Name: Yasmin Benoit
Pronouns: she/ her
Yasmin Benoit is a British model, asexual activist, writer, and speaker. Described as the “unlikely face of asexuality”, she quickly became a leading voice for the community after publicly coming out in 2017.
Benoit launched the #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike movement for diverse asexual visibility and representation and co-founded International Asexuality Day (April 6). In 2022, she launched the UK’s first asexual rights initiative – the Stonewall x Yasmin Benoit Ace Project – in partnership with Stonewall. Also in 2022, Yasmin won ‘Campaigner of the Year’ at the Rainbow Honours Awards.
Yasmin. Hi. Let’s get the important stuff out the way first. What are you having for lunch?
It might sound like an odd choice, but probably savoury original Auntie Annie’s Pretzel and a matcha latte!
You have become an important voice for the asexual community, what made you take the leap into advocacy?
It wasn’t really something on my long-term to-do list, I just fell into it.
I discovered asexuality when I was fifteen, but didn’t really start openly identifying with it until I was around twenty-two – partially because no one believed me, but also because I didn’t feel represented within the asexual community.
At the time, I’d already built a platform through my modelling, and I thought that it was a bit ironic to complain about the lack of Black asexual representation when I was a Black asexual person who wasn’t actively doing anything about it.
And so, I mentioned it on National Coming Out Day, in 2017, not really expecting people to care that much, then it snowballed from there. Then I went from riding the wave to steering it into the directions I thought it needed to go in.
Sex-averse ≠ sex-repulsed
Sex-positive ≠ sex-favourable
There’s a lot of emphasis on teaching allosexual people the terms like aces aren’t getting the distinctions mixed up and causing confusion on a regular basis. At least know that I use them differently in my work.
— Yasmin Benoit, MSc (@theyasminbenoit) November 12, 2022
Shame is a feeling that many LGBTQ+ people still encounter in their journey towards self-acceptance and self-love. Do you think the asexual community, on the whole, still has a problem with shame?
It isn’t something that I deal with personally now, but it’s definitely something that is common in the community.
Everyone is taught that there’s a ‘normal’ way to experience sexuality that leads to a fulfilling, liberated and well-connected life – and asexuality doesn’t fit into that. There’s always going to be shame attached to feeling different or abnormal, like there’s something wrong with you, and unfortunately, that’s the message that lots of asexual people receive.
It’s why so many still don’t come out.
Anti-LGBTQ+ groups will often use the argument that some queer identities are “new”, or a trend that individuals “will grow out of” – not unlike the “it’s just a phase” rhetoric faced by gay men and lesbians in former years – as a way to undermine someone trying to express themself. But asexuality isn’t a ‘new thing’, is it?
Asexuality is just one of many variations in human sexuality – it’s existed for as long as humans have. Only, like all other sexual orientations, the way we interpret them and attach language to them is culturally dependent.
Now we’re in an era where sexuality is part of our identities and it’s part of both our public and private life, so you’re hearing about all kinds of sexualities more than you would have done two-hundred years ago.
But there’s evidence of asexuality being discussed within queer theory – i.e., when we really started to discuss non-heteronormative sexualities publicly – in the late 1800s and within early feminist literature.
You work with Stonewall, an incredible U.K. based charity that works tirelessly for LGBTQ+ people. Tell us more about what you’re doing with them.
On International Asexuality Day (April 6), we launched the Stonewall x Yasmin Benoit Ace Project, which is the UK’s first asexual rights initiative.
In its current phase, we’re producing a report into asexual discrimination in the UK – especially in healthcare, education and the workplace. We’re going to use the data collected to suggest and campaign for legislative changes for the asexual community, to ensure that the community has the legal protection and recognition we don’t currently have.
Thankfully, people have become more aware of asexuality, but some still think there is just one way of ‘being’ asexual. Which, of course, the is not. Break it down for the readers.
No one experiences sexuality in the same way, regardless of their sexual orientation. Asexuality is no different.
There are asexual people with different romantic orientations – they might be aromantic, heteromantic, homoromantic, biromantic etc. – as it’s not like your sexual orientation and your romantic orientation have to align.
There are asexual people with completely different feelings towards participating in sex, some are sex-favourable, some are sex-averse, some are indifferent to it. Some asexual people are interested in other aspects of sexuality, some aren’t. Everyone is different.
How can other LGBTQ+ people best be an ally to asexual folk?
Don’t assume that you’re immune to acephobia or that you know enough about it.
A common issue in the LGBTQ+ community is that people fall into this mindset of thinking, “I’m also a sexual minority, so I’m not part of the problem and I don’t really have to try,” but that isn’t the case.
It’s still important to educate yourselves about asexuality, to uplift asexual people, to unpack your own understanding of sexuality and be conscious of its limits. And to ensure that you’re inclusive of asexuality when speaking about LGBTQ+ experiences.
Drop some people you follow, who you think are being a really important voice for the LGBTQ+ community right now.
Honestly, I’m not really one for focusing on specific individuals – groups are more likely to be on my radar.
Outside of Stonewall, I’m continuously impressed by organisations like the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), Schools Out UK, the Naz and Matt Foundation, and the Terrence Higgins Trust, as well as many others.
If you could send one message to all ace or questioning young people, kids who are maybe worried about what it all means, what would you say>
My main piece of advice would be to place less emphasis on it. Don’t get too hung up on fitting into a label; the label is supposed to fit you.
It’s supposed to help you articulate your experience, find others like yourself and understand who you are. But it’s not everything.
Your sexual orientation is just one aspect of who you are, it doesn’t define you and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
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