Sometimes to amuse myself I type a word or phrase into Google image search just to see what kind of pictures show up. This morning I typed n the phrase “sex and disability”. There were a ton of pictures with the Scott Hamilton quote “the only disability is a bad attitude” and also many decrying disability benefits fraud. I’m sure if I had scrolled farther down the list I would have eventually found things related to sex in general but I have spent the last several hours going through the photos and memes that showed up and not one addresses both sex and disability.
Sex is talked about almost every day. It is seen in movies and television programs and hinted at or implied in thousands of commercials and ad campaigns. Modern society has sex on the brain. However if you attempt to suggest that a disabled body contains a sexual entity the collective conversation often comes to a very abrupt, very awkward halt. of coarse sometimes the opposite is true. I have spent a lot of time in chat rooms and most of the the time I do not use my speech dictation so I am a hunt and peck typist who prefers to talk to people in private messages because the conversations in the larger room often scroll too fast for me to keep up well. Most of the people I have run into are obviously not hunt and peck typist so they often notice the difference between my speed and theirs and asked why I type slow.
I could lie but I usually don’t, I tell them that I am in a wheelchair and that the disability also affects my hands. Awkward silence ensues and if the guy (I usually talk to guys in chat rooms for no other reason than I find it easier to talk to them than other women)is not totally scared off they often ask two questions: Can you feel your legs still, and how does sex work for you/can you have sex? There are a total of five guys I’ve had that conversation with whom it did not feel awkward and who I felt were asking out of genuine interest in possibly doing something with the information rather than just satisfying a voyeuristic curiosity which they feel entitled to indulge.
I wish that meant that I had only had that conversation with five guys. It doesn’t. I answered many of the other guys because I felt pressured to for some reason. I was having a bad day and wanted to talk to anyone about anything just to connect with another human being. I had been having fun before the discussion got to this point and I didn’t want them to stop talking to me. The reasons I excused their bad behavior were many and varied.It boils down to a need to be seen. As girl, as young woman To be desired,because still in today’s modern world little girls are growing up with the idea that their value is measured by what other people think of their bodies. The other day I realized that largely because of my disability I do not suffer the same kind of micro-aggression and street harassment that many other women do. I don’t get cat called or whistled at, not once has a stranger shouted “hey baby” when I was part of a group of friends and meant me. Here is the really screwed up thing about what our culture teaches girls and young women to think about themselves, I realize these things and while I did feel grateful I mostly felt sad. Having a disability by and large takes you out of the collective definition of sexual being, pushes you off to the side into the margins, tells you in word and action that you are less than, beneath notice.
I have been fortunate to find men willing to say, “screw the collected narratives, it is wrong.” Thank you I love you and I know you truly care. On the days when it doesn’t seem to help it not because of anything you did or are doing, it’s just hard to hear individual voices through a mob intent on shouting them down. Have patience with me I will try to listen better.
*I am writing this from the perspective of a woman with a disability. It is quite possible that disabled men had similar struggles being seen as sexual beings and seeing themselves as such. I’m not really sure and I haven’t had the time to have an in-depth conversation with a disabled guy.