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Yasmin Benoit

10th April 2022

Photographer & Editor in Chief: Owen James Vincent

Make Up Artist: Rita Nieddu

Hairstylist: Anthea Hudson

Styling: Borna Prikaski 

Styling Assistant: Maggie Aulman

Interview: Jordan Arthur

Logo Design: Emily Curtis

Celebrating A-Sexual day this week our next cover star we have this month goes to Yasmin Benoit is a A-Sexual Activist, Model, Writer and Speaker. Yasmin discusses the topics of being A-Sexual, being nominated for The Brits LGBT Awards, teaming up with the charity Stonewall and combining her modelling with activism.

Designers: House of Elana / Alejandra Munoz / Brogan Smith

You’re asexual (ace) and aromantic (aro), for someone who might never had heard those terms before, what does that mean for you?

I don’t experience sexual attraction, so I’m asexual. And I don’t experience romantic attraction, so I’m aromantic. Those are the general definitions of those phrases and how I apply them to myself.

Asexuality is not something everybody necessarily knows about or understands like they do with some of other letters in LGBT+. What are some of the key challenges that lack of understanding creates for ace people?

There’s quite a few. It can have quite a negative impact at the interpersonal level, in the sense that, even though quite a lot of people don’t even know what asexuality is, they still tend to have an opinion about it  just because of the way we’re taught to conceptualise sexuality in our society. People might associate certain personality traits or other characteristics with it aside from it just being a sexual orientation. Like it’s a reflection of something else. Which can cause a lot of stereotyping, acephobia and negative misconceptions.

But then you have it on a wider scale in terms of legislation, policy, and how that might impact your experiences at work or how that might negatively impact you in healthcare, therapy, and so much more. The National LGBT Survey 2018 found that asexual people are 10% more likely to be offered or to undergo conversion therapy. We are still pathologised in the ICD as suffering from a sexual dysfunction just because the way we experience sexual desire is different. The National LGBT Survey also found that most asexual people don't feel like they can be open about their sexuality and that we have one of the lowest life satisfaction scores. 

So the lack of understanding can have a wide-ranging negative impact.

Designers: House of Elana & Kim Tizana Rottmuller

You created the #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike hashtag to start getting people talking about ace visibility. What kind of reaction have you had to that so far?

I started it quite a few years ago now and it was mainly just to give agency back to the asexual community so we could represent ourselves and not rely on and wait for the media to do it.

I think, especially online, it was very hard see actual people sometimes. You can see loads of blobs of text and emojis and avatars, but not so many people. In the ace community you’re statistically less likely to just run into others, so online is where a lot people engage with each other, so I thought it would be more helpful if we could see some faces. I think a lot people felt the same way because it led to this kind of social media movement and I see people all over the world using it and it’s become a really great like resource for myself as well because I enjoy seeing the diversity of the community in a way that you don’t always see on specific social media platforms. So it’s had a really great reception.

This work led to string of awards and nominations, including the Brit LGBT awards coming up. That must a be a great feeling.

On a personal level it’s always great when people recognise your work, especially since the kind of activism I do isn’t really common – it isn’t something traditionally you see in any spaces or even recognised as a proper thing. So it’s great on that level to be recognised in those spaces.

But also when it comes specifically to the British LGBT Award and occasions like when I won the Attitude Pride Award last year I think it puts out a great statement for asexual inclusion in general because that’s still quite a contentious topic when it comes to the queer community. 

You’re launching the UK's first ever asexual rights project in partnership with Stonewall, called the Stonewall x Yasmin Benoit Ace Project – what are your main ambitions for this collaboration?

Our main goal is provide the protection that the UK Equality Act 2010 currently doesn’t for asexual people. Particularly when it comes to public services, whether it’s education, healthcare, or the workplace. Also we want to just get a conversation going and build some momentum on actually protecting asexual people properly.

Awareness is good - and essential to what I’m trying to do - but there’s a step beyond that and I feel like we’ve been in this awareness state for decade and we need to get onto the ‘Okay we know the word, now what are we gonna do?’

I’m hoping that one of the big gaps – there’s a gap in media, there’s a gap in lots of things – but there’s also a really big gap in research and having reports and studies done, particularly into acephobia. Even though we know it happens. That is why I really wanted to do it and I thought Stonewall would be great people to work with on it. 

You’re looking to produce a report that’s going to look at discrimination in the workplace, education, and healthcare as the 3 main areas.

Those are the three main things that would usually fall under the scope of the Equality Act, but it leaves a big loophole when it comes to asexuality and some other identities as well don’t have the protection they need. So we’re hoping if we can get a report out there and highlight the issues and experiences, we can use that to inform an initiative that we can establish to implement the changes that are needed. 

We’ve already interest from parliamentarians and other organisations that are keen to be involved. Even workplaces and corporations are already telling us they’re excited to see the findings. So getting the report in front of MPs is one of our goals.

The reason we’ve called it a project is because it’s very much planned to be a long term thing. The report is just phase one, but we’ll use it as a starting point to keep addressing things as time goes on.

Designers: Monozygotic / Elly Beckford / Brogan Smith / Sarah Regensburger

What’s it been like working with Stonewall on this project? How did it all come about?

It started with me doing a load of research with them more casually, highlighting the issue and getting some testimony. But then when we were at the point where we’d been working together for a while and we’d done all this stuff but we don’t have a name for it. We’d worked out there was an issue, and we’d decided we were going to do something about it, so it was like ‘let’s call this something.’

So around last year, Stonewall suggested launching a project – I got the funding through by last December and now we’re at a point where we’re ready to get the ball rolling. 

Stonewall are such an iconic organisation so I feel grateful that not only did they want to do the project at all, but they have trusted me to lead on it.

You started your career as a model, but even that had a sort of campaigning spirit to it. I think you described it as ‘alternative’ modelling – sort of counter to the Eurocentric standards of what a model should look like, but even in the Gothic style… The sort of things you would have wanted to see growing up. Was it always an ambition to combine your modelling career with your activism, or have you found that they’re actually natural bedfellows?

I never really planned to be an out-and-out activist in the first place. I was a model who mentioned being asexual and then people became very interested in that element. Maybe me being a model is what made it interesting because at the time I didn’t realise there would be any sort of contention about that. I thought we were beyond thinking someone’s sexual orientation would impact their appearance so I really didn’t think it would be that much of a talking point.

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