not straight! I’m pretty thick skinned after a lifetime of being the weird kid, so I find it amusing that despite having never met me, I can cause someone so much frustration. I like to share the hate I get as it’s a positive way to educate others on what it’s like to be asexual.
Munroe Bergdorf – I’ve always loved her work and she is eloquent in the way she brings sensitive conversations into the mainstream. Even when there is risk involved, she takes a stand and I’ve always admired her. Anick Soni (intersex activist) who is doing great work around a very important conversation in raising awareness about the intersex experience.
Words of Wisdom
1. Stick it Out: This moment is not forever and you’ll come through it
2. Keep Doing You: It will work out in the end, just be true to yourself and it will all come together
We’ve never questioned whether the ace community are part of the queer spectrum, to us you are part of the family. We’re excited to see the other fresh ideas Yasmin has up her sleeve!