Asexual woman fled home over forced marriage and ‘corrective rape’ threats
On International Asexuality Day, activist Yasmin Benoit reports on the case of an asexual woman forced to leave her home country permanently after her parents threatened to force her into marriage.
Jade*, then 26, was living in Senegal when her family, across the border in Guinea, demanded that she find a man to marry. Her sister told her that if she didn’t, their parents would force her to wed a man who would rape her.
In Guinea and Senegal, forced marriages are common – the same sister who threatened Jade was in one herself. Divorce is also heavily stigmatised – when one of Jade’s cousins told her abusive husband she wanted a divorce, he said he would shoot her, her mother and himself.
But Jade is a sex-repulsed asexual woman – she doesn’t experience sexual attraction. She feared being married to someone she didn’t love and being subjected to so-called “corrective rape” until she bore children.
At one point, Jade considered suicide.
“When thoughts of the horrible life my loved ones wished for me kept me up at night and I felt trapped, my mind wandered to sombre corners no one should ever venture to,” she told me.
Jade didn’t become aware of her asexuality until she was in high school, when she would hear girls talking about hot celebrities and their crushes. When she moved to the US for university, she began to feel ostracised by the hyper-sexualised setting.
“I first thought my lack of interest in sex was due to the taboo around the subject that I was raised with, but I quickly came to realise that this was not the case, as even friends who shared similar backgrounds to mine seemed to experience sexual attraction.”
Nobody talked about sex in her family, but there was a clear expectation to marry and have children.
Jade did attempt to confide in her family about her sexuality. Knowing that they didn’t accept queerness, she avoided using the word ‘asexual’ and instead described what she was feeling – or wasn’t feeling. Her sister called her “weird” and desperately tried to convince Jade that she would enjoy sex if she tried it.
“She wanted me to change so badly,” Jade recalled.
Her mother suggested that she receive therapy to fix her “aversion to the idea of marriage”, before attempting to “fix” Jade herself. She had Jade lay on the floor while she put her hand on her chest and prayed over her, asking afterwards whether she felt any different.
For a while, Jade’s last resort was escaping West Africa permanently. After she began studying in the US, it became her first choice.
She began researching the asylum process and found a case similar to her own, where an Algerian asexual was seeking asylum in the Netherlands. However, the Dutch Council State ruled that asexual people couldn’t be included among LGBTQ+ applicants because asexuality “is not punishable” in Algeria.
Asexuality not being explicitly outlawed doesn’t mean that asexual discrimination doesn’t happen.
Even in the UK, asexuality isn’t recognised as a sexual orientation under the Equality Act 2010. It is also still medicalised as a disorder, which has led to asexual people being 10 per cent more likely to be offered or to undergo conversion therapy than other orientations, according to the National LGBT Survey 2018.
At present, the only piece of legislation which explicitly mentions asexuality is New York’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act of 2003. However, that didn’t help Jade.
A New York lawyer told Jade that there was no information as to whether asexuality was grounds for asylum in the US.
Fortunately, she received more help from Unchained At Last, an organisation based in New Jersey. A caseworker helped Jade to learn more about the asylum system in the US and map out emergency and contingency plans, while also providing emotional support.
Jade’s application was submitted to Rainbow Railroad, and her caseworker reached out to the alumni community at Jade’s university to see if they could help her to enter the US to claim asylum. However, Rainbow Railroad led nowhere, and the alumni society was no help. Fortunately, Jade was able to find refuge in Ireland.
Her lifeline came when she landed a full-time job in Ireland after doing an internship there. She was able to discreetly move without informing her family. The entire process of finding safety took a year and a half.
Since leaving West Africa, Jade has learned that her parents had chosen a husband for her without her knowledge, not long before she managed to escape.
“I genuinely don’t think I would be here to answer these questions had I not been able to leave,” she says.
Now, Jade feels she as “never been more at ease.” She is living and working in Dublin, where she has the support network she didn’t have in her home country.
“I bought myself an ace pride pin at a market place,” she says.
“My heart was as full then as my eyes are in this moment. I wear it on almost every purse.”
Finally, she has found somewhere she feels less like the odd-one-out.
“Despite what they all said, I’m really not that weird in the end.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact theNational Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.
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