GEN Silent Trailer 2.0 from Stu Maddux on Vimeo.
Images of Boston (I believe) during autumn and early winter.
Lawrence, who is identified in promotional material as a “gay older person who searched to find a nursing home where he could openly feed his partner [Alexandre] and hold hands”, is a Black man in his mid-60s. Read more about Lawrence and Alexandre. He is walking across a park in autumn.
Title: A Stu Maddux Film
Lawrence throws rocks into a lake.
Title: Gen Silent
Lawrence: A lot of people believe that you just live happily ever after and that just… is a myth.
Title: The generation that fought hardest to come out is going back in to survive.
Image changes to Lawrence feeding his partner, Alexandre, who is a older white man in his 80s. He and Lawrence had been together for over 38 years at the time the film was made.
Image changes to Sheri and Lois, an older white lesbian couple living in Boston. Read more about Sheri, Lois, and their history of activism. They are being interviewed in their home.
Lois: People like ourselves, older, are hiding in nursing homes or whatever because they are scared to death.
Bob Linscott, a white man, maybe in his 50s? He works for the LGBT aging project, focusing on Café Emmanuel. According to promotion material for the film, it is the community meal program specifically for LGBT elders and their friends.: It’s incredibly common to go back into the closet again.
Image changes to an older white man, Ralph, being pushed in a wheelchair.
Lawrence (at home, surrounded by photos): You just know when they don’t want you there.
Image changes to Lawrence and Alexandre in the hospital.
Dale Mitchell, Ethos Executive Director. He looks to me like he’s a white man in his 40s.: We’ve heard about homemakers going in, taking out a bible and having the elder pray, and asking for forgiveness.
Lisa Krinsky. She’s a white woman in an office surrounded by files, and works for LGBT Aging Project.: And to be cured. It’s not too late for you to be cured of this. They go back in the closet. She might mistreat me or abuse me.
Image changes to the sun setting over the snow.
Image changes to a close-up of Alexandre’s face. He looks confused and sad.
Dale: They’re so afraid they’re resisting any kind of medical attention.
Image flashes to photos of younger men in uniform and wearing suits & ties.
Lisa: The person was in their mid-20s during the McCarthy era.
Image of a newspaper reports. Headline: Perverts Called Government Peril: Gabrielson, G.O.P. Chief, says they are dangerous as Rads – Truman’s Trip Hit. (New York Times)
Another Newspaper Report: 5 Accused in Korea Quit. All State Department Empoyees – 4 called Perverts.
Closeup of newspaper: Perverts
Dale: The closet was the norm.
Bob: They could lose their job. They could lose families.
Image changes to photos of Lois & Sheri, much younger, in black and white.
Sheri: We were sick, we were considered sick.
Image changes to black and white film of people in a psychiatric hospital. Shows intake, shows someone being prepped for electroshock therapy.
Lisa: People were involuntarily hospitalized in psychiatric facilities.
Image changes to KrysAnne, a white trans woman who was 59 years old at the time of filming. She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. You can read more about KrysAnne, but please note that the blog post includes the transphobic and transmisogynistic things her family wrote to her after her transition. KrysAnne is shown in her home with pictures of her family.
KrysAnne: Even electroshock.
[Newscaster from the 50s? or 60s, with images of people being prepared for electroshock therapy.]: The degradation of these sort of people is so complete that their sex satisfaction comes only in being tortured themselves.
Ralph, in his home: I was en route to the nutfarm.
Image changes to black and white photo of a young man.
Lisa: There’s a real distrust of mainstream institutions.
Lois: I would never put myself in danger.
Alexandre: I love you.
Lawrence: He became much more fearful of people knowing he was gay.
Close up of photo of Lawrence and Alexandre together.
Alexandre: You’re not leaving now, are you?
Image changes to Lawrence & Alexandre in the hospital together.
Lawrence: Not right now.
Images of KrysAnne receiving cancer treatments, including her looking out of a window, and receiving an IV drip.
Jenifer Firestone, woman in her 40s, coordinator and caregiver at Dr. Matthew S. Shwartz Hospice and Palliative Care: LGBT elders are more likely than the general population to age alone, because many gay elders have never had children, have not had great relationships with their family of origin. There would be a higher degree of sorts of alienation and isolation.
Ralph writing letters in his home while sitting in a wheelchair.
Image of KrysAnne in the hospital receiving cancer treatments. She’s on a ventilator. It also shows pictures of her family.
KrysAnne: My family was the reason I existed and I lost them all. If they ever choose to catch up before I die, I welcome them.
Image of KrysAnne being wheeled in on a gurney for her treatments, followed by her undergoing radiation treatment.
Jenifer: The LGTB aging issues are an epidemic.
Lisa: There’s a small and growing group of us.
Image changes to a hall full of older people eating at a dinner, being addressed by Bob.
Dale: We’re trying to go into the existing network so they become more inclusive.
Bob: One of the most common lines we get is “We don’t have any gay elders here.”
Image is of a fast-moving train, then focuses on Lawrence riding the train.
Lawrence: If I wasn’t the only person responsible for Alexandre I would have ended my life.
KrysAnne: This is our life.
Image changes to a pride parade. Women are holding signs and shouting and waving. Signs include “The Old and the Beautiful! Senior Pride Coalition”.
Woman shouting: Good to see you. Hi!
Full crowd is shouting and waving back, smiling.
Young man: We’ll be there in a few years!
Image changes to Sheri & Lois’ home. Sheri is taking a chair lift up a set of stairs, singing: I build a stairway to paradise with a new step every day!
Image changes to Sheri & Lois at dinner.
Sheri: We have a whole generation of people who don’t know who we are. That’s really sad, because you’re missing out on a lot.
Dance party with older people, close up on the DJ who is an older person wearing rainbow glowsticks.
Sheri: We know a lot.
Older people dancing at the dance party.
Sheri: We did a lot for you. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for us!
More dancing, now with balloons!
Image changes to Lawrence stroking and massaging Alexandre’s hand in the hospital.
Alexandre: Look at how scrawny they are. Too bad I don’t have an open casket.
Lawrence: There’ll be no open casket. There won’t be anything, alright?
Image changes back to Sheri and Lois.
Dale: If we are saying come out and be filled with pride it’s our responsibility to make sure that continues right through their last day.
Image changes to KrysAnne outside her home.
Image changes to Ralph in his home.
Image changes to Lawrence & Alexandre in the hospital.
Title: Gen Silent
I wanted to love this book, I really did. I have enjoyed the couple of Julie Ellis novels I’ve read, but this one just tipped the charming/not happening scale a bit far. It has a really strong heroine in Vicky, who escapes the Russian pogroms to build a new life in America, trying to negotiate a difficult family situation and life as a prominent businesswoman. But there are lots of issues in this book that really grated, for example, every time a black servant is given an order, Ellis always points out how they were delighted to do it.
I’d just like to focus on the disability issues for now, though. There are many, not least with the disability-as-punishment trope cropping up at the end when the antagonist of the piece, Vicky’s son, has a stroke and is paralysed. He’s then housed in the cottage in which his mentally ill father shot himself. The very same cottage in which he kept Vicky while pretending she had a mental illness because he didn’t like the direction in which his mother was taking the company. Yep, it’s a bit of an intense novel.
But what I really want to talk about is the characterisation of Anita Roberts. Anita is married to Mark, a man Vicky falls in love with. So, naturally, she has to be a deceptive, evil shrew because that is the way “the other woman” gets sympathy in romance fiction. Except, she’s a wheelchair user, so it gets a lot more… interesting.
At first, Anita is set up as a martyr, the victim of a tragic accident who is doted on by her charming husband. They are a ‘special couple,’ Vicky is given to understand, and Anita is the darling of their social circle. As it turns out, she’s shrewd and conniving. She uses the excuse of the accident to deny her husband sex, even though the doctors said that they could have an ‘almost normal sex life’! It turns out that Anita never really wanted sex before the accident either, and now her horrible cruelty of not wanting sex has been unleashed! How terrible! It couldn’t possibly be the case that Anita doesn’t owe Marc sex, and she has become confident enough in herself to not engage with a sexual life she doesn’t really want. No, indeed. It is all about Marc’s pain and setting up his affair with Vicky. Anita’s not wanting sex gets to be the strange part, gets to be part of her evil scheme against poor Marc.
So, we’ve got the good crip who turns out to be hiding a deeply bitter and nasty nature. That’s old hat. But it was quite something to see that set up with a gendered aspect, too. Anita’s out to disparage Marc’s achievements and interests constantly, and she forces him to do ‘whatever she asks’ because otherwise he’s a terrible husband to his tragically beautiful and “damaged” wife. I suggest we identify a new trope, the Bad Shrewish Crip. The perfect mix of misogyny and ableism, out now at a bookstore near you.
But I really start to grit my teeth when we bring Anita’s Jewishness into it, because she perfectly fits the JAP stereotype. The Jewish American Princess is held to be a nagging, high maintenance woman with expensive taste and no sense of how irritating she is. And Anita is a JAP all over: she pokes fun at Vicky for having been a maid, loves designer clothing, and ends up forcing her husband to move to London as it is the only ‘civilised’ city on Earth. She’s simply set up as the most horrible conglomeration of disability, gender and racial/ethnic/cultural/religion stereotyping I have encountered in quite some time. The Bad Shrewish Jewish Crip, maybe?
So, in short: wanted to like it, feel kind of bad saying this because I like the author, but for goodness’ sake, this was one of the more frustrating reads of my year, and that is really saying something.]]>
An alarming number of gay youth have committed suicide in the United States in recent weeks. There were probably more than I listed here; there tend to be disparities in what the media does and doesn’t report. Rates of suicide and suicide attempts among queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual, and gay (QUILTBAG) youth are estimated at approximately one and a half to three times that of the general youth population and possibly even higher; there aren’t nearly enough studies and there’s a particular dearth of studies when it comes to trans youth and youth of colour (.pdf, sorry). My friend Kirya Traber refers to this as an ‘epidemic’ and I think that’s an appropriate word to use; if you have a population dying at a rate that stark, it’s an epidemic.
Seth Walsh was a 13 year old middle school student in California. Walsh was experiencing bullying in school, the school knew about it and did nothing, and his parents withdrew him from school, putting him on independent study. Despite not being in school, he was still bullied. He attempted to hang himself and hovered on life support for nine days before dying.
Asher Brown was 13 too, a middle school student in Texas. His parents couldn’t afford designer shoes and he was mocked for his sexuality and his clothing. On the day before his death, he was pushed down a flight of stairs at the school. His parents filed multiple claims with the school requesting action on bullying. Nothing was done. The night before he died, he seemed sad, but when his parents asked him what was wrong, he said nothing. He shot himself in the head.
Caleb Nolt was 14, a high school student in Indiana. He was a twin, and enjoyed working on building projects and baking cookies.
Billy Lucas was 15, a freshman at a high school in Indiana. Again, school officials were notified about bullying. He endured years of teasing because he was gay. On the day of his death, he started fighting back against the bullies when they harassed him in class and he was suspended for it. He hung himself in the family barn.
Harrison Chase Brown was a 15 year old Colorado high school student. He was interested in history, volunteering with local historical organisations, and he loved music and art. An organ donor, he gave his heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and a lung after his death.
Cody J. Barker was 17, a high school student in Wisconsin. He was an activist who wanted to start a gay-straight alliance at his school despite the fact that he experienced bullying for his sexual orientation. Like me, he enjoyed watching James Bond and listening to Lady Gaga.
Felix Sacco was a 17 year old high school senior in Massachusetts. A guitar player, he was described as ‘quiet’ by many people who knew him. He threw himself from an overpass.
Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old college student at Rutgers. Classmates filmed him without consent during a sexual encounter and posted the film online. He asked for help and didn’t get it; in fact, some helpful Internet commenters even suggested that his roommate was unsafe around him because he was gay. He jumped off a bridge.
Raymond Chase, 19, was a college student in Rhode Island. He was out, proud, and enjoyed Harry Potter and dancing. Despite appearing happy on the surface to many of his friends, he hung himself in his dorm room.
One school district in Minnesota has experienced seven suicides in the last year, four of which involved gay students and bullying. One of them was Justin Aaberg, 13, who hung himself in July.
These young people were all failed by the people with a responsibility to protect them. Anti-bullying campaigns repeatedly tell young people to report bullying to teachers, and tell young people who witness bullying to report it, and to speak up about it if they feel comfortable and safe doing so. In all of these cases, there were documented patterns of bullying going on, including physical assaults in some cases. Classroom disruptions. School officials were clearly aware that something was going on, and they did nothing to support the endangered students in their midst. When the core of an anti-bullying campaign is ‘report it’ and reporting it does nothing, that sends a pretty clear message to people who are experiencing bullying in schools.
Knowing that students are being abused and threatened, knowing that suicide rates are especially high among QUILTBAG youth, school districts should not be standing by. Dealing with bullying is complicated, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s clear that many of these districts provided no support for endangered youth and those youth paid a high price for it. The solution to bullying often seems to be to allow (or force) the bullied student to withdraw from school, or isolating the bullied student in other ways, rather than confronting and addressing the abusive behaviour. Or the recommendation is to suspend the bullies, which is not the right solution either.
In 1986, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said:
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
He was talking about the willful ignorance cultivated about concentration camps in the 1940s, pointing out that the same could be said about many ongoing human rights violations. The skyrocketing death rates among QUILTBAG youth in the United States are an epidemic. They are a human rights violation. They are an atrocity. They are a smear upon the already tattered reputation of the United States. For all the talk of freedom and equal protection under the law, youth cannot even be safe in schools.
We especially need to talk about violence against transgender youth and skyrocketing rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The recent suicides have gotten a great deal of press coverage, which gives me hope for having a national conversation about this issue, but it’s important to avoid leaving trans folks in the cold; like many transgender people, this is a personal issue for me. While seeking out stories for this piece, I couldn’t find any news stories specifically focused on suicide among transgender youth and it’s important to be aware that our suicides are often not reported or are reported confusingly, making it hard to raise awareness and keep accurate statistics.
Youth advocates all over the United States are working with QUILTBAG youth, and many are working directly in schools. I think we need more of them, more people creating safe spaces for endangered youth, more people calling school administrations up on the carpet for their inaction, more people creating a framework for resistance to bullying in schools. It’s clear that school districts will not change from within, and that those that do want to change have no idea about how to do it; getting more advocates into schools feels like the only concrete thing I can suggest in the face of this epidemic taking my QUILTBAG siblings.
If you’re a QUILTBAG youth in need of suicide counseling, please call the Trevor Hotline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR
The We Got Your Back Project is a new project to reach out to QUILTBAG youth that could use some support!]]>
People with disabilities, especially women, have all the same pressures currently non-disabled people do to look “good enough”, with added bonus of being either non-sexualised or hyper-sexualised, as well as having people infantize them to an incredible degree.
Talking about disability and self-esteem and body image is very difficult for me. People look at me and see a woman without a disability (or a woman with a non-evident one), and I pass. I don’t get the odd looks that a woman of my age (or younger, or older) using a cane or crutches would. I don’t get the pats on the head that women who use wheelchairs report, and I don’t have people leaping out of the way when I’m using a motorized scooter.
But at the same time, women like me are often used as stand-ins for “horrible”. Whether that’s the simple of “she took off her glasses and suddenly she was beautiful!”, or the more complicated of “oh my gosh! the woman I had sex with is actually a crazy person! Quick, let us make many movies about crazy = bunny-boiler = grotesque!”, I’m well aware that women like me are bad, ugly inside, and unacceptable.
These things add a whole other layer to the conversations that many women, feminist and non, have about self esteem and body image. We are all inundated with the constant barrage of White, Long-Haired, Slender (But Not Too Slender), Tall (But Not Too Tall), Unblemished, Healthy-looking, Young women in most advertising and fashion spreads, television shows, movies, and even on our book covers.1
At the same time, though, poster children and the pity parade are a fairly common image of disabled children – whether with visible or non-evident disabilities – that present people with disabilities as weak, as undesirable, as needing of pity – and always, always, always, as children. Very rarely are images of self-possessed, happy, disabled adults shown, unless they are in one of the “he’s so brave” “look at what she’s overcome” news stories.
I don’t know how this affects other people, or how they deal with it. I know that when Don first got his cane, and then his wheelchair, his self-esteem and image of himself took a hit, and it took a while for me to convince him that yes, I still found him attractive (and I can’t tell you how much I love that wheelchair, since my sexy sexy husband now has energy!). I know for me it would be nice to see images of Actual Crazy Women who aren’t mockeries of women like me, but treated like actual people. It would be nice to see casual fashion spreads with people with evident disabilities in them, rather than only seeing “diversity matters!” posters that include maybe one (male) wheelchair user, usually white.
As I said, I find these things very hard to talk about, because in many ways I don’t even know where to start. While to some extent discussing pop culture and representations there is important, how do we, as individuals, deal with our own self-esteem issues? How do we, as a group, tackle the constant attacks on people with visible disabilities to hide parts of themselves? Make yourself more approachable by putting sparkles on your cane! Soup up your wheelchair and maybe someone will ask you a question! Hide your obvious aid-devices so that they don’t offend people! Cake on make-up so no one can see your scars!
I think there’s so much here to talk about. Please, tell me your thoughts.
Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report, ‘As if We Weren’t Human,’ on the violence, isolation, and discrimination experienced by women and children with disabilities in Uganda. Northern Uganda is emerging from decades of conflict, and as the country works on rebuilding itself, disability rights advocates are very concerned about the role of people with disabilities in Ugandan society. The report documents the conditions for many people with disabilities living in Uganda, and challenges the government to take a more active role in protecting its disabled citizens.
It’s worth noting that several other African nations are in positions similar to Uganda’s, and the findings of the report may be more widely applicable. The report highlights the consequences of leaving the most vulnerable members of society to fend for themselves.
It is estimated that around 20% of the population in Uganda is disabled. Many of those disabilities are acquired as a direct result of the nation’s conflict; women have lost limbs to landmines, been paralysed by bullets, and have developed disabilities in the wake of things like polio infections caused by a complete breakdown in vaccination programmes. Some women have injuries inflicted during the conflict as punishment, such as having their noses and ears cut off for ‘collusion.’ War tends to be brutal, and it tends to leave distinctive disabilities behind, both increasing the number of people with disabilities in society and making it easy for people to identify people who have lived through the war, an issue that can come with its own set of problems.
Women with disabilities trying to integrate into society are facing an uphill battle as they attempt to leave refugee camps and return to their communities, find ways to support themselves, and struggle with the fact that many communities have been shattered and the extensive social support networks that once existed are gone now. Poverty is a chronic problem for many disabled women that makes it even harder for them to access services they need. Disconnection and fragmentation of society has very serious consequences for people who need networks of people to survive, including both people who are attempting to establish full autonomy for themselves, and people who need full time care and assistance.
The report also documents that women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual violence, sometimes repeatedly, and that they lack access to reproductive health services. People with disabilities cannot even get HIV testing to determine if they’ve been infected after being raped. Other gender-based violence and abuse has also been widely documented; as in the rest of the world, people with disabilities are more at risk of experiencing physical violence as well as emotional abuse. Psychological issues often nip at the heels of people subjected repeatedly to sexual and physical violence, creating the risk of a mental health crisis in Uganda.
Discrimination against people with disabilities is also widespread; for example, a woman with HIV named Candace says “I cannot bathe near others. My neighbors think that the water that comes off me has HIV in it. They say I will get the community sick if they touch the water.” Some of the discrimination stems from ignorance, the result of inadequate education and outreach, two common problems in communities torn by war that don’t have the time or personnel to be providing these kinds of services. Other discrimination is the result of unchallenged social attitudes, made harder to challenge by the isolation of people with disabilities. When people aren’t interacting with the subjects of their discrimination on a daily basis, it’s much harder to break down the beliefs and attitudes that contribute to the perpetuation of that discrimination.
The report concludes that the government and NGOs working in Uganda need to take a more active role in ensuring that people with disabilities are not left behind during recovery efforts. This includes actively working on accessibility issues in Uganda, educating government representatives and health care providers about disability issues, and fighting discriminatory attitudes with education and outreach. As it is, people with disabilities are already being left out, and there’s a lot of catching up to do to address the situation before it gets even worse.
Social attitudes like those highlighted in the Human Rights Watch report are not unique to Uganda, nor are they unique to war-torn nations or nations in the developing world. Some of the same problems seen in Uganda can be seen in the United States, for example, where people with disabilities are more at risk of sexual and physical violence than nondisabled people, and where we lack access to reproductive health services and sexual education because of social attitudes about our sexuality. These are global issues, and the globe as a whole needs to fight them. Personally, I would love to see Human Rights Watch generate similar reports for every nation on Earth.]]>
Here is an image to give you a chance to back out! (Image is totally safe for work.)
Image Description: A sign that reads “Wheelchairs and Strollers Please Detour Through Bears”
Via Accessibility Fail, who got it from Oddly Specific.
Here’s the jump!
The sort of conversations I have with the general public (I do most of the talking when Don and I are out because of his vocal cords being damaged through surgery) go something like this:
“I actually have no idea how a wheelchair could get into our store, I’ve never thought about it.”
“Maybe you could try lifting the chair?”
“I don’t know anything about accessibility, sorry.”
“I’m not sure, you could ask my manager, I guess, but she’s not in today.”
“We don’t have to be accessible/accommodating to people with disabilities because we’re a heritage site and we’ll lose our placard if we change anything.” [Note: this is not true in Canada.]
“Umm…. I don’t know anything about it.”
I actually do believe people genuinely have no idea about accessibility-related accommodations, and I don’t think it’s some conspiracy or willful ignorance. It’s just the way things are.
Except, in my experience, in the kink community.
Without getting into too many details (as they are not mine to give), part of the Halifax celebration of Pride Week includes a variety of workshops and talks about sex toys and sexual activities. These are often hosted by our local feminist book store/sex shop, Venus Envy, either in the store or in other locations related to Pride.
I’ve attended these for three years now, and one thing has been 100% consistent: Whenever I ask about disability, the person giving the talk has answers.
So far I’ve been to talks & demos that have included discussions about how to use various sex toys if the user can’t hold the toys, I’ve been to one talk that’s had a ‘terp for two Deaf attendees (the only ‘drama’ being shuffling chairs so they could sit near the front), and asked multiple times about how one could do various sexual activities with a mobility-related disability. They always have answers. The most recent talk I went to included the person demonstrating the toy discussing with me how to adjust weight, angle, position, and speed in order to best work with someone with a mobility-related disability, and an offer to meet someplace a bit more private to have further discussions that included Don, should that be what we wished.
Venus Envy also routinely carries a variety of books about disability, both focused on sexuality and not, and whenever I go into the shop they’re happy to discuss the books with me, make recommendations, and act like people with disabilities can be and often are sexual people.
While I have not gone online looking for disability & kink-related discussion (I never seem to have the time…), I’ve talked to people who have, and I’m told there’s a lot of discussion out there, and the bulk of it is positive and inclusive of disability.
That said, I don’t know how universal this experience is. If you’re both disabled & kinky, or one or the other, what has been your experience (in general) with the kink community and disability? If you’re so inclined, please feel free to leave links in the comments, but please note the content of the links! (For example: Kink & Disability at Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces, which talks about BDSM & disability, written by a woman with a disability. NSFW!)
Commenting Note: I am, sadly, still on thesis-time, and will be for the foreseeable future. Comment approval may be slow because of that. This discussion here is meant to center the voices of people with disabilities. If you’re looking for a place to discuss how kinky you think it is to have sex with disabled people, there are other places to do that. There’s a link right below this to our commenting policy.]]>
Reader bzzzzgrrrl drew my attention to a recent Dear Abby column that featured this:
Dear Abby: My husband and I have a 24-year-old developmentally disabled son who lives with us. Three months ago, he met a nice girl at the mental health program he attends. They hold hands, go to the movies and occasionally smooch.
Recently, “Jasper” had a mark on his neck. We were over at a friend’s house for dinner when my best friend noticed the mark. She then proceeded to tell me I should consider getting Jasper “fixed.” At first, I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly, so I asked her to repeat it. I am shocked that she thinks I should have my son sterilized.
Jasper is diagnosed with ADD and Asperger’s syndrome. According to his mental health counselor, he could someday be married, have children and lead a productive, independent life. It just may take him longer to get to that point in comparison with his peers.
How should I respond to my friend about her suggestion? When she made it, I didn’t know what to say. — Speechless in New Hampshire
I’m going to give you a moment to take that in. When I first encountered it, I was so stunned that I actually blinked and sat in uneasy silence for a minute thinking ‘I did not just read that.’ And then I thought ‘this woman’s ‘friend’ did not just compare a person to a dog, right?’ And then I re-read and realised that yes, I did in fact just read that and yes, the ‘friend’ really did say that.
Because this is how people think. In 2007, the United States objected to wording in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities that said that we have a right to sexual and reproductive health services. In 2009, there was a controversy in Indiana over a bill attempting to bar involuntary sterilisation of people with disabilities. Sterilisation is presented as ‘in the patient’s best interest.’ People discuss involuntary sterilisation as a topic of debate, as though there is a question about whether or not it should be performed.
I’m sure Speechless’ friend thought there was nothing amiss about her comment. She’s just exercising some friendly concern! And talking about Jasper like he wasn’t even there, evidently. I’ve been Jasper, sitting in the chair at the dinner table while someone is telling my father how to control my body, and it is not a pleasant experience, to be reminded that the entire world considers you public property. Thinks that it is perfectly acceptable to discuss you like an animal or a piece of furniture in your presence. It’s not much of an extension from people thinking it’s ok to say whatever they want about you to people thinking it’s ok to do whatever they want to you.
Dear Speechless: If you still want to maintain the friendship with the woman, tell her what your son’s mental health counselor said about his prospects for the future. But first, if you haven’t already, make sure Jasper clearly understands everything he needs to know to protect himself and his nice girlfriend from premature parenthood.
I cannot say that I am wholly impressed with this response. Mainly because Abby is acting like the friend is someone Speechless would ‘want to maintain a friendship with.’ Someone who suggests than a human being should be ‘fixed’ like a household pet is someone I would be tearing out of my address book, I tell you what. Miss Manners is never afraid to tell readers when their ‘friends’ deserve nothing more than the boot and I think that more advice columnists should follow suit, personally.
Whatever the son’s mental health counselor may or may not have said is not anyone else’s business. And whether or not Jasper can achieve the holy trinity of marriage, children, and a job, he is not required to justify his relationship, nor is his mother required to speak for him to justify his relationship. Jasper and his girlfriend are evidently happy. They are entitled to bodily autonomy. They are entitled to their own sexuality, and to not be scrutinized and monitored. Jasper is entitled to his fertility.
I’ve discussed the lack of access to sexual education here before, so I’m glad to see that Abby briefly touched upon that issue. And, you know, props for subverting the usual family planning narrative that puts the responsibility on the woman, but Abby’s comment reads as a tad patronising to me. It might be because I’m still reeling from the letter itself, of course.
Personally, what I think Speechless should do is cut her ‘friend’ dead, socially speaking. And if the ‘friend’ asks why, Speechless should tell her. And if other people ask why, Speechless should tell them too. One reason that these attitudes are so pervasive and persistent is that they are rarely challenged and discussed by people who are not disability rights activists. If members of the nondisabled community started actively pushing back on things like this, started really thinking about what this line of thinking represents, perhaps we could start to dismantle it.
I go from things like this to people telling me that involuntary sterilisation doesn’t happen any more, that eugenics is over and done with, because things like this are never discussed. People appear surprised to learn that not only does involuntary sterilisation still happen, but a lot of people are all for it.]]>
If you do not want to know anything about my sex life, you don’t want to read it.
I was recently interviewed for an article about sex & disability.
In what ways do you find that people who have physical disabilities are stigmatized against or prevented from enjoying a healthy sexual lifestyle?
When was the last time a sex-ed curriculum addressed sex with someone with a disability?
22% of the overall population of Nova Scotia identifies as having a disability, and that number jumps to 35% if you just include people over 35. You could trip and fall tomorrow and also be wondering why the hell Dalhousie hosts events in buildings that don’t have a ramp. A lot of Disability Rights Activists use terms like “temporarily able-bodied” or “currently non-disabled” because you don’t know.
And yet, unless you took a much more comprehensive sex ed program than I did, there’s no discussing things like how to have sex when you can’t use your legs, for example, or how to hold a toy when your hands can’t grip something. We’ve had to write our own Sex Ed books. (I’ve talked about them a bit more below.)
As well, when was the last time you saw someone with a visible disability who was sexual on t.v.? I don’t watch a lot of t.v. so maybe this is better now.
On the other hand, you get women with disabilities also being hyper-sexualised by devotee culture, which fetishizes women with disabilities, usually amputees. I’m not sure if that’s going away from what you want to write about.
Typically, though, people with disabilities are de-sexualised. (Not asexualized – asexual people with disabilities exist). One of the big things that comes to mind is in institutions that put people with disabilities of the same gender in the same room. Mixed rooms were a no no because of what might happen, but apparently there are no queer people with disabilities, and no same-sex rape. (Not to mention that not allowing people with disabilities privacy is also a big problem. I’m not sure about you, but unless I’m with a partner, I don’t want to masturbate with someone else around. But gosh, those cripples probably don’t masturbate or need privacy for any reason. That was my sarcasm voice, btw.)
Or, hell, just something really simple:
When was the last time you saw an advertisement that included someone with a visible disability in it? Now, take away all the ones that are for a government program, or are focusing on how “diverse” something is. Okay, now try and list one that goes with the “sex sells” aspect that is so common in advertisements for everything from cars to perfume.
If you’ve got anything, let me know. I’ve never seen a man like my husband sexily selling me a watch.
As the lover of someone labelled with physical disability, how do you find that acquaintances or colleagues respond when they learn that your husband is a wheelchair user?
“Oh my gosh, Anna, you are *so* brave.” :”You must be so strong.” “Oh, and he had the disability when you met? Gosh, that’s so brave of you.”
Dear everyone: I am no more brave for loving my husband than you are for loving your partner(s).
People have also gone from berating me for being child-free by choice to sudden nodding understanding. Not because they realise that I have a right to make my own decisions regarding my family, but because they find out that (gasp) Marfan’s Syndrome is hereditary. Who would willingly have a child *like my husband*, after all?
Mostly, though, people who have seen Don and I together, who have watched us be cuddly, hold hands, and just be a couple together in public will often be shocked – shocked I tell you! – to find out that I’m not his caretaker or his sister, but that we’re married and have (whispers) sex. With each other.
No one has ever actually outright asked about sex in our relationship 1, but at least one ex thinks that Don can’t possibly be satisfying me so I should have sex with him instead. All I could think was “Oh honey, Don has long nimble fingers. I’m pretty good, thanks.”
Physically, what kinds of barriers do couples with physical disabilities face in their sexual life that those who don’t have disabilities might not be aware of? What do you do to overcome those barriers?
Speaking just for ourselves first:
Depending on what sexual positions we do, it can cause him pain later, or pain during that is difficult to ignore, no matter how much fun we’re having at the time.
A lot of the medications he’s on have an affect on his ability to sustain his erection, although not on his ability to get aroused or sexually stimulated.
If he’s having a high pain day, we don’t have sex.
Also, he sleeps more than I do. This is the most tragic thing ever. We would totally be having more sex if he didn’t need so much sleep! *laugh*
We do a lot of playing with toys. Venus Envy sells a cuff you can put a dildo in and wear around your thigh, for example, or just hold a dildo. Mutual masturbation. Lots of sexualized teasing and cuddling and the like. Sexual talk. Other games and stuff.
We also plan things. (I know, if you plan your sex life in advance, it’s not spontaneous. Woe.) So, more than once, we’ve planned weekends where Don’s taken less of his pain meds, we make sure there’s as little physically for him to do in the days leading up and the days after, and just have a really good, really sexy time.
As for other couples, physical disabilities can limit the ability to hold a toy, so things like that cuff can be helpful, or straps that hold a stimulator in place. Finding other erogenous zones on the body to stimulate. I know some people take viagra to counter-act the side effects of the drugs, but viagra is expensive.
There’s a book that Venus Envy carries regularly called “The Complete Guide to Sex & Disability”.
Emotionally or socially, did you find that you had any barriers you had to overcome in order to marry someone who had a disability, when our society generally attempts to culturally castrate men who are differently abled?
The biggest barrier we had to getting married was the paperwork. I made Don fill it all out and just signed where he said. (We eloped in Scotland when we lived there in 2006.)
I think it is not for nothing that certain friends stopped talking to us once they found out we were married. They assumed that there was no reason for me to marry Don unless I was up to something. (Obviously it is to rake in those fat disability cheques. Which we don’t qualify for, because I am a student.) One, for example, sent me a very abusive email about how he didn’t approve of our choices in life so he couldn’t give our relationship his “blessings”. *sigh*
Certainly earlier in our relationship people could *not* understand that Don and I were together, despite any and all evidence to the contrary. One person actually walked in on us together in bed cuddling after sex, and still insisted that he would “know” if Don and I were together and obviously we weren’t. Another friend confided in me that she found Don “icky”, and figured that I must be with him because I felt sorry for him. Oh, and the person who, finding out we were engaged, had a long chat with me to make sure I was “really okay” with this.
If you’re wondering if I had any issues with it…
No. No, I didn’t. But I suspect a lot of people think I must have bravely considered all the future pain that being in a relationship with someone with a disability could potentially bring me, and bravely decide that I would bravely marry him, despite that horrible horrible future in front of us. (Was my sarcasm too heavy?)
The only thing I considered was whether or not I wanted to get married.
In your opinion, as an able-bodied person who is with someone who uses a wheelchair, what is the hardest aspect about maintaining a sexual relationship with someone who has a disability?
Balancing conflicting needs. Which I suspect is the same for people in relationships with currently non-disabled people. If I had my way, I’d probably be having sex right now. (Have I mentioned my husband is damned sexy?) But, it’s been a low sex week because he’s in a lot of pain with the change in season. Woe is me.
Actually, yeah. That’s the only difficulty I can think of.
Others said the reversal could be due to a variety of factors, including an increase in poverty, an influx of Hispanics and complacency about AIDS, prompting lax use of birth control such as condoms.1
…yeah. Thanks for that.2
Teen pregnancy in the 1990s dropped radically. Now, it’s on the rise again, very much in line with predictions made by researchers. And there is a pretty demonstrable link here between the rise of abstinence-only and the rise in the teen pregnancy rate. This much is clear, and it’s a link which should be discussed.
But there’s another issue which I haven’t seen getting very much coverage: The denial of sexual education to teens with disabilities, even in areas where sexual education of some form beyond “keep your legs closed until marriage” is offered. This is not fair to disabled teens, and to people with disabilities in general, and it’s something which needs to be addressed, pronto, because we should be at the point in society where we recognize that all teens including disabled teens need access to balanced information about sexual health, contraception options, and recognizing abusive relationships.
People with disabilities are at increased risk of being sexually abused.3 Young people with disabilities are especially vulnerable.4 You know what happens to people who are vulnerable to sexual abuse who do not receive sexual education? It makes them more vulnerable.
It’s time to recognize, as a society, two important things:
These must be acknowledged so that we can start focusing on making sexual education fully accessible. Because this is a critical step in breaking down a vicious cycle which perpetuates not only widely believed stereotypes about people with disabilities, but abuse of people with disabilities, including justification of that abuse.
We need to be providing disabled teens with tools which they can use to make choices about their sexuality, like if they want to have sex, with whom, where, when, and how. And, given that able people sometimes have disabled partners, providing people with non-judgmental information about sex and disability is pretty important. Plus, admitting that some disabled folks enjoy sex too can break down a lot of social stigma, including the attitude that people with disabilities can’t have sex or don’t like to have sex. When even supposed professionals ask questions like “is your partner capable of having sex,” it illustrates a profound lack of awareness.
And we need to make sure that information about recognizing and addressing abuse is provided in sexual education, with a special focus on recognizing, preventing, and handling abuse of disabled persons. We also must ensure that people have the ability to report abuse, because almost every study I see about abuse and people with disabilities includes some variation of the line “unfortunately, reporting of abuse is limited, which makes it difficult to arrive at accurate estimates…”
Not including terms to describe sexual abuse in a communication book, for example, is a pretty effective way to prevent someone from reporting sexual abuse. Sterilizing institutionalized women so that they can’t get pregnant when they’re being sexually abused by caregivers is another very effective way to make it hard to get accurate statistics on abuse. Not giving people with disabilities the language they need to describe abuse perpetuates abuse. So does ignoring reports of abuse from people with disabilities.
Disabled teens need sex ed. It’s time to give it to them.5
Especially in the case of this workshop, “Radical Touch,” which focused on consensual sensory play. Madame Cleo Dubois is a dominatrix, and she’s got rather a lot of experience with sensory play of all sorts. The class started with a brief talk, and then interaction (at personal comfort levels) with the things Madame Cleo brought and with other class attendees. She had a table at the front of the room with a number of different things laid out on it, and one of the things that she stressed is that human skin and the human body are very sensitive, and that there are a lot of ways to explore that sensation; just lightly brushing someone’s arm with a hand can be a form of sensory play, for example, and lots of textures (sandpaper, velvet, feathers, etc) can be utilized to stimulate the sense of touch, in addition to things which people might more traditionally think of in the context of sensory play (such as BDSM activities). Sensory play is also not just about touch, but about all the senses, and that was discussed as well.
What I loved about this class, beyond the content, which was delightful, was the inclusive nature. There was a very mixed crowd in attendance, and Madame Cleo made sure that everyone was included at their own personal comfort level. She stressed the fact that sensory play can come in a lot of forms, and that everyone’s sensitivity is different, that there’s no “good” and “bad” involved in different sensitivities and comfort levels. She also stressed the importance of bodily autonomy in sensory play, that in any context, you always have the right to decide what happens, and when, and how, and took the time to discuss negotiation of any sensual interaction in any context. She made opportunities to talk and work with everyone in the room, and there were several people with disabilities in attendance whom she made sure were included. Not in a showy “ah yes, the wheelchair user!” sort of way, but in a quiet way; she didn’t make assumptions about what they were/were not interested in, what they were/were not capable of, what sort of people they were. In part, I’m sure this comes from her professional experience, because she works with a really broad spectrum of humanity.
I could tell that some of the able folk were a little bit uncomfortable at first, especially with the wheelchair user, and Madame Cleo would have none of that. By the end of the class, everyone was connecting and interacting and having fun, regardless of gender, disability status, or any other factor. It was deeply enjoyable for me to attend a sexuality workshop in which everyone was respected and included, in which assumptions were not made about people, in which it was assumed that everyone was unique and had something different to bring to the room. I think that some of the people in that room learned something about assumptions, and took that message away with them, even though the class wasn’t about a Very Special Diversity Hour in the slightest.
I haven’t attended sexuality workshops at other establishments, so I don’t know if inclusivity is the norm or the deviation. I’d be curious to know. I feel like the inclusive environment was an excellent experience for all the attendees, from the people who are often excluded to the people who often do the excluding. An accessible space is useless without inclusion, and offering sexuality workshops which only cater to one experience is pretty useless too, in my opinion. It heartened me to see inclusion normalized and expected at Good Vibrations workshops I attended, although I do wish that they also specifically offered workshops on sexuality and disability.
Anna mentioned Venus Envy in Halifax as a disability-friendly establishment, and Toys in Babeland (which has a sex toy guide specifically for people with disabilities) is another excellent resource. For those who attend/have attended them, what kind of experiences have you had in sex shops and sexuality workshops? Do you have any establishments you’d recommend (or advise against)? What kinds of topics would you like to see covered?]]>