Nov 182015
 

Writer and sex educator Kaleigh Trace “works with words and dildos.”

I first met Kaleigh when she presented at the Guelph Sexuality Confrence on disability, desirability, and resistance. She’s thoughtful and charmingly funny in person, as well as an ace presenter. She’s also a refreshing voice in the sex and disability field, with lots of personal and professional experience behind her.

Kaleigh graciously answered some questions about her work for Ready, Sexy, Able. Thanks Kaleigh!

——–

Robin:You lecture and write a lot about sexuality and disability, but you’re also a sex educator at a feminist sex shop and you do some general disability awareness education, right? Can you tell us more about what you do? What does a typical Kaleigh work day look like?

Kaleigh:My days really vary all the time. Most days I endure doctors in the morning and sell sex toys in the afternoon, which I suppose is a pretty good balance of the bad and the good. I often teach workshops for Venus Envy in the evening, covering topics ranging from sex & disability to oral sex. And then it seems seasonally I find myself doing the really fun stuff of going to conferences and/or organizing around disability justice. Last winter a friend and I co-organized a protest to try and urge the city to more affectively clear the sidewalks, so that disabled folks could finally leave our homes (East Coast Canadian winters aren’t pretty). And then this past summer I presented at a different conference/festival every other week it seemed, which meant a lot of talking about disability politics with like-minded people.
I suppose that ultimately, my days aren’t typical. Which I like. And even though I am only occasionally doing big projects that advocate for disability justice & inclusion (like protests and presentations), I sort of feel like being a politicized disabled femme moving through the world means I am doing a little bit of advocating and a little bit of resisting all the time.

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

Kaleigh: Oh my. I’m not sure. As a younger, less self-assured disabled person I would have loved to have had older disabled peers around to tell me that my body is valuable, desirable, sexual and good in and of itself. In my experience, having a body that deviated from the norm made it more difficult for me to figure out how to love myself and how to explore my sexuality.
For folks who are already fully imbued with that knowledge…I hope people know to communicate. Talk, sign, text, blink – however communication works for you. Essentially, use your body to take the space you need. Ask for pleasure. Demand for access. Our capacity to communicate for ourselves about ourselves is such a powerful tool in exploring sex, sexuality and intimacy.

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

Kaleigh: Hm. Check yourself? Check the assumptions you have made about how bodies work and what bodies are desirable. Learn how to ask questions about comfort, positioning, needs, pleasure, access, all the things. Don’t assume that all bodies work the same, that all people require the same touch. Just check yourself.

Robin: Which writers and activists do you turn to over and over again for education or inspiration?

Kaleigh: I could reread the words of Mia Mingus, Eli Clare, and leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha over & over again. Reading other disabled activists writing about their experiences is the best way for me to feel kinship and to learn more about myself & my community. It’s a sweet relief and the perfect challenge all at once.
And then sometimes, I just watch youtube clips of Gillian Anderson being tough as fuck over and over again, because watching femmes get shit done is like listening to the perfect pump-up power jam.

Robin: What are you working on right now? What’s coming up for you in the next year?

Kaleigh: Good, hard question! I don’t totally know. I am reticent to speak about the future because it’s all a little murky. My book, Hot, Wet & Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex, has been alive in the world for just over a year now, and I am feeling really ready to move forward from it and write some new work to attach my name to. I would like to get back to blogging, after taking a small hiatus. I would like to travel more and connect with other disabled folks across Canada & the U.S.
I did just finish putting together a new website where I want to write new posts pertaining to sex but also all things disability related. I’m excited about that! You can now find me at KaleighTrace.com. My previous blog, The Fucking Facts, was really fun and brought a lot of success and positivity to my life. But I sometimes felt a bit required to only write about sex there, and I would like to have space on KaleighTrace.com to write about everything from orgasms to femme politics to disability survival. So, please check that out to learn about my future endeavors and new projects.

Aug 122015
 

Honesty, self-awareness, a wicked sense of humour, an unflinching sense of the ridiculous. You generally need all of these to be able to talk as candidly about your sex life as Kaleigh Trace has done in Hot, Wet, and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex.

These essays are about a lot more than talking about sex, though. They’re about love, and laughter, and what Kaleigh’s Grandma thought about the explicit language on her blog, and how to prepare for an interview at a sex toy shop (hint: you don’t need to be a sexual superstar), and first sexual experiences…

And through all of these stories, there’s pure, playful honesty about being disabled in a world that doesn’t easily accept people who are visibly diferent.

Hot, Wet, and Shaking is full of delicious details that made me feel like I was right there with the author. I feel like I could be right there with her when she’s talking about that time she pulled a sex ed prop out of her purse – in the middle of the grocery store (A Bag Full of Dicks). Reading Looking For Blood,I feel right along with her the fear and frustration of needing reproductive healthcare in a world that wants to make that hard to get, and wants you to keep it a secret. I nod knowingly as she describes her first crush on a woman: “My attraction was so painfully visceral that for a short time I was truly convinced not that I was gay, but that I had the stomach flu.”

Other stories share some of Kaleigh’s sexual misadventures (And The Warmth Spread Over Us), her awesome-sounding bike and it’s wobbly rider (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Tricycle), a delicious (in my humble opinion) piece of erotica written in a fit of frustration that there are almost no sexy stories about disabled people.

The Lady and the Butch is a contender for one of my favourite stories. It’s so delightful, I wish it were true – 100% all the way true. Really, an older lady coming in to buy her first vibrator ever, because her “queer lesbian” granddaughter told her to? It doesn’t get much more novel, and amusing, and ultimately touching than that.

But Kaleigh, while she wants to share with us the awesome experiences she’s had and self-discoveries she’s made since starting to work for Venus Envy takes her customers’ privacy seriously, so all store-related stories are fiction based on real-life people and events.

Where this book really shines is in the stories in which Kaleigh is being unfailingly vulnerable with us – not just because she’s usually talking about sex – though that’s great too – but because she shares parts of herself that make her uniquely her, and she sheds light on sexual stories and scripts we don’t usually get to hear but which are a part of a lot of people’s lives.

Fresh-Faced and Orgasm Free is some of the best writing in this book. It’s so much more than a “how I learned to masturbate” story. Kaleigh shares what it’s like to grow up with physical disabilities, to grow up interacting with her body in mostly medical ways. She describes lerning how to drain her urine through a catheter, how she became familiar with her genitals as a place she needed to manage.

As an adult she realizes: Touching myself was so common that it was hard to imagine it as a sexual experience. It was functional,
not hot. Necessary, not fun.”

Trying to learn about masturbation through the sex guides she sells at work, she realizes that none of them really speak to her experience. They all assumed that bodies work in certain ways…that all people can use their fingers to circle their clits, that everyone’s nerve endings fire in pretty much the same ways. “It occurred to me that perhaps I had yet to learn my way of coming because all the step-by-step methods I was reading, all the porn I had watched, and all the sex I had had thus far had not considered my disability.”

There’s so much more I’d like to tell you about this book, about the lyrical ways Kaleigh describes her body, about her observations of and fears around fitting into queer culture, about just how complex and unexpected the piece of erotica was.

But I’m not allowed to copy the book out here, so I’ll just encourage you to get it for yourself.

Thanks so much to Invisible Publishing for giving me an electronic copy of this terrific book.

Click here to hear the author reading from her work.

Jul 152015
 

Last month I attended the 37th Annual Guelph Sexuality Conference.

The lineup was amazing, and I learned so much – about consent, about community-based research with youth who have HIV, about how to use gender-neutral language to talk about sexuality and relationships – and about sexuality and disability.

Kaleigh Trace presented Desirability as Resistance: Reading Disability Differently, the presentation title that finally got me to stop dithering and register for the conference.

I had just read Kaleigh’s sexy, funny, thought-provoking book and was excited to meet her and learn more from her.

Workshop Description:

The aim of this workshop is to critically examine our internalized (and often ableist) ideas about what it means to be disabled, and rewrite these constructs by looking at some of the work being done by radical disability activists today. In particular we will examine disabled activists who work to be visibly sexual. As such, this workshop will benefit all folks who work with people with disabilities and any individuals working in sex ed. through a look at disability and sexuality.

One of the beautiful things about this session was how open and comfortable it felt to be there. Kaleigh got her participants laughing, and gave us plenty to think about, but where she really shines as a presenter is in presenting enough information, and asking the right questions, to spark open and emotionally safe participant conversations. I think we learned as much from each other as we did from her, and most people felt able to share experiences and opinions that made them more vulnerable to the rest of us. Kaleigh also does not set herself up as an authority. She was very clear with us that she speaks about what she’s learned and experienced, from her perspective as a disabled white cisgender woman – hers are not the only opinions or lived realities.

Kaleigh introduced us to the justice model for understanding and talking about disability. Two of the most well-known models of disability are the medical and social models. The medical model focuses on “fixing” disabilities, and people who follow it tend, in general, to ignore the expertise and abilities of disabled people themselves. The social model teaches that society’s prejudice and lack of physical access and acceptance is what disables people, but fails to take into account that many people are disabled by pain or illness, individual situations that society, as a whole, can’t do anything about. A justice model of disability, helps us look not only at the social roots and causes discrimination and exclusion of disabled people, but also the individual histories, experiences, and identities that shape each person’s life.

We talked about desirability, about how we’re taught that disability is the opposite of beautiful or attractive – that any body that doesn’t conform to beauty standards is automatically considered less than. Beauty standards are different from culture to culture, and have definitely changed over time. Right now in Western cultures, beauty standards are hinged on the ability to conform, to be symmetrical (or, at least, to be asymmetrical in a chic way), to be willing to put your body on display in some way (not necessarily through showing skin), to move and present ourselves only in ways that are pleasing to other people (and it seems to be assumed that everyone will find the same, or similar things, pleasing, appealing, or even sexy).

Kaleigh took us on a quick, informal tour of what desirability has looked like – at least the forms of desirability that have been passed down to us through paintings and, later, photos – through the last 500 years in Western cultures, a look she summarized as “people in hats and dresses.” These looks are modest by modern standards. They also force bodies to conform, by covering them up and making them look the same. It’s hard to see certain kinds of disability and difference when a body is covered by fabric, sometimes from head to toe.

The kinds of clothing that are seen as desirable now, and over, say, the past sixty years, bring attention to the body, and show differences between bodies.

What we find attractive to look at hasn’t quite caught up with this trend, so that when people see more of a disabled or different body, and it doesn’t fit into the beauty or sexual attraction standard, they clasify it as ugly, or even nonsexual.

When disabled people talk about sex, especially about their own sexuality, when we change the stories about what and who is desirable by including ourselves or other disabled people, we’re turning our desirability into an act of resistance.

Resistance is a tricky thing. We talked a lot about what it is, what it looks like, and whether we actually want to do it.

Do we want to challenge stereotypes of how we’re supposed to behave or what we should say just for the sake of challenging stereotypes?

If, in resisting these stereotypes, we’re acting in ways that have us not being true to ourselves, are we really resisting what’s expected of us? Or, are we just performing a different kind of conformity?

Further Reading

Kaleigh’s book: Hot, Wet, and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk about Sex

Some of Kaleigh’s picks for “rad disabled activists”

More sexuality and disability resources.