February 23, 2023
EP. 151 — Asexuality and Aromanticism with Yasmin Benoit
Activist, model, and writer Yasmin Benoit joins Jameela this week to share her experience and work as an asexual and aromantic person. They discuss misconceptions about the community, the way people respond to her when they find out about her sexuality, the importance of all types of relationships, some of the more ridiculous questions she gets asked, her experience with bullying in school, and more.
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151 — Asexuality and Aromanticism with Yasmin Benoit
Jameela Intro: Hello and welcome to another episode I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, a podcast against shame. Sorry about how sexy I sound right now but I’ve got a bit of a, bit of a bug you know that bug that’s been going around. It’s fucking freezing where I am and wet and cold and miserable and I’m pissed. I am fully pissed. Not in the fun drunk way; in the angry, miserable, self sorry way. And so yeah, having a shit time. If you’re having a shit time I’m right there with you. I’m wearing clothes I have now been wearing for about 8 days and I stink and I look like what can only be described as an actual crust. I’m a crust of a human. I have human and dog food like deeply embedded into my jumper and I have a face like a slapped arse. I just look furious so I don’t know if you’re aroused after hearing that, but I am.
Speaking of aroused, this week we have an excellent conversation one that you have been asking me to find and have for ages. It took me a while because not a lot of people feel comfortable talking about this subject and it is the subject of Asexuality and Aromanticism. And this is Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, so it felt like the perfect time to cover this and we found the perfect guest in activist ,model, and writer, Yasmin Benoit. She joins me this week to show her experience and work as an asexual and aromantic person. Not all people are both. And she explains to me what those things actually mean and what an existence as someone like that can look like, and what the community is like.
We talk about the misconceptions about that community and how people respond to her when they find out about her sexuality, the importance of all types of relationships, and some of the more ridiculous – and I mean truly ridiculous – questions that she gets asked, even by professional journalists. It’s a really interesting conversation and one that isn’t had enough given how many people exist within this community. And I think that you may find yourself relating to certain elements of this chat even if you didn’t expect it. I know I did. I don’t think I’m necessarily either of these two things. I think I had a bit of a warped of understanding at the beginning of this chat and then understood better by the end, which is always a a good conversation for me. But I, I think that Yasmin is just a very clear thinker and speaker and it just sounds like she’s one of few people I’ve ever met who’s been just so firm in her understanding of herself and her ability to stick up for herself for most of her life. And that’s something that I find incredibly comforting and inspiring to hear about because we all need a bit more of that. So sit back and enjoy the lovely Yasmin Benoit.
Jameela [00:00:00] Yasmin Benoit, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Yasmin [00:00:03] I’m great. Thank you so much for having me.
Jameela [00:00:06] I’m so happy that you’re here. This is a subject I wanted to cover for ages and ages. And the community who listen to this podcast have been begging me to find someone. And I. I couldn’t have found someone better than you, so I’m thrilled that you’re here. This is obviously a mental health podcast, and I would love to talk to you about mental health. But before we get into it for context, you are an activist amongst the kind of asexual and aromantic spaces, and I would love for you to explain what those two things mean in case it’s new to someone.
Yasmin [00:00:38] Yeah, so being asexual means experiencing little to no sexual attraction towards anyone, regardless of their gender. And similarly, but not the same, being aromantic means experiencing little to no romantic attraction with anyone, regardless of their gender. So you can be asexual and not aromantic, and you can be aromantic and not asexual. But I happen to be both.
Jameela [00:00:59] Right, right, right. Well, just quickly, when it comes to aromanticism, I guess I always find that one confusing, because what is romanticism? What is romantic? Who got to define what is romantic? Like, we’ve been so force fed and bombarded with romantic imagery and romantic songs and romantic gestures. I, I never know if that’s even a real thing that anyone feels or if it’s just something that we have come to expect in our society. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know if that’s just because I am aromantic, but I definitely don’t identify at all with anything romantic. I mean, I’d go a step further and like, say I’m asentimental. Like, I don’t I don’t have any kind of like, I don’t have any feelings or tendencies in that way. And I, I wonder, am I aromantic or is romance even real?
Yasmin [00:01:49] It’s a good question. I mean, that’s a very kind of quite an enigmatic thought process. But at the same time, it’s there’s a a distinction between not really liking kind of like mushy stuff and being aromantic, because there are also very romantic people that do like, you know, they like Valentine’s and they like, you know, holding hands and all that kind of thing. But it’s it’s about that, that and it’s this hard to explain whatever. What is romantic love Like what is that feeling whatever that feeling is that for some people very much is entwined with the direction their sexuality goes. And for some people it’s not entwined very much. Their sexual orientation or romantic orientation don’t line up, but it’s it’s that extra component which kind of transcends cultural norms to an extent. That is the thing that if you’re aromantic, you’re not experiencing, but then you can you know, you can interpret it in terms of culturally determined behaviors and societal expectations, because that is sort of what romance has ended up being. And in our current climate, a lot of it is learned and kind of imitated behavior and isn’t as innate as it can be. But for lots of people it is pretty much just like mimicking. So it’s kind of hard to distinguish the two. For me, it’s just like in the same way, you know, a straight woman who’s romantically and sexually attracted to men. So some people might still be capable of still falling romantically in love of a woman. But for other people, it’s like that’s just not the way it goes. Like, that’s just not the way my capacity goes that way. And for me, it’s like my capacity just doesn’t go that way for anybody.
Jameela [00:03:26] So can I. Sorry to if I’m being dim just to make it clear to me because I so I so to understand. So okay so if it’s not the so if it’s it’s still being aromantic but still enjoying the kind of hand-holding or roses or typical gestures then then what does what does romance mean to you exactly.
Yasmin [00:03:45] Well, I’m not saying necessarily that that’s something you enjoy. Like like, for example, like I like watching Bridget Jones as much as the next person, as much as parts of that movie haven’t aged brilliantly, Like I’m not against romance as a premise. Like, I’m not you know,
Jameela [00:03:59] Same.
Yasmin [00:03:59] I I think I am kind of sentimental in some ways, but I just don’t experience romantic attraction towards other people. I have no romantic desire towards other people. I have no desire to be in a romantic relationship. My emotions don’t kind of manifest in a way that is romantic. It manifests platonically, and that is the epitome of how far it’s going to go. And platonic attraction and stuff can be very deep and platonic relationships can be very deep, but it’s not. It doesn’t manifest romantically. And then we can say, Well, what is romantically? I don’t know. I never experienced it, but based on my observations, it is that that I think you know it when you feel it and you know, if you’re the type of person to feel it or not, I know it it is a strange thing to explain because it is very closely dependent. But all I know personally is that is it’s not me.
Jameela [00:04:50] You are not interested in engaging in a romantic bond with someone. I Yeah, I think I get it now. I was just curious because of. Because of the nuance to it. Because. It’s so it’s so it’s been so infiltrated like it that it’s off putting you know the the idea around love or the idea around bonds like everything has been given so many rules and so many labels and so that is that’s really interesting to hear that distinction. And so and. So what age would you say that you realize that you are asexual and aromantic? Did you realize that you were both at the same time?
Yasmin [00:05:27] I mean, for me, the experience is really just kind of blended into one because, you know, like as a society, we don’t really teach people that there’s a distinction between romantic and sexual attraction is like, you know, if you’re going to be romantically attracted to men, it’s assumed you’re going to be sexually attracted to men if you’re, you know, bisexual, assumed you’re going to be biromantic, like, you know, it’s kind of all just grouped into one. So for me, I just recognized both at the same time. But I always say I realized I was asexual and aromantic when everyone else realized that they weren’t. So pretty much like early puberty. I think everyone starts off that way. Although some people do start off with a very heavy interest in romance from childhood. I was not that kind of kid. But then, like early puberty, the kids stopped wanting to play together and started fancying each other and wanting to go out with each other. And then that just became more and more obvious, you know? When you became teenagers and your sexuality became directed towards other people, that just didn’t happen for me. And I didn’t discover the terminology, though, until I was about 15, I sort of assumed it would kick in for me, but at the same time I wasn’t going to encourage because it looked like effort to me.
Jameela [00:06:35] Yeah, well, you went to a girls school, correct? Like in order because you thought at the time like, that will take off the pressure. And that means I won’t have to face that conversation because it’ll be single sex. But
[00:06:48] terrible period.
[00:06:49] Yeah. What instead happened? I felt like it was all we talked about at school. Yeah.
Yasmin [00:06:54] Like, in my defense, I was 11 when I came up with that idea. Yeah, of thinking, if we take boys out of the equation, everything will be fine. No one will care about dating. No one will care about sex, and we’ll all just go back to normal. But then I very quickly realized that lots of people in my school would rather not be in an all girls school. They would rather be around boys and they felt deprived of boys. And the stereotypes about all girl schools are true. I think everyone was everyone’s horniness was then just directed towards each other because they were like, Screw it. There was no boys. Like Let’s be bicurious for a while. That was very much a thing. So it actually just made what I wasn’t doing and wasn’t feeling ten times more obvious.
Jameela [00:07:35] Yeah, and it led to
Yasmin [00:07:36] Then it might have done otherwise.
Jameela [00:07:37] It led to bullying, right? I mean, who’s to say, by the way, if you’d gone to a mixed school, if that would have been necessarily different? But you you struggled because. Well, no, you didn’t struggle. You had a tough time because other people struggled to understand your disinterest in the subject of boys and romance and sex.
Yasmin [00:07:56] Yeah, they kind of made their problem my problem. I was not inherently concerned about it. I feel like as a teenager, you know, there’s so many other things going on. I was like, Why am I going to worry about what I’m not thinking or what I’m not feeling? I have things I’m actually thinking about to worry about. But yes, other people saw it as being very abnormal. And I very quickly started getting questions about like what was wrong with me. It was almost a bit of a a kind of running joke throughout my yearbook to work out what’s wrong with Yasmin. Even the teachers were in on it. It was a whole thing.
Jameela [00:08:28] Oh my god!
Yasmin [00:08:29] Trying to figure it out, coming up with all kinds of. Yeah I know.
Jameela [00:08:31] That’s so inappropriate.
Yasmin [00:08:33] Coming up with all kinds of. I know. I like to think that hopefully nowadays that you wouldn’t be able to let that happen. But in the late 2000s, 2010s, yeah it was anything goes but yeah just lots of theories about, you know, whether I was abused as a child, whether I was traumatized or kind of mentally or physically ill or just stunted, which wasn’t the term people were using back then. They were using a much more inappropriate word that you can’t say now. But yeah, it was lots of those theories.
Jameela [00:09:05] Oh, my goodness. That’s that. Yeah, it’s it’s a really, really tricky one. I mean, I, I am not asexual, but I didn’t have any interest in kissing or having sex with anyone throughout my teens or even into my early twenties. And I was mocked relentlessly at school. It was truly, truly relentless. And it was actually quite unbelievable how much people insist upon just because they want to grow up maybe a little bit faster. But they really tried to impose that on each other. And I feel like so much of our society imposes on people, and I can’t imagine how much you must have felt imposed upon, especially as a growing teenager. I think I was 21 when all of my friends collectively gave me a copy each of the 40 Year Old Virgin to freak me out. You know, we were just young and stupid, but everyone thought it was this, like, you know, became this like, huge running joke where everyone became obsessed with when I was finally going to kiss someone and when I was finally going to have sex. And I’m not sure if I would have even kissed someone at 21 had I not felt so pressured by everyone by that point because they were just like, You’re officially an adult, you’re 21 years old. You are actually getting to a point of freakdom. And I caved and I kissed a friend of mine and then that kind of, you know, then things kind of progressed from there. But it was a like when I look back on it now, hearing you talk about it, it was a wild amount of it’s like a really personal thing to pressure someone into was very, very odd and it really makes people uncomfortable in a way that is so peculiar.
Yasmin [00:10:44] And I think one of the things that was instead of worrying about it is that when it’s such a universally accepted conclusion that everyone’s jumping. So even though I was quite content with myself, I’m like, Does everyone know something I don’t? Because everyone is saying the same thing. Like no one is accepting that I might be asexual. No one is listening to my answer, like whether adults or kids, everyone has concluded it. I mean, I got called a pedophile for the first time when I was 16. Like, these are the things that people will jump to before they accept your answer. And so after a while, you’re kind of like, Oh my God, like, is there something wrong with me? And they notice something that I haven’t noticed.
Jameela [00:11:21] I was about to I was about to ask you, like, did that lead to your own self doubt? Because for me, it really made me wonder, like, am I a freak? Is there something wrong with me for not wanting to do this? I. I just didn’t. I just didn’t have the urge. There was a part of me that wanted that part of my life. Maybe just so that I could feel normal. You know, I was putting out the signals, but I didn’t actually feel that compelling urge to actually go forward and do something. At what age did you start to experience any kind of wavering doubt?
Yasmin [00:11:52] I mean, I know it’s like a strange to me. I think I am I’ve always been quite a marched to the beat of my own drum type of person. So for some reason, despite all of this, like, it never made me inclined to actively try and change myself, which probably would have been helpful at the time because then I probably would have been popular.
Jameela [00:12:09] Yeah in a way, but it would have fucking traumatized you. But it would have. It could have traumatized you.
Yasmin [00:12:13] Yeah, because I would have had to force myself into Yeah, it wouldn’t have been good for me to try and force myself into those situations. But at the same time, like, I’m glad that whatever it is, my teenage self, even my younger self, because like I bullied before that for other things, I’ve always been kind of like, okay, hopefully one day people will get it and hopefully someday I, they will just accept it and I won’t have to change. But it definitely was a really long process and I think when you kind of grow up in like your formative years where you kind of reach an age where other people’s opinions start forming your own self perception, when one of the widely accepted things is that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re not like as grown or as mentally capable or physically capable as everybody else, and especially as a black working class girl in like a state school that really stuck for a long time. And fortunately that gave me a perfectionist complex, which isn’t great, but was somewhat constructive because it made me determined to prove everybody wrong by being as amazing and everything as I possibly could be.
Jameela [00:13:18] Did you have anyone in your family to talk to about this who could reassure you? The only reason I ask is because you and I both come from ethnic backgrounds, and there can often be I can’t speak to your family specifically, but there can often be in our cultures respectively pressure for like, When are you going to get married? When are you going to have a baby? Like one day you’re going to have this wedding and this is a prince to go with your Barbie. Do you know what I mean? Did you experience that within your within your family? Like when you from when you were little? This kind of like just give an expectation that one day you’ll grow up and you’ll get married and you’ll have babies, etc..
Yasmin [00:13:52] I think I was quite fortunate in a sense, because my mom’s always very much just let me kind of do whatever she and she kind of just let me be as weird as I turned out to be. But then I think was kind of weird as well or interesting when it comes to kind of like Caribbean families who are sort of Christian, is that on one hand, you don’t want your teenage relative who’s a girl to be having sex, you don’t want her to be dating, you don’t want her to want to do that. So on one hand, it was kind of like, okay, so she’s well behaved. That’s how we’re just to interpret this is that she’s just a really well-behaved girl. But then when it’s like, Oh, actually, I’m not straight, by the way. Like, you know, that this is actually my sexuality, which is not heterosexuality, and that’s why I’m like that. Then it’s kind of more like, I don’t know how to like, that’s not as positive anymore, even though the behaviors are exactly the same. But fortunately, immediate family kind of just let me do what I want. And they just you know, I was achieving other things. So it was like, okay, cool. She’s just focusing on other things. But it was a relative that did ask me that very bizarre question when I was 16. So, yeah, it wasn’t all easily understood.
Jameela [00:15:21] And so what impact did it have on your mental health, even though you were sturdy, even though you march to the beat of your own drum and you had parents who didn’t push you in any particular direction in that way. Was there any kind of negative impact in your life from this? By the way, just to be very fucking clear, sorry. Not from being this, but from the fact that there is such a slight I mean even now in 2023, years and years and years after you first realize there’s still a complete lack of information and understanding around it. And so I wonder what what that’s been like for you emotionally.
Yasmin [00:15:56] Yeah, I think it was always it was quite layered because it was never just that I was asexual that made it difficult for people to understand it’s that I was asexual and black that people didn’t understand. I am pretty sure that if I was white, people would have accepted my answer a lot sooner because I was in school during like the Tumblr era where having sort of niece orientations was pretty cool. Like it was a pretty inclusive environment, just not for me. People just I was so sexualized from a young age by my peers. It was like, this just does not compute for you. And in turn, because I was like a young black girl. Like people sort of expected you to be sort of even more fast in growing up. And so the kind of stunted stereotype, the whole she doesn’t understand things properly. She’s not as mature as everybody else. She’s more childlike and oblivious. That had a very negative effect because it meant that people literally assumed I was like stupid in multiple aspects, purely off the basis of this one thing that made me eternally childlike to them. And so that kind of gave me a complex because I was like any time I did slightly, slightly wrong and people thought I thought, Oh my God, they’re going to think I’m stupid. Oh my God, this is confirming everything because I spelt this word wrong, but because I did this tiny thing wrong. So that gave me such a complex. Like even way after I finished school, I didn’t want to get anything wrong ever, which is kind of exhausting because it’s impossible to not get anything wrong.
Jameela [00:17:31] It’s so, so interesting. And so did that manifest in any kind of you starting to pull away from people? Did you ever feel shy about telling people? Was it something you avoided in conversation or did you just kind of wear it loud and proud on your chest and you were willing to be like, the people who accept it are going to be my friends and everyone else can go fuck themselves? I’m just curious.
Yasmin [00:17:50] I mean, for me, I sort of I tried to come out when I first discovered the terminology. I was about 15 and when I saw how unsuccessful that was because no one believed me. And all of the kind of questions and assumptions were so weird. I was like I’m not going to do this again.
Jameela [00:18:07] So patronizing. Right? It’s just like you just haven’t met the right person or you’re just afraid or you’re just shy. All of that like you’ll change when you’re older. This is kind of like a pat on the head bullshit that you get from everyone.
Yasmin [00:18:20] Yeah, it was definitely things like that. But then also, you know, the darker stuff like, Oh, well, maybe you have a perversion. Like, let’s test you, let’s show you porn and see what happens, like all these kind of things. And after a while I’m like, I’m just not going to mention it. So I live by like a don’t ask, don’t tell policy for a really long time. Like people that knew me at college, university, post-grad had no idea. I kept it incredibly quiet. I became an expert at avoiding any conversation relating to dating or sexuality, so I just didn’t talk to people that much just to kind of avoid that coming up again because it’s like, I know where it’s going to go and I didn’t want to do it.
Jameela [00:18:58] So interesting how something that uncomplicates your life so exponentially can be so complicated to other people. Like there’s there’s nothing more uncomplicated than extracting this incredibly messy and chaotic part of your life, like being able to. And I don’t want to make any assumptions about how your life is, whether it’s easy or hard or anything. But but romance and sex can lead to end endless complications. And so you’re living a quite a straightforward and simple life that you find personally easy and enjoyable. It’s just the outside. This is always the fucking case with anyone within the LGBTQIA Plus like community and so forth. It’s they’re fine it’s everyone else who has the fucking problem. It’s so I can’t imagine how irritating that has been. And then on top of that, you’re a model and so you’re extremely beautiful and an object as an I’m not calling an object, but you are considered an object of desire, a specifically desire. Right. And so you’re it is your enticing beauty that that draws people in to your image. And so I imagine that must have brought a new layer of just disconnect.
Yasmin [00:20:17] I mean, it was it’s interesting because I think it was another one of those things that was more perplexing to other people than it was to me, because I didn’t.
Jameela [00:20:24] Oh, yeah, I didn’t mean for you. Oh, yeah, I didn’t mean for you. I meant for other people where they’re just like they where they’re expecting you to sell this thing. Not necessarily sex, but they’re that there is a romance to models. And so people who meet you, who then hear that you’re a model must have certain expectations of you.
Yasmin [00:20:43] Yeah, I find that it’s only been like when I was just modeling and no one knew what my sexual orientation was like. That was kind of fine. It was only when I started talking about it when all of a sudden the exact same thing I’d already been doing became contentious, even though prior to that it was perfectly fine. And that’s when I was like, Oh, did you really think that I was like, sexually unavailable to you before because I wasn’t? But obviously now that I’ve said I’m asexual then from not just men, but also certain Terfy feminist women are also like, You can’t dress like that then if you aren’t experiencing sexual attraction people should not be sexually
Jameela [00:21:19] I’m sorry what? Dress like what?
Yasmin [00:21:20] attracted to you.
Jameela [00:21:21] Dress like what.
Yasmin [00:21:22] They they just say that like, you know, you shouldn’t just do anything. Like I shouldn’t wear makeup. I shouldn’t do my hair, I shouldn’t wear skinny jeans. I shouldn’t do anything that would make someone potentially be attracted to me. And it was very bizarre when that started happening because we kind of assumed that we would beyond on that idea.
Jameela [00:21:41] The idea that, oh my God, that what wear should be our responsible to control other people’s reactions to it is fucking extraordinary for people who called themselves feminists. I say feminists in like heavy quotes. Really fucking ridiculous. I’m really sorry you’ve ever had to hear such ignorant shit.
Yasmin [00:21:57] Is one of the most common things I hear nowadays. It’s always like people are really hung up on that. And it’s weird because as an activist, I never thought that was going to be essential things, what I was talking about, and what people would think of. But I quickly realized that actually apparently doing looking nice or even looking like anything is actually probably very contentious if you’re also like openly asexual, because I think people should think I should just let myself just I should just do nothing. I should be repelling people continuously. And if someone’s attracted to me, that is my fault. And I need to alter myself to look asexual.
Jameela [00:22:37] Fuck me. So as an activist, I, as a growing activist is using your platform to be able to to fight for the representation of of asexual and aromantic people. I, I would love for you to be able to tell me things that you find to be common misconceptions about the way that and obviously you are not a monolith. And so you can only speak for your own experience, but just some of the general misconceptions about the lifestyle of an asexual aromantic person.
Yasmin [00:23:08] Yeah, and I feel like they’re similar, but they’re slightly different. I’ve always said that I feel like when it comes to asexuality, people tend to think there’s something wrong with your body, but when you’re aromatic, people tend to think there’s something wrong with your soul in a sense, because it’s so tied to this idea of romantic love, which is seen as being like the epitome of human connection. So very quickly, when I’ve told people that I don’t experience romantic attraction, like the term sociopath comes up a lot, the term narcissist comes up a lot. I think it’s just because people think that again this emotion is so much better and more heartfelt and more significant than all the others. And if you don’t have that, then you must not value anybody in any way. But it’s like there’s more than one type of connection you can have. So it’s weird that people jump to that, but they do. Unfortunately, they think you can’t connect with people. You don’t value people.
Jameela [00:23:56] Do they assume you live a lonely life?
Yasmin [00:23:58] And relationships. Yeah, like you can’t feel any kind of love, which is weird. And then when it’s for asexuality, it tends to be that there’s something physically wrong with you that can’t be fixed like it’s libido problem, or it’s a it’s a trauma problem. It’s a psychological hang up, or that you’re not liberated enough and that you’re repressed or you’re hiding something and you just need someone to unlock it, or you just need to get over whatever hurdle it is or you think you’re too good for anybody and that’s why you’re not attracted to anyone.
Jameela [00:24:31] It’s so aggressive. It’s such aggressive judgment. And so have you ever had people see it as a challenge when they found out that you are those things?
Yasmin [00:24:43] Yes. And I learned at a young age that if guys are happy that you’re a virgin, that is weird and that’s a red flag, because I got a lot of I remember once I was working in a bar once and some guys were talking and I sort of mentioned that I hadn’t been with one before because they kept quizzing me and they did like a celebratory virgin dance which kind of like an Irish jig. And they were so happy that they found a pure woman. And I was like, This is terrible. This is horrible oh my god stop. It was the cringiest thing in the world. But fortunately I’ve been I haven’t had anyone try to force it, but I’ve definitely had people that think that, you know, if they’re just a bit more smooth or a bit funnier.
Jameela [00:25:29] So cringe.
Yasmin [00:25:30] Or a bit something else that will change my mind.
Jameela [00:25:34] I get secondhand embarrassment when I hear things like that. I remember that even just 20 years ago, if a girl said that she was gay that was seen as like, challenge is on by straight men. It’s such an odd, arrogant, bizarre way to live. But talk to me about the types of companionship that you do enjoy in your life, because I think, as you said, people make you out to be the type of person who has nothing and no one around.
Yasmin [00:26:04] Yeah, I think it’s so sad that people really see, like, you know, romantic relationships as being like the be all and end all. It’s like there’s so many other types of connections you can have. And for me, as someone who, you know, when they say, are you friends or are you more than friends, for me, there is no more than friends like that is it. So I’m going to put that energy into the friendships. Like I will value that as you know, the most important kind of connection and not as the secondary one to romantic relationship. Because for me, like that is the most important kind. So I like. Most of my friendships are kind of long lasting. Like I’ve had friends that I’ve known since I was like three. I have friends that I met in secondary school and friends that I met in college. And like, good like most people I know, I’ve known for at least four to 20 years.
Jameela [00:26:54] Yeah, I completely feel the same way. I also think friendship is the most important relationship that you’ll ever have, in my opinion. And that’s you know, because I’m not going to have children. So I’m sure that’s also a very important relationship there. But I, I’m, I love my boyfriend to fucking pieces, but we also live with my best friends because I need them all in very different ways. Like, I do not consider my relationship with him to be the sole, most important relationship in my life. I wouldn’t be able to, I think, live without my best friends, all of whom I’ve known pretty much since I was 19. I think it’s really sad that we don’t place more emphasis on friendship and different types of companionship. I often talk about the fact that I believe that there wouldn’t be so much misunderstanding and hatred from men towards women if we lived in a society that placed more importance on the value of friendship between men and women so that men no longer saw their role as solely being to forage and protect and conquer and own. You know, now that women in most countries in this world have become more self-sufficient and we have been allowed more freedoms and more independence, and we have access to go where we want to get our own food on fucking Uber Eeats like they feel redundant. They feel reduced to nothing more than their seed. And there’s so much more to be had in that dynamic that doesn’t have to involve sex or love. And if we could just put more fucking emphasis on that, I feel as though there would be so much more peace in this world. There’d be so much less resentment and terror of our independence, which is why we see women’s rights being stripped back, left, right and center as a direct backlash to how fast we’re progressing. So I love the fact that you’re you’re emphasizing this.
Yasmin [00:28:44] It’s true, I think it’s also it’s like the whole idea of a friends zone, which, you know, you tend to hear about when if you don’t want to make a friendship into a romantic relationship, it’s almost seems like a punishment. It’s like, oh, you didn’t meet the standard. You don’t get to, as you said, kind of conquer the girl like she’s still not yours. And it’s like, but there’s nothing wrong with being friends that could last ten times longer than the romantic relationship she might have done. Is this whole idea of sort of, I don’t know, like ownership in a weird way. And I just think that if we just kind of deprioritized romantic relationships and place that equal value on all the things that come with friendships, if you take the sex and the romance out of it, it doesn’t make it any less valuable. I think everyone could do with that mentality, and I think it’s very cool that you live with your boyfriend and your friends. I think that is goals.
Jameela [00:29:36] Yeah, I mean, I’m almost 40 and I will always live with them like I’m going to. I don’t care if we have to, like, chop our bedrooms in half. If they end up getting married and having kids, it’s like we are doing the commune life forever, which sounds like a cult. It does sound like it is not a cult, but it’s
Yasmin [00:29:56] It sounds like SIMS to me
Jameela [00:29:56] like how I want to live. Yes, yes, yes, exactly. Yeah. But you know, also, even with relationships, I would not be with James if he wasn’t my best friend first and foremost. There’s I have absolutely no personal interest in the kind of thing where it’s just like I have my guy and we have our romantic time, and then I get everything I need just from my friends and I see the girl separately and then I see that I’m not I’m not personally interested in that. And I didn’t mean some mocking in my tone if that some people have that dynamic and that’s fine. It’s like, if he’s not my best fucking friend, if he’s not my ride or die that enjoys doing almost all the same shit, then I wouldn’t be arsed that’s too much commitment for me as eight years of my life, dividing my life in half and having someone else to answer to. I would never do that if friendship wasn’t like 90% of the bond. And and I love the fact that you’re you’re emphasizing the importance of that. One of the most ridiculous things. I mean, I’ve seen some of the stuff you’ve had to respond to, and I was sort of sifting through your work. One of the more ridiculous things are people arguing that like, you know, but sex is good for you. Sex is good for your health, you know, And that’s why being asexual is is dangerous. Can you respond to that please?
Yasmin [00:31:20] I find it so funny because you could be having the most unhealthy sex of all time who like sex is not inherently healthy.
Jameela [00:31:27] I’ve had about. Yeah 50 UTI’s in my life. Go on.
Yasmin [00:31:32] It’s like some people like it depends on your relationship with sex. And your relationship with a person. Like sex is not inherently healthy. And also any health benefits that you can gain from that. I mean, it’s just cardio. Just get on an exercise bike like there’s other ways.
Jameela [00:31:44] Yeah. Eat an apple.
Yasmin [00:31:44] I mean, they say orgasms are kind of health benefits. Like I still have those like, you know, you don’t have to be dependent on actually having sex with someone to have those supposed, you know, endorphin rushes or anything like that. And I think that. And you know what is not good for your health. Being annoying on the Internet. So I think that that is something that those people have to take into consideration.
Jameela [00:32:06] Agreed and touche. Can I ask about I’m sorry if this is stupid or insensitive, you can just tell me to go fuck myself. But one thing that we know is very good for our happy chemicals. And again, not it doesn’t have to be something that we have, but is affection. And I wonder, is that something is that a part of your life? Is it something you crave some you don’t like? I’m just curious.
Yasmin [00:32:30] I think I like it. I’m not like a overwhelmingly snuggly person, but I don’t know. I guess it just depends on how you communicate affection. Like for me, as someone who socializes in doses and doesn’t need people around all the time. Like my way of communicating affection is if we meet up and we will probably have like a four hour conversation. And I might not need to talk to you for two weeks, but. And like, that was. That was my way of showing affection. It’s not like a cuddle. It’s more of a just sort of wanting to.
Jameela [00:32:59] It’s emotional affection or that, you.
Yasmin [00:33:00] Get your thoughts and feelings and what’s going on with you. And I like things like that. Like if I’m going to socialize, I need it to be like a kind of deeper thing. So I guess that’s how I think of affection. But I also have like a lot of familial affection, like me and my mom are snuggly, actually, so I guess I am snuggly in that sense. And if I see a dog, I will snuggle like instant.
Jameela [00:33:22] Yeah okay. Yeah. I mean, I only say that because of like oxytocin and things like that. It’s like, good for our. It’s good for our bodies to have a little bit of a cuddle. But also, regardless of whether you are asexual or aromantic, some people are just not into they’re just not into affectionate vibes. And so I was just curious because if there is the lack of the physical intimacy, I was just wondering if that’s ever something that you crave. But you seem to get that from your lovely sounding relationship with your excellent, stable, cool mum.
Yasmin [00:33:50] Yeah. And also, like, I don’t know, I think in terms of like, you know, the kind of physical thing I don’t know I don’t like people’s bodies making me hot, like I don’t like sharing beds with people and things like that it like distracts me from my own sleep. So I don’t really need that kind of proximity, but I do like an emotional proximity will suffice in that sense. I don’t think I’m not a big snuggler, but I’ll snuggle my mom, but I don’t really need to snuggle other people.
Jameela [00:34:17] And so what are some other misconceptions you feel like people have about people within your community?
Yasmin [00:34:25] I think that one of the other ones is, I guess, just that you can’t live like a kind of happy, fulfilling life while being asexual or aromantic, especially if you’re both. I think if you’re just aromantic but you still are experiencing sexual attraction, then it’s like, okay, you’re missing the love part, which people think is very important, but you’re still getting the sex part and if you’re asexual, but you still experience romantic attraction is like, okay, you’re kind of still getting some of it, but when you’re kind of both people, I think we’ve all been so conditioned to think that, you know, sex is fundamental to your life and to your health and to how you connect with people. And that romance is the most important emotional state that you can feel and be in. And if you don’t have either of those, then you’re like an incomplete person, as the saying goes, need to find your other half and it usually needs to be a sexual or a romantic partner. And that is quite a heavy message that everyone in the community gets a lot. I think that’s the message everybody in the world gets a lot. And I think that’s why you see people who just can’t be single. And if it’s a bad relationship or not, they just need to be in one because we’re taught that that’s what you need to do but
Jameela [00:35:26] Yeah, I mean, I get I get pressuring from not wanting children, not wanting to get married. You know, people think there’s something wrong with me and that’s way more traditional, my lifestyle than than that of someone in your community according to the eyes of our very rigid society. What about am I allowed to ask if you have any desire to have children, as in adopt or whatever, or have your own or have IVF or anything like that?
Yasmin [00:35:53] I it’s something that I thought about. Like I’m not against it, but I I’m definitely not anywhere near that phase of life yet. I still feel like a big kid in some way that I can’t see myself looking after anything. I start with a dog, see how that goes, and then you know.
Jameela [00:36:09] Highly recommend. Highly, highly recommend it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It did backfire because then I was absolutely sure I didn’t want children because nothing could ever be as sweet as my dog. But I, uh. But I was just wondering because I think that that might be a misconception some people have then about aromantic and a’s people that will then they are so selfish or narcissistic or sociopathci like, there’s something. I think they feel like there’s a chip missing, right?
Yasmin [00:36:39] Yeah.
Jameela [00:36:40] In in those people. And so therefore they presume, well, you wouldn’t want a family. I think that’s an important thing to be able to put out there in case anyone’s thinking, Well, maybe I’m not allowed to have that because I’m not participating in the other parts of that culture or that child wouldn’t be raised with a second significant other. But also you might do it with a friend or. Loads of people are raised with just one parent.
Yasmin [00:37:02] Yeah like there are things you can do. I mean, it’s not like, you know, having a baby with your romantic partner is fool proof.
Jameela [00:37:06] Exactly.
Yasmin [00:37:07] Hence the number of single parents. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to raise the kids together. And I think there’s many nontraditional types of family structures you can have. And also, I always find it funny because people would they wouldn’t say it to me directly, but they’d say it to my mom. They’d be like, oh, so no grandchildren for you then. And it’s like based on what? Like, you know, lesbians can have babies. You know, gay people can have babies. So why would it be inherently assumed that if you’re asexual, that that you can’t do that? Like, I’ve always found it quite strange that people very quickly jump to that without even thinking about it. It’s like, yeah, it’s fine if you don’t want to have them, but there’s no mental, emotional or biological reason why I would innately not want to just because of my sexual orientation.
Jameela [00:37:48] Is it just frustrating and tedious generally rather than like I just I just wonder what that must be like dealing with all of this, then all of these presumptions all the time. I mean, I know I can see that you find it amusing, but I also know from how much work you’ve done in this area that, like it comes up constantly. You get really crass questions in the media, really, really fucking graphic crazed questions that I couldn’t believe. And so that does that take a toll or are you able to just kind of brush it off because you see it as just quite a simplistic and irritating part of our culture that ties in with the general sexualization of women, especially black women?
Yasmin [00:38:28] I think I know this is going to sound really weird, but in some ways I’m like, fortunately I was bullied in school, which means that I think that thickened my skin. Like I started getting picked on when I was like seven, eight. And that kind of continued until I was about eight or ten years. And I think that after that, like, things don’t hit me as hard. It’s like it will irritate me if it comes in bursts of thousands, which it sometimes does. But once that kind of wave passes, I don’t hold on to it for very long. So then by the time the next wave happens, it’s like I’ve refreshed. It’s like my life bar in a video game. Like it kind of goes back down and then the damage it goes red and then it kind of goes back down again. So I think I’m quite good at just being like. I don’t know. It doesn’t sink in too much for me, which I think is good, because I think if it did, I wouldn’t be able to do this because it happens so often.
Jameela [00:39:20] And with your activism, what are the things you most hope to achieve?
Yasmin [00:39:25] Um, I guess it’s kind of two things. I want to be able to sort of be the representation that I didn’t have when I was younger. I like being able to feel like we’re all just tiny little specks of this giant world. But if you can kind of make a difference to a lot of people and make their lives a bit easier, like I hope to do that to any scale that I can. And then I also just kind of want to create something tangible because I just always felt like there was a gap in the conversation and in the representation and then in the representation of asexuality, not just in the media, but just like even like legislation wise, there’s a gap. So that’s why I kind of wanted to use my work and my sort of academic background that I had before and try to make use the attention that I’m getting now to drive change that will impact people hopefully in the long run.
Jameela [00:40:15] Can I ask about the legislation because I don’t know about this. What regarding legislation would you say is holding you back and how are you trying to combat that?
Yasmin [00:40:24] Well, like asexuality is not protected by the UK Equality Act. It is not recognized as a sexual orientation under the Equality Act which leaves us vulnerable to a lot of things. And that’s why.
Jameela [00:40:37] Can I ask like what.
Yasmin [00:40:39] For example, we are still pathologized in the international classification of diseases as a disorder. So if you were to describe asexuality to a medical professional, they were probably diagnose you with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which pretty much means that you don’t experience sexual desire towards other people enough. And it’s considered a clinical problem that needs to be fixed. And that’s why the National LGBT Survey 2018, which was conducted by the UK government, found that we are 10% more likely to be offered or to undergo conversion therapy compared to other orientations. So what are the most vulnerable groups to having treatment to fix us, which obviously doesn’t. It’s just trying to psychologically and medically change you ideally to make you straight. And we’re still not protected by the kind of conversion therapy because no one’s really paying any attention to that. And I think it’s things like that which are, you know, there are things that have impacted other sections of the queer community before and we’ve just kind of got left out of that progress. And so I launched the UK’s first Asexual rights initiative last year in partnership with Stonewall, who are one of the year’s biggest LGBTQ rights organizations. And we’re producing a report into asexual discrimination in the UK.
Jameela [00:41:50] Yeah, this is the Yasmin Benoit Ace Project, right?
Yasmin [00:41:53] Yes. So we’re working on that report and hopefully once that’s out, we’ll be able to show that these issues are actually happening. But there is discrimination in health care and work and in education and we should be protected from that like other orientations are.
Jameela [00:42:08] Yeah, god, I can’t imagine what’s happening to kids like to teenagers who maybe think there’s something wrong with them. Go to a doctor and then God knows what the kind of advice they’re being given.
Yasmin [00:42:18] Yeah, and it disproportionately happens to women a lot I’ve noticed in the data from GP level to gynecology, you go there for a smear test.
Jameela [00:42:28] Wonder why.
Yasmin [00:42:29] Next thing you know they’re trying to diagnose you for something because they’re asking you about your sexuality and your sexual history and it all just goes downhill from there. And as far as they’re concerned, they’re looking at the data and they’re like, This sounds like a disorder to me because we’re taught that unless you experience sexuality in a very specific way, you’re sick. And somehow we’re still in that place which you think our society woud move past that, but apparently not.
Jameela [00:42:50] Yeah, everything. They’re obsessed with hormones. They presume everything must be hormonal because everything is designed for procreation. According to them.
Yasmin [00:42:59] Yes they assume it’s hormonal or it’s a libido issue or that it’s a psychological thing. So then you have to have sexual therapy to try and unpack your issues, even if there isn’t an issue.
Jameela [00:43:09] Yasmin, we got a lot of people writing in about the fact that they sometimes may use this word fear, that they may be asexual or aromantic, and they worry that they’re not going to be able to have a quote unquote, normal life. Can I ask what advice you have a such a sturdy person that you are like, it’s just sounds like you just came just popped right out, just knowing exactly who the fuck you are. Do you have any advice for those people and words of reassurance? Because I mean, you’ve turned out fucking great.
Yasmin [00:43:44] Thank you. I try. I mean, I guess. I guess it’s just a reminder that you can live a perfectly fulfilling life while being asexual and aromantic. Who you’re sexually attracted to, who wants to have sex with you is not a representation of your value or your worth as a person. Similarly, experiencing romantic love towards someone and having them romantically love you back is not a reflection of your character or how affectionate you are or how compassionate you are or how emotionally available you are how successful you will be. You wouldn’t attach that correlation to anybody else. You wouldn’t be like speak to yourself the way you would probably speak to your best friend. You wouldn’t say to your single best friend. Oh, no one’s romantically in love with you. Well, then you’re trash. Like, you wouldn’t say that. And it wouldn’t be the same for you either. There’s so much more to life and so much more bond that you can experience that have nothing to do with romantic attraction or sexual attraction. And you’ll probably realize that not having that in your life frees up a lot of your time and allows you to focus on other things that are also really important.
Jameela [00:44:49] Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, if you are someone who is feeling these feelings or lack thereof of those feelings or maybe you did also experienced trauma and you’re not sure if it was the trauma or if it’s just that you are asexual aromantic, then I think it’s worth talking to someone investigating it and leaving the door open for the fact that maybe it’s not the trauma, maybe that’s just how you are and maybe that’s beautiful. And now go and pour all your time and thought and energy into something fabulous that’s going to make you really, really happy. I think.
Yasmin [00:45:21] Exactly.
Jameela [00:45:23] Yeah. I think it’s such an important message and it’s one that is so much more common. Do you have the statistics that currently exist around how many aro or asexual people there are?
Yasmin [00:45:34] I mean, there isn’t much into aromanticism. I think before asexuality, it’s roughly around 1% of the population. The statistics kind of vary.
Jameela [00:45:46] It’s quite a lot.
Yasmin [00:45:48] Tends to be between like one or 2%, which is it’s small, but that’s around the same statistic as ginger people. We all know a ginger person. So that’s.
Jameela [00:45:56] Yeah. And I guess the thing that makes me sad is knowing that there’s that many people in the world and not all of them feel like they can just talk about that or they can live that authentically and that really needs to fucking change. And I bet that number is even fucking higher because there’s so much societal pressure to not claim those things.
Yasmin [00:46:16] I’m sure it is because there’s always all the data is based on people that know the terminology in order to identify with it. So there’s always going to be gaps on it there. And I think that it’s I think it definitely is more common than people think it is. And I also think that it’s something that you’re going to start seeing more of, the more that people become more aware about it.
Jameela [00:46:36] Is there anywhere that you would necessarily guide people to go and look? You know, I know that you found more kind of comfort within all of it when you started to meet other Aro and ace people. Is there anywhere that you would say is a good resource for people who are maybe just identifying with what you’re saying and realizing something about themselves for the first time during this chat?
Yasmin [00:46:57] Yeah, I think the one good thing about the asexual community is even and the aromatic community is that even though we’re small, we really use the Internet as a way of gathering. So there’s so many things online, there’s so many online communities on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Discord, Reddit, there’s the Asexuality.org. Those forums have been running for a good 20 plus years now. That’s like one of the longest running asexual organizations, and people congregate there a lot. And yeah, there’s just a lot of online communities, which is great because you’ll probably be able to find something for you regardless of where on the spectrum you identify or what race you are or whatever intersections you have.
Jameela [00:47:36] Yeah, the most important thing is that you just don’t feel alone and you don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you, as the medical industry would have you believe. Yasmin, thank you so much for coming on and talking to me about this all so candidly. And you’re such a breath of fresh air and I’m so happy that you have been able to navigate some incredibly judgemental spaces in so much of your life is already hard enough sometimes in this world, being a black woman and being a woman in general, and to have an extra thing to contend with that doesn’t correlate with people’s stereotype about you. It’s just it’s a fucking lot. And you have handled it with immense grace and it’s very kind of you to repurpose everything that you’ve learned to share with others because you didn’t have to. And so I appreciate that you’ve taken this on as your duty is, and I can’t wait to continue to learn more from you. So thank you.
Yasmin [00:48:31] Thank you so much. Thank you for allowing me to have this conversation on here to your audience. I really appreciate it.
Jameela [00:48:36] Fucking love it.
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