Quantcast
My Life As A Black, Asexual Model Is Not A Paradox
Richard Bailey

My Life As A Black, Asexual Model Is Not A Paradox

Asexual Activist Yasmin Benoit isn't defined by the male gaze.

Sex & Love - Home Page

One of the questions I'm asked the most is, "What is it like being a Black asexual model in the modeling industry?"


It's probably because that combination sounds like something inherently contentious and I can no longer deny the truth in that. Yes, modeling is associated with sexuality - sometimes justifiably, sometimes not.

It's also associated with a rather specific beauty standard which hasn't always been appreciative of Black phenotypes. Asexuality has never been associated with Blackness; in a world where Black people are either hypersexualized or desexualized by the white gaze, being Black and asexual is often treated as paradoxical. So, all in all, existing as all of those things must be a little weird, right?

Yes, but not for the reasons most usually assume.

I entered the modeling industry not because I thought I was strikingly beautiful - quite the opposite. With my big alien-shaped head, cartoon-looking features, Bratz doll proportions, and gothic style, I thought I could be one of those 'weird' models. You know the kind. I was specifically drawn to a more alternative style of modeling in particular because it seemed like a space for outcasts like myself. Only, even in that space, it was ironically white. With my work, I was trying to increase the representation out there for alternative Black girls in a time when it was quite rare to see us. I wanted to be the change I wanted to see and needed growing up. It turned out that I'd carry that same ethos into my activism in the future.

Some picture the modeling industry as being a space full of sexist objectification, with pervy photographers, seedy studio activities, and an unhealthy culture. That can sometimes be the case, but that hasn't really been part of my experience. The complexity for me has little to do with my experiences actually navigating the industry itself. After all, that's influenced more by your physical appearance than your life story. Despite what people think often happens in the studio, the focus is on angles, lighting, and making sure the clothes look alright, rather than the lack of sexual attraction that I experience.

Of course, there were moments when it got a little awkward. When the male photographer asks me to look at the camera like it's my boyfriend, being asexual and aromantic meant that nothing immediately came to mind. I doubt I nailed it.

When I've been asked to participate in shoots that seem like they're more about them molding and selling my personal 'sexual allure' rather than creative expression or advertising products, I've had to turn them down. And I've always been acutely aware of the fact that being associated so heavily with an obscured, often stereotyped sexual orientation isn't going to win me many mainstream campaigns outside of Pride Month.

But that's not the contentious part. That part happens when the images taken in the studio make it to the outside world. That's when those intersections play a role.

Capturing an image means representing something. If that image contains someone who is part of a social group, it becomes representation for an entire demographic, whether you like it or not. Before I publicly came out as asexual, there was nothing particularly controversial about my image as a Black woman in 'racy' clothing. It's not exactly an uncommon way that Black women are depicted in the media, so despite modeling in various styles, I became most known for ‘sexualized’ images and the reception I got was pretty positive.

But when I publicly came out as someone who doesn't experience sexual attraction, I became an example of asexual representation, and that's when the problems started. After all, I wasn't the 'right kind' of asexual representation.

Yasmin Benoit

Rachel Sherlock

There is a certain 'look' associated with asexuality. Something between The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper and someone more...homely and frumpy. If you're not sexually attracted to anyone, you're expected to make yourself sexually unattractive. You shouldn't allow yourself to be interesting to look at. Ideally, you should be white, and come across with an aura of childlike awkwardness that must come innately with being 'out of touch' with the expected forms of sexuality. A Black woman unapologetically dressed like a gothic half-naked Dead or Alive video game girl, talking a lot and throwing up devil horns wasn't what the average person expects when they hear the word ‘asexual.’

Those inside and outside of the asexual community collectively raised their eyebrows and part of me thinks that shared morbid curiosity contributed to me being recognized as an asexual activist quickly. I found myself in documentaries, being used in clickbait headlines about the ‘asexual lingerie model who doesn’t want sex,’ being invited to speak at universities, across online platforms, appearing in Pride campaigns for brands like Uber and even collaborating with Budweiser to open an asexual pop-up bar. Fortunately, I've always had more to bring to the table than shock value, but that hasn't always been acknowledged. The attention was partially on my perspective but mainly on my 'controversial' outfits.

The more people became aware of me and my modeling, the more I started receiving abuse from people on social media because of my job and appearance. I was being called a slut, a whore, a cock-tease, as well as a virgin loser simultaneously–on a strangely regular basis. I was a living, breathing sex toy and an anti-sex agenda all at the same time. If I had a penny every time someone described me as an attention-seeking narcissist, I'd have made more money than I ever earned at a photoshoot. And I know that me working in a shallow industry has as much to do with me being called an attention-seeking narcissist as the stereotypes often associated with asexual people does.

I’ve encountered people who assume that I must be the kind of asexual who thinks I'm too good for anybody; that no one meets my standards enough to be sexually attractive to me. It's a natural conclusion to jump to, considering that my asexuality hasn't rendered me a nervous wreck who hides myself away out of shame for not meeting societal expectations (though I would’ve been more acceptable if I had). It must be my life's mission to tempt and agitate men, while contributing to the sexual objectification of women, with my troublesome asexual tits...or something like that.

If these assumptions people make about me sound a little extreme, it’s because they are. It is the consequence of being caught between two contradicting narratives - the one where Black women are inherently hypersexual and must be sexually available, and the one where asexual people need to be sexless and unappealing with an aversion to anything associated with sexuality. As my asexuality makes me sexually unavailable to others, to them, my body and what I do with it is just a provocative lie. But I embrace the perplexity. I'm okay with being an oxymoron, as I know there are people out there who find my work empowering.

Maybe if I wasn't so perplexing, I wouldn't have found myself in a position where I'm able to show what being asexual actually is. It's a sexual orientation, not a lifestyle choice, not a personality flaw, not a limitation. You can be asexual and express yourself however you want to, be whoever you want to, wear whatever you want to, and fall into any demographic. Being a Black asexual model might make me less palatable, more scandalous, and more likely to attract racist, sexist, and acephobic abuse. But as long as I get to keep being myself, I'm past caring.

Featured image courtesy of Yasmin Benoit

Halle Bailey Talks 'The Little Mermaid' Backlash & Having A Forever Best Friend In Sister Chloe

Halle Bailey won our hearts alongside her sister Chloe when their cover of Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” went viral when they were just teenagers, and from there they have become Grammy-nominated artists as the group Chloe x Halle thanks to albums like Ungodly Hour and The Kids Are Alright. Now, their fans have more to look forward to as Halle will be starring as the Disney princess Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.

Keep reading...Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.
The Power Couples In The Zodiac & Your Money Match Based On Astrology

When it comes to power couples in the zodiac, there are instant matches that make for love and financial compatibility. Some zodiac signs work better together than others, and considering financial challenges tends to make or break relationships--finding your money match is important. Not only that but there are certain signs in the zodiac that can enhance your financial world, just by being in it. Planetary energy in certain areas of your birth chart can provide higher success rates and opportunities, and compatibility energy varies by degree.

Keep reading...Show less
The Do's & Don'ts Of Having Sex On The Beach

I’ve never actually tasted a 'Sex on the Beach,' but I certainly have imagined doing it. In fact, I’ve had a lot of sex fantasies, but this remains to be one at the top of my list. However, I continue to harbor some fear because it seems that beach sex is no easy feat.

Keep reading...Show less
The Evolution Of Serena Williams

It is like witnessing magic when you watch an athlete do what they do best. To see a mere human soar in the air over to the other side of a bar or to witness someone run at a speed quicker than a human thought. A basketball player defying gravity just to get a ball into a hoop. A ballerina turning their body into a top, spinning and spinning without fatigue.

Keep reading...Show less
Lori Harvey On Dating With A Purpose & Not Compromising Her Peace For Anyone

Lori Harvey’s dating life has consistently been a hot topic on social media and now the model is shedding light on some of her dating do’s and don’ts. In an episode of Bumble’s new “Luv2SeeIt” content series, the SKN by LH founder sat down with the series' director, producer, and host Teyana Taylor and disclosed some quote-worthy thoughts on dating and relationships.

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews
Former Beyoncé Dancer Deja Riley On Changing Her Career For Her Mental Health

Former Beyoncé Dancer Deja Riley On Changing Her Career For Her Mental Health

"I felt like I was not enough. And my mental health is important. So when I started feeling that way, I knew that it was time to shift."

Latest Posts