I had mentioned in my last blog post that I had finally begun to reconcile with having cerebral palsy, so much so that I started to picture myself in romantic relationships, and all the physical, intimate aspects of that. This was huge–I can’t express how huge that breakthrough was. I spent a tremendous chunk of my life being treated as a medical object to the point where I refused to see myself as a sexual being for a while. Imagine these harmful misconceptions from society about sex and disability being so powerful that they reinforced even my own comprehension of certain situations and realities. I didn’t like that I felt this way. I felt alienated from everyone else, who seemingly led healthy and active sexual lives. When it came to sex and sexuality, I honestly couldn’t help but feel overlooked by those around me; counted out.
In the book Keywords for Disability Studies, there’s an essay titled Sex by Margrit Shildrik. In the essay she writes, “If those who count themselves as non-disabled have largely disavowed the conjunction of disability and sexuality….then we might conclude that it is because sexuality is always a site of deep-seated anxieties about normative forms of embodied being” (165). It’s not even that a non-disabled person might have anxieties about a disabled person having sex because they don’t see it as “normative”; it’s that sex and sexuality had once been a site of “deep-seated anxieties” for me personally. The idea of sex and the performance of it seemed so scary and a deeply vulnerable experience as a whole. Unattainable, even. Being naked with someone else? Unthinkable at the time.
I think the reasoning behind this goes beyond my relationship with my body and that I felt very uncomfortable in it for a long while. I think with sex there is a need for trust. I’m not saying that trust is not there for non-disabled people having sex; I’m just saying that for me it was especially important. Sex is deeply vulnerable on its own, but for me that sense of vulnerability doubled and sometimes tripled because of my disability. I’m not trying to reinforce this idea that all those who are disabled are “fragile,” but the reality for me was that I definitely move differently than those around me, thus with sex I would have to just adapt. Certain positions would probably be more difficult to achieve, so I would have to work with my partner to find out what was comfortable and what wasn’t. So, as you might imagine I really needed to trust the person I was with, in every sense of the word; there would be absolutely no compromises there.
It definitely didn’t help that during my stint with online dating, I had to deal with questions like, “Can you have sex?” or “Are you a virgin?” *cue eye roll* Sometimes the other person even led with those questions. It just proves that so many people have misconceptions about disability and sexuality, and are surely ignorant about it. Let me be clear: just because I have difficulty walking doesn’t mean I can’t have sex. Also, why for goodness sake are those your first questions, anyhow? Of all the questions you could have possibly asked when exchanging messages with someone completely new, you go right to one about sex. Is my worth solely based on my ability to perform sexual acts? My body? Is that what ultimately matters to you? Look; I think sex is important. I have needs and desires just like everyone else, but I also have a craving for stimulating and intellectual conversation from time to time; I have hobbies and interests and passions; I have fears and hopes, too. So, why not lead with a question about that?
Deep down, for a long time I didn’t feel desirable, and a big chunk of that stemmed from my perception of my disability and what it meant. As I’m writing this now, I do see things differently. I opened myself to the possibility of love and romantic relationships; I no longer have anxiety about sex or worry about it; I found someone I fully and truly trust; things are different, but it was a long journey to get to this point. I’ll repeat the following as many times as I have to: having a disability does not make me undesirable, not ever.