Oct 312015
 

Sexuality, Relationships, and Disability

A Love Letter to My Neurotypical Husband, From Your Autistic Wife

People often say marriage (or any long-term romantic relationship) is about compromise. I think it’s about understanding, showing that understanding, growing with a partner. This woman and her husband don’t – can’t – just go through the motions of a conventional romantic partnership.

Before you, I knew in my marrow that I would never be suited for a conventional love relationship. How could a woman who exists mostly in her own inner world, so tightly controlled, ever share a life with another person — until “death do us part,” no less? Every attempt I’d ever made at normal had failed miserably. I am too complicated, too particular, too cerebral.

I am much too much of everything. But you don’t seem to mind at all.

Read the whole article here.

Cocks & Bonds: That Time I Considered Hiring a Sex Worker

Deeply honest read from Andrew of Deliciously Disabled about struggling with his lack of choices for getting his sexual needs met.

If I am to look at the last several months with any sincerity, I am not okay with the way things have gone, by way of my sexual access. I have been really upset that the reality of my life as a man with disabilities; plagued by issues of location, attendant care needs and blissful ignorance or lack of awareness on the part of my community of fellow Queers, means that I have gone almost a year without an affectionately sensual touch from another man.

Within these long nine months, a time longer than many celebrity couples have lasted, I have started to consider the fact that I may have to hire a sex worker in order for my sexual needs (and at this point, it is a need much more than a want) to be met. I have been toying with this idea for some time now.

Read the whole article here.

Let’s Talk about Sex And Depression

JoEllen Notte, also known as the Redhead Bedhead wanted to know more about people’s experiences navigating their sexuality, depression diagnoses, and depression treatments. So, she ran an online survey and conducted interviews. here, she shares her findings, and shows us how sexuality can afect depression, how depression can affect sexuality, and what people can do about it.

Imagine for a moment that I took away your ability to enjoy sex. It’s just gone. Now in order to get it back, you would have to declare that you belong to two categories of people who are regularly stigmatized in pop culture. While you are dealing with this, you may also be experiencing feelings of worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness, lethargy, anxiety, and the inability to concentrate. If you can get past all that and reach out for help, there’s a big chance no one will do anything. They may not even believe you.

Welcome to the world of a woman dealing with the sexual side effects of depression and its treatment.

Read the whole article here.

Focus on autism must broaden to include non-binary genders

The gender binary, thinking of men and women as opposites, can be even more harmful when it comes to autistic people. I especially appreciate The point Emily Brooks makes here about how autistic people can be especially subject to gender role expectations; these expectations can be reinforced, sometimes literally over and over again through life skills (things you need to do to take care of yourself on a daily basis) and social skills training.

As a non-binary queer person, I’m sad that both the LGBTQ and the autism communities don’t offer more inclusive programming. … ’ The pointed focus on the differences between men and women with autism — most of which are socially created — leaves out people like me, who don’t adhere to a binary gender identity. … Queer environments don’t often account for our sensory processing issues or social differences, whereas autism services don’t often recognize that we may identify beyond the gender binary or have queer relationships. Shifting the focus from the tired narratives of delayed diagnosis and sex differences can help the autism community take responsibility for improving our day-to-day quality of life, whatever our age at diagnosis or gender identity.

Read the whole article here.

Disability, sex and relationships: the disabled lesbian scene

Advice and encouragement for a young woman with MS looking for disability-friendly places to meet and date other women in London England.

Read the whole article here.

Respect Sexual Rights of Women with Disabilities

calls for overhauling the nurse training system in Zimbabwe to better educate healthcare providers about the needs and experiences of their disabled patients. Lack of awareness, physically inaccessible clinics, and outright refusal to provide needed treatment all mean that disabled people often don’t get the healthcare, or treatment for illness or injuries from abuse, that they need.

In Zimbabwe, women and girls make the largest number of people who are marginalised and abused in society. The situation becomes a double tragedy when
that women or girl is living with disability, of which girls and women living with disabilities.

Persons living with disabilities – those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers,
may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others – have the same sexual and reproductive health needs as other
people. Yet, they are abused and often face barriers to information and services. Further, the ignorance and attitudes of society and individuals, including
health-care providers, raise most of these barriers – not the disabilities themselves, a fact supported by the National Survey on Disability: Key Findings
Report (2013).

Read the whole article here.

Experiences at Queer Continuum 2015

The questions and discussion with the audience went even better. There was a lot of participation, all of which was positive. A majority of the conversation
focused on the medical and health aspect of sex and disability. There were a lot of helpful questions and comments about how to talk to doctors about sex
related topics, and some of the advice came from medical professionals themselves. The audience was also very helpful in sharing their experiences and
opinions on dating a disabled person vs. just a sexual experience.

Read the whole article here.

Sex and sexuality advice

I’m a Gay Guy, but There’s This Girl….

The good folks at Scarleteen have hit the nail on the head again with some super on-target advice and reassurance about identity and sexual orientation. I love the message here that we’re all always okay, even if we don’t always know who we are or what we want. Scarleteen also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that figuring out what we want, and negotiating relationships with other people, is hard stuff.

If you do decide that you’re bi or pan or something other than gay? That doesn’t invalidate the conclusion your eleven-year-old self came to. It’s a cliche in the sex ed world to say that sexuality is fluid, but we keep repeating it for the simple reason that, for so many people it is fluid. Eleven-year-old you chose an identity based on the information you had at the time. Your friend is providing the you of now with some new data to add to the equation. If you re-evaluate and decide “nope, still gay?” That’s as okay as deciding you’re something else. There is no right answer here.

Read the whole article here.

9 Sex-Life-Changing Tips From “Girl Sex 101”

Girl Sex 101 (available in paperback and Kindle) is full of sex, sexuality, and relationship info. Autostraddle has boiled it down to 9 key points.

My favourites:

  • “No one is going to read your mind.”
  • “Define your own boundaries.”
  • “You are allowed to want things.”

Read the whole article here.

Disability & Equality

#JustActNormally – A Response to Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s #JustSayHi Campaign

Emily Ladau explains, with simple words and lots of feeling, just exactly why The “Just Say Hi” campaign isn’t going to help disabled people.

“Just Say Hi” implies that if you see someone who appears to have a disability, you should go up to them and say hello. Although this is trying to convey that you should treat disabled people as you would non-disabled people, the opposite message comes through. No one’s ever created a “Just Say Hi to Every Single Person You See” campaign. So, isn’t the whole point of the campaign contradicted by the fact that it exists in the first place?
Also, consider this: if you swapped out disability for any other appearance-related identifier, how would this campaign go over? #JustSayHi to Asian people. #JustSayHi to people with red hair. #JustSayHi to people who look like they weigh more than you do.

Read the whole article here

“What’s wrong with you?” – a critique of the Medical Model of Disability

Here’s an approachable, conversational essay on different ways to look at the experience of being disabled. I particularly like how clearly the author reframes “What’s wrong with you?” (a judgment) into “Why are you in a wheelchair?” (something much more direct). People are afraid to use disability words like wheelchair, blind, etc. They tend more often to ask why someone is “like that,” or, yes, what’s “wrong” with them. The downside of being so easy to understand, is that this author skips over many of the problems with the social model, which doesn’t, at least the way it was originally developed, include everyone. This post icludes a few of the reasons why. https://enabledisability.wordpress.com/2007/02/27/beyond-the-social-model-of-disability/

The medical and social models are at opposite ends of the spectrum of models, ideas, and experiences researchers and activists have explored to try to understand the role of disability in people’s livs> Lern more about other disability models here.

“What’s wrong with you?”

I get asked this question most days, occasionally prefaced with a “if you don’t mind me asking…” or a “no offense, but…”

More often than not, the asker of this question truly means no harm, and would probably be horrified to know the damage caused by their words. People are naturally curious, and etiquette and rudeness aside (it’s not very polite to demand personal information from a stranger) I am always willing to enlighten those who ask. *

However, I do take issue with that question. Not in what it seeks to ask, but the specific choice of words. “What is wrong with you?” To my mind, I’m afraid there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with me. In fact, as you’re asking, I happen to have really quite a nice life. I have loving parents, wonderful friends; I am well educated and well fed. I am proud of what I have achieved so far in life and am very excited about the future. There’s nothing at all wrong with me.

I may direct you to ask another question. “Why do you use a wheelchair?” The answer to that would be because I was born with a disability called Central Core Myopathy, which means I have very weak skeletal muscles and therefore cannot walk. That was a very different question, and probably the one you were intending to ask.

Read the whole article here.

Oct 112015
 

It’s National Coming Out Day, and I’m thinking about people with disabilities who are queer, gender nonconforming, or both.

Queer and trans* people around the United States and Canada will celebrate this weekend. Some will come out for the first time ever. Some have been out for years. Some will never be or feel safe to tell people who they really are.

Because of assumptions and attitudes about disability, deciding when and whether to come out is almost never simple for most people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are thought of as nonsexual, as having complicated lives that revolve around our disabilities. People are surprised to know that we work, that we have relationships, desires, interests, human foibles. Often, people don’t imagine that we could be sexual. Or, they’re inappropriately interested in our sexualities. Bluntly put, we’re often seen as genderless and sexless..

Our world is still so dependent on the assumption that most people are the gender they were assigned at birth, and most people want heterosexual relationships. Take someone who is already seen as different, and the reaction to them coming out can be anything from dismissive to dangerous.

Take all of this and multiply it a few dozen times and you’ll have a rough outlines of the attitudes towards LGBTQ+ folks with intellectual disabilities.

People with intellectual disabilities are thought of as not being able to understand sex, sexuality, or relationships, let alone want or think about any of those things. (As if any of us get to say what anybody’s sexuality, or how they feel about another person, should look like!)

A person with an intellectual disability who comes out (on Coming Out Day, or any other time) might hear:

“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“Oh, isn’t that sweet.”

“They’re just repeating what they hear other people saying.”

These words are often used to dismiss what a person with an intellectual disability wants other people to know.
When this happens, a boy or man saying he wants to have a boyfriend might be told that he doesn’t need to have one, or that he has lots of friends who are boys, or that only girls have boyfriends.
Dave Hingsburger has written a lot about the barriers people with intellectual disabilities have faced, just for expressing who they truly are, about the difficult history around love and relationships especially.

The stories he tells are sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and usually heartbreaking. When other people have authority over where you live, who you se, what you do with your days (which happens for a lot of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities) disapproval of how and who you love, of who you are, is way more than disapproval. It’s interference, people exerting their will and making you be who you want to be. I recommend taking time to go through his blog archive. What you knew bout the world will be flipped on its head.

As a gay and disabled man himself, Dave’s perspective is especially sharp.

In the following story, Dave gives support to a person with an intellectual disability who is sharing that he’s gay and in love.

I told someone I was gay the other day.

I don’t do this often because I don’t have to – pretty much everyone knows. So it felt odd, pushing the closet door open and letting it bang shut after me again. This time, though, I came out strategically. I was just in conversation with a man with Down Syndrome who was talking with me, struggling with the fact that he was attracted to, and had kissed, another man. He thought he was in love. He was aching with pain, it was all wrong, he was dirty and sinful.

I couldn’t bear watching him. I couldn’t bear remembering the pain of feeling shamed for feeling loved.

I couldn’t bear watching him hurt.

So, I said, “You know I’m gay, right?”

read what happened next.

Oct 102015
 

I first met Bethany Stevens at American University, where we were both speaking on the Exquisite, Beauty is Disability ableism awareness panel.

Right away I noticed her confidence and passion (not to mention her brilliant mind that didn’t seem to miss a thing) and have been following her work for the past three years.

Bethany generously agreed to answer some questions on what drives her work in the field of sexuality and disability.

***

Robin: You call yourself “an uppity crip scholar-activist and sexologist.”
Can you tell us what that means?

Bethany: I discovered the word “crip” through Laura Hershey’s poetry in my early 20s, and
identified with the political punch of the word so much that I started signing my email with “uppity crip
activist.” I was ridiculous enough to send my law professors emails with that signature line, whimakes me giggle now.

I am uppity – forceful, bound for resistance, and vocal when discontent about
discrimination. As I have aged, my investment in scholarship has grown to be the primary arm of my
activist life (and I have dropped “uppity crip activist” from my signature line).

My writing and speaking are as important activist expressions as my formal activist work, such as when I successfully fought for
an accessible testing center for students with disabilities to be built at the University of Florida. As of 2009, I took on the label sexologist after finishing my time in Morehouse School of Medicine’s Center of Sexual Health Scholar’s Program following completion of my Masters degree in Sexuality Studies at SF State. All together, these labels mean I am relentlessly vocal about the sexual and social value of disabled people. I may not be protesting as much, but my activist voice remains strong in me and will
always inform my scholarship. Disability culture and communities are a big part of my chosen family and home, my work will always be informed by these ethics.

Robin: What would you most like disabled people to know about sex, sexuality, and intimate relationships?

Bethany: It feels so simple yet deserves reiteration until the world knows this truth: disabled people are worthy of pleasure and love. We can give and receive pleasure in so many ways. Our bodies and minds sometimes require adaption to engage in sexual activities with us; those adaptions become
artful shifts away from “normal” modes of existence, opening up space to value different ways of being.
Meaning the ways we accommodate our bodies and minds can teach EVERYONE so much about sex – like communicating about where the body has sensation, slowing down to avoid triggering trauma for someone, or using specific strategies, like focused breath to enhance pleasure.

I love that if people got hip to disability and sex that this could be THE catalyst for a huge sexual awakening. While I wait for the massive awakening, I enjoy the moments of individual transformation and continue speaking to affirm disabled people’s sexual lives.

Robin: What would you most like nondisable people to know about disabled people’s experiences of sex, sexuality, or intimate relationships?

Bethany: Relax, we have sex or we don’t. Some of us are asexual, just like nondisabled people.

While it’s “cute” you might think it’s totally cool to ask a disabled stranger whether they can have sex – it’s not. Don’t be this person, please. Stop with the noise.

Disabled people are not all that different from the nondisabled people running around the planet. I’m not suggesting that disabled people do not experience unique structural and attitudinal barriers stemming from ableism, and other systems of
power associated with other identity markers. I am merely pointing to the fact that disabled people likely think of sex as much as others, we have been rejected, we have rejected people, life happens – and it doesn’t spare us because we walk with crutches or stim.

I would also encourage nondisabled people to query whether they find disabled people attractive. It’s important when doing this to unpack – or really describe – what disability looks like to the person. The key here is to figure out if disability is deemed attractive, why or why not AND where those feelings come from. I am not suggesting that everyone should be hot for me, for example, however when a
person has an all out ban against being attracted to disabled people there is something deeper going on.

Much like some authors have been saying the inclusion of “no fatties” or “no blacks” on Tindr profiles are reflections of fatphobia and racism, excluding disability just sets the same kind of prejudice into operation. Disability isn’t attractive because of ableist garbage we have been feed through various social means our entire lives.

One side-note: do not tell a disabled person or our friends that we are somehow either brave or going “to heaven” just for being us. Truthfully, before speaking these off the wall statements, think: “Would I like a stranger saying this to me?” before serving us microaggressions.

Robin: What are your favourite scholarly, activist, sexuality, or disability resources?

Bethany: Good grief, you know this is a hard one when you are a nerd. My most recent highly cited website is yours! The authors that have truly shaped me have been Marta Russell (wrote about how people make profit off disabled people), Barbara Waxman (named the need to politicize sexual pleasure of disabled people AND named disability hate), Laura Hershey (her artful poetry made me reconsider aspects of loving myself), Cory Silverberg (a true ally in the verb, not noun sense).

Robin: What are you working on right now?

Bethany: My nerd is showing again, because I am working on getting myself together to apply to PhD programs in sociology. There is a particular program that has a sexuality and gender focus that I am eager to start. I thrive on deadlines and generally in the classroom. I love teaching and with the degrees I have now, I am locked into teaching law and policy. While I appreciate those aspects of life, and bring them into my work, I need more space to talk about the social aspects of sexuality. That is where my
passion exists and I want to nurture it. Within the last year, my invited university talks have been focused on aspects of pleasure – how to politicize it and specific ways to achieve it. I am working on some projects with my friend and colleague Robin Wilson-Beattie (@sexAbled) that will take us into new audiences, which I am not ready to speak
of yet but would ask your readers to send some good energy to us. Our world needs more conversations on sexuality, because sexual health is central to our personhood, and our work is crucial to broadening those conversations to be inclusive of disability.

Bethany Stevens is a member of the inaugural class of Center of Excellence for Sexual Scholars program
at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), working under the 16th Surgeon General of the United States
Dr. David Satcher. From 2009-2013, she was a policy analyst and faculty member in the School of Public
Health (SPH) at Georgia State University. She continues to promote disability justice through disability
advocacy and independent scholarship.

To learn more about Bethany read her full
bio
and check out what she
would tell her teenage self about sexuality
.

You can find and dialogue with Bethany on Twitter.

Oct 092015
 

diane De Vries was born without arms and legs. This fast-paced, hard-hitting and beautifully honest documentary takes us through Diane’s life, through the ways the fear of her devoutly religious grandmother and the physical neglect of her mother shaped her childhood, through the ways being physically different impacts her interactions with others as an adult (she describes going to a networking luncheon where other participants asked about her wheelchair, but not about her work), her hopes and struggles, her experiences with intimate relationships and sexual expression. Some of her friends and attendants share their feelings and reactions to Diane, and their observations of how the rest of the world treats her.

What sets this story apart from other disability-related documentaries is Diane’s candid discussion of her experience in an abusive marriage.

I don’t think I ever felt like a victim, except when I was Jim’s victim.”
Jim was always my attendant as well as my husband, which I always hated. I thought that was the worst thing we could do to our relationship…
But he never wanted me to have an attendant.

He wanted the extra money.

He wanted to feel needed.

Disabled people are often at increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence, and diane’s experience ticks a lot of the boxes for abusive situations – isolation, enforced physical dependence, and financial dependence (the couple’s economic stability rested on diane’s agreeing to let her husband work as her attendant).

Diane describes how Jim would become violent when drunk, throwing things, hitting her, and shaming her for the physical help she needed from him, such as help using the toilet.

This was in the seventies, and there wasn’t much technology to help people with limited mobility to use the phone, leave the house, or otherwise leave an abusive situation without someone’s help. Diane was eventually able to leave, after a friend dropped by to visit during one of her husband’s violent attacks.

Diane De Vries is (or was, I haven’t yet been able to learn whether she is still alive) a fascinating woman.

This documentary is one of the only sources I was able to find in which her story is told in her own words.

You can learn more about her through the cultural biography Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America or through an essay (by the same author of the biography) published in Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics (Health Society And Policy).

Note

October is Domestic Violence awareness Month and this entry is part of a series of posts aimed at raising awareness about disabled people’s experience of domestic and intimate partner violence.