In a world where we are trying to be inclusive of sexual and gender minorities, it’s time we turn our attention towards understanding an often ignored and invisibilized community — asexuals. For a general understanding, this definition from Feminism In India would be a good starting point — “Asexuality is a sexual orientation with a wide spectrum and has NO arbitrary definition. The spectrum extends from little or rare sexual attraction to no sexual attraction at all. There is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual. Asexuality is like any other identity — at its core, it’s just a word that people use to help figure themselves out.”
Interestingly, the cake became a prominent symbol of the ace community following a humorous thread on the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, where many agreed that cake is better than sex. The metaphor developed to explain the concept to non-asexuals — though almost everyone likes cake, there are those who don’t and the same goes with sex.
Asexuality erasure is still a rampant problem within LGBTQIA+ movements, with ace members constantly being invalidated and gate-kept from expressing themselves. There is a hesitation in feeling accepted even within what are supposed to be safe spaces for them. We spoke to a few asexual Indians to try to understand their lives and experiences.
Understanding one’s asexuality in a world with very little discourse about it can be a frustrating affair. Aran G.*, a 23-year-old working professional spent many years in anguish over his identity. “I knew I wasn’t a part of any of the other sexualities for a long time, but the lack of awareness of asexuality meant I didn’t know what I was. This identity crisis affected my mental health and my grades dropped, I couldn’t focus on anything, and as a result, I wasn’t good at anything. That ruined my self-esteem, which worsened my mental health and it was just a vicious cycle. Many nights I’ve just stayed up trying to look up what I was and figure out if I had a health issue for being the way I was,” recalls Aran. When he finally came across the term ‘asexuality’, he felt as if a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders.
This ignorance with respect to asexuality is also coupled with ridicule. Aran recounts how other than a few people who make an actual effort to understand, he has been at the receiving end of many jokes and has also received corrective rape threats. Tara, a 22-year-old student, says that she has often been accused of trying to grab attention in queer movements or being told that she’s ‘broken’ or diseased. Poornima, the founder of Asexuality India, tells Feminism In India that the idea of asexuality being a disorder comes from the notion that ‘compulsory sexuality’ is natural for human beings and anything other than that is abnormal.
There is also a tendency to homogenise all asexual people into one category, while the reality is more nuanced, people on the asexuality spectrum can be very different from one and another, something our respondents emphasised upon and wanted people to know. For example, some may engage in sexual activity, while some may not.
“They may if they choose to. Sex-positive asexuals do not feel sexual attraction but don’t mind sex. It’s like playing tennis, a fun thing to do, but there’s no urge to play tennis with a specific person. Sex-negative asexuals are averse to sex in general. They may also choose to have sex if they want to, for any reason,” said Aran. Aran identifies as demisexual, which means that he develops sexual attraction towards someone only after forming a strong emotional connection.
Though she is sex-negative, Tara sometimes has sex with her non-asexual partners. “I do it for their sake, this isn’t non-consensual or anything. I simply don’t mind and I like that I’m engaged in something that my partner enjoys, though it doesn’t have much effect on me personally.” Rajeshwari Yadav, a 20-year-old, says she has read about asexuals who masturbate, (often not as a sexual act but as a form of physical release or a stress-reliever) as well as have sex to reproduce.
There is also a misconception that asexual people do not have romantic relationships. Romantic orientation and sexual orientation are separate branches, each not mutually inclusive of each other. This infographic by Huffington Post can be quite helpful for non-aces to understand. Tara tells us that she’s had multiple romantic relationships, and not being sex-positive has not hampered the connection she’s made with her partners. “I’m lucky I mostly had very understanding people, but on a personal level, I believe that close intimacy and deep connections can be made without having sex, despite what others believe.”
When asked if she feels that dating as an asexual is significantly more complicated, Rajeshwari believes that it’s simply a matter of respecting your partner’s likes and dislikes, as well as the boundaries they set.
However, it doesn’t seem like the situation can be as straightforward for many, such as Aleesha*, a 36-year-old married woman with children. She tells us “I’m past the dating stage in my life but it is complicated in marriage. How do you suddenly tell the man you are married to that you are asexual post two kids? You can’t expect your spouse to understand it and I don’t think we have support groups for families here in India. It might end my marriage or I keep up the charade while feeling violated. It’s a horrible feeling.”
She also speaks of the lack of understanding among her friend group, other married women she opens up to often ask her to give in to her husband’s needs, despite some of them also relating to the way she feels. Rajeshwari and Tara have had better support systems, with friends and family attempting to educate themselves more once they chose to come out to them.
Addressing asexuality in the Indian scenario in contrast to the west is definitely a whole new ball game, in a social context where discussing sexuality itself is often hushed up and taboo. Recognising this, Poornima and Sai started the website Asexuality India, to create a platform where aces could connect with each other, and share their stories and experiences. In 2017, Raj Saxena along with Rishav Saxena and Purushottam Rawat created the ACEapp, a dating application for asexuals across the spectrum to meet and socialise without fear of judgment or discrimination. Indian Aces, a popular community and collective on social media have held speed dating events as well as educational workshops. Dr Pragati Singh has also started a matrimonial and match-making platform called Platonicity, recognising the lack of these forums for asexual Indians. With various forums popping up, the scene has definitely improved, with visibility increasing slowly but surely.
*Name changed for this article.
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