A Landmark Photographic Essay
possible to be sexual and disabled both?
We who are both rail against the
life-negating stupidity of the question. The fact that the question
can even be posed speaks to the power of a Culture Machine that
sells Sex while simultaneously limiting Eros to the smallest possible
range of expression. Sexuality and disability? Try adding "gay"
to the mix and see what kind of reaction you get, from gay and straight
In recent years more and more
artists have begun to challenge our notions of who can be sexual
and in what ways. One deceptively simple method of posing the challenge
has been to re-imagine the nude as subject. Bay Area photographer
Laurie Toby Edison's groundbreaking book, "Women En
Large: Images of Fat Nudes," is a notable step in that
direction. Her soon-to-be-published "Familiar Men" continues the
exploration. Now we can add to the list Intimate
ENCOUNTERS, a landmark photographic essay by Belinda
Mason-Lovering, which includes thirty photographic images and two
The men and women Mason-Lovering
pictures are people with physical, intellectual, learning, psychiatric
and neurological disabilities. By being photographed and by talking
about their lives they share some of their most intimate thoughts
and feelings with those who gaze on their images. In the words of
its creators, "Intimate ENCOUNTERS
explores the myriad connections between disability and sexuality.
A sense of our sexual selves is as vital to our existence as the
air we breathe. This is the pervading message present in every image
in the series. The quest is to create images which 'tell a thousand
words' and which reflect sexual diversity without tokenism."
The project has been unusually
collaborative in several ways. Belinda worked with Lisa Sampson,
a respected speaker and debater on issues of social disadvantage
and social support engineering, whose most recent work has been
in the deinstitutionalization movement. Lisa introduced Belinda
to people with disabilities who wanted to share their experience
of sexuality through the medium of photography. Belinda then developed
her own connection with the subjects in order to direct, compose
and create photographic images which represent elements significant
to each person who poses. In this way the "subjects" moved beyond
the traditional passive subject-role and became collaborators themselves,
enriching the personal, political and artistic aspects of the project.
The enhanced role of those photographed
is recognized by Mason-Lovering and Sampson, who refer to them as
Photographic Principals and extend the collaborative nature of the
project one final step by alerting them to upcoming print, radio,
television, film and on-line outlets where their images will appear.
The intimate connections between the participants undescores the
fact that all are "activists and allies in a global struggle
for a basic human rightthe right to be a sexual person."
BENT is grateful to Belinda Mason-Lovering,
Lisa Sampson and the Photographic Principals pictured for the opportunity
to reproduce the three images and the accompanying text published
ENCOUNTERS opened on 7 February
2001 at SOHO Galleries, Leichhardt, New South Wales. The
proceeds from the sale or license of images goes to a trust fund
being established to fund sex positive initiatives which benefit
people with disabilities.
Intimate ENCOUNTERS is a joint venture between Free Radical
Enterprises and Mason-Lovering Photography. For more information,
please contact: Lisa Sampson, Free Radical Enterprises:
Phone: +61 2 9969 2098; Mobile:
+61 0413 270 835; Fax: +61 2 9960 5879; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Three images from
Type:D3 Print Size:10
½" x 16"
As a gay person with a disability,
my journey has been one of struggleboth from within and without.
I am in my mid-thirties and it is only in the last five years that
I have come to be proud of my body image. I have been fortunate
to have a caring sensitive partner who has helped me to explore
my body image, particularly from a sexual perspective. No longer
do I need to hide half my body under the bed sheets when it comes
time to have sex.
-NOEL JOSEPH CAHILL
Noel is the Coordinator
of Differently Abled (South Australia). He is studying politics
at Flinders University and volunteers his time at the South Australian
Disability Information Centre, where he is preparing a database
on disability and sexuality. Through the sexual health program run
by the South Australian government, he regularly addresses professionals
on issues to do with disability and sexuality. Noel has Proximal
Femoral Focal Deficiency, a severe shortening of his (left) leg.
D3 Print Size: 5 ½" x 8"
His mind was stuck. Nothing came
next. There was a whining in his ears. His head felt like a beehive,
synapses buzzing. His grip dissipated like a sandbank underfoot
and a deep sense of horror engulfed him, made him breathless made
the hairs on his neck quiver. He squatted, rocking gently back and
forth, sorting through the bits and pieces. This went on for years.
Abello: The foregoing excerpt from an
unpublished piece of fiction is drawn from my own life experience
of psyhiatric disability and mental illness. I chose it to show
how such experiences can have a positive use.
I loathe the fighting.
I fear the screaming.
Please stop the dying.
Keep up the living.
The world is for loving,
Keep up the loving.
Oh, I love the loving.
URQUHART: I chose these lyrics from a song by Kevin Coyne (19797)
for their relevance to the theme of disability and sexuality. I
think they say something about many community attitudes to disability,
but finish on a positive note.
David Abello has an Honors
Degree in Social Science. He has been active in the queer communities/movements
over many decades. He holds voluntary positions on a number of boards
of management of disability support and advocacy related organisations
in New South Wales. He has a psychiatric disability.
David Urquhart has been
an activist in the disability and queer movements since 1968. He
is a volunteer Director for People with Disabilities (NSW) Inc.
He left school before finishing and worked in the rag trade until
1968 until he got tired of flogging bras and girdles. He then became
a sugar-crazed taxi-driver. He spent four years at art school and
wonders why. He has hearing loss, chronic hypertension and a posterior
D3 Print Size:5 ½" x 8"
Participating in this project
we are making the personal political. There is a dearth of empowering,
positive, sexy images of disabled people and we want to be a part
of the movement to change this. We chose 'United we sit' as our
slogan to emphasize our solidarity with other disabled people and
to challenge the norms. Dominic often needs to use a wheelchair
and so we wanted to incorporate his impairment into the image too.
DAVIES AND LEE ADAMS
Dominic is an activist
and a Senior Registered Practitioner with the British Association
for Counseling and Psychotherapy. He is the co-editor of three volumes
of Pink Therapy and a co-author
of The Sexual Politics of Disability: Untold
Desire. He is a Visiting Fellow at Nottingham University
and a Visiting Lecturer at Leicester University. Dominic has scoliosis
and chronic pain.
Lee is a curator and
interdisciplinary artist, who works extensively in sculpture, theatre
design, film, video, live performance and installation. He has exhibited
widely. Lee is the Artistic Director and Producer of Sexmutant an
international real-time and on-line project reconfiguring (trans)
gender and sex(uality) in contemporary visual and live arts practice.
Photographs ©2001 Belinda-Mason Lovering