Asexuality India is a platform that was made to aid Indians who identify as asexual. Their website and group is a safe space for those who identify with the wide spectrum of asexuality. They also debunk the myths and stereotypes that surround asexuality.
We caught up with Poornima who is the co-founder, along with Sai, of Asexuality India. Poornima is 23 years old and is currently working in an NGO in Bangalore. She did her masters in Women’s Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Bombay and did a double major in Economics and History from Xavier’s College before that. Let’s hear from Poornima:
Sahima Gupta: What prompted you to start Asexuality India?
Poornima: Asexuality India was not really planned! I was a member of AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network), an online asexuality community that has archived resources. It allows you to make an account and become friends with people.
That’s how I met Sai Kumar (the other-co founder of Asexuality India) and we figured that such a platform did not exist in India. While there were Indians on Aven, there were not too many. So, Sai and I decided to start a platform in India and that is how the idea was born. We took around eight to nine months to come up with the content and launched the website in may 2016.
SG: Are there any stigmas or assumptions attached to asexual people?
Poornima: Yeah, there are quite a few stigmas, myths, and assumptions attached to asexual people. It is conveniently assumed that asexuality means no sex or that people are uncomfortable with sex.
The thing is, asexuality is a spectrum, huge spectrum. Asexuals vary in several ways.
For example, asexuality includes people who want a romantic relationship but not sex, those who enjoy sex sometimes and also ‘demi-sexual’. It really depends on a person whether they want to attach themselves to this label or not.
Another assumption is that asexuality is a disease, sexual dysfunction needs to be treated by a doctor, or is because of low-libido. Most individuals also assume that such people do not have a functional sex drive. This doesn’t hold true.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation and not a disorder. Several people who identify as asexual or with the asexual spectrum have a very functional sex drive. The medicalization of asexuality emerges from the notion that ‘compulsory sexuality’ is natural for human beings and anything other than that is abnormal.
There is also this stigma that a person is broken, in the sense that that person is not capable of having sex. Many people blame themselves, by saying ‘that not feeling sexual attraction is not normal, or ‘they are not complete’. Individuals use words such as ‘broken’ or ‘incomplete’ and make asexuals feel like they are missing out on a layer.
SG: What is the Indian perspective on Asexuality?
Poornima: So, India is very different from America in terms of its historical context. In our country talking about sexuality is a taboo, so talking about asexuality becomes complicated. In a country where most of us have been socially conditioned to fear sex, the danger of converging asexuality with the fear of sex arises. Thus navigating such cultural contexts while talking about asexuality in India becomes important.
Moreover, historically, women have been assumed to be asexual and men are expected to be sexual. Other than that there are various identitarian intersections specific to India like caste that need to be considered. So in that context, how does one place asexuality?
In America, asexuality (the term was coined by David Jay) is understood to be a person who feels little or no sexual attraction to any of the gender. Their sexuality is spoken about openly. But in India, when people do not talk about sexuality, then how will anyone talk about asexuality?
These are questions we still haven’t addressed while talking about asexuality in India and hence there is a need to study asexuality from the Indian perspective.
SG: What are the main activities that you do on this platform?
Poornima: Asexuality India began as an awareness site, where Indians or other individuals could connect with other asexuals. We publish articles from people across the country who have shared their personal narratives.
Other than that we pool in/collect articles and other media about asexuality in India and put them up on the website. Some I have written as well. Plus, we publish other information that surfaces either in the newspaper or internet to keep people update and aware.
SG: How do you provide additional support to asexual people?
Poornima: We provide them with a platform to connect with other asexual people. Plus, many people message us personally, about their confusions. We let them have a conversation with us and guide them.
We believe that when it comes to identities, self-determination is key, so we make sure we do not label them because we are no authority to do so. It is a journey that they have to undertake on their own and our role is only to provide support and facilitate that journey. We are always there to respond and facilitate a dialogue.
SG: Can you share a few things you have found as the common ground of angst among the personal narratives that you received from individuals?
Poornima: One can understand asexuality by contrasting it with sexuality. Understand how this would challenge the institute of marriage and caste. More academic research is required on the historical perspective.
All the stories start on a similar note; they all began with self-doubt. The first thing that comes to their mind is ‘what is wrong with me?’, ‘I am not normal’. People are confused because the spectrum is so wide, because of which they ask ‘where do I fit? It is not the same for everyone, so you cannot really generalize the experience for everyone.
SG: Given the sensitive nature of this platform, what were the challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome them?
Poornima: Over time, we have faced three enormous challenges. The first was a personal challenge since I no longer use asexuality as an identity for myself, then what right do I have to continue running this website? Questions such as ‘should I continue to run it?’, or give it to someone else still crop up.
The next one is a technical one. Trolls, trolls, and trolls! A lot of people become members and then ask for sexual favours. We managed to control it by becoming extremely active and alert on the platform. Though giving ample time to the website is a challenge.
The last is the lack of academic research on the topic. It becomes difficult to talk about asexuality because there is no reliable data on the historical context and otherwise too. We require more substantial, theoretical and intersectional research.
SG: Can you talk about your journey and give a few final comments on asexuality?
Poornima: My self-journey has been extremely evolving and changing. For example, I started off by calling myself asexual. But then, there was a lot of confusion regarding my own identity. So after two years, I am not using asexuality anymore as an identity even though my sexual attraction is rare. I prefer to use the queer. It captures a lot more.
Asexuality is a unique identity because it has the scope of being interpreted as a fluid identity for some people. So while the identity is legitimate and for a lot of the people this identity is unchanging, it also allows and gives people a space to use it as a tool to understand and figure out their own sexuality.
Today while I don’t use asexuality as an identity for myself, I still relate to the spectrum in many ways and still see conversations around asexuality as integral in critiquing compulsory sexuality. Not just that, the discourse around asexuality also has the power to challenge other social institutions and structures like marriage and caste. But for this, deeper theoretical and historical research is required.
Featured Image Credit: Asexuality India Website