September brought us news and views on the state of sex ed in the United states (not good), disabled women’s access to sexual health care (also not great), the complex mathematical calculations that go into whether and how to reveal a disability in an online dating profile, and more.
An Open Letter to Ken Jennings:
A year ago, you tweeted “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.”
Yes, that was a year ago, about a million years in cyber time.
Let’s revisit this anyway.
There’s some important stuff here.
We still have ableism, and we still have loads of wrong-headed beliefs about disabled people’s sexualities. The difference is that more and more people are speaking out than ever before.
Like this lovely person:
Now, isn’t that hot?
Okay, maybe you don’t find it hot. You’re allowed. We all have different measures of hotness, though most of us don’t dismiss an entire group out of hand.
The main reason I’m writing you this letter is that you are, overall, a pretty clever guy, and your fame is built on your cleverness. Your fans depend on you to always have the right answer. So, it only serves everybody to unpack how not-clever this tweet was.
I figure that with what I assume to be your immense love of knowledge, you’d want to know the truth of things.
The truth, sir, is that the buzzer wont’ stop ringing; that’s how factually off-base you were here.
Basics first: You said you don’t think there’s anything quite so sad as a hot person in a wheelchair.
Personally, I think seeing hungry children or abandoned puppies or countries ravaged by war is much sadder than seeing anyone in a wheelchair, but okay, if you find that the saddest, you’re allowed. You might want to rethink that, though, especially since you already acknowledged that the Internet didn’t agree with this joke.
I’m also really shocked at your lack of imagination. You really think people in wheelchairs, no matter how hot (or not) you think they are, can’t or don’t have sex? Really? *raises eyebrows*
Maybe you’re thinking that what you said isn’t such a big deal.
After all, it’s not the hungry children, abandoned puppies, or war-torn countries I mentioned earlier.
You didn’t physically harm someone or swindle them out of their life savings.
A lot of times when people are afraid of something, they get defensive. And, you know what they say: The best defense is a good offense.
Actually, the best defense or offense is education and knowledge.
Nothing helps quite like the truth of things.
People with disabilities–these are real people you’re talking about. I know: I am one of them. I’m visibly disabled, though not a wheelchair user. People with disabilities are frequently seen as childlike, incapable, often even subhuman. Denying our sexuality is just one more way to deny our humanity. Denying our sexualities leads to pressing problems like thinking that disabled people don’t need sex ed, or that we don’t need sexual healthcare.
You were talking about people in wheelchairs, but I’m left wondering: Where does it stop? Do hot blind people make you sad? How about hot people using crutches or a walker? What about hot people who have more than one disability? How does it work if a person’s disability is invisible? If they’re hot, and you only find out about the disability later, is that sad too?
Business Insider called your tweet insensitive. I think it goes way beyond that. When talking about negative comments about disability and disabled people, words like sensitivity, compassion, and caring get thrown around a lot. I’d like to see more people talking about respect and knowledge.
It’s not primarily sensitivity you lack here—frankly, I don’t care all that much about your moral compass–(though your decency does leave something to be desired) but plain old-fashioned know-how. Sorry if that’s painful to read, but that’s just how it is. Okay, I’ll stop telling you you’re wrong.
Or, maybe the problem here is that you can’t imagine how someone who uses a wheelchair could possibly have sex? So little imagination, Ken! Really, I’d expect more creativity from a trivia buff/expert in obscure knowledge.
Look, I don’t care if you don’t find folks in wheelchairs hot, but you have a public responsibility not to share misinformation.
So, let’s have some basic sex ed, shall we? (Wouldn’t it be fun if game shows had categories on sex?)
Also, a person’s being in a wheelchair actually doesn’t tell you much about their physical abilities. It doesn’t tell you how they can move their bodies, which parts of their bodies they can feel, and it certainly doesn’t tell you what they like to do in bed. Some people who use wheelchairs are able to walk short distances, or are able to use their legs if they’re not standing up. It’s not always the case that people either walk or not-walk. And seriously, is being able to walk necessary for sex, anyway?
This leads us to another issue. It’s not our business to assume what a disabled person is able to do, and it’s not our business to ask, either.
The simple fact is: People with disabilities are sexy, with and without their mobility or other assistive devices.
Okay, caveat time: Not everyone is sexy in the same way, and we’re not all going to find the same things sexy. I wouldn’t want you to tell me who I should and shouldn’t enjoy or be attracted to, so I’m certainly not going to dictate that for you.
Let’s just say it this way: A wheelchair (or cane, or crutches, or oxygen mask) doesn’t take away anyone’s hotness.
Using these assistive devices also doesn’t make people think about sex or romance any less than they would otherwise.
You know, Ken, there’s a funny irony here. Ending up in a wheelchair, of any of the experiences that makes someone a minority in our society, is the experience most likely to happen to you. No, that’s not a threat. It’s reality. And, if it’s not something that lands you in a wheelchair, it could be any number of physical, psychological, or mental impairments.
Your skin colour, ethnicity, or country-of-origin aren’t going to change, so you’re not likely to experience any racial or ethnic discrimination you’ve not experienced before. You’re unlikely to have to live below the poverty-line (unless you make some incredibly bad investments) so being the victim of class snobbery or financial discrimination probably isn’t in your future.
You’re well-known for your smarts, but that wouldn’t much help you if you did become visibly disabled. I promise you people would treat you a lot differently. “Isn’t it sad what happened to Ken? He used to be so smart/capable/accomplished/successful/other positive attribute.” People who didn’t know you from Adam, who saw you on the street would be admiring, condescending, overly helpful or actively not helpful enough… They wouldn’t take the time to talk to you to find out how much trivia you know, or, if they did, they’d treat you like a clever child or smart puppy.
Does this sound bleak? I don’t mean it to. There are lots of awesome people who don’t see disability as such a big deal, who see the whole person, not just the disability.
Sadly, you’re not one of them.
Clearly, you weren’t interested in actively engaging with people to find out why they were so upset. You were comfortable with the Internet not agreeing with you.
That was your choice.
There were other ways to handle this, ways that show growth, learning, and humility.
General rule of thumb: Only people in wheelchairs get to make wheelchair jokes. The rest of us? We get to laugh along with them, but we don’t even get to repeat what we’ve heard, because they’re not our jokes to tell.
I’d like to invite you to explore the resource page here at Ready, Sexy, Able.
I cannot talk about illness and how it affects me, without mentioning how it is tied to my immigration status, or my
choices and access as a queer upper class woman. The axes of benefits and struggles at which I find myself leads to a particular set of options. From there, I make choices. There, I live daily.
— Nitika Raj, The Wholeness Project
Instead of honoring difference, we are asked to assimilate. Supposedly, this is to help us but it only inevitably erases who we are and diminishes the experiences we face.
— Kay Ulunday Barrett, Constant Dissonance: Our Noise is Dangerous
Criptiques is a collection of essays and stories that challenges ideas of what it means to be disabled without ever erasing the true, beautiful, frustrating, painful, uplifting realities disability brings into our lives. Disabled people ar so often seen as one-dimensional human beings; defined by the pain we’re in, or the limmits we have, or the beliefs of the people who look at us. This book, written entirely by disabled people, moves past that narrative of being observed, past the how-tos, the statistics (though there are plenty of those, into what the people behind those statistics actually look like, feel, do, and experience each day.
Who are the people of Criptiques? They are artists, scholars, musicians, activists, deep thinkers, sexual beings, mothers, lovers.
What does it mean to be “criptical?” It means equl footing and value between Stefanie Hillary’s academic piece on frida Kahlo, art history, and disability, and Leroy Moore’s provocative Droolilicious, a Krip-Hop piece.
It means exploring the usual disability-related topics in unusual ways. Danine Spencer lays out the grim unemployment statistics for women with disabilities in the United States alongside her own struggle with physically not being able to meet today’s demanding work environments. Bethany Stevens shares the many ways her former workplace, a disability policy research department, was inaccessible and unwelcoming. In What Should you call me?, Emily Ladau, who has been disabled all her life, shares that nondisabled disability advocates have questioned the sincerity of her advocacy based on her objections to using person-first language.
Being criptical means introducing the unexpected.
In most disability anthologies, we’d expect to see at least one piece on the miracles of technology. Instead, Eva Sweeney tells us how and why, for her, using a simple alphabet board makes communication faster and easier than it would be with a computerized communication device.
We hear about sexuality: From Elsa henry, possibly the only blind burlesque dancer in the world. From Jen Rinaldi and Samantha Walsh, who explore the ways their experiences as young disabled women were affected by the assumptions that all young women start dating men. From Alissa Hillary, who shows us how autistic people’s sexuality is erased. From Leroy Moore, who shares how his drooling, a part of his disability he was always told to control, is exciting and sexy to an intimate partner.
Criptiques makes its readers wake up and see the world differently. or me, that “aha” moment happened while reading Ben G.’s On Radicl Empathy and Schizophrenia: “To say that those years of my
life correspond to a brain problem and nothing more, is to … reduce my own experience of myself, and at worst, to rob me of the experience altogether.”
There is more in this book, on our collective fears of aging and death, on body image and beauty standards, on parenting, as a disabled person, on (usually unpleasant) encounters with the medical system.
Criptiques should be required reading in most university classes. It’s hard-hitting and funny, sad and rhetorical. It’s the kind of book I could – and have – read many times and still learn something new or still feel the flutter of my heart opening in joy and admiration for these writers.
And I don’t just want to se this book on the shelves of Disability Studies students. This needs to be part of the curricula for many disciplines: gender studies, American Studies, occupational therapy, pre-med, nursing, social work, and more. Instead of teaching disability as a separate subject, Criptiques would allow professors to teach common topics like anti-racism, body image, medical and legal concerns, etc. starting from a disability or criptical perspective.
Today’s film is short, but long on great energy and ideas.
Laci Green and her friend Olivia give us the lowdown on sex and disability, everything from dating, to dancing, to fetishizing.
Two gems from Olivia:
People who fetishize (are sexually aroused by and attracted to) disability aren’t wrong or bad. The problem with fetishizing disability is more about the attraction being to the disability, not the person, and relationships are with people, not disabilities.
Olivia also points out that dancing with someone in a wheelchair usually means getting up close and personal (she describes her standing partner as practically giving her a lap dance), which can be sexy for both.
Unfortunately, the short format means some topics get short-changed. The discussion of sexuality and intellectual disability feels like it was tacked on at the end and rushed through. Sometimes, including everything doesn’t lead to full inclusion value-wise. I think it would have been fine to leave that topic out altogether and keep the focus exclusively on physical disabilities.
Again, though, the energy in this interview is terrific, and it’s a great introduction to different ideas, and to the general concept that disability doesn’t mean lack of sexuality or sexiness, and doesn’t mean the lack of desire for intimate relationships.
This film is fully captioned for people who need or want that.
When will we move past using words like “inappropriate” to talk about sex crimes? It’s more than inappropriate to, say, punch or steal from someone – it’s illegal. Unwanted and unconsented sexual contact must also be recognized as illegal, not reduced to being morally inappropriate.
The judge also cited handasyde’s deep remorse and guilt as part of the reason for the short sentence. These are feelings – moral consequences if you will – not legal or social.
Legally, this case is over, but the victims won’t forget. Their families won’t forget.
There’s so much wrong here that I don’t even know where to start.
We’re told that Craig Handasyde is a religious man, that he has eight children, that thirteen people (including two ministers) stepped up to give him a character reference.
We’re told that he voluntarily resigned from his job, and, later, turned himself in to the police.
Does anyone stop to question the time lapse between the last time he claims to have abused someone (2011) and when he resigned from his job (2013)?
Does anyone stop to remember that the abuse he’s admitted to and now claims to want to make amends for spanned thirteen years? (That’s more than a decade, half a generation.)
Do any of his esteemed thirteen references (one for each of the years he violated his clients’ trust?) stop to ask themselves how they could have so deeply misjudged this man?
We’re told by his lawyer that “What emerges is a picture of a man who is extremely passive and lacks the ability to assert himself.”
Let’s look at some other facts:
He admits to ignoring the efforts of one of his victims to push him away.
He invested time and energy in extra training and certifications, thereby winning the trust of his clients’ families and his employers. This means less supervision, more of a chance to do what he wanted, when he wanted.
Craig Handasyde is an abuser. He worked in a position that gave him power over others. He worked with some of the most marginlized and invalidated people. Maybe he felt as if he couldn’t assert himself, but he definitely didn’t act like it.
The claims Handasyde’s lawyer is making on his behalf don’t come anywhere near justifying his behaviour. After all, Where was the conscience that made him turn himself in when someone was pushing him away, telling him, more clearly than words ever could, to leave him alone?
We’re supposed to see a man who was in incredible psychological pain.
He may have been, but the hard truth is that this man sexually abused his clients because he wanted to, because he had no care or consideration for his work responsibilities or the emotional well-being of his clients, because he thought he could get away with it.
This man gets to be as religious as he wants, as gay as he is. He doesn’t, in my opinion, get to use these as explanations for abusing anyone, disabled or not, especially not anyone he was supposed to be protecting.
It’s frustrating, too, since this case just reinforces the beliefs that gay people aren’t safe to be around. The headline on one story about Handasyde’s crimes tells us that he spent years “hiding his homosexuality behind victims who could not communicate.” Again, one thing has nothing to do with the other. He didn’t sexually abuse his clients because he was gay, though he may have justified it to himself that way.
Handasyde’s lawyer is calling what he did a “secret life.” A secret life is having an affair, visiting sex clubs, doing stuff that isn’t criminal but that you’re still afraid to tell people about.
Describing a crime as a secret life lends it an air of mystery and eroticism it doesn’t deserve.
I don’t care how contrite Handasyde is now. He was not contrite for thirteen years. This was not a crime of passion, or lack of control. This was a crime of intention.
It’s also truly sad that his victims are portrayed as people who can’t communicate.
One of them did, by pushing Handasyde away. Another had a noticeable personality change, becoming more aggressive. Another victim’s mother describes him as not having a “happy nature” anymore.
Imagine not being able to tell someone how unhappy you are. Imagine not being able to tell them that someone is touching your body and doing other things you don’t like or want. Imagine trying to tell, and having peple not understand.
There are no easy answers, especially since most of the tools used for getting information from people who don’t communicate verbally are visual, and most of the victims in this case are blind.
I don’t know what could have been done to help these men be safe from their abuser, but it’s worth pointing out that in those entire thirteen years, no one ever suspected Craig Handasyde of doing anything wrong, or, if there were suspicions, no one ever acted on them.