Feb 132017
 

(I first published this piece on another blog in April 2014 in response to an article on RH Reality Check – now called Rewire. It’s 2017 now. My writing voice is different. The way I analyze and critique issues is different.

Reproductive justice organizations are now making more of an effort to include disability and disabled people in their education and advocacy work.

…and I still stand behind everything I’ve said in this piece. Recent history is as important as long-ago history.

Advocates are doing better, but the kind of erasure I talk about here is still happening, which is why I’ve chosen to republish this essay.

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If we don’t remember history, we’re doomed to repeat it. That’s probably one of the first cliches I learned.

Instead, We should probably be saying: If we don’t do our research, and talk to a good cross-section of people, our understanding of history will be skewed and incomplete—and nothing good can come from that.

Not so catchy, but much more real.

We’re still leaving people out when we write histories.

Even supposedly inclusive, progressive narratives are excluding people’s realities.

Even progressive, thoughtful writers are leaving out key pieces.

As a visibly disabled woman, I’m particularly conscious of how the histories and realities of disabled people are often left out of dialogues which include the histories and realities of other marginalized groups. This stings a little every time I see it, not because it’s specifically my reality being left out (as a North-American born white woman with economic advantages it often isn’t, but because the minority groups discussing these realities aren’t doing their research. They’re not practicing what I think of as true inclusiveness, not just making sure all the voices are at the table, but including the histories and realities of those whose voices aren’t at this particular table. Yes, it’s a fine line between including those histories and speaking for the people those histories discuss (and, yes, we want to avoid speaking for or over others) but so long as we use documented fact and anecdote, we’re practicing due diligence.

Can we include every single person’s reality? Of course not. Someone will always be left out. We’re too individual, have too much amazing, beautiful diversity, to expect that every one of us will always be represented.

Yet entire populations, populations with well-documented histories and realities if one knows where to look, are still being left out.

I’ve been noticing this particularly in the reproductive justice movement – it makes me especially sad to see it here – and it was glaringly obvious as I was reading this position on proposed changes to consent requirements around sterilization published at RH Reality Check.

I’m pleased that the groups who put this position paper together are reminding the public about this country’s long history of reproductive abuses against women, and urging reproductive justice advocates not to be so quick to dismiss safeguards against those abuses. But am disappointed that such an aware, well-cited mini-history leaves out the well-documented experiences of disabled people.

Disabled women were one of the primary targets of involuntary sterilization laws, which fell under the umbrella of eugenics, and became particularly prevalent starting in the 1920s, yet this article mentions disabled women only once.

Any quick Google search will pull up references to online and offline resources about the unconsented/involuntary sterilization of disabled people.

This is not> a hidden history.

This history of eugenics and this archive from the Chicago Tribune are but two publicly available online resources, available to any interested party with a computer and Internet connection.

I found those on the first page of my Google search.

I’m disappointed that the organizations who signed this position paper left out this key part of history.
I’m disappointed that they seem to be following the common trend of rendering invisible any reality that doesn’t specifically speak to the one they’re trying to bring attention to.

While this article nicely addresses the pros and cons of a thirty-day waiting period before sterilization procedures—we’re not nearly far enough away from the days when sterilizations were incorporated into other medical treatments without patient consent to do away with safeguards—I do wish that the mention of women with disabilities that does exist wasn’t so perfunctory and one-dimensional.

This is the only reference to women with disabilities in the entire piece:

What improvements to the Medicaid sterilization consent form would reflect the needs of women with disabilities, limited English proficiency, and low literacy levels, who want sterilization?

This feels an awful lot like being talked about, while rendering our collective history invisible. In other words, we don’t get to be part of the history-telling (and in so doing be empowered to speak our truth) but we can fit into a bullet list of policy-considerations.

Not only does this single mention in an article all about something that has routinely happened to us erase our reality, but it reinforces the assumption that the relationship women with disabilities have to sterilization is unilateral, and always in the direction of exploring sterilization options. This reinforces the idea that women with disabilities are not capable of the full range of reproductive decisions that other women—other people–are capable of, and that we don’t, in the course of our lives, find ourselves considering and making that same range of decisions.

I can tell you that this just isn’t true. Disabled people worry about getting pregnant, make decisions about whether to parent, have abortions, feel a range of feelings about those abortions, experience unwanted pregnancies and unplanned parenthood, think about how many children they want to have, wind up having fewer or more than they’d intended, and all the other health and life circumstances that fall under the rubric of reproductive rights or reproductive justice.

Looking at the list of organizations which put this position paper together, I noticed a distinct lack of organizations run by women with disabilities or devoted to disability research. I reached out to my favourite grassroots women with disabilities thinktank Gimp girl, to find out if any organizations were in fact addressing reproductive justice for disabled people.

They pointed me to these groups:

Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD)
and The Initiative for Women With Disabilities.

Both look excellent, and I’m happy to have them in my virtual rolodex of research.

They don’t appear to be doing any significant cross-issue work, such as with other reproductive justice organizations, though, and reproductive justice organizations don’t appear to be looking critically at the place of disability or disabled people either.

It’s not an easy thing to critique the work of prominent reproductive justice organizations, particularly when what they’re calling for is critical dialogue.

However, When we have a position article that references secondary sources, and which was clearly researched and constructed thoughtfully, the absence of information right there in the open, ready for the taking by anyone, is disappointing and frustrating. The reduction of disabled women’s reproductive realities—no matter how unintentional—to how and whether they can access consent forms for sterilization is, again likely unintentionally, harmful.

How do we, I wonder, integrate the voices of people with disabilities, and awareness of our collective history, into the general reproductive justice conversation? How do we break down the barriers that make reproductive justice activists afraid or unwilling to include disability and disabled people’s role in the movement?

Jul 162015
 

I published this interview with Joan Price on another blog more than three years ago. Since then, I’ve met Joan several times, and she’s just as funny and smart in person.

Joan’s approach to sex and sexuality is a perfect fit here at Ready, Sexy, Able.

Not all the changes seniors go through will be related to disability, and people with disabilities are all ages. But I think there are similarities in the kinds of discussions seniors and disabled people have about sexuality and relationships – conversations about how, yes, we really are intrested in and able to do sexy things, and no, our sexiness or our interest in sexuality really isn’t gross.

***

Joan Price JoanPrice.com calls herself an “advocate for ageless sexuality”. She is the author of Naked
at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex
(Seal Press, 2011), Better
Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty
(Seal Press, 2006), and several books about health and fitness, including The
Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book: 300+ quick and easy exercises you can do whenever you want!
! Joan also speaks professionally about senior sex and about fitness. Visit Joan’s award-winning blog about sex and aging at Naked At Our Age. Joan lives in Sebastopol, California, where she teaches contemporary line dancing – which she calls “the most fun you can have with both feet on the floor.”

How did Joan start writing and speaking about senior sex? For fifteen years, Joan was a widely published health and fitness writer. Then at 57, after decades of single life, she fell deeply in love with artist Robert Rice, who was then 64. Their love affair was profound, joyful, and extremely spicy. Their passion, in contrast to society’s view of older people as sexless, led Joan at age 61 to write Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty (Seal Press, 2006) to celebrate the delights of older-life sexuality.
read more about Joan

You can also watch Joan talk about senior sex here!

A few months ago, I sat in on a phone interview with Joan,and found her one of the most personable, articulate, and delightful people I’ve ever virtually met. Her comppassionate but no-nonsense approach to sexuality is refreshing. Joan was kind enough to answer a few questions so I can share a little of her wisdom with you. Thank you Joan!

R.M. You’ve done a lot of things in your life, most of them relating to education in one way or another. I’m particularly interested in how your experience as a fitness professional and a sexuality educator interconnect. Do you think they do?

J.P. Yes, on many levels. bif we feel like we’re “in” our bodies, feeling the joy of movement and the way our muscles work, we enjoy both sex and exercise more. Physiologically, exercise increases blood flow not only to the muscles and the brain, but also to the genitals, enhancing arousal and sensation. Emotionally, the better we feel about our bodies, the more sensual and sexual we are able to be. And at our age, knowing we’re treating our bodies well will let us enjoy them more, overlooking wrinkles — I hope!
Also physical exercise is great foreplay! Robert and I always made time for walking or dancing as part of our foreplay. By the time we embraced in bed, we were already in sync with each other’s bodies and our own.

R.M. What are the three most important things you’d like seniors to know about their sexuality?
J.P. 1. Our youth-oriented society’s view of seniors who enjoy sex as icky, weird, pathetic, or ludicrous is wrong, wrong, wrong! Our sexuality can be pleasurable and joyful throughout our lives.

2. If something emotional or physical is interfering with your enjoyment of your sexuality, there are solutions available! That’s why I wrote Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex, because so many of us just accept our changes as inevitable, unchangeable, and too embarrassing to seek help for – and don’t know that solutions exist that can totally change our experience.

3. We as seniors need to talk out loud about our sexuality. That’s the way we can change both society’s view and enrich our own enjoyment by seeking information, learning what’s possible, and sharing that knowledge.

R.M. I notice that you use the terms “senior sex” and “ageless sexuality.” What would you particularly like younger people to know about sex and aging.

J.P. I know it’s part of youth to believe you’ll never be old, never be wrinkly or arthritic or have saggy skin, never fall out of love or lose a partner to cancer – but this all happens! The best “sex insurance” that a young person can have for a sexually gratifying older life is to learn about the changes, listen to elders about their experiences, and embrace older people who are willing to share with you. It’s a sign of deep maturity to welcome a dialogue with elders, and emotionally enriching, too.

R.M. …and if you could say a few words about what is coming up next for you, what your current projects are, that would be terrific!

J.P. Woo hoo! I’m very excited about my new project, editing an anthology of senior erotica! This will be a collection of stories and memoir essays by writers over fifty, featuring steamy characters over fifty. Think about it – why is erotica almost always about young, hot bodies? Is there an upper age limit to being sexy, wanting sex, caring about sex? I say no. Please see my Call for Submissions.

Update: Ageless Erotica was published in 2013. It’s available in paperback and e-book.

Further Reading

Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty and Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex are both availble in audio.

Joan’s latest book The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty: How to Maintain ? or Regain ? a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life is available in paperback, e-book, and audio