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!
Disability, Sexual Oppression, and What Sex Can Be