A conversation with Yasmin Benoit
April 9, 2020
Interviewed by Sarah Neilson, TSW staff
Yasmin Benoit is a true example of a multi-hyphenate. The UK-based model, YouTuber, writer, and holder of two science degrees — BSc in Sociology and MSc in Crime Science — is also one of the most prominent and visible activists focused on increasing awareness of asexuality and aromanticism.
Through her widely followed social media platforms (14k on Twitter and nearly 40k on Instagram); articles in heavy-hitting magazines like Vogue, Glamour, GQ and Forbes; the creation of the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAsexualityLooksLike; and the founding of the first ever International Asexuality Awareness Day (the first of which is coming up on April 6, 2021), Benoit is out here doing the most in terms of ace celebration and myth-busting. Her bright presence on the internet is nothing if not rebelliously joyful. Benoit was kind enough to take the time to talk to TSW about visibility, creativity, psychology, and living her best life.
Sarah Neilson: What drew you to modeling? Can you talk a little about what alternative modeling is, and the kind of brands you work with?
Yasmin Benoit: Alternative modelling is a genre of modelling centered on alternative fashion and subcultures — gothic subculture or punk subculture, for example. I’ve always been drawn to those styles, so that was the part of the industry I was most interested in. I became intrigued by modelling in general because I’d exhausted every other hobby, and I felt like there was a void in representation for black women who looked like me. Some alternative brands I’ve modelled for are Killstar, Punk Rave, Ada Zanditon Couture, Gothic Lamb, Necessary Evil Clothing, but my work has expanded further than alternative brands now since I also shoot for more commercial ones and lingerie brands.
Sarah: In your videos on your YouTube channel, you describe yourself as creative, and you are a photographer as well. What are some of your creative outlets, and what fuels your creativity?
Yasmin: I have a very overactive imagination so that’s what fuels most of my creativity. I’ve always been interested in creative writing as an outlet — not the kind that I want published or the kind I share with other people. I’m also quite addicted to The Sims 4 which lets me play out all kinds of stories and get creative with their entire world. Most of my photography in lockdown has been getting the hang of photo editing and self-portraits since I haven’t been that motivated to leave the house, given how cold it is at the moment. Prior to that, I had a thing for photographing natural and urban landscapes and then putting a darker twist on it.
Sarah: In what ways does modeling feel like creative work for you, and in what ways does it not?
Yasmin: It feels creative in the sense that I often get control over what I’m doing. I can discuss with the photographer what vibe we’re going for, get designers involved that I think fit the vibe, choose interesting locations. When I get to work like that, it’s very creative and collaborative. But if it’s the kind of job where I’m just the mannequin then it doesn’t feel very creative. However, it’s still fun to see what other people’s ideas are and contribute to their vision.
Sarah: In what ways is modeling, and the visibility inherent in it, part of your activism work? In what ways is it not?
Yasmin: Modeling is how I got a platform in the first place and it’s a job I continue to do while being an activist, so you can’t really separate the two. I can use it to dispel misconceptions about asexuality and also bring asexuality into different spaces within the media, increasing our representation. But at the same time, sometimes a job is just a job and it isn’t a social commentary.
Sarah: You have two science degrees, a BSc in Sociology and a MSc in Crime Science. Can you tell me about your interest in these sciences? It seems like you’re really interested in people and their psychology.
Yasmin: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in analyzing everything, whether it be interpersonally or socio-politically. I like spotting social patterns and structures. I was the kid who asked a lot of questions and either annoyed my teachers, or won them over by being engaged in the lessons. While everyone else in my school was reading Twilight, I was reading books on school shootings, 9/11, and church burnings in Norway. I found that sociology, in particular, put words to concepts I had already thought of. Crime Science was a natural progression, partially because the university I wanted to attend (UCL) didn’t have MSc Sociology as an option.
Sarah: This year will mark the first International Asexual Awareness Day on April 6, which you founded. Can you tell me about the process of founding this day? What was involved, and what are you excited about for the first one?
Yasmin: It was quite a long process. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, which is essential when you’re trying to create something that serves everyone and represents everyone equally. That also meant that it was quite a long process with loads of discussion, especially when it came to picking a date that didn’t clash with anything and establishing the purpose. But now we have something that everyone has gotten behind and there’s been a lot of positive feedback. The first one is going to be important for building momentum and putting International Asexuality Day on the map, so we need to make as much noise as possible. I’m excited to see what aces across the world come up with!
Sarah: How do your gender identity intersect with your aspec identity, and/or how does it not?
Yasmin: I’m one of those people who doesn’t really think about gender in terms of self-analysis. That’s probably the only thing I don’t analyse when it comes to myself. I’m just a woman who is asexual. I’m not any less of a woman because I’m asexual. I’m a woman because that’s how it worked out. All of these intersections influence my experiences but my aspec identity doesn’t necessarily influence my gender identity.
Sarah: You’ve said that your ace identity is queer. There is an ongoing and honestly kind of boring debate about whether ace folks are queer, which is irrelevant because only people who say they are queer are queer so some ace people are and some aren’t. But I’m wondering for you specifically, what draws you to the queer label or queer ethos? What does queer mean to you? How does it (or doesn’t it) intersect with your ace identity?
Yasmin: I find queer to be an appropriate umbrella term for non-heteronormative identities that have experienced literal or symbolic annihilation in our society. Asexuality falls under that, which is why I use the term in the same way that I use the term LGBTQ+ to describe a group of people with a shared experience. Not all queer experiences are the same but it’s still the consequence of the same kinds of stigma that we should all come together to combat.
Not all queer experiences are the same but it’s still the consequence of the same kinds of stigma that we should all come together to combat.
Sarah: In an essay for Glamour published this month, you write, “Women like me will continue to be dismissed as unlovable, ugly, frigid and boring. This is especially true for Black women, who are so hypersexualised, that to be a Black asexual woman seems entirely contradictory to people.” How do you care for yourself when encountering the intersections of aphobia, sexism, and anti-Black racism?
Yasmin: I find it quite cathartic to make an example of it. It’s a way to vent without actually having to get into a negative conversation with a troll. Otherwise, I just try and focus on other things that I enjoy — get lost in a book or a video game or in my other projects. No matter what aphobia or sexism or racism I experience, I don’t let it stop me from thriving — keeping booked and busy makes it easier to drown it out.
Sarah: What feels joyful to you about ace/aro/aspec identity? How do you cultivate aspec community in your own life? What is your favorite thing about being aspec and knowing other aspec people?
Yasmin: It’s just one of the many elements of my personality that I work with, and embracing it has allowed me to have a lot of very cool experiences and connect to a lot of people. That’s the most joyful part. I spend a large amount of my time working for the community so it’s a part of my daily life whether I’m actually talking to people in it or not. I’d say that my favourite part is feeling like I’m part of a community in a sense, one that values all of the work I’m doing.
Sarah: In my experience, most people under the ace umbrella reject the myth that sex and romance are a necessary and universal marker of both maturity and love. Do you agree with this? How do you reject these myths both inwardly and outwardly?
Yasmin: Of course, I definitely agree. I just live my life according to what I believe and I think it’d be healthier for everyone — asexual, aromantic or not — to place less emphasis on the importance of sex and romance.
Sarah: How do you think we as aspec folks, and as a society in general, can dismantle relationship hierarchies that tell us romantic partners are the ultimate relationship achievement?
Yasmin: I think we are getting to a stage where people in wider society are starting to question the nuclear, heteronormative, amatonormative expectations more. But we’re a long way off yet and that’s not a change that aspec people could bring about single handedly, considering that most people don’t pay attention to us anyway. I think it might change, but I question whether it’ll necessarily be replaced by a more constructive alternative.
Sarah: Lastly, the theme of our current issue is Rebellious Joy. Where do you find and create rebellious joy in your life and work, whatever that phrase means to you?
Yasmin: I think my entire vibe is Rebellious Joy, to be honest! To me, that means marching to the beat of your own drum, not conforming, being yourself, being unapologetic and shaking things up — whether it’s in my personal life, or through my modelling or through my activism. That’s what I’ve always aimed to do and that was always who I was.