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The challenges experienced by asexuals living in Africa

I arrive at the hotel a little past 6 pm, and Shiru* ushers me in at the front lobby. 

She extends her hand to give me a fist-bump and I notice that she sports a wristband with black, grey, white, and purple streaks. 

“You’re a bit early,” she tells me while leading the way towards the conference room. 

A projector attached to the wall faces ten spaced-out chairs arranged in a semi-circle. 

“Only six have confirmed their attendance,” Shiru informs me. “You will be the seventh,” she adds with a smile.

To any outsider, this may seem like a regular meeting, perhaps of a club or religious organisation. 

However, this is the fourth meeting run by the group Asexuals in Africa. It is also the first to be conducted physically since its inception. 

Shiru informs me that the members are of various descent: six are from Kenya, two are from Nigeria, and the rest are from South Africa.

Five members have already arrived. 

One man, James*, has a t-shirt with and ace symbol and the words ‘I am not broken’ written in purple print. 

“I had to wear it underneath a hoodie,” he tells me later. “It is risky to wear it openly.”

The meeting begins at 7 pm, and they review the aspects of asexuality that will be discussed. 

I take out my pen and prepare to take notes. 

My contribution, they say, will be highly welcome.

The asexual spectrum

An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction to others and has a general lack of interest in sex. 

The opposite, a person who experiences sexual attraction, is referred to as an allosexual.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation that falls under a spectrum, and there are different kinds of asexuals.

Greysexuals fall under the grey area between asexuals and allosexuals. They may experience sexual attraction but only under certain circumstances.

Demisexuals experience sexual attraction but only after a bond has been formed with someone.

Apothisexuals are completely repulsed by sex.

Chimako* says that the first time he disclosed his asexuality to his family, his father was convinced that he had joined a religious cult. 

“He thought I had decided to become celibate and eventually become a monk,” he says, explaining that asexuality is often mistaken for celibacy.

“The two are very different,” Shiru states. “The second one is a choice; the first one is not.”

In a culture where procreation for continuity of lineage is still highly valued, asexual people often have a hard time explaining why they do not want biological children. 

Chimako explains that at first, his father did not care about his sexual orientation. 

He was in university, and his father was only concerned about his completing his studies and getting a good job. 

However, now that Chimako is in his mid-thirties, his father has a hard time comprehending why he won’t have grandchildren, since Chimako is an only child.

Relationships

For Angeline*, finding the right person in the dating scene has been an uphill task. 

“Whenever I explain to a potential partner that I am asexual, most decide to opt out of the relationship, while others simply cannot understand what the term means. They only heard about asexuality in their biology class,” she says with a hearty laugh.

Asexual people explain that they have the same emotional needs as everyone else – although these needs vary in how they are fulfilled. 

While some asexuals may seek something a bit more intimate like hugging and kissing, others are content being alone or with a group of close friends.

Some sexual people date asexuals in the hope that eventually they will ‘convert’ them to being allosexual. 

This is something James knows all too well. 

After ten years of dating his long-term girlfriend, she finally decided to call it quits, seeing that he wasn’t changing his stance. 

She had presumed that because they had been together for so long, he would eventually become sexual. 

It felt akin to conversion therapy, James says.

Attraction

Asexual people, just like allosexuals, desire interpersonal relationships with others. Attraction can occur in various forms.

Romantic attraction is a desire for love and intimacy but is not erotic.

Sensual attraction is a desire for affectionate touch without sex.

Aesthetic attraction is attraction to someone else based on their appearance.

Shiru says that the first time she developed a liking towards someone in school, her friend was shocked when she disclosed that she had never thought of him sexually. 

“He looked great and had a brilliant personality, there was nothing more. It seemed foreign to think of someone like that,” she insists while slightly repulsed.

Her friend, she says, still thinks of her as prudish.

Struggle with identity

Most members of Asexuals in Africa have a consistent struggle with identity, since most people in the larger community still do not see asexuality as a sexual orientation. 

“Some think that we are broken or have low self-esteem,” they say. 

The queer community has also been a culprit in failing to properly acknowledge asexuals as part of it.

Asexuals in Africa can only hope that in the near future, they can comfortably state their orientation without fear of retribution, that they will find partners who will understand them without judgment. 

After all, everyone in society, including the ace community, is deserving of love.

*Not their real names.

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