The debate over who should get the payout from a woman’s life insurance fund recently reached a court in Sweden. The contention was over whether or not her relationship with her long-term domestic partner could qualify as a legal ‘partnership’ since it did not involve sexual relations. The birth-family of the woman who had passed away argued that what they had could only be defined as ‘friendship’ and therefore the payout should come to them, as they were the ‘next of kin’. Details of the case can be found in the thread below:
The court’s recognition of their queer platonic relationship has set a precedent that is long due for the aro-ace (and other engaged in queer platonic relationships to meet their various relational needs) community. While the hope remains that this verdict from Sweden sends out some ripples of change around the world, there is still a long way to go before Queer Platonic Relationships (QRP) can be understood and celebrated in India. The fact remains that not everyone is seeking social or symbolic/ceremonial validation for their relationships. However, the amount of conjecture and misinformation surrounding aro-ace relations means that the invisibility and discrimination that folks have to go through is absolutely terrible. Change may begin from the ground-up, but like the court of Sweden demonstrated, it happens a lot faster with changes in institutional treatment and with the support of those in positions of power, when done with awareness, empathy, and social reflection.
In India, however, the powers that be seem to be unfortunately leaning in a not-so-affirming direction. Last December, a video of BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar in which he can be heard being extremely queerphobic remarks went viral. One of his terrible rants was about asexuality, where he said, “If you have an asexual relationship with an animal, will the animal come and certify it?” He said this aphobic, ignorant, and factually incorrect sentence during his speech which was meant to oppose the formation of Equal Opportunity Board for Maharashtrian Universities whose aim would be to advocate for the rights of people from minority groups like the queer community, women, and disabled people. To this end, it will be the people from these groups who would be members of this board. His words are actually the perfect demonstration of exactly why we need such initiatives. Thankfully, the bill was passed by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
What this highlights, however, is how the systematic invisibilisation of aro-ace relationships has resulted in people being able to spread myths and falsehoods about the same. Asexuality, in no way or form, refers to any sort of attraction to animals – which is ironic, given how revered the cow in our contemporary times. It simply refers to little to no sexual attraction to any gender. However, like all sexual identities, it exists on a spectrum. As Jessica Klein wrote for the BBC,
“It tends to be misunderstood and under-discussed; people may not believe someone can really be asexual, or they dismiss asexuality entirely. Common misconceptions about asexuality include that asexuality equates to celibacy (it doesn’t), or that it’s a choice (it’s an orientation), says Michael Doré, a member of the global Asexual Visibility and Education Network’s (AVEN) project team. Some also incorrectly believe that someone is only asexual if they never experience sexual attraction or have sex. But asexuality is a spectrum, where some may identify as demisexual, for example, meaning they don’t experience sexual attraction until forming an emotional bond with someone. It’s also not synonymous with aromanticism, which applies to those who don’t experience romantic attraction.”
The idea that a relationship is less significant because the individuals in it are not engaging in sexual and/or romantic interactions places sexual-romantic relationships at the centre of the human connection pyramid a.k.a. the Charmed Circle.
Read more: Intimacy Guide
Not everyone experiences connections in the same way, and not everyone feels that the same kind of interaction has similar levels of significance in their life. To see the human experience through a monolithic lens is to attempt to blackout the natural reality of a lot of folks, especially those on the queer spectrum. For a lot of people ‘connections’ are not hierarchically experienced at all, but may have significant overlaps or distance from one another or felt in myriad other ways, in a manner that resonates more truthfully with their identity. Another space where there is a lot of scope for reform is in the capacity of regional languages. A lot of Indians have to rely on the colonial English tongue to define their identities and the PanACEa conference is looking to reform that by building a directory of words related to the ace and aro experiences in all Asian languages for International Asexuality day 2022. This will definitely be a major step in helping spread awareness and fight ignorance.
The third major reason why asexual relationships are still not recognized en masse is the lack of media representation. Famously, the show ‘Riverdale’ did not portray Jughead, a character that the fans of the Archies Comics have long considered to be ace, as such. Important examples of asexual characters in global media remain Harry McNaughton as Gerald Tippett in Shortland Street, Conleth Hill as Lord Varys in Game of Thrones, and David Castro as Raphael Santiago in Shadowhunters. BoJack Horseman, the beloved animated series, also came through with a multi-episode arc for an ace couple. Closer to home, actress Meera Chopra is about to star as and in ‘Super Woman’, a film that is being promoted as India’s first film about asexuality. When talking to the Times of India, the actress mentioned that she had a tough time prepping for the role because she had never come across an ace woman who could be a reference point (the unsaid truth is obviously that she had never come across an ace woman who was OUT). She told the daily, “Asexuality is so unheard of and that’s because of the shame and taboo attached to it. It’s hard to find somebody who would open up and tell his or her story.” The hope is, of course, that this movie paves the path for more ace representation in Indian media.
While all of these changes are pertinent, the most important step that needs to be taken is creating more spaces for voices on the aro/ace-spectrum to be heard. While we continue to advocate for ace people, we must remember that being good allies means passing the mic. Recently, Hindi serial actress Sriti Jha of Kumkum Bhagya fame went viral for her slam poetry performance titled “Confessions of a Romantic Asexual”. Jha’s poetry resonated with a lot of people, and the fact that she is a household name in North India (and played a character on Disney’s Dhoom Machao Dhoom, which a lot of millennials saw while growing up) meant that the mic being in her hands proved the importance of creating safe spaces for the community to put their own experiences forward – for none could have captured the struggle that the asexual community faces in a sex-focused society like Sriti did when she shared,
“I was relieved when they wrote chants of
no means no means no means no
But when I said no
And I meant no
They said, “You’ve got to try a little more.””