Asexual stories need to be told. So, when BBC3 got in touch and told me that they wanted to cover the UK Asexuality Conference 2018 as part of a documentary on asexuality I said yes. I would be speaking on two panels at the conference, providing some representation for Black aromantic asexual women. I was overjoyed because it was a year after I came out publicly last year. I try to use the platform I have gained through fashion modelling to raise awareness for asexuality.
BBC3 were there from start to finish, filming the diverse display of asexual people I’ve ever seen. There were people from all walks of life. There were married asexuals, asexuals with children, transgender asexuals, Muslim asexuals, asexual people with disabilities, polyamorous asexuals, homoromantic asexuals, aromantic asexuals, teenage asexuals, and older asexuals. You name it, they were welcome and included.
We were filmed as we told our stories. Such a powerful array of stories – some rocky, some smooth, but all equally empowering. BBC3 took a group of us aside for an in-depth group interview. The group was predominantly young and white, but it represented different types of asexuality and asexual experiences. But I soon realised that BBC weren’t interested in diverse experiences… They wanted the ‘lonely asexual’ trope.
When we sounded too positive, they were quick to put us in our place. They turned away from those of us who were happily aromantic, or happily in relationships. Instead they drilled the singles for details about how it felt to be an unloved asexual who couldn’t find a partner. It seemed to displease them that some of us had even – god forbid – had sex and not hated every second of it. Quickly, they turned away from a guy who fit that category, rotated the camera to me, and asked,
“If you had to have sex, how would that feel?”
“I wouldn’t have sex,” I answered.
“But if you had to, how would it feel?”
How would it feel if I was forced to have sex? Would a hypothetical rape make an aromantic asexual more interesting?
How they twisted our words
From then on, I sensed that BBC3 had an angle that they were sticking to. However, I couldn’t have anticipated the patronising, whitewashed, exclusionary mess that aired. They intelligently called the documentary, ‘I Don’t Want Sex,’ but what we actually got was, ‘The Undateables: Asexual Edition,’. I was horrified.
I cringed as the cameras zoomed in on the presence of stuffed toys and action figures in one of the participant’s bedrooms. They were attempting to make her seem child-like. However, that was nothing in comparison to how I felt as a guy was guided into a sex shop to test his levels of obvious discomfort. Or, as they quizzed a girl on masturbation and vibrators in a room conveniently decorated with sexual images. I rolled my eyes as one of the participants eased an asexual guy through the art of texting a potential romantic interest. It was like teaching a child to read. Finally, they took an asexual girl not speaking to guys in a bar as a cause for concern.
The reality of asexual experience
Asexuality is not synonymous with innocence and a lack of social skills. However, it seemed like BBC3 didn’t want the public to know that. They also missed that asking asexual people about what they do with their genitals is as inappropriate and invasive as asking as transgender woman whether she still has a penis. It’s an obvious, needless attempt to try and gauge how seriously someone should take another’s asexuality.
I was running out of hope by the time the conference was included in the last five minutes of the show. It was interesting to see what BBC3 had deemed important enough to show. Out of the hours and hours of footage they had of me, they decided to only show me wiping my eyes. It implied that I was crying at the brief and uninspiring conversation about asexual clothing choices. Only, they knew that I just had eyeliner in my eye. We had laughed about it on the day! They had supposedly paused the filming while I had been given a tissue to solve the problem. If I needed any more reason to suspect that the portrayal of asexual happiness was too much to ask for, that was it.
The biggest misconceptions
The closing statements of the documentary added insult to injury. “Cute asexuals do exist.” That’s the message that was taken from the conference? Even though we sat together for over an hour and opened up like it was some kind of group therapy meeting? I didn’t realise that we were being observed to see which was us were ‘cute’ enough to date. Well, the boys were, at least. It was time to add the old ‘asexual people aren’t good looking’ stereotype to the growing list featured in this documentary.
I am not just upset because BBC3 took an empowering, celebratory experience like the UK Asexuality Conference and tried to turn it into dating show. What bothers me the most about this documentary is the narrow, stereotypical portrayal of asexual people and asexuality – and just in time for Asexual Awareness Week. I know that BBC3 had the opportunity to do better. They decided not to, even though this documentary could be the first and only time that people see real asexual people on a mainstream platform.
Asexual people aren’t just shy, white, young people who are sad because they can’t get dates. Despite BBC3’s desperate attempts to exclude us, aromantic asexual people exist. Some of us are in happy relationships. Asexual families exist. There are people from minorities who identify as asexual. Asexuality isn’t a new thing that only young people are doing. Asexual people are perfectly capable of living fulfilling, happy, complete lives, whether they date and have sex or not.
By Yasmin Benoit