Intimate ENCOUNTERS
A Landmark Photographic Essay

Is it 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 respondents alike.

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 installations.

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 right—the 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 here. -Bob Guter

Intimate 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: ldslsd@yahoo.com

.

Three images from
Intimate ENCOUNTERS

 

Under the Sheets
Type:D3 Print Size:10 " x 16"

As a gay person with a disability, my journey has been one of struggle—both 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.

 

Perceptions
Type: D3 Print Size: 5 " 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.

-David 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.

People fighting,
I loathe the fighting.
People screaming,
I fear the screaming.
People dying,
Please stop the dying.
People living,
Keep up the living.
The world is for loving,
Keep up the loving.
Oh, I love the loving.

-DAVID 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 disc protrusion.

 

United We Sit
Type: D3 Print Size:5 " 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.
-
DOMINIC 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

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2001