Black asexuals are not unicorns, there are more of us than we know
I wonder how many other Black asexuals share a similar experience to mine, and how liberating it would be for them to be able to name it.
This essay contains discussions of sexual violence as well as racist violence and fetishization
I personally know of fewer than five Black people who identify as asexual, and I’ve only met two of them in person. The others remain virtual friends for now, but I hope to meet them someday. Of course, these are just the ones who are (semi) out. I’m confident that I’ve met other Black asexuals—ones who just weren’t out, at least not to me—and I suspect that many others simply don’t know that they are on the asexuality spectrum or that asexuality is even a possibility for them.
I never knew it was possible for someone like me to be asexual. I had internalized so many myths about what it means to exist in a body like mine. I didn’t understand what possibilities there were for me until I began to unlearn and challenge the long-held misogynistic myths about my value being tied to my sexual accessibility and my worth being determined by my fuckability.
Black people are forced into a box of hypersexualization thanks to centuries of propaganda and policy born of white supremacist, colonialist ideas and white people’s racial anxieties. This imagined irrevocable hypersexuality has been used in specific ways to justify and rationalize injustices and brutalities against Black people throughout history, aiding heavily in our dehumanization.
Lynch that Black brute before he rapes a white woman. This Black bitch ain’t nothing but a whore, she can’t be raped. Sterilize these animals now before they breed more bastard Black babies. The government shouldn’t have to be financially responsible for the kids these sex-crazed niggers keep having.
So many of us Black folks have internalized these ideas, too, particularly about Black women and girls. That fast ass lil’ girl knew what she was doing. Black women ain’t nothing but thots and hoes. That Black teacher shouldn’t be wearing a fitting dress with an ass that big. Sexuality is always written on Black people, especially Black people who are read as women, in a way that makes it understood as something that is immovable, eternal, and unquestionable. I once internalized these messages, too.
“You can’t be a virgin, your ass is too fat,” insisted the boys throughout middle school and high school. They never believed me when I said that I didn’t have sex or that it was something I wasn’t interested in. As my body developed, I sometimes overhead other adults whispering to my mom variations of “You better watch her” when they thought I was out of earshot. Or maybe they actually wanted me to hear their words and the tone in which they said it. Maybe they wanted me to understand that they had already decided that I was going to be not just a sexual being, but one so licentious that I would need to be controlled. I don’t know which is worse.
Repeated messages like these warped my perception of myself and my body from a young age. I came to understand my body and myself as inherently sexual—even as I received seemingly contradictory messages that my fatness made me undesirable—and I didn’t know that there was any other option for how to exist in this world. I thought that the hypersexualization of my body meant that I had to buy into it and perform the sexual existence expected of me or else I would not be seen as “normal” and valuable.
In more recent years, there came a new, digital wave of the already ongoing sexual revolution among Black women, wherein sexual liberation was promised through the embracing of sexuality. It was and still is an attempt at reclamation, a way to take hold of the narrative about Black women’s sexual expression. It promotes a necessary bodily autonomy and renouncing of the shame so many Black women are made to feel for simply existing as sexual beings in search of deserved sexual pleasure.
It took me too long to realize that this Black feminist pleasure praxis of engaging in sex unapologetically, while undeniably valuable for many others, does not and never will benefit me. My sexual liberation didn’t come until I was finally able to fully embrace my asexuality, and understand that I am not broken or abnormal because of it.
Being a Black asexual woman often feels like living in the shadow of the Mammy, a caricature whose asexuality is conceived of only because she is expected to mother everyone around her. Mammy is allowed to be free of the racialized hypersexualization only because it permits her more time, energy, and space to perform her endless duties. She is not allowed to have desire or desirability, not allowed to seek out sexual pleasures and intimacies, because her entire focus should be on her domestic and emotional labor.
Mammy’s desexualization serves the world, but it does not serve her. Because we have no other dominant cultural images of Black asexuality, this is the type of existence that many people expect me to have when they learn that I am asexual. This world so often makes me feel like I’m not allowed to be asexual, especially on my own terms. I’m not allowed to be asexual in a way that doesn’t reinforce stereotypes about my body and my desirability that are rooted in historical anti-Blackness, misogynoir, and fatphobia.
Asexuality is already greatly invisibilized as a queer identity. Black asexuality is even more so. This leaves many Black asexuals with unique barriers to finding our place on the asexuality spectrum and developing community with others like us. This is why it’s not enough to simply talk about asexuality awareness. We must also acknowledge the ways race and (assumed and/or assigned) gender play into our understandings of our sexualities, and how others project sexuality onto us.
Compulsory sexuality can be and often is just as damaging as compulsory heteronormativity. It certainly was for me. And the pressures and barriers Black people face in this arena are distinct from our non-Black counterparts. I wonder how many other Black asexuals share a similar experience to mine, and how liberating it would be for them to be able to name it, even if only for themselves.