MEET INDIA’S NEWEST SEXUAL MINORITY: THE ASEXUALS
Meet the newest sexual minority: the asexuals, who are interested in an emotional connect (and other things fun!) minus the trappings of sexual intimacy
There will be better acceptance when there is better understanding of sex – not the biological processes alone, but the entire system like marriage, guilt, shame, pleasure, consent and rights. — SHAMBHAVI SAXENA, 23, WRITER
T WENTY-NINE-year-old Grace Singh’s bio on Tinder states that she’s a ‘demisexual’ (someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction unless she forms a strong emotional connect), which is a bit of an anomaly for a dating app that’s famous for facilitating hook-ups.
“Surprisingly, I’ve met some great people who understood me, while there were others who asked what the term meant. I don’t hesitate before explaining,” says the Delhi-based healthcare professional, who started a Facebook page called Indian Aces in 2014.
Singh was awarded the Orange Flower award from Women’s Web for building the online platform for the Indian asexual community. And if you thought Singh’s orientation is among a minority, you’re wrong.
Across India, a growing section of individuals are discovering asexuality and are gradually coming out – to themselves and to the world. And the anonymity that the Internet allows seems to be a great first step. SEX DOESN’T SELL So what is asexuality? Simply put, it’s when a person doesn’t experi- ence sexual desires. It’s a sexual orientation but a misunderstood one. Given that we live in a hypersexualised world, where most of what we consume in pop culture from TV shows and films to books and memes has erotic underpinnings, asexuality may seem like a fallacy.
In 2007, when American asexual activist David Jay appeared on
The Montel Williams Show, he was grilled on why he felt that way. “It can be difficult to be an asexual in a world that’s so focused on sexuality,” Jay had said at the time. Ten years later, the conversation around asexuality has finally gathered steam – recent research in the Archives of Sexual Behavior states that asexuality is not a disorder.
Jay founded AVEN (The Asexual Visibility and Education Network), the world’s first platform for asexuality awareness, in 2001. Today, it has around 90,000 members from the English speaking community and is the largest archive of resources on asexuality. “I spent years struggling to accept myself as asexual, and when I finally did, I wanted to find other people like me. We are told we can’t be happy or form meaningful relationships without sex, and I wanted us to be able to come together and share stories that proved otherwise,” shares Jay, in an email interview.
It was at AVEN that Poornima Kumar, a women’s studies student in Mumbai, met business executive Sai Kumar in 2015. They started Asexuality India, a platform like AVEN. “When I got talking to Sai, I realised that every asexual has a different experience,” she says.
While Asexuality India has registered members, its Facebook page has emerged as a popular platform, with people reaching out to discuss their sexuality. “Many
Asexuality is not an entirely fluid spectrum. Within it come definitions like demisexuality and sapiosexuality.
Surprisingly, I’ve met some great people who understood me, while there were others who asked what ‘asexuality’ meant. I don’t hesitate before explaining. — GRACE SINGH, 29, HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL
share their experiences, and ask us if they are asexual. We don’t tell them what their orientation is, we help them figure it out,” she adds. AS FLUID AS IT CAN GET For years now, many people across the world have questioned sexuality as a social construct. While the late David Bowie brought queer culture into the mainstream four decades ago, celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Kristin Stewart have opened up about their discomfort with labels. Asexuality too is a spectrum and not entirely fluid – within it come other definitions like demisexuality and sapiosexuality, among others.
Harshita Narasimhan, an Eng-
While conversations around the LGBTQ movement have acquired a tag of legitimacy, asexuality has a long way to go.
lish Literature student from Delhi, identifies herself as a demisexual. “Sexual attraction is rare but not impossible. It’s important to understand that asexuality is a spectrum and cannot be defined in white and black and every asexual is different,” she says. Like demisexuals, sapiosexuals look for an intellectual connect.
There are other lesser known terms, like autochorissexual, an orientation Trivandrum-based Arul Ganesh identifies with. Autochorissexuals may experience sexual fantasies or even arousal (with pornography or erotica for instance), but lack the desire to participate in the activity. Ritinkar Das, an animator working in Kuala Lampur, identifies as a homoromantic greysexual. “Homoromantic is same sex attraction. While I do feel sexual desires and experience arousal, the actual act is neither desirable nor pleasurable for me,” he says. Pune-based Naqshpa Zainab calls herself an aromantic asexual – she wouldn’t like to see or get involved when it comes to any kind of sexual intimacy.
While many of these aces battled uncertainties and confusions in the absence of support systems, platforms like Asexuality India and Indian Aces are helping them embrace their sexuality. BELIEVE IT OR NOT! For non-asexuals, asexuality can be plain absurd. Aces are often snubbed for they’re thought to use the term as a façade for low or non-existent libidos or not finding anyone worthy enough. “People conflate sex and intimacy. If I say ‘I don’t want to have sex’, many people hear ‘he doesn’t want to form an emotional connection with anyone,’ which is a misunderstanding. While it’s true that asexuals don’t experience sexual attraction, it’s also not true that they’ve never had sex, or can’t,” says Jay.
Shambhavi Saxena, a Delhibased writer, who campaigns for asexuality and has written articles on it, finds it belittling that people invalidate her sexuality because of their ignorance. “These people think asexuals are heterosexuals who are too overwhelmed by the idea of partnered sex, or are conscious of their bodies,” she says.
Then there’s the theory that asexuality can be “cured” through aphrodisiacs. “That’s missing the point for you’re making someone have sex against their will. It devastates them psychologically,” says Das. There are cultural implications and stereotypes attached to asexuality too. “You’re perceived as a ‘ sanskari’ person who hates eroticism. People have asked me if I’m an asexual, how can I talk dirty?” says Prajakta Bhave, a student in Mumbai.
Last year as part of Asexual Awareness Week, a global event that educates and sensitises people towards asexuality, Asexuality India tied up with online spaces like Feminism in India and Gaysi Family to start discussions around it. Shortly after, Singh’s Indian Aces held its first public event, by setting up an asexuality awareness stall at the Queer carnival in Delhi. “For many, identifying themselves as asexual is one thing, but discovering where you fall on the spectrum is another. Engagements like these cultivate a sense of belonging,” says Poornima.
“AS A GENDERODEL, I’VE NEUTRALM ED EXPERIENC NEVER ” HOSTILITY ANY
CHANGING MINDSETS While conversations around the LGBTQ movement have acquired a tag of legitimacy, asexuality has a long way to go, especially in India where discussions on sexuality are not encouraged. Marriage is another hurdle. “There’s been scepticism about how asexuals figure in the discourse of marriage. Some aces have ended their marriages because they found the pressure to consummate to be overwhelming, while some don’t get married at all. Others have led happily married lives because of supportive spouses,” says Narasimhan.
For a generation that consumes all things pop culture, representation in books, music, films, TV shows or Internet memes will help bring asexuality into the mainstream. Archie Comics revealed that Jughead, the goofy character who loves burgers, was in fact an asexual. The revelation signalled a big step for the community. Sheldon Cooper, the nerd protagonist in The Big Bang
Theory is also widely speculated to be an asexual.
While they navigate their own battles, aces are also helping take the movement forward. Poornima has done a group presentation in her college and is working on a paper, titled The Complexities of Asexuality as an Individual and Collective Identity. Singh is planning to build a website for Indian Aces and working on making Platonicity – a matchmaking platform for asexuals – into an app. For Saxena, comprehensive sexuality education is a good place to begin. “There will be better acceptance when there is better understanding of sex – not the biological processes alone, but the entire system like marriage, guilt, shame, pleasure, consent, and rights. Prepare them from school level, so when they meet someone who’s different, their reaction is one of compassion and acceptance,” she says.
GENDER BENDER Aces are snubbed for they’re thought to use the term as a façade for low or nonexistent libidos or not finding anyone worthy enough