Interview With Yasmin Benoit

An alternative fashion model of Caribbean descent (Trinidadian, Jamaican, and Barbadian descent) Yasmin Benoit is a proud Black Aro-Ace model/activist from the UK. Creator of #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike Benoit revels in breaking stereotypes about what asexuals/aromantics are perceived and look like. I had the pleasure of interviewing her, which you can read below.

How did you get into modeling? What made you decide to stay on this path and how did you come to incorporate your identity as an asexual aromantic person with it?

I just started reaching out to local photographers, building a portfolio, and then I started getting the attention of brands who wanted models with my look. I try to use my work to increase representation for alternative people of colour, that was why I was motivated to do it in the first place, and break down the misconceptions about how black people in particular are supposed to dress. I stay on that path because I’m pretty good at it, I get to be creative, work with cool people, get free clothes and use it to amplify the other messages I want to put out there – like raising awareness for asexuality and aromanticism. That’s how I incorporate it. Now that I’m out, my modelling work inevitably connects to my modelling too and helps to dispel misconceptions about being aspec.

Because of your identity, you stand at both the fronts of hypersexualization as a model of color and desexualization as an asexual person. Do you ever experience these contrasting forces, and if so, how do you resolve that tension?

They can be amusingly contrasting sometimes, like completely contradicting. It’s fine for me, I’m just doing my thing and expressing myself how I want to, but it’s pretty funny when I’ve got some people calling me a “slut” and a “whore” and others calling me a “virgin loser” at the same time. It’s other people who can’t decide which stereotype they want to go for and both can’t exist at once.

David Jay, American Asexual activist and creator of AVEN, is often held up as the “Model Asexual” for his visibility and non-threatening position as a white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical man? Why do you think that is and how can we change this to broaden people’s understanding of what it means to be asexual?

Within the community, I think he’s mainly known for having founded one of our biggest asexuality organisations and most popular forums. I don’t know how many relate to his experiences as a white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical man but he’s palatable and inoffensive, which is always helpful. I think that for those outside of the community, his ‘normality’ was part of the appeal. They made the point of being like, “Look at this guy, can you believe he’s asexual?” but that was a different time. There’s a lot more activists out there now so we aren’t only represented by David Jay. Sure, most of the activists are white, our representation is predominantly white and the community does tend to find them easier to process, but I’ve had a lot of support and I’m pretty much the opposite of David Jay in terms of our demographic.

There are those who might say that Aro-Aces do not belong in the LGBTQ+ community. What would you say to this?

I’d say that I don’t really care because we’re already there and it isn’t a point of debate. It doesn’t make a difference if Jane from Nebraska thinks we aren’t part of the community, that shouldn’t impact what we can and can’t do. A large amount of my work is within the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve never encountered real-life exclusion from anyone in the community and I’ve felt like part of the community since I saw my first asexual flag at a pride festival when I was fourteen. That’s the first place where I met other asexual people and I felt embraced by the queer community quickly. It’s a shame that assholes on the internet make aro-ace people feel like they can’t have that experience, because we really can. We are queer.

What resources/ pop culture references would you recommend for the asexual/aromantic readers of Geeks OUT?

There’s quite a few books out there with aro-ace characters or covering that topic. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, Loveless by Alice Oseman, I’ve heard that Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria, Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, Last 8 by Laura Pohl and Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim have characters on that spectrum somewhere. Also, Ace by Angela Chen is a non-fiction example that I actually wrote a piece for. As a writer, I come out with new articles on asexuality and aromanticism quite regularly. I have the #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike series that I write for Qwear Fashion and I hope to realise a book someday. There’s also Todd from Bojack Horseman, he’s ace.

What changes do you personally want to see within the mainstream visibility of the LGBTQ+ community?

I’d like to see a more diverse representation, not just in terms of casting, but in terms of the kind of stories that are focused on. I’d like to see more asexual and aromantic representation, more intersex representation, just more than just the usual stuff and the same old narratives and love stories. We’ve got enough LGBTQ+ representation that we’re starting to have cliches. The media needs to be more adventurous and represent what the world actually needs to see.

Lastly, what advice would you give to other asexual/aromantics out there?

Just do you. As far as we know, you’ve only got one life, so don’t waste it trying to be someone you’re not or trying to impress people who don’t deserve it.

Interview With April Daniels

A graduate of UC Santa Cruz, April Daniels is the Lambda Literary Award nominated author of the Nemesis series, following trans superhero, Danny Tozer, who inherits her superpowers after a fateful encounter with a dying superhero. Adding to the growing LGBTQ+ superhero narrative, Daniels continues to write characters who are queer, powerful, and often a little imperfect. I had the opportunity to interview April, which you can read below.

Who are some of your favorite superheroes, fictional or in real life? 

Spider-Man, when done well, is hands down the best superhero. His mix of powers and vulnerabilities is perfectly tuned. His motivations and weaknesses are tightly wound through each other and his supporting cast is balanced and expansive. He is relevant everywhere from street-level crime to cosmic warfare. The rest of us can only hope to create a character so versatile and finely conceived. Also, I just want to take this opportunity to point out that he’s even more interesting if you read him as Jewish and bisexual. No, it’s not cannon, but come on. Come on.

In various interviews, you had spoken about how you had written Danny’s physical transformation as a response to the media’s fixation/ fetishization of the trans (especially trans female) body. Could you expand on this?

Sure. Trans girls have body issues just like cis girls, and I blame ads targeted at young women for this. If, at the start of my awareness that I was trans, I’d had the option to completely rewrite my body and look however I wanted to, I’d have ended up looking something like Danielle–with a form that validates and answers the unrealistic demands of the advertisement agencies. Transition is scary. Transition is hard. Transition seems like it’s going to take forever. And at the end, there’s a big unknown of how we will look, and it’s terrifying. 

Fear of ending up looking “bad” kept me from transitioning as soon as I could have. It has taken me years to understand that feeling good about how I look doesn’t require me to look like the girls in magazines. A big part of my life was spent feeling ugly and unlovable. For this, I blame the beauty and fashion industries, which push a very narrow concept of feminine power. 

This is why one of Danielle’s superpowers is being “super pretty” and also why she is disgusted when she realizes what caused her to make that choice–her perceptions of herself and what she could be were warped by a childhood growing up around ads targeted at creating and exploiting insecurities among women. At first, she’s scared of losing this narrowly-proscribed beauty, but by the end of the book, after she’s seen that her beauty helped her accomplish none of the tasks that mattered, she doesn’t care so much.

Noticing the general landscape of publishing and media, while trans representation seems to be steadily (if slowly) expanding, there continues to be a dearth of rep for trans people who do not identify as straight. Why do you think that is and was Danny, who identifies as a trans lesbian, written as a response to this?

Oh Dreadnought was absolutely a reaction to that state of affairs. There was nothing–nothing–like Dreadnought out there for me when I was young. Anything which featured trans women was a Very Indie And Painfully True kind of affair set in the real world I was trying to escape, or it was lurid cis-gaze bullshit centered on demonizing and exotifying trans women. Or it was both, that was always an option, too. A really popular option, as it turned out. (Transamerica is a terrible movie that should eternally shame everyone involved.) The idea of someone changing their gender presentation was “wacky” or “scary” or “outrageous” but not “empowering” or “beautiful” or “healthy.” Transition was something broken, depraved adults did. It wasn’t something kids daydreamed about–not officially. Not publicly. 

So I sat down to write what I wish I’d found when I was 15: crunchy wish fulfillment that almost completely avoided reckoning with the cruel realities of being trans while also leaving the facts that will inevitably force such a reckoning hanging out clearly in the background of the narrative. Then her parents showed up in Chapter 3 and there was no avoiding them. I realized I’d have to wing it for most of the emotional texture, and just do what felt “right.” It ended up being as much a howl of outrage as it was a celebration.

While the books fit into the superhero narrative of containing dastardly foes with larger than life powers, it seems that the actual villains are those who bear a closer resemblance to people in real life, like the TERFy Graywytch and Danny’s abusive parents. How do you think fiction can reflect the real challenges queer teens go through and inspire them to be their own heroic selves?

Really, I’d like a world where queer kids didn’t need to be heroes. I don’t really know what advice I can give except that it’s a good idea to learn when to run and when to fight and how to tell the difference. If you find yourself doing one all the time, try doing the other.

As a writer what advice would you give to other young queer writers on their own creative journeys?

Write what makes you excited. Don’t worry about breaking radical new ground, just make it as good and satisfying and exciting as you can. If if it doesn’t sell, write something else that also makes you excited. Keep writing different things that make you excited. Sooner or later, someone else will get excited, too. Don’t get too attached to your projects; none of my early work got published. The important thing is that you learn something every time you complete a project. And yes, you need to bring projects to completion even if it looks like nobody is interested in what you’re doing. They’ll become more interested once you’ve completed a few and shown them that you’re the real deal.

Are there any stories you are currently working on and are at liberty to speak about?

Yeah, I’m working on Dreadnought 3. I can’t say much about it, except that I’m determined to stick the landing on this trilogy. There aren’t many new faces in this one, but there are a lot of returning players, some whom have radically new relationships to each other, and some who are in a very different place in their lives than when we last saw them. It’s taking a long time because to tell a coherent story I have to understand how I think the world works, but after the monster’s inauguration, I decided I didn’t really know anything after all. As a consequence it’s taken a while to build back up to a coherent idea of how Danielle’s world functions. Anyhow, totally unrelated, but remember Bosco the superpowered bully? He’s a cop now.

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ books you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Witches Get Stitches

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Jon Herzog, as they discuss the new trailer for the remake of The Witches, get excited for NewFest’s all trans table read of Brokeback Mountain, and celebrate the news of Iman Vellani being cast as Ms. Marvel for our Strong Female Character of the Week. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Regal Cinemas to close all theaters
JON: New trailer for remake of The Witches

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Boys in the Band, Julie & The Phantoms, The Immortal She-Hulk
JON: Enola Holmes, The Boys, The Great British Baking Show

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Newcomer Iman Vellani cast as Ms. Marvel

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

The NYC LGBTQ Film Fest is doing a virtual reading of Brokeback Mountain with an all trans cast

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for The Orange Years

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• Warner Bros. orders film adaptation of Black
• Disney+ adds a GroupWatch option
• Jamie Foxx to return as Electro in Spider-Man 3
• New trailer for The Craft: Legacy
• New animated Dr. Seuss movies announced
• New trailer for Bad Hair
• New trailer for Spell
• New trailer for Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

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TV

• New trailer for Marvel’s 616
• Netflix orders Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story from Ryan Murphy
• New promo for The Connors
ABC announces new diversity & inclusion standards
• New teaser for The Snoopy Show 

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COMIC BOOKS

• L.A. Comic-Con schedules in-person event for December      
Milestone Comics’ library is now available for digital downloads 

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SHILF

• KEVIN: BooBoo Stewart
• JON: Kamala Khan