Mar 102018
 

The Internet is giant! It’s a library that will never get full (at least, I hope it won’t) and has decades of material. Most of us can barely get through news (fake or not) and opinions posted each day, let alone find the gems of the past. This week’s post is from Dave Hingsburger, published way back in 2006. (I think that makes it about 500 years old in Internet-time.) Dave started his blog that year, and has been writing, almost daily, since then.

I’ve written before about how much I admire Dave’s work.

He was one of the first to publicly (at great risk to his career) give voice to the fact that people with developmental or intellectual disabilities are sexual beings, that they have the right to have their loves and desires acknowledged and supported.

Here he is, doing that support.

Today I’m going shopping for a dildo and a butt plug – on work time, on a work mission. There are times I love working in the area of sexuality. This is one of them.

The weird thing is that when I’m actually in the store looking for the purchase, I get kind of shy. I want to yell out “I’M HERE IN A PROFESSIONAL CAPACITY AS A THERAPIST WORKING WITH THOSE WHO ONCE HAD THEIR SEXUALITY REPRESSED – THESE ARE NOT FOR ME!!!”

Read the rest of this terrific post.

Jan 182018
 

It happens when parents send their gay children to “conversion therapy” to “turn them straight.” It happens when doctors withhold sexual health information, or sterilize a patient without that patient’s informed consent. It happens when the medical establishment performs medically unnecessary surgeries on babies because their genitals and other sex characteristics don’t match what medical textbooks say is “normal.” It happens when people with disabilities are denied sex education, or when disabled adults’ relationships are laughed off as “cute little friendships.” It happens when disabled people’s caregivers forbid relationships, separate lovers, and punish sexual exploration.

What happens?

People, usually people in power (like parents and teachers and doctors) are sending the loud and clear message: “We get to decide who you will be. We get to pass judgment on the essence of who you are.”

It’s not limited to people in power, though. Random strangers on the street make decisions about other people’s sexual choices, and sexual expression – it leads to everything from verbal taunts to profoundly horrific acts of violence.

What does this say? It says that the people around us – the ones we trust (or are supposed to trust), and the ones we don’t even know that some of those people believe they own our bodies.

This judgment, this control, this manipulation or ridicule – it all snapped into focus for me when I read this blog post from Dave Hingsburger, drawing parallels between the criminalization of LGBQ and transgender folks and the absolute, often punishing control, that’s been exerted over the sexual lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

It’s the idea of ownership, that people who make these sweeping and controlling judgments of sexual expression are acting like they own another person’s body, as if it’s right and normal to take this ownership, as if they have, or want, “ownership over another persons body, another persons heart and another persons choices.”

Jun 272017
 

Graphic of a hand making a thumbs-up gesture.A week ago I snuck into the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals Webinar on supporting people with intellectual disability who are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, or something else under the label of LGBTQ+. It felt like sneaking because I don’t work with folks with intellectual or developmental disability, directly or otherwise, but, actually, I signed up like everyone else. I’d heard about the Webinar on Dave Hingsburger‘s blog and I wanted to hear what he and the other panelists had to say.

I didn’t want to take a spot from someone who needed to be there for their work, so I signed up five minutes before the talk was scheduled to start, figuring that would make everything fair! :-)

Why did I go if I’m not a direct support professional? Promoting healthy sexuality for everyone is what I do. These conversations we’re having online are just the tiniest, tiniest part of what’s happening with disabled people’s sexualities in the world. If I can be a voice, no matter how small, to bring some of that into the light, I will.

I’m not going to go through all the facts and statistics they covered in this talk. They’re all in this article (this is a PDF file) from the International Journal For Direct Support Professionals.

Don’t be put off by the word journal. This one’s easy to read – not full of scholarly words and long rambly sentences. Basically, it looks like this journal is written for busy people who need the facts as quickly as possible!

But, there were a few interesting tidbits from the Webinar I’d like to share.

***

It shouldn’t still need saying, but people with developmental disabilities are entitled to the same rights as all people; including (from the journal article linked above):

  • Sexuality and sexual expression
  • Dignity and respect
  • Privacy, confidentiality and freedom of association
  • Access sexual education reflective of their cultural, religious and moral values

That people with intellectual disabilities haven’t been respected in these ways has lead to tremendous harm. Dave told the story of a client who had grown up in an institution, but was living in the community when Dave met him. The client was deeply depressed, though most of his care team decided he was just unmotivated. Dave and other supportive staff eventually learned that this man had had a long-term relationship with another man with intellectual disability when he lived in the institution. This man was grieving the loss of his lover. Once understanding staff members new what was going on, the lovers were reunited.

That story had a happy ending, but it just as well could not have – and the ending might not have been any happier if the couple in question was heterosexual.

The denial that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities even have a sexuality runs so deep that just asserting their desire and right to date someone can be like them “coming out” – no matter what their sexual orientation is. For a person with an intellectual disability, just announcing that they have a crush, or are in love, or have sexual feelings and desires is met with disbelief, ridicule, rejection, punishment – no matter the gender of their crush object or lover.

***

This panel worked on answering: How do people with intellectual disabilities know it’s safe to talk about their sexual orientation and sex and sexuality in general?

A few quotes that jumped out at me related to how folks work with their clients:

“If you haven’t made yourself a clear ally, you’re not an ally.”

“People in your care need to feel safe from you.”

“It’s my job to earn their trust not their job to give me their trust.”

“When you push someone to have a conversation, that just becomes another kind of abusive act.”

Allow people (applies just as well to friends or family as to clients) to come forward when they feel most comfortable.

Show acceptance and willingness to listen by being nonjudgmental in other areas of their lives.

For example: Avoid judgmental comments on their preferences, such as that they shouldn’t put jam on their peanut butter and toast because it has too many calories. (Support professionals are their to support adults with intellectual disabilities with living their lives to the fullest. That means not micromanaging or taking autonomy away – making sure these adults have choices, and access to whichever choice they choose. )

People will not trust you with the bigger stuff if you’re always harping at them about the smaller things.

Direct support professionals were encouraged to figure out who will be the carrier of sexuality information at their agency. Talking about sex and sexuality is something most people are pretty bad at, and giving the right information to clients with intellectual disabilities means being able to talk comfortably about sex and comunicate details in ways clients will understand and remember.

I really appreciated how honest and down-to-earth the speakers were – acknowledging that sexuality is messy to talk about in general,. We’re dealing with all sorts of social taboos, as well as the wrong-headed thinking that has governed the way the sexuality of people with intellectual disabilities has been “managed” for centuries. That’s not something anyone can reverse overnight, or through a journal article and an hour long panel discussion. I also appreciated that they acknowledged that many agencies serving adults with intellectual disabilities still have restrictive policies around acknowledging sexuality, and that staff at those agencies probably weren’t being given access to educational seminars like this one.

Postscript

As I was putting this post together, I came across this piece published in Slate last week. Really impressed with how the writer and editor chose to put this together, with the voices of folks with intellectual disability front and center.

Postscript the Second

The overall theme of this Webinar and the accompanying journal article was pride, and the article has one of the best, most direct, answer to the question: “Why isn’t there a straight pride day?” I’ve ever seen:

Because heterosexuality has never been outlawed, punished, or considered a mental illness and being heterosexual has never been cause for a child to be thrown out of a family, or for someone to lose their job or their home.

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.

Aug 282015
 

Then my behaviour therapist called, I asked him how to get a girl friend, he said he’d draw up a plan with a step by step process.

Did you know that there are 176 steps that you need to climb in order to get out of loneliness.

That’s a lot. Loneliness can feel like a deep pit can’t it?

One Step Out Of Loneliness, Dave Hingsburger

Watch this animated film from Dave Hingsburger It’s safe for work unless your workplace objects to words like sex and penis.

Read the transcript here. or watch below.