“I was holed up in a boys hostel, and someone noticed that I don't get involved with certain sexual conversations. Neither would I join in for group adult video sessions (yes that's a thing!). When questioned, I told them I’m asexual, and they found it pretty hard to believe. Understandably, they made me watch porn......I laughed through the entire video!” says Siddharth Biju, an asexual in India.
If you’re hearing this term for the very first time, we don’t blame you. In the initialism LGBTQIAP+, the A stands for asexual spectrum or a-spec. To shed light on it, the spectrum has two orientations; sexual orientation and romantic orientation. An asexual person has the same emotional needs as everyone else, however, how individuals fulfil those needs varies widely. Feminism In India says “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.”
The ace spectrum is broad and encompasses much more than you’d think. Siddharth Biju and Gargi Yadav tell Bingedaily what being asexual in India is really like.
“My family doesn’t know about it”
Being asexual in India can get tough. We are so nurtured in this sanskari (well-cultured), ‘girl meets boy and falls in love’ way, we seldom can come to terms with the narrative of being slightly different. Siddharth says he was always aware of there being something, but only realized it was *ace-ness* quite later in life. “In school, I couldn't understand certain locker room jargon; this would confuse me. Labelling someone as 'hot' or 'smashable' was something that went right over my head. Add to this my inherent dislike of pornography! I was teased quite a lot for not being *macho* enough.”
Having not come out in front of his family yet, Siddharth says it anyways wouldn’t make sense to them. “It’s quite hard to understand the ace spectrum. At most, they'll think this is a phase, and will actually be happy about the asexuality (but only until the time they'll start wanting grandkids!)”
“I have received weird reactions”
Gargi Yadav highlights the judgemental nature that Indians have towards anything that is out of the norm. Speaking of when people came to know of her identity, she says “Some of the judgement was (obviously) related to how I haven't found the ‘right man’. People assumed I don't know what good sex feels like, pointing to this as a reason for my ace-ness.” She bluntly underlines the stark difference that lies between ‘attraction’ and ‘action’. She points out the difficulty she has when it comes to explaining the grey spectrum to people. She says ignorance topped with general stereotyping, makes it very hard for ace individuals.
There are several caveats to this: ace people may still engage in sex, get sexually aroused, masturbate, and may even be in happy, healthy relationships. Being an ace essentially means that they do not experience the same drive or inclination to have sex that other people might. Many confuse this with celibacy. However, this is wrong. Unlike celibacy, where someone chooses not to act on their sexual desire, asexuality is not a decision, but simply another aspect of a person’s identity.
“Dating has also been pretty dubious”
One of the most common assumptions that one makes about asexuals in India is that they are frigid. People go on to assume that they won’t date, fall in love, or get married. However, this is merely a conflict between romantic and sexual attraction, which needs to be resolved. The two are different. Many ace people experience romantic attraction and vary on how they choose to fulfil those needs.
Recounting his dating experiences, Siddharth says “Being nice has frequently been misconstrued as something else, and well, things have not ended well. (Although I'll blame this on the lack of nice cishet men who've lowered women's standards).” Both Gargi and Siddharth say that for them sexuality is extremely fluid. “Sexuality is a big umbrella term. Everyone has different beliefs, preferences and bodies, and all of this contributes to their sexuality. Having labels for sexuality doesn't really make sense.”
“Being asexual in India is not really hard”
In a country where sex is taboo, being asexual in India is very often interpreted as *abstinence*, and seen as a good thing. Obviously, it's a different matter when the question of kids come into play. “What people fail to understand is that asexuality is not a label, it's an entire spectrum. There are ace individuals who are repulsed by sex, there are some who enjoy it. What matters is the identity they're comfortable with. We do not want people coming to us claiming how their magic genitalia can fix us, hard pass on that.” says Siddharth.
Thanks to Bollywood, we have a heteronormative definition of love. A definition that focuses on sex after marriage and makes it a compulsion for a couple to get married and have sex. Daily soaps and web series just add fuel to the fire. Indian media feeds us stories of how sex is an inevitable part of a relationship, it creates an illusion of beliefs like sex is the end goal or important for a relationship. The media certainly does it make it tough to be an asexual in India.
“Being an asexual in India is not as supported/addressed/acknowledged. There is slight discrimination that asexuals in India face from the spectrum because they go completely different from what the spectrum is based on i.e sexual attraction. There is a need for more people to try and understand the grey spectrum, and also be welcoming towards it.”