Boudoir University Spotlight Interview: Ashabi Owagboriaye

A vertical photograph of Ashabi, a Black asexual person, sitting on the edge of a stool over wooden floors. She uses both she/her and they them pronouns. They have long, beautiful legs and wear a maroon lace bodysuit. There is a necklace of white crystals wrapped around her neck as she stares off into camera right. Her arms are slowly caressing their sides. Their short androgynous green hair reflects in the lighting. Windows surround them and cast rays of light into the photograph.

Ashabi is a unique person. Not just because of their sexual identity or her appearance, but because of her insight and ability to bring people together for greater causes. They’re a leader. She is an organizer in Chicago, whose marches I’ve attended even just briefly to show support. We met through our local queer exchange, they agreed to shoot with me when I was looking for models to bring into my studio location at the time. Thanks for checking out this blog.

If you’re here from Boudoir University–welcome to you! Thanks for taking the extra step to educate yourself on some of the least heard voices in the queer community. Invisibility is mentioned, denial of our existence is insisted, and asexuality in Black people, let alone Black women, is highly sexualized and challenged.

Read about Ashabi’s experiences, appreciate their skills as a model. This set is from pre-COVID but it is one where I felt truly connected to them.

Enjoy!


INTERVIEW
CW mention of sexual assault, acephobia, racism, misogynoir

How do you identify?
I identify as a Black femme asexual person leaning on androgynous

What pronouns do you use?
she/they

Do you identify as trans?
No, I don’t really feel like that fits me. But androgynous has been something that’s been in my head for a very long time. Even though I’ve been assumed trans, mostly by men, mostly cis men. And I’m just kind of like, “Huh, interesting?” if I haven’t been assumed trans, I’ve been assumed male. Because of how short my hair is and because I walk more statured. That’s just been the think from youth.  The transition to man has been more prevalent in queer culture, it’s been uplifted.

That’s sort of like how everyone is misgendering Elliot Page as a transgender man to a degree right now.
But it’s also the same thing with Rebecca Sugar. They also id as non-binary but they use she/they pronouns. And I’m just like, “Aw that’s really cool!” For me I like the fact that that is there, because you can id as nonbinary and still be a she.

Yes! Not like they/them is the automatic nonbinary pronoun.
It is something I like to default to because it is the safest thing to go to when talking to someone who is trans. But even then I’ve been corrected in that and that is something I have to learn. Just like be aware of pronouns and how others identify, not everyone who is a nonbinary person wants to be a they/them and not everyone who is a woman wants to be referred to as she.

Ever since I started volunteering, I’ve met far more cis people who use they/them pronouns. At first it was like, “Wow there’s a lot of trans people here” Haha. It took me a moment to realize cis people use they/them too.

Even if you’re cis, you understand the fluidity of gender enough to know cisness isn’t static. I feel like with the intro of they/them, they’re becoming more friendly to the idea of not being one thing and exploring who they are as a person. Outside of what they’ve been conditioned to all their life. And that could happen in high school or in your fucking 40’s.

I think it’s cool. I think it’s fun that playing with your identity is coming up more. I think even with that you need to be respectful for people who have been doing this most of their lives.

Same spot as before but now horizontal. Ashabi faces the window and rests her hands onto their head. Their nails are long and professionally done. The focus is on their backside, the lighting highlights against their maroon bodysuit and lower back. Her bare upper back looks defined but delicate. Streams of direct sunlight beam against the wooden floor.


When was the first time you noticed your asexuality intersecting with your Blackness?
I think when I started dating for sure. Only because when I came out as asexual it was around a bunch of white queers in high school. It was like, “Oh cool we’re all friends and getting to know each other and getting familiar for how we identify” but as soon as I started dating and becoming more involved in partnerships I realized there would be no way for me to comfortably share that part of me with people because I’m already deemed as a sexual object. For me to throw in that curveball, would be like “Oh I’m gonna try and change you!” and thatd make me hyper focus on my blackness and asexuality. In a way, in how society breaks the two apart, they’re total contradictions being both. While I’m here as a person who is Black, asexual, a femme, and I’m sex positive when I’m with my partners. Sometimes I’m not at all. And there are times like when I’m modeling with you, and I’m wearing super cute shit, and that is deemed as sexy and “I wanna fuck that” And it’s like, I just wanna feel good.

A vertical close up of Ashabi’s midsection as she sits in the window sill. Their necklace is in center frame and camera blur extends downwards. The backlight illuminates her clavicle bones and shoulders. Her lips are blurred but her white dangling earrings are narrowly in focus.


Lingerie doesn’t have to be inherently sexual. It can be sensual and more about self love and the character of the person than it is sexuality. I think a lot of people who come to me for boudoir, they come because it is a safer place to be in your body than the average sexualized brand. Which works for some people but an alarming amount of my clients need a safer space to be themselves without sexual expectations or performance anxiety. Because sexuality isn’t comfortable for everyone.

Before I came out out as asexual, even shooting stuff like that with male photographers I was very uncomfortable because they would sexualize me to the point of me getting assaulted or harassed. I didn’t feel like I could be myself in these settings because they weren’t seeing me as myself. They were seeing me as something to conquer and acquire sexually. When I put that into my Blackness and share that I’m asexual….Granted I haven’t gotten as much flack as Yasmin Benoit has with her activism in asexuality. But in my journey, I’ve gone through a lot of shitty things and I’ve come to a point of accepting that. And working with people who see me as a whole and not like bits and pieces. And value me as a whole. Who want to accentuate my wholeness in the way I present it.

So working with you is really great but working with you even in that setting, I was a little nervous.

We didn’t even know each other, we just knew each other from the internet.

But even with that, I was like “Oh well this is a setting I’m familiar with, with other people. And I was already not comfortable with, with other people. But when I become comfortable with you, it is a totally different thing. You can see all my discomfort melt away with all the pictures we took. In that setting, I wish people could understand that shooting people and working with people who are part of marginalized communities is really rewarding. Especially when you see them let their guard down and trust you.

It’s just like so fucking dope but nobody wants to understand the concept. It’s just like, “Ah, I think you are XYZ so let me shoot you because I like how you look. Not “I wanna tell your story”

Yeah, amplify the voices versus using them. There are people out there, photographers, who think because they charge thousands they don’t need to pay their models. And those people all have the same type of body over and over in their portfolio.

Yeah, it’s boring. It’s very exhausting.

A horizontal shot with Ashabi center frame. Hands are at their hips and elbow pointed backward. Legs are crossed one over the other as she stands with her head directed into the casting of sunlight. The sunlight exposes Ashabi but rest of the frame is shadowed and black. The brick wall is barely visible, the bed next to them is underexposed. She closes her eyes and smiles into the light.


It’s boring and there is no talent in working with the same body over and over. It’s art, but not the type I’d put on my wall or run to tell people about. If you’re not doing anything radical to amplify marginalized voices, then you’re not really pushing the envelope like an artist should. Or even having basic body diversity. And that’s always been an important part of me being an artist. Doing things that make me uncomfortable. Which is why I did nude artwork. Which is funny, I’m asexual but I’m also a fine art nude photographer.

That’s really cool though because people don’t associate nudity with asexuality. People don’t associate lingerie with asexuality. People associate asexuality with prude-ness for whatever reason. Just like all people in general there are spectrums. And for you to assume that this identity works only one way is really ignorant. You wouldn’t walk up to a man or women and expect them to be a certain way. Unless you’re just ignorant all around then so help you God.

You just have to understand that there are spectrums to every person you see. Nobody is a monolith.

As you know, there is a spectrum in everything. With sexuality, it works so well because there are so many gray spots.

A vertical photograph of Ashabi sitting atop a white comforter covered bed on her knees playing with her hair in a see through deep purple lace body suit. Her eyes are closed but her smile is elaborate and big.


 Tell me more about the hyper sexualization and where it comes in the most. Were you hyper-sexualized as a child?
It mostly comes from how I identify. Historically Black women are just dogged and deemed sexual objects from birth. Their worth is based on how they perform sexually. In a lot of the entanglements I was in, I was the person doing the most of the pleasing and giving. Sexually or just giving gifts. I was in a position where I’m like, “Oh well okay they’re happy so I’m okay. And they like seeing me so this is okay. ” And then I got to a point recently where I’m just like; this is not okay. This is stemming from societal pressures and trauma that I didn’t realize was present. And now I’m in a place where I’m understanding where it’s all coming from and I’m no longer engaging in that.

And like, younger, when I was a child, I went through a big phase of hypersexuality. Mostly because I didn’t know what things were and I just wanted to do everything. And in my wanting to do everything I realized that nothing really brought me pleasure. It was like, “Okay yeah let’s do it” and we’d do it and I’d be like, “Hmm interesting…”  And it just kept happening and again, situations came about where I was pleasing this person and this person was seeing me a lot. Looking back at it, all the situations I came into that were hypersexual experiences were ones that I stayed with because I enjoyed the connection with that person and not necessarily because I enjoyed the sex with that person. I realized a lot in my first, and only, long term relationship that I had….we had mad sex in the beginning but as we grew into ourselves it was more about liking to spend time with them, holding them, being with them.

We had to have a discussion about my asexuality and what it was. And then they came to a point of being upset because they didn’t understand that that was what was going on. Because we were having sex and stopped. They had thought that we stopped because I had stopped loving them. Then I had to have a conversation like, “My love for them doesn’t stop because we stop having sex” And our relationship remained strong well into a year after that. Getting to know that aspect of myself really shaped how I grew into myself. Now I’m at a point where like, Yeah I’m going to meet someone who will probably do the same thing. But now I’m at a point where “Well why are with me, why do you seem attracted to me?” And now I know that’s not really something I want to pursue because that doesn’t bring me any joy. And I’m not here as your play thing. Either you understand that or…

A vertical photograph of Ashabi laying stomach down on the white comforter covered bed. Her hands and decorative dark colored nails are intertwined. They stare out of the window nearby and her lavish crystal necklace/earrings sparkle in the light.


What the average response you get when you tell people you’re asexual and what is an ideal response?

Well responses form partners were tears, confusion, “What you mean we just had sex” “Are you sure, because I’m sexually attracted to you.” “Are you sure, because you’re dressed like that?” “You don’t look asexual” “I couldn’t be with you because I want someone who sexually desires me” Those are the main ones. Mostly confusion, resistance to learning. When I told someone I was with I was asexual and gave them resources they told me, “If I can’t be with you I don’t care to learn about this” Then they ended up texting me a year later…so it’s fine.

It’s always the year mark where you get that apology text. And it’s like, “No shit, please go to therapy and take care of yourself?”

 Even with therapy, you need to learn from therapy and you need to work on yourself. My ex is not doing that at all. Literally, sharing that I’m asexual and meeting resistance or refusal to understand because they’re so stuck in their own ways or incapable of being wrong and open to the possibility of more is so rude. Those are things I’ve heard…

I feel like a good response would be, “Oh cool, what’s that?” or “Is there a way I can be a better friend or partner to you while understanding this part of you?” Those would be fucking bomb responses. If people were cognizant, but most people aren’t so I’m just going to work on me until the world burns.

This horizontal shot has Ashabi posing sideways against three bay windows facing the sunny outdoor day. They wear a paid of black panties and a playful custom Black sheer top with black flowers sewn into it. The light highlights their body. Caught mid way between lifting her arms and one step into a powerful stance. They maintain eye contact as they move.

Have you experienced sexual violence and abuse in your relationships due to your asexuality?
I don’t know if its due to my asexuality versus them just being a fucking idiot. 2018, I was in a poly relationship with two guys and one of them did not know how to pleasure a person at all. I had to like scold him and teach him how. In that same conversation I told him I’m also asexual. Even if I wasn’t asexual, you’re fucking up. And he cried over it.

Anyways, one day I decided I was going to come over and get fucked up that day. I took a nap, passed out. I wake up, barely, as he like tries to go down on me and I’m like, SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK. “What is wrong with you?!” So I get up and leave, and that is the only close thing related to my asexuality trauma wise. All my trauma has been associated with men taking advantage. I’ve only been sharing my sexuality, out of all my partners, only five of them were aware. Three were also queer and one of them fully respected my sexuality. The other two did not. The last relationship, they didn’t respect my boundaries  at all. I didn’t even realize it until I’d spiraled out and saw it from the outside. They love bombed, had all the sex, and then in the middle of it goes, “If I can’t have sex with my partner I’m breaking up with them.” And I am upset at this point. I go, “If this the only way you experience love. What about your other love languages?” And they just said, “Well sex is the top one” And we had several conversations. When I let them know, “this is what you said” and they go, “Oh well that’s not how I think anymore” so I just said, “Well, you said it to me so strongly now I associate that with you all the time. Now I don’t feel like you even value anything outside of what I do besides sex. And to me, that’s so fucking hurtful that you don’t really care”

That actually is a lot more traumatic, for me. I’m a very emotionally connected person. That’s how I show love. Sex is cool and all but giving care to people outside of sexual methods is nicer. I was just like, “I am showing you that I care in every way possible. You are in my space right now and I’ve never had anyone in my space in my life. So if this isn’t enough, I don’t know what else?” Like, “I can lay there and you can fuck me but if that satisfies you we shouldn’t be together. If you want sex so badly you can have it from other people outside of me.” And they were like, “But I wanna have sex with my partners.” And I was like, “Okay well you can’t tell me I don’t love you because I don’t want to” So I’m sitting here like trying not to argue with them, I don’t wanna trigger them. I was so sensitive to THEIR needs that I couldn’t even vocalize that they’re hurting me. That’s probably the most traumatizing thing that has dealt with my asexuality. Which hurts a lot more than any other trauma I’ve experienced.

It’s like, really? Sex? That’s the top tier? That’s the thing you value the most, out of your whole entire relationship with them. That’s the only way you can see value being expressed to you?? For them to say that to me while I’m trying to be more comfortable in myself, while being my partner who expressed they see a long term commitment with me, and then tell me that sex is the only way to show them love just really fucks with you.

Ashabi faces the window in her black sheer long sleeved lingerie. Her palms rest against the window and she looks out. The light shows off her short green hair.


That’s control. Not love.
Things that I’m realizing in 2020! Trauma is not a fun thing to realize you’ve experienced.

How does compulsory sex make you feel?
Sometimes good because it was fun at that point. It’d be like a challenge. I had one partner who was like, I really like to please my partner and focus little on myself. And I would be really fun about it or really fucking cool and then they’d get off and I’d be like yay! This is like winning a prize. But then other times where it wasn’t so great, and it was irritating and awful. Looking back at it, it was another form of trauma brought on by me being a pleaser and them being selfish.  And taking advantage of that. Knowing they gave me what I want which was like presence and care masked in sexual tension. They only wanted me to please them sexually. When they first started happening, they weren’t in relationships. They were random situations. It happened with two photographers and I was on a bus and a driver assaulted me. There were several different random things…and then it happened in my relationship with my ex. Cause again, they were so adamant about wanting to fuck and get pleasure. I gave them a hand job and I was like half asleep and he was like, “What are you doing?” and then they felt bad and I felt bad. More bad things from those experiences because of my wanting to make sure the person was happy even though I wasn’t.


A horizontal shot of Ashabi in the studio space. Brick walls, white comforter covered bed, and a huge window camera right. She leans herself into the wall near the window, grasping the end of her tie in the front front black fabric ties with one hand and throwing the other over her head. They look directly into the camera.

Do you think you’ve reached sexual liberation as an asexual person?
Honestly, yeah. That sucks to say, because the only reason I’m here is because of all the shitty people in my life. And recently the shitty ex I had. If I hadn’t spiraled out this summer and gotten to the understanding of why people kill themself. Then I wouldn’t have reached this point. Now I’m sex positive, but very sex neutral.

Like sex indifferent?
Yes. Cause like after that breakup I’d messaged my friend I knew who was into me. We tried to have sex but it didn’t work out. It was just a funny experience. We just took a nap. Then I had another person that I know through my roommate, I hooked up with them. As we were having sex I was so checked out because while we were hanging out he gave me their bong to hit. They said they broke their last two and to be careful. And then were having sex and his bong is behind my head. And they’re rocking the table back and forth. I’m just like, “Your bong is gonna break” and he did not give a single fuck. After those two experiences, I’m just chillin. I don’t really care. Maybe one day I’ll enter a relationship with someone I care about and I’ll probably have sex at first and then just enjoyed each others company so much we became involved in that way. Sexual liberation for me is that I can have sex with whoever I want and I don’t have to. That doesn’t invalidate me or my sexuality. That just makes me more confident as an asexual person and that’s not going to be taken away from me based on what some rando on the street thinks of me.

Tell me a little bit about your education and activism for asexuality.
My education came from Tumblr. That’s how I found out about asexuality in the first place. I had nobody in my life who was asexual until like very very recently. Like the year of 2019-2020 was when I started meeting more people who were asexual. And my activism came from 17+ and on. Because tumblr was so big, I’d say In my bio “I’m asexual and I’m Black” people would follow me, seeing I’m shooting and modeling. From there I became the president of my schools pride alliance club and that’s where I learned to educate people. And give people platforms. So we can learn about pansexuality and bisexuality and other forms of sexualities that came about. From there I joined the planning committee for MBLGTACC  and we learned how to host a conference. The A used to be Ally, that year we advocated to change it to Asexual. From there, did a bunch of panel talks, was co-host to a podcast. I’m in an audiobook about asexuality. I feel like the word activism is just being out loud and vocal but I guess that’s what that term means but I’m also taking the time to teach people too. And with that, Ace in Grace came about, I really drive what asexuality is all about.

Ashabi and her brilliant short green hair sit in a windowsill of the three bay windows. Brick walls outline the interior. Long white drapes decorate the windows. Ashabi has her hands resting between her legs and stares down at the hardwood floor.


What is Ace in Grace?
Ace in Grace is what I came to create in summer 2019 after pride that year. I made that because I wanted to continue having a place to educate people on asexuality. That wasn’t on my Instagram, because all my work blurs. Ace in Grace is how I tell what the asexuality spectrum is. How it looks to different people. But also uplift Black asexual people, POC’s in general, but mostly Black because I am Black. There literally is no conversation about Black people and asexuality. The only Black person that I know of who is asexual is Yasmin Benoit and she’s all the way out in the UK. She’s a model, asexual activist and has been at this since possibly 2017. She is a little bit younger than me so it’s cool to see someone like me taking advantage of social media and pushing the message out there. It’s cool to see people like me who focus on little pockets of people who can make a lot of change in different areas. It’s just like taking those forces together and making sure it’s something people can be aware of across all boards. That’s pretty much where I stand. And incorporating it into my modeling since 2017. I don’t really think of it at all, because its just me expressing who I am and people see that as activism when it’s really me living my truth.

Have you ever felt you weren’t allowed to be asexual due to your Blackness?
I wouldn’t say due to my Blackness, but more so due to the environments I’m in that hold value in my Black femininity because it is so hyper sexualized. And adding the idea of asexuality to that brings them a lot of confusion because A.) Asexuals don’t wear what you’re wearing. B.) Asexuals aren’t Black. So when I come into a space and say, I’m this amongst all the things you assume me to be. The response is typically, “Hmm, interesting, why are you here if that’s the case?” I’m really careful in the spaces I am and where I share that I’m asexual. Unless I’m mad drunk or on drugs, I really don’t say it. Because I don’t really want to explain why. Unless I’m literally rolling…

Ashabi, a Black asexual femme person, lifts both their arms up to their head in front of a window and white drapes. They face the camera head on. Her muscles are toned and her skin is smooth. She wears a crystal choker necklace with long dangles of the crystals extending into her chest. They wear a deep purple lace unitard.

Do you feel asexuality is viewed as invisible or trivialized in the queer community?
Oh, 100%!!! Yes. Especially because the queer community is so sexualized. Everytime you say you’re queer it’s like, “Oh you wanna fuck?” It’s like no dude!! My pants are not off, there’s no condom here, there is no sexual interest here. Chill! And like me saying I’m asexual…a.) We’re already part of the 1% that doesn’t get the money or tax evasions. Like you know, we are the 1% and that’s totally invalidated. In the queer community, in cis community. In society as general. We are already seen as non-existent. But with the uplifting of asexuality it’s become 1.5% or 2.5%. And 1% of the population is 75 million people so now more than that are understanding they’re not weird or alone or any medical or chemical imbalance with them. It fucking sucks that even in the queer community that we’re already so marginalized…I and people who ID like me can’t even comfortably say, “Yeah I’m asexual” without being seen as a weirdo or broken for not having the same experiences as most of the queer community. When in reality, asexuality is a spectrum so your partner could fall on the spectrum and you wouldn’t even know that you’re indirectly invalidating them and causing them to feel they aren’t who they really are. Even now, with this understanding, there are still assholes that wanna step all over you and go, “You don’t even exist” It’s just fucking rude.

Sitting on top of a white comforter, Ashabi laughs at the camera. Her smile is bright and enjoyable. She’s in her black lingerie outfit, with the sheer long black sleeves decorated with floral attachments.


Do you have a message for other asexual people?
Even though the community is small, there are several people I’ve connected to because of how open I am about my sexuality. That just tells me there are several other people who desire that connection and are seeking it just like you are. So in that same sense; don’t feel you’re not able to be yourself forever. There might be times where sharing is hard with possibility of ridicule but that isn’t forever. With that beings said, understand when you do have the time and space and ability to share who you are, there’s going to be people there who will completely embrace that and make you feel loved and seen and cared for. And just like with any part of a person, then there will be people who treat you like shit. Just know the people who care for you are the ones to value the most. There the ones who will stick with you the most and bring you a lot more love and joy into your life.

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