TWICE THE FUN*
by Kath Duncan
The Sexual Politics of Disability:
Shakespeare, Kath Gillespie-Sells & Dominic Davies
Cassell Academic (Paperback)
It's a first!
editors say "the first book to look at the sexual politics
of disability from a disability rights perspective." And it's a
big powerful read, full of the voices we don't usually hear fromgays,
lesbians and bisexuals with disabilities.
Interestingly the editors note
that when they advertised in the UK disability press to find people
willing to talk about their sex lives, heterosexual respondents
were "more reticent … and less prepared to talk about intimate issues
….and their ideas were less coherent and developed" than lesbians,
gays and bisexuals who came forward. The editors figured these groups
"have had a double battle to assert their sexual selves, …(having)
a stronger sense of their own sexuality".
As a result the book is one of
those fabulous miracles where the majority of voices are queer24
out of 38yep, I counted! It's a bit tricky to be objective
about a book that celebrates my own existence, but I'm going to
try…. And in any case it's not all good news. If you didn't already
know it, sexuality and sexual rights are one struggle that have
been considered low on the agenda for disability activists in general
and with any luck this book should put a bomb under 'em. And make
the rest of the queer community realise that what's at stake are
human rights for their disabled brothers and sisters.
The book points out that for a
long time now the prevailing mind-set has been that "disability
and sexuality are incompatible", a myth the book sets about to destroy
forever. We meet a cast of passionate men and women who contribute
to the evil myth's demolition, among them Dafydd who says:
My impairment itself doesn't restrict my sexual
activity, what restricts my sex life now is other people's perceptions
about my impairment, very definitely!
We're taken on a bold and eye-opening
tour of the barriers to disabled peoples' sexual experiencestarting
with the physical barriersnext time you trip out to a queer
dance or social event, just start adding up the physical hazards
to someone with a sensory or physical disability and you'll get
the picturethrough to the biggest and hardest to solve problems
of attitude. It seems as
though at least some people have given up on getting their queer
sisters and brothers to make room for themthis from Nigel,
a gay man with a learning disability: I feel
more comfortable with disabled people than within the gay community.
Although I belong to both communities I don't really fit in either.
I feel I can't moan about anything, if I want to be accepted. We
get such mixed messages, as people with learning difficulties we
are meant to be meek and mild and child-like but as men we are supposed
to be masterful or angry but when men with learning difficulties
take on those attributes, we are seen as monsters. My first loyalty
is to other people with learning difficulties because we are not
wanted or included.
Negative attitudes are one thing,
but think of the joys! You can go through the fun of coming out
again and again . Zorah is a London-based lesbian: I
seem to have come out several timesas a dyke, as a Jew, as
physically disabled, and now as someone with mental health issues.
There were several points at which I came out as a cripas
I moved from being someone with a sudden mysterious medical condition
to being someone with a long-term impairment. The first time I used
a walking stick at a party given by disabled dykes was very scary
I thought they'd think I was faking. However they ended up being
glad and accepted me into the community.
When it came to the situation
of women I was surprised to read that from a survey prepared by
the UK-based disabled women's sexuality research project, "Sexual
Health and Equality" (SHE) that while women with disabilities were
prepared to talk to the researchers about sex and sexuality, they
expressed great reluctance to talk to each other. The survey also
found that disabled women felt they were treated differently from
their non-disabled siblings, with nearly 40% saying they felt their
parents and teachers did not expect them to have sexual lives as
You'll be pleased to hear though
that the women in this book seem to be dealing with that problem
and while they talk of the difficulties they face in being accepted
as fully-realised sexual beings, they're out there fighting for
the right to fuck alongside their able-bodied brothers and sisters.
Those of us with disabilities
can see ourselves as belonging to the club no-one wants to join
and much of the book is pre-occupied with why that it so, but the
editors stress that the pain of disability is not the physical or
intellectual differences themselves, but rather the way disabilities
as a whole are not understood or catered for in society in general.
Sara is a paraplegic after an accident and a lesbian:
I feel that becoming disabled suddenly
meant I didn't know about general stereotyped ableist attitudes
so everything was a shock. Being able-bodied and then disabled highlighted
how differently people reacted to me now compared to before….I feel
the same, but I know others don't… people now see me as a non-sexual
being with no gender or sexuality sometimes, but to me I'm who I
always was, no different.
But, don't despair! For many queers
with disabilities being big enough to take on and adore all that
makes us unique is part of a life-long process with great rewards.
Daniel is a thirty-something gay man with a congenital mobility
disability who worked out the big picture: …this
was not just about me, but something bigger, something out there,
because other people were experiencing the same thing…I became involved
with disabled people, and I wouldn't say that I love being impaired,
but… I still go through times when I feel wrong, but I also feel
times when I feel very right!
The broader experience is shown
to be the ability to embrace difference and call it sexy, something
many people in the book are happily doing, but you may feel some
disquiet at how widespread misconceptions are about disability among
our able-bodied mates. Luckily some people know how to take the
piss out of the pig-ignorant, as part of Paula's story reveals:
This head waiter that I knew well, I could
speak Italian and we got on reasonably well, and he came up to me
and said 'You can't, can you…?' I said 'Can't what?'…I knew what
he meant, I thought, I'll drag this out a bit, and he said 'Well,
you can't have sex, can you?' and I said 'Why ever not?' and he
said 'Well, you can't walk….', and I said 'You walk while you're
having sex? I haven't seen that in the Kama Sutra!
If you're into text that's the
magic combo of polemic/social history/academic and confrontational-attitude-changer
then The Sexual Politics of Disability will get your head
whirring and you'll have plenty of dinner-table-agent-provocateur
clout to last a coupla months.
I'm sure the editors
wouldn't want the book to be just one for the cripples, but rather
hope that everyone can manage some minority identification, enough
to give it a skim at the bookshop anyway. My suggestionread
it and walk out with your mind opened to how us other half lives.
title for this review is borrowed from a Channel 4 documentary about
sexuality and disability, featuring The Sexual Politics of Disability
editor Kath Gillespie-Sells and activist David Ruebain.
©Kath Duncan 2000
KATH DUNCAN (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a 39-year-old bisexual double congenital amputee journalist and
writer who lives in subtropical Australia with her gorgeous girlfriend
piece was first published in Screaming Hyena.
Kath has generously agreed to let us reprint it here on the conditon
that we send you directly to the beast itself: