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newsflash: disabled people have sexualities too

Posted at 18:51 on 30 Oct 2009 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Body positivity, Gender politics, health and disability, Politics

I recently discovered the Feminists with Disabilities blog, who have a lot of good stuff to say on body politics, accessibility and identity issues, class politics, mental health and suchlike. Ophelia and a few other queer, kinky, disabled friends and I have long talked about a website project about kink and disability, with tips for sex activities that suit limited mobility or low energy, articles about managing chronic pain, fantasies that include disabled and ill people, book recommendations and general solidarity about having a body that doesn't work properly. I'm able-bodied, but neither of my partners are, so this is close to my heart, and I think I'd be able to contribute usefully. It's still something I'm keen to do if I ever find time.

Feminists with Disabilities definitely have their heads screwed on right. I was nodding all the way through their recent introductory post on disability and sexuality:

Disabled people, like non-disabled people, have all sorts of sexualities that can change throughout life. We can be queer and straight, poly and mono, kinky and vanilla (which is not to say that all of those are exclusively sexual identities, either). Not everyone is into or can have PIV intercourse, and all kinds of sexual activity are as legitimate as the participants consider them to be.

Most of the comments on the post were pleasingly kink-aware as well, and raised some important issues:

As a kinky queer person with disabilities, I have to say that one of the big challenges I face is playing with able bodied people who are afraid of breaking me or who think that I dont know my limits. And I definitely understand that fear, but it kind of plays into the whole people with disabilities are fragile trope which can sometimes be a huge barrier to sexuality, especially alternative sexuality. And it can be really disempowering to be told that someone else knows my body and my limits better than I do.

I have a fairly visible disability in that Im totally blind (I prefer visually impaired but no TABs [Temporarily Able Bodied people] seem to know what it means so Im forced to only use it in PWD friendly spaces to avoid having to explain all the time) anyway, this combined with the fact that Im quite petite used to mean I got harrassed all the time at college by guys who seemed to be turned on by my apparent vulnerability, this was very creepy and also incredibly frustrating as theyd pretty much reduced me to my disability. Im not special and I dont need rescuing and Im definitely not playing the damsel in distress to fulfil anyones fantasy. The problem seems to be that if youre blind then youre allowed to have a sexuality as long as its passive so you just become an object for somebody elses fantasies. Well, Im sexually dominant and bi (predominantly interested in women) so where does my sexuality fit in this?

The kink community, of course, has its pros and cons:

I dont like the BDSM community trope that leather sex is better and Im part of the BDSM community. Im less active in it these days and dont volunteer for stuff or go to meetings and events, but Im definitely oriented that way and have been since I can remember having sexual thoughts (like when I was six or seven). So Im cranky about the attitude because I run across it all the time.

That said, I very much like the BDSM communitys inclusion of people with disabilities[1], fat people, older folks. The sort of people who shouldnt be running around naked do and its excellent. Most events Ive been to recently have at least one workshop on disability sexuality issues and there are lots of folks with assistive technologies; sign interpretation is provided to make events accessible to Deaf people.

[1] Though one of the few Dallas hotels thats willing to host our events and is big enough is not accessible; the only elevator that goes to the meeting space floors (there are four levels of them) is a service elevator in the kitchen. Seethe.

I remember my own rage at the lack of disabled access at the venue chosen for Night of the Senses last year - appalling given it was a fundraiser for a charity promoting inclusivity and access!

I think the kink community is more inclusive of imperfect bodies than is normal in our society. And I love the way it's so normal for us to talk about boundaries and limits that it's easy to extend that conversation to people with disabilities. But the kinky porn industry is far from perfect. Not only are disabled models never featured (unless it's a special-interest fetishising a particular disability, and that sort of niche is not only objectifying and offensive, it's also not really part of spanking/BDSM), but the websites tend to fail at accessibility for the hearing and vision impaired. And there are the ongoing problems with access at meetups and events. There's still work to do.

If you're interested in this topic, keep an eye on the FWD blog: it's got some good stuff on it. You might also enjoy The Deal with Disability. The author is Eva, a queer twenty-something who channels her frustration at being treated as if she wasn't an adult woman into a funny, smart, informative blog. Reading it, I feel as if I would be far less good-natured about the ways people mess up, if I were in her position. But it's a great way of learning how to mess up less when interacting with people with severe mobility or communication issues.

Eva talked about her sexuality in an interview with Lesbilicious this summer:

Many of your videos show people treating you like youre invisible because you have a disability. Do you feel invisible as a queer person too? If so do you think the two are connected?

Well I think people dont believe that disabled people can have sexual identities. So I guarantee not many people realise Im queer (even though I have a button on my backpack that says I heart vaginas).

And its not like when you go out to do errands you announce to the world Im queer! I am on the butch side, so the main encounter I run into is that people often mistake me for an 8 year old boy.

How do people react when you tell them youre queer? Do you think you get a different reaction to non-disabled queer people? If so why?

Again, I dont tell random people that Im queer, but in general I believe most people dont think about disabled people as having sexual identities. Its like were made to be asexual.

So when I do tell people I get a lot of TMI questions. For example, strangers have asked how I have sex. Often, I ask them the same question. That usually shuts them up.

(read more here)

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