An interview on Rabble podcast about the sexuality and disability project I’m working on, ACSEXE+. Take a listen if you’re inclined!
I just finished an amazing conversation with a good friend about ableism in dating, and the subtle ways that family expectation and judgement can infiltrate our intimate relationships. Our conversation will be posted on http://acsexe.tumblr.com/ in the next week or two! I’ve invited other people to share their experiences and thoughts on ableism and dating for the ACSEXE+ blog…
Want to contribute?
Message me or post below anything from a word that comes to mind, to an experience you had on a date, or reflections on ableism in and around relationships. Looking forward to compiling!
ACSEXE+ is a blog and video series all about sexuality and disability/ access. My main goal with this project is to share the perspectives and experiences of people in Quebec and elsewhere, in a bilingual form, to share our experiences and talk about sex and disability in a sex-positive way:) Cause sex is amazing, and disability can add layers of awesomeness to the equation! New ways of doing things, relating, communicating… I am collaborating with a feminist organization here in Montreal called the FQPN and the Accessibilize Montreal crew! Get in touch!
Sexe, sexualités et handicaps au Québec. Sex, sexuality and disability in Quebec, Canada.
I am a lucky girly. I get to work on this blog and video project, ACSEXE+ all about sex and disability. I get to collaboratively encourage Quebec to be more sex positive, open and downright sexy. I get to work on a video featuring some fabulous Quebecers who want to share their thoughts on how to accessibilize sex! I’ll interview people about their perspectives on sex and how it relates to disability. I get to research and facilitate knowledge sharing between people who identify as having a disability, and learn people’s tricks on sex positions, how to resist ableism in the dating world, and what we can collectively do to make Quebec a more sex-positive place! I am a lucky girly!!
If you have some art or writing that you’d like me to feature, share your ideas with me! Make me even more lucky:)
Enjoying research for a new project with the Federation du Quebec pour le planning des naissances. Delightful!
A few weeks ago, I had the honour of speaking at the 2014 Take Back the Night March in Montreal. I’d like to share my words here, for those who weren’t able to make it, those who live far away, or those who like to read. (Photo: ACAB Media)
Thank you to the Centre for Gender Advocacy for organizing this evening and for inviting me. These cardboard taxis look amazing!
We all have a million stories of feeling unsafe in the streets, and stories of ourselves and our loved ones experiencing violence.
I’m going to share a story about street harassment with you tonight. A story of two depanneurs. I had just finished swimming. I was hungry and didn’t have anything to eat at home. I went to the dep, picked out some tins of tomato paste, brought them to the counter, leaned on the counter because my leg was tired, and then felt an unwanted hand cupping my left bum cheek. I turned around, not believing what was making itself known on my butt, and yelled, you’re harassing me! I looked at the dep employee, said, this guy just touched my ass, turned around and looked at the grabber, exclaimed my anger, and then he said, no I didn’t, and dismissed me like I was a hysterical woman. The dep employee who I had been buying snacks and cheap wine from for the past 3 years, said nothing. I said, are you going to do anything? He did nothing.
I thought, if I had been driving my scooter I would have rammed the son of a bitch, or if I had brought my cane I would have whoopsed him upside the head, but I had no mobility devices/ weapons with me.
In this scenario, counter to what you might think, I was more exposed because I did not have my mobility tools, those symbols of disability, with me.
And so I relied heavily on the man behind the desk to get my back.
He did nothing.
The tale of the second depanneur is as follows. I was practicing for a performance with a friend of mine downtown, and it was late. We got hungry and we got Chinese food. We practiced some more, and when we were finally satisfied with the state of our performance, or maybe just too tired to go on, we left. She took a cab, and this time I had my scooter. In Montreal, it is not possible to hail an accessible taxi. It is not possible to call for an accessible taxi either. These have to be reserved in advance and are highly unreliable even when you do reserve them, which I don’t do because I don’t plan to rehearse til’ 4:30 am. And I resent the implication that just because I have diverse mobility, I need to plan more, to make up for an inaccessible transit system.
Nonetheless, as we know very well, taxis are not a safe option for women travelling the streets of Montreal anyway.
The metro was not open at this hour, and even if it were, Guy-Concordia station is not one of the 4/65 stations in the city that are accessible.
So I was relegated to driving my scooter on the bike path.
As I was nearing my home, a man in a large blue pick up truck drove by, and slowed down at the corresponding rate that my fear grew. He rolled his window down in order to yell sexually explicit things at me. Things like, I’d let you ride me instead of that thing, and you’re too pretty to use a wheelchair, and where you going, anyway?
He was alone in his truck, so I knew he wasn’t just trying to be funny for friends he may have been with.
I was scared. I felt exposed.
This time, my mobility tool was a beacon, something shiny to attract the unwanted attention of a predator.
Something that made me seem more vulnerable and weak.
I went the other way at top speed and he got blocked by a one-way.He went around the block and I rolled to the dep on the corner, thinking, at least I can be around another person, in the light, and feel a bit safer.
I overestimated the power of presence of another human being.
The guy working in the dep barely took his eyes off whatever screen it was he was mesmerized by. He dismissed my claim of being followed with an ‘I don’t believe you’ smile and by saying about the truck riding predator, “he was probably just turning around.”
He did nothing.
Tonight, I’m not going to focus solely on street harassment or harassment in deps, and the useless reactions of men working in depanneurs in the night when those are the only populated places open to seek refuge in when feeling threatened in the street.
Harassment is one form of gender and ableism- based violence that many people experience pretty much every day in Montreal, myself included. But it is not nearly the only form of violence and dehumanization that people with disabilities face.
I could give you numbers.
I could give you stats on the high numbers of people with disabilities (pwd) of all genders who are targeted and abused. I could tell you that pwd are vulnerable to many forms of violence, including violence in relationships, sexual assault, violence in institutional settings, forced sterilization and abortion, and non-consentual medical treatments.
I could give you stats like women with dis are 1 ½ times more likely to have been abused as a child.
I could tell you that sexual violence can also be the cause of disability.
I could tell you that 81% of women admitted to psychiatric institutions have had gender-based abuse in their past.
I could tell you that 5 times the number of deaf boys and 50% of deaf girls are sexually abused in Canada.
I could tell you that many pwd are excluded from romance and sexual expression because of barriers to access and prejudice. Many people with disabilities simply do not have sexual freedom.
I could share stories of homeless women with disabilities living out on the streets because of a lack of accessible shelters here in Montreal. I could share the experience of calling shelters with a woman who used a power wheelchair I met and hearing ‘we don’t serve those types of people here.’ Shelters do not have the resources or the understanding to serve disabled women at risk.
I could share stories of unfit living conditions where 20 year olds are living in retirement homes because there are no other assisted living options. And in these homes, abuse and control run rampant.
I could share the experiences of so many quebecers, silenced and forced to stay in abusive relationships, relying on their abusers for care.
These stories are real,
These numbers are far too frequent.
For me, Take Back the Night is about sharing this information.
And it is about so much more than that.
It is about more than individual experiences in a system that was not constructed with us in mind.
Take back the night is about taking back the humanity that has so often been stripped from us.
It’s about taking these stories, one by one, and creating a network.
A network of people looking out for each other.
So I call on you as I call on myself:
Commit to tearing down those walls that keep people segregated in institutional living.
Commit to tearing down the doors behind which people stay in violent relationships, depending on their abusers for care.
Commit to breaking-down the already crumbling steps of Montreal’s infrastructure so that people can access what they need.
Commit to tearing down those walls!
Because all these walls and these stairs, and these concrete structures reinforce our situations of marginalization. They keep us locked in institutions and they keep us locked out of public spaces.
Let’s not be too shy, or too scared, or too committed to the myth of self-reliance to ask how we can support one another.
It is that fear and discomfort and unfamiliarity that keeps those walls standing high, dividing us.
Let’s embrace our fear and discomfort and ask how we can support each other. And when we fuck up, because we will inevitably fuck up, let’s apologize, and keep learning how we can support one another. Because that, along with the actions of those here tonight, and those of us who cannot be here, will keep us taking back the night, tonight, the night after that, the night after that.
Say it with me:
Tear down those walls.
Tear down those walls.
Tear down those walls.
Reflections after an amazing couple of days of finishing my zine, printing it, performing from it at a sparkling and fabulous cabaret, launching it at a warm and electric queer zine fair. Sometimes when the high frequency of excitement wears off, I’m left feeling nervous. Thanks to everyone who’s been supporting me. This is a project that has had many hands holding it up!
Having just positively hogged down two people’s worth of sushi in one sitting, washed it down with celebratory sparkling water to prepare my tastebuds for a bar of chocolate to be taken in as fast as I can ingest it, I ask myself, how many voices did I leave out of that zine? The length of this selfie dinner is about the amount of time it takes to realize, stress of the last weeks and two days of performing and launching my zine still churning in the shape of a stomach acid tornado, that it’s out of my hands now. There are typos, there are spacing problems, there are things that, on second thought, I probably shouldn’t have put in there, and things that I should have articulated better. It’s not a blog post, ever ready to be altered, censored or taken down all together. This is paper. It is out of my hands into other people’s.
So many people’s. Someone who smiled magnetically at me and told me the reason they came to the fair was to buy my zine. Someone who thanked me for my performance last night, saying they were happy someone was saying what I said. Someone who said to me square in the face that I am powerful. Sceptical people who toured the room and circled back to pick up the zine. Ginger fingers taking what was once just mine, considering it, caressing it, and taking it with them on their bikes or on the bus to wherever they are now. Maybe they didn’t have time to go home and drop off their bag before the party tonight. Maybe they’re there now, my paper words in their backpacks still.
I’m worried. I’m worried that my words will be misunderstood or unclear or that my anger will be taken sharply, interpreted as just another crip white chick with too much social standing and not enough time to listen to the quieter voices. I’m worried that those who I named in my stories will be unhappy, that my sexuality, fluctuating as it is, will be unhappy to be outed so explicitly, that the words, once mine, will be irritating to those who read them, lacking context and analysis, lacking glue, lacking, lacking.
But yet there they are, in backpacks, on bedside tables, in bike baskets, in hands. The paper words are out there, and all I can do is let the pages float away too, on the good graces of my fellow word loving queers. All I can do is hope that they’ll be received with generosity and critical spirits, and that conversations will happen. I hope that I will hear the intimate words of those who read my zine, so I can find out exactly how many perspectives I am missing and what they’re like. All I can really do is hope these things and keep writing, learning from my worries. Because despite these post-adrenaline worries, this damp weather mirroring my foggy mind, I know I am on a path that I will keep on writing. As I sentimentally wrote to myself in my very own copy of my zine, I should be proud. I finished, and I presented myself to the world, not claiming to be someone different. Not claiming to know all the perspectives, not claiming to hear all the whispers and the rumblings, but open and excited to hear more with each new page I write. As I headed home after the fair, painting behind my back, zines exploding from my scooter’s every orifice, I felt alive, content, buzzing, and that’s how I know I’m rolling in the right direction.
This insomniac needs an insimnisnack. I’m too excited about printing my Underwater City Zine, and reading a few pieces at a big hot queer cabaret open mic this friday to sleep!!
Playing good crip for the scooter delivery boy.
Justifying my needs.
Explaining why it’s important to have a mobility device that fits in city buses
when he responds,
‘mais vous avez le transport adapte’ (‘but you have paratransit’).
Explaining that it takes 24 hours to book a ride.
I have tried
a three wheel before.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, I know what I want.
And what I don’t want? To fein interest in the advice of a man who knows
only my file number and what I look like after rushing out of my morning shower to answer the door.
And that’s it.
Je m’en cris.
Temptation tickles: ask him if he’s ever taken transport adapté,
Vindictive inclination tingles: break his knee caps with your cane so the next time he drives a scooter its out of necessity.
But no, here I am playing good crip, apolitical crip for the scooter delivery boy. So he will
take my side and
find me a scooter to
get on the bus with.
Some thoughts on Ray Aldred’s piece on sexual oppression and disability.
Thorough article, lots to think about, thankful for your candour in sharing personal experiences of micro aggressions related to disability. I can definitely relate to kids wrapping their fingers around my wrists and saying iiiiits sooo smaaaalll! Funny, I’d forgotten about that unwanted attention I received until I read this.
In terms of the sexual oppression of disabled people as rejection, I would add to your analysis that some male sexual or romantic partners, particularly in hetero relationships are drawn to disabled women for the reverse of the reason that you argue they are desexualized. Disabled women are seen in need of care, and certain men want to ‘provide’ for them sexually, and want to feel extra strong and virile, in relation to the perceived weak woman. To me, this is an amplification of cultural trends in hetero relations where men are to be strong, and women to be passive.
Similarly, some disabled people are overly sexualized, particularly because of their perceived deviance from the bodily norm. In some instances, perceptions of disabled women’s sexuality is placed directly in their disability. There are pornography sites directly marketed to men with disabled women fetishes. In my personal experience I have had men come on to me expressing curiosity or sexual interest because they want to know what its like to have sex with a woman with a physical disability. Gross.
On that note, some women (and girls) with disabilities, in looking for social and gendered acceptance, contribute to their own hyper-sexualization in an attempt to gain power through sexualization. Similar to (disabled or non) women, say in a workplace where the only way to be heard is if you wear lipstick and stick your tits on the board room table.
Either way, its seems disabled people are objectified, ie subject to scrutiny that, like the continuum of empowerment you mention, is on a spectrum – with the extremes being complete desexualization and hyper-sexualization.
When you mentioned the fear non-disabled people have of hurting disabled people, particularly during sex, I reflected on the image we have of ‘normal’ ie hetero able bodied sex being rough, quick, focused on penetration, and physically all encompassing. The image in pretty much every hetro rom-com ever of a rather violent beginning wherein the male partner chases then grabs the woman, plants a sloppy kiss on her, they rip each others’ clothes off and then he mounts her like an orangutan and they do it (in out in out, she lying there, he working it) for five minutes, is a very narrow view of a particular type of sex. The idea we have from popular culture, sex ed classes and portrayals of sex all around us is inherently ableist and hetero-centric. There are a million ways of having sex, and I would posit that if our cultural narratives around sex opened up in terms of diverse sexuality and feminist sex, or at the very least a branching out of the verging-on-rape-fantasy described above, there would be less ableism in understandings of sex as well. Queer sex, slow sex, oral sex, gentle sex, kink… The rainbow, which is left out of popular discussions and portrayals of sex, includes many body types and ways of being.
This is not to say that the incorporation of queer sexualities into cultural narratives of sex would do away with ableism, but could be a departure point for a broader discussion of diverse bodies, ‘modes of performance’, and expressions of sex.
What do you think? Am I romanticizing queer sex? Is it just as ableist?
Definitely more thoughts to come, love the discussion possibilities this piece offers. And I hope to hear your reactions to my thoughts/ interpretations!
Here in Quebec, the ‘week of handicapped people’ organized by the provincial ‘office for handicapped people’ has just ended. The week is complete with movie screenings, accessibility audits of commercial areas, and a picnic in the park. No talk of criticism of inaccessible transit or cuts in homecare, or political action of any sort. Here is my article for the RAPLIQ journal (an awesome Montreal-based disability justice organization).
*Please note, my use of the word handicap is a translation of the French word for what we in English generally refer to as disability now. Don’t be turned off. Or maybe do be turned off. I know I am.