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

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Brunch - By Shikha Ku­mar

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

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